I purchased the Convent in Kandos over 4 years ago now. Since then, this beautiful building has seen a few changes inside and out. She’s had to become accustomed to being a home to me and has also opened her doors and garden gates each year to the public for various community events.
Her next big event is the CWA Kandos Gardens Fair on 7 & 8 April and I’m already hard at work getting the garden into shape during some challenging dry seasons. Whilst the timing wasn’t perfect, I organised a photo shoot with the talented Amber Hooper from Amber Creative to take a series of shots to help with promotion (and because I just wanted to have some lovely photos of the Convent).
These photos were taken at dusk just prior to Christmas and do justice to the Convent and the amazing Kandos surrounds.
Moving here has been such a fantastic experience and I wonder how many others should just take a leap of faith and discover how great a country lifestyle is, particularly in one of the smaller rural communities. Life is still busy and challenging but it’s by choice and with challenges you choose. Living in a community is so different with its own rewards and obligations, unlike in the city or suburbs and certainly focusses your priorities.
Four years on and this is still an adventure that I hope continues for many years to come.
Winter here is harsh. Cold (but rarely snowing), cruel frosts but, this year, unfortunately very little rain. By the end of Winter I start to despair for the garden. It all looks so grey/yellow and bare, with little sign of life or greenery.
It’s now nearly four years since I moved here and this year I realised that I’ve been so conditioned to Sydney North Shore gardens that are dominated by evergreens including camellias, azaleas and all-pervading buxus hedges that the yellowness of the landscape here is still a little disturbing. Gardens here are different – more deciduous trees and shrubs, veggie beds and with the frosts, grass will never stay green.
The upside is that Winter is perfect for knitting and has a lot less competition for time, given the garden is dormant. Come Spring, the garden starts to come alive. The last few weeks I’ve been madly pruning – paying a steep price for now having over 100 roses that are doing very well at the Convent. It’s also feeding, watering and mulching time. Water is a problem given I can’t remember the last time we had decent rain fall.
It’s so rewarding to watch plants that seem so lifeless spring back – and certainly reassuring that I haven’t killed them. Many of the plants are now three to four years old and establishing themselves, which is also intriguing to watch, with a few becoming fast favourites. I bought Tortured Filbert as I was fascinated by the name and felt a bit sorry for any plant that could be called that. However he is a stunning little hazelnut specimen with an amazing twisted structure and the cutest catkins that are currently getting longer and longer.
Another gorgeous plant is Salix Acutifolia ‘Blue Streak’ that I bought from Lambleys, one of my favourite online nurseries. It came in a tiny tube pot and was originally planted in a garden bed. A year later I needed help to move it – obviously a vigorous plant – and it now sits between the Chapel and Grotto (not many people can use that phrase on their Blog!). It’s just displaying gorgeous little pussy willows at the moment and looks like it will explode into growth soon.
One of the first trees I planted was the somewhat Convent appropriate Judas Tree which always has lovely blossoms and pretty leaf growth. It, too is about to flower. The garden was so bare with no established shade trees so I’ve been keen for the Manchurian Pears to grow. They’ve been reliable and I think this year will hit their straps.
At my last home in Sydney, a neighbour had a wonderful Wisteria that was kept to a standard shape – an ever thickening trunk and heavy weeping strands of flowers. This seemed a perfect option to go under the Convent windows and break up some of the harshness of the exterior. It also seems to be working and the plants are now heavy with buds – although more endless pruning for me to keep it in shape.
Anyway, the knitting is slowing a little although shop hand knit staples (beanies, mitts and scarves) are less in demand, so at this time of the year I try and move towards more detailed lace knitting and always promise myself that I’ll get my Show knitting under control early (never happens!!!).
Winter has been a good time to let the garden rest and get on with lots of knitting for the shop. However it’s starting to warm up and Spring isn’t far away. Priorities are about to change!
Over the past year I’ve been cleaning up the block next door, or “the paddock” as it’s more commonly referred to. I have just over half an acre of land that the Convent sits on and also own the quarter acre next door which has just been a rough block up until now. I’ve had it cleared of the old scrub and last week fencing and gates went up, so now it’s time to start doing some work.
