Author: Maureen Gardner

Acts of kindness.

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It has been another extraordinary week at The Potting Shed.  Every day is like living in a wonderful dream.  Interesting people in joyful mood, wander through our little shop, rain or shine and delight me with their stories. I think gardening does that … it attracts like minded people and the very subject of planting uplifts. Anyway, a week ago, just as we celebrated our first year anniversary at The Potting Shed,  and in the midst of the late summer frenzy to get things planted before winter, we opened a new little shop called  “The Green Room” … a colourful space offering indoor plants and special items for your conservatory or garden room.  And that has been exciting.  But even more exciting has been the steady stream of gifts arriving through our gate.  Not anniversary gifts … just an amazing, on-going parade of offerings and random acts of kindness. Early in the week a customer who promised last spring, to bring me some of his very rare, miniature daffodils arrived beaming to hand over the promised gift.  There in a little pot freshly dug from the garden, was a cluster of the tiniest stems already pushing up,  and with glee he and his wife described the dainty treasure that would appear in spring.  He had purchased the bulb 15 years ago for $15 … a fortune at the time. And, said his wife, way more than they could afford in those days.  But now it has colonised in their garden and delights them every spring. The very next day, one of the monks from the Bundanoon Monastery brought in a container of delicious pumpkin and ginger soup for my lunch,  along with a beautiful soapstone Amulet, as thanks for some plants I had given for their garden. How thoughtful people are. How kind.  Shortly after another customer popped her head in my door grinning,  and said “I found it” … and there in a crumpled brown paper bag were seeds from an Honesty bush she had spotted in a friend’s garden.  Remembering a conversation we had had months earlier about how difficult it was to find, she thought I would like some.

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Days later a little pot of miniature cyclamen, the progeny of  bulbs smuggled in years before from Greece, appeared along with a bag of home grown grapefruit.  A carton of free-range eggs decorated with wild flowers and prettily wrapped in ribbon was delivered from another customer and friend, flying past with a kiss as she was double parked out the front; and later that day a beautiful box of Lindt chocolate Easter eggs as a thank you for some cuttings I had passed on to one of our regulars. Books loaned, bags of Oriental poppy seeds, dahlia tubers by the bootful, rare plants shared, pretty paintings, birds nests and vases for my office,  potted saplings of an evergreen Dogwood I had admired months earlier in a beautiful lady’s Bowral garden –  the list goes on. It’s quite overwhelming.

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And about this time last year, soon after we opened, a good friend left a small bag tied to the shop gate.  The note simply said “For M.T.”  I was curious.  Who was MT?   And then as I unwrapped the bag, there inside,  wrapped in tissue, was a tiny little crown, hand made from wire and beautiful, vintage crystal beads.  I knew then it was for Monsieur Tillier, our little canary who lives at the shop.   And now that little crown sits grandly on top of his rustic cage.  My heart is full to the brim as I think back over this first year at The Potting Shed and I well up inside at all the gifts it has given me and the pleasure had from sharing them all.  I just want to say thank you to everyone who has stepped through our gate and warmed my day.

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The X Factor

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As posted on this blog earlier, we have the great pleasure and privilege of having the very talented artist Clara Adolphs working in my old Potting Shed at our farm in Sutton Forest. Through a chance conversation earlier in the year, I discovered that Clara needed a studio space and as I had just opened my garden shop in town and was no longer working from home, my Potting Shed was available.  It’s quite a large space, with a workbench and windows looking out over gardens to the north and French doors opening to the garden on the east. After an inspection Clara declared it was perfect and moved in with her canvases and oils.  And off she went.  Painting, painting, painting.  Some months later she called to let me  know Vogue Living would be sending a journalist to do an interview and later a photographer would come to take photos of her at work.   The interview was scheduled before Clara went to New York for an important  invitational drawing course -and soon after she returned it was time for the photo shoot.  So that day I rose early, had breakfast then out to help Clara with preparations before the photographer arrived at 9am. Great excitement.  And some nerves.  It’s a big deal being featured in Vogue so it had to go well and we wanted the space to look perfect. Together we cleaned and tidied and swept and arranged the space and when Peter arrived I made coffee and left them to it.

