Month: April 2014

A good read.

sissinghurst-aerial2Every morning I start my day very early,  pull on my jeans and boots and go straight out to walk the dogs, unlock the duckhouse and check there have been no disasters during the night. Then after feeding and checking everyone I come in, make a huge pot of tea and sit at the kitchen table with my toast and jam and read a chapter or two of whatever book is nearby. I generally have several books on the go at the same time, and dip in and out of them depending on my mood. At the moment I’m re-reading Sissinghurst – an Unfinished History by Adam Nicolson (grandson of Vita Sackville West and Harold Nicolson). It is beautiful, poetic, wonderful. He is a marvellous writer. It’s one of my favourites because a. I’ve always loved the books and poetry of Vita Sackville West and b. having visited this lovely castle and its gardens years ago, I can visualise all the places Adam talks about.  I remember well exploring all the grounds, the moat, the nuttery and the famous White Garden with my brother Peter. We climbed the stairs of the tower to Vita’s room overlooking the gardens, and soaked in the beauty of every corner of this beautiful place.  It was an experience I will never forget because this home has such an interesting history and has been home to a truly fascinating family. view from tower vitas room 2In the book Adam talks about restoring Sissinghurst to the working farm he remembers as a child with farmers bringing in crops of hay and hops, yards alive with cattle and sheep, the sound of tractors in the early morning fog and the hustle and bustle of a real farm, as it used to be. And so he puts a proposal to the National Trust, to do just that. To turn Sissinghurst into an organic farm that would supply the cafe and shop, that would sell produce to Sissinghurst visitors, and bring the land back to life.the moat   This morning as I read I thought you would love this descriptive passage:  “You only had to look at it to see that an organic system here, one that rested the land from time to time in fertility-building leys, which restored organic matter to these lifeless soils, was the only way this sceme could go. Organic was the obvious and default option. Only in one place did Phil’s (the consultant hired for the project by NT) face light up. Just outside the restaurant, in the Cow Field, where the dairy herd had always been turned out after milking, I dug Phil’s spade in. If you had been watching it in slow motion, you would have seen, with my first plunge, its worn and shiny leading edge slicing down into the green of the spring grass, slowly burying the full body of the blade in the earth and travelling on beyond it so that the spade came to rest with the ground level an inch up the shaft. Nothing wrong with that. I sliced out a square of turf and lifted it over. A delicious tweedy-brown crumbling soil appeared, a Bolognese sauce of a soil, rich and deep, smelling of life. Inside the small square trench, juicy beefsteak worms writhed in the sunlight. here was James Stearns’s ‘best bit of dirt on the farm’, the stuff in which he had said we could grow anything we liked. ‘It’s got to be the veg patch, hasn’t it?’ Phil said. Smiles all over his face. Peter Dear, the NT warden, came with his dog, and the three of us lay down on the grass there, looking across the Low Weald to the north-east, chatting about the birds, and how they loved the game crop in Lower Tassells. There were two larks making and remaking their song high over Large Field below us. How could we ensure the new farm was as friendly to birds as that? It was a moment when I felt I could see something of the future, that slow, exploratory, otter-like feeling, which you recognise only as it rises to the surface inside you, that an idea might be one worth having.”

Don’t you just love that last line … “that slow, exploratory, otter-like feeling” … which we’ve all experienced when we’ve had a worthwhile idea.  But who of us could put it into words quite like that!  You can order from Amazon here: Sissinghurst – an Unfinished History I generally order ‘used’ books from Amazon or Book Depository, yet often they arrive as brand new books for as little as $2 plus postage.   All that brilliance for $2. Who wouldn’t want to get up a wee bit earlier to soak up a few good chapters.

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Thoughts of home.

IMG_2074 “Home is not where you live, but where they understand you”.  Christian Morganstern

Today my head is filled with thoughts of home. The thoughts have been piling up over the past week for lots of reasons. On Easter Thursday evening I drove home from work, as usual, up our driveway admiring the evening light on the neighbours pinoaks and enjoying the colours of the vineyard turning to gold.  Then my heart stopped.  Adrenalin and blood surged to my brain sending my head spinning.  I felt sick from the rush of it.  I almost fainted at the wheel of the car as up ahead I saw our stand of pines backlit by blazing orange light.  Oh my God the house is on fire, I thought and flattened my foot and raced ahead past the pines, gulping back tears that our beautiful home and all the cats and dogs and birds and personal treasures within would be burning.  But as I careered up over the rise, I could see it was not a fire.  It was the moon coming up.  Blood red and gigantic.  An awesome sight. Overwhelmed and weak from the fright,  I quickly let the dogs out, fed the pig and goats and geese and ducks and locked everyone safely in then wandered out into the garden to enjoy the lovely moon above.  That night, snuggled safely into our cosy bed, a line by Virginia Woolf  ran through my mind:  “Safe! safe! safe!’ the pulse of the house beats wildly. Waking, I cry ‘Oh, is this your buried treasure? The light in the heart.”IMG_5706

