We never tire of the simple pleasure to be found in the morning ritual of walking the dogs … and taking our wonderful pig, ‘Pigley’ for a wander down to the pond for a wallow. She loves a chat and relishes the company. Have a lovely weekend. And remember to look for the beauty in everyday things. M x
I’ve noticed a lot of people are popping in to The Potting Shed to pick up potted herbs or flowers to give as gifts when they visit friends or meet for lunch. It’s a lovely idea – the gift lasts a long time and the pot can be filled again and again with some other treasure. My garden is filled with plants given to me by friends – one friend in particular practically transferred her entire garden to mine! Generous boot loads of treasure would arrive week after week, month after month as I started out creating our garden from a bare paddock and she simplified and streamlined hers. Now, years later we enjoy beds of irises, borders of agapanthas, under plantings of ajuga, hellebores and violets, drifts of catmint, paths bounded by daffodils, hyacinths and tulips, wonderful blocks of euphorbia, penstemons, salvias and scabiosa, orchards of citrus and barrels of rhubarb all started out from bags and boxes and snippings and clippings of these gifted plants. Another lovely friend and neighbour gave me, some years ago, another type of living gift … a basket of heirloom varieties of garlic she had grown, harvested and labelled. Not only was it delicious, I kept a clove of each and planted them and I’m still harvesting them year after year. One needn’t spend a lot of money on a gift … just a little thought … and time. And that gift keeps on giving for years and years and years. How perfect is that!
I know the phrase ‘less is more’ is the catch cry of the fashionistas and stylists … and in fashion that generally is true. But in the home and garden I say ‘more is more’! More roses, more peonies, more trees, more hedges, more art and books, more gorgeous things to beautify our lives.On our farm we have, amongst lots of other things, 32 geese and some of my friends say I should reduce the numbers to lessen the workload … but I can’t agree. To see them all take flight and land on the pond in a flourish of shimmering beauty is a sight to behold … their silhouette in the late afternoon as they come through the pines, and the river of white as they wind their way through the orchard gate each night to be fed is so very lovely. Much more spectacular than say 5 or 6 geese. They add movement and interest to the garden. Plus, they keep our sheepdog Sam amused! Every day he wakes me at dawn to let his geese out. He loves them and swoops excitedly about as they exit the yard into the orchard. He rounds them up all day long splitting them into various groups, regrouping them, dividing them, herding them. It’s funny and uplifting to watch. It’s the same with gardening … one or two of anything looks lonely. If you can, go for mass plantings. Even if you have a courtyard garden, be bold. Better to have lots of one thing than a little, meagre smattering of lots of different things. And repeat the same plant or plantings throughout to bring continuity and settle the eye. Just as lots of one style of plants looks better, so too does a story of similar pots, or matching barrels. So if in doubt, choose a style of plant you like and say to yourself “more is more”!
Earlier this summer my friend Bridget invited me to see her parent’s garden in Canyonleigh. I knew from her expression that I was in for a treat, but nothing prepared me for the scale and size and beauty that was in store. From a bare 10 acre paddock, Susan and John Carter have created an amazing oasis – a paradise. 19 years of love and inspiration was spread out before me. Kilometres of pathways wind through covered walkways, avenues of birches and maples, trees and hedges of every kind, arbors of wisteria, dramatic hedges of Rosa rugosa Scabrosa, and this (below) outstanding camellia walk shaded by trellis and trained into tiers of loveliness. How absolutely stunning. I raced home inspired and filled my notebook with sketches of new plans for projects to add excitement and interest to every corner of our ever expanding garden. You see a garden should not be a static place … it is a living, breathing thing and you can do with it what you wish. We are all constrained by budget … but let’s never be limited in our imagination. John and Susan are testimony to the magic that’s possible when you let your creativity run wild. And it is utterly lovely and inspiring. Note: Though they will be babies compared to the lovely example you see below, we will be receiving this week, quite advanced espaliered camellia on trellis … so you might want to try your hand at creating your own Camellia Walk!
Note: John and Susan Carter’s garden “The Burrows” at Canyonleigh is open for inspections by garden clubs and also by appointment. John is an artist who paints under his birth father’s name, Kirton. He established a gallery at The Burrows to showcase his extensive collection of works and it is also open by appointment. Visit http://www.johnkirton.com.au or phone 4878 9384 for details.
