Month: August 2014

I’ve got five dollars

ella-fitzgeraldOne of my favourite songs is Ella Fitzgerald’s “I’ve Got Five Dollars“, recorded the year I was born and just one of many wonderful songs from Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Rodgers and Hart Songbook. Every time I hear it, Ella’s chocolatey voice melting the crazy lyrics into such beautiful rhythm makes me feel good, so this little story appealed to me.  Some weeks ago at The Potting Shed  I apologised to a lady for giving a handful of five dollar notes as change … it was all I had in the till.  She said “no, that’s brilliant .. I love getting five dollar notes.  I collect them.”  Gathering her goods she continued “You’d be amazed how quickly they add up, then when I have a hundred of them I go and buy something special.”  What a great idea I said. And she assured me you don’t even miss the five dollar notes in your wallet, if you take them out and store them in a little box or container. Impressed by the simplicity of the idea,  I have started a collection myself, towards a trip to see the famous gardens at Prieuré d’Orsan.  Then just last week another customer came in and told me she would cut off her right arm if she could only have the spectacular Turkish water trough that had arrived the day before.  “No need”,  I laughed. “Just save up your five dollar notes and very soon you’ll be able to buy it … without losing a single arm!”  I told her about the other ladies advice and smiling she said it reminded her of her youth in London when everyone would put sixpences into Haigs Dimple Whisky bottles and once full it held exactly forty pounds.  A lot of money in those days we agreed.  “We could only spend the notes” she said, “because we saved the sixpences for the Haigs Dimple;  the pennies for the gas meter and the shillings for the train station.”  Off she went chuckling to her husband that she would soon have enough for the water feature .. and did he have any five dollar notes in his pocket!

IMG_9952Even if you have only one five dollar note … we have lots of lovely things you can buy with it at The Potting Shed.  Or if you want to save a stack of them, we have some more serious treasures to tempt you!


Mister Shylock was stingy

I was miserly too

I was more selfish

And crabby than a shellfish

Oh, dear, it’s queer

What love can do

I’d give all my possessions

For you

I’ve got five dollars

I’m in good condition

And I’ve got ambition

That belongs to you

Six shirts and collars

Debts beyond endurance

On my life insurance

That belongs to you

I’ve got a heart

That must be spurtin’

Just be certain

I’ll be true

Take my five dollars

Take my shirt and collars

Take my heart that hollers

Everything I’ve got belongs to you

I’ve got five dollars

Eighty-five relations

Two lace combinations

They belong to you

Two coats with collars

Ma and Grandma wore ’em

All the moths adore ’em

They belong to you

I’ve got two lips

That care for mating

There for waiting

Will not do

Take my five dollars

Take my coats and collars

Take my heart that hollers

Ev’rything I’ve got belongs to you



Published by

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.


A troop of kangaroos



Did you know a grouping of kangaroos is known as a ‘troop’.  Not a herd as I have always thought …  incorrectly telling our visitors “hopefully you’ll see a big herd of roos over the ridge” as Chris takes them off  in our old Landrover on the compulsory ‘boundary tour’ of our property.  Almost always there is to be seen a ‘troop’ of kangaroos up on our top paddock which adjoins a huge olive grove on one side and lovely gum studded country on the southeast looking towards Exeter.  In the cover of these gums lives a large family of grey kangaroos.  Sometimes, when food or water is short, like it was last week before these lovely rains, they venture down into our paddocks and even into the garden.  Over the past month, as water levels in dams and springs were sitting at their lowest for years, I spotted quite a few heading through the paddocks at dawn, and then one morning as I went out to feed everyone, there was a lovely young male right in Pigley’s yard.  Pigley, focused as always on her breakfast didn’t care at all and I moved quietly away so as not to frighten the lovely creature who was already stressed having been separated from his family and struggling to return home through our sheep-proof fencing.  They are such interesting animals.  Majestic and strong and like poetry in motion when in full flight. I find them compellingly beautiful.


Some years ago I was lucky enough to have my camera on hand when  a pair of males started  boxing in our front paddock, in the early morning mist. How pleasing to capture such classic images of ‘the boxing kangaroo’.


