The Countdown Commences- Kandos Gardens Fair 2016

Duchess de Brabant, the rose flowering best at present
Popcorn helping out, instead of his usual digging up vegetables

Less than four weeks to go before a dozen local properties in the Kandos Rylstone region open their gates to garden enthusiasts. The Convent will again participate which means lots of preparations are afoot.

I can’t remember the last time it rained – it’s been so hot and dry. Which is of particular concern for my garden given most of the plants are only a few years old. They’re not yet established and without deep root system, so at the moment there is lots of mulching and watering going on. I know our theme is “Gardening in a harsh environment” but this is a little harsher than necessary!

The privet now tamed

This week, the new trees were all heavily mulched and roses trimmed, fed and watered. I’m usually a little less structured with my approach, but this time I’ve been noting what roses I have and relabelling them for easy identification. I’ll probably do this as well with some of the more prominent plants to help visitors and any of the garden guides.

Raised veg beds are all sewn. Hopefully I’ll have some decent new growth.



Veg beds are also planted out and hopefully will look interesting and productive. Given most of my plants are young, I’m not sure exactly what will be flowering or still out by early April, but there should still be lots to see.

Lots more to do, including cleaning up and painting some outdoor furniture, more feeding and mulching, sweeping, raking, whippersnippering and endless mowing… Hopefully we get some rain before the Garden Fair, but if not, at least we’ll have some good advice on managing in our challenging local garden conditions.

Grotto roses beginning to climb
The central garden bed. Hopefully the roses kick in and the white Cosmos come through by the time of the Gardens Fair.

Gearing Up for the Garden Fair

Previously a troublesome little spot in the corner, now a mini herb garden and "nursery" of sorts.
Previously a troublesome little spot in the corner, now a mini herb garden and “nursery” of sorts.

It’s less than two months now before the Kandos CWA Gardens Fair, which will be held on 2 and 3 April. And what an event it’s shaping up to be! Headlining alongside  Costa Georgiadis from ABC’s Gardening Australia is Fiona Ogilvie, gardening journalist, and Diego Bonetto, wild food forager, making it an essential booking for every gardener’s calendar.

We have approximately a dozen venues ranging from “town” ones like mine to working country properties and an artists trail with the gardens of three talented locals just out of town.

The back wall looking much neater.

My garden was open for the last Kandos Garden Fair held in November 2013 – the year I purchased the property and just before I moved here permanently. So the property was pretty bare – just the beginnings of a garden. I’m hoping people notice the difference this time around as beds have begun to establish themselves and the garden is taking on a semblance of structure.

Over the last two weeks I’ve had some help – pulling in the big guns to clean up the ash brick wall that divides me from the Church. The back wall which fronts (or backs?) the Church carpark had large shrubs and ivy that was completely overgrown and dominating my back yard. The Church kindly agreed to let me clear it up and, with the assistance of some capable and knowledgeable locals, it’s now made a huge impact on my outlook. Whilst a bit bare at the moment, there should be lots of soft green new growth coming through by early April.

The back wall before the pruning.
The back wall after a little attention.

For now I’m moving around the garden in sections, finishing off areas, trimming back, feeding and mulching – hoping it all comes up  on the day. The garden is too new for me to be confident about what will be flowering in April and the weather will also have some impact – it’s been kind so far – not too hot and enough rain. But the threat of an early frost is always there!

A few nights ago Gemma and I sampled the Elderflower Champagne– a nervous moment given I now have 15 litres of it made. But it was a winner. Fresh and bubbly, so I hope to be able to offer sample tastings at my garden. So now back to some more bottling!

First batch of Elderflower Champagne – I’d call this a success. Another batch is currently in production and a few bottles are ageing in the cellar.

Making Use of Garden Produce

Elderflower Champagne in production

It’s a wonderful time in the garden for reaping the benefits of all the planted veg. But as gardeners know all too well, when it grows, there’s always more than you need. So recently I’ve been working on how best to store and use this bounty best throughout the year.

