Earlier in the year, I added to the Convent menagerie with four little Rosecomb bantam hens housed in my new chook tractor. The girls settled in well, however unfortunately I lost one, which was heartbreaking.
Although young, the girls have been good layers up until recently when one became broody (and fiercely guarded all the chook eggs). A second one followed this nesting habit and I felt a little guilty given the effort that was being put in with no hope of success, as there’s no rooster around.
My friend Gemma has both hens and roosters, yet none of her chooks were showing any signs of mothering instincts, so we popped a few of Gemma’s eggs under my girls and let them be. To be honest, I had no expectations and would’ve preferred to see the girls pecking happily rather than slaving over a hot nest.
Yesterday the coop was in a tizzy – it appeared a number of chicks had hatched, the girls were berating the dogs badly (who can’t get to them, anyway), and all I could hear was a clamour of mixed bird noises. Apparently the curious babies had wandered straight out the nest and, as the tractor is built more for egg laying than breeding, had slipped through wide wire from their higher level protected box nesting area, down to the ground grass level. Mum’s were trying to round them up, keep them warm and scare the dogs off.
A few quick repairs later and after lots of pecks from cranky hens, the chicks were back safe with their Mums in the nesting box and protected from future mishaps.
Anyway, it appears I have three chicks – two are tiny grey Rosecombs and one a larger ranga – obviously from Gemma’s other big chooks. Not bad from four eggs. Gemma and I both did some quick reading and the cage has been modified and saucers of chick feeding mix and water saucers installed upstairs.
I’ve checked on them today and the Mums seem to be working well with the chicks in the adapted environment. When I say “Mum’s”, two of the hens have been sitting on the eggs and seem to have joint motherhood of the babies which is handy in keeping an eye on all three of them. The third non-motherly hen, however, is also highly protective.
Fingers crossed that this all works out. It’s been an exciting and unanticipated delight over the past few days.
It’s been three years since I discovered the Convent and nearly two years since moving here. For the garden, this means that some of the plants are now hitting two years of planting and beginning to show themselves as future garden champions. Some have surprised me in how they have taken off and others have been, quite frankly, a tad disappointing. I’ve also had my share of losses and learnings with my first large garden, establishing plants from scratch and adapting to what is often a harsh environment.
I’m finding that it’s taking at least two years to get the garden beds in a healthy condition, given none of them were here and I’ve had to clear and build the beds from scratch. The plants are much better in matured garden beds that have been well fed and mulched and left to settle over a period. This means that in some of my garden beds, plants are really just starting to kick off.
The roses (which will have their own posts) are now feeling at home and many are showing signs of strong growth, thickening and are more bountiful with their buds (which I hope will give me a great display). I should know by now that bare rooted roses aren’t my strength and no matter what I promise myself, they won’t be getting planted within days of delivery! Anyway, the old ash fence at the front is now not so exposed as plants begin to show over the top and a few of the rambling roses are working their way over it.
This post displays some of the plants that are showing great promise early in the garden’s development.
Spring is such an exciting time for gardeners, with the dormancy of Winter passing and watching plants spring to life almost overnight. It’s even more fascinating for me, given so much of the garden is new. For some plants, I worry that I’ve killed them. Others have been planted whilst dormant and I’ve never seen them have any sign of life. There are a few plants that didn’t seem to survive the first year after planting and have skipped a year to be resurrected this Spring
Right now, trees and shrubs are blossoming – albeit briefly for trees like the Manchurian Pears. The apple trees seem to take a bit longer but every day the trees are quickly changing. The Maples seem to leaf up in one or two days.
The one I’m ridiculously proud of is the self-seeded peach tree which has sprung out of my compost. Not sure how long it will take to fruit, but it is growing well and looks an attractively structured tree. The house rule is that unless something is an unseemly weed, it’s allowed to stay where it is and grow, which is making for some interesting plants in interesting places.
