I must have gazed at one to many
poinsettias, or eaten one too many
mince pies, because I’ve been
indulging in a little nostalgia.
Every year at this time, when I
was a little sprout, my dad would
take us holly gathering. It was
such an exciting event, gathering
holly to brighten the house at
Christmas. Of course, in those
days we were blithely ignorant of
the times ahead when Christmas
decorating would be raised to a
unique art form by the use of
plastic penguins and flashing
Each December we’d make the trek
to our secret place where the
holly trees grew, hoping to
discover a bounty of berries. We
weren’t always lucky; some
years there would be a good crop,
with lush clumps clinging to each
twig on the tree, while other
years there’d be hardly a speck of
red to be seen.
My dad always blamed the berry
vultures—I don’t know if he meant
birds or the people who’d been
there before us. Even in the best
of years, only half the trees
would bear any berries at all.
Having only a limited
understanding of procreation, we
didn’t realize that only the
female holly bears berries while,
as usual, the male hangs around
taking up useful space.
Now that I’m older and wiser, I
realize the lack of berries was
likely due to someone NOT IN THE
MOOD. Nonetheless, collecting was
never easy. Holly has wicked
prickles, and you could be sure
the best sprigs were always at the
top of the tree, at the outer
limits, barely within reach.
Since we had no concept of a limb
lopper, someone had to climb the
tree. “Go ahead, Dad,” I’d say,
“Show me one more time. Maybe next
year I’ll be able to do it.” In
this way the ancient tradition of
holly gathering was slowly passed
down through our family.
Yes, holly gathering was a
challenge, but it was worth the
struggle. At Christmas, friends
and family would visit our home
simply to admire our lovely holly
sprig, burdened with two, maybe
three berries. Meanwhile, Mum
would serve mince pies and Dad
would lie on the couch, groaning,
with a mustard plaster taped to
his back. yes, the good old days.
I often wonder what Dad would have
thought of plastic penguins. Bulb
Prior to planting bulbs, soak overnight
in a solution of garlic and skunk pee to
deter anything from unearthing them.
Alternatively, bury a dead skunk within
twenty meters of the planting zone.
Next, sort your bulbs by size. Use a
micrometer to do this as accuracy is
important. This ensures bulbs are
planted at the right depth.
Planting depth must be precisely 3.75 X
the size of the bulb from the tip of the
pointy end to the opposing end from the
compacted soil surface to the base of
Plant all bulbs at dawn on the day of
the fall equinox — or now. Bulbs placed
in the hole should be oriented with the
tip pointed to the rising sun.
Space bulbs exactly 200mm apart and in a
precise line parallel to any fence or
If more than one colour is selected, it
is essential that they be planted in
alternating sequence for the most
pleasing effect. Leaf
It's fall, and once again I have
designed and built my very own leaf
shredder. This one is the Mark III
model. The Mark I and II were failures .
. . well, not failures, just a little
too risky to operate. Using them could
have got me featured in one of those TV
shows on extreme sports. This model is
I first began designing and building
leaf shredders about five years ago. I
built the Mark I using an old electric
lawn mower that I tried to modify by
cutting a hole in the top and mounting
it on a wheelbarrow. The idea was that
I'd stuff the leaves through the hole
where they'd be finely chopped by the
whirling blades below before falling
into the barrow for composting.
It did work, but only one handful at a
time, and after seeing what it did to
the wheelbarrow when the mounting came
loose I quickly remembered that I had
only two hands -- each containing five,
very useful, fingers. I junked it; there
are some things you don't want to
discover when turning compost.
The Mark II was much more promising; it
almost resembled a store bought
shredder. I built it with parts from an
old washing machine. I was able to use
the drum as a hopper and the motor to
drive the shredding rod. With a few
modifications to speed up the rotation,
the Mark II looked as though it might do
the trick, but I never did get the
chance to toss any leaves into it; as
soon as I plugged it in the thing took
off down the yard like a Star Wars pill
bug battle droid.
What surprised me was the illusion I'd
built artificial intelligence into the
Mark II. The way it zeroed in on Mrs.
Fellini's cat was astonishing. I didn't
even know the cat was skulking around
behind the spirea. When the cat leapt
the fence in a single bound the shredder
immediately changed direction, rolled up
its extension cord and unplugged itself.
Fortunately, the length of the cord
limited its range otherwise I would have
had some explaining to do to Mrs.
Fellini. I dismantled it right away
before it figured out how to plug itself
back in. The last thing I need is a
barren wasteland and a leaf shredder
thinking it's smarter than I am.
Now I have the Mark III. I made this one
with a large plastic barrel that I'd
planned to use for storing rainwater,
and the motor from a hot tub pump that I
decided might be a tad powerful for the
pond. This model is a much simpler
design than the Mark I or II, and I'm
sure it will be a winner. All I’ve done
is attach the motor to the bottom of the
barrel and add legs.