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The very next day I had a call from my younger brother in New Zealand to tell me he had decided to sell the farm where we grew up, and though he knew the news would devastate me, he had made a decision for both business and health reasons.  And again all thoughts of home and what it means ran around and around in my heart and head.  To never again ride in his ute across the paddocks where we rode our horses as children.  To no longer be able to visit the places where we used to float walnut boats down the creek and to race our rafts on the pond amongst the ducks and ducklings.  To leave behind the view of the mountains topped with snow and the trees planted by our parents when they were young and we were babies. But life moves on and we all have to adapt to change.  Though I have lived my entire adult life in Australia, and it is my home, I still say I’m going home, whenever I fly back to New Zealand.  I think it’s like that for everyone who leaves their motherland and makes another country their home. They love them both, but one owns them more.  And now as I write this in my little office at home here on the farm I am thinking about seeing my stepdaughters snuggled up on the sofas under mohair rugs over Easter, with cushions and cats and dogs and magazines everywhere. It was a rich and lovely feeling.  They looked safe. They felt safe. There is magic in that little word home. 

And today we think, with tears in our hearts, of all those servicemen and women who never got to return home.

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A Sparkly Day

IMG_0106Yesterday, Easter Sunday, was a sublimely beautiful day.  Dreamy.  The Potting Shed was filled with families, dogs and children, lovers and friends out walking in the autumn sunshine. Music filled the air and everyone was relaxed and travelling slowly through the day.  Sunshine bounced off every surface as it does at this time of year when the light drops lower and the angle of reflection is intensified.  The day sparkled on the droplets of water caught in the leaves of the Lady’s Mantle, on the reflections in the birdbath and on the wonderful glass beads adorning one visitor, Karen Black,  as she approached The Potting Shed counter.  Where did you get those lovely beads I asked, and may I take a photo.  At the Burrawang Markets she explained as her amused husband announced I was the fourth person that day to ask to photograph her. They were made by local artist Louisa Rose & Co. and they are now on display at The Milk Factory Gallery in Bowral.  It’s amazing what a bit of sparkle and a splash of colour does to catch the eye but I suspect it was this lady’s gorgeous personality as much as those beads that made her stand out in the busy crowd yesterday.

The Milk Factory Gallery and Exhibition Space/art & design centre/cafe is at
33 Station Street (rear), Bowral NSW 2576 if you would like to see more of Louisa Rose’s work.  Happy Easter from The Potting Shed. 
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Autumn planting

IMG_9963Every day someone asks me when is the best time to plant this, or that.   Autumn is a very productive planting time, while the soil is still warm, and particularly here in the Highlands, so moist.  I have planted a little kitchen garden at the shop and everything is jumping out of it’s skin with vigour after all the lovely rain. Currently we have a wide range of vegetable, herb and flower seedlings in stock – snowpeas, broccoli, various cauliflower varieties, Tuscan kale, beetroot, lettuce, leek, salad greens, rocket, silverbeet, English spinach, baby spinach along with French tarragon, thyme, curly parsley, Italian parsley, regular mint, Vietnamese mint, Moroccan mint, chocolate mint, fennel, chives, and various basil varieties.  For the flower garden we have pansies galore, sweet william, sweet peas, lobelia, lisianthus, foxgloves, larkspur, violas, stock, primulas in various colours and lots more I can’t remember at this moment! We will soon also be stocking a wide variety of heirloom vegetable seeds, most certified organic, so you can try your hand at some of the old fashioned varieties which are generally tastier, hardier and often very decorative in the garden. In the meantime here’s a handy reference list for Autumn seed planting … courtesy of Eden Seeds. Happy gardening!

