Country Gardens

Clara’s Studio

IMG_9897Since opening The Potting Shed a few weeks ago, I have had very little time for my garden at home and so my other potting shed which overlooks our kitchen garden is sitting empty and forlorn.  Through one of those “six degrees of separation” instances I had a call from a gorgeous young local artist, Clara Adolphs. She had heard from a friend that I had a studio to rent.  Actually no, I said, I was looking for a live-in gardener to manage my garden now that I was back full time at work …  but as luck would have it, my potting shed was now empty and had a lovely view and would she like to work from there in return for minding my dogs while I was at work. She came and loved the space and moved in with her easel and paints and set to work. Perfect.  The potting shed has a new use and has been renamed ‘Clara’s Studio’, the dogs are delighted and we have our own super talented ‘resident artist’.  We feel very grown up!   IMG_9898 IMG_9900

You can view more of Clara’s works at Mick the Gallery, 44 Gurner Street in Paddington, open Tuesday to Saturday 10-6pm. www.mickthegallery.com

 

About a pig.

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IMG_4550If you walk south from our house, across the lawn, under the Chinese Elms, past the pond and through the hedge to the orchard, you come to Pigley’s House.  There she lives in luxury with the 6 Boer goats we bought to keep her company – Leisl, Gretel, Scarlett, Evie, Fleur, and Matilda.  All is usually happiness and bliss in this part of the world, but recently Pigley split one of her hooves and has been limping, so the vet has been called and she will be sedated in order for a manicure to be conducted!   Not easy to trim the toenails of a 150kg pig and to keep her still for the procedure lots of sedative is required, so the lovely girl at the surgery explained.  At great expense I might add, but what can one do?  A lame pig is not a happy sight.   So before leaving for work yesterday morning, like a guilty mother over-compensating for a sick child, I gave her a treat to take her mind off her sore toe. In the pantry I had spotted a packaged pavlova (I know, I know!) which had been invaded by ants …  and this, added to a large bowl of porridge, was delivered to the patient.  Blissful grunting and groaning followed as Pigley gulped her way through the delicious treat.  Then last night after work, still worried about her wellbeing, I raced over to see how she was coping and took with me the remains of a tub of ice cream I had spied in the freezer, past its prime and with Pigley’s name on it.  She trotted swiftly over (lameness momentarily forgotten) and the still evening air was split by the joyful smacking of lips and gleeful mutterings as her giant snout licked hungrily for ages at the remains of the tub.  She is a big pig with a big personality.  
Pigley  was sold to us as a ‘miniature’ pig and from the moment we carried her home from the Burrawang Markets she owned us … never the other way around.   We were conned.  Nothing miniature about this Berkshire piglet.  And, no-one bothered to explain the bit about bottle feeding her every 15 minutes … for 3 months!  If food wasn’t instantly forthcoming she would squeal at the top of her lungs until she got action. I had to take her everywhere, even to Sydney in a little carry crate. Eventually I rigged up a bottle on a chair on the deck so she could feed on demand. We called it the ‘piglet cafe’. She adopted our sheepdog Sam as a surrogate mother and snuggled up each night beside him.  She grew and grew and grew and grew. Soon, too big for the house, we moved her out to live with the chickens and she had a lovely little kennel of her own.  This she quickly outgrew and a bigger kennel was found.  Again, she soon became wedged in the opening. So a new shed was built in the house paddock and she was  transferred over to live with the sheep.  But she hated it and there was no doubt she was quite lonely on her own … she never related to the sheep and was friendless and upset.  Around about then a notice at  the local produce store advertised Boer goats so a call was made and they arrived as cute as buttons on a little truck.  Instantly they bonded with Pigley and a love affair began.  They all sleep together in a large mass of white and tan and black bodies snuggled in Pigley’s giant straw bed.  
This morning I delivered another large bowl of porridge as a last little snack before fasting begins tonight prior to sedation.   I’m incredibly anxious about the whole procedure … what if something goes wrong? I can’t bear to think about it. Instead I must just think about how much happier she’ll be when her feet are in order. Until you’ve known (owned) a pig, you cannot understand their compelling personality and extraordinary intellect, which is ranked second only to dolphins in the animal kingdom.  Winston Churchill knew about pigs. He famously said:    ‘Always remember, a cat looks down on man, a dog looks up to man, but a pig will look man right in the eye and see his equal.’     
I’ll keep you posted about the pedicure. 
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The rest of the marmalade story!