I’ve just finished my first grass mowing exercise post Winter – hopefully mows after this will be easier. I lost count of how many catchers of clippings I removed. But the garden now looks so much better. I’m finishing most of the major chunks of work around the garden in terms of more plantings, pruning, feeding and mulching then will move on to some of the finer details and maintenance. We’re still getting a bit of frost so new tomatoes, zucchini and cucumbers have taken a bit of a hiding. Otherwise, the garden continues to develop well with the roses looking as though they’re pretty settled and kicking along with their growth. I’ll post photos when they’re in flower, which shouldn’t be too far away!
The Convent once had beautifully maintained gardens, helped greatly by having a gardener, volunteer parishioners and schoolboy workers. I’ve seen photos and been told many stories of the glory days of the Convent with her lavish rose beds and trellises and formal garden beds.
Those days are long past and the Convent was made low key with the removal of all garden beds and shrubs, and a remaining legacy of only half a dozen of the old roses remaining in the overgrown lawns.
In the last two and a half years, I’ve been working to restore the garden. Beds are going back in and over 120 roses have made their way into the Convent garden. It’s slow work but beginning to reap rewards. Having a Convent garden I feel means being a little more than a garden surrounding a Convent. I’m fortunate that the Convent comes with a chapel and, of course, the Grotto, which means I have some inbuilt advantages, but it’s important to add a few more atmospheric touches.
One of these has been adding to the statuary and I’ve recently introduced a few more members to the Convent family, including 2 Madonnas on plinths, welcoming people through the back garden gate which is the main entrance, a lovely angel reading in the garden and an additional cherub to keep the lone one company.
I already have a few sculptures in the garden, mainly created by local artists, but some ecclesiastical ones add another dimension and seem to fit in well. I’ve discovered St Fiacre, the patron saint of gardens, but am yet to find a suitable version. I’m sure he’ll make it into the garden one day, complete with shovel.
I don’t do “twee” and avoid cluttering the garden with “stuff” but I think the latest additions work well and help the set the scene for the garden even more, without me resting on my laurels.
We’ve had an unusually cold Winter – not that I’m complaining. After opening a wool shop in Summer, it was Serendipity to have a really cold Winter, including uncharacteristic snow and lots of frosts.
In Kandos, Winter frosts mean that you can’t prune back in Winter – you leave all old growth so that new growth isn’t encouraged that will be burnt off by the savage frosts. All extra coverage also helps protect other plants and as my garden is mostly all under two years old, the plants need all the protection they can get.
However this also means that come end of Winter/the dawn of Spring, there is a mega flurry of activity to cut back, prune, feed, plant and mulch – not forgetting lots of watering for new growth during a very dry period.
The last few months have been tough with family, so it’s therapeutic to get back into the garden with gusto (or more) and put some effort into activities that will richly reward in months to come. The roses have already started to burst through and are sprouting, so pruning is a priority. There are seven old established roses that need lots of pruning, but the other roses (well over 100) are all new and need much less effort. I’m not sure why I ordered another 22 from Treloars or where they will go – yet another job on the list.
What I am recognising is that I’m making lots of work for myself. The Convent garden for decades was a formal showplace – but the nuns had a gardener and lots of locals and schoolboys who all helped with gardening duties. I have just me, and my plan to turn this back into a beautiful traditional established garden is now dawning on me. Two years in and it’s a lot of work with well over half an acre (nearly an acre if you include the block next door, but that’s not on the agenda this year), although in fairness, this is the few weeks that most effort is required and should give the most returns if done properly.
I don’t have a real style yet in attending the garden – there is sort of a priority list – prune roses, fix a single area – but I find myself pruning a few areas, feeding a section, trimming a few lavenders, weeding another and then wandering off to another section. I guess it all contributes in the end. I’ve never had a garden I felt was mine, let alone such a substantial one (and one that is in “Creation” mode) so much of this is new to me and there are plenty of mistakes along the way. I use the internet and books all the time to check simple things like when to cut lavender, when to plant beans, when I can start cuttings of certain plants, but it is so exciting when it actually works!
