Nearly there. An early night tonight and early morning tomorrow.
Right now I’m spending the last two nights in Wahroonga as I finalise packing. It’s hard not to be a little reflective as in the next few days I will be taking the final steps of an enormous change in my life.
In fact the last six years have seen a roller coaster of change in what for so many years appeared to be so predictable and commonplace. However over the last six years, and particularly the last two, my life has changed so much … and all for the better. Six years ago I thought my lifelong dream of living in the country was no longer an option. A few years later, a redundancy after 30 years of corporate life and a period of timeout gave me the opportunity to rethink my priorities and what I might really want to do for the next period of my life. I had a choice to view change as an opportunity or a problem. I know what works best for me and decided to use this as a the time to be brave, make the most of change and not have regrets.
This adventure started out as looking for that elusive work/lifestyle balance as I sought to keep my foot in the corporate door, albeit part-time, and enjoy a country life. It took very little time to recognise that the lifestyle was winning and that it was time to opt out of a career that I have enjoyed and provided me with the opportunity to take this step. My girls had made their decision to be independent, which made the decision to do something for me much easier.
It seems fortuitous that on my 55th birthday I will be spending my first night in my new country home fully relocated. It’s hard to believe that 15 months ago I hadn’t heard of Kandos and a Convent was inconceivable. Or that I would be tackling significant renovations. Or moving permanently to the country. But somehow it seems so right.
I’ve realised that to a degree I haven’t escaped the corporate work ethic and often spend a full day working through my “to do’s” in the garden, particularly in the lead up to the Kandos Gardens Fair, and that I project manage renovations and I always have a prioritised list. However I’ve promised myself that in the next few months there will be some guilt-free down time. I want to knit (sadly neglected). I want to bake (I can’t remember the last time I made a cake or biscuits), I want to read (I was once a voracious reader but too many things have distracted me). I want to try new things. I don’t want to schedule these activities or make more lists, but this will take some time before it comes naturally. I’m also looking forward to joining some of the local community and interest groups – to meet new people, put something back into a wonderful and welcoming community and also to pursue interests that have been on back burner or yet to be realised.
Anyway, right now I’m just pacing myself to get through the final packing and move. There is so much to be done that I really shouldn’t be sitting writing a blog post. But by Tuesday night, my life will be moved to Kandos and a new phase commences.
For the Kandos Gardens Fair, I was lucky to be provided sculptures from some of the local sculptors. The Kandos/Rylstone district is home to many talented artists and craftspeople and it was wonderful to benefit from and display their wonderful creations.
Firstly, attracting the eye of passers-by was ‘Glitch – Infiltrator Robusta’ by Mr & Mrs Brown, the talented and friendly owners of the lovely Brown Owl Gallery in the main street of Kandos.
Ludwig Micek provided the “birds on bikes” – Balance and On Your Bike – that looked so at home positioned in front of the back wall and Follow Me was stunning and appropriate with a beautiful gold angel towering over the Grotto and visible from many aspects of the Convent garden.
The sculptures attracted much attention and looked very comfortable in their settings. I hope I get the opportunity to showcase more talent in the garden in future.
Well, we did it. The Convent participated with other gardens in the district for a weekend of open gardens. I have no idea how many people came through but anywhere from 200 – 400. From locals who wanted to see what I’ve done with the building to people in Sydney who just love gardens.
My Sydney friends acted as my volunteers, for which I will be eternally grateful, and it made the job so much easier for me. I met so many lovely people and now know many more locals. People seemed relieved that the Convent was being treated with respect and, if anything, was just going back to what it always should have been. The Chapel was open and did me proud.
My garden was the “newest” in that most of it was very newly planted and was positioned as “in progress”. Many visitors were keen to see it in a few years time, particularly once the new roses have kicked in. Given I’m not a local and have planted things I love and experimented a bit, many commented that I had plants not often seen in the area but which seemed to be thriving and they were going to now try – which was particularly rewarding to hear.
Whilst most of the roses (particularly the original ones) had finished flowering, some plants held back to show their best for the weekend. I think the cornflowers wanted to own the show and dominated in a few spots (and were much loved and admired). They worked well planted so thickly, which was quite unintended and I had no idea they would grow so high. Monday saw heavy winds and a number have now snapped and fallen, so the weekend was their pinnacle.
By some strange fate, the Good Samaritan standards chose the weekend to be in their glory and were much admired. The Fairy roses also chose this to be their weekend. I knew the lovely little wisteria-like plants would be my downfall and had tried to find out their names to no avail. Many people asked what they were and no-one could help, including some seriously knowledgable people. Of course I accidentally stumbled across it straight after – indigofera decor. Bugger!
The verandah side garden bed (the pinks, blues and whites with the sparky lobelia at their best) was very popular, but everyone loves to poke through the veggie beds and identify food. The berry bed was a particular hit. Given my garden is so new, people liked to be able to look at all the tags.
All the hard work out the front is not obvious from the street and people were surprised to come inside the gate and see that the front wall is now planted out with the deep sleeper planting beds.
