Month: May 2014

Gardens of Plenty

Chelsea_1Earlier this week I picked Marylyn Abbott’s lovely book ‘Gardens of Plenty’ from the shelf to gain inspiration for an unfinished section of garden on the way to the chookhouse.  It’s a pretty area filled with roses, clematis, peonies, salvias and borders of alchemilla mollis.  But in the middle is a little unfinished space edged in miniature box and partially planted with, would you believe it, strawberries!  It has had many themes – a huge bed of silver beet so that I could pick greens for the chooks on the way to feeding them each morning; this was ‘fancied up’ to a gravelled terrace with a little table and chairs which looked lovely but in the heatwave had to be moved to a shadier area; it then became a place reserved for bee hives, and now finally, a rather uninspiring, unfinished patch of strawberries.  It deserves better.  So out came ‘Gardens of Plenty’ to start a new plan. Then the very next day into my inbox popped a note from my friend Paul in London to report that one of his favourite entries at Chelsea this year was the ‘Topiarist’ Garden designed by Marylyn Abbott, pictured below with Monty Don. Winner of a Chelsea ‘Silver Gilt’ award, “The Topiarist Garden” took its inspiration from the courtyard in front of the bothy at Marylyn’s West Green House garden. This poetic description by the designer gives you a delicious insight into her creativity:

“Envisage the garden as the personal space for the Head Gardener who is influenced by the tradition of “Topia opera” – fancy gardening. In this small walled space, he  indulges his passion for eclectic topiary designs, haphazardly placed amongst his favourite white perennials, flowering climbers and delicate rose – Adelaide d’Orleans. Annual flowers  planted in a sunken chequerboard of pots make this space a fantasy of informality. He takes great pleasure in clipping topiary into flamboyant shapes. As he clips and shapes he hums quietly along to himself from Mozart’s Madamma, il catalogo il questo; the “catalogue aria” which lists his master’s conquests.

BBC TV featured “The Topiarist” display and Marylyn’s West Green House in their coverage of the Flower Show and I have included pictures below along with a few from her earlier home here in the Highlands – Kennerton Green in Mittagong.

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I’ve not yet been to the West Green House Gardens but according to the Telegraph’s Stephen Lacey it is a garden with a special and distinctive sense of place and he selected Marylyn as one of the top 20 living garden makers for the Telegraph. He writes “her swash buckling annual potage displays, fountain gardens and torch lit operas reflect her energy and zest. Through her books she has pumped fresh air and sparkle into the world of period gardening”. Below are pictures of her garden there.

 

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Below:  Another of Marylyn’s designs – Kennerton Green in Mittagong.

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Here is an excerpt from Home Life magazine about Marylyn’s earlier garden at Kennerton Green  – which was one of the most popular open gardens in Australia. When Marylyn sold a few years back Home Life’s CHRISTINE REID took a final tour around the glorious grounds.

“Nearly 20 years have passed since Marylyn Abbott took over as the custodian of the garden at Kennerton Green, Mittagong, in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. During this time, Kennerton has taken its place at the forefront of the grand gardens of Australia, thanks to Marylyn’s expansion and diversification of the garden plantings in a series of spectacularly themed garden ‘rooms’ including a birch wood, a potager (vegetable garden), a bay tree parterre and an iris-rimmed lake. But that era is now coming to an end. The garden, much loved and cared for by two generations, is being handed over to new owners.

Over the years the garden has welcomed many friends, photographers and visitors through its gates who have returned time and again. As a tribute to this iconic property, we are treating readers to one last loving look at the beauty of this special place in Australia.

The existing garden, originally developed in the 1950s by Sir Jock and Lady Pagan, was left largely undisturbed by Marylyn – but it has been nurtured and enhanced, building upon a symphonic theme of green and white.

Mature trees, such as the golden elm, oaks, and the flowering cherries, are treasured, while the magnificent Wisteria floribunda ‘Kuchibeni’, a feature of the front lawn, continues to stop garden visitors in their tracks with its awe-inspiring blooms.

