Month: March 2014

The rest of the marmalade story!

IMG_0598Yesterday I started to tell you about marmalade but in my haste, I accidentally hit publish before I had finished my story! Then the day flashed by and I had no time to return to it. As I was saying, the damper with marmalade from the new cafe in the Dirty Janes Antique Market, where we are located, is delicious. The marmalade, made by Cath, one of the owners,  was a beautiful, translucent mandarin colour and was tangy and delicious.  I love a good marmalade but it is surprisingly difficult to get one with enough bite.  They’re all too sweet. I’ve hunted high and low and have tried all the usual famous brands, I’ve pounced on home made jars at school fetes, trawled through the Farmers Markets here and in Sydney, scouted through shops in English villages where they should know all about marmalade …  and still I hunger for just the right combo of chunkiness, tartness and aroma.  So I turned to Stephanie Alexander’s Cook’s Companion for help.  There on page 473 she lists this lovely entry:

Seville marmalade from a competent western-district cook.

This recipe came to me from a woman who read of my failure with my first-ever Seville marmalade.  She reminded me that it is most important to use fresh fruit – straight from the tree is ideal. 

Seville oranges, water, salt, sugar.

Thinly slice fruit, having first removed all pips and central membrane.  For every 500g prepared fruit, allow 1.8 litres water and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Simmer fruit, salt and water until peel is soft and easily squashed.  Allow to rest for 24 hours in a ceramic or stainless steel bowl.  Next day, measure fruit and water into a preserving pan or large stockpot using a cup.  Bring to a boil and for every cup of fruit and water allow an equal measure of sugar.  Return to a boil and cook for 25-30 minutes until setting or jelly stage.  Bottle into hot, sterilised jars.

Reading this tip about ‘straight from the tree is ideal’, brings me to another citrus note. We have just received a lovely delivery of very healthy, vigorous, perky looking orange, lemon, cumquat, grapefruit, blood orange and lime trees.  So if you too are a marmalade lover, you might like to think about putting in your own citrus grove and in a year or two you’ll have enough for your first batch of home-grown, home-made marmalade!

Visit The Potting Shed website for location and contact details.

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Hydrangea quercifolia Snow Queen

hydrangea-quercifoliaI’m pleased to advise we have some lovely stock of ‘Snow Queen’ in store at The Potting Shed. This oakleaf hydrangea is a really beautiful plant and the stock we have received is locally grown and in outstanding condition.  If you don’t have this in your collection, think about including it. It really is an impressive plant and a standout in the garden.

Botanical Name: Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snow Queen’

Common Name: Oakleaf hydrangea

Genus: Hydrangea

This cultivar produces 8-inch-long, conical flower heads from early summer on. It is as notable for its distinct, deeply lobed leaves as for its reliably showy, creamy blooms. The foliage produces outstanding autumn color and the flowers take on purplish-pink hues when dried.  This exceptional shrub is native to the southeastern parts of the U.S., where it is found growing along stream banks. It is equally stunning in a mixed border or woodland setting. The flowers are good for cutting and drying. It is adaptable to full sun if provided with adequate moisture, and needs little pruning.  I can personally endorse this lovely plant and know you will not be disappointed.  But be quick if you wish to purchase, as I know this will be a favourite with local gardeners.

 

Autumn in the garden

rainbowchardThough it is bucketing down as I write this, I have to still tell you that autumn is the best time to plant everything as it’s still warm enough for roots to grow into their new surroundings and the whole plant gets comfortably established and growing before next summer. So … put on your Drizabone and get out into the garden and get planting for a great spring spectacle!  I’ve just planted lots of Tuscan kale (for my healthy next door shop neighbour Suzie Anderson to take home and add to her morning juice!), ornamental kale (not to eat, just to admire), artichoke, lettuce, spinach and ruby chard at The Potting Shed Kitchen Garden … and leek, broad beans, cabbage, peas and cauliflower at home in our vegie garden .. and can’t wait to harvest it over the next few months. In early spring the combo of baby broadbeans skinned and blanched, drizzled with oil and garlic butter and sprinkled with fresh mint on grilled foccacia is unbeatable! IMG_6588And if you’re lucky enough to be on acreage or have friends who will let you harvest their paddocks, autumn is mushroom season … and there’s nothing like freshly picked mushrooms sauteed in butter on toast for breakfast … or as my mother used to do, reduced right down till the flavour is really intense, and added to casseroles or as a side with bacon and eggs. Mmmm.

