Gardening Notes

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

IMG_63179922061648531824_PCyd4D3J_f 215398794647337644_npc2jocx_f 280489883012962999_oe2sRgzH_f bannerman-4 IMG_1805 IMG_1863 IMG_6711

We all need more thyme!


I grew up in Central Otago, New Zealand where the rugged hills around Alexandra are covered in wild thyme.  I remember as a child picking rosehips in the summer with my mother, and we would trample over the rocky slopes where the thyme grew and the aroma of the crushed herb would follow us as we walked.  So the smell of thyme always takes me back there. When my mother died, one of her close friends, completely unaware of that childhood memory,  sent me in the mail a little gift – a simple sprig of thyme mounted and framed, handwritten below was Thymus vulgaris and on the card a note saying “I thought your mother would like you to have this”.  How extraoardinary. It hangs in my kitchen and makes me feel my mother is always close by.  It is one of my most valued possessions. Years later, on another trip back to NZ, my wonderful cousin Marie booked a lovely surprise – an afternoon horse-riding through the hills overlooking Clyde. All along the way, the horses hooves crushed the herbs underfoot filling the air with that beautiful aroma. It was sublime –  the smell of horses, the creak of the saddles, the spectacular view … and the thyme. That’s what could be called aroma therapy on an intense level!   Thyme is a species of flowering plant in the mint family Lamiaceae, native to southern Europe from the western Mediterranean to southern Italy. If you don’t already have it, plant some today in your garden. Or give some in a pot to a friend or daughter, or sister or mother.   It’s the loveliest thing to share. Thyme.


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_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

Time to plant tulips


I can’t wait to take delivery of our tulip stock this month.  Late March is the time to plant for a spectacular Spring display and don’t be meek … go for drama. Not 8 or 10 … no, no, no … 80 or 100!   I was inspired by displays at Hidcote last year where giant troughs and tubs were packed with bulbs of a single colour.  And I’m planning to lash out and do a bold display of the spectacular Tulipa Black Parrot (above).  Bred in 1941 this magnificent tulip has violet black flowers and grows to approx. 50cm. Tulips in the Parrot class have feather-like flowers with some varieties having petals more incised than others. Parrot tulips tend to have large, heavy flowers and in the sun, the flowers open up horizontally. They are generally late flowering so be sure to have other earlier varieties to start the show and keep Black Parrot for the grand finale!  For those of you who live here in the Southern Highlands, tulip time co-incides with lots of Open Garden visits.  How lucky we are to have such lovely displays in our public parks and gardens.

IMG_3783 IMG_3813 IMG_6845 IMG_6852 IMG_6857 lifecycle

Growing Instructions – Tulips should be planted in late March – May, in full to partial sun. March planting is only for zones 1-3, (see map below) May for Zone 4. Once buds appear, a little complete fertiliser can be mixed into soil, and a high nitrogen topdressing should be applied at emergence. Water in as bulb is shooting, and water well after flowers die off to ensure good bulb growth for next year’s flowers. Lift bulbs when foliage is yellowed, and store in net bag in ventilated, cool area. Flowers in spring.


Refrigerating Tulips Tulips love a cold winter, a mild spring and dry summer. You can’t control everything about your climate but you can control the winter period quite easily. If you live somewhere that doesn’t get any winter frosts your ground does not get naturally cold enough for tulips. You will need to give them a winter before you plant, this can be done by putting your bulbs in a fridge for about 6-8 weeks before planting. If growing in warmer climates planting is best in mid May so put into the fridge mid-late March.

Things to remember about putting bulbs in the fridge

1.Don’t freeze them 2.They need air flow around them. 3. Open the paper bags. 4. Store away from ripe fruit and vegetables. 5. They will grow taller, and flower earlier as a result of refrigeration, and this effect is cumulative.

In warm climates tulips grow well as annuals. Plant the bulbs up in large pots in late May after 8 weeks of refrigeration and put the pot in the coldest part of the garden (no sun) until the shoots are 5 cm high. Then move the pot to your favourite position and enjoy the spectacular growth and flowering of these energetic bulbs.