IMG_0030Below:  Kangaroos feeding and play fighting by the dam, while little birds pick bugs from their coats.IMG_0078




We love it when we see kangaroos grazing in with the sheep.  Below a shot taken last Spring of a family ‘flying’ through Pigley’s paddock. IMG_8152


IMG_9417Above:  Again, taken from the kitchen window, these young roos were feeding in our vegetable garden when I disturbed them.  Off they sped past a startled gaggle of geese,  around the pond and through our new plantation of pin oaks. They’re such magnificent animals, it’s awful to think they are shot down for competing with stock for feed … but that’s the reality for farmers in Australia.  Man against nature. Luckily this family lives pretty safely and peacefully in our neck of the woods, and that we only get occasional visits makes them even more special to us.




Below:  A local farmer and his wife who assist wild animals for WIRES, brought a little orphaned  joey over for a visit one day.  She was adorable, living in her little pillowslip ‘pouch’, she had quickly become house trained and never soiled her safe haven.  They grow up to be wonderful, intelligent, well mannered pets so it must be heartbreaking to release them back into the bush.  Thank goodness for WIRES and the many volunteers and vets who donate their time to helping injured and rescued animals from the wild.  If you would like to assist them in their work, or to register as a volunteer, here’s the link. Meantime, next time you see a group of kangaroos on your travels, you will know you are looking at a ‘troop’!


In the morning white


Our old farmhouse sits ‘in the round’ with 360 degree rural views.  We have no real front, back or side of house.  The garden and paddocks surround us on all sides. And one of the things I love most about it is that the kitchen spans the full width of the house and takes in the views to both the north and south.  So from my kitchen sink I can look out the window to see ducks and geese on the pond on one side, and on the other I see donkeys, newborn lambs and horses grazing.  On a super frosty morning like yesterday, it was all white on white wherever I looked.


White goats in a white frosted paddock, white ducks on a glazed white pond, white geese snaking their way over white frozen lawns, the white trunks of the silver birches standing stark in the cold, leaden light and in the west as I walked over the crunchy grass to feed Pigley, I saw the white whisper of the round setting moon dropping slowly in the lightening sky.





The remains of the iceberg roses, the white railings on the house and the white droplets on spiders webs made it all the more magical.


And looking out while I was making my morning coffee, I spotted this new lamb being born in the frosty light.


It all reminded me of the spectacular scenes we experienced as children growing up in Central Otago,  in the South Island of New Zealand. There we would have ‘hoar frosts‘ and the temperature wouldn’t rise above zero for days sometimes weeks on end.

Hoar frost_1

During these times the ponds would freeze over, the mesh on the tennis court at home would frost up completely to look like a white blanket, the power lines would gather layer upon layer of frost until they were so thick and heavy they would break.  This didn’t change things much in our daily life … we still rode our bikes to the bus stop in our long woollen socks and grey flannel shorts and pleated skirts with inverted rabbit skins on the handle bars to keep our hands from freezing.  And later going to High School in Alexandra our bus would drive down into the valley where the famous fruit orchards began and spanned for miles along fertile river flats up the Clutha River towards Cromwell and south to Roxburgh. During the winter the orchardists had to fight the frosts, in early days with smoke pots, then when these were banned for environmental reasons, the orchards were protected by sprinklers.  The frost would freeze the water on the baby buds and the temperature inside was warmer than the frost itself. Who would have thought!  Anyway, the reason for telling you this, is that as we drove down the hill toward the Manuherikia River, as Galloway Road branched off to our left, we would enter the orchard zone.  There in the early light, the entire view from the bus windows was of a crystal expanse of fruit trees completely covered in icicles and sparkling in the morning sunshine.  I loved it.  It was a wonderland. And while all the other kids were engrossed with schoolbus chatter, I was captivated by the loveliness of the glassy spectacle and imagined it as a ballroom filled with chandeliers.




And as a small child I remember skating excursions to the Manorburn Dam where hundreds of people would skate over this huge frozen lake.


