Tag Archives: gardening

… precious as autumn sunshine…

autumn sunshine

autumn sunshine

Today, the sun is shining, a soft wind is brushing through the autumn foliage, and it is far too lovely outside to hide away in my study.

From where I am sitting underneath the pergola, I look across my garden and know that deep sense of peacefulness and joy that being outside on a beautiful autumn day can bring.

What could be better… a quiet time to myself, dappled sunshine over my shoulder, the breeze rustling through the trees, a cuppa, and my keyboard.  This is my workspace today.

my workspace

my workspace

I love being in my garden, and I enjoy gardening, but I have to admit that I am not very good at it.  Spending my early years travelling from place to place with my adventurous family meant that we rarely had time to set up a garden, although we often bought homes with beautiful gardens attached to them.  But I didn’t learn the joys of gardening at my parents’ feet.

My first attempts at gardening were when we lived in a village in Shropshire.  Our family had bought a fairly modern house, by the standards of the village, only about twenty or so years old, and it had a glorious garden that disappeared way down behind the back gardens of the houses of the next road along, under some ancient woodland trees,  and over a narrow brook to a post-and-rail fence that edged a lane way up to the farmhouse on whose land our estate had been built.

Whilst the front garden of the house was filled with roses and lilacs (oh, the summer scents!), the back garden was rampant with a forest of raspberry vines, acres of potatoes and rhubarb (almost literally), and hidden patches of overgrown cabbage and peas and all sorts of scrumptious vegetables.

We moved in at the beginning of the Spring, following a dreadfully cold winter that had seen us relinquish residency in a gorgeous, but freezing cold and impossible to heat sixteenth century farm house on the other side of town.  I was sad to leave the old farm house — which I still remember with incredible fondness (I didn’t notice the cold, and had adored being snowed in)– but fell in love with this amazing garden.

Always an outdoor child, I lost myself in the depths of this garden, climbing trees, dabbling in the brook, struggling through the undergrowth to pick wild growing raspberries and peas, and wriggling new potatoes from under the rich, pliable earth.  It was heaven, and even more so when I was given some precious seeds to plant for myself: some carrots and lettuce.

When we moved on, I was sad to lose my paradise (although the new village offered new lanes to explore on my bike, an old quarry where iridescent dragonflies flitted over a blue lake, and the ruins of an old abbey to clamber around).

Fast forward many years, to my first house in suburban Melbourne on the other side of the world, and a pocket handkerchief garden which we planted out with a wilderness of native plants and a tiny veggie patch.  And the most brilliant lemon tree ever.

Later, in Canberra, we repeated the exercise, adding a duck pond and some suitable garden fowl (sadly, meeting their demise at the hands – or teeth — of a neighbour’s visitor’s dogs)… and eventually moving to Seventy Seven Acres, a dream come true, but a gardening nightmare.

Hence I say that  I’m not very good at gardening.  We have a short growing season, wedged between cold and frosty winters and hot, dry summers (bar this year, where it was cool and rainy), and thin, rocky soil.

Our raised beds, inherited from the previous owners, grow weeds better than anything else, and this year in particular, were quick to bolt.  I’m learning as I go, however, and this year we enjoyed an abundance of strawberries, our first raspberries, asparagus, lemons and a variety of herbs.

Always keen to learn from those who know, I have a myriad of gardening books that I have been collecting over the years — several shelves worth of them, I have to admit, because books are my weakness!  The first was given to me by a family friend all those years ago in Melbourne… the most recent a pristine publication picked up whilst looking for something else entirely.

a selection of my books... and these are just the veggie ones!

a selection of my books… and these are just the veggie ones!

One day, I’ll get it right.  Although I do have plans for creating a large natural stone walled garden filled with everything we can grow that we like to eat, for now I’m working on my little veggie patch, and just enjoying what I can until I can find a knowledgeable local to teach me a thing or two in return for my labour in their garden… or find that elusive book with all the wisdom I seek…

...my first and much used gardeing book... still a firm favourite...

…my first and much used gardening book… still a firm favourite…

Will these provide the answer to the knowledge I seek?

Will these provide the answer to the knowledge I seek?

Or, perhaps this one will...

Or, perhaps this one will…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This week the title quote is from Nathaniel Hawthorne:

I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house.
So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air.

Season of Mists…

mistAutumn is my favourite time of year, as the weather cools but you still have warm, sunny days to enjoy outside. Nights can be chill, but there is nothing quite like snuggling under your quilt, which I find much more conducive to a good night’s rest. I am not a fan of those hot, sleepless, summer nights.

