Gardening Notes

Spring Fever

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

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

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The Potting Shed at Lydie’s

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

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The Potting Shed at Lydie’s

Lydie du Bray’s Antiques on Consignment

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

The 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

 

The secret garden.

Our little shop, The Potting Shed, is located in a driveway between two large old buildings.  One houses Dirty Janes Emporium, which displays a large collection of vintage furniture and antiques – wonderful pieces from Europe, UK and America – sofas, sideboards, lamps, dining tables, hall tables, vintage clothing and so on.  You walk off the main street into this lovely shop and through to the back section which leads you down a set of steps and onto a landing which looks across to the other building, the Dirty Janes Antique Market, where over 70 stall holders sell more vintage and antique treasures. As you leave the shop on the main street you see from the staircase The Potting Shed spread out below.  Yesterday, as I was arranging some new plants that had arrived, I heard from above two little girls who had followed their mothers onto the landing.  “Oh, it’s a beautiful garden!” gasped one. “And with flowers!” said the other.  “It’s so lovely”, said the first, “let’s go and look”.  And they skippety skipped their way down the stairs and around my little shop oohing and aahing at this pretty flower and that.  The delight that filled my heart in this moment could not have been greater had I won a grand prize at the Chelsea Flower Show.  To hear these sweet remarks, so spontaneous and joyful was, for me, pure bliss. That in this modern world children still love a garden and enjoy its beauty is indeed comforting, and I am driven to bring even more of nature’s bounty to this previously industrial alleyway.  And to share that love of gardening around.

 

“The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies.”

Gertrude Jekyll

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Plant lots of strawberries!

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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.

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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.

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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

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 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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