Farm

In the morning white

IMG_7584

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.

IMG_7577

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.

IMG_0549

IMG_0559

IMG_7573

IMG_0517

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.

IMG_0902

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

IMG_0912

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.

icicles_formed_on_fruit_trees_at_earnscleugh_from__1511953079

ice_covers_peach_blossom_on_an_earnscleugh_orchard_4e78758b13

apricot_blossom_is_covered_in_ice_on_an_earnscleug_5051bff576

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

image

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Advertisements

And then there were four.

_MG_0695_2

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

_MG_0683_2

_MG_0699_2

IMG_0796_2

IMG_0799

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

IMG_0770_2

IMG_0767

_MG_0702

_MG_0703

IMG_0717

IMG_0722_2

IMG_0726

IMG_0728

IMG_0731

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

IMG_0735

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

IMG_0738

IMG_0758

Peas in a pod.  Phoebe and mother Clementine.

IMG_0774

IMG_0776_2

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

IMG_0783

IMG_0788

Calling for mother.

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Plant lots of strawberries!

IMG_7137

This will make my friend Guy laugh.  He once estimated that I would harvest 1 million strawberries per summer based on the number of plants I had throughout the garden.  Seven years ago when we started the garden from scratch, I was searching for a suitable plant to edge the many beds and borders I had created. Budget-wise it was a bit overwhelming. Then I had a bright idea.  I had purchased 6 strawberry plants from the local nursery almost the minute we moved in and that first autumn they sent out runners everywhere so I snipped them all off and replanted them along the edges. Soon the new plants sent out runners which were transplanted and so on, and  before I knew it there were (literally) thousands of strawberries woven through the garden.  Inexperienced then in the ‘really large garden’ metier, I soon discovered this pretty and productive edging wasn’t as co-operative as I had thought. The strawberries invaded everywhere and one really wet summer they took off … it was like The Day of the Triffids! They threaded themselves through the roses, into the shrubberies, all over the vegetable garden, spilled over banks and out onto pathways.  It was a disaster.  There was so much fruit the birds even stopped eating them!   So out they came.  Weekend after weekend I hauled plants out. But not before we’d enjoyed a series of summers of buckets and bowls of fresh, delicious fruit which was turned into jams and sauces … but mainly daiquiris!   The variety I had started with was an old favourite,  Red Gauntlet.  Not popular with commercial growers these days as they are prone to little bumps and imperfections, but to me they are still one of the most delicious.  I’ve tried over twelve other varieties and none are as hardy and fulsome in flavour, especially for jam.

IMG_0810 IMG_4775 IMG_4870 IMG_7136 IMG_8599 IMG_8600 IMG_8601 IMG_8602

It’s really easy to increase your crop by pinning down the runners in the position you want them and a new plant quickly forms.  Strawberries are only really good for two years, so plant the runners in the alternate rows and let them grow up and remove the old row every second or third year.  They are hungry feeders so add a good organic fertiliser and mulch well, laying clean straw under the plants so the strawberries don’t get muddy and rot in the wet.

IMG_9850

We have some lovely pink flowering strawberries in stock at The Potting Shed (sorry, can’t remember the variety) and they are sending out runners all over the place, so for $4 you actually get about 6 or 8 plants! And the pink flowers are really lovely for a change.  We also have in stock really substantial plants of Alchemilla mollis which is now my main edging plant, thanks to advice from my friend and expert gardener, Wendy Butcher from the amazingly beautiful ‘Orchard Garden’ in Central Otago, New Zealand.  Who couldn’t believe I was using strawberries.  “Haven’t you heard of Lady’s Mantle?” she asked, in disbelief.  “It’s the perfect edging plant”

It is a beautiful plant and surprisingly hardy, even through this fierce summer she has held up wonderfully but definitely prefers a little bit of dappled shade.  Alchemilla mollis, Lady’s Mantle, is an herbaceous perennial plant native to southern Europe and grown throughout the world as an ornamental garden plant.  More on her another day.  IMG_9848 IMG_9849

About a pig.

IMG_8649
IMG_8642
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. 
IMG_8639IMG_8674 IMG_8688 IMG_8716
IMG_1116
IMG_8750 IMG_8861 IMG_8966
IMG_8745 IMG_9155 IMG_9430
IMG_4812
IMG_4556

Thought for the day.

