Country Gardens

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































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.


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!


Above:  A blackbird at Red Cow Farm.


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


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.

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.














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













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.



IMG_0319 IMG_0320 IMG_0321 IMG_0322 IMG_0324  IMG_0327 IMG_0328IMG_0332


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.




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.


birdhouse daffodils tulips


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

bay gardenfountain topiary

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.



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


Autumn planting

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

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

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

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


Golden toffee apples.

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

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

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

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

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


The power of colour.

IMG_6824Yesterday as I drove to work I passed a Tibetan monk walking along the road in Sutton Forest, quite far from anywhere in particular.  A most unexpected sight!  He had probably walked all the way from the Sunnataram Monastery – a Thai forest Buddhist monastery near Bundanoon, a couple of villages away.

Until that moment, my head had been absolutely spinning with things to do, orders to place, calls to make, banking to be done and a swirl of ideas I need to bring together.  But seeing this man in his saffron robe immediately made me feel calm. My mind stilled.  I was aware of my foot pulling a little bit back off the accelerator. In that instant I was making myself calm down.  Was it the aura that surrounds the Tibetan persona? …  years of absorbing through the media the Dalai Lama’s teaching, seeing interviews, reading the news about the Tibetan dilemma?  Or was it the impact of that distinctive colour?  Why did they chose that particular colour for their robes? It made me want to learn more and from I read that the Buddha taught the first monks and nuns to make their robes of “pure” cloth, which meant cloth that no one wanted. Types of pure cloth included cloth that had been chewed by rats or oxen, scorched by fire, soiled by childbirth, or used as a shroud to wrap the dead before cremation. Monks would scavenge cloth from rubbish heaps and cremation grounds. Any part of the cloth that was unusable was trimmed away, and the cloth was washed. It was dyed by being boiled with vegetable matter — tubers, bark, flowers, leaves — and spices such as turmeric or saffron, which gave the cloth a yellow-orange color. This is the origin of the term “saffron robe.” Theravada monks of southeast Asia today still wear spice-color robes, in shades of curry, cumin and paprika as well as blazing saffron orange.

Embarrassed at how little I knew of the local Monastery,  I googled Sunnataram  and discovered “it is a place where you can learn and apply Buddhist teachings to add inner peace in your daily life. They offer many Dhamma programs and activities for all levels of interest, from serious meditators to students or just curious visitors. Monks and volunteers have created teaching tools to simplify the complicated Buddhist teachings into modern day language.”  And this particularly interested me – the plants in the monastery gardens are carefully chosen to link with Buddhist history and add more peaceful and pleasant feelings to both meditators and visitors.  You can learn more here:

And all this got me thinking about the power of colour in the garden.  In particular orange.  I have to say I have never been a fan of orange until I saw a splendid display of tulips at Hidcote last year.  That splash of colour on a gloomy day was uplifting and beautiful.  It warmed a chilly day and reflected in a pond in joyous brilliance. When I came home I planted a bed of the lovely orange rose Pat Austin, named for the breeder’s late wife.  They are gorgeous, glamorous and a very beautiful orange.  This year they will be underplanted with orange parrot tulips.  I’ll have them in stock soon, along with lots of other colours,  if you too would like to make a brave move and add colour to your garden this spring.IMG_6845IMG_6773

FOOTNOTE:  If you would like to help with a donation to Summataran these are some of the Things they Need

Gardens:  the following plants- Waratahs, Rhododendrons, Pieris Temple Bells, Hellebores, Euphorbia. Chicken Wire, Garden Stakes, and bags of potting mix. There is a list of other items they need on their website where you can also make a donation.