The land is pretty rough – shale and clay, so I’ll be taking my time building up the soil and planting gradually. So far I’ve started at one end – lots of cardboard getting put down and mulch going on top. Given it’s pruning time, lots of light pruning and leaves are making their way to the other side of the galvanised fence. First cab off the rank is potatoes. Last year I had huge success with some substantial “no dig” beds of potatoes layered with straw mulch and a sprinkling of Dynamic Lifter. This year I have the advantage of horse poo courtesy of Poppy the horse down the road.
Either end of the block will be some pretties – I have roses on order that should be OK. Some of the block has some rockery work in place that should work well for the rose and perennial beds but the balance of the paddock will mainly be produce. Some bordering for veggie beds will take place shortly.
The photos look pretty bleak and colourless – it’s been a very dry Winter with harsh frosts – this will green up in no time with better weather and a little TLC. Anyway, this will keep me going for quite some time.
It’s been so long since I’ve written a post. That doesn’t mean I’ve been quiet – just the opposite. What with the shop, the garden, local activities and managing the shop website and personal and commercial Facebook pages (oh, and Instagram), unfortunately the blog seems to fall behind, which is a pity given I can provide more detail and photos here than quick grabs on the other mediums.
Anyway, the last few months have been dominated BY the garden, particularly getting it in good condition for Cementa17, our biannual contemporary arts festival that uses the Convent as a venue, the shop which takes up lots of time, and Show knitting.
Last weekend was Cementa17 with over 40 contemporary artists displaying their works all around our small town. Thousands of people are attracted to the town over 4 days and nights of exhibitions and entertainment.
The Convent is one of the venues used for artists and this year we made the most of having so many visitors by also hosting lunch and Devonshire teas in the garden to raise funds for Kandos CWA.
Two artists exhibited – a performance of the Bush Mary’s by Teena McCarthy and a ceramics display by Paris Norton.
The garden comes up well in Autumn, which is also the time we have our local Garden Fair, the year between Cementa’s, and made a great location for those wishing to have a quiet moment sitting in the garden treating themselves to tea and scones with jam and cream.
Many thanks to all those who volunteered so willingly and gave their time to help out. It was a great weekend.
I have two beautiful Elderflower bushes – both very different in appearance but both vigorous and prolific. The plainer green one that suckers all over the place is about three years old and flowers madly a little later in Summer. At the moment there are no signs of flowers developing but lots of green bushy growth cropping up all over the place. The second is less than two years old, has stunning variegated leaves and a far more architectural growth habit. It’s flowering like crazy right now and last year, unlike it’s older relative, also developed elderberries.
The previous Summer, the flowers were put to use in Elderflower Champagne, which was a huge success. I recently timidly opened one of the many bottles stashed in my cellar to see if they were still bubbly and was delighted to find it even better than before! Maturing with age like some of us.
This time around I’m trying Elderflower Syrup (same as Elderflower Cordial). I’ve used this Jamie Oliver recipe that sounded interesting with the addition of honey – but it’s so simple with just Elderflowers (lots), sugar, honey, lemons and water. The first batch was doubled so I have plenty and am looking forward to using it as a cordial, fruit syrup and maybe even in some elderflower sorbet, not to mention as a cocktail with some Prosecco!
Next up some more Elderflower champagne – it’s such a treat to sit in the evening next to my new fishpond with an icy glass of this drink and just chill with the dogs.
Well at least I hope it has. Winter has taken its time departing (not that I’m complaining as a wool shop owner!) but it would be nice for the rain to ease off, winds die down and sun to show its face.
The last week has shown some promise and the garden is starting to respond, although it seems the grass always responds first and is badly in need of mowing. This is the third year here permanently and about four years since I first set my eyes on the Convent and discovered Kandos. It’s also the first year where I can see the plants doing what I had hoped they would. Roses are bursting with growth, some of the plants that had struggled seem to have found their feet, vacant spaces are beginning to fill, trees are beginning to fill out and climbers are, well, starting their climbing journey.
These are just the first touches of colour coming into the garden and I’m anticipating some great displays through Spring, Summer and Autumn. With expanded veg patches, I’m also hoping to be well fed by my garden – the chooks are certainly enjoying spinach at the moment and rewarding me with lots of eggs.
I have some more plants to put in and I’m eager to play with my water plants with my new fishpond, which is yet to have fish introduced to it.