• Broad Beans
• Beetroot
• Broccoli
• Brussels Sprouts
• Cabbage
• Carrot
• Cauliflower
• Celery
• Celeriac
• Collards
• Kale
• Kohl Rabi
• Leek
• Lettuce
• Mustard Greens
• Onions
• Parsnip
• Peas
• Radish
• Salad Greens
* Mesclun Mix
* Corn Salad
* Edible Chrysanthemum
* Endive
* Mizuna
* Rocket
* Tatsoi
* Purslane
* Mountain Spinach
• Salsify
• Shallots
• Silverbeet
• Spinach
• Swede
• Turnip
• Asian Vegetables
• Herbs

For growers in the tropics and frost free sub-tropics, you can also benefit from planting:

• Broad Bean
• Bush Beans
• Climbing Beans
• Beetroot
• Broccoli
• Brussels Sprouts
• Cabbage
• Capsicum
• Carrot
• Cauliflower
• Celery
• Collards
• Maize/Sweet Corn
• Cucumber
• Eggplant
• Gourd
• Kale
• Kohl Rabi
• Leek
• Lettuce
• Okra
• Mustard Greens
• Pumpkin
• Radish
• Rockmelon
• Salad Greens
* Mesclun Mix
* Corn Salad
* Edible Chrysanthemum
* Endive
* Mizuna
* Rocket
* Tatsoi
* Purslane
* Kang Kong
* Shallots
• Silverbeet
• Spinach
• Squash
• Sunflower
• Tomato
• Watermelon
• Zucchini
• Asian Vegetables
• Herbs

 

Please plant trees.

Thanks to my friend Diana for passing on these gorgeous images from  Bored Panda’s gallery of tree photos.  Many of you will have seen them before, but they’re definitely worth revisiting.  They’ve inspired me to think outside the square and to get creative with a whole new planting program this autumn.   Take a look at these images and you too will want to go crazy pleaching, espaliering and training trees and climbers into arbors, and canopies of loveliness in your garden. Go for it! See what magic you can weave to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.amazing-tree-tunnels-1 amazing-tree-tunnels-2-1 amazing-tree-tunnels-3-1 amazing-tree-tunnels-3-2 amazing-tree-tunnels-6 amazing-tree-tunnels-9-1 amazing-tree-tunnels-9-2 amazing-tree-tunnels-10 amazing-tree-tunnels-11 amazing-tree-tunnels-15

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You will find the details of locations and photographer credits on Bored Panda’s site.  Here’s what they have to say about “20 Magical Tree Tunnels You Should Definitely Take A Walk Through”

Nature as a whole tends to be a profoundly beautiful thing, but there are few things more magical than finding yourself under a canopy of trees in a tree tunnel on some warm summer evening. Whether they’re formed naturally, accidentally, or with a little help from some patient and talented gardeners, these tree tunnels are sure to enchant anyone lucky enough to walk below their verdant boughs.

The beautiful forms of many of these tree tunnels and the ways in which we’ve copied them goes to show just how much we’ve borrowed from nature. I’m sure that magical spaces like these inspired more than one historical architect to design the gorgeous vaulted ceiling of a gothic cathedral or the arches of some other grand structure. Many ancient societies considered trees to be sacred and maintained holy groves of old trees, and with places this beautiful, it’s not hard to understand why.

Despite how slowly trees grow, they are remarkably receptive to various methods of altering their growth. With strong, persistent and very patient force, trees can be sculpted into a variety of forms. Some of these tree tunnels have been formed and sculpted by careful gardeners to ensure that they conform with their urban surroundings.

A few of the tree tunnels are happy coincidences. The Tunnel of Love in Ukraine, a popular photo spot for married couples, is also part of an operational railway system. The married couples have to schedule their photoshoots behind the times when freight trains are scheduled to pass through. Even unintentionally, these tree tunnels can work their magic on us. http://www.boredpanda.com/magical-tree-tunnels/    Boredpanda.com is a highly visual art and design magazine dedicated to showcasing the world’s most creative artworks, offbeat products and everything that’s really weird or wonderful.

 

The secret garden.

Our little shop, The Potting Shed, is located in a driveway between two large old buildings.  One houses Dirty Janes Emporium, which displays a large collection of vintage furniture and antiques – wonderful pieces from Europe, UK and America – sofas, sideboards, lamps, dining tables, hall tables, vintage clothing and so on.  You walk off the main street into this lovely shop and through to the back section which leads you down a set of steps and onto a landing which looks across to the other building, the Dirty Janes Antique Market, where over 70 stall holders sell more vintage and antique treasures. As you leave the shop on the main street you see from the staircase The Potting Shed spread out below.  Yesterday, as I was arranging some new plants that had arrived, I heard from above two little girls who had followed their mothers onto the landing.  “Oh, it’s a beautiful garden!” gasped one. “And with flowers!” said the other.  “It’s so lovely”, said the first, “let’s go and look”.  And they skippety skipped their way down the stairs and around my little shop oohing and aahing at this pretty flower and that.  The delight that filled my heart in this moment could not have been greater had I won a grand prize at the Chelsea Flower Show.  To hear these sweet remarks, so spontaneous and joyful was, for me, pure bliss. That in this modern world children still love a garden and enjoy its beauty is indeed comforting, and I am driven to bring even more of nature’s bounty to this previously industrial alleyway.  And to share that love of gardening around.