IMG_0598Yesterday I started to tell you about marmalade but in my haste, I accidentally hit publish before I had finished my story! Then the day flashed by and I had no time to return to it. As I was saying, the damper with marmalade from the new cafe in the Dirty Janes Antique Market, where we are located, is delicious. The marmalade, made by Cath, one of the owners,  was a beautiful, translucent mandarin colour and was tangy and delicious.  I love a good marmalade but it is surprisingly difficult to get one with enough bite.  They’re all too sweet. I’ve hunted high and low and have tried all the usual famous brands, I’ve pounced on home made jars at school fetes, trawled through the Farmers Markets here and in Sydney, scouted through shops in English villages where they should know all about marmalade …  and still I hunger for just the right combo of chunkiness, tartness and aroma.  So I turned to Stephanie Alexander’s Cook’s Companion for help.  There on page 473 she lists this lovely entry:

Seville marmalade from a competent western-district cook.

This recipe came to me from a woman who read of my failure with my first-ever Seville marmalade.  She reminded me that it is most important to use fresh fruit – straight from the tree is ideal. 

Seville oranges, water, salt, sugar.

Thinly slice fruit, having first removed all pips and central membrane.  For every 500g prepared fruit, allow 1.8 litres water and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Simmer fruit, salt and water until peel is soft and easily squashed.  Allow to rest for 24 hours in a ceramic or stainless steel bowl.  Next day, measure fruit and water into a preserving pan or large stockpot using a cup.  Bring to a boil and for every cup of fruit and water allow an equal measure of sugar.  Return to a boil and cook for 25-30 minutes until setting or jelly stage.  Bottle into hot, sterilised jars.

Reading this tip about ‘straight from the tree is ideal’, brings me to another citrus note. We have just received a lovely delivery of very healthy, vigorous, perky looking orange, lemon, cumquat, grapefruit, blood orange and lime trees.  So if you too are a marmalade lover, you might like to think about putting in your own citrus grove and in a year or two you’ll have enough for your first batch of home-grown, home-made marmalade!

Visit The Potting Shed website for location and contact details.

Lady Hillingdon

portraitAs I was out weeding late last evening, taking advantage of the soft ground after all the rain, there literally glowing in the dark was the beautiful rose Lady Hillingdon.  Poor thing, like so many of my roses she’s had to adapt to several different homes as part of the ongoing relocation of sections of the garden.  But this autumn, she’s taken charge … she’s put her pretty foot down and said this is where I’m staying.  From a spindly, frail little thing she has emerged as the great beauty I knew she should be.  Covered from head to toe in the loveliest colour I can’t actually find words to describe.  Not apricot, not orange, not yellow, but a blended tone of those – the best I can offer is the colour of the mango gelati at Messina in Darlinghurst where we often used to go for a treat on the way home from dinner.  Soft, satiny mango coloured blooms nodding elegantly down – she is the belle of the ball.  So unspeakably lovely and graceful.  Delicate, captivating, fragile. Hauntingly beautiful.  And with a magnificent perfume that is just as hard to describe.  It was too dark to photograph her so here are stock shots I felt captured her.

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David Austin describes her thus: “A vigorous and hardy climbing rose, and one of the best tea roses still in existence. The blooms are made up of large petals, resulting in long, elegant, waxy buds, which open to large, loosely formed flowers of deep apricot-yellow. These hang gracefully from the branch and emit a delicious, rich tea fragrance. ‘Lady Hillingdon’ continues to flower throughout the summer with unusual regularity. It has fine contrasting dark green foliage, which is coppery mahogany when young. 15ft.” 

And these comments from Paul Bardon do her justice – far better than I have managed.

“Lady Hillingdon, a tea. Bred by Lowe and Shawyer, UK 1910.