IMG_9254“The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.”
-William Morris

We never tire of the simple pleasure to be found in the morning ritual of walking the dogs  … and taking our wonderful pig,  ‘Pigley’ for a wander down to the pond for a wallow.  She loves a chat and relishes the company. Have a lovely weekend.  And remember to look for the beauty in everyday things. M x

“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!

IMG_8504

IMG_8502 IMG_8501  IMG_8491 IMG_8489 IMG_8487  IMG_8482

IMG_8496

IMG_8484

IMG_8520

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.

Lemons are ‘gold’

IMG_0580In spite of the very dry season, we have a bountiful crop of lemons and limes so I picked a basketful to decorate my shop and was setting them out when a friend came by for a chat.  “Are these organic?”, she asked.  Not certified, I explained, but picked from the garden that very morning, complete with snails and certainly free from any chemical fertilisers or sprays.  Grown in the old duck yard, they thrive on the naturally rich soil.   “Did you know organic lemons are almost impossible to buy”, my friend said.  “They’re $16.95 a kilo at the Health Store because of the shortage so these will sell. They are gold!” she laughed. I wasn’t actually planning to sell them, but if there’s a shortage, why not!  So if you’re looking for beautiful fresh, home-grown lemons come by The Potting Shed and pick up a bag.  As we have several very prolific trees in our garden, I use them a lot in cooking – a lemon fresh from the tree is so completely different in flavour to those on the supermarket shelf. They’re particularly useful for a quick little lunch of chicken tenderloins, tossed in lemon thyme, butter, lemon juice, a splash of good olive oil and lemon zest.  Quickly on the grill and onto grilled rye or focaccia with fresh rocket.  Yum. We’re expecting a shipment of espaliered lemons, limes and cumquats this week at The Potting Shed.  Can’t wait to see them.  So perfect for courtyard gardens.  IMG_3041IMG_3045

IMG_3048

IMG_0661Above: Lemons in Positano.   Years ago I was a guest of my dear London friend Paul who had rented for his fortieth birthday an ancient, stunningly renovated fortress on a cliff overlooking the Amalfi Coast.   To get from the carpark to the villa below, we had to walk down a series of terraces all trellised with lemons.  It was magical –  the combination of the hot, mediterranean summer air, the breathtaking views of the coastline and the perfume from the sun warmed lemons which hung down like thousands of tiny  yellow chandeliers!IMG_0658 IMG_0660 IMG_0666

Marqueyssac in the Dordogne

Marqueyssac_2

Marqueyssac_3Inspired by the lovely gardens of the late Nicole de Vesian in Provence, I am working on developing a clipped garden to the north of our kitchen, so the view from our balcony will always be green and orderly.  Not that I’m really the orderly type – but over the past few years I have found the profusion of roses, foxgloves and delphiniums I had planted in long and deep perennial beds, slightly overwhelming and busy.  And  when the gorgeous, blowsy spring show is over and the harsh light of the Australian summer burns out the colour,  the effect looks raggedy very quickly.   And by Christmas it is tired and hot and exhausted.

So bit by bit I’m removing all the flowering perennials from the section closest to the house and replacing them with clipped box, cistus, bay, Viburnum Tinus and  miniature abelia.  It requires a lot of patience as the plants need to be spaced far enough apart for future growth and so there’s a lot of mulch still on view!  But one day, I am dreaming of a view such as this seen at  the Château de Marqueyssac. 

The Gardens Of Marqueyssac

Comfortably nestled into the hills of Perigord are the Gardens Of Marqueyssac. The gardens were planted in 1861 by Julien De Cerval – a maniacal gardener who gave the last thirty years of his life to build Marqueyssac. Boxwoods were chosen as a key plant of the garden because of their fullness, robust texture, and radiant green color. Every path in the garden was put there with an acute intent, what seems accidental and whimsical, was in fact carefully thought out.  De Cerval wanted to create a romantic experience for the garden’s visitors where they would get lost within the paths and enjoy the organic shapes of the plants. In recent years the gardens and nearby castles went under a full renovation to restore De Cervals early dream of the garden and bring people from all over the world to witness it.