Lots of mixed cherry tomatoes for pasta sauces and semi dried in jars

I always grow lots of cherry tomatoes, which are easier for me – they seem to have less problems and are more resilient. Whilst wonderful in salads and even just picked and eaten on the spot in the garden, I always end up with so many. This year I tried making pasta sauce – which was hard work with all the tough little skins. But the result was excellent with a tasty sauce. So I’m now back to my standard of semi-dried tomatoes in olive oil. I just wash, dry and cut the tomatoes in half, toss in olive oil with salt flakes, freshly ground black pepper and choice of fresh herbs – usually basil, oregano or parsley, and bake slowly in the oven, turning a few times until significantly reduced and much drier. They are then packed into sterilised glass jars and topped with olive oil. Great to add to pasta, casseroles or an antipasto plate. I was fortunate to be given some big tomatoes as well which have been turned into a luscious pasta sauce, with the addition or oregano and white wine. Maybe next year I will be a little bolder with growing the serious big tomatoes myself.

Bubbling pasta sauce

I have heaps of herbs and herb butter makes the enjoyment last    throughout the year, so I’m preparing herb butter logs with tarragon, basil, parsley and chives that sit happily in the freezer until required. I think I might use the glut of tarragon in some tarragon vinegar as well. I’m still working out the best uses for lovage and sorrel… whilst the mint and lemon verbena are making great teas. I think I’ll experiment with trying out some iced tea with them as well.

The Elderflowers are so pretty and delicate

My big experiment has been Elderflower Champagne (there are a few good recipes on the net) – sounded too good not to try and I have two big elderberry bushes. So far I have 10 litres (the batch makes 5 litres) and will shortly add another batch whilst the Elder is still flowering. It takes some weeks to mature (?) so I hope it turns out. I really don’t want 15 litres of undrinkable stuff but it’s been fun and seems to be bubbling and fermenting happily at present. Although I feel like I’m running some sort of moonshine operation! If it works, I might have some sample tastings for the Kandos Gardens Fair.

I don’t have enough Elderberries to do anything with them yet, but I’m hoping to collect rosehips and put them to some use.

Anyway, for now it’s lots of experimenting and fun. It’s rewarding to be able to reap the rewards from the garden and have them last throughout the year.

An abundance of tarragon.

Great Local Dining- The Zin House


Mudgee is well known for it’s great wine and local produce which also means it has some great cafes and restaurants. One I’ve been wanting to try for a while is The Zin House. I’ve sampled some of the Kim Curry (the chef)’s food before at Lowe’s Cellar Door horizontal tasting this year as part of the Mudgee Food and Wine Festival, but haven’t eaten in the restaurant.

A tiny wedge of a generous vegetable and herb garden that provides produce for the menu. Blue Borage flowers are starring here.

Before Aimee went home, Gemma, Aimee and I made our way to The Zin House for their five course menu with matching wines. The Zin House restaurant is situated within the Lowe’s Family wines estate – an ideal setting with rolling Mudgee hills and a wonderful vegetable garden providing supplements for the restaurant.

My favourite for the evening – Saffron Rag Pasta. Wonder if I’ll ever get my Saffron Crocuses to produce?






We weren’t disappointed with the meal which delivered on every course. It was hard to choose a favourite but the Saffron Rag Pasta with garlic, chilli, mushroom and zucchini was mine and has tempted me to drag out the infrequently used pasta machine. My fellow diners praised the Limoncello Cured Trout Gravlax and the Slow Cooked Five Spice Pork Shoulder.

The Limoncello Cured Trout Gravlax was hard to beat. That’s the Sorrel, Fennel Flower and Cucumber Salad alongside.

I was inspired by the use of many of the herbs I grow but don’t use. I always have a mound of Sorrel which usually goes to the chooks or  compost, but the Cucumber, Fennel Flower and Sorrel Salad will most likely put a stop to that. We had Borage flowers on the house-made herb butter, Mint in the Salsa Verde and Lemon Verbena (which I also grow) in the Honey and Lemon Verbena Ice-cream. Even the Peppermint Tea was a lovely glass teapot housing fresh mint leaves.

And the Slow Cooked Five Spice Pork Shoulder.

The wine was predominantly and unsurprisingly Lowes Wines and well chosen as companions to the dishes. Service was excellent, including the offer of a break between courses with a recommended walk around the vegetable gardens and property in the dusk.

Apricot Crostada with Honey and Lemon Verbena Ice-cream. I think the Verbena will be put to work in an ice-cream or sorbet in future.




It was one of the better dinners for some time and a great finish to a wonderful Christmas break.

Puts my little Strawberry patch to shame! A lovely shot of part of the vegetable garden and orchard with the rolling landscape of Mudgee in the background.




Farewell 2015


An Aussie Christmas spread

A good year to be gone, but it ended well.