However, it is Marylyn’s addition of more lasting plant structures, characterised by ordered geometry, that brought a new harmony to the garden. For example, the parterre at the front entrance to the house was created from a turning circle for cars. The white gravel reflected too much light, but the addition of the box-hedge parterre breaks up the void, while the decorative topiary bird at the centre adds a quirky touch. In another area, 80 clipped bay trees are geometrically arranged in hedged beds in the formal manner of a medieval enclosed garden.

Marylyn turned to history books again when creating the ornamental vegetable garden where flowers, fruit and vegetables are grown together in the tradition of the French potager. The garden also features a central pool filled with goldfish and a pretty cherub statue − another reference to the ponds of medieval times, where monks would keep their fish.

Water is a major component of the garden, instilling peace and tranquillity to each area. There’s the ornamental lake in the birch wood; a small dam surrounded by an Edwardian-style rose garden; the long canal in the old rose garden and a recent installation of fountains and running channels of water in the paradise garden.

The mood is unashamedly romantic as you tread softly along grassy paths through the silver birches. In spring, it is even more so, with pretty freesias, bluebells and hoop-petticoat daffodils scattered below. The pink and white Edwardian-style rose garden is dreamlike, with its roses on swags around the dam and old-fashioned shrubs such as deutzias, viburnums, lilacs, rhododendrons, and pink and white dogwoods.

To visit Kennerton Green is to enter a different world… a world where the hustle and bustle of everyday life is left behind and there truly is time to stop and smell the roses.

The spring flowers have always been a particular highlight of a visit to Kennerton Green. The magnificent tulip display comes first, followed closely by the irises which are at their peak around mid-October. Finally, it’s the roses’ time to shine. They take centre stage in the first week of November. Then, during the summer months, the garden simply becomes a cool, green space.”

 

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The Winter Rose

IMG_3743In spite of one of the warmest Mays on record, we all know winter is on the way and with it comes some of my favourite things.  Bracing morning walks with the dogs, snuggling up with comfort food and red wine in front of the fire, clear sunny Highland days and frosty star filled nights. Electric blankets and feather quilts.  Slippers and dressing gowns.  And the loveliness of The Winter Rose.  Or more correctly Helleborus niger.  I much prefer the common name for this romantic flower. The very name adds glamour to the garden through winter into spring and this plant is indeed to me a winter rose.  Native to the mountainous regions of Europe, Greece and Asia Minor, Helleborus niger is a member of the Ranunculaceae, or buttercup family.  It blooms at Christmas time in the northern hemisphere, hence its other common name, The Christmas Rose.  Niger, the species name, means black and refers to its dark coloured roots.

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IMG_9755I love this plant at all stages –  from the beautiful, elegant buds dripping with dew to the full blouseyness of the mature flowers.  I love them massed in goblet shaped bowls and singly in groupings of bud vases.  You must pick them as mature flowers or they will wilt in the vase. They also look gorgeous in a float bowl where they will last for weeks slowly fading and changing colour. We have them everywhere in our garden. Masses of them are underplanted beneath birches and elms and my favourite combination is with ajuga and euphorbia.  By September they are all in full flight with the soft green of the euphorbia  flowers perfectly complementing the creamy green of the white hellebores – while the ajuga adds a stunning blue accent.  They’re so pretty in drifts under deciduous trees and also do well in pots.

There are lots of varieties to choose from and we will soon be receiving the Winter Elegance singles ‘Burgundy’, ‘Midnight’, ‘Primrose and Cherry’, ‘Shell Pink’, Winter White’ and Yellow Picotee’.  Along with the Winter Elegance doubles:  ‘Double Burgundy’, ‘Double Pink’, ‘Double White’ and ‘Double White Spotted’.  There are also the Winter Elegance species:  Helleborous lividus; Helleborus niger, H. x sternii ‘Ashbourne silver’ and we hope also to have tube stock of H. x hybridus in singles and double varieties.