Great books for further reading on Tulips:

Intrigue, thievery and heart break… it’s all in the history of the Tulip

The history of the Tulip is filled with intrigue, skulduggery, thievery, instant fortunes and broken hearts. And, although these flowers are synonymous with the Dutch, tulips did not originate in the Netherlands nor were the Dutch always at the forefront of breeding these beauties. The Dutch obsession with tulips belongs to the relatively recent history of the tulip. The attempts to trace the exact history of the Tulip have been thwarted by a lack of reliable documentation over the centuries although art from as early as the 12th century does give some clues.

What historians have been able to establish is that tulips probably originated thousands of years ago in a ‘corridor’ which stretches along the 40º latitude between Northern China and Southern Europe.

Ornamental Kale will add glamour to your winter garden

 On a trip to France a few years ago, we visited the remarkable Villandry gardens in the Loire Valley.  What stood out for me, amongst the many other wonders in this, the world’s largest jardin potager, was the spectacular ornamental kale.  Row upon manicured row of this beautiful vegetable, curated into an art form amongst a sea of other vegetables elevated from the vege patch to the catwalk!  So I have ordered lots of it for The Potting Shed – knowing that whatever doesn’t sell will go straight into the garden at home.   One fellow enthusiast came in today and snaffled a tray full, so if you’d like some seedlings to add panache to your garden this winter, be quick.  I have a feeling they won’t last long!  I’m also looking for ornamental cabbage which I saw in many villages in France in Autumn (see picture at bottom)  which is another lovely accent plant for the cooler months. I’ll let you know when I have it in stock. IMG_4719 IMG_4723 IMG_4718

Culture Ornamental Kale is easily grown in organically rich, consistently moist, well-drained loams in full sun. It’s a  frost hardy plant that needs cool temperatures to produce best leaf colors. Here in the Highlands they are best grown in the cool temperatures of autumn, but may also be grown in early spring. If grown in summer (and they will), plants will need some afternoon shade to survive, but the foliage will not be as spectacular.  Plants also look fantastic grown in containers as is often seen in France.

Noteworthy Characteristics   Brassica oleracea (Capitata Group), commonly known as cabbage, and Brassica oleracea(Acephala Group), commonly known as kale, are cool weather vegetables that are grown for harvest of their edible leaves. Cabbage forms heads and kale forms upright leaves. By contrast, ornamental cabbages and kales are grown primarily as foliage plants for their intensely coloured leaves rather than as vegetables. Ornamental plants were developed for ornamental use without regard to taste. Ornamental cabbage typically develops large rosettes of broad flat leaves and ornamental kale typically develops curly, ruffled leaves in a tight rosette. Leaf colors are usually quite showy, including white/cream, pink, rose, red and purple. Plants will grow to 12-18” tall and need the cool weather of spring or autumn to develop their best foliage color. As night temperatures drop during the autumn, the leaf color typically darkens and intensifies. Cabbage and kale are in the same species as a number of other cool season vegetables including Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and kohlrabi.

Garden Uses  Mass plantings. Border fronts. Edging. Containers. The colorful leaves make an attractive food garnish and if you pleach their trunks, they make great cut flowers_MG_7612IMG_4373.

Pansies are ‘in’

I personally don’t think pansies were ever ‘out’ … but they are now definitely ‘in’ fashion.  I love them. Masses of them.  We have lots and lots of them in stock at The Potting Shed and they will cheer you up through the cooler months when everything else is asleep. Pansies can be grown in the garden or in pots, hanging baskets or window boxes. They like a sunny spot through the cooler months but in warm areas (Sydney to Perth and north) light shade in spring and early summer will mean they keep flowering longer. Prepare the soil  well before planting by digging in compost and aged manure.  Liquid feed regularly and pick the flowers, or deadhead them to keep plants blooming. Plant seedlings in autumn for winter and spring flowers. In cooler climates delay planting until late winter, for a summer flower display.IMG_6711

A love affair with clipped box


After one of the hottest summers on record, I am more in love than ever with box. What a great plant it is.  While everything else in the gardening was flustered and scorched, my English, Japanese, Korean and Dutch box hedges and balls were powering along, cool and collected.  Here are some notes on how to care for your buxus.