The music of Tom Jones would blare from the rickety speakers:

I saw the light on the night that I passed by her window
I saw the flickering shadows of love on her blind
She was my woman
As she deceived me I watched and went out of my mind
My, my, my, Delilah
Why, why, why, Delilah”

… I would twirl and practice my spins to this music and then we would all stand in line in our skates on a rubber mat to order hot pies and hot chocolate.  Dance music would play and couples would waltz expertly on the huge arena. Curling rinks would be marked out and the huge granite curling stones would be hurled along as men swept furiously with brooms to speed the contest. Then from the control box we would hear warnings about too many people gathered in one area and we’d be instructed to disperse to spread the weight over the ice.  In a good year we would have ‘black ice’ where it froze so fast and hard there were no bubbles in it and it was like black glass.  You could see right through it.  And daring boys would ignore the “Thin Ice” warning signs and skate near the willows at the edge.  Those same boys are probably still skating on thin ice. Funny how I remember all the good things about growing up in such a cold climate, and never remember thinking about actually being cold!   This morning as I head out to check for new lambs, I wonder how yesterday’s tiny babies all survived another frosty night, snuggled closely in to their mothers woollen fleece … like little bugs in rugs!  I’m sure as soon as the sun’s up they’ll be leaping and playing like we did as children, oblivious to the cold of the frosty nights … just enjoying the sunny days that follow.  Whatever the temperature is where you are right now, enjoy your day. M x x x

hoar frost_2

The images above of frozen orchards and Manorburn Dam skating are from Google.  And thanks to the super talented Luke Sergent for his beautiful images of Central Otago under hoar frost.














And then there were four.


I’m heartbroken this morning. A fox got one of our ducks in the night.  Whilst we constantly worry about losing lambs to foxes, we feel pretty secure about the fowl as they are locked away each night in a high walled ‘fort’ almost impossible for a fox to breach.  But this morning I found one of our beautiful Pekins headless in the garden, still warm.  The latch on a little side gate to the run, which we never use, must have been loosened over time by the wind and had blown open, so Brer Fox had easy access to a pen full of geese and ducks.  Incredibly the four remaining ducks and all the geese were unharmed, though highly stressed.   Luckily I had let Sam out earlier than usual this morning so he must have frightened the fox before anymore damage was done. We’ve had our five Pekin ducks for years and they move about the garden and ponds as a unit, travelling everywhere together in a comical little regiment.  So it’s particularly distressing to lose a member of this tight knit group.  But that is life on the farm.  It’s all of us against the blasted foxes.  As I walked back from feeding everyone and cleaning up after the kill, I saw the culprit in the distance – as bold as brass.  But even though my father taught me how to handle a gun, I couldn’t bring myself to shoot anything.  Not even a fox.





On a brighter note, we had 2 more lambs born yesterday, strong and robust and already playing together in the paddock. I’m hoping our little pack of donkeys will help keep them safe from the foxes.










Above: This is Nigel.  His leg was broken in a fight, years ago when he was a lamb and though he’s quite lame, he manages to get around the paddock perfectly well so has been kept as a pet.  He loves lambing time and every Spring is very protective of everyone,  like an old uncle.  This morning he was greeting one of our new arrivals.


Baby Phoebe peering over the Ha Ha and hoping for a little snack. We built the Ha Ha years ago so there would be no fence to ruin the view.  It’s a wonderful thing as at certain angles it appears that the animals are actually in the garden.  It’s too high to jump so they are separated from the gardens by a barrier, invisible from the house.



Peas in a pod.  Phoebe and mother Clementine.



Seeing the dams this low is worrying.  We are desperate for some good rains.



Calling for mother.






Geese in my garden.