I grew up in Central Otago, New Zealand where the rugged hills around Alexandra are covered in wild thyme. I remember as a child picking rosehips in the summer with my mother, and we would trample over the rocky slopes where the thyme grew and the aroma of the crushed herb would follow us as we walked. So the smell of thyme always takes me back there. When my mother died, one of her close friends, completely unaware of that childhood memory, sent me in the mail a little gift – a simple sprig of thyme mounted and framed, handwritten below was Thymus vulgaris and on the card a note saying “I thought your mother would like you to have this”. How extraoardinary. It hangs in my kitchen and makes me feel my mother is always close by. It is one of my most valued possessions. Years later, on another trip back to NZ, my wonderful cousin Marie booked a lovely surprise – an afternoon horse-riding through the hills overlooking Clyde. All along the way, the horses hooves crushed the herbs underfoot filling the air with that beautiful aroma. It was sublime – the smell of horses, the creak of the saddles, the spectacular view … and the thyme. That’s what could be called aroma therapy on an intense level! Thyme is a species of flowering plant in the mint family Lamiaceae, native to southern Europe from the western Mediterranean to southern Italy. If you don’t already have it, plant some today in your garden. Or give some in a pot to a friend or daughter, or sister or mother. It’s the loveliest thing to share. Thyme.
In spite of the very dry season, we have a bountiful crop of lemons and limes so I picked a basketful to decorate my shop and was setting them out when a friend came by for a chat. “Are these organic?”, she asked. Not certified, I explained, but picked from the garden that very morning, complete with snails and certainly free from any chemical fertilisers or sprays. Grown in the old duck yard, they thrive on the naturally rich soil. “Did you know organic lemons are almost impossible to buy”, my friend said. “They’re $16.95 a kilo at the Health Store because of the shortage so these will sell. They are gold!” she laughed. I wasn’t actually planning to sell them, but if there’s a shortage, why not! So if you’re looking for beautiful fresh, home-grown lemons come by The Potting Shed and pick up a bag. As we have several very prolific trees in our garden, I use them a lot in cooking – a lemon fresh from the tree is so completely different in flavour to those on the supermarket shelf. They’re particularly useful for a quick little lunch of chicken tenderloins, tossed in lemon thyme, butter, lemon juice, a splash of good olive oil and lemon zest. Quickly on the grill and onto grilled rye or focaccia with fresh rocket. Yum. We’re expecting a shipment of espaliered lemons, limes and cumquats this week at The Potting Shed. Can’t wait to see them. So perfect for courtyard gardens.
Above: Lemons in Positano. Years ago I was a guest of my dear London friend Paul who had rented for his fortieth birthday an ancient, stunningly renovated fortress on a cliff overlooking the Amalfi Coast. To get from the carpark to the villa below, we had to walk down a series of terraces all trellised with lemons. It was magical – the combination of the hot, mediterranean summer air, the breathtaking views of the coastline and the perfume from the sun warmed lemons which hung down like thousands of tiny yellow chandeliers!
Last week I visited a wonderful gardener who had invited me to view her collection of topiary. She had been cultivating and nurturing it for 16 years. Through the gate and down a rustic path, there, nonchalantly scattered about in her field, amongst giant gums and grazed by sheep (who won’t touch buxus as it’s toxic to stock), were box topiaries in artful groupings like little families or gatherings of friends. They were absolutely charming in this unexpected and natural setting. Mary had clipped them in various shapes over the years as her children grew up but now felt it was time to let them go to another home. “You can’t sell them”, I protested. “They’re like family members! You will miss them if they go.” But no, the artist now in her seventies was tired of the annual pruning and maintenance and wanted to move onto other things. So I am planning to adopt them all, one by one, large and small, and bring them to The Potting Shed for all to enjoy – and to take away to new homes to be admired and loved. The visit emphasised how such a simple process of planting a shrub or tree and adding creativity, can produce such an outstanding result. I’ve featured the Marqueyssac gardens (above and below) in an earlier post, but think it’s worth revisiting appropos this story. Years ago we travelled through the Dordogne region in France but were in those days, unaware of the marvellous gardens of Marqueyssac. What a shame to have been so close but to have missed seeing this spectacle. Next trip we will certainly be adding it to our list.