Hellebores prefer a shady, moist situation in alkaline soil but are very adaptable.  Ours do well even in the more acidic areas of the garden where they self seed everywhere providing baby plants to gift to friends.  At planting time incorporate plenty of compost into the soil and keep them well mulched to discourage weeds and encourage worms.  Keep well watered during summer and remove dead foliage and flowers to keep the plant tidy, but otherwise there’s no need to prune.   IMG_3744 IMG_6130 IMG_9413 IMG_9416 IMG_9621 IMG_9622 IMG_9627 IMG_9637

 

Mothers.

IMG_9988Today we are all thinking about mothers.  Not just our own, but all mothers and what they have given us and how they have made us who we are.

This week at The Potting Shed I watched with pleasure as people chose gifts for Mothers Day.  One mother and her daughter decided to give their mother/grandmother a new garden.  So they carefully selected plants they thought she would love.  These were lovingly spread out in a colour-way that would please and discussion was had about sun and shade and height and colour.  Bonded in this quest, the mother and daughter were lovely to watch. Then off they went, excited and laughing with a boot full of flowering perennials to make up a beautiful garden.  What a gift. Then yesterday a little boy came in with his father.  Serious and cute as a button. Selections were made, but they were outside his budget so I led him to a pretty pink Schizanthus, the butterfly flower, in a white glazed pot, wrapped in paper and twine.  He sat down to write on a little card I gave him so the whole deal would be complete and he was ready for the morrow. Without hesitation he solemnly wrote his special message to his mother and we tied it onto the gift which he carried carefully away.

Earlier in the week, an old friend came in to tell me about a letter she had just received in the mail.  Addressed from her son’s school, she said she jumped to the thought it would be a notification about behaviour or another lost hat, yet oddly it was in a child’s handwriting. Blinking back tears and waving her face with her hand like a fan, which women do to stop the tears, she told me it was a full page letter from her little boy telling her how much he loved her and that she was the best mother in the world and all that she meant to him. She was completely overwhelmed. What a school to give their children that gift. Not only to express in writing their thoughts of love, but to plant that understanding in their minds of the power of an actual letter, written and put in the post box. And received and opened and enjoyed.  No exercise could better illustrate the force of the written word and the unique enjoyment of a letter arriving in the mail.  The hand fanning failed and my lovely friend had tears streaming down her face telling me this simple but beautiful story.

Then yesterday as I drove to work, I was thinking of my own mother who died many years ago. I was remembering the little gifts we made for her as children and the excitement of giving them to her and taking her breakfast in bed and snuggling in beside her.  Just at that moment a breeze from the north lifted the gold autumn leaves from the poplars on the roadside and they showered down over me as I drove by, magical, beautiful and sparkling in the sun. Like kisses. I cried all the way to the shop.

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Above:  My mother (in the white blouse) and father in the foreground with my mother’s sister Kath to her right, and her mother, my grandmother,  at the back in the middle. Mum’s brother Colin is on the far right and to his left, Mum’s father and other family and friends.  A picnic lunch at haymaking time.

 

Inspiring women.

 

Husband and I get a big welcome in Nepal Every day, I meet amazing and interesting women.  I can’t believe my luck.  In they come, through The Potting Shed gate day after day and tell me stories of what they’re doing,  the causes they support and the projects that need help.  They link me to others who are following their passion and working quietly away to improve life for others.  They make sure I know about and help spread the word on coal action meetings, book launches and fundraising events like the Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia event last week at Dirty Janes Emporium. They introduce me to friends and artists who are making and designing things and of the whereabouts of local growers who need an outlet.   Like all the seriously committed participants in this weekend’s Relay for Life, they pass the baton on, and keep money rolling in for all sorts of charities, large and small.   The depth and breadth of this womanly network is astonishing.  It’s not the corporate ‘Linked In’ kind of network.  It’s the word of mouth, we need you to get involved kind of network. Activists, philanthropists, idea makers, influencers and toilers. All pulling their weight. All taking their turn at the wheel.  It is like a giant bee hive buzzing with purposeful life and endless energy.  And so I thought I would share some of their stories from time to time here on this blog.

