Saturday, March 26, 2011

A tour of MIL's garden: part one.

We are fortunate at the moment to be living in a house which has the loveliest home garden I know: My mother-in-law's space. D and I met nearly 10 years ago, we were not married in this garden, but our reception was it it. If I could turn back time and be rid of the notion that one got married in one garden, and then celebrated in another I would have had the whole event here, but never mind.
The garden is wedge-shaped and approximately 3000m2, or 3/4 acre. It's in the cold part of the Adelaide Hills. The annual average rainfall is about 700mm. It's style is largely informal and cottage but has box hedges to keep everything contained. It's on a slope, but not a steep one. Most plants have been chosen more on the basis of their flowers rather than overall form. It's a lovely garden: in summer it is spectacular and overflowing; in autumn it is serene; in winter it is still and quiet; in spring it is pretty. MIL and C (MIL's partner) planted a lot of autumn flowering plants when it was decided that our April wedding reception was to be here, an incomparable gift.
This is such a large garden that there is far too much to show you in one single post, so this will come to you in parts over the next few weeks. If I get around to it I'll draw up a little plan, but I'm not promising!
Let's walk through the northern part of the garden.
Imagine you are standing at the side door. On either side of you are the previously mentioned pansies in blue pots.

Pansies (you've seen this photo before!)

If you take a couple of steps over the patio you find David Austen roses and tomatoes in pots to the left, and a great overblown purple wisteria (currently in full leaf but the flowers have finished) and a row of yellow bush roses which is our elderly cat's favourite napping place. Poor Cally-Cat, SP has figured this out and harasses her endlessly!

David Austin rose (not upside down)
Potted tomatoes

Cally beneath the roses
From the edge of the patio the lawn stretches in front of you. On the left is a long garden bed, acacias trees overhead (one, sadly, recently gone from old age). In this side bed is lavender, more roses, plumbago, hydrangeas, kangaroo paws and nerines.

Northern garden

On the right is the veggie patch (a four-square pattern), a fragrant Philadelphus, and a tree I can never remember the name of in the middle of the lawn. Further back in the background is a row of ornamental pear trees under planted with purple agapanthus, more roses, nasturtiums, lilies, and a giant raspberry patch.

The lawn
 Sunny nasturtiums
Raspberry patch halfway through pruning.

Frothy asparagus in the veggie patch
This plant is busy taking over the veggie patch

A few special mentions for some other plants up here:
MIL is a Salvia-Nut, and has planted blues, whites, pinks, purples, and reds all over the garden.


There are a couple of magnolias up by the road, even though I missed taking photos of the flowers this year I still think they are wonderful trees and they are on my wish list for my own garden.

Magnolia fruits

And I wish I could remember the name of this shrub! I asked MIL, and she told me, and I thought I must write that down, but, of course, I got distracted and I didn't and now I have no idea. I love the bright pink buds of the flowers to come; the actual flowers are large and a deep purple... will look it up!

Pink buds in the rain
And there ends part one of your tour. Next up: more roses, windflowers, fuchsias....

Friday, March 25, 2011

Jump up and kiss me!

My mother tells me that when she was a child her father used to say, 'jump up and kiss me!' every time they passed pansies (Mum, I hope I have that right!). Anyway, MIL has pulled the fading petunias from their pots by the doors and replaced them with pansies and violas. Until now, I don't think I have ever appreciated pansies quite so much. I didn't realise that these small, unassuming plants had such glorious flowers. My favourites are dark indigo and purples, glossy and soft like velvet. It turns out that these colours also seem to be the hardest to photograph, and I am not clever enough with my camera to know why. Something about them seems to suck in all the light and hold it in those gorgeous petals rather than reflect it back, resulting in a pictures with a bit of a strange ephemeral quality to them. Maybe the pansies are shy and don't like to be photographed?

I had a hard enough time narrowing it down to a mere five pictures. These are, as I mentioned, in pots by the doors, and so every time you step in or out of the house their little faces nod up at you.

Incidentally, I have been reading a little about pansies, and found they have a very interesting etymology (including being called 'Jump Up and Kiss Me!'). The name 'Pansy' comes from the french word 'Pensee,' meaning thought and referring to the flower's appearance to a face. They are also commonly called 'Heart's Ease,' which is lovely, yes?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

What to call this?

When demolition is progress, but a gardener craves greenery, and so loss of greenery is somewhat heart-rending?
How to explain?
This is somewhat hard to articulate. 

I think most people are probably structure and interior focused, so when they go house hunting - if they are fortunate enough to be able to - they look at the building, at the house; is it brick, wood, weatherboard or stone? When was it built? Are the rooms big enough, and would we manage with three bedrooms instead of four? Can we live with that shabby 40 year old bathroom? That carpet would have to go. Will this house suit our needs?
And then there are a few of us, who think they could not possibly live on a block under 800m2 (1/5th acre); who want to know what that shrub is out the front, and who admire the roses - but not the block pattern they are planted in - and shrug their shoulders at ugly bathrooms, and instead of thinking about carpet, wall paint, and curtains, our minds go on flights of fancy dreaming of apple trees and spring blossoms and giant vegetable gardens and paths bordered with creeping thyme.
No prizes for guessing which type of person I am.
So, after you have all this, then comes the challenge of working out how to make what you have into what you would like.  For us this means a large house extension and re-landscaping the garden. I am looking forward to watching it all happen; it's exciting, and yet, and yet...and yet....
D sent me a photo on Monday of our new water tank on his phone. In it I could see the tank, part of the shed, the fence, and that the privets were gone and the ground around the tank, which is to be a future lawn, had been graded back down to earth (it was dolomite, having once been a sort of car-parking area). It all looked quite neat really.

Then, on Tuesday morning, D took SP to her swimming lesson (just up the road from our house) while I mooched over to a local coffee shop and rasped out my order for a takeaway latte (it was early, in my defense). Then I walked to our little house, went around the back and...

I saw the 'other half' of the phone photo, the part omitted. In not seeing this the day before, I hadn't actually thought about it, and so it was a shock. It seems silly to say, I mean, it is progress of course, and my greenery was only weeds and a bit of cruddy buffalo grass, but now it is piles of refuse and dying plants and my heart protested. Even though, and I must clarify this, even though I knew all this was going to happen, and my vegetables are fine, my little trees are fine, there is something about that expanse of bare ripped earth which breaks my heart.

I'm sorry, privet tree, why do I feel so guilty? I sanctioned your destruction because you were old and covered in fungus and unhappy. It's like I'm suffering from a violation of some kind of gardener's Hippocratic oath, 'first, do no harm...'
 But, fortified by my warming coffee, I wandered around what's left of our backyard and took stock. One must move past deposed-privet-tree-guilt and look forward, after all!
I found a glimmer of what is to come: bamboo stakes marking out what will be the future raised round garden bed:

And I found a kind of obscure beauty in stacks of old and rusting roof iron, and in pieces of pipe piled among the pine needles.

Out in the front garden, where there is barely a hint of the chaos out the back, the Iceburg roses carry on peacefully blooming even in this autumn which has struck with a vengeance of driving cold rain and whipping winds.

Roses: always lovely, always calming. Thank the Heavens for roses.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Poached quinces and other delights.

The nice thing, or one of the many nice things about living at MIL's house deep in the hills, is the close proximity to weekend markets. On Sunday MIL, SP and I took a quick visit to the Uraidla Market, which is about 10 minutes drive down the road into the 'real' countryside. It's a pretty little drive with it's hillsides of bushland, apple orchards, and leek fields.
The Uraidla Market is small, and yet it seemed to have everything we could want. Most of it was in the town hall, with a couple of extra stalls and obligatory sausage sizzle outside. Lots and lots of fresh local produce for sale (even fish!), plus jams, award winning olive oils, marinated olives (YUM!!), plants, Devonshire teas and craft works. Just my kind of thing.

We came home with plenty of fruit and veg and some treats to see us through the week.