Above and below: The remarkable gardens surrounding the Château de Marqueyssac in Vézac,France. Classified as a remarkable garden by the French Ministry of Culture, it was built in the 17th century by Bertrand Vernet, counsellor to the king. The original garden was created by a pupil of André Le Nôtre, and featured gardens, terraces, and a kitchen garden surrounding the chateau. A grand promenade one hundred metres long was added at the end of the 18th century. Beginning in 1866, the new owner, Julien de Cerval, who was inspired by Italian gardens, built rustic structures, redesigned the parterres, laid out five kilometres of walks, and planted pines and cypress trees.
I love rhubarb. I think it’s very underrated. In my garden it forms little hedges around the vegetable gardens to break the wind and provide shelter for vegetable seedlings. After a searing heatwave, the recent rains have catapulted everything in the garden into life. And the rhubarb was one of the quickest to return. It’s now lush and fat and our delicious, vibrant red variety Ever Red is powering along. It’s always a nice gift to take to friends – just pull off the stems and bind with string or raffia. We have pots of it available at The Potting Shed so if you’d like to add this easycare, delicious fruit to your garden come in and pick up a pot. I’ve included a delicious Rhubarb Chutney below for you to try and I have a friend who makes a delicious Rhubarb Champagne every year for the Christmas season so I will endeavour to get that recipe for you also. Meantime, happy gardening!
Rhubarb (Rheum x cultorum) is one of the few perennial vegetables and will produce tangy, juicy stems season after season. Rhubarb is native to Siberia and the Himalayas and was cultivated for medicinal purposes long before its culinary properties were discovered. Its first appearance in English recipes was well into the 1700’s, taking at least another hundred years to reach popular acceptance. Growing rhubarb is simple and the plants require little maintenance. Rhubarb is grown from fleshy crowns or seed, the crowns being the quickest and easiest method. The crown is a section or divided part of the plant with roots attached. These crowns are found in nurseries during winter to early spring and should be planted in soil improved with some home made compost to give juicier stems. If you have clay soil create raised beds to improve the drainage and if you have sandy soil add a lot of organic matter so that it doesn’t dry out too quickly in summer. Plant the crowns 75 cm to 1 metre apart to allow for large stems and leaf growth. The crown should be planted with the growing point at or just below the soil surface, watered and then mulched with straw. They love well rotted manure but won’t need this immediately, save it until the end of the first growing season, then lavish it on to get them ready for the following spring. Don’t let the plants dry out in summer, keep them well watered, as if the stems get dry they will never get juicy. However, the soil should not become waterlogged.
Plants raised from seed usually take three years before they’re ready for harvesting. Plants from corms can be harvested the first summer or left until the following summer if not quite ready in the first season. When harvesting rhubarb don’t cut the stems, just pull gently from the crown. Never strip a plant of stems totally because this will exhaust them of stems for the next season’s growth. To avoid rhubarb running to seed, avoid light overhead watering. It is best to thoroughly water infrequently. Apply lots of high nitrogen fertiliser in a solid or liquid form in spring to autumn. This will discourage flower growth. If flowers do appear, remove them and take extra care with feeding and watering. Every four or five years dig the plant up and divide the crowns for replanting.
The stems must always be cooked before eating as the raw state is indigestible. The leaves are toxic so never eat them or feed them to your chooks however the leaves are quite safe to add to your compost pile. Some varieties have red stems like Ever Red whilst others have green stems like Victoria. The green stemmed varieties are just as reliable and tasty as the red, but sometimes not as sweet. Rhubarb is low in kilojoules, high in vitamin C and calcium and has a moderate iron and fibre content. It was once used as a mild laxative. Never cook rhubarb in aluminium saucepans as the oxalic acid in the stems dissolves the protective layer normally found on these saucepans, forming a poisonous compound called aluminium oxalate. Stems can be stored for up to five days in the fridge or frozen in small pieces. Before freezing, heat in boiling water for 1 minute, rinse under cold water and drain. Rhubarb can be used in desserts, jams and wines and the leaves can be made into an aphid spray.