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The flurry of excitement to prepare for the shoot took me back to my PR days when as a concert and theatre publicist for many big touring shows I was, at quite a young age, responsible for minding lots of international stars and settling nerves before dozens of press conferences and interviews.  And in every case the common denominator was the same – whether it was Mick Jagger or David Bowie, Leonard Cohen or Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Tina Turner or Joe Cocker,  the Bolshoi Ballet’s Prima Ballerina or the remarkable skating duo Torvill and Dean… what was evident was what is known as the X Factor.  These were really big stars.  They got there because they had special talent, special drive, special personalities … they had lots of  ‘it’.  They took their work seriously and every single interview and photo shoot was treated with importance. These sorts of people really do shine …  and that, of course, is why they’re called ‘stars’.

And there in our garden shed, as I watched the talented and beautiful young Clara Adolphs preparing her canvases and arranging her studio, I knew I was in the presence of another star – another artist with loads of X Factor. Good luck Clara with the final week of your exhibition ‘The Man in Me’ at MiCK the Gallery in Woollahra.  Though you won’t need luck … I think you just have ‘it’!
MiCK Project Show
83 Moncur Street, WOOLLAHRA NSW 2025 (previously Eva Breuer Gallery)

Gallery Hours | Tuesday – Saturday 10-6, Sunday 1-5 | until 26 October 2014 only

Click here to watch a video of Clara at work in her studio.

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Spring Fever

“It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke

I love this quote. It makes me feel so joyful and makes me want to take time and observe even more of the beauty and innocence of this season. How lucky we are  here in the Highlands to be enjoying such an idyllic Spring.  Day after day of beautiful weather, fields green as green from the rains in September and gentle breezes softly drifting blossom through the streets.  Our little garden at The Potting Shed is bursting with colour and each day more loveliness emerges.  First the crocus and jonquils, then the tulips which this year have been glorious and now the delphiniums and foxgloves are putting on a spectacular show. We are pleased to be able to demonstrate that even in a concrete courtyard you can create a garden of variety and interest by using pots and barrels to give height and texture.  Here are some photos taken this week to share with you our passion for gardening and intense love of Spring.    Happy gardening!  M x

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The Potting Shed at Lydie’s

I’m excited to announce that in addition to our shop in Banyette Street, Bowral, we now have a beautiful new plant gallery at Lydie du Bray’s Antiques on Consignment in Braemar   –   “The Potting Shed at Lydie’s”.  It’s early days, and more stock is arriving daily, but if you call in to Lydie’s super glamorous shop this weekend you will find us in The Walled Garden which is now filled with potted foxgloves and delphiniums, lavenders, geraniums and advanced topiary in buxus, bay, citrus and olive.  Inside in the conservatory we’re showcasing big ‘glamour’ plants including massive crassulas, cycads, cyclamens,  Pieris and spectacular orchids – all perfect to beautify your home and garden.  Follow us on Instagram for lots of images, ideas and updates.  Hope to see you soon at The Potting Shed – now at Dirty Jane’s Antique Market in Bowral and Lydie du Bray’s Antiques on Consignment in Braemar. (address below).

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The Potting Shed at Lydie’s

Lydie du Bray’s Antiques on Consignment

117 Old Hume Highway
Braemar NSW Australia
Open 10am-5pm (EST) Every day.

The blackbird project

This morning as I walked the dogs through the cold and icy wind,  I stopped suddenly in my tracks.  There it was. The sound I had been waiting seven years to hear.

My heart sang.