At last I'm ready to shred, and I can't
wait. All I have to do is find enough
leaves to begin performance trials. Did
I mention it resembles a huge food
. . . It's funny how actions that would
normally be considered uneventful can be
seriously misunderstood when performed
out of sequence. As a gardener/inventor
it seemed perfectly logical to me:
(a). Leaves needed to test out new leaf
(b). Collect leaves.
(c). Leaves have not begun falling yet.
(d). Leaves grow on trees.
(e). Collect leaves.
I shouldn't have climbed the tree. All
right, it may have appeared a little
unusual, but I don't think there was any
need for the neighbours to call the
emergency response team. It was so
embarrassing, and I had a fair bit of
explaining to do.
At first I told them I was trying to
rescue a cat, but they heard Mrs.
Fellini snort when I said it, then when
I dropped the bag of leaves from the
tree they had me. They were all for
taking me downtown (Mrs Fellini was
yelling encouragement), but I was able
to convince them to let me demonstrate
my leaf shredder and prove that I wasn't
Lucky for me it worked perfectly first
time. It might have been better if I'd
let the leaves dry out a bit first, but
it did a terrific job. I flicked on the
switch and dumped in the bagful of maple
leaves; it pureed the lot in two seconds
flat. The emergency guys were so
impressed they went and used the ladder
truck to collect more leaves.
They all wanted to try my new shredder,
and then they had to see what it would
do to tomatoes -- cleared out the veggie
garden. They were having so much fun I
couldn't get rid of them. A couple of
them want the plans so that they can
build their own. One is into wine making
and the other is crazy about pesto.
Funny, in no time at all I went from a
code twenty-three to a harmless
eccentric to a brilliant inventor. I may
have to patent the Mark III. Limp
Lovely! That tray of cress I planted has
sprouted already. We usually buy the
stuff, but now we’ll be able to eat our
very own freshly grown organic produce.
Except for things like apples and
potatoes, all our fruit and veggies are
being shipped in from afar at this time
of year, from countries that have warmer
climates, endless growing seasons, and
no snowploughs. It’s okay, but after
eating from my own garden for the last
few months, I find that veggies with
more frequent flyer points than I do
tend to lack flavour—if they ever had
And there’s nothing worse than cutting
open an avocado that you just know
arrived on a truck that had to have
taken a wrong turn somewhere south of
Tucson and got lost in the desert for a
People who live in climatically
advantaged countries don’t realize how
vulnerable we are here in the Great
White North. Any disruption in the
delivery system and we’re eating limp
lettuce at stiff prices. I still
remember watching that amazing news
footage of OJ Simpson racing down the
empty freeway in California.
All around the world people were glued
to their TV sets, fascinated by the
chase. Not me, I was thinking about all
those truckloads of romaine and iceberg
backed up in traffic when they were
supposed to be hurtling north to my
local grocery store. Pollinating
Rabbits in Western Australia doing more
good than harm? Professor Harvey Warren
of the University of Northern Australia
has reported extraordinary findings
while studying desert wild flowers. The
Nullabor Plain in Western Australia
receives very little rain, but when it
does arrive, the desert blooms with wild
flowers, almost overnight.
What puzzled Professor Warren was the
lack of pollinators for these flowers.
Typical insect pollinators are unable to
survive the long periods, years even,
when there is no moisture or plant
material present to enable them to
survive, but flowers need pollinators in
order to produce viable seed.
Professor Warren made his astonishing
discovery while alone on a field trip in
a remote area of the Nullabor Plain.
After a rare, intense downpour, plants
sprouted and began to bloom, then
shortly after, rabbits began to arrive
from the more temperate regions to the
south. It was as though the flowers had
sent a pied piper to fetch them.
As soon as the rabbits appeared, they
began doing what rabbits do best —
eating. Nothing unusual in that, but
when he observed that the fur of the
rabbits was beginning take on a
yellowish tinge, the professor was
intrigued. He managed to trap a rabbit
and examine it closely. To his surprise,
he discovered that the yellowness of the
rabbit's fur was caused by pollen from
the flowers. The rabbits were doused in
Not only were the rabbits shuffling
about among the flowers, munching away,
they were doing the other thing that
rabbits do exceptionally well. All that
vigorous activity caused pollen to fall
onto the fur of the rabbits. It became
clear that while the male rabbits were
racing about in amorous pursuit of
female rabbits, the flowers were being
pollinated by the clouds of pollen
rising from the rabbits' fur.
This was the answer to the pollination
question. Professor Warren thoughts
were, "Blimey, we've been trying for
years to wipe them out, and it turns out
the little blighters are the answer to
greening the desert." Australia may
never be the same!