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Sweet Succulents: A Living Diary

Classbunny recently took a break, to drive down the south coast of NSW. It was a chance to stay on farms, camp with a dear friend that now lives in a field in a tent near Bega and to sleep under the stars, whilst listening to a thousand frogs, and the cries of foxes.

My friend in the field had a sea change once his kids were all grown up and he dumped city life. Our friendship goes back over 30 years. These days our opportunities to speak are limited, because being an outdoor dweller in the wilderness means he has no internet access, so he doesn't bother with social networking. Gasp no facebook? And his phone only works high up on a distant hill. He has no way to charge the battery without a trip to town .

So, seeing each other face to face is a real treat. A reminder how great friendship is, and how you can just pick up where you last left off, no matter how much time has passed with real buddies.

Of course we always gossip about all our friends - the recently deceased, the ill or the lost.

Last time I saw him, we laughed because someone told me, very gravely and with absolute authority that my friend had committed suicide years ago. This messenger had never even met my friend! I suppose having no facebook or instagram means you must be dead? Of course I had just been for a visit, so I know it was rubbish.

When we meet we invariably plan a reunion of people from back in the day, which of course we never manage to get together.

I take photos with my phone, like we all do, and show them around, once I make my way back home to Sydney. Everyone who sees them is incredulous, because he used to be a 'millionaire,' a social butterfly but now he enjoys life much more out in the open, in a solitary, frugal fashion. I vow to cut back my digital life.....his paring down is inspirational. He takes time to light the fire, heat the bathtub out in the open (takes a full day) and needs to get his daily tasks done by sundown, in time to read books by the light of solar lamps, before falling asleep and waking again at 4.30 am to greet the sunrise.

But my iphone pics don't capture my visit.

I find myself studying the plants, and start snapping twigs off succulents that are growing everywhere, I didn't do it consciously, or with any plan but now after the trip has ended I realise I am making a living diary of succulents.

During this trip I was impressed by the wide variety of succulents. They seemed to be everywhere, where ever I visited there they were, fat and juicy waiting to be plucked. Strangely, every friend I visited had them growing, so I took cuttings to bring home and propagate , as a reminder of where I had been. There were some native ones growing in my friends field, I had never seen before.

In nearby Tilba Tilba, magnificent grey striped ones with orange flowers were growing everywhere like a weed.

I probably wouldn't have noticed succulents normally, but I had run a 'garden in a cup' class in our first week of classbunny and Iris, the fabulous teacher gave us tips on propagating cuttings. I had vowed to give it ago, she said Spring was the best time.

Spring is just right for taking a leaf or snapping off a twig from a plant to take advantage of the season's plant hormones and their need to replicate. And because, as Iris told us, succulents like to be treated badly, a week sweltering in a plastic bag in the car boot was actually a booster to growth!

The journey progressed and I stayed with another friend, Mick who between showing me his farm, the grapevines he has big plans for and his workshop plans for street kids, pointed out more Australian native succulents and out came my scissors.

Our road trip continued and kilometers later, in another town, my friend Lee, made teacake and discussed her house and the big crack that made her feel like the walls might tumble down any minute, and we sat for hours laughing and chatting while the rain poured down and we ventured into the muddy rock garden her parents had started in the 60's. We waded through succulents that were thigh high. More cuttings!

And when I told my friend Annette that I was collecting succulents, she showed up to a

bar-b-q with a shopping bag full, including...gasp a sizable air plant that needed no soil. I am not sure what it needs yet,,,,so it is sitting on a table in the garden till I find out.

I read up a bit more and let my cuttings form scabs before I stick them in a cactus and succulent soil mix and I am astounded to see a leaf had sprouted tiny pink babies that look like rosebuds.Oh the excitement I am going to be a grandmother!

But where to keep them? Somewhere light, dry, hot? The first spot proved just too hot and unrelenting, so I followed my cat, to the warm dry, place she likes to lie in on a sunny day by the fence, where shadows form for some of the day.

Top tip; keep your succulents in the spot cats like to sun themselves, the conditions are perfect! The succulents were nice and dry but when an avalanche of rain hit, the soaking made them go crazy, roots have formed, leaves have appeared overnight. I look at each plant and it's as though a piece of each friend is in front of me, thriving. My old friend and his field, the warmth of morning tea with Lee, in her deceased parent's kitchen, a trip to Mick's farm and his stories of the bush fires that devastated his family. The succulents are hardy little survivors, a symbol of the people I adore, their resilience and friendship. Who needs a paper diary when you can form one from living things?

TIPS FOR SUCCULENTS: Don't water them, ignore them and after two weeks - it happens, roots form, pull them out of the soil and peek. What a thrill. The sweet succulents are ready to transfer into the concrete pots that I have been making in anticipation.

Classbunny runs the concrete planter class regularly, please come along and get your living diary started!

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