There is a certain quality about this rose that very nearly defies description. Whether it is the rich warm yellow coloring, the incredibly deep and unique fragrance, or the lovely contrasting reddish-plum colored foliage that makes this such an incredible beauty is hard to say. I have not had this plant of Lady Hillingdon long, and now I cannot imagine why I took so long in acquiring it! This bloom, which is about 4 inches across, opened on May 5th in my greenhouse, and it has been one bloom that I have visited many times daily for its scent.

I believe I have the shrub form of Lady Hillingdon, which is about 3′ tall and 2′ wide at maturity. (Bigger in warmer climates) There is a climbing variety that is more often grown that will climb to 15′ tall and 8′ wide. Although I have little experience with it yet, I understand that it has winter hardiness comparable to most Hybrid Teas. I would grow this rose for the fragrance alone.

As with most of the Tea roses, ‘Lady Hillingdon’ is a densely twiggy, slim-branched rose that gains slowly in size over several years. I find the graceful, finely branched form of the Tea roses to be very beautiful. If you live in an area where you can grow these roses, you should make them a part of your garden.”

Oh to have a rose named after you, let alone one as lovely as this.  So who was this Lady Hillingdon?

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Alice, Lady Hillingdon was born the Hon Alice Harbord-Hamond and married the second Lord Hillingdon. As a wedding present her father gave them property in Norfolk, where they built Overstrand Hall, according to Pevsner ‘one of Lutyens’s most remarkable buildings, at the time when he had reached maturity but still believed to the full in his own inventiveness’, but Lady Hillingdon reportedly preferred London, for the society.

It is said that in her journal for 1912, or in a letter to her mother (which sounds rather unlikely), Lady Hillingon wrote: ‘I am happy now that Charles calls on my bedchamber less frequently than of old. As it is, I now endure but two calls a week and when I hear his steps outside my door I lie down on my bed, close my eyes, open my legs and think of England.’

Sadly, her journal has been lost. Perhaps on purpose. But whether or not it was hers, what a gift that phrase has been.

The picture above is her portrait by Bassano, who photographed all the ladies of the day, from the National Portrait Gallery.

We will certainly try and stock this lovely tea rose at The Potting Shed for spring. And thank you to The History Girls for the lively story above.   (http://the-history-girls.blogspot.com.au)

The Forest Pansy

DSC_0407 DSC_0415forest_pansyI am so cross with myself.  I had one very lovely Forest Pansy left at the shop and sold it to a young lady who was delighted with it after another customer waxed lyrical about it’s many attributes explaining what a great and beautiful tree it is. Now I wish I had brought it home for my own garden!  Tomorrow I will be ordering more and snaffling one for myself – I have just the spot for it.   Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ is a very elegant small ornamental tree growing to a height of 4 metres  and 4 metres wide.  At the start of spring clusters of small rose pink, pea-like flowers cover the entire tree followed by shiny reddish purple, heart shaped leaves. The leaves become quite large giving a very lush appearance. In summer the older, more sheltered foliage will harden off to a deep green creating a contrast with the vibrant new growth. Autumn turns the leaves a golden colour prior to them dropping to let the winter sun back in.

Forest Pansy can be used as a specimen tree or shrub, fence line screening, or just to add a splash of colour amongst your other shrubbery. It likes full sun or part shade, well drained fertile soil and needs mulch and summer water to really excel. It’s frost hardy, and in spite of it’s delicate and I think romantic appearance, it is quite hardy –  but keep it out of strong wind. If you’d like to add one to your collection, let me know and I’ll order one for you.

(Images via Google)