  • Once established – buxus is drought tolerant – if potted keep moist.
    Buxus hate being over watered and soggy soil.
  • Buxus love a PH of 6.5 to 7.5 PH. They don’t like acidic soil. Use dolomite lime to neutralise the soil.
  • When planting – plant up to lower branches. They do not get collar rot. This eliminates gaps under your hedge.
  • When planting ‘bare rooted’ stock:
    • Plant deep – up to and including lower branches
    • Flood the roots with water – this eliminates air pockets – then water normally
  • Always cut hedges on a cool day with quality hand shears – electric or petrol cutters tend to rip or shred hedges – and hand shears generally give a cleaner cut.
  • Box loves chook manure or pellets. At least twice a year. If box hedges are going a bronze colour or yellow orange, check soil for too much water- or they may need a big feed of fertilizer and/or dolomite lime.

Peonies for Spring

Peonies for Spring

This year I ordered a collection of heirloom peonies by mail order and have made a special bed for them in a sheltered spot out of the wind and in full sun. Except for Sarah Bernhardt,  who, according to the label, likes a little shade.  Expect to pay $18 – $25 per tuber.  The ones I received from Spring Hill Peonies were a good substantial size with 5-6 eyes and in great condition.  Make sure they don’t dry out and don’t plant them too deep or they won’t flower.  The emerging ‘eyes’ should be no more than an inch below soil level.

Spring Hill have Bareroot Peony Plants for sale directly from the farm.

  • Colours – light pink Lady Alexander Duff – early bloom double head
  •                 – dark pink Madame Jos Odier – late bloom double head fragrant
  • Pick up from Farm or post
  • Postage and handling $20 small package (up to 10) $25 large package

Email order, include name, address, phone number, types and quantities, pick up or post. For more information email for a brochure.

Spring Hill Peonies, 1385 Kyneton Springhill Rd Spring Hill


Tel: (03) 5424 8470
Mob: 0438 567 604                      

Shed Door Sales
For Flowers in Spring November and December
Monday to Sunday 10am til 4pm

For Bareroot stock 
Peony Roots are available in Winter in the months of late May and June
Call the owners Mac and Nicky to arrange an order and a time to visit.

Other varieties for you to consider:


The petals of this glowing pink single have an amazing sheen which offer a glorious foil to the golden stamens. Flowering very early this is not a tall growing peony but everything about it is sturdy. Thick stems, leaves and petals help the plant to cope with any inclement weather. Glasscock 1939, a cross between Paeonia lactiflora and Paeonia peregrina.

Another early flowering variety. A low growing double which starts to open with a blush of palest pink turning to white when fully open.

Dr Creveaux

This plant presents red at every stage of it’s growth. Red shoots in the spring, red stems, red tinted leaves and when it blooms – an amazing magenta flower with glowing golden stamens. The contrast is stunningly regal – the petals like velvet and the stamens like a queen’s crown.
Miss Eckhart
The softly cupped outer petals are a wonderful shade of china pink which changes to a paler pink in the centre. The long yellow stamens are a bees delight.

Mons Charles Leveque
This peony flower is an unusual shade of dark pink. It has the mauve shade we associate with old roses, the perfume too is strongly rose like. This is another peony bred by Calot in 1861.

Catharina Fonteyn
The large outer petals are a soft shade of pink while the central petals are almost white. A glow of yellow surrounds the stamens nestled at their base.

A beautifully formed flower of dark pink petals. The tightly curling inner petals create a stunning pink bomb which rests upon the larger guard petals. This variety flowers over a several week period late in the season.

Bunker Hill
Vibrant deep pink petals develop from a bud which promises to be pale pink. The large petals are finely edged with white and the flower is loosely formed. The plant was bred by Hollis in 1906.

Sarah Bernhardt
A large pink bloom with frill edged petals. The flower opens wide to show lovely yellow stamens. This is a very vigorous plant with dark green leaves, long strong stems and many attractive dark red side buds. It is the peony most peope see in the florist shops and is known as the ‘big pink’. If you think peonies are difficult to grow try this one. Bred by Lemoine in 1906.

