I lean against the kitchen sink and wait for my kettle to whistle. From my window, I see the city apartments scraping against the underside of grey clouds that blanket the western horizon. My weather vane on top of our garage tells me the clouds are driven by the south-westerly breeze that regularly drifts past its pointing arrow. I summarise the weather conditions for the day. Perfect! For my garden, that is. Overcast, with dapple sunshine, and the possibility of some showers. The weather report on my radio confirms my summation.
I savour a sip of tea from my first cuppa for the day and focus on our lively backyard. Fruiting trees planted in rows like a small orchard still bear the remains of the wonderful spring bloom we recently enjoyed. Nectarines, apricots and a variety of plums displayed their beautiful blossoms of white or pink petals with crimson stamens. The contrasting blooms seemed to compete against each other, trying to attract the attention of the visiting insects. But there were no winners. Instead, each tree, in their individual splendour, attracted a number of birds and bees that sought the nectar trapped in the heart of the magnificent blooms. Now, fresh green leaves shade the tiny fruit that cling to the branches where the fertile blossom has emerged.
The blackbird, regular as a clock chime, welcomes the sunrise every morning with his melodious song, entertaining my senses while I sip on my tea. His message is heard by another blackbird in an adjoining yard and he responds. Are the two competing for the attention of the female who ignores them both and busily searches for her morning sustenance? Or are the two birds engaging in robust conversation, I wonder? Either way, they continue with their song until the sun has lifted above the eastern horizon. My blackbird interrupts his discourse and drops down onto the grass to feel for subtle movements beneath his feet. He thrusts his beak into the ground and retrieves a long wriggling worm. I suspect it is his first morsel for the day. He hops across to different spots on the lawn and repeats the process several times. Once he is satisfied, he returns to his singing post, and continues his song of triumph.
By now, other birds have begun their morning calls. I pause to enjoy my feathered visitors; breakfast can wait. The tiny thornbills busily flutter from tree to tree in search of insects. They help themselves to snippets of the sweet and attractive feijoa blossoms, then flitter off to another garden. Wattlebirds come to visit and perform their acrobatics on the fuchsia, one of their favourite feeding plants that they share with the eastern spinebill. The patient spinebill waits its turn. Once the greedy wattlebirds have taken their fill, the little bird hovers like a hummingbird, drawing sweet nectar from the petite fuchsias that hang, suspended in mid-air like Prima ballerinas poised on their tippy-toes.
I prepare my breakfast, and while I wait for the toaster to crisp up the raisin bread, I gaze out from my window. In the distance, beneath the cloud formations, three hot-air balloons glide eastward, partly guided by the winds and partly manoeuvred by their pilots. Then right before my eyes, a single bulging balloon suddenly rises up just beyond my neighbours’ rooftop. Up close, it looks enormous. Passengers in the basket chatter incessantly. I rush out onto my back verandah and wave enthusiastically.
‘What’s the weather like up there?’ I ask, when some passengers wave back.
‘Cold!’ says one, huddling into her parker. Other passengers are engrossed in a lively discussion about their surrounds, admiring the views. Dogs in nearby backyards bark in disapproval of this intrusion. The blackbirds abruptly end their sweet song and my other feathered visitors disappear. The voices of the occupants in the baskets are so clear, I want to continue with the conversation.
‘Where are you from?’ I ask.
‘We’re from Elizabeth, in South Australia.’
‘Your garden is beautiful,’ one adds.
‘You have a lot of fruit trees,’ another passenger observes.
‘Do you make marmalade?’
‘Not really. We share the fruit with the birds.’
They take photos and drift away. Jets of flame shoot up into the hollow cavity of the balloon. The huge oval canvas responds to the heat from the flames and soars upwards towards the clouds. The bulging balloon continues to rise and drift in an easterly direction. I race inside and grab my camera and manage to take a photo.
Such a pity the passengers weren’t here a week ago. They missed seeing the splendid display of blossom on our fruit trees. All that’s left now are the various shades of green foliage sprouting from the branches.
I wonder if they noticed the one tree still covered with blossom: the orange tree. Its true beauty is in its simplicity; five opaque petals, white with yellow stamens. The blossoms crowd the stems and push past the fresh green leaves, and they emit a sweet subtle scent that dominates the herb garden. It does, however, have one competitor whose blossoms are equally beautiful, and that’s the lemon tree.
Banner image of an eastern spinebill, a bird that can sometimes be spotted in Melbourne backyards. Image courtesy of Cathy Cavallo.