A delight of the winter garden is observing the different birds that visit it in search of food.
Honeyeaters will be attracted to a variety of plants, including native grevilleas and banksias, as well as camellias and other flowers rich in nectar. As many plants are devoid of leaves, the birds are also able to find grubs and insects on the plants. Spider webs will provide a good source for nest building, in preparation for the laying of eggs.
Blue wrens, silver eyes, golden whistlers and eastern spinebills are all in evidence now. The red wattle birds are also quite prevalent. These larger birds have striped feathers, but they can be identified by their rather raucous noise, and the red 'wattle', a fleshy area on the side of their necks.
Birds still need a source of water, so a dish of water suspended at an appropriate height that will offer protection from cats will provide drinking water and a place where the birds can splash about.
Parrots and other larger birds will also be seeking food sources, including berries. Fig birds are identified by the red area around the eye of the male. They are making quite a distinctive sound in garden trees just now.
Comfrey is a useful and beneficial plant in the garden. The leaves can be used as mulch as they contain silica, nitrogen, magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron.
Adding comfrey leaves to a worm farm will help produce larger worms. Comfrey is an herbaceous perennial. It has large hairy leaves and grows in a rosette to a metre high. Although it is dormant in cold areas during winter, it is a hardy plant with a wide, climatic range.
Plants produce high yields in fertile, well-watered soil. Plants, in the form of root cuttings or crown divisions, can be planted out in spring. If the roots are disturbed once the plants have become established, a new plant will be produced.
Excess plants can be covered with layers of wet newspaper which is then covered with mulch. The plants underneath will rot, leaving a rich, black compost.
Many local gardens, particularly in the more established suburbs, now have magnificent displays of magnolias. Large areas of paler to darker pink, with blotches of crimson through to purple fill the previously bare-branched, vase-shaped trees. These plants will be the variety that is more usually grown - saucer magnolia (magnolia soulangeana), which was bred about 200 years ago.
Hundreds of cultivars have been developed from the original plants, with darker flowers, larger flowers and more prolific flowering being the most commonly sought traits.
Magnolia liliflora (lily-flowered magnolia) has brilliant royal purple flowers, while Magnolia denudate (Yulan magnolia) displays flowers that are creamy-white. Star magnolia (magnolia stellata) is a small growing variety that will be covered with smaller white flowers featuring longer, thinner petals.
Magnolias prefer an open, sunny position sheltered from strong wind. This is because their petals will become disfigured by wind, which is often present at their main flowering time. A layer of organic mulch, such as leaf litter that has been collected during the autumn and allowed to start its decomposition, is ideal as this will be close to the conditions in which the plant would grow in its natural state.
This will help to maintain a cool root system. Only a light application of fertiliser will be needed. As magnolias are generally relatively fast growing, they can be used in smaller areas, especially as they have a non-invasive root system. A rich soil, with regular watering, will provide a source for good growth and, in our areas of clay soils, the addition of well-rotted manure will be of great benefit.
Parsley can be one of the more useful plants to have in a garden.
They look attractive in a vegetable or herb garden, but can also have a visual impact when planted into a flower bed or between lower growing shrubs.
Young plants are available in pots or seedling trays, but plants can also be grown from seed.
However, parsley seeds can be difficult to raise as seedlings.
Parsley seeds are slow to germinate and usually need soaking before germination taking place. This can be achieved by soaking the seeds in warm water overnight.
Alternatively, the seeds can be sown thickly, directly into a seed-raising mixture on top of the garden bed. Then, water that has just been boiled can be poured over the soil and seeds.
Using either method, the young seedlings should emerge in about three weeks.
Young plants can be thinned if needed. In about two months from sowing the seeds, the gardener will be able to enjoy fresh parsley in their preferred culinary methods.
A walk around the garden at this time will enable to gardener to observe plants that may have been put in the wrong position and, subsequently, are not growing to reach their maximum potential.
Deciduous plants are dormant at this time, so they can be moved to a better spot.
Empty garden beds can be prepared for spring planting of flowers and vegetables.
After digging over the soil, a mixture of compost or manure with a bit of garden lime can be added.