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

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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.

And then there were four.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Peas in a pod.  Phoebe and mother Clementine.

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

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Calling for mother.

 

 

 

 

 

A good read.

sissinghurst-aerial2Every morning I start my day very early,  pull on my jeans and boots and go straight out to walk the dogs, unlock the duckhouse and check there have been no disasters during the night. Then after feeding and checking everyone I come in, make a huge pot of tea and sit at the kitchen table with my toast and jam and read a chapter or two of whatever book is nearby. I generally have several books on the go at the same time, and dip in and out of them depending on my mood. At the moment I’m re-reading Sissinghurst – an Unfinished History by Adam Nicolson (grandson of Vita Sackville West and Harold Nicolson). It is beautiful, poetic, wonderful. He is a marvellous writer. It’s one of my favourites because a. I’ve always loved the books and poetry of Vita Sackville West and b. having visited this lovely castle and its gardens years ago, I can visualise all the places Adam talks about.  I remember well exploring all the grounds, the moat, the nuttery and the famous White Garden with my brother Peter. We climbed the stairs of the tower to Vita’s room overlooking the gardens, and soaked in the beauty of every corner of this beautiful place.  It was an experience I will never forget because this home has such an interesting history and has been home to a truly fascinating family. view from tower vitas room 2In the book Adam talks about restoring Sissinghurst to the working farm he remembers as a child with farmers bringing in crops of hay and hops, yards alive with cattle and sheep, the sound of tractors in the early morning fog and the hustle and bustle of a real farm, as it used to be. And so he puts a proposal to the National Trust, to do just that. To turn Sissinghurst into an organic farm that would supply the cafe and shop, that would sell produce to Sissinghurst visitors, and bring the land back to life.the moat   This morning as I read I thought you would love this descriptive passage:  “You only had to look at it to see that an organic system here, one that rested the land from time to time in fertility-building leys, which restored organic matter to these lifeless soils, was the only way this sceme could go. Organic was the obvious and default option. Only in one place did Phil’s (the consultant hired for the project by NT) face light up. Just outside the restaurant, in the Cow Field, where the dairy herd had always been turned out after milking, I dug Phil’s spade in. If you had been watching it in slow motion, you would have seen, with my first plunge, its worn and shiny leading edge slicing down into the green of the spring grass, slowly burying the full body of the blade in the earth and travelling on beyond it so that the spade came to rest with the ground level an inch up the shaft. Nothing wrong with that. I sliced out a square of turf and lifted it over. A delicious tweedy-brown crumbling soil appeared, a Bolognese sauce of a soil, rich and deep, smelling of life. Inside the small square trench, juicy beefsteak worms writhed in the sunlight. here was James Stearns’s ‘best bit of dirt on the farm’, the stuff in which he had said we could grow anything we liked. ‘It’s got to be the veg patch, hasn’t it?’ Phil said. Smiles all over his face. Peter Dear, the NT warden, came with his dog, and the three of us lay down on the grass there, looking across the Low Weald to the north-east, chatting about the birds, and how they loved the game crop in Lower Tassells. There were two larks making and remaking their song high over Large Field below us. How could we ensure the new farm was as friendly to birds as that? It was a moment when I felt I could see something of the future, that slow, exploratory, otter-like feeling, which you recognise only as it rises to the surface inside you, that an idea might be one worth having.”

Don’t you just love that last line … “that slow, exploratory, otter-like feeling” … which we’ve all experienced when we’ve had a worthwhile idea.  But who of us could put it into words quite like that!  You can order from Amazon here: Sissinghurst – an Unfinished History I generally order ‘used’ books from Amazon or Book Depository, yet often they arrive as brand new books for as little as $2 plus postage.   All that brilliance for $2. Who wouldn’t want to get up a wee bit earlier to soak up a few good chapters.

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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

 

A perfect pear.

IMG_9854One of my (many) goals for The Potting Shed is to provide an outlet for local artists and craftsmen.  So I was delighted when this lovely pear was carried through the gate by a former Sydney jetsetter, now semi-retired and living in the Highlands.  He loves working with steel he explained, as a hobby,  and would I be interested in some of his pieces to sell at The Potting Shed. Yes indeed, I said and next day he pulled up in his ute and showed me a beautiful obelisk he had made for his wife, the legs still covered in dirt fresh from her rose garden!  Elegant and perfectly proportioned, it was just what I had been looking for, for my own garden.  And therefore I was sure it would be ideal for The Potting Shed. Off you go, I said.  Make me more.  And so I am waiting for the ute to pull up again, hopefully this week, with more steel woven magically into art by this George Clooney lookalike, who prefers to remain anonymous.  I’ll let you know when more goodies arrive – but in the meantime, if you’re looking for a special piece for your courtyard, orchard or on a table in a conservatory, this pear is simply, quietly stunning.  It is, as a friend and seasoned collector noted, ‘just right’.

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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

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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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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