Sculptures (which I loved) and a plant stall all added entertainment and interest and we also served sandwiches, cake, tea and coffee, so had lots going on. There are a few learnings for next time, but would be happy to participate again and the Convent seemed to love the attention.
The Kandos Gardens Fair is now rapidly approaching, meaning that most of my time is spent in the garden. The other gardens on show are well-established, but given the Convent garden only really started this year, I’m eager to have something to show visitors.
There have been a few disasters. The bare root roses I planted in a prominent position in front of the established roses at the front of the Convent, did nothing – I mean nothing, other than perhaps die. I’m not sure if they are still alive or not but looked very sad, bare little sticks. I’ve now taken the step of replanting them together in a more protected area which I am hoping is a plant hospital rather than a rose graveyard.
Also taking advice to spray for lawn weeds wasn’t the smartest move. I did it well in advance – maybe around three weeks ago. What I didn’t bargain on was my lawn being all weeds, which means I have large expanses of brown. Or more accurately, very little green areas. It’s also been very dry so I’m now watering like crazy to get some green back.
Otherwise, there are areas I’m really happy with and the garden is positioned as “in progress” which cuts me some slack. I think the roses peaked too early and the lovely original old rose bushes have already finished their main flush of flowers, although I’m deadheading them and feeding, hoping to get some more flowers for the viewing.
In the meantime, the roses that were planted throughout the year are now coming into their own and look like they will be winners. It’s exciting to see plants grow and flower for the first time. Hopefully they will be doing their thing for the visitors we are anticipating.
In the meantime, my days are filled with digging, mulching, weeding, pruning, planting, watering and feeding!
Last post was about my front wall garden that I am creating and that the sleepers were about to arrive. They have now been placed and even though the beds require much digging out and planting, just having the sleepers provides so much more definition and structure to the garden. I’m thrilled with them – big old hardwood worn railway sleepers with lots of character. Now I just need to keep digging… and planting!!!
One of the online sources I regularly use is Honeysuckle Cottage, which is a supplier of wonderful heritage plants, particularly perennials and herbs which I love. I was surprised when a friend told me they were just near Kurrajong, which I drive through each week on my trip between Kandos and Sydney. This week, dogless in the car, I dropped by and was enthralled by a nursery unlike any other – nothing commercial, just a charming bush setting garden with pathways and arbors leading to table after table and many sections of heritage roses, herbs, perennials – so many plants that were mainly propagated onsite – and plants I have not come across before.
This nursery specialises in heritage plants and propagating the many old and rarer variations – so many thymes, rosemary, lavenders. I was particularly interested in the aquilegias and have never seen so many established plants in so many varieties and colours in one place. Needless to say, the car, which was already pretty solidly packed, managed two more roses – another Lamarque and Madame Alfred Carriere, many aquilegias (after receiving a great run down on the different varieties and their history from an impressively helpful and knowledgeable staff member) and a number of salvias.
I also had friends visiting this weekend. Looking at photos they took of the garden gave me a great feeling of satisfaction and an appreciation of how far the garden has come. This is a wonderful time of the year and for the first time I am seeing growth and flowers on plants that, for some, were planted late last year or early this year.
Forgive me if some of the photos appear indulgent, but I’m also using this Blog as a garden diary so I track what goes in when and when plants flower. Ideally I’d like to keep colour in the garden year round.
This week looks like it will be a pretty physical one with lots of digging, feeding and planting for the front garden bed. I’m comfortable that the Convent gardens will be very unfinished for the Kandos Gardens Fair, but keen that visitors can get a perspective of the direction of the garden and what it will potentially look like.
In the quest to rebuild the garden, one of the more obvious options was to put in a bed along the front ash brick wall. Obvious and will look great but it is around 40 metres long and I want a deep bed. With grass running right up to it, that’s a lot of digging. But digging I am doing and now beginning to make progress.
I’ve been planting as I go, starting with the larger plants nearest the wall. After some foundering, I have realised that the plants will be south-facing. I’m not great with my north, souths etc when asked, so whilst the wall may face north, there happen to be two sides to any wall and I’m not planting that side!
This means that I can plant shrubs that are happy with some shade, such as camellias and azaleas near the wall as they will be more protected. I’ve opted for vigorous climbing roses as they should bundle themselves over the wall onto the footpath chasing the sun (or at least so I hope). There are also some standard maples and other ornamentals including lilacs, which I will endeavour to keep to a reasonable height.
The bed is planned to have three layers – the higher plants and climbers at the back, the salvias and sages and mid-sized perennials in the middle and smaller groundcovers and perennials at the front. That’s the plan. I’m getting some inspiration from fellow bloggers, looking at local gardens and heaps of books. I’d like to incorporate some “useful” plants as most of the garden beds include plants that do more than look nice. I already have the odd berry plants and envisage more fruit and particularly herbs playing a role.
Tomorrow I hope my sleepers arrive which will add some much needed structure and stop the rampant grass from invading. The bed will be much deeper than it is currently which will make it screamingly obvious how much more I need to dig out! However I’m sure this will be a very rewarding project and give me a wonderful outlook from the front windows and a great deal of future interest as I watch the plants develop.
