Building a sustainable future

Cambodia

Earlier this year, I felt that I wanted to ‘do something’. I felt that something was missing, that I needed to connect with my core values. A rejection or two also brought this home. I felt that rather than dwell in negativity, that I wanted to do something inspiring and something that was ‘about people’ and helping those in need in a tangible way.
Last year, I had bought a copy of the ‘The Big Issue’ which is a magazine sold by the homeless or long term unemployed. I had seen an ad for a volunteer program that went for one week. I felt that one week was something that I could do, so I went and found the magazine and found the ad. It was for ‘Habitat for Humanity’. Habitat for Humanity is an organization that supports those in need by helping them build houses.
I was immediately attracted. I thought ‘how wonderful to work with a community and help them build a house’! I looked through their catalogue of international projects and came upon the ‘Cambodia – Mekong Big Build’ later this year. After some discussion with my husband, I decided to put my name down.
So what is this build about? Here is some information:
‘After the closure of the Stueng Meanchey dumpsite in 2009, scavenger landless families dispersed in rental shacks all over the Phnom Penh. The Mekong Big Build in Cambodia is establishing a ‘new city’ within bicycling distance from the Stueng Meanchey dump site. The project is aiming to construct 50 affordable, rent-to-own housing for families who used to live in the dumpsite area. The location will allow them to find work in the city as well as develop new skills like gardening and sewing.’ (http://www.habitat.org.au/globalvillage/cambodiamekongbigbuild)

A young boy peeks out of his small shack at Stung Meanchey Garbage Dump on Thursday, February 9, 2006 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  (Photo by Matthew Williams/ZUMA Press)
A young boy peeks out of his small shack at Stung Meanchey Garbage Dump on Thursday, February 9, 2006 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. (Photo by Matthew Williams/ZUMA Press)

I think it sounds like a wonderful project and I am thrilled to go and do something positive for those in need.
Now this is where I get my donations hat out ….as part of participating in the build, I am supposed to raise $2,000! Thanks to some kind donations, I have a start, but I have a long way to go. Here is where I hope the kindness and goodwill of friends, family and strangers will help me in reaching my target.
So how can you help? Please donate what you can towards my trip by going to the following link:
http://www.habitat.org.au/page.aspx?pid=1267&tab=0&frsid=1480
I would like to recognise those that support me and I will do that in the following ways:
• If you donate at least $AUD50 I will send you a ‘Thank you Card’ with a photo of me during the build.I will publish this on my blog http://www.ecomummy.com and will promote through my networks. You will also receive a copy of this photo which you can keep or use to promote your contribution towards this great project.
• If you donate at least $AUD200 I will print a photo of you or your company logo on a T-shirt and wear this during my build with a message of thanks. I will take a photo and publish this on my blog and promote through my networks. In recognition of your wonderful contribution, you will also receive a copy of this photo for your own use or for further marketing.
• If you or your company donate at least $AUD400 I will not only wear a T-shirt with your picture or company logo, but I will also record a video message of thanks and upload this to my blog and publicise through my networks. You will also receive this clip which you can use on your or your company’s website to highlight your contribution towards helping families in Cambodia.

Thank you so much!

Cambodia children

Addressing Energy Poverty in India, one Solar light at a time

Solar_lighting_India_Image_Acumen_Fund
Addressing poverty is a daunting task. Firstly there are a number of reasons why poverty exists. These include environmental factors, lack of access to natural resources like fresh water, hunger, social inequality, lack of education, lack of access to healthcare and lack of employment opportunities.
I believe that there are a few fundamental things that, if addressed, will improve the lives of many of those living in poverty. These key factors include education, healthcare, food and shelter.
One of the other forms of poverty is energy poverty. What this term refers to is the lack of access to energy which results in the use of kerosene and other forms of fuel which have health impacts on those that use it.
The World Economic Forum states that “Access to energy is fundamental to improving quality of life and is a key imperative for economic development. In the developing world, energy poverty is still rife. Nearly 1.6 billion people still have no access to electricity, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).”
This is something that I experienced first-hand when I visited India in 2004. So many hours of the day were spent without electricity. Many businesses would have to operate their own diesel generators which have their own environmental problems, such as air pollution.
There is one organisation though that is aiming to change that: Pollinate Energy (http://pollinateenergy.org/about/). I first heard of Pollinate Energy through one of its founders who is a friend of a friend! She is one of the founders of this organisation which is aiming to end energy poverty in India through locally manufactured and affordable clean energy solutions. Their current program is to provide solar lights in homes thereby eliminating the use of Kerosene. We all take for granted that we can switch on a light and are able to see and work and operate. Many people do not have this luxury and these are the people that Pollinate Energy want to help.
Pillinate Energy