Yesterday, our kitchen garden was invaded by a flock of white cockatoos.  This morning it was a gaggle of geese!  So we are at least sticking with a white theme. We have quite a lot of geese – Roman Tufteds and Pilgrims.  I’ve written about them before and about how lots of anything looks so much more exciting than one or two.  Except for diamonds.  Then one big rock is hard to beat! Anyway, our sheepdog Sam loves to herd the geese onto the pond each morning after they’re fed.   It’s his raison d’etre.  He is a working dog and he wakes me early each morning so I will let them out and he can get to work. He never hurts or bothers them, just moves them from place to place then lies for hours watching them.  They don’t even bother about him when they have goslings – confident he won’t hurt them. But somehow this morning they all got off course and ended up in amongst the rhubarb and silver beet.  Our garden is looking pretty dishevelled at the moment anyway, due to lack of time on my part, and so I’m not worried at all about a few geese trampling through.  What struck me most was the loveliness of their pure white feathers against the mist and as it cleared, against the green of the garden.  This combined with the silver birch trunks, the white railings of the house and the remaining iceberg roses made for a very beautiful picture. Further up the path from the vegetable garden is a 50 metre border that I planted years ago with white foxgloves.  Each year I leave the flowers to go to seed and strip them upwards scattering the seed wide and far.  The result is a dense border self seeded with foxgloves … all white.  And each year the patch gets bigger and better.  Imagine that in Spring.  With a dark green hedge behind and a few geese thrown into the picture.  Divine.  Look for loveliness wherever you go today.  M x x x













First lamb.

Good morning from The Potting Shed.  Good grief.  I knew it had been a long time since my last letter but I see from the Joe Vinks story below, that it was June 25 since my last post!  I’m sorry for my absence, but such a lot has been happening at The Potting Shed as we prepare for Spring.  Truckloads of new products have been arriving, lots of special orders to fill, obelisks and espalier frames to be made, gardens and pots to be planted up for Tulip Time  … and so the days quickly turn into weeks and then into months.  I’ve been putting off writing my blog, unable to think where to start.  Or start again, in my case.  Anyway, nature always gives me solutions to every problem.  And this very frosty morning (minus 3 when I awoke!)  after my breakfast and once the sun had burned away the mist, I strode out to survey our flock of Suffolk ewes to see if lambing had begun.  Usually I’m confident about the lambing dates but this year, our rascally ram George broke through the gate to be with his girls and my planning rather went out the window!   But I knew we were likely to see some action this week so I’ve been careful to watch everyone.  Out I went into the freezing, frosty morning and the first thing I saw was a spectacular flock of sulphur crested cockatoos in the vegetable garden.  Actually a grouping of parrots is referred to as ‘a company‘ or birds in general are a flock if on the ground and a flight if in the air.  Not sure what you call them if they are sitting on posts in a vegetable garden!  Anyway, I love them.  They are so playful and naughty. They love showing off and strangely this morning  it was as if they were trying to show me something.  They all took flight in a blur of white and sulphur, and swooped out over the garden to the fields beyond. And as my eye followed them, I spotted our first lamb of spring.  Tiny and black like a little spider wobbling over the frosty grass, there she was.  Perfect.  It’s a miracle how these little babies born in freezing temperatures get quickly up to have their first feed and then imitate their mothers and begin to try and graze.  Suffolk lambs are all born black and then eventually turn white retaining only the black face and legs.  We love them and lambing always marks the turn from winter to spring.  This year we’ve put the donkeys in with the flock to help protect the lambs from foxes … which, I see from Wikipedia, are known, when in packs as a leash, a skulk, or an earth.  We learn something new every day.  Anyway, we have five donkeys, including baby Phoebe who was born just before Christmas, so I’m hoping her mother Clementine, father Digby, along with Annie and  Ned Devine  will all be aggressive towards foxes to protect her.  It’s always an anxious time as the foxes are hungry and needing to feed their young and every year we have losses. All heartbreaking.  So, though I have been feeling a bit overwhelmed at how on earth I’m going to manage lambing on top of everything else at the moment … this first arrival set my heart soaring and I now can’t wait to see a paddock full of lambs gambolling about in the spring sunshine.  I’ll just get up a little earlier each day to fit it all in.  After all, nothing wonderful is ever achieved without a bit of extra effort.  Is it?  Have a lovely day.  M x x x