The End of Winter

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Never at it’s best at the end of Winter but the pruning is over and this bed will burst with life from Spring through to Autumn.

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.

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This little fella self-seeded and decided to stay. A welcome addition, even if unplanned and in an awkward position.

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.

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Not so Tortured Filbert will have grassy green leaves soon. I’m enjoying the catkins that just keep dropping longer and longer.

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.

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Blue Streak Willow – just lucky with this one that it’s such a beautiful tree. Look at the pussy willows just before it goes into leaf.

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.

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The pair of Wisterias have taken a surprisingly short time to get themselves in shape.

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!!!).

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The two Manchurian Pears that should become prominent in the front yard are just starting to hit their straps.

The Next Phase

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New gates at each end. This is the rear of the property.

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!

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The paddock in earlier days

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Internal access from the Convent block through a small gate set in the privet hedge.

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.

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Some rockery beds are already in place at the front of the block from decades ago – now sans tyre plantings.

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.

Desiree, Sebago and Dutch Cream potatoes doing multiple duties – food, breaking up and enriching soil.

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.

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Gates at the front of the property – the views are stunning.

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.

Back to the Garden

I love growing eggplants. The fruit is so dramatic and lovely.

I love growing eggplants. The fruit is so dramatic and lovely.

What with the new shop and show knitting (and other commitments), the garden has not been receiving the attention it needs. Now things are a little more under control and with great weather, including some much wanted rain, energies have been redirected to green things. The Convent will also be one of the venues for the Cementa_15 artists and with lots of people wandering through the property over 4 days in April, I’d like the Convent to be shown at her best.

Beds replanted, mulched and ready to spring into action.

Beds replanted, mulched and ready to spring into action.

Fortunately with some watering, mowing and a bit of weeding, the garden is now coming along well. I’m now trimming, feeding and mulching which will also prepare the garden for Winter. As I see the garden every day, I tend not to notice how far it’s come and appreciate the changes as much as I should but taking new photos has been a good reminder.

One of my focusses has been on the veg beds. I think I neglected these a little over Summer and they weren’t as productive as they should have been and I wasted a bit of produce too, but opening the shop was a pretty big commitment and I’m promising myself that this time around the beds will be well loved and the produce appreciated more. That being said, the colorbond fence bed which has made the bare side fence much more interesting, is now a wealth of produce and between the raised veggie beds and the fence bed, I’ve harvested masses of zucchinis and now reaping eggplants. The carrots continue to be abundant and I’m also now getting pumpkins. The original intention of the fence bed was to be a rambling pumpkin patch, so I’m delighted with these results.

The carrots have lasted well and there are still many more to harvest.

The carrots have lasted well and there are still many more to harvest.

Beds have now been replenished, fed and mulched and are now planted with sugar snap peas, brocollini, rocket, beetroot, bok choi, chop suey veg and lettuce. I’m hoping there will be established plants and new growth emerging for Cementa to give visitors a taste of a country garden.

I think looking at my pumpkin bed, particularly now it actually has pumpkins, must be one of my best rewards.

I think looking at my pumpkin bed, particularly now it actually has pumpkins, must be one of my best rewards.

Hitting the Gardening Wall

 

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Phase Three of the privet will be total cut back.

Now it’s Winter, I’ve been tidying up around the garden and planning next steps. Somehow these seem so much harder than my previous plans. I guess I’ve done the obvious. The garden was a blank canvas, so I’ve made beds around the property and filled in some obvious spaces, but now I need much more discipline and planning to go to the next level, with form and structure, rather than just ad hoc plantings.

This has set me back a little as the stakes are now getting higher. I’d like at some point for the gardens to participate in the Open Garden scheme and know that I’ll be metaphorically standing alongside magnificent and inspiring gardens. I don’t want major structural overhauls of the garden but want to plan out a garden that has structure, form and interest whilst looking like it belongs to the Convent.

I’m happy with the beds I’ve put in place, and I think the smaller backyard is in good shape. But it’s a big block with a sparse front yard and a large, imposing and somewhat stark building at present.

The privet experiment has worked with a section that was cut back hard coming back to a neat hedge.

Phase one – the privet experiment was a section that was cut back hard. Success, with good clippable growth springing back.

Phase two of the privet demolition - further cut back.

Phase two of the privet demolition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know how I work and am unlikely to have a grand concept for the entire property (remembering I still have an untouched paddock next door), so am working in sections. I’d like a few areas that are clearly structured and identifiable. The privet is due to come down this week and that will make a world of difference to the property – tidying it up, opening up areas for planning, but also making it even more bare and stark. The privet experiment has proven that it will adapt back to being a neat trimmed hedge along the old galvanised fence, providing a level of formality that was once evident but has been sadly lacking for decades. It will also provide the framework for planting big old ramblers and climbers over the character timber and galvanised fence. And I’ll soften the front of the hedge with low plantings.