Vegie and herb seedlings to plant
Broad beans, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, leek, lettuce, onion, peas, radish, shallots, spinach, silverbeet. Herbs: Coriander, rocket, chives, lemon grass, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme.

Flower seedlings to plant
Now’s the time to plant alyssum, calendula, candytuft, carnation, cinneraria, cornflower, cosmos, daisies, foxglove, lobelia, marigold, nasturtium, nemesia, pansies, poppies, primula, snapdragon, sweet peas and viola.  Most of which we have in stock at the moment at The Potting Shed.

It’s the perfect time to plant camellia sasanqua and japonica, hebe, photinia, viburnum, lilly pilly and buxus and pick your deciduous trees whilst their foliage has its vibrant autumn colour and last but not least it’s time to plant spring flowering bulbs.  More on those soon. Meantime, happy gardening!

 

 

Lady Hillingdon

portraitAs I was out weeding late last evening, taking advantage of the soft ground after all the rain, there literally glowing in the dark was the beautiful rose Lady Hillingdon.  Poor thing, like so many of my roses she’s had to adapt to several different homes as part of the ongoing relocation of sections of the garden.  But this autumn, she’s taken charge … she’s put her pretty foot down and said this is where I’m staying.  From a spindly, frail little thing she has emerged as the great beauty I knew she should be.  Covered from head to toe in the loveliest colour I can’t actually find words to describe.  Not apricot, not orange, not yellow, but a blended tone of those – the best I can offer is the colour of the mango gelati at Messina in Darlinghurst where we often used to go for a treat on the way home from dinner.  Soft, satiny mango coloured blooms nodding elegantly down – she is the belle of the ball.  So unspeakably lovely and graceful.  Delicate, captivating, fragile. Hauntingly beautiful.  And with a magnificent perfume that is just as hard to describe.  It was too dark to photograph her so here are stock shots I felt captured her.

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David Austin describes her thus: “A vigorous and hardy climbing rose, and one of the best tea roses still in existence. The blooms are made up of large petals, resulting in long, elegant, waxy buds, which open to large, loosely formed flowers of deep apricot-yellow. These hang gracefully from the branch and emit a delicious, rich tea fragrance. ‘Lady Hillingdon’ continues to flower throughout the summer with unusual regularity. It has fine contrasting dark green foliage, which is coppery mahogany when young. 15ft.” 

And these comments from Paul Bardon do her justice – far better than I have managed.

“Lady Hillingdon, a tea. Bred by Lowe and Shawyer, UK 1910.

There is a certain quality about this rose that very nearly defies description. Whether it is the rich warm yellow coloring, the incredibly deep and unique fragrance, or the lovely contrasting reddish-plum colored foliage that makes this such an incredible beauty is hard to say. I have not had this plant of Lady Hillingdon long, and now I cannot imagine why I took so long in acquiring it! This bloom, which is about 4 inches across, opened on May 5th in my greenhouse, and it has been one bloom that I have visited many times daily for its scent.

I believe I have the shrub form of Lady Hillingdon, which is about 3′ tall and 2′ wide at maturity. (Bigger in warmer climates) There is a climbing variety that is more often grown that will climb to 15′ tall and 8′ wide. Although I have little experience with it yet, I understand that it has winter hardiness comparable to most Hybrid Teas. I would grow this rose for the fragrance alone.

As with most of the Tea roses, ‘Lady Hillingdon’ is a densely twiggy, slim-branched rose that gains slowly in size over several years. I find the graceful, finely branched form of the Tea roses to be very beautiful. If you live in an area where you can grow these roses, you should make them a part of your garden.”

Oh to have a rose named after you, let alone one as lovely as this.  So who was this Lady Hillingdon?