 

“The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies.”

Gertrude Jekyll

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High Tea at The Potting Shed

IMG_0026Seen yesterday, basking in the autumn sunshine and enjoying High Tea in the courtyard at The Potting Shed are (left to right) Hope Disher, Elizabeth Grose and Amy Geraghty.

The elegant tea house ‘Your Vintage Occasion’ opened recently in the Dirty Janes Antique Market next to us, and it has been an instant hit with locals and visitors alike.  Offering traditional and speciality teas, coffee and a delicious menu including soups, sandwiches, scones and sweets it’s a lovely place to meet friends or to celebrate a birthday or special occasion.  High Tea’s are $25 per person and include freshly baked scones, a daily savoury selection, assortment of desserts, a pot of the finest loose-leaf tea or an espresso coffee. Owners Cath and Lisa (below), formerly of Links House, are experts in the art of elegant hospitality and their food is fresh, delicious, and very well priced. IMG_0021IMG_0020   IMG_0027  IMG_0025

Golden toffee apples.

IMG_9980Yesterday morning, the sun came out and sparkled on the soaked landscape.  So I took our little dog Harry and sheepdog Sam on the quad bike for a big run around the pinoak paddock.  (Jack doesn’t come, he’s scared of the bike!)  And on the way, we passed the Medlar tree.  Now in its fourth year it is laden with fruit and in the watery light of the morning sun it looked incredibly beautiful.  The medlars are like golden toffee apples and are set off by the Manchurian Pear as it changes colour, and you can just see in the background (pics below) our neighbours pinoaks turning colour in the same amber tones.  Very soon their Pinot Noir vines will also turn to match and the russet tones gather together in an almost perfect autumn painting.  People ask me what we do with the medlars.  And the answer at this stage is nothing.  I just pick them and admire them in a bowl.  In times of old they were valued as a fruit that was available in winter, but you can’t eat them off the tree.  You have to wait till they spoil, either by frost or becoming ‘bletted’ (basically rotten) in storage, then they are considered a delicacy and can be served as a dessert, or as an accompaniment to cheese and port.  An acquired taste, I believe. I’ve never tried them but a friend makes them into Medlar Jelly which I’m told is delicious.   So why grow fruit that you can’t eat?  Because I saw a lovely specimen years ago in the garden of the late Christopher Lloyd, at Great Dixter and it was so beautiful I had to have one.  It has massive blossoms in the spring – almost like magnolia flowers, then this golden fruit in autumn.  When it is bigger I’m imagining great branches of it in a massive floral arrangement and will pass some on to the very talented Margaret Young Whitford to turn into some incredible installation. Which is what she does so brilliantly. And that’s another story for another day. IMG_9979 IMG_9982 bletted_medlar medlar_blossomIMG_1907 IMG_7481 IMG_7493Medlar notes (thank you Wikipedia):

Mespilus germanica, known as the medlar or common medlar, is a large shrub or small tree, and the name of the fruit of this tree. The fruit has been cultivated since Roman times, and is unusual in being available in winter, and in being eaten when ‘bletted’ (browned by rot). It is eaten raw and in a range of dishes.

Despite its Latin name, which means German or Germanic medlar, it is indigenous to southwest Asia and also southeastern Europe, especially the Black Sea coasts of Bulgaria and of modern Turkey. The medlar was already being cultivated about three thousand years ago in the Caspian Sea region of northern Iran and Azerbaijan. It was introduced to Greece around 700 BC, and to Rome about 200 BC. It was an important fruit plant during Roman and medieval times. By the 17th and 18th century, however, it had been superseded by other fruits, and is little cultivated today. M. germanica pomes are one of the few fruits that become edible in winter, making it an important tree for gardeners who wish to have fruit available all year round. Mespilus germanica fruits are hard, acidic, and high in bitter tannins. They become edible after being softened, ‘bletted’, by frost, or naturally in storage given sufficient time. Once softening begins the skin rapidly takes a wrinkled texture and turns dark brown, and the inside reduces to the consistency and flavour reminiscent of apple sauce. This process can confuse those new to medlars, as a softened fruit looks as if it has spoiled.