The silver birch walk

IMG_7538One of the first things we planted when we started our garden here in Sutton Forest was a little walk of silver birches, in those days to screen off an unsightly area of rain water tanks and to soften the house as you approached down the driveway. This idea kind of grew and now we seem to have lots and lots of silver birch walks!  One behind the citrus  garden,  which shades a pathway leading to the orchard.  Another one leads through the perennial garden to the north of the house and most recently, in a spontaneous moment of madness, I bought 300 (or was it 500?) to line the driveway last winter and create some light and shade effects  and lead your eye to the house.  They grow incredibly fast here in the Highlands and it seems the ones on the driveway love the acid from the pine needles that fall from a stand of pines nearby. Or perhaps it is the 4 inch layer of mulch that gives them a boost.  Either way the effect has been almost instant and the little  saplings are now already high enough to walk under and will by next summer form a pretty canopy to drive under.  For some reason some people don’t like them … I do.  I love them planted really close as they would be in natural woodland, and if I wasn’t responding to pressure to keep them spaced, I would plant them even closer.  That way the trunks stay slender and look amazing if pleached up really high leaving you with an ‘installation’ of silvery trunks.  What’s not to love about them, I say. And so, I will definitely be getting some in stock for you to enjoy at The Potting Shed.  IMG_7027Above:  Jack, Harry and Bella lamb chilling in the garden in SpringIMG_8491Above a view of a lovely silver birch lined path at The Burrows in Canyonleigh. IMG_1948Bluebells under birch at Whitley. IMG_6120Hellebores and forget me nots in one of our birch stands. IMG_6788

Choosing the right hedge

IMG_1985 IMG_1978 IMG_1979 Choosing the right hedge is a serious business – especially if you’re planning great areas of it. I procrastinated for months on what to use here at our farm where we started with a hundred acre blank canvas of gum studded paddocks.   We wanted something natural looking to suit our farm – not too formal, not too grand, not too fast, not too slow.  (Note: The pictures above are NOT at our farm, they are at the magnificent property Whitley just up the road.  I often drive past enviously admiring the stunningly manicured conifer and laid down hawthorn hedges that surround that property.)

It’s a big decision as you will live with it for a very long time and it will form the structure of your garden and is costly if you change your mind.  The best advice I can give on this is to drive around your district and take note of what others are using. Take your time. Do you prefer evergreen – a sharp edged conifer, a nice glossy cherry laurel or flowering camellia – or would you be happy with the elegant structure of a beautiful wall of deciduous hornbeam or beech with their russet winter leaves giving way to brilliant green in early spring? Whatever it is, it must match both your property and your budget as some need a lot more management than others and hedging on a large scale can be a considerable cost each year.

Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) is my absolute favourite and will be playing a big part in future sections of our garden. It is not commonly used here in Australia as a deciduous hedge probably because people prefer beech, which it does resemble. But, the expert view is that hornbeam makes a superior hedge to beech, particularly, if you want to pleach or train it. I saw what is probably the most famous example of a pleached hornbeam hedge at Hidcote in Gloucestershire last year.  There, a pair of hedges is raised almost 2 metres on pleached trunks. It is fantastic to see and well worth a visit next trip to England.

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Both hornbeam and beech keep their leaves through winter though the hornbeam is a paler shade of russet than the beech – then in spring the brown leaves make way for a startling show of the freshest green you can imagine. Either will grow happily here in the Southern Highlands and a great example to view, winter and spring to see the colour contrast,  is at the lovely gardens at Red Cow Farm – open daily from 10am.  People think it’s too slow, but hornbeam will grow very fast if it has plenty of moisture, particularly when young and it does respond well to a rich, well-prepared ground. It will also grow well in heavy shade, though a little less luxuriantly than in full sunlight.  We are endeavouring to source some advanced hornbeam hedging at The Potting Shed – and hopefully some specimens on stilts which are great if you need to block out a new house on your boundary or screen where trees have been removed next door.

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Above:  the beautiful yew hedges at Great Dixter.  Unfortunately yew doesn’t like the Australian climate and dies back.  But there are many good conifers that will give you this firm, precise structure.

Summary: Carpinus betulus (European hornbeam)

Mature Height: 5-10m Sizes estimated at 10 years, and may vary depending on growing conditions. Aspect: Full sun/semi-shaded. Nice deciduous tree, used as formal hedging in cooler areas; conical in shape when young, becoming rounded with age. Mid-green serrated-edged leaves, with pale undersides turning a greenish yellow autumn colour; yellow catkins prominant in spring. Avoid hot sun and don’t allow to dry out in hot weather.

A living gift.