IMG_1870My girls were here for another Convent Christmas -this time a pretty lazy one. No big roast dinners and hours in a hot kitchen on Christmas Day. This year it was seafood and salads – grilled lobster tails, blue swimmer crabs and prawns and the inevitable glazed ham – with salads to let us have lots of easy meals afterwards.

Dessert of course was pavlova and a raspberry ripple ice-cream made with ricotta – just yum and has lasted well.

Smoked salmon carpaccio served with homegrown micro herbs. Looked much more vibrant in real life.

Hayley left before New Year taking bags of veg garden bounty back with her whilst Aimee and I had an extended break, sampling the local cafes and a few more low key meals at home, including what is becoming one of my favourite pantry/fridge meals – salmon carpaccio. Another low maintenance meal of finely chopped smoked salmon mixed with other finely chopped goodies such as cornichons, caper berries, spanish onion, capsicum, tomato and coriander and served with toasted triangles. A light refreshing dinner or entree anytime.

To start off the year, I made something I haven’t done for ages – a cake! A lovely butter cake with apples in the middle and on top. The apples are lightly stewed in a sugary syrup which is reduced and poured over the warm cake and also used as a sauce. Just yum – I must remember to bake more often.

Anyway, the Christmas break is coming to and end with the family all returning to Sydney and I’ll be back at work shortly. It’s been a quiet time but great to recharge the batteries and here’s hoping for a more positive 2016.

Click Go Those Needles…


Although this year has been chaotic, there’s always been lots of knitting. Over the past month or so, I’ve been working on more solid pieces, as opposed to beanies, mitts and scarves for the shop. No doubt most of this will end up in the shop as samples, but they’re a chance to play with different projects.

The Doodler helped me master icord and understand a number of ways I could use it.

First cab off the rank was the Westknits Mystery Shawl Knit-Along on Ravelry which turned into the Doodler Shawl, made in our beautiful Hedgehog Fibres – a fun knit and a chance to socialise online with other knitters. A month of pretty solid knitting and a few new techniques now mastered (I hope!) Very pleased with the result and, whilst it’s hanging in the shop, I hope it will get lots of wear.

Owlet – such an appealing pattern, this one in Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran

Next was trialling Owlet, a cute jumper that goes from baby to adult (OWL) size – clever little cables that look like owls around the yolk – knitted in one up to the armholes, then you pick up the sleeves and knit the yolk in circular with the cables.

IMG_1840Buttons for owl eyes are optional – I put them in a few spots without becoming overwhelming. I wanted to include a few more baby/child jumper samples in the shop. Samples help knitters make decisions on what to knit and are a good way of displaying how a yarn behaves. I’m hoping these will inspire some of our customers. A smart and rewarding pattern – two are already off the needles and in the shop.

Baby beanie and booties striped with a plain blue. 

Next is the continued love affair with Zauberballs, with seamless booties (I’ve actually knitted half a dozen pairs) and spiral baby beanie. I love the Tropical Fish colour way so much that it’s now also making its way into an experimental Entrelac baby jumper. We stock a good range of Zaubers and colours in the shop and customers are always surprised with what you can complete with just one ball. However I’m anticipating the Entrelac will be using substantially more!

Not the fastest knit, but lots of fun watching this develop. Another baby jumper – this time Zauberball Tropical Fish being worked in Entrelac.

After this? Well, I have my name down for another Knit-Along – and it’s another Westknits one – this time Exploration Station with the Hedgehog group on Ravelry. Oh, and there are two cream lace shawls that need to be finished for Show season. Plus a never ending list of the “I’d Love to Try That” projects. Looks like those needles show no signs of slowing down.

Bottling It Up

Building up a reserve of this sweet spiced pickling mix.

Summer always seems to be bottling time here at the Convent and this year is no different.

Pots of pure gold – caramelised onion jam

One of my favourites is Onion Jam – a simple recipe but packs lots of flavour and treated as a little pot of gold, given two kilos of onions only makes four small jars. I first made this with home-grown onions as I couldn’t bear just to eat the onions after they took so long to grow. Now I make a big batch, I just buy the onions but still love the result.