We are already starting to wake up to misty mornings, and it is definitely not getting light until quite late, which makes fitting my morning walk in before heading off to school a bit tricky.

mist over the valley

Matt seems to be finding plenty to do outside during the day, and high on his list is getting our woodpile built up again before the cold weather does hit, but he is also hoping to find a day when he can complete some repairs on our drinking water header tank which is leaking a bit.

Not today. Too windy.

Which also means that it is not a great day for trying to tidy up some of the garden beds with a bit of paper over the weeds and mulch on top of that… I tried pulling weeds, but the little darlings just regrew before I had a chance to cover up the bare earth with something ‘not weeds’.

The circular bed at the front of the house – where we planted our anniversary roses a couple of years ago – seems to be scarily short of soil over the tree roots after my zealous attempt to pull out copious quantities of grass and clover. I don’t want to import soil, but our rocky ground doesn’t have a lot to spare. I’m thinking of cutting the clover that has regrown and simply digging it back in (gently) as a ‘green manure’ and mulching over the top with dried poa grass.
Rose

The veggie patch is also in dire need of some tidying up. After a season where nearly everything either bolted or just refused to grow at all, nothing in between, the biggest success seems to be our asparagus babies which are just plodding on, and a whole pile of carrots that have self seeded everywhere!

I’m thinking that a scythe and a sheet of black plastic spread over the top of each bed is the way to go, to let it all compost over winter, ready for a bit of work come spring. I also want to work on building a better enclosure, something that surrounds the area as a whole rather than each individual bed. It has proved too difficult to work with the mini-enclosures, although they have been relatively effective in keeping wallabies, possums and goats at bay.

The early strawberries were great, but I suspect the late end of the season was too wet. That, and a cheeky burrawang who uses the wallaby- and possum- deterrent fence as a perch to spot young strawberries to thieve! At first I thought he was chasing insects and snails, but I’ve seen him fly away with a beak full of not-quite-ripe fruit several times now.

Our new raspberry plant provided a few pieces of luscious fruit, over which we all drooled as we shared out the meagre pickings. Enough to persuade me that we need to work on building up our supply of canes for next year.

The big project – a tiered garden bed above the dam – is still waiting for us to afford the tractor or ‘dozer to do the hard work of terracing the rocky hillside, but each year my vision for that changes a little and I am now imagining a quarry garden, sheltered and sunny like our front garden, lined with a vine covered glasshouse across the back and semi wild beds surrounded by a small mixed orchard.

Or, as Matt says, dream on!

 dreams of a quarry garden for our veggies, similar to the lovely shletered area atthe front of the house

In the meantime, the title quote comes from a poem (a favourite of mine) by John Keats:

To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

…when the bough breaks

There is always something that needs doing around the property.

The remains of the pump house down by the main dam!

The remains of the pump house down by the main dam!

This little project has been waiting for a while, but really needs to be sorted out, sooner rather than later, to protect the pump that makes sure the garden water tank is always full.

In the background is the large tree that fell on it, another ‘little project’ that we are still working on clearing up.

There is some nice wood in the old tree, so we aren’t too keen on relegating it directly to firewood.  Matt thinks he can do some rough planks to make a bench and possible picnic table if we can be patient enough to let it dry out properly.

In the meantime, the tarpaulin that we threw over the top of the old pump house to keep the weather out keeps getting blown off, and when I went out to measure the concrete pad it sits on this morning, I really couldn’t be sure what might be lurking amongst the alluring blue folds.

I maintain a healthy respect for some of the more slithery brands of wildlife that we share our home with.  The tarpaulin has to go.

We haven’t been able to source a replacement shed of the same size at a reasonable price, but Matt found some fairly cheap prefab sheds at the local hardware store.  The one he snapped up looks like it might be too small to fit the pump and all its bits and pieces inside, as well the power point, but, it’s okay, he already has alternative plans for that shed and has his eye on another ‘bargain’ in a slightly larger size.

While the original pump house was just tall enough to fit the pump, the new shed will be able to house some tools as well so that we can leave a few things down near the dam.  We have plans to build a garden on the north facing slope that runs down to the water – maybe a small orchard or some grape vines , or possibly even an extended veggie patch.

Whatever we decide on, the first job will be to erect some kind of enclosure to keep ‘the wallaby’ out.  He doesn’t just eat the fruit, he eats the entire plant, as we have found to our detriment with a cherry tree, an apple, a green gage, and our pear tree (which was doing so well) in our back garden.  I chased him off the peach tree the other day, but some of the lower branches are looking a bit sad.

