Another Special Weekend at the Convent

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Teen’s McCarthy used the Grotto as the setting to her Bush Mary performance

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.

IMG_2975Anyway, 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.

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Ceramics display by Paris Norton

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.

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Putting the Elderflowers to Work -Elderflower Syrup

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The variegated Elderflower, nearly two years old – no shrinking violet

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.

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Last year’s Elderflower Champagne

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.

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The finished product – I’m sure there will be plenty more in the future

 

Spring Has Sprung

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The two standard wisterias under the front windows seem to have settled in well.

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The front circular bed changes with seasons. For now it’s dominated by Ranunculus. Later the new roses will shine and then the white Cosmos will fill it out.

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.

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Every Convent should have a Judas Tree and this lovely plant has always been reliable.

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.

Cobwebs in the Garden

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Cream lace dominated the Chapel veranda

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Fluidity in Zauberball Tropical Fish glowed in the privet hedge.

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.

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Birds on Bikes made a great display with this shawl

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.

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Doodlers displaying themselves on a verandah

 

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Looking demure and snug

 

 

Costa at the Convent

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Costa chowing down on some Zucchini Slice

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!

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Costa having a chat with Gemma in The Cloisters

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.

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Costa and his Dad tackling the terrain

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!

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Instagramming in the Chapel

 

 

 

 

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.

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Costa photographing the Convent!

 

CWA Kandos Gardens Fair 2016

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Marquees out the back gave a festive feel

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!

The Convent Cafe was well attended throughout both days

The Convent Cafe was well attended throughout both days

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.

The Mexican Sages were amongst the stars of the Garden Fair

The Mexican Sages were amongst the stars of the Garden Fair

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 backyard beds were chockfull of produce to explore

The backyard beds were chockfull of produce to explore

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

The Convent came up well on the day

The Convent came up well on the day

The Countdown Commences- Kandos Gardens Fair 2016

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Duchess de Brabant, the rose flowering best at present

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Grotto roses beginning to climb

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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.

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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.

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The back wall before the pruning.

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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!

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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An abundance of tarragon.

Bottling It Up

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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