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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Summer always seems to be bottling time here at the Convent and this year is no different.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I realise that in the short time I’ve been here, this is my third post in as many years on these flowers. Obviously a favourite and one of the first perennials I planted at the Convent. I love these flowers. I’ve had the odd one in different gardens, but now this is “my garden”, they are one of my favourites. I add a few each year (and I’m sure I lose one or two) but also hope as the garden establishes that they self-seed and continue to flourish. The early signs are positive with some new plants emerging.
They are such beautiful flowers – elegant but also with a country cottage casualness about them. Once you understand Aquilegias, you can also appreciate the difference in flower structures. The plants die back to almost nothing during the Winter, then you start to see a cloverish growth which thickens and then long fronds emerge turning into these wonderful “bonnets”. With colours that can be from fragile pastels to strong blues, what’s not to love?
As the garden establishes itself, some plants are flourishing and others moving into the shadows. I hope my Aquilegias become “stayers”.
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.