I can’t wait to take delivery of our tulip stock this month. Late March is the time to plant for a spectacular Spring display and don’t be meek … go for drama. Not 8 or 10 … no, no, no … 80 or 100! I was inspired by displays at Hidcote last year where giant troughs and tubs were packed with bulbs of a single colour. And I’m planning to lash out and do a bold display of the spectacular Tulipa Black Parrot (above). Bred in 1941 this magnificent tulip has violet black flowers and grows to approx. 50cm. Tulips in the Parrot class have feather-like flowers with some varieties having petals more incised than others. Parrot tulips tend to have large, heavy flowers and in the sun, the flowers open up horizontally. They are generally late flowering so be sure to have other earlier varieties to start the show and keep Black Parrot for the grand finale! For those of you who live here in the Southern Highlands, tulip time co-incides with lots of Open Garden visits. How lucky we are to have such lovely displays in our public parks and gardens.
Growing Instructions – Tulips should be planted in late March – May, in full to partial sun. March planting is only for zones 1-3, (see map below) May for Zone 4. Once buds appear, a little complete fertiliser can be mixed into soil, and a high nitrogen topdressing should be applied at emergence. Water in as bulb is shooting, and water well after flowers die off to ensure good bulb growth for next year’s flowers. Lift bulbs when foliage is yellowed, and store in net bag in ventilated, cool area. Flowers in spring.
Refrigerating Tulips Tulips love a cold winter, a mild spring and dry summer. You can’t control everything about your climate but you can control the winter period quite easily. If you live somewhere that doesn’t get any winter frosts your ground does not get naturally cold enough for tulips. You will need to give them a winter before you plant, this can be done by putting your bulbs in a fridge for about 6-8 weeks before planting. If growing in warmer climates planting is best in mid May so put into the fridge mid-late March.
Things to remember about putting bulbs in the fridge
1.Don’t freeze them 2.They need air flow around them. 3. Open the paper bags. 4. Store away from ripe fruit and vegetables. 5. They will grow taller, and flower earlier as a result of refrigeration, and this effect is cumulative.
In warm climates tulips grow well as annuals. Plant the bulbs up in large pots in late May after 8 weeks of refrigeration and put the pot in the coldest part of the garden (no sun) until the shoots are 5 cm high. Then move the pot to your favourite position and enjoy the spectacular growth and flowering of these energetic bulbs.
Great books for further reading on Tulips:
- Pavord, Anna 1999 “The Tulip” (Bloomsbury). UK.
- Lodewijk,T. 1979 “The Book of Tulips” The Vendome Press (Distributed by Viking Press) USA
Intrigue, thievery and heart break… it’s all in the history of the Tulip
The history of the Tulip is filled with intrigue, skulduggery, thievery, instant fortunes and broken hearts. And, although these flowers are synonymous with the Dutch, tulips did not originate in the Netherlands nor were the Dutch always at the forefront of breeding these beauties. The Dutch obsession with tulips belongs to the relatively recent history of the tulip. The attempts to trace the exact history of the Tulip have been thwarted by a lack of reliable documentation over the centuries although art from as early as the 12th century does give some clues.
What historians have been able to establish is that tulips probably originated thousands of years ago in a ‘corridor’ which stretches along the 40º latitude between Northern China and Southern Europe.
On a trip to France a few years ago, we visited the remarkable Villandry gardens in the Loire Valley. What stood out for me, amongst the many other wonders in this, the world’s largest jardin potager, was the spectacular ornamental kale. Row upon manicured row of this beautiful vegetable, curated into an art form amongst a sea of other vegetables elevated from the vege patch to the catwalk! So I have ordered lots of it for The Potting Shed – knowing that whatever doesn’t sell will go straight into the garden at home. One fellow enthusiast came in today and snaffled a tray full, so if you’d like some seedlings to add panache to your garden this winter, be quick. I have a feeling they won’t last long! I’m also looking for ornamental cabbage which I saw in many villages in France in Autumn (see picture at bottom) which is another lovely accent plant for the cooler months. I’ll let you know when I have it in stock.
Culture Ornamental Kale is easily grown in organically rich, consistently moist, well-drained loams in full sun. It’s a frost hardy plant that needs cool temperatures to produce best leaf colors. Here in the Highlands they are best grown in the cool temperatures of autumn, but may also be grown in early spring. If grown in summer (and they will), plants will need some afternoon shade to survive, but the foliage will not be as spectacular. Plants also look fantastic grown in containers as is often seen in France.