The first of the veg planted in my veggie beds – predominantly the root veg – are all pretty much finished now and I’ve harvested the last of the parsnips, turnips and swedes and culled some of the older veg that is now going to seed. All rich fodder for my compost bins.
The biggest lesson so far is not to over-plant, although it is so tempting with so many plants, limited space and the joint fears that a lot may die off or I will want to harvest lots of it, not mentioning the pain of thinning out successful seedlings. I have a few different beds I can use now so I’m trying to be a little more disciplined with planting. And not planting everything at once.
Firstly, my biggest successes:
- the wide range of cherry tomatoes which had all the neighbours intrigued with both the range of colours and shapes. These grew well against the back wall and I intend to repeat again this year. I already have a few planted in a trough I moved from Sydney. They were 100% consumed last year, including being used for semi-dried preserving.
- radishes – I love radishes and always buy them when they are in season. These little ruby jewels are lucky to make it to the kitchen (a bit like the cherry tomatoes) and are dusted off and eaten on the spot. I’ve already replanted some of the longer French Breakfast variety and intend to also do the smaller round traditional variety.
- Cucumbers and zucchinis – a little mixed with how well I grew them but enough plants survived me to provide wonderful veg that was quickly consumed. Zucchinis do take up so much space, though.
- Eggplants- last year it was a variety called Lady Finger (I think) which was a small thin variety
- Broad Beans – I had a post drafted questioning whether the broad beans were worth planting given the space they take up (and they can look messy when I prefer better behaved plants). I now have no doubt that broad beans are wonderful and worth their space in the garden. I have had them in three spots, including in the raised veg bed where they are causing havoc. I deliberately bought the Dwarf variety so they wouldn’t tower. As you can see above, I was mistaken. I now believe that “dwarf” refers to the bean size, not the plant size. Anyway, all the plants have heavily rewarded me with bountiful and beautiful beans that have supplemented many a meal and are great as a salad, added to a risotto or as today, stir fried with the sugar snaps with a little oyster and soy sauce. All is forgiven and they will become a Convent staple in the garden.
Sugar Snap Peas – I was told by a local that the only thing that grows better than weeds in Kandos is snow peas. On that note, I planted snow peas, normal peas and sugar snaps – all have been great and provide on-the-spot garden snacks for visitors. The sugar snaps, however have been outstanding in both taste and cropping, with the plants continually heavily producing, despite constant picking.
The current plantings, which I am being more disciplined with and pacing myself, including cleaning out beds, and supplementing with new compost, organic fertilisers and mulching (and thanks to Flash and Smokey for all the horse manure) before planting. New additions include: the initial cherry tomatoes, two larger tomato varieties, capsicum, cucumbers, chillies and zucchinis. A couple of passionfruit will supplement the two vines that seem to have successfully survived.
I already have in asparagus, onions, rhubarb and the nine bags of potatoes which are now full to the top with sugar cane mulch and healthy potato plants still peeping out. Mixed lettuces will be a must.
It’s an exciting time to be here (almost permanently) so I can take care of the garden properly and watch the daily changes. I’m also keen to have an interesting display for visitors for the Kandos Gardens Fair. One of the great pleasures is to plan each meal around what the garden currently has to offer. Last night it was Smoked Trout Pie which incorporated my fennel, dill and lemons, as well as using breadcrumbs from homemade bread. Small steps, but so rewarding.
As Spring springs into action, I’m discovering so many new things – either with the old garden or with my new plants which are welcoming their first Spring. Here are a few more favourites coming into flower for the first time.
Spring is such a wonderful time of the year, particularly for gardeners. This is my first Spring at the Convent and it is wonderful to see both the old plantings and the new spring into life, particularly my misgivings and the forebodings of the damage that the vicious Winter frosts could inflict on my new garden.
Last weekend was the first Convent Spring Retreat. My friends are always welcome but by setting aside special dates each season, it makes it easier for them to co-ordinate and plan when we can all get together. It was a wonderful extended weekend supplemented by Verve and Moet and also co-ordinated with the wonderful Kandos Hootenanny. The Convent is now much more comfortable being painted and with carpets in bedrooms, curtains and polished floors, as well as some furnished rooms, however guests are still mainly on air beds. Unfortunately the Convent plumbing was a tad overwhelmed with supporting more than one or two residents, although the roses are flourishing with the unpleasant results.
The garden is springing to life and I’m seeing the results of my planting as well as now more heavily planting out, particularly with the impending Kandos Gardens Fair, which has the Convent as one of the gardens on display (although positioned as “in progress”).
Remember a recent post when I said we had been gathering wild asparagus? Much to my delight, yesterday I noticed three spears coming up from the scavenged “crowns”. As they were old crowns, the spears are thick and generous. I’m now hoping for a bumper crop. Amazing when I think of how woody and dead they looked a few weeks ago. I think the pony poop is beginning to work wonders.
I’ll now show some of the flourishing garden residents as they are now beginning to make an impact and make the garden such an interesting place to visit each day.