Ears straining, I stopped dead still, holding my breath to hear better in the wind. Yes, again there it was. Closer this time.   In an instant I was back to my childhood and bubbling up, bubbling up, bubbling up inside me were memories of home and the apple tree in blossom and summer days in my mother’s garden filled with foxgloves and delphiniums and lupins.  And the song of blackbirds.  I have longed for that in my own garden.  I have wanted to wake in the morning to that song of home.

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Having started with a blank canvas here at our farm, we were in the early years a bit thin on birdlife as there was very little shelter.  It was literally a house in a gum studded paddock with a stand of pines off to the west and a handful of birches near the house, but little else.  So,  like a woman possessed, I planted, planted, planted.  Creating passages and glades, hedgerows and thickets, shade and cover. I called it The Blackbird Project.  Year after year,  I added layer upon layer of plantings and slowly the garden has thickened and trees have grown, and bit by bit we have seen new varieties of birds making our home theirs.  More and more each year. Always there were parrots, galahs and magpies, thrushes and miners –  but drawn in by the protective cover the little wrens and finches, honeyeaters and silvereyes, wagtails and robins have arrived one by one, then flock by flock until last summer the garden was filled with colour and movement and birdsong.   But not the one voice I have longed to hear.  Not one single blackbird.  I would drive to nearby Red Cow Farm to sit in Ally and Wayne’s beautiful garden, just to hear their blackbirds. “You don’t want them!” Wayne laughed one day when I told him of my quest.  “They scratch mulch from the borders all over the lawns and make an awful mess.”   But I did want them.  I really wanted them. Some very still mornings I could hear them a long way in the distance, across the paddocks in our neighbours old, established garden where a hundred years of shelter and protection had formed.  But our garden is a baby  and it has taken time for birds to trust they can nest in safety.  Now at last the blackbirds have decided our garden is good enough, sheltered enough, lovely enough and they are checking us out.  So I’m hoping to wake to their song all summer long. With The Blackbird Project now complete, will I stop madly planting and propagating and adding to the garden, I hear my husband ask?  I think not, she replies!

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Above:  A blackbird at Red Cow Farm.

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Above:  Our rose hedges provide excellent cover for nesting birds.

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Above:  In my mother’s garden I always loved the Blackbird’s call.

Some notes:

The Common Blackbird was introduced to Australia in Melbourne in the 1850s. The male is the ‘black’ bird, with deep orange to yellow bill, a narrow yellow eye-ring and dark legs. The female is a brown bird, with some streaks or mottling, and has a dark bill and legs. Immature birds are similar to the female with lighter underparts. It is not readily confused with other ‘black’ birds as it is much smaller than most Australian ‘black’ birds and has a distinctive yellow eye-ring. Originally confined to Melbourne and Adelaide, it has gradually expanded its range throughout south-eastern Australia, both on the coast and inland, as far north as Sydney, and including Tasmania and the Bass Strait islands. It is most often found in urban areas and surrounding localities, but has successfully moved into bushland habitats. It is often seen in orchards, vineyards and gardens, as well as along roadsides and in parks. The Blackbird eats insects, earthworms, snails, spiders and a range of seeds and fruit. It mainly forages on the ground, probing and scratching at leaf litter, lawns and soil. It builds a cup-shaped nest of dried grass, bound with mud, and lined with fine grasses usually placed in a tree, shrub or low bush, but they will also use tree hollows.

  • The blackbird is a great generalist, able to exploit many different habitats from urban areas to wetlands and woodlands.
  • Unlike the male, the female blackbird is not in fact black, but brown with mottling on the breast.
  • Blackbirds typically remain with the same mate until one of the pair dies.

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

Songwriters

HART, LORENZ/RODGERS, RICHARD

Published by

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

 

A troop of kangaroos

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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.

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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’.

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

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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

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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.

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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’!

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In the morning white

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Peas in a pod.  Phoebe and mother Clementine.

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

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Calling for mother.

 

 

 

 

 

Geese in my garden.

 

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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

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