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Alice, Lady Hillingdon was born the Hon Alice Harbord-Hamond and married the second Lord Hillingdon. As a wedding present her father gave them property in Norfolk, where they built Overstrand Hall, according to Pevsner ‘one of Lutyens’s most remarkable buildings, at the time when he had reached maturity but still believed to the full in his own inventiveness’, but Lady Hillingdon reportedly preferred London, for the society.

It is said that in her journal for 1912, or in a letter to her mother (which sounds rather unlikely), Lady Hillingon wrote: ‘I am happy now that Charles calls on my bedchamber less frequently than of old. As it is, I now endure but two calls a week and when I hear his steps outside my door I lie down on my bed, close my eyes, open my legs and think of England.’

Sadly, her journal has been lost. Perhaps on purpose. But whether or not it was hers, what a gift that phrase has been.

The picture above is her portrait by Bassano, who photographed all the ladies of the day, from the National Portrait Gallery.

We will certainly try and stock this lovely tea rose at The Potting Shed for spring. And thank you to The History Girls for the lively story above.   (http://the-history-girls.blogspot.com.au)

The Forest Pansy

DSC_0407 DSC_0415forest_pansyI am so cross with myself.  I had one very lovely Forest Pansy left at the shop and sold it to a young lady who was delighted with it after another customer waxed lyrical about it’s many attributes explaining what a great and beautiful tree it is. Now I wish I had brought it home for my own garden!  Tomorrow I will be ordering more and snaffling one for myself – I have just the spot for it.   Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ is a very elegant small ornamental tree growing to a height of 4 metres  and 4 metres wide.  At the start of spring clusters of small rose pink, pea-like flowers cover the entire tree followed by shiny reddish purple, heart shaped leaves. The leaves become quite large giving a very lush appearance. In summer the older, more sheltered foliage will harden off to a deep green creating a contrast with the vibrant new growth. Autumn turns the leaves a golden colour prior to them dropping to let the winter sun back in.

Forest Pansy can be used as a specimen tree or shrub, fence line screening, or just to add a splash of colour amongst your other shrubbery. It likes full sun or part shade, well drained fertile soil and needs mulch and summer water to really excel. It’s frost hardy, and in spite of it’s delicate and I think romantic appearance, it is quite hardy –  but keep it out of strong wind. If you’d like to add one to your collection, let me know and I’ll order one for you.

(Images via Google)

The silver birch walk

IMG_7538One of the first things we planted when we started our garden here in Sutton Forest was a little walk of silver birches, in those days to screen off an unsightly area of rain water tanks and to soften the house as you approached down the driveway. This idea kind of grew and now we seem to have lots and lots of silver birch walks!  One behind the citrus  garden,  which shades a pathway leading to the orchard.  Another one leads through the perennial garden to the north of the house and most recently, in a spontaneous moment of madness, I bought 300 (or was it 500?) to line the driveway last winter and create some light and shade effects  and lead your eye to the house.  They grow incredibly fast here in the Highlands and it seems the ones on the driveway love the acid from the pine needles that fall from a stand of pines nearby. Or perhaps it is the 4 inch layer of mulch that gives them a boost.  Either way the effect has been almost instant and the little  saplings are now already high enough to walk under and will by next summer form a pretty canopy to drive under.  For some reason some people don’t like them … I do.  I love them planted really close as they would be in natural woodland, and if I wasn’t responding to pressure to keep them spaced, I would plant them even closer.  That way the trunks stay slender and look amazing if pleached up really high leaving you with an ‘installation’ of silvery trunks.  What’s not to love about them, I say. And so, I will definitely be getting some in stock for you to enjoy at The Potting Shed.  IMG_7027Above:  Jack, Harry and Bella lamb chilling in the garden in SpringIMG_8491Above a view of a lovely silver birch lined path at The Burrows in Canyonleigh. IMG_1948Bluebells under birch at Whitley. IMG_6120Hellebores and forget me nots in one of our birch stands. IMG_6788

Choosing the right hedge

IMG_1985 IMG_1978 IMG_1979 Choosing the right hedge is a serious business – especially if you’re planning great areas of it. I procrastinated for months on what to use here at our farm where we started with a hundred acre blank canvas of gum studded paddocks.   We wanted something natural looking to suit our farm – not too formal, not too grand, not too fast, not too slow.  (Note: The pictures above are NOT at our farm, they are at the magnificent property Whitley just up the road.  I often drive past enviously admiring the stunningly manicured conifer and laid down hawthorn hedges that surround that property.)