What I love about this initiative is that they are working with employing people from the local community and providing them a business opportunity to sell these solar lights to households in their community. They are therefore addressing a number of things that lead to poverty: employment, energy and health.
I also love that they want to share their passion and knowledge with other like-minded people through their Young Professionals Program. The Young Professional Program is aiming to foster future leaders through a two week program based in Bangalore, India.
If you would like to know more and to participate in the Young Professional Program, please go to: http://pollinateenergy.org/our-programs/ypp/ and sign up! Entries close 25 June.

Costa Rica doin’ it in style!

I was amazed by all the weird and wonderful teeny tiny frogs I saw.
I was amazed by all the weird and wonderful teeny tiny frogs I saw.

I visited this beautiful country in 2003 on a backpacking trip with my then fiance (now husband). We spent three weeks in this small but impressive country. Costa Rica is blessed in many ways. It has beautiful forests, both cloud forests and tropical rain forests. It has geothermal activity as we discovered in Rincon de la Vieja national park with bubbling mud pools and geysers. It has Caribbean beaches and it has more wildlife than you can poke a stick at. We saw Toucans, sloths, monkeys galore, weird and wonderful frogs, coral snakes, turtles laying eggs, crocodiles and the list goes on. It has volcanoes too. I recall a very wonderful night watching lava bursting out of and streaming down Volcan Arenal. We sat in a thermal bath James Bond style drinking cocktails with the fireworks display in front of us.

Liberia-960-x-420

Some facts about Costa Rica:
– It abolished the military on 1 December 1948! that’s 65 years ago!
– Costa Rica is home to about 12,119 species of plants, of which 950 are endemic.
one fourth of Costa Rica is under some form of national park protection and 9.3% is protected under the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
– AND it has the most chilled out children I EVER came across in my 1 year backpacking trip. Like seriously laid back, relaxed chilled out ‘Pura Vida’ Style (Pure Life, the national catch phrase, just like G’Day is to Australia). Nothing phased them and I wonder ‘what was it? how do these parents do it?’ I have no answers for that.

Now why am I here gushing about Costa Rica. Well because they want to add another feather to their cap. They have the audacity to want to be the first country in the world to be Carbon Neutral and do you know what, they may very well do it! http://news.nationalgeographic.com.au/news/2008/03/080307-costa-rica.html

Here is a short report about how wind is helping on them on this journey. Now how can a small coutnry like Costa Rica just decide – hell let’s stop talking and start doing? whereas most of the rest of the world is still talking and arguing.
http://www.aljazeera.com/news/americas/2013/05/201352685625545920.html

I say ‘Salut’ to Costa Rica. You have shown us again how it should be done!

Happy Mother’s Day

 Love

To all the mummy’s around the world ‘Happy Mother’s Day’.

If you’re a mother,how did you spend today?

For me, I was woken up early by my son who is always an early riser. Today he was in my bed twitching excitedly before 6 am. I then left him to it and went into his bed and got back to sleep. My husband later told me that my son did not sleep and spent the whole time talking and wanting my husband to play with him. So some sleep was my first gift!

We then had breakfast prepared by my husband with my kids helping. After some play, I got my gift of a massage and a book on the natural wonders of the world. I ended up spending my afternoon at my mother’s house and with the glorious day was itching to get into the garden. When I did get into the garden I discovered that part of my brick fence had fallen down and I also discovered that even a little bit of physical labour in the garden seems to upset my wrist. Grrrr……

I did however want to take a moment to recognise the mother of all mothers ‘ Mother Earth’ and the wonderful world she has given us. Also I wanted to share this link to photos of mothers from around the world.

http://www.dailylife.com.au/photogallery/life-and-love/parenting-and-families/mothers-around-the-world-20130507-2j57e.html

Enjoy.