Pickling vinegar in production – best left to cool and absorb flavours overnight

Another popular standard is this spicy fresh vegetable pickle vinegar by Tom Kerridge, which makes a nice change from pickles or salad. You just place your vegetables in it 60 – 90 minutes before serving for a fresh tasty pickle. Particularly good with a barbecue, steak, pulled pork, corned beef  – well, just about anything. Also a good way to use onions, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, capsicum… Well worth a try. Just keep a bottle or two in the fridge for when the mood captures you.

This variegated elder is only just over a year old, growing like crazy and already bearing fruit.

This year, with the Elderflowers making their presence felt in the garden, I think I’ll try some recipes. This one has caught my attention – Elderflower Champagne. This year I have two Elderflowers – the original standard and a newer variegated one that is going crazy and already has berries. I think this recipe may be a good start at experimenting with these plants.

I also have a healthy batch of Sorrel that I’ve never used so will start investigating recipes for this as well.

This Elderberry is close on three years old – always has lots of flowers, but not so many berries


Getting My Mojo Back

It’s been a difficult year. Losing Dad, Mum going into care, selling the old family home … Such life changing experiences have taken their toll.

At some point you need to just get back into the swing of life.  I moved to the country just over two years ago full of plans and enthusiasm and I owe it to myself and my parents to try and fulfil these. It’s sad that they can’t be here to see it themselves, but fortunately they did have a few visits,  including a Kandos Christmas at the Convent. Mum will be following me by snail mail and I hope she gets to see me make great progress.

So… I’m getting back into the groove of things I love and want to do with plenty of ambitions and hopes for 2016.

For now, it’s back to nurturing and expanding the garden, particularly with Kandos Gardens Fair around the corner in April 2016. My plants are all a little more established and garden beds continue to expand. I have plenty of plants yet to go in, but it’s so hot and dry right now that I think there best to sit in their nursery. The foodie plants are doing well – I seem to have mastered the art of the cucumber after a few failures, and hope this will stand me in good stead with pumpkins and zucchinis. So many pots and containers are now being put to use, but my favourite is the old cement laundry trough. I’m tempted to get more. They look great and are really practical planters.

I haven’t been doing so much cooking or preserving of late, either, but onion jam has now been made and fresh spiced vegetable pickling vinegar is a winner and about to go into production. The ice-cream maker will also make a welcome return and I’ve just found a recipe for Elderberry Champagne – tempting.

And, of course, there’s the knitting – there’s always the knitting. I’ve completed my Doodler from the Ravelry Westknits Mystery Knit Along and am really pleased with it. It’s the first major piece I’ve completed in ages, rather than basic shop knitting, and I’m promising myself I’ll get back to the Show knitting.

Big plans ahead for 2016 – it’s been a wakeup call that time passes quickly and there’s no time for regrets.


Cyber Knitting


It was probably about eight years ago that I discovered knitting worlds other than sitting at home and knitting in my own company. Once I was brave enough to venture out, I found communities of knitters, both real and virtual. Many social knitting groups exist and meet at cafes, libraries, other public venues as well as people’s homes. Others exist on the internet and have the potential to expose knitters to an entirely new universe.

Once introduced to a wider community of knitters, I found myself joining ravelry which is a sort of Facebook on steroids for knitters. Not only can it be a desktop for knitters to record their knitting projects and stash, but it also is the best and biggest source for finding patterns. Possibly the most important aspect, though, is the social one where knitters worldwide can connect over wider interests, share learnings and help each other.

A great example of the latter is the concept of ‘Knit Alongs’ or KALs, when knitters commit to finishing a project, preferably all starting at the same time. Members post photos and information on what yarn they are using, photos of their progress and can ask for help from other participants as they go. It’s a great way to challenge yourself and learn new skills. A much more social, interactive and challenging way to knit.

One of the more extreme versions of this is occurring as we speak. A popular designer, Stephen West, AKA Westknits, has organised one of his popular KALs titled ‘Westknits Mystery Shawl KAL 2015’. Why a mystery you may ask? Well a mystery KAL has a twist – you can’t see the final outcome until you finish. All you know is that it’s a shawl and the yarn you will need to knit it. Clues (parts of the pattern) are released online in order over time and participants just go for it. This challenge, we have about one month to finish the project. Of course you can take as long as you want but many aim to keep up weekly.

My Hedgehog Fibres colours - Graphite, Monarch and Pollen.
My Hedgehog Fibres colours – Graphite, Monarch and Pollen.