Dr Alexander Fleming
A double lactiflora with very large, vibrant pink flowers. The buds are also very attractive because of the striking green and red striped calyx. We find these pretty stripes a great help when we are sorting a pile of mixed cut flowers into varieties ready for bunching.

Edulis Superba
A medium dark pink flower. The large guard petals open to reveal a ball of softly curling inner petals. Bred by Lemon in 1824.

Madam Calot

This flower is a double pink lactiflora. The guard petals are a pale pink and the centre is a froth of cream and palest pink petals. The plant was bred by Miellez in 1856.

Shirley Temple
The dark green leaves of this plant are a wonderful contrast to the flower of delicate marshmallow pink. The flower gradually turns a snowy white . This variety flowers prolifically.

A flower with unusually coloured large loose petals. They are a vibrant pink at the base while the outer edges shimmer a paler silvery pink. Rich yellow stamens gleam down deep among the froth of petals. This is a very tall vigorous bush. Bred by Kreckler in 1962.

Queen Victoria
An old variety and one of the earliest to flower at Highcroft. The guard petals are pale pink while the central petaloids are cream. It’s a vigorous plant with lovely red shoots apearing late in the winter.

One of our latest varieties, some years flowering right up until Christmas. This is an unusual peony because each plant has some dusky pink flowers plus an equal number of hot pink blooms with a pale frill. The leaves are round, crickled and almost an olive colour when compared to the deep green of the lactifloras.

Boule de Neige
NEW Boule de Neige – A lovely white double,similar to Festiva Maxima but instead of streaking some petals have a very fine frill of magenta. Heavy dark foliage with strong stems. Calot 1867.


The French Know Flowers

parisflowersEverywhere you look in France there are flowers.  On every corner another stunningly beautiful flower shop.  At every market, stalls of proudly displayed blooms – buckets and baskets of them as far as the eye can see.  Postnote: We will be offering seasonal cut flowers on weekends at The Potting Shed and we are busily sourcing local growers for peonies, hydrangeas, old world roses and heirloom perennials.  If you are a grower and have product to sell, please don’t hesitate to contact me on 0419 154 860.

The wonders of La Chassagnette in Camargue

La Chassagnette 10

La ChassagnetteI found this article in France Today which I thought you might enjoy.

The Camargue—that wide strip of land between sky and sea that stretches across arms of the Rhône—is not just a paradise for birds and white horses. Its marshes are put to work producing crystalline salt, its broad flatlands produce some of the world’s finest rice, and its grassy fields are home to black cattle whose lean, delicious meat is recognized for its healthful properties.

If you have time for only one restaurant in the Camargue, it should be Armand Arnal’s La Chassagnette. Seemingly out in the middle of nowhere, the tall, quiet chef presides over a restaurant both simple and sophisticated. Simple, because he uses only fruits and vegetables from his own organic garden, no matter the season. His immense potager, which inspires rapt admiration in most visitors, produces treasures he transforms into the most elegant of dishes. For Arnal, vegetables are not an accompaniment but a noble product, worthy of all his attention, and ours. It’s sophisticated, because he knows how to take a fish, caught that morning or the night before, and use it to compose a dish that seems quite unpretentious but is the result of some fairly profound thought. Take the marinated lisette, a small mackerel that he serves with a broccoli purée, black sesame and preserved lemon; or the duck raised in the rice fields, served with ribbons of root vegetables in a sweet-and-sour sauce and a sprinkling of caramelized pine nuts; or the dessert of fennel sorbet, vanilla granité and fennel confit. Born in Montpellier, Arnal formerly worked with Alain Ducasse, notably in his New York restaurant for several years. Arriving at La Chassagnette in 2006, he won a Michelin star in 2009. Although he’s proud of it, he says a star was not his primary motivation— what he likes is creating cuisine tied to its locality, and in the Camargue he has found his niche. Route de Sambuc (betwee Arles and Le Sambuc)