An Open Letter to KMART

bangladesh
bangladesh-building-collapse_7
Dear Guy Russo,
I am a KMART customer and feel compelled to write this letter to voice my concern over KMART’s purchase of clothing ‘Made in Bangladesh’. The inhumane conditions that workers face in Bangladesh confronted me last November (24th of November 2012) after a fire at the Tazreen Fashion Factory killed 112 workers. Around this time I went to KMART to look for some pyjamas for my son, as it was heading into Summer and he didn’t have any summer pyjamas. I was attracted to some sale items with a price that was hard to beat. I then decided to look at where the product was made and saw that it was ‘Made in Bangladesh’.
I have previously seen ‘Made in Bangladesh’ clothing and was curious about this, though I didn’t fully give it a lot of thought. What did I know about Bangladesh at that time? I knew that Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world (population of 120 million people and 1,142.29 people per square kilometre compared to 2.9 people/sq. Km in Australia source: http://www.tradingeconomics.com/bangladesh/population-density-people-per-sq-km-wb-data.html). I knew that Bangladesh was one of the poorest countries in the world (in 1990 56.6% of people lived below the poverty line, but now that number is 31.5% source: http://www.undp.org.bd/mdgs.php). Malnourishment of children is a significant issue (over 54% of pre-school children are classified as underweight). I also knew that Bangladesh is prone to flooding (because about 80% of Bangladesh sits in an alluvial delta barely 10 metres above sea level and is intersected by 230 rivers, flooding becomes a frequent occurrence after annual monsoons).
Now in this situation, having an industry like the clothing manufacturing industry may be seen as a way to alleviate poverty, to have an established industry and address some of the issues I’ve already discussed. Clothing manufacturing is said to account for 80% of Bangladesh’s annual exports.
But it is this very industry that has resulted in about 1,000 people dying in the last few weeks (8 people died resulting from a fire at Tung Hai Sweater Ltd. factory and 920 deaths resulted from the building collapse at Rana Plaza, source: http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/1764476/Eight-dead-in-new-Bangladesh-factory-fire).
While I am not saying that KMART is directly associated with these factories, by having much of its clothing ‘Made in Bangladesh’ KMART is responsible for ensuring workers are paid a decent wage, are treated fairly and that their work environment is safe. The proper management of KMART’s supply chain is your responsibility.
I share this story, because as a mother of two and KMART customer, last year I made the decision not to buy the pyjamas and I have not purchased a ‘Made in Bangladesh’ garment from KMART since. As a customer, I would like to know the clothes that I purchase not only contribute towards the economy of a developing country, but not at the cost of human life. Mr Russo, I ask you to:
• Please sign the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement. The Agreement, developed by Bangladeshi and global unions and labour rights organizations, provides for independent inspections of supplier factories, public reporting, training and mandatory repairs and renovations.
• Send a representative to Bangladesh to meet with the trade unions and labour organisations working directly with the affected workers to agree on next steps.
• Voice your concerns to the Bangladeshi government and demand that trade unions and their representatives are protected and consulted with to ensure the safety of your suppliers in Bangladesh.
By taking the above steps, not only will you see me return as one of your customers, but you will also be promoting KMART’s corporate social responsibility in a public manner. I am sure many other customers would love to see these positive steps taken and you will likely be rewarded by their trade and new customers.
Thank you

Elham Monavari
http://www.ecomummy.com

Bush Kids

I have been enjoying a glorious autumn in Sydney. The weather has been beautiful and I have taken this opportunity before winter to get out into the bush.

I have been trying to encourage my children to enjoy nature. A few weeks ago, we decided to go on a bushwalk in a local national park: Lane Cove National Park. My son who is now nearly 5 was super excited. He donned his hat, backpack filled with snacks and his binoculars.  My daughter also was excited, as she seems to be excited about anything that her brother may be into. She just turned 2. The walk we chose is ran along Lane Cove River, along the mangroves.

We chose to take the pram with us (yes strange to take a pram on a bushwalk, but my guidebook told me that there would be boardwalks there).

Once we found the track, we got walking. My son decided he wanted to take photos of spider’s webs which was great, as last year the sight of them scared him. I suppose the Abu Dhabi is slowly leaving him and he is getting more used to the abundant creepy crawlies that call Australia home.