First up, here’s a letter from a new friend and customer at The Potting Shed, Margie Thomas who inspires me with her passion for the Australian Himalayan Foundation.

Dear Maureen,

In August I’m heading off on a fund raising trek for the Australian Himalayan Foundation. We’ll be crossing the mighty Kali Gandaki river numerous times, trekking over a number of high altitude passes up to 4,500 metres, and riding Tibetan ponies through countryside that is unchanged, and reminiscent of rural Tibet 1,000 years ago. This will be quite an arduous adventure for someone who is 62-years-young.

The Australian Himalayan Foundation is dedicated to helping people of the Himalaya through improvements in education, healthcare, and conservation. Not to mention special projects like the innovative Himalayan Art Award and supporting the Snow Leopard Conservancy. Check out www.australianhimalayanfoundation.org.au for more detailed information. Or jump on this link to my fundraising page: http://makingadifference.gofundraise.com.au/page/ThomasML

I’m making a difference and fundraising for a cause that’s close to my heart. I’d appreciate any contribution, big or small. Donations made through this platform are secure and will be remitted directly through to my charity of choice.  It’s worth noting that donations are tax deductible.  Thanks so much for your support!

Margie

So I asked Margie for more information and here it is:

Maureen here you go … info on the pony trek to the ancient and remote walled city of Lo Manthang in Upper Mustang. There are only a few places left on this one-off journey. The concert by Tenzin Choegyal will be quite mind blowing. You can spend as much or as little time as you want on the ponies which are really fun. One gentleman walked the entire trip last August. 

Good on you Margie … and thanks for including the pics of the buckwheat crop in flower and the spectacular rhododendron garlands … to fit in with my ‘gardening’ theme.  Ever thoughtful!

If you’d like to join this amazing trek, contact Margie on  0418 457 152 or via email at mrsweare@gmail.com. You can download a pdf of the tour itinerary here – Upper Mustang Pony Trek or scroll down for the Trek highlights.

 

Margie is PICTURED ABOVE WITH her HUSBAND GARRY WEARE (AUTHOR OF 4 EDITIONS OF LONELY PLANET’S GUIDE BOOK “TREKKING IN THE INDIAN HIMALAYA” AND DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF THE AUSTRALIAN HIMALAYAN FOUNDATION) being welcomed with RHODODENDRONS.  

Chorten and snow capped peaks _MG_2413 Grain crop in flower -Upper Mustang Mustang Aug 2013 397 Upper Mustang Pony Trek with the Australian Himalayan Foundation August 2014

Meet up with Stan Armington and Tenzin Choegyal in Lo Manthang. Our 2nd departure will be accompanied by Lindsay Brown, Conservation Biologist and former Publishing Manager of trekking guides at Lonely Planet, Lindsay now treks, jeeps, rides and stumbles across many a mountain pass while writing and photographing for Lonely Planet’s Nepal, Bhutan, India, and Pakistan and the Karakoram Highway guides, among others. Mustang is a wildly beautiful region of Nepal. It is culturally and geographically part of Tibet, and was until about 20 years ago, closed to the world. Tourism is still strictly controlled and limited. The Australian Himalayan Foundation and Adventure Associates invite you on the trek of a lifetime to remote Upper Mustang and the ancient and fascinating walled city of Lo Manthang.

‘Authentic Tibetan culture survives only in exile in a few places like Mustang, which has had long historical and cultural ties with Tibet.’ HH Dalai Lama

Trip highlights

 A unique itinerary devised by the legendary Stan Armington

 Hear musician Tenzin Choegyal perform a special concert for the locals inside the ancient walled city of Lo Manthang.

 Trek beneath some of the world’s most dramatic mountains

 Experience a breath-takingly beautiful high altitude desert and the world’s deepest valley

 Visit ancient gomphas, abandoned forts and maybe a nomad camp

 Visit the extraordinary Chosar caves and Mustang’s oldest Gompha, Lo Gekar

 Spend time in the 15th century Thubchen gompha – arguably one of the world’s great rooms.