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An ugly little corner.

The other area to be adapted is the front left corner, which I intend to turn into a small grove, giving me a shaded corner in an otherwise expansive and exposed front garden. My current thought is to put in a small grove of maybe five silver birches, mulched underneath and planted out with white hellebores. I’m gradually expanding the right side fence bed, so with all those plans, I think this will keep me occupied for a while – and give visitors something new to see when the garden is again open to the public.

It will still leave me with the challenge that the garden is still calling for more internal garden beds, rather than fringing the property, but I’ll get the other sections established first …

At present I’m devouring gardening books and looking at as many gardens as possible – determining what I like and why and what I don’t think will work so well, being particularly mindful of my climate. It’s rewarding and fun but also a not insignificant challenge.

Ground zero - just over a year ago.

Ground zero – just over a year ago.

Filling out but still so much more in the works.

Filling out but still so much more in the works.

The Garden is Flourishing

The front wall bed is now showing some form - the other side of the gate is not quite so health as it serves as Popcorn's turning circle

The front wall bed is now showing some form – the other side of the gate is not quite so healthy as it serves as Popcorn’s turning circle

After many months of no rain, we have had a number of days of good rain over the last few weeks, much to the relief of the farmers. The garden is responding by leaping to life. I understand now much more clearly how watering just keeps gardens alive but rain makes them grow.

The blue salvias are electric

The blue salvias are electric

These red salvias have just started to flower and make a lovely contrast to the blue

These red salvias have just started to flower and make a lovely contrast to the blue

The lawns are truly grass green but the most rewarding part is the front wall garden bed which was mainly established the last quarter of last year. I’m just starting to see plants peek over the wall from the front footpath, as is the grand plan. The roses are flourishing, they just need some serious training to get them to go over the wall as they seem intent on reaching out the other way and sprawling across the ground to the grass. The Salvias are now hitting their straps as well, particularly the vibrant blue species.

The white Cosmos work well in the front circular bed and soften the exterior of the Convent

The white Cosmos work well in the front circular bed and soften the exterior of the Convent

The front circular garden bed looks so much better with the white Cosmos which can be clearly seen from so many angles, including from the street. They provide a soft contrast to the Convent and are always swaying with the breeze. There are some other interesting plants in there as well for anyone looking around the garden. With the rain, I seem now to have millions of baby Cosmos springing up.

Popcorn is making his presence felt – particularly as he loves to race up and down the front wall, taking breaks to jump up and look over. A few plants have felt his momentum and are no longer garden residents. He seems to have a set racing and turning track now that I just avoid planting. Once the roses kick in a little more, I’m sure it will limit his movements.

The roses have particularly enjoyed the rain and are now going through a strong growth phase. I just need them to grow in the right direction!

The roses have particularly enjoyed the rain and are now going through a strong growth phase. I just need them to grow in the right direction! This is Mr Lincoln.

Other than bulbs, I’m now dialling back more ornamental plantings as I need to concentrate on the veg beds – cleaning out and replanting in preparation for Winter. In the meantime, I’m benefitting from what is currently ripening. In many ways this Summer has been disappointing as my first full season here, but one of the locals pointed out that it has been the worst growing season ever here in Kandos – two rounds of heavy hail that wiped everyone’s veg and stripped the fruit trees, an invasion of micro bugs that sucked so many veg dry and months of drought. It seems like I haven’t done that badly on reflection.

The dahlias, anonymously dropped at the back date by a kindly neighbour, have come into their own

The dahlias, anonymously dropped at the back date by a kindly neighbour, have come into their own

Serendipity

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Whilst tidying up the end of various flowers, I decided to make the most of the seeds they had produced. It seems a good approach to harvest seeds of flowers and plants that have done so well in this area. It should come in handy next time around instead of buying new seeds and may be useful as gifts or giveaways.

So far I have cornflowers, love in a mist, parsley, coriander, hyssop, cosmos, hollyhocks, mustard lettuce, Queen Anne’s Lace and, of course, one of my favourites with their glossy black seeds – aquilegias.

Of course, they may not grow, but it’s been fun and rewarding getting a little more value out of the plants and planning their next generation.

In a touch of serendipity, during this process my Christmas present arrived from my daughter overseas – a timber planting box for seedlings with lovely little seed envelopes. Much nicer than my cliplock plastic bags.

End of Spring

The earliest salvias

The earliest salvias

It’s been barely a year since the first plants went into the garden (which was many months before the property officially became mine) and after all these years, I’ve still astonished and delighted by how a garden changes with the seasons.

IMG_1807Over the next few weeks, I’ll be clearing out some of the shaggy growth – predominantly the sweet peas, which will give the salvias space to come into their own, and the cornflowers which are now all over the place and looking worse for wear.

