Right now I’m not planting trees. For the next 10 days I’m sitting instead in the beautiful Varuna writers centre in the Blue Mountains of NSW doing absolutely nothing but write, eat, sleep – and talk with my fellow writers and illustrator about life, love, writing, food, tv, children, sex and just about whatever else we can fit in between 7pm (when dinner arrives!) and bedtime. I would have been walking too, except that since I got here three days ago it has not stopped raining. It’s extraordinarily soothing but it’s also making me sad. It seems ridiculous that here rain is billowing in across my window in raggedy sheets, while in Melbourne  today it was another sunny 30 degrees. Flying out, the state looked like an old  dried carcass beneath me.
Here, I ran an enormous, guilt-free bath and lay reading and drifting for 45 minutes. Poor me.



A couple of mornings ago, I woke up feeling not light and breezy but oppressed and grumpy. I have too much to do I muttered to myself and to anyone else who might be listening. When it became clear that they weren’t, I took myself out to the back garden and and the task I’d been putting off for days. Transplanting the seedlings. There’s a whole section on it in our Tree Project manual, and we’d practiced it at our first meeting with D. It was like having a crash course in surgery. I’d been hoping to avoid it, but with too many seedlings in some pots and none in others, and some other growers with even fewer, there was no avoiding  it. I rang our project co-ordinator Andrew, who told me to be prepared for up to half of those we transplanted to die.

So here I was alone in the garden preparing to kill baby trees. I began by soaking the first tube (containing four or five green sprouts) and then laying out a wet newspaper to hold the evicted seedlings, and then mixing up some potting mix with water (all the while wearing my white latex gloves to avoid contamination). Then I upended the tube, squeezing each corner carefully, until the contents slid out and i was holding a pile of seedlings and potting mix and long white tendrils like nerves. I was very gentle and very slow. One by one I separated the seedlings, shaking the tendrils softly, and laid them out on the damp paper. Then because they looked so vulnerable  I put a little soil over their roots, as if I were pulling up a blanket, and they lay there tucked in like Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice. Somewhere in the middle of all this I noticed that I no longer felt oppressed or grumpy. One by one I lifted the seedlings and where necessary trimmed the roots and draped them into the tubes I had already half filled (still keeping a firm but gentle hold on the leaves) and backfilled as described in the manual. At some point Pete got back from the school run and joined me. Yesterday afternoon I did the same thing again, and today when i got in from work. And now we have a whole box full of happy looking little seedlings – not one of them drooping at all. I might have to file this in “hope”.


Five days of no planting and increasing sense of guilt/gloom/I-feel-like-giving-up-this-is-pointless-and-too-hard-ness. Today, with no particular change in mood, I went for early dinner at my old friend Deborah’s, taking with me, apart from red wine and green salad, four eucalypt seedlings. While veggies and garlic bread baked in the oven, she and I and her gorgeous son Sasha, 12, wandered down her street (which is not like a normal street, but more like a cul-de-sac tucked in above the freeway and the wondrous Yarra River) and there planted three seedlings along the verge. Deborah brought her big spade (or bloody shovel) and Sasha a bucket of water and after abandoning the first hole, which was like concrete, found some softer spots and patted the seedlings in. The fourth I took to a spot down below Deborah’s verandah, just next to a patch of feral prickly pear, and with a huge wide view of the river.  The parrots were clattering home to roost. My back hurt. I scratched a yellowish hole in the old dry dirt and poured water and stirred. Then I lowered my seedling  in and tucked the soil around it, and went upstairs to dinner.


Walked down to visit seedlings 4, 5 and 6 this evening, only to find that 4 (or was it 6?) (the one pictured last post in its lovely plastic milk carton protector) is looking decidedly droopy. Terminally so I’m afraid. I think I tore the roots. Will clip top back tomorrow and see how it goes.