The walk is pretty easy actually, but there is strange part to it when you hit Chatswood Golf Course and you have to walk through it, but then the path dips back along the river with beautiful views. Overall the kids enjoyed the walk and the snacks they got along the way (the best part of a walk no?!) and my daughter even walked most of the way. While the success had me excited, I did feel a little pang of sadness at the realization that they are no longer my little babies….now they are bush walking children!ImageImageImageImageImage

With this success under our belt, my husband and I decided to go to the Blue Mountains, a beautiful part of New South Wales, about 1.5 hours west of Sydney. With autumn leaves glistening and the sun shining, we decided to go on a bushwalk. The one suggested to us was Sublime Point walk. I have to say, this time it seemed that my son’s excitement of the bushwalk had waned and I suddenly had a flash forward to a grumbling ‘I don’t wanna’ time. I was hoping that this would not surface at age 4! With some encouragement however we got out and walking and what a sublime view it was. With that short walk under our belt and children in need of their ‘babycinno’ fix (for those not familiar with this, a babycinno is frothed milk with some chocolate sprinkled on top).

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After that it was time for our second bushwalk of the day, this time Leura Cascades. This walk was a little bit more challenging, with lots of steps. It is relatively short however (500 m to the cascasdes) and the views were spectacular. The actual walk was beautiful too, as you go along a creek with wet sclerophyll vegetation growing overhead.  While walking back up was a little hard for my daughter who was carried back most of the way, my son found it an enjoyable bushwalk altogether.

I think with regular encouragement my kids will grow to love the bush as much as I do.

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World Environment Day Blog Off!

Okay, so I am not a selected blogger that the United Nations Environment Program has shortlisted in its Blog Off prior to World Environment Day (5 June 2013). This year’s theme is food waste ‘Think. Eat. Save’ and they are having a competition between bloggers: 

http://www.unep.org/wed/blog-competition/bloggers/ 

This is an issue that I am particularly passionate about, as I see there should be no reason for wasting food. To me it is a waste of resources and I feel terrible throwing away food when there are people going hungry.

So, while I am not a shortlisted blogger, I am a blogger nonetheless and earlier this year, I put forward this ‘letter’ to an editor as part of my attempt to be accepted into a sustainability leadership program. Here are my thoughts on food waste and if you’d like to know what other Bloggers think about it and to vote for one, please visit the UNEP website at the link I provided earlier.Image

What should the horse meat scandal have brought to light? Apart from the ethical horror of eating what many see as a beautiful animal, it should have brought to light the globilisation of food and its consequently large ecological footprint. While there are complex and interconnected reasons for the large amounts of water and energy that go into producing our food, the value of food and what you and I are willing to pay for it is something that is yet to be discussed in great depth by the mainstream media.

Increasingly we are spending proportionally less of our income on food and therefore there is the expectation that our food will cost less.  What this does is place more strain on smaller farmers in favour of large corporate agricultural produce and the rise of the major supermarket chains and their homebrand products. 

While some consumers may be happy with the super low prices, this reduction in the value of food could be one contributor towards the significant amounts of food wasted globally (it is estimated that at last half of the food produced around the world goes to waste).  Feeding the 925 million of the world’s hungry, addressing climate change and global water shortage may be a daunting task, but there is something that ordinary people can do each time they go to the super market and each time they cook. I’m unsure however that a greater number of people will ask these questions when faced between a $1 carton of milk against the sometimes higher prices that smaller scale locally grown produce may demand.

Happy New Year? Yes, Happy New Day!

Eid Norooz Mobarak - this is my Sofreh Haft Sin
Eid Norooz Mobarak – this is my Sofreh Haft Sin