Two harsh hail storms in less than a week have done their damage, predominantly with the leafy veg. I’m removing damaged foliage as well as some of the plants that are now pretty much finished – the broad beans (after freezing over 4k of beans) have been replaced with heritage carrots and leafy greens. The fennel has been removed (it was like uprooting a tree!). Next on the agenda is celery, which was a tad disappointing.

Cherry tomatoes are coming good

Cherry tomatoes are coming good

The cherry tomatoes, which I now have so many varieties of now, thanks to supplements received via Diggers, seemed to have survived the hail onslaught and are being tempted back to growth with spray supplements of Seasol, Powerfeed and Charlie Carp. The Salvias all look like being the next series of stars as it appears to be their “time in the sun”. The berry bed is going crazy with new growth and the begginnings of berry crops. These are currently being collected for a mixed berry sorbet. This bed was fortuitously protected from the hail by the bird net that had been erected a day earlier.

The garden appears to be enjoyed by all the dogs. Roxy has always joined me whilst Tango has has her frequent “visits” with us. Popcorn loves the space but at present also needs company, so having me in the garden is best of both worlds for him.

Anyway, we are close to saying farewell to the first Spring at the Convent, and it has been an enormous one, with participating in the Kandos Gardens Fair and permanently moving our lives here to Kandos.

Salvia Madrensis managed to survive and thrive through the frosts

Salvia Madrensis managed to survive and thrive through the frosts

Buddleia close to flowering for the first time

Buddleia close to flowering for the first time

Nature Strikes Again!

The tomatoes were thriving and beginning to fruit. Most of the new growth has been broken off and fruit is on the ground

The tomatoes were thriving and beginning to fruit. Most of the new growth has been broken off and fruit is on the ground

I was relieved that the winds saved themselves until the day after the Garden Fair, given they made their mark on the last of the sweet peas, broadbeans and stopped the cornflowers from feeling so cocky. But I wasn’t expecting a huge hailstorm to hit after I went back to Sydney.

Fortunately one of the last things I did was net off the berry bed to stop the birds who have discovered the ripening gems, and they have been spared. However anything with leafy growth has been massacred. It looks like a plague of green caterpillars has eaten their way through my beds, but it’s all the damage from hail. This time the damage is more widespread than the frosts.

Zucchini - after a number of unsuccessful attempts. I  had baby zucchinis on this a few days ago

Zucchini – after a number of unsuccessful attempts. I had baby zucchinis on this a few days ago

I’ll be replanting all the leafy greens like lettuces, spinach, rocket and can hope that the tomatoes just kick on and grow. But it’s disappointing to see the veg that were just beginning to establish themselves and fruit looking so stripped and bare. Moreso after so many attempts to get the cucumber and zucchini started and sourcing so many mini tomatoes. Fortunately most of the other plants in the garden seem to have been spared. Just the food crops took most of the force.

Another gardening experience. I now have a bit of hospital work to do in the garden.

Eggplant - this was a picture of purple flowers last Saturday

Eggplant – this was a picture of purple flowers last Saturday

Putting the Convent to Work

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Now that the Convent will be my permanent home, and I have no immediate plans for work, I’ve realised it is important that I make the most of what I’m doing at the Convent and also do justice to the garden produce.

After the first planting of the garden beds, I know now to plant what I will actually use, not just what seems interesting to try and watch grow. This round of veg is very practical – things I know will grow and I will eat. Lots of leafy veg, my mini tomatoes, cucumber, zucchini, capsicum, beans … and I’m beginning to benefit from the produce.

I had a now deleted draft post on whether the broad beans were worth the effort. I had planted them in a few spots, not knowing how they would behave and for a long time I just had l tall plants taking up room but not doing a lot. How wrong I was. After suffering unruly plants falling all over my garden beds and dominating other plants, I’ve now harvested over 4 kilos of podded beans to place in my freezer. That’s after eating and giving away possibly that much again. They were heavy cropping wonderful produce and will again be included, although not in the raised beds – they are better against the wall where I can stake them against the heavy Kandos winds.

IMG_1760I’ve been picking half a dozen strawberries a day to include with my breakfast and they took quite a hiding from sampling visitors during the garden fair, but I’ve managed to pick 400g for the first batch of strawberry icecream which is now sitting in the freezer. I’m looking forward to the removalists arriving next week as I really need my big fridge here. The berries are only just starting and I can see Youngberries, Blueberries and Rasberries all forming and some beginning to show colour. Not sure I will have enough for jam this year but there will me more icecream and some syrups to put away.

The herbs are going crazy and I’m letting plants go to seed so I can continue to propagate without purchasing new plants (I hope). Next on the list is storing some herb butters – parsley, tarragon and chive are the obvious ones.

I’m enjoying the industry, but I also appreciate the practicalities of owning and running the property and making the most of the efforts put into establishing the garden.

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