Bee School 2.0

I was lucky enough to attend another round of Bee School these past three weekends, which finished up yesterday. So. Much. FUN! 

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I got in touch with my teacher earlier in the year about my losing my hives in the fire and along with advice and commiserations, he offered a spot in this season's classes to help keep my skills up. So whilst this round was a generous freebie, once again I can happily say: bee school is the best school!

The location had changed - closer to home in a pretty riverside setting, and conveniently located next to my GP... not that one was required ;) - however the format was very similar to last time round. We suited up early on the first morning, and had plenty of time at the hives during all three lessons. I am such a fan of this type of immersion class - book-learning on my lonesome is my happy place... BUT when it comes to a skill like beekeeping, I really believe you need hands-on experience with a teacher guiding you, in the moment. You need the same things shown to you week after week until they have time to sink in. You need repetition, clear examples, and a teacher with endless patience for the "stupid questions". I'm not sure I would have the confidence to open a hive on my own if it weren't for this early guidance through the process before tackling it solo.

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By week three, everyone was confidently lighting smokers, opening hives, conducting hive inspections and even helping our teacher transfer a swarm hive into a new box. I'm sure many of us will realise we still have questions now that the course has ended, but they'll be questions we might not have thought to ask (or known WHO to ask) before taking the course. And isn't that great?!?! To realise that, actually, there's HEAPS I don't know and I want to learn the answers. My mind is wandering to Rumsfeld's "known knowns, known unknowns, unknown unknowns" tangled truism, but it is so very true. Part of learning is realising how much more learning there is still to do. 

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Anyhoo, if you're interested in exactly how the course runs, you can check out my previous post and further information about the course can be found on the Canberra Bees website. While you're there, I definitely suggest joining the forum because it's an amazing source of information and support if you're starting out in beekeeping. Much of the advice is Canberra-region specific, but the "Renegade Bee Keeper" (or RBK, who runs the site) is unbelievably generous with his expertise and I'm sure he would happily help people further afield if he can. And because I've heard from lots of readers who've bought or been gifted a Flow Hive, I should mention that it's also a great spot to get advice about using, and adapting, Flow Hives.

And for all you beeple-people, a little bit of #queenspotting to end the post...

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Garden Ramble // Tulip Top Gardens

Tulip Top is one of those places I've vaguely thought about visiting for a few years, but never quite mustered the enthusiasm to make it happen. It always seemed like a bit of a tourist trap off the highway into Canberra, with its giant billboard and kitschy name.

But this year a girlfriend suggested a school holiday visit with the kids, and another garden-loving friend posted some gorgeous photos on instagram - through her lens it looked less cliche-tourist-exhibit, more gorgeous cold-climate garden in full spring blossom. I figured that it was worth a visit for inspiration, even if artistically-planned tulip displays really aren't my thing (and are free to see just down the road at Floriade right now).

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I'm pleased to say that my fear of underwhelm was tossed aside as soon as we got past the carpark. This garden is extraordinary! Seen from above, it is a canopy of deciduous trees, pines and conifers set into an otherwise totally unremarkable landscape. ("Unremarkable" in so far as that it is pretty typical for the NSW southern tablelands, in spring, after a long dry spell.)

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But just down that purple-hued slope covered with rosemary (and bees!) is a dreamy cold-climate rural garden, in full spring glory.

The tulips are certainly a feature, along with other bulbs and short-lived flowering annuals, but rather than being the only thing to see (as at Floriade), they are merely a fun seasonal display. They actually play second-fiddle to the extraordinary array of flowering ornamental trees in the garden.

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Not a single kitschy "flowers as art" display to be found - all the tulips were neatly tucked under deciduous trees, or formed into raised beds to divide the garden into smaller spaces for families to picnic and kids to run amok.  

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Our kids picked a picnic spot up the slope, hidden in a grove of crab apples, and it honestly felt like we were the only people there despite it being a super busy day in the garden. What a well-designed garden, that so many people can all enjoy it without feeling on top of each other.

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And the blossom! Oh the blossom! Cue the gratuitous crab apple blossom porn in 3..2...1...

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Another thing that really appealed to me about Tulip Top was that whilst exotic ornamentals were obviously the stars of the garden, they were so neatly mixed in with the occasional gum tree. Rather than completely erasing native trees (or trying to hide them), a few beautiful old eucalypts were incorporated into the main part of the garden, and they looked so wonderful included in this way. I adore eucalypts, and while they can be hazardous if allowed to grow too close to structures, I still want to be able to celebrate them at Widgetopia rather than build a garden that entirely ignores where we are located. Exotic trees and shrubs are shade-giving, bee-friendly, protectively fire-resistant and just plain glorious, but we live in Australia and have so many beautiful native trees and shrubs that can be worked into a mixed garden without losing those features. Tulip Top does a lovely job of that, I think.