The impromptu chicken wire fences around the existing garden beds have done their job at keeping young Wally, the possum(s), and the goats at bay, but, sadly, were unable to repel the late frosts that killed off our tomato plants and seriously stunted everything else, or the hot, dry days over summer that took their toll on our veggies.

I’d like to spend more time in the garden, bringing on more edibles by preference, but when school is in, time is regrettably short, so the garden just isn’t looking all that bright at the moment

If nothing else, there’s a lot of weeding to get done.  Not Matt’s favourite job, so it generally comes down to me.  That, and putting up scrappy looking chicken wire fences (that sag, so the possums don’t feel confident climbing over them).  Still, the roses are starting to recover inside their wire-y prison, so I can’t complain too much.

a couple of brave roses putting on a show...

a couple of brave roses putting on a show…

I’ll let you know how the shed project goes.

Spring is in the Air…

...view up the hill towards the house from the bottom dam... our plans are to clear this area of shrubs and grasses and 'lift' the trees to create a park like area where the 'roos can graze... one day... soon...

The view up the hill towards the house as shown in my earlier post…

Earlier in the year I wrote about our project to clear the slope down to the lower dam behind the house, and I have to say, that even though we slid backwards a bit on this over the colder winter months, the project is back on track and Matt is doing an amazing job.

The work in progress… looking a bit sad at the moment, but once we have it cleared we can start greening it up a bit.

 

 

 

In the long term, we are hoping to encourage some pasture or lawn grass to grow there instead of the long, tussocky poa grass, and then the challenge will be to entice the ‘roos to come and graze and keep it nice and short.  We don’t think this will be too much of a challenge, however, as our ‘lawn’ (as we euphemistically call the grass surrounding the house)  is maintained quite nicely by them.  For now, though, we will just be happy to have extended our buffer zone around the house block.

 

 

I, of course, should be helping, but I managed to twist my knee earlier in the school break, and am finding balancing on the rocky, uneven slope a bit awkward.  Excuses aside, there is plenty to keep me occupied, anyway.

I’ve been working on getting our veggie patch up and running again.  After our fiasco with the possum who ate all our veggies last year (except for one, small head of broccoli that I’m not even sure he hadn’t nibbled on), as well as our roses, I’ve been working hard to find a cheap and easy way to possum-proof the beds.  They also need to be swamp-wallaby-proof.  And feral-goat-proof.  As I discovered one day last week when we had all been out and came back to find a small herd of goats absolutely feasting on anything they could get their teeth into!

Our veggie patch, as viewed from the hill above the house.

Our veggie patch, as viewed from the hill above the house.

Enter the chicken wire.  Which is surrounding the beds as we get them planted up.  Not nice taut, chicken wire, stretched between pretty posts, but slightly floppy – because, apparently, possums don’t like climbing it when it is – and tall enough to dissuade wallabies and goats.  We hope.  Although, I suppose that will depend on their determination and just how tempting our crop will be.

At the moment we are re-using some rolls of ex-fencing wire that we have found left lying around the property, but we’re being a bit careful.  Matt saw a brown snake running (sliding) for cover under one such roll, late last summer.

So far, I have weeded one-and-a-half beds and transplanted our asparagus and some tomatoes and celery into one of them.  The toms are under glass as we are still having some frosts, and the asparagus is pretty much hidden under the mulch of poa grass we are experimenting with.

Our permanent bed for the asparagus, alongside the rhubarb that i tried unsuccessfully to move last year.

Our permanent bed for the asparagus, alongside the rhubarb that I tried (unsuccessfully) to move last year.  Note the extremely attractive fencing.

The next bed along is our strawberry patch, which I was going to thin out until I saw all the tiny flowers.  I didn’t take much persuading to move on to the next bed and leave the strawberries in peace.

I’m half way through getting this one free of weeds.  I’ve pulled out about three different kinds of oxalis, various grasses, and something that is possibly santolina.  Another experiment has been to chop up and turn over the clover as a sort of ‘green manure’.  I’ll be interested to see whether it just grows back or not.  I’ve got quite a lot of things planned for this bed, so hopefully by planting heavily I’ll keep it weed free.

If you compare the two sides you can see how overgrown the bed had become.  I'm going to try out some companion planting in here, including some potatoes and a variety of brassicas, bush beans and an onion or two!

If you compare the two sides you can see how overgrown the bed had become. I’m going to try out some companion planting in here, including some potatoes and a variety of brassicas, bush beans, and an onion or two!

Two more beds to go after that, including one that will be challenging to possum-proof, and then a herb bed to tidy up.

Just one or two things to keep me going for a while.