Anyway, anything I do does make a visible difference post the ravages of Winter. Given roses are starting to spring forth with life, pruning is priority No. 1, particularly for the old original roses. I don’t think the locals would forgive me if I killed these as the Convent was well known for it’s wonderful rose display and I’ve only been left with a small sample of the original bounty. Priority No.2 is to get some veg into garden beds as I want to be able to harvest plants to eat! Other than that, it’s good housekeeping, with the key driver being Kandos Gardens Fair on 2 and 3 April 2016, given the Convent will again open her doors to the public and put herself up for display. The last time the Convent was open was for Cementa_15 in April this year and with the numbers of people through the gate, I like them to see changes to the newly established garden each time. I’m hoping by Autumn we will be in pretty good shape and the roses in particular look just a little more established. The 20 kilos of rose food bought today might just encourage them a little!
The weather at the moment is glorious (although very dry) so I’m hoping today is a mammoth garden day and I get to make an impression on a few areas.
Winter is well and truly here – and it’s a real Winter. Snow on the escarpments, roads closed due to ice, minus temperatures. Such a change from temperate Sydney weather of the past but so welcome in the country. And maybe some serendipity after opening a wool shop in Summer.
Whilst the garden looks like The Desolation of Smaug, it has also provided a break from gardening which has been substituted with shop work and lots and lots of knitting as the hand knits are snapped up almost before they come off the needles. Open fires, both at home and in the shop, have added to the atmosphere and a slow cooker (KitchenAid) is a welcome addition for meals, having already tackled beef spare ribs, lamb, and pea and ham soup made with a ham hock. I think it will clock up a few more meals before the Winter is out.
It’s also a popular time for guests – we always like Winter getaways – I suppose it’s a great time just to relax in front of a fire and, well, knit… So the Convent is having lots of lovely and welcome guests. It’s a chance to host old friends and make some new ones, which can only be good.
The shop is going well and keeping us busy, making sure we have lots of hand knit beanies and mitts, our best sellers, well stocked for non-knitters. I’ve finally bitten the bullet and seriously started some non-selling knitting. This one is Eugen Beugler’s Feather and Fan Shawl from ‘A Gathering of Lace’ knitted in 50% silk/50% wool undyed in fingering weight (4 ply) from my stash. I’ve made it once before and loved it so will do it this time and put on display in the shop as a sample for lace knitters to tackle. I may manage another version in 2 ply as well. I’m also hoping this may make it to a few Shows, so it ticks a few of my ‘Knitting Category’ boxes.
In the meantime, life is surprisingly busy. We also have the Kandos Gardens Fair preparing for kick off first weekend in April 2016 – an Autumn event this time – and the Convent will need to look her best.
The blog has been quiet of late which reflects that I’ve also been taking things at a slower pace. Dad’s recent passing has been sad for the family and he has left a big hole. I wish he had been able to spend more time at the Convent and enjoy the garden.
When I returned home, there were some fairly drastic changes to the garden. Before leaving, the plants were slowing down but everything was still lush and the roses still (just) flowering. Upon coming home, the cruel Winter frosts had hit and the garden had turned to yellow and brown. My natural instincts are to prune and tidy, but the dead growth actually protects other plants and I don’t want to encourage new growth yet when we still have much of Winter to come. So for now I’ll just focus on building up garden beds and compost and leave the plants alone.
One of the brighter moments was my first egg. The girls have done me proud and now most days I seem to find an egg or two – quite unexpected given I was told they were young and not to anticipate eggs in Winter.
For now, pace has slowed down a bit with long cold days, which suits me at present.
This year sentimentality, along with some major family events, has tempted me to contact some old friends – as in past school friends from quite a few decades ago – I don’t think of any of them as “old” in terms of age. These are people with whom I’d been really close to at school. Good friends, buddies through the challenging teen years – but over the decades we’d grown apart, more through individual circumstances rather than by choice.