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Anyhoo, suffice to say that Tulip Top well and truly exceeded my (granted, very low) expectations. If you live in the Canberra region it is totally worth the $16 entry fee (free for all kids). And if you are heading down for Floriade, definitely pop off the highway to see it - I would gamble that you will like it more than our city's famous tulip festival. 

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Plots and Plans // Windbreaks

Plots and Plans is a series of posts in which I daydream about ideas we have for our garden. Unless noted, the images in this series are not mine and have been found around the interwebs - all are clearly linked to their original source by clinking on the image and by clicking the links at the bottom of the post. 

We are pretty used to the "August winds" at Widgetopia - every year, right on cue, we spend the month of August making the most of any lulls in the crazy buffeting to go outside, and then dash inside to bunker down when it picks up and drives us mad for most of the day and night.

I'm reasonably confident that this year has been the most windy yet. I suspect that is partly because we lost a lot of the garden and all of our trees which previously diverted the wind nearest to the house. But I also think it has just been a much windier August (uhum, August, you ended weeks ago! Cut the winds already!).

Anyhoo, the upshot is that hubby and I have been talking windbreaks.

It seems extremely likely that the winds will only get more intense and last for longer stretches in the years to come. We don't want to spend the rest of our spring days hiding inside, so we have to think about how best to manage this issue. Obviously the simplest answer is planning and planting windbreaks - the trick is, where and what to plant?

In our region, large farms utilise windbreaks really well to help with erosion and crop and livestock protection. There are loads of beautiful examples of huge, acres-long breaks around here. However, most of the windbreaks we see are native trees (eucalypts) and shrubs (casaurina, acacia and grevillea, mostly), or huge pine trees or conifers. All wonderfully beautiful - and all highly flammable. Absolutely not going to happen here. 

So, we are exploring alternatives that are viable in our garden.

Last weekend we put in a line of bare root poplars (Populus simonii) along a fence line in front of the parking area and shed. We are hoping this helps to prevent the parking area from turning into an impenetrable dust cloud, and make accessing the shed a little less fraught on windy days. It should also provide good shade onto the shed and act as a last line fire break should a future fire come from the west again.

We are planning on putting in a deciduous forest below the bottom terrace of the garden (but within the backyard fence line) over the coming years. This will be a mixed, informal planting of deciduous trees that do well in our area - like robinia, tulip trees, ashes, elms, birches and the like. Think: lots of autumn colour and summer shade. It'll take a long time for these trees to reach a height to provide us with a windbreak for the house (which is on the top terrace), but they will hopefully help to make the bottom of the garden more useable in windy weather, even when they are small. Not to mention, of course, they will have excellent firebreak potential. We plan to underplant the "forest" with lawn first, but over time as the trees reach a full canopy, we hope to underplant with flowering bulbs and shade loving ground covers like violas, vinca and hellebores (to maximise bee forage). Something like at Kiloren, a garden in Crookwell originally designed by Edna Walling (you can find my full garden ramble post on that garden here).

We are also thinking about using well-placed hedges and small shrubberies to provide pockets of shelter throughout the garden. Hubby spent a few hours over the weekend moving soil onto exposed patches of the backyard which we will seed with grass, and with all that time pottering on the tractor he was inspired to make a plan for the rest of that area. At the moment it is a sad, wasted part of the garden - it adjoins the Coopermarket, right where the lovely chook coop was before being destroyed in the fire, and has been a bit too depressing to tackle until now. He sketched up his idea last night and I love it!

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You can see the recently planted poplar row on the left of the sketched image (they look a little forlorn and, quite ironically, wind beaten). Now to tackle the line of shrubs he has sketched on the right... hubby was thinking of something less formal than a neat hedge, which would require a level of maintenance we are just not willing to commit to. I think we could use photinia here, but allow them to be more rounded and free form than often seen when used as hedges. It would have to be the newer variety, Photinia x fraseri 'Red Robin', because Photinia glabra ‘Robusta' makes my tummy turn (it's that super stinky photinia that is planted all around Canberra suburbs - ugh!). 

We would like to include hedges and shrubberies like these at various places around the garden, to give us lots of smaller breaks. We can certainly replant the terrace garden beds with this in mind too, underplanting larger shade trees with mid-height shrubs to provide one continuous block of foliage.

Restarting the garden is such a lot of work to contemplate, but one thing at a time - let's get a few windbreaks in and allow them time to grow, to protect the garden (and us) in the years to come. 

The quick and the dead

I spent a few hours in the garden with my littlest the other day, tidying up the area outside his bedroom and getting it ready to replant. Unsurprisingly, we mostly pulled out dead things (well, he pretended to chainsaw them down with a stick, you know, “helping”) but, happily, there are soooooo many bulbs popping up all over that garden bed. This has been such a welcome surprise! Who knew they would survive?!

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The day after the fire, when we were allowed to reenter our property, my husband rushed around trying to replace some piping, isolate destroyed water tanks and do other vital things, whilst I fruitlessly tried to put out the fires still burning around the house with random, spoiled liquids from the fridge. After experiencing the initial overwhelming relief of finding we still had a house, I couