Creating a “Convent” Garden

The newest residents - two Madonnas on plinths welcoming visitors to the Cloisters.
The newest residents – two Madonnas on plinths welcoming visitors to the Cloisters.

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.

My beautiful angel, sitting reading near the frog pond with the Grotto in the background.
My beautiful angel, sitting reading near the frog pond with the Grotto in the background.

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.

Original inhabitants - Mary and Bernadette in the Grotto which was built by locals in the 1950's.
Original inhabitants – Mary and Bernadette in the Grotto which was built by locals in the 1950’s.

A Focus on Roses … and Garden Progress

Image
A hard prune for sprawling roses. I plan to add another bank of roses in front of these.

As we head towards rose time, I’m getting my roses in shape (and ‘in’). This weekend I took the major step in pruning the original Convent roses. These roses seem to be pretty old bushes and aren’t in the best condition. Playing it safe (in case I do damage with a hard prune), I’ve taken cuttings.

Not being very experienced with roses, I’ve been watching and getting advice from neighbours. In Sydney most of the roses would have been pruned at least a month ago, but I’ve been wary of the heavy frosts. Anyway, after being given the go-ahead from one of the Kandos rose experts, I took to them with gusto. I’ve also given them a good feed. My neighbour, D, who has in the past stepped in to look after them in periods of neglect, gave me the thumbs up.

I gave some of the roses I planted last year a light trim but left the climbers as I was under strict instruction not to prune these for the first two years as it would inhibit growth.

The Icebergs flanking the front entry
The Icebergs flanking the front entry

I also added substantially to the rose collection by planting six white standard Icebergs along the front entry path, which I must say I am delighted with and think will set the front off really well. I’m trying to find a balance with not cluttering the front yard yet softening it as it was quite harsh and bare initially (and moreso since I pulled out the scruffy shrubs).

Focussing on the garden is a good distraction whilst all the tradesmen work on the Convent and I’m keen for the Convent to see lots of garden life come Spring.

The early stages of the front wall garden beds
The early stages of the front wall garden beds

The garden bed at the front wall is gradually filling in and taking shape, although I’m only putting in the bigger plants like Camellias and Azaleas and avoiding smaller ones given some of the fatalities I’ve had with frosts.

In the meantime, the bulbs are starring and doing exactly what I had hoped. The Grotto garden is starting to fill out and is framed with flowering bulbs. It now has four climbing roses in pinks and whites that should look stunning when (if) they take off. My favourite Heartsease have also come to the party and are flowering their hearts out in a rewarding corner near the Chapel.

The Grotto basking in the sun
The Grotto basking in the sun
Cheery Daffodils brightening the Grotto
Cheery Daffodils brightening the Grotto
Heartsease working hard to brighten up their corner
Heartsease working hard to brighten up their corner

I’m hoping in around two months I’ll be up here most of the time as I put my Sydney home on the market, in which case I will be able to enjoy the rewards of my labours rather than just labouring for the few days each week I’m here.

Happy with that for an entrance
Happy with that for an entrance