Just for fun I bought some beautiful quinces. I have not eaten quince in such a long time, this most underrated of fruits.

I flicked through the cookbooks but no recipe jumped out at me, so off to the Internet where I found a recipe for rosy poached quinces. Quinces cannot be eaten raw, not unless you like that astringent 'mouth full of fluff' feeling; I don't recommend it. I mention this because they do look very much like you could snack on a piece of two as you cut them up, and I do not want you to be tempted!
They are supposed to be hard to peel and core, but I didn't think they were. Perhaps it was just luck? They do, however, oxidize to brown very quickly. I piled them straight in the simmering poaching syrup (is it still called a court bouillon if it's sweet? Probably not.).

And added a hat, as per instructions (watch out for the scalding steam if you lift it).

And then I sat in the rainlight-drenched living room, eating wholemeal toast with blue cheese, typing up this post and knitting (not at the exact time I was typing. I am not that clever) while I waited for it to cook, cinnamon infusing not just the quinces, but the air as well, it smells like autumn. Delicious.

Quinces blush as they cook, and the longer they cook the pinker and darker and richer they become.


They will keep for a week in their poaching liquid in the fridge, and after you have eaten the fruit pieces (I recommend real cream and icecream) you can reduce the syrup into a jam which is wonderful with cheese.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

The roof, the roof, the roof is in pieces.

Just a short post today.
When last I spoke of the roof it looked like this, complete with poser-husband out the front (and the toilet/laundry is still there at the right)

At our next visit it looked more like this. The boys had been removing a couple of rows of the terracotta tiles as the new extension roof will need to slot in underneath it. We may be replacing the tiles with colorbond sheeting down the track in any case. It doesn't 'need' to be done as the tiles are actually in pretty good condition, but it would make everything look finished. We're also told that putting solar panels on tiles often results in a lot of them breaking. We'll see. Notice, also, no more laundry at right and pixie off to the left.

And now like this! Half of the veranda is goneski. Now it really is starting to look like quite a different house, and the building hasn't even started yet!

By the way, for the reading gardeners, in the pots are my Kaffir lime (often called Makrut lime) and Tahitian lime tree. When the garden is more done they will be planted into it, but for the time being they are safe and well in their pots. The other pots contain potatoes, the patio watermelon, Sydney rhubarb and some remaining little carrots. I am waiting very impatiently for any one of these pots to finish so that I can transfer my kiwi fruit vines into it, as they are looking very sad in their smaller pot, I think because they are particularly thirsty plants.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Sweet Peas for Saint Pat.

It is a tradition to plant sweet peas on Saint Patrick's day, in the hours between dusk and dawn of the night prior. I thought this was a Southern Hemisphere thing, but some quick Internet research reveals that this is actually a Northern Hemisphere tradition we seem to have borrowed for ourselves so I have learnt something today.

I didn't plant my peas in the hours of darkness, but I did plant them as the sun was lowering in the sky. I bought a tall climbing variety, a shorter Bijou bush variety, and a packet of seeds for fun too. I planted my peas where they would climb up the bare fruit trees and roses over winter, and put the seeds in random little pockets along the fence in the vegie patch and the strawberry patch.

And look, I found a little pixie in the garden while I was out there! I might have expected a leprechaun on Saint Pat's, but the pixie was firstly female, and secondly in lavender and not green, and thirdly rather taller than 12 inches high.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Company in the shower

Sometimes we forget that our houses are not impermeable, and that we have built them smack-bang in the middle of various habitats, so it's good to have a reminder from time to time of why we should be looking after the Earth in whatever small ways we can. My reminder came yesterday, when I found I was sharing my shower with a little friend. I got out, wrapped myself in towel, took a few happy snaps, rewet my hands, and then, gently gently gently, coaxed him onto my hand and took him back outside. Dear little Southern Brown Tree Frog, I hope you find our yard safe to stay in.

