Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens

The Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) continues to be open to the public, because staff and volunteers are all vaccinated.  Of course the Food Garden (ex Pete’s Patch) continues to flourish. Yesterday, volunteer Pam took a swag of photos to show the lush rampant growth.

Various different kinds of beans grow in different spots. There are climbers and small bushy varieties, including soya beans.  All plants are looking magnificently healthy and bumper crops are expected.

The grapevines are heavy with grapes.

Of course there was the usual weeding and clearing; in particular wildly spreading nasturtiums were removed to the compost.

Garden bed preparation preceded the planting of a new crop of coriander plants.

The sun shone, the temperature rose, and visitors to the Gardens ambled and took immense pleasure from the energy of the plants. There is no best time to visit – in every season, every week even every day, new growth and development of fruits can be seen. 

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Tasmanian native cherry

Blog reader June has been bushwalking in southern Tasmania a great deal in past weeks and recently was delighted to see many examples of the native cherry fruiting gloriously and conspicuously.  She sent through the following photos to share.

Her initial remark was Exaocarpus cupressiformis is hemiparasitic on the roots of mostly eucalypts.  How cool is that?  I’m reminded of you telling me about all the trees working together underground.

She provided a link to an article about the native cherry here (https://theconversation.com/native-cherries-are-a-bit-mysterious-and-possibly-inside-out-108760).

What a gorgeous jewel! Thanks June.

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Inspired by nature

In its recent issue, Tasmania’s premier literary magazine, Island, published six new articles inspired by nature. 

These can be accessed here.  The non-fiction stories are:

Happy reading!

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Les keeps walking the Overland Track

I like people who remind me to give things a go, get out there, and not be limited in what I believe I can achieve.

The story of Les Whittle, about to embark on his 20th walk along the 6 day Overland Track that starts from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair in central Tasmania, has to be one more inspiring example of a continuation to be physical despite maturing years.

In the past few weeks my 66 year old sister and 70 year old brother in law have made it a point of undertaking a decent bush, mountain or beach walk each day. My (ex) sister-in -law takes off for walks almost every day despite the relentless humidity of north Queensland. A couple of Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens fellow volunteers ramble with the Ramblers on medium and challenging walks around Tasmania. There are many opportunities and many people are taking these up, within the constraints imposed by Covid.

This story grabbed my attention for a second reason. I am a descendant from a Whittle family and I wondered if Les and I were related. However further research seems to indicate Les hailed from Western Australia originally, a long way from any of my known family members.

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Push to list Foxgloves as a declared weed in Tasmania

Foxgloves. Dramatic tall spikes of plants coated with tubular flowers with spotty lips. Exotic plants my mother loved to have in the garden. Plants I loved for their height and proliferation of flowers. Unfortunately now I have learnt these plants, especially the purple flowering Digitalis Purpurea variety, are self-seeding broadly across the Tasmanian wilderness environment to the exclusion of native species. And they are toxic.

On a road trip out west on the road to Lake Pedder at the end of last year, I passed stands of flowering foxglove by the road side, ‘in the middle of nowhere’. I remember thinking they were out of control and out of place. The foxgloves were growing where forests had been subjected to massive bushfires, leaving open country and soil exposed.

A couple of months ago a new plant emerged from the soil in my bottom garden. What was it? I left it to grow in order to make an identification. When the stalks grew taller and the flowers finally opened, clearly self-seeded foxglove plants had arrived. Stunningly beautiful. Where had the seed blown in from, or where had a bee picked up a seed? I had no idea. During my walks along suburban streets in my neighbourhood I had not seen another foxglove so was curious. Then one morning I was invited into a stranger’s garden many blocks from my house, although about 200 or 300 metres ‘as the crow flies’ from my garden bed. And there, behind a hedge not visible from the street, grew an identical foxglove to that in my garden. The mystery was solved.