Let’s hope the weather is now on the improve (not that I mind regular rain) and the garden continues to flourish.
Last weekend we had our CWA Kandos Gardens Fair, with the Convent gardens being open to the public. Of course, we couldn’t let the weekend go by without including some of our knitting. We used the occasion to display some of our lacework around the garden to catch the eye of visiting garden enthusiasts.
Some of our most recent work is still on its way back from the Sydney Royal Agricultural Show but we had enough to decorate the grounds. Our cream lace shawls, which are our best Show pieces hung outside the Chapel verandah, Kerry Blue was inside the Grotto, a vibrant Fluidity in Zauberball Tropical Fish peeped through a gap in the privet hedge, our Doodlers hang proudly from the side verandah, the sculpture birds held up a glorious maroon lace triangular shawl and the angel looked suitably draped.
A great week for the Convent garden and we think our shawls added a little to the colour and texture of the garden.
One of the special moments at the CWA Kandos Gardens Fair was a visit from Costa Georgiadis, in fact, two) from ABC’s Gardening Australia. We knew the Gardens Fair would be a very special event with him as a guest but his impact on visitors far surpassed expectations. As did the man himself. What a gracious, enthusiastic, engaging and energetic person!
Costa had asked to visit the local schools as part of his visit which was a wonderful experience for the school children and hopefully will leave a permanent mark on the area. For the weekend, he tirelessly visited gardens, engaged with visitors and made himself available constantly.
We were fortunate to have Costa visit us for lunch on Saturday where we gave him a short break from the many people who had built up both for a feed and to see Costa at the Convent. He made sure he spoke to all the volunteers and has a great skill for remembering names. He seemed to love the Convent and it’s surrounds (although I think he was equally gracious with all garden owners and guests) and on Sunday unexpectedly brought his Dad back for lunch and a quieter sit in The Cloisters on a day that was a little slower paced.
Watching him with his Dad was a little bittersweet given my own Dad passed away last year and I had such hopes of he and Mum spending time with me at the Convent. It was great that he took his Dad on a guided tour of the garden but I had moments of concern with the wheelchair in the spongy grass!
During their visit, a wonderful ukulele group sang and played in the Chapel – Costa raced in and took a video which he later placed on Instagram which was a thrill.
All in all, a great weekend and we’re still buzzing from it. Costa certainly made a difference and we’d have him back any day.
Last weekend we held our CWA Kandos Gardens Fair. A big event for our small town as it attracts many visitors, books out accommodation and showcases the area. This is the second time the Convent has participated, the first being just before I moved here permanently and in the early days of making over the garden. And what a weekend it was!
This time I was reasonably well prepared – the gardens were a little more established and in pretty good shape and we decided to offer morning/afternoon teas and lunches in the Convent Cafe, complete with a blackboard menu (which also meant heaps of food preparation).
I have no idea yet of final numbers but the Convent seemed to be on everyone’s list as a “must see” venue, including a tour through the Chapel. We also attracted a few stall holders who set up their marquees, and local musicians and even belly dancers, the Kandos Belles! So there was no shortage of distractions.
Food was in endless demand and we must have served 150 – 200 meals plus tea, coffee, slices and scones. Many thanks to my wonderful and competent neighbours who chipped in to serve so many people. Sausages rolls all disappeared within an hour, the zucchini slice didn’t last much longer and Saturday night I was up til all hours making more sandwiches and adapting to a change of plans preparing ingredients for Ploughman’s Lunches.
We had a free cold drinks station with iced water, iced Mint and Lemon Verbena tea and Elderflower Champagne tastings. The Lemon Verbena tea and Elderflower Champagne were huge hits with visitors.
The day had a great feel of festivities and fun but the Convent also provided a venue for relaxation and respite in The Cloisters out back where we held the Cafe. We were fortunate to have some special guest speakers come along including Fiona Ogilvie, the gardening journalist from The Land who has a wonderful property in Bathurst, Diego Bonetto, a wild food forager and, of course, the wonderful Costa Georgiadis from ABC’s Gardening Australia, who was incredibly engaging and generous with his time.
More posts will follow with photos of the garden and our Cobwebs in the Garden knitting display (of course we’d get knitting in there somewhere!). Such a wonderful weekend and I’m sure all the effort from so many volunteers to put this together has been worth it.
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!
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.
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.