Monday, March 14, 2011

WIP #2 continued

Slightly pointless post tonight, it could have waited until tomorrow, after all! But I wanted to make a note that WIP #2, the rug I am planning to enlarge, is underway and the balls of wool are becoming neat, flat, brightly coloured rows. Except I have ummed and ahhed over it, and muttered to myself, and rearranged the original rug and placed the one completed new row alongside it, and then turned it around ninety degrees and looked at it again, and you know what? I think I like the little rug just as it is. Therefore, I'm going to leave it alone and make a whole, brand new, bigger rug. Proper cot size this time, which should be a nice lap size as well. So there you go. The evolving WIP strikes again!

Expo update

So, did I go to the Gardening Australia Expo? I did indeed! And did I buy anything? Oh yes, but I managed to restrain myself to a mere nine plants, all little locals (provenance). Most were only $3 each, and one I got from Trees For Life for a gold coin donation (I am very seriously considering joining them to grow plants for revegetation projects).

In my bag I have:
1 x Sticky Hop Bush (Dodonaea viscosa)
2 x Knobby Club Rush (Isolepis nodosa)
1 x Small fruited Fan Flower (Scaevola albida)
2 x Native pelagonium (Pelagonium australe)
1 x Clasping goodenia (Goodenia amplexans)
1 x Old Man's Beard (Clematis microphylla)
1 x Native lilac (Hardenbergia voliacea)

I must make a special mention of the Clasping Goodenia. It's an odd little plant. It has bright green leaves, quite rough like sandpaper, and pretty yellow flowers which fold downwards when they are open. But the most notable feature of this little plant is the very strong herbal smell, some call it 'spicy'. It's a memory smell for me, it's the Hill's bush in our oven-hot summers; it's watching an echidna trundle through the low, wind-clipped shrubbery by the beach; it's the snap, crackle and pop of eucalyptus pods opening, smoke smudging the horizon, and sun so bright you can hardly see between the trees.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Resting the vegie patch

I had the opportunity yesterday to have a bit of a potter in the vegie garden. I pulled out a few weeds, picked some Amish Paste tomatoes, and pulled out most of the daggy squash and zucchini plants. Plenty is still going on out there, even though the days are rapidly cooling and shortening.
My 'Yellow Patio Watermelon' has one lonely melon, but I am guarding it zealously and hoping like mad nothing happens to it before it ripens! It's about as long as my hand so far.

The Broccolini was ready to be picked so we sliced the tops off with a sharp knife. Three out of four plants produced lovely heads, though small. The fourth was totally insect infested and went straight to the compost heap. I left the plants in place to see if they'll do anything else. About a fortnight ago I also planted baby cauliflowers, some brussel sprouts, and more broccoli. I did have both broccoli and cauli seeds sown which had sprouted about a month ago, but they got frizzled off by a few very hot days.  

The pepino looks good. Nothing has tried to eat it yet!

The pumpkins are a disappointment overall. I will have to try again next year. We have only one butternut pumpkin (Butternut squash for the rest of the world!) actually growing. A number of other pumpkins started and swelled a little, then fell off. Maybe I planted them too late? There did seem to be an awful lot of male flowers compared to female ones.

This pumpkin, which I must admit I can't remember the name off, still looks healthy and strong but considering how the rest of the pumpkins went I'm skeptical that any of the fruit will go beyond their current walnut size. 

The other recent action in the vegie patch was green manure sowing. For the uninitiated, green manure crops are crops which are grown to add organic matter and nutrients to the soil. You sow plants like clover, beans, fenugreek etc, and you slash them down when they are still green and then mix them into the soil or use them as a mulch on top. They're something I've read quite a lot about but have never actually tried. I didn't have specific green manure mixes on hand at the time, but I did have fenugreek spice seeds from the supermarket which sprout very readily (in a day or two, in fact) which are legumes and will fix nitrogen (from the air to the soil). We can also eat the leaves as a herb. I also had half a packet of sprouting seeds (chick peas, mung beans and soy beans) from a very brief and unsuccessful foray into sprout growing which I scattered out there as well. A few weeks ago it looked like this:

And now it looks like this:

I've put patches of green manure throughout the entire vegetable garden and in the new garden bed I am still very slowly creating around it.