The last week has been a particularly busy one. I have had my new year to celebrate and my daughter’s birthday. She arrived 2 years ago on the day of the Persian New Year. She was about a week late! I had had my ‘show’ at work and was convinced that I was about to go into labour. My mum had come from Sydney to be with me, but little miss decided to be fashionably late. I awoke on the night of the Persian New Year with labour pains and there she was at 6:25 am 21 March 2011. This day was also the UAE Mother’s Day which meant I got lots of presents and visitors in the hospital.
I mention this day because not only does it have more significance to me now that my daughter is here, but also because it is something that I try to continue to celebrate in my life and is a cultural link for my children.
Eid e Norooz which literally means New Day, comes on the first day of the northern hemisphere spring and the moment of the spring equinox becomes the moment of the new year. It has been celebrated in ancient Iran for over 3000 years and is now recognised by the UN on the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. I love this time of year. It means the end of winter and the start of spring. It means time with family and celebrating around the Sofreh Haft Sin which is the 7 things that start with the letter ‘s’ with each symbolising something.
Apple – Sib symbolises beauty and health
Garlic – Sir symbolises medecine
Wheat pudding – Samanu symbolises affluence
Vinegar – Serkeh symbolises wisdom and patience
Oleaster – Senject symbolises love
Sumac symbolises colour of sunrise
Sprouts – Sabzeh symbolises rebirth
Other things that usually included are a mirror, candles, decorated eggs and goldfish. I have been skipping the goldfish bit because they usually die and I feel terrible having a dead goldfish on my table. Not very auspicious I don’t think.
Unlike other holidays in Iran, this is not a religious one and is secular. I love that it is celebrated by all ethnic groups in the country and the different religions both in Iran and other neighbouring countries.
I enjoyed sharing this with my children this year. So to everyone, happy new year ‘Eid e norooz mobarak’1 hopefully the next year brings much joy, health, success and love.

The Garden, oh the Garden – Part 3b: Eating Organically

Over the last few months, my vegetables have been like my children. They are my babies. Sometimes they bring me joy and sometimes frustrate me. I go out every day and check on them. How are they doing? do they have enough water? do they need more fertiliser? more garlic chili spray? I haven’t named them yet, but have been close! I doubt I am unique in this regard.

A few weeks ago some friends came over for ‘high tea’ at my place and where once these girlfriends and I may have talked about boys, men, sex, politics and philosophy, this time we talked about our children and our vegetable gardens. What we planted, what worked and what didn’t. How things have changed!

As the last post showed, I went bananas with my planting and have been going organic, hence no pesticides.

So what have been my successes?

  • Tomatoes – they are going really well – a little too well to be precise. I had planted the seeds and waited until they were seedlings before putting in the planter boxes. The problem is that the ballpoint pen I used rubbed off – so in the end I didn’t know exactly what I put in the planter box. All tomato seedlings looked the same to me, so I put them all in and now they are taking over the planter box, but they are doing really well. Lots and lots of cherry, Roma and normal tomatoes growing.
  • Squash – My little yellow squash are also growing fairly well.
  • Corn;
  • Zucchini – My zucchini is going gangbusters – so much in fact that it is crowding out everything else. I didn’t know that Zucchini plants would grow so large.
  • Turnips – initially did okay, but now, not so much. Maybe it is too hot right now for them. I’ll try again soon.
  • Spinach

The so so list:

  • Pumpkin, Okra, Cucumber, Lettuce, rocket – they are being eaten too rapidly by caterpillars…Chilies, and Capsicum.

Failures:

The following crops have been an absolute failure!

  • Eggplant, Beetroot, carrots, shallots, onion, snow peas! I thought it would be really easy to grow snow peas, but they all shrivelled up and died 😦
  • Beans – I thoughts my beans would go great, but not so.
  • My herbs – total failure. No matter how many times I planted basil, they never took hold. Neither with the oregano, nor my parsley.

I have learnt a few lessons though which I will share:

  • Don’t plant everything under the sun. I tried to think in my head of all the vegetables that I eat and tried to plant those. It is too much and thus many of the seedlings never took hold.
  • Plant less quantities of seedlings. Because I lost track of what I did and did not have due to my bad disappearing pen incident, I planted too many seedlings. Now that I know how big some plants get, next year, I will only plant 2 zucchini plants and 2 tomato plants.
  • Cover my herbs with chicken wire. I am sure the culprits of my failure are the possums that frequent my house!

While I am disappointed with some of my crops, I am pretty excited to be eating from my garden and teaching my kids about where food comes from. Do you have any successes to share?

They say Zucchinis are great for lazy gardeners. I'm not lazy, but there is a sense of satisfaction with growing these beauties!
They say Zucchinis are great for lazy gardeners. I’m not lazy, but there is a sense of satisfaction with growing these beauties!