This KAL recommends Hedgehog Fibres which is one of our Convent and Chapel Wool Shop favourites and combined with one of our favourite designers, it was too good to pass up. Lots of our customers are also participating. In fact it seems a lot of knitters worldwide are joining in. The Ravelry Group started for the Knit Along now boasts over 4,500 members worldwide and growing, with separate groups for Norway, Denmark,  Sweden, Germany, France, Spain and even and Aussies Down Unda group, all working on their ‘Doodler’ shawl.

There’s also heaps of drama, those tackling new techniques for the first time, the dramas of colour selection, mistakes by the million (I’ve unpicked more than I’ve knitted) and not to forget, those running out of yarn part way through the pattern. We’re all following each other’s challenges – better than ‘Days of Our Lives’!

This is a wonderful example of the power of the internet to connect likeminded souls and create virtual communities. It also challenges the concept of knitting being a dying art – far from it. It has now moved into a new realm, keeping up with technology and society, providing expanded creative outlets and connecting people worldwide. Younger knitters abound – no longer dependent on Mum or Grandma to teach them – you can learn so many techniques via YouTube for free. In fact, experienced knitters in this KAL are referring to the internet to learn or brush up on some of the new techniques required to progress their shawls. It’s a great way to push your knitting to another level and lots of fun along the way.

A couple of us are knitting together here in Kandos, as we participate in an international event, and are sure to meet lots of others online doing the same over the next month or so. Mine is not racing ahead after a few false starts and I hope I don’t drop into the ‘Slowpoke’ lane. In the meantime, we’re just all enjoying the mystery, anticipation and collective enthusiasm of our fellow knitters.

Clue one - still a few more 'wedges' to go. I've actually knitted about three times this amount but have undone so much along the way!
Clue one – still a few more ‘wedges’ to go. I’ve actually knitted about three times this amount but have undone so much along the way!

And So the Roses Begin Again – 2015

A selection of some of the original roses outside the Chapel verandah.
A selection of some of the original roses outside the Chapel verandah.
Jenz Munk, a heritage wild rose.
Jenz Munk, a heritage wild rose.

The Convent was always known for its roses. I’ve never had a property before with a suitable environment for roses, although I have always loved the sense of history and romance that comes with them, so this is a perfect setting for me to let loose.

This rose, outside the sunroom, is always the first to flower. By the time it comes to prune her, she will have rambled across the timber work and window above.
This rose, outside the sunroom, is always the first to flower. By the time it comes to prune her, she will have rambled across the timber work and window above.

To be honest, I can’t remember how many I’ve now planted. I suspect well over 120 but there have been (and will continue to be) some failures along the way. Some of the roses are now hitting the two year mark whilst others are still in their infancy. However, I’m beginning to get a better sense of how they will grow and, of course, starting to have favourites.

The Chicago Peace is spectacular. I have another young bush as well (planted when I was worried that I may kill the original with harsh pruning!)
The Chicago Peace is spectacular. I have another young bush as well (planted when I was worried that I may kill the original with harsh pruning!)
I have a couple of Lamarques but this one is more established. It should grow tall and provide and arching bower on this corner.
I have a couple of Lamarques but this one is more established. It should grow tall and provide and arching bower on this corner.

Whilst I have made some endeavours to select colours in spaces, the ‘Original Seven’ that were here were pretty random, with yellows, apricots, pinks and reds mixed, so I’m going with the flow. For other beds, I’ve been more selective – pinks, reds and whites along the front ash fence, soft pinks and whites on the Grotto and whites, yellows and apricots in the back gate bed. A few of the learnings – never get bare rooted stock. However much I promise myself I’ll plant them immediately, I don’t and I lose some. Another learning is the difference between climbers and ramblers. I have a few climbers, such as Mr Lincoln, that really need some sort of climbing frame – their strong arching branches don’t ramble softly over the wall like the other roses.

One of two old Papa Meillards - just strong colours and a great cut flower.
One of two old Papa Meillards – just strong colours and a great cut flower.

Overall, though, I’m pretty happy with my choices and locations and think, given time, the Convent garden will have a wonderful rose display. At present, I’m just enjoying wandering through the garden to look at them and, of course, have lots of roses in vases inside to enjoy as well.

My favourite - Crepuscule. This plant seems to be in the perfect position and is doing all the right things.
My favourite – Crepuscule. This plant seems to be in the perfect position and is doing all the right things.
Cecile Brunner is vying for the best performer and is clearly winning.
Cecile Brunner is vying for the best performer and is clearly winning.