Otherwise a peaceful autumn day – very gentle drizzle much of the time. Mum dropped around this afternoon, having picked Frannie up from school and taken her swimming. She came in for a cup of tea and I regaled her for 15 minutes with all the ways in which the governments of the world are failing us. By the time I paused for breath she too had started to look a bit droopy, and  Finn, 12, who’d been sitting at the table with us, trying to do his homework, looked up and said matter-of-factly, “face it; we’re fucked”.

At this point I went into reverse and started talking very fast about human resilience and ingenuity etc….

Afterwards, I had a little think. What I thought is that perhaps it’s time to stop with the doom-gloominess, and concentrate on planting trees.


sweet and sour

Woke yesterday and opened the paper to find this  article from the UK Telegraph on page 13. It can be summarised pretty much as “the end is nigh”.

“THE world’s leading scientists have issued a desperate plea to politicians to act on climate change amid warnings that without action the world faces decades of social unrest and war.

In what was described as a watershed moment, more than 2500 leading environmental experts agreed on a statement that called on governments to act before the planet becomes an unrecognisable — and, in places, impossible — place to live.

At an emergency climate summit in Copenhagen, scientists agreed that “worst case” scenarios were already becoming reality and that, unless drastic action was taken soon, “dangerous climate change” was imminent.”

As you can imagine, this cheered me right up, particularly given that the lead story on page one was devoted to the rather less important fact that the band Split Enz was re-forming for last night’s big bushfire benefit concert.  I think it would be accurate to say I felt DESPAIRING!

Fortunately, by this evening, when I heard  that the emergency services units that were two weeks ago fighting bush fires are now stationed around the state preparing for landslides and flash flooding, I had recovered my sense of humour (or at least of the ridiculous) (or at least a little).  Meanwhile, the rain has flushed ash into our reservoirs (not good for drinking) without managing to lift our water levels.

On the bright side (yes!), today I visited the Victorian Indigenous Nurseries Co-operative, which is tucked away in a corner of Yarra Bend Park, and bought 30 seedlings of Eucalyptus leucoxylon, which not only has sweet flowers, but thrives on sun and dry soil and tolerates drought. I’d planned to buy 50, but at $3.95 a pop, settled for 30, for now. And late this afternoon, I dragged Pete and Frannie to the end of our street and a rather barren nature

bald nature striprather barren nature strip

strip I’ve been eyeing off where we dug two good sized holes and planted two slender scraps of green and a third on the opposite nature strip. Like so:

number 4

They looked very small as we walked away.


Steamy days, full moon, and the pavements all wet in the morning even though we didn’t hear rain. This isn’t summer but doesn’t feel like Autumn either. The Equator is drooping. The seeds are slow to germinate – not enough sun, bizarrely.  And Andrew from the Tree Project has emailed warning of powdery mildew…

Helen, in answer to your question, yes, we are on water restrictions – hence the frantic filling of buckets on Wednesday. We can water twice a week for two hours at a time – at midnight or 6am. No hoses without spray nozzles, drip watering systems only. No cars or driveways, which doesn’t bother us. But we keep forgetting what days we’re allowed to do it – or we don’t happen to be up at midnight (being quite old now, and boring) or 6am (being quite lazy).


This afternoon at about 5.30 the heavens opened and the rain came down. So much so that our downpipe became detached from  the garage and for the next half hour it was Singin’ in The Rain (the drainpipe scene). Filled bucket after bucket and raced around the garden watering all the weary pot plants, then stripped off and watered ourselves (outdoor showers), and then the kids filled bottle after bottle with rainwater, which we drank with dinner. Happy family. Happy seedlings. Happy seeds (eucalpytus macrorhyncha – red stringybark – went in on monday). Even the pot-bound mint bush I put in last week is looking sprightly.  It stopped too soon of course, and probably made no difference at all to the water storage levels (Melbourne’s dams 30.3 per cent full according to this morning’s paper). But it made a difference to us. And hopefully to the fushcia gum I planted at John’s on Monday.