I’ve noticed a lot of people are popping in to The Potting Shed to pick up potted herbs or flowers to give as gifts when they visit friends or meet for lunch. It’s a lovely idea –  the gift lasts a long time and the pot can be filled again and again with some other treasure.  My garden is filled with plants given to me by friends – one friend in particular practically transferred her entire garden to mine!  Generous boot loads of treasure would arrive week after week, month after month as I started out creating our garden from a bare paddock and she simplified and streamlined hers.  Now, years later we enjoy beds of irises, borders of agapanthas, under plantings of ajuga, hellebores and violets, drifts of catmint, paths bounded by daffodils, hyacinths and tulips,  wonderful blocks of euphorbia, penstemons, salvias and scabiosa, orchards of citrus and barrels of rhubarb all started out from bags and boxes and snippings and clippings of these gifted plants.  Another lovely friend and neighbour gave me, some years ago, another type of living gift … a basket of heirloom varieties of garlic she had grown, harvested and labelled.  Not only was it delicious, I kept a clove of each and planted them and I’m still harvesting them year after year.  One needn’t spend a lot of money on a gift … just a little thought … and time. And that gift keeps on giving for years and years and years. How perfect is that! _MG_4547

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More is more …

I know the phrase ‘less is more’ is the catch cry of the fashionistas and stylists … and in fashion that generally is true.  But in the home and garden I say ‘more is more’!  More roses, more peonies, more trees, more hedges, more art and books, more gorgeous things to beautify our lives.IMG_5747_3On our farm we have, amongst lots of other things,  32 geese and some of my friends say I should reduce the numbers to lessen the workload … but I can’t agree.  To see them all take flight and land on the pond in a flourish of shimmering beauty is a sight to behold … their silhouette in the late afternoon as they come through the pines, and the river of white as they wind their way through the orchard gate each night to be fed is so very lovely. Much more spectacular than say 5 or 6 geese.  They add movement and interest to the garden. Plus,  they keep our sheepdog Sam amused!  Every day he wakes me at dawn to let his geese out.  He loves them and swoops excitedly about as they exit the yard into the orchard.  He rounds them up all day long splitting them into various groups, regrouping them, dividing them, herding them.  It’s funny and uplifting to watch.    It’s the same with gardening … one or two of anything looks lonely.  If you can, go for mass plantings.  Even if you have a courtyard garden, be bold.  Better to have lots of one thing than a little, meagre smattering  of lots of different things. And repeat the same plant or plantings throughout to bring continuity and settle the eye. Just as lots of one style of plants looks better, so too does a story of similar pots, or matching barrels. So if in doubt, choose a style of plant you like and say to yourself “more is more”!IMG_1448_2

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“Show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are.” Alfred Austin

Earlier this summer my friend Bridget invited me to see her parent’s garden in Canyonleigh. I knew from her expression that I was in for a treat, but nothing prepared me for the scale and size and beauty that was in store.  From a bare 10 acre paddock, Susan and John Carter have created an amazing oasis – a paradise.  19 years of love and inspiration was spread out before me. Kilometres of pathways wind through covered walkways, avenues of birches and maples, trees and hedges of every kind, arbors of wisteria, dramatic hedges of Rosa rugosa Scabrosa, and this (below) outstanding camellia walk shaded by trellis and trained into tiers of loveliness.  How absolutely stunning.  I raced home inspired and filled my notebook with sketches of new plans for projects to add excitement and interest to every corner of our ever expanding garden. You see a garden should not be a static place … it is a living, breathing thing and you can do with it what you wish. We are all constrained by budget … but let’s never be limited in our imagination.   John and Susan are testimony to the magic that’s possible when you let your creativity run wild. And it is utterly lovely and inspiring. Note: Though they will be babies compared to the lovely example you see below, we will be receiving this week, quite advanced espaliered camellia on trellis …  so you might want to try your hand at creating your own Camellia Walk!

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Note:  John and Susan Carter’s garden “The Burrows” at Canyonleigh  is open for inspections by garden clubs and also by appointment.   John is an artist who paints under his birth father’s name, Kirton. He established a gallery at The Burrows to showcase his extensive collection of works and it is also open by appointment. Visit http://www.johnkirton.com.au or phone 4878 9384 for details.