Once bletted, the fruit can be eaten raw, and are often eaten as a dessert, for example with cheese or tarts, or used to make medlar jelly and wine. Another dish is “medlar cheese”, which is similar to lemon curd, being made with the fruit pulp, eggs, and butter. In Iran, the fruits, leaves, bark and wood of the tree have been used as medicines for ailments including diarrhoea, bloating of the stomach, throat abscesses and fever.

Mespilus germanica requires warm summers and mild winters and prefers sunny, dry locations and slightly acidic soil. Under ideal circumstances, the deciduous plant grows up to 8 metres (26 ft) tall. Generally, it is shorter and more shrub-like than tree-like. With a lifespan of 30–50 years, the medlar tree is rather short-lived. The leaves are densely hairy and turn red in autumn before falling. It is found across Southern Europe where it is generally rare. It is reported to be naturalized in some woods in Southeast England, but is found in few gardens.
The flowers have five broadly ovate white petals and appear in late spring. They are hermaphrodite, pollinated by bees, and self-fertile. The flower is about 6 centimetres wide and the reddish-brown fruit is a pome, 2–3 centimetres diameter, with wide-spreading persistent sepals around a central pit, giving a ‘hollow’ appearance to the fruit.

 

Thought for the day.

Peony urn“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” – Rumi

I feel this was written for me.  I have long been pulled by a love of nature. Since I was a little girl I have loved the beauty of flowers and gardens and birds and animals and all things natural. What do you really love?  Go into a bookshop and see where you land.  That will usually tell you where your passion lies.

Nothing to do with gardening.

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I subscribe to a site called Listserve where “one person a day wins a chance to write to the growing list of subscribers.” Through this random global lottery, one of the 26,000 subscribers is drawn and they’re invited to share their ideas with others via email.  That winner gets 24 hours to prepare their ‘essay’ and to present their views, advice, favourite movies or music .. or whatever takes their fancy, to the world online.  It makes for interesting reading. Yesterday the winner of Listserve was from Queensland, the first Australian I’ve seen listed. Her name is Larsa Al-Omaishi and she gave us this poem.  I asked her if I could share it with you, as I found it very moving and thought provoking and beautiful.

Where are you from?

By: A Third Culture Kid

“Where are you from?”
He asks with a smile
I’ve heard it before
I’ve gone through this trial
“America.”
It’s not untrue
I lived there awhile
Traveled its highways
Going many a mile
From deserts to peaks
From cornfields to shores
I’ve seen many states
I’m keen to explore
“No, where are you really from?”
Where was I born?
That would be Montreal
“So you speak French?”
No, not at all
I moved to Toronto
When I was young
But English is not
My mother tongue
“Okay, but, where are you originally from?”
My parents were born
In the heart of Iraq
Upon hearing the phrase
He sits back in shock
“So … you’re Iraqian?”
It’s Iraqi, my dear Watson
“Then what languages do you speak?”

In what language do you laugh?
In what language do you cry?
In what language do you cope
When a loved one lays to die?
In what language do you love?
In what language do you hate?
In what language do you comprehend
What’s chance and what is fate?
In what language do you smile?
In what language do you frown?
You see it’s all the same my dear
From New York to Cape Town
In what language do you feel
The sting of war and pain?
In what language do you lose your home
And then rebuild again?
We are not that different
Ignoring race and creeds
We are all but human
With human wants and needs

In the hospital you’ll see
Emotions raging high
Carried on by wave and wave
Of hello and good-bye
Some are taken far too young
Some taken when it’s right
Some coming in to join the world
And blinking in bright light
Some realizing far too late
The love they should have shared
Some accepting their due time
And going well prepared
Let me share with you a fact
That few will understand
Inside that operating room, my friend
There is no human brand
You all look the same inside
Appendix, heart, and lung
Kidney, liver, spleen, and bowel
Pancreas and tongue
When we put you on that table
To try and save your life
Skin colour is of no concern
To us or to our knife

I don’t categorize myself
By a patch of land
I don’t identify myself
By merely where I stand
I don’t say I’m only a part
Of one particular race
At the end of the day, at the end of the night
I am merely in one place
We all come from the same dirt
We’re Earthlings in our blood
And borders are but foolish lines
Drawn in clumpy mud

Where am I from? I’m from The World
The same is true for you
And with that I’ll leave you here
I bid you all adieu.


Larsa is studying medicine and surgery at The University of Queensland. She asks that you vaccinate your kids.