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 

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The Talented Mr Vinks.

I’m pleased this morning to be able to talk about a new range at The Potting Shed – a collection of garden and conservatory  furniture and sculpture by local Southern Highlands artist, Joe Vinks.  These pieces are truly stunning works of art – expertly crafted from fallen timbers, predominantly gum, and embellished with gum and casuarina nuts. They are rustic, elegant and witty. Most of Joe’s commissions are for international clients these days – since a major ski lodge installation for a high profile Australian in Aspen launched him in America, his work is now in demand around the globe. So naturally we are pretty excited  to be able to show several of his works.  Below a beautiful console table, a round occasional table and decorative sculpture, a two seater garden bench, the ‘Outback’ chair, the Bushman’s chair and two versions of his plant ‘wraps’.  These bottomless pots are not only strikingly lovely – they are a very clever design enabling you to move large potted plants, from place to place with ease.   Joe will make gates and all other items to your exact dimensions so if you have a particular need, please let us know.  In the meantime, do come in to The Potting Shed and view this gorgeous and very Australian collection by the talented Mr Vinks.

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Italian beauty.

IMG_0261We are thrilled to be offering the spectacular Italian range of AK47 firepits and accessories at The Potting Shed.  Sleek, elegant design combined with tough, durable finishes elevate these fire pits from utilitarian to art installation. We absolutely love them and visitors to The Potting Shed have been drawn to them … as if they are magnetic.

In researching these products, I was romanced by the poetic descriptions of the Italian design team. Like the fire pits themselves, each ‘mission statement’ is perfectly, thoughtfully crafted. I feel their words help us to understand these lovely, artistic pieces. Come in and see for yourself.

Of the Ercole (above), the hero of the play,  the AK47 studio team say this:  “Strong and statuesque, you cope with bad weather like a mythological hero. You are made of concrete that surrounds a primitive fire.You know how to be elegant and informal, your materials age and are transformed with the passing of time, giving you a more and more authentic flavour. Your generous dimensions mean that you are always the centre of attention. Your common sense can be seen in the way you organise your precious wood.”  AK47IMG_0270ercole_2

 

Below:  Tripee – “You can be seen from afar, reminiscent of nomadic encampments. Within your slender and essential structure you show signs of ancient communication means.” AK47IMG_0258

 

 

 

 

IMG_0271Discolo (below):  “Curious and dynamic, rather mischievous, it doesn’t like to stay still: it dives into the sand, among the rocks, hides in its enclosure or rises up to be completed… A perfect combination of simplicity and efficiency.” AK47discolo_1a

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Zero (below):  “An outdoor wood fireplace, a nest in which to seek refuge, enjoying the warmth of the fire: the eccentric dance of the flames is replaced by the silent burning of the embers.  A sweet warmth that comforts your guests.”AK47zero19

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Mangiafuoco (below): “Small yet great, you can dominate the daring flames that leap upwards, darting and dancing, moving continuously. You can tame them and contain them in your compact shape, a theatre where the natural performance of fire is enacted.”AK47IMG_0257

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The Berlin (below): “Even a crumbling wall can guide the imagination of an artist… Strong iron can be dominated, subdued and modelled. The hard material is enhanced and imposes its qualities with all its strength.”AK47berlin_1b berlin_sde

 

Coming soon!   The Truck:  “It can hold a great load, but it is brilliant and easy to handle. It is agile and moves on command, and immediately returns motionless. They say it can even climb the stairs, it would seem a conjuring trick, but it isn’t a trick, it’s just skill.”AK47

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Local delivery and installation are included in the prices of the major pieces. Call us on 0419 154 860 if you would like to discuss an order.

Thought for the day.

Good morning from The Potting Shed!  Even though I am a hopeless insomniac … have been for years … I do love getting up early in the morning. It’s my favourite time of day.   I used to worry about being tired from lack of sleep but now I know it really doesn’t slow me down so I get up, make a cup of tea and toast and settle in to read my favourite books and blogs.  I’ve learned to love the middle of the night and to embrace the extra 3 hours I get from being wide awake between 1am and 4am.  And this morning in the wee, small hours before snuggling back into bed for a precious hour more of deep, relaxing sleep,  I read this lovely quote on a styley blog I enjoy called Belgrave Crescent … and thought I would share it with you … in case, like many, you’ve been wondering what to do when you grow up! IMG_6038“An amazing thing happens when you get honest with yourself and start doing what you love, what makes you happy. Your life literally slows down. You stop wishing for the weekend. You stop merely looking forward to special events. You begin to live in each moment and you start feeling like a human being. You just ride the wave that is life, with this feeling of contentment and joy. You move fluidly, steadily, calm and grateful. A veil is lifted, and a whole new perspective is born.”   — Jes Allen

 

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.”

 

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.  

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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.

 

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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