It’s a big decision as you will live with it for a very long time and it will form the structure of your garden and is costly if you change your mind.  The best advice I can give on this is to drive around your district and take note of what others are using. Take your time. Do you prefer evergreen – a sharp edged conifer, a nice glossy cherry laurel or flowering camellia – or would you be happy with the elegant structure of a beautiful wall of deciduous hornbeam or beech with their russet winter leaves giving way to brilliant green in early spring? Whatever it is, it must match both your property and your budget as some need a lot more management than others and hedging on a large scale can be a considerable cost each year.

Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) is my absolute favourite and will be playing a big part in future sections of our garden. It is not commonly used here in Australia as a deciduous hedge probably because people prefer beech, which it does resemble. But, the expert view is that hornbeam makes a superior hedge to beech, particularly, if you want to pleach or train it. I saw what is probably the most famous example of a pleached hornbeam hedge at Hidcote in Gloucestershire last year.  There, a pair of hedges is raised almost 2 metres on pleached trunks. It is fantastic to see and well worth a visit next trip to England.

hornbeam_hidcote

Both hornbeam and beech keep their leaves through winter though the hornbeam is a paler shade of russet than the beech – then in spring the brown leaves make way for a startling show of the freshest green you can imagine. Either will grow happily here in the Southern Highlands and a great example to view, winter and spring to see the colour contrast,  is at the lovely gardens at Red Cow Farm – open daily from 10am.  People think it’s too slow, but hornbeam will grow very fast if it has plenty of moisture, particularly when young and it does respond well to a rich, well-prepared ground. It will also grow well in heavy shade, though a little less luxuriantly than in full sunlight.  We are endeavouring to source some advanced hornbeam hedging at The Potting Shed – and hopefully some specimens on stilts which are great if you need to block out a new house on your boundary or screen where trees have been removed next door.

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Above:  the beautiful yew hedges at Great Dixter.  Unfortunately yew doesn’t like the Australian climate and dies back.  But there are many good conifers that will give you this firm, precise structure.

Summary: Carpinus betulus (European hornbeam)

Mature Height: 5-10m Sizes estimated at 10 years, and may vary depending on growing conditions. Aspect: Full sun/semi-shaded. Nice deciduous tree, used as formal hedging in cooler areas; conical in shape when young, becoming rounded with age. Mid-green serrated-edged leaves, with pale undersides turning a greenish yellow autumn colour; yellow catkins prominant in spring. Avoid hot sun and don’t allow to dry out in hot weather.

Oops sorry – here’s the correct Bee story

IMG_3628 Sorry, I posted the wrong version of my bee story earlier. Here’s an update.

“If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.” Albert Einstein

Thanks to my friend in Croatia, Robyn Vulinovich for posting this quote on Facebook.  It is a frightening reality. We all know the bee situation has been getting grimmer by the year due to the widespread use of pesticides in industrial farming, but what can we do about it?

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beesmoker_iStock_000001903738Small IMG_3442 IMG_6782 It’s simple really.  Avoid using chemical pesticides and herbicides – where possible garden organically, practice companion planting (more on that soon), use garlic sprays instead of chemicals and put up with a few imperfections on your fruit and veges as they did in the olden days! Naturally, this doesn’t stop the industrial scale spraying which is where the big problem lies, but if we all become aware and do our little bit to provide natural food sources, it all helps. Plant flowering plants wherever you can to provide food for bees in your garden.  Don’t deadhead until you absolutely must … I know the floppy old lambs ears are irritating, but the bees continue to feed on them for weeks and weeks.  If you are interested in keeping bees in your garden, and the thought of your own homemade honey sounds appealing, we will soon have a hive set up at The Potting Shed to show you the components required and we can order them in for you.

Here’s a link that will help you understand what’s involved. Meantime, next time you see bees in your garden, be aware of the huge problem that faces them worldwide, read up on it and go out and buy lots of honey!  Use it in place of refined sugar and smother it on your toast each morning to help keep the Australian bee industry strong.