 

Ready for dinner!
Ready for dinner!
Delicious stuffed zucchini flowers
Delicious stuffed zucchini flowers
A lovely zucchini ratatouille like dish I made with cuscus
A lovely zucchini ratatouille like dish I made with cuscus

 

After...thriving plants
After…thriving plants
Corn
Corn
Butternut pumpkin
Butternut pumpkin
Some unwanted visitors on my lemon tree - Stink Bugs
Some unwanted visitors on my lemon tree – Stink Bugs
Another citrus I am yet to see fruit. It is not doing well either way.
Another citrus I am yet to see fruit. It is not doing well either way.

 

 

Fresh herbs

Avocado tree. Not doing wonderfully,  but this picture shows some new growth
Avocado tree. Not doing wonderfully, but this picture shows some new growth

 

 

 

The Garden, Oh the Garden Part 1: The weeds!

As I sit here nursing my ganglion cyst, I ponder on what may have caused this strange knob to appear on my wrist. While I know that these things happen – my theory is my garden!

My garden has been my project since moving back. While living overseas my father maintained the garden to a degree, by mowing the lawn and general upkeep. Before I arrived my mum spent hours trying to make it presentable to me.  Well once I arrived, I was initially pleasantly surprised. Soon however, the true nature of my garden began to present itself to me. The main culprit was the ‘un-killable’ weed – Peruvian Lilly (Alstroemeria aurea). It had never been properly removed and had taken over my garden, getting in all sorts of crevices, under paving, walls, bricks etc and so began my battle to correct this.

A pretty, but very persistent weed
I haven’t been able to eradicate the weed becuase its tubers are sometimes hard to take out, especially when they get tangled amonst other plant roots.

When I attended a composting workshop run by my local Council, the presenter (Peter Rutherford) encouraged us to enjoy the diversity of our garden and while this flower may look pretty in photographs and I might have one day even looked upon it fondly while walking the Inca Trail in Peru (or as some would call it the Quechua trail because the Incans never walked the trail, but were carried by the Quechuans), I knew that it had no place in my garden.

I have often wondered about what makes a weed a weed – like why did I have this reaction to this flower (my husband thought it looked nice – much to my horror!) and my thought is that weeds generally are not happy inhabiting their little niche area – they have to take over everything. Like this Peruvian Lily. If it was in a small part of the garden I would have not gotten so worked up, but no, it had to try and take over the whole garden and I wanted to do other things with those spaces and there lies my definition of a weed.

This weed spreads by these bobbules as I call them, which are water filled tubers. They break off easily and you need to get every damn one out, because each one is a new plant. Over the last year I have spent hours and I mean hours over weekdays and weekends tracing, digging and pulling this weed out. It has at times felt like the un-winnable war. Like there has been a standoff between me and this plant.  I have tried to like it – have tried to not care about it so that I may enjoy some time with my kids over the weekend, but I have always been itching to get to the garden to pull this weed out. I have dug, pulled, poisoned (does not work) and covered this weed. After nearly one year, I can claim some success.  It is still around, but much less so.  Some of the other weeds that have also called my garden their home include:

  • Privet;
  • Asthma weed;
  • Ochna;
  • Cassia (Senna pendula);
  • Turkey Rubarb (Acetosa sagittata) another killer weed I spent many hours digging up;
  • Tradescantia.

While all of these have presented their own special challenges (and still do), they are now manageable.

As I look across my mostly Peruvian Lily free garden, what do I see? Neater and tidier garden beds, vegetables and kangaroo paws and other native plants. So while I sometimes questioned my own sanity, I think it was worth the very hard work over the last year.

This is part one of my garden journey over the last year. Stay in touch to hear more from my garden adventures.

This was taken while my house was being rented. My previous tenants weren’t into gardening much. When I moved back, I have to say it didn’t look this bad – largely thanks to my wonderful parents. The weeds were there though, underground and lurking to pop up when given the chance!
I removed all the Turkey Rubarb, then planted with some hardy natives, mulched and scored these figurines from my mother’s old shop. Looks totally different to the way it once was.

I am yet to learn the art of taking care of roses, but a prune over winter and some love, organic fertiliser and much rain has yeilded me these beauties. They smell just like rose water and fill the backyard with such a beautiful scent. I say roses need to smell and mine do thankfully!