Facebook has been a great medium for finding and contacting people and I’m hopefully at the cusp of rebuilding some very valued relationships. We’ve all been through lots of life changes – many challenging – but all seem to be there for each other again. So far, most have been amazing with their genuine delight at being contacted. A few old friends are still MIA, but I understand that many may rarely look at their pages and possibly not recognise aged faces and changed names this far down the track – I’m hoping it’s not a matter of “Oh no, not her. I hoped I’d lost her decades ago!”
Anyway, for some of my old buds, it’s like we’ve just caught up a year after high school – funny how decades on they still seem exactly the same. Anyway, in a year when I’ve needed it, there have been some wry smiles at memories, the odd sentimental tear, a few choked snickers and lots of outright belly laughs at some of the memories that are coming out – all on Facebook – as we are all well scattered geographically now.
My parents had saved some old high school photos and Facebook has been a great medium for posting these, chatting and sharing. The photos themselves are just catalysts for memories and stories, which keep building and communities that keep expanding.
Next year is our 40th school reunion. I went to our 10th and find it hard to believe it could possibly have been this long ago, particularly after talking to the grils – there must be a time warp and we’re barely back to our 10th again??
Anyway, I’m having lots of fun chatting to old besties, making contact with those I liked and knew, even if not be besties, and linking in with people from school I never had a chance to know well but I’m sure were great people. Whilst difficult years, we were very supportive of each other and shared and grew so much together.
Forty years on, and we’re finding so much has changed yet so much still stays the same, even if we are mainly communicating online. Hopefully the best has remained and the changes have also been to our advantage. Anyway, I’m optimistic that many of us will now make the effort to remain in close communication and hoping we have many more laughs ahead of us. Some personal meet ups would be the icing on the cake!
Since owning the Convent, I’ve built many a garden bed. Whilst the nuns had beautiful formal gardens, between the time of them leaving in the ’70s and me purchasing the Convent, all beds had long since been removed. However, one of the great challenges is always access to good soil.
This has meant a great deal of mulching, composting and buying soil. Most of my beds have a basis of fill from leaves, lawn clippings, prunings, kitchen scraps and anything else I can get my hands on. In many areas, I’ve simply just dumped leaves and clippings and let them break down. I’ve also been using two tumbler bins for composting but they’ve been of limited use. They seem dry and the resulting compost is often not well broken down no matter how long I leave it, and the design is poor for getting the compost out.
One win with the recent Cementa Art Festival was a visitor who advised me to use mobile compost bins directly on the ground instead and with a little tweaking, my tumbler bins have been converted to just that and seem to be ideal. This way I can place them in different spots that need composting and move on when time and compost permits. Also physically much easier for me!
I now have four mobile bins and a new composting resolve. Mind you, when the maples drop their leaves, nothing is big enough to handle the abundance. I think the new bed in front of the sunroom will be the main beneficiary.
Cementa_15 has been great but it has been one of those epics that has for months been landmarked by “After Cementa…” for putting off activities and commitments. Now it’s over, it’s time to plan “Post Cementa”.
Since opening the Convent & Chapel Wool Shop, I’ve done masses of knitting but it’s all been for the shop. Now I’m about to do something for myself. Yes, it’s with shop yarn and will be worn in the shop, but it’s a pattern I’ve made before and love and with yarn I’ve fallen in love with.
The pattern is called Daybreak by Stephen West and the yarn I’ve chosen is Twist Sock by Hedgehog Fibres in Pod and Copper Penny. As usual, it will be overly generous and I’m endeavouring to make it into more of a cape size than a wrap/shawl.
Pictures will be posted as it progresses. Timing will depend greatly on beanie, mitt and scarf demand at the shop, which has been substantial over the past few weeks. Time we taught everyone to knit for themselves!