You can read the history of the introduction of this flowering plant to Australia and the full details of its nature and ability to spread here. Here is an excerpt:

Foxglove flourishes in a wide variety of conditions, from open and sunny through to damp, shady places, especially in disturbed soil. It’s even spreading in sand dunes on the other side of Macquarie Harbour at Pilots Beach. Tasmania’s acidic soils provide ideal conditions for its growth. It reproduces from seed, is readily cross-pollinated by bumblebees (NOTE these were introduced to Tasmania in the 1990s), spreads easily by wind, water, garden waste and transport by vehicle and machinery movement. Its leaves, flowers and seeds contain the cardiac glycoside digitoxin, which can be absorbed through the skin and is extremely poisonous.

Jim Godfrey is leading the charge to have foxgloves declared an invasive weed. You can support the push by joining a new Tasmanian Foxglove Facebook page here.

If you are a Tasmanian resident you can sign the petition to have foxgloves listed a declared weed. Go here.

An in-depth story about Jim Godfrey’s campaign will be published in the next edition of the Feral Herald, which you will be able to read if you sign up here.

The Fern Tree Community [situated on the edge of kunyani (Mount Wellington)] offered their advice:

Dear neighbours, Most of us are struggling to keep foxglove at bay. There is a trick to managing it so you don’t set yourself back.

  • Don’t disturb too much soil. With a trowel or old knife, cut the core root out of the ground. You can slice off the smaller roots to reduce soil disturbance.
  • If the core root breaks off or if you brush cut, it will grow back with lots of flower stalks instead of just the one.
  • Knock the soil off the roots and leave the plant high and dry. If it’s on the ground it won’t dry out and won’t die.
  • Strip off the flower buds with a quick upwards swipe. If they are advanced (ie January) the flower stalk needs to go in the bin.
  • Any bare or disturbed ground is likely to regrow with foxglove seedlings.
  • The benefit of hindsight; it’s much easier to control foxglove in winter or spring when they are much smaller, you don’t have millions of live seeds, and because we’re all so busy in the summer time.
  • Start in the areas of light infestation. Don’t start in the thickest patch.

Foxglove is not yet a Declared weed. However it is possibly the fastest-moving environmental weed in Tasmania. Of course you may help if you have one or more in your garden and choose to remove the plants. The following tips should be useful.

  • The best time to remove foxglove is in winter or spring, before the flowers develop and spread millions of viable seed.
  • Disturb the soil as little as possible when pulling out foxglove.
  • You could use a sharp trowel or knife to sever the fine roots to minimise soil disturbance. Be sure to strip or remove the flower stalk, and, if seeds are mature, bin it. A plant may have up to a million tiny seeds ready to spread –so be careful.
  • Be sure to strip or remove the flower stalk, and, if seeds are mature, bin it.
  • Hot salt water poured over the plants should kill if you have only a few plants.

I was glad to read details of the dangers of foxgloves for our environment and how to be careful when removing plants from the ground. Mine are now out and trashed – not composting.

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A new lead on McPartlan in Tasmania

My last blog post, with its puzzle about who McPartlan was, triggered an interest in one reader who had recently climbed Mt Hartz and was interested in other bush walks in the south and southeast of Tasmania.

While considering a future walk to Mt Bobs and The Boomerang, she noticed another natural edifice on the map, McPartlans Bluff.

Would the McPartlan, whose name was used for the McPartlan Pass Canal, be the same one referred to on the Bluff?

On a National Trust website, when you scroll down to item G7, a fabulous display of stunning photos and explanations provides new information about that McPartlans Bluff/Mt Bobs/The Boomerang area.

A bushwalking blogsite gives an alternative perspective of this location.  The last photo on the bottom of that page can be clicked to present further photos.

Images displayed on the Nature Lovers blog show the landscape can be tough to progress through.  One diagram shows McPartlans Bluff above Lake Sydney and adjacent to Mt Bobs.

Despite all the photos on these sites, detailed information about who the Bluff was named after is absent, as is when it was named and how it came to be named.  Is the person after whom the McPartlan Pass Canal was named, also the person after whom this Bluff was named?

At the time of writing the last blog post I could only find one prominent McPartlan; the politician Leo Vincent McPartlan. However new information has come to light courtesy of the Tahune Air Walk site (https://greataustraliansecret.com/tasmania/southern-tasmania/tahune-airwalk/). Around 1870 an ex-convict joined the police force and was based at the police station on the Picton River west of Geeveston in Tasmania’s south/southeast.

One of Police Constable Francis McPartlan duties was to check timber licences all along trails westwards to the Arthur Ranges, a prominence located somewhat south of Lake Pedder.

His work would have entailed extraordinary hardship in all weathers over uncharted and untracked territory, across a very wild environment. The area had no towns, and the timber loggers would have lived in tents in remote and isolated locations where they could use the Picton and Huon Rivers to float the logs downstream for pick up elsewhere.  Very rough living. Very rough going.

Was Francis McPartlan revered for his work so that McPartlans Bluff was named after him? Certainly this geographical feature was located in the huge region he had to walk to find the loggers, and he would either have climbed or bypassed it regularly.

So there are two locations with the McPartlan name attached; a man-made structure and a natural structure.  Are each named after the one man or after two men?

Does another blog reader know any Tasmanian McPartlans who can solve this puzzle.

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McPartlan – who or what?

McPartlan – who or what?

Over the years my blog post for McPartlan Pass Canal has attracted more attention than most posts and continues to do so. Every week there is at least one new searcher who finds that post. I am puzzled. What is the attraction?

The blog post was written after a few days walking and exploring the area around Lake Pedder, Mt Anne, Serpentine Dam, Strathgordon and the Gordon Dam in Tasmania’s wild south west. In my mind the McPartlan Pass Canal was simply one of the extraordinary engineering feats associated with connecting the waters of the Lake Gordon with those of the flooded Lake Pedder. Interesting. Impressive. But no more so than many other natural and man-made features of the region.

There could be a number of circumstances when researchers might seek out this blog post.

For example, an interest in Tasmania’s politicians, the story of the flooding of Lake Pedder, or an interest in Tasmania’s power generating organisation Hydro Tasmania might have prompted the search. Hydro Tasmania reported ‘During the 1950s, insatiable demand stretched electricity supplies to the limit.’ This was the catalyst for the development of the new Gordon Dam and Lake Pedder complex. I suspect Tasmanian born Leo Vincent McPartlan (August 1903 – June 1982) who became an independent politician in Tasmania’s parliament between 1953 and 1955, was in the centre of the action pushing for change and championing the connections between the two lakes and, for his efforts, the Pass Canal was named after him.

Further details about the Canal can be read here.

My blog readers are scattered around the world and they may have been interested in Mary McPartlan, a well-known traditional Irish singer and musician: they may have found their way to my blog site by the surname, but clicked out immediately when it had no connection to Mary.

Most likely the searches leading to my blog site result from genealogical work for members of the McPartlan family. Genealogical investigations are undertaken by millions of people daily and this might account for the frequency and numbers of readers of this blog post.

Finding my blog post in the latter two instances mostly likely causes disappointment. But perhaps, just perhaps, searchers are like me and actually interested in the McPartlan Pass Canal and the changes made to the natural environment in Tasmania’s south west. I wish I knew more.

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Pure musical sounds

Last year I published a story leading readers to the inspirational Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra Chorus singing out in the open as an antidote to the restrictions caused by the Covid pandemic. You can read about that here and here.

Now a selection of musicians from the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra (TSO), in the form of the Van Diemens Band are about to perform in a number of Tasmanian locations. They have provided a seven minute video as a taster. It’s a brilliant lure. The musicians and singers are performing from various parts of the grounds of Spring Bay Mill in Triabunna on the east coast of Tasmania.

The promotional material I received was:

Celebrate the festive season with Van Diemen’s Band Christmas, a family-friendly concert of some of the most gorgeous Christmas music from throughout the ages. Van Diemen’s Band Christmas also showcases the expertise of many TSO musicians, including Jennifer and Meriel Owen, Matthew Goddard, Martin Penicka and Simone Walters, along with celebrated TSO alumni Brett Rutherford and Michael Fortescue. You can catch Van Diemen’s Band Christmas at Cygnet Town Hall on Thursday 16 December at 6pm, St David’s Cathedral Hobart on Friday 17 December at 6pm, Holy Trinity Church Launceston on Saturday 18 December at 2pm and Spring Bay Mill Triabunna on Sunday 19 December at 3pm. In addition to Van Diemen’s Band, you’ll hear the heavenly voices of the TYO Tas Youth Chorale (Cygnet, Hobart and Triabunna) and Crescendo Choir (Launceston and Triabunna).

Here’s a taste of what you can expect – a haunting Catalan carol, Song of the Birds – performed by Van Diemen’s Band, soprano Quin Thomson and the TYO Tas Youth Chorale. It was filmed on location at Spring Bay Mill, Triabunna.

Now watch the entrancing video to see stunning landscapes and hear beautiful music. Sublime. Inspired. Uplifting.

If you love what you saw and heard, and live in Tasmania, then book into a concert. You can book directly with the TSO by phoning the box office on 1800 001 190.

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Climbing Cradle Mountain

From time to time I link this blog to the wonderful online magazine Tasmanian Geographic.  The latest issue has lifted my spirits and I expect you will find it extremely inspirational. 

The area around Cradle Mountain is an icon destination location on Tasmania’s tourist trail. It is actively promoted as one of the places around our state where lush native mountain vegetation provides an environment for wild animals such as possums, wallabies and wombats to live and be seen going about their business.

Near the base of Cradle Mountain is the northern starting point for those taking the renowned Overland Track southwards to Lake St Clair, normally a six day walk. I have walked that track, and pottered around the Cradle Mountain area but I have never climbed Cradle Mountain itself. Now, with this latest magazine issue and a detailed video I realise I must return. The article is here and, within, is the link to a You Tube video. Please be sure to click on the full screen view to ‘take you’ to that landscape; the drama of the music adds to the majesty of the place.

As usual there is much more in the latest issue of Tasmanian Geographic, a volunteer run magazine.  I urge you to read more of the pictorial stories and perhaps subscribe – or maybe you have a Tassie story to tell which might get published within.

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Eggplants at the RTBG 2nd December 2021

Always my volunteering experience at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) provides learning opportunities and so it was last Thursday.  I have never grown eggplants (Solanum melongena) nor looked at young plants so it was instructive to see and feel these.

I was surprised at their robustness. The stems were very firm and the leaves were strong.  The size of the plants was also of interest – not the tinier specimens of other vegetables that were usually planted. Not everyone knows or eats eggplants.

If these vegetables are unfamiliar, I urge you to try one.  In some countries this plant is known as an aubergine or a brinjal. The plump purple fruit, technically a berry, can be cooked into many different types of meals or as the common party dip ‘baba ghanoush’.  But please note that the tubers,  stems and leaves are toxic and should never be eaten: eggplants are part of the nightshade family which includes tomatoes and potatoes.  Nevertheless the fruit is full of benefits about which you can read here.  If you don’t have a recipe, browse here and here for a few ideas.

If you want to know how to grow these delectable veggies then read more here. In 2018 Gardening Australia produced a video which you can view here. In the RTBG Food Garden, an area which should not get much wind was cleared, fertilised and mulched and then the plants were dug in, before being watered.  Around late February/early March next year we expect to harvest a wonderful crop.

Elsewhere in the Food Garden, on an increasingly hot day, basil was planted, straggling banana fronds were removed, soya beans were replanted, and we tackled more weeding in the tea ‘forest’ and across a number of other garden beds and patches.

The Food Garden is looking simply splendid and an increasing number of mainland visitors are making their way to Tasmania and then to the Gardens for an enchanting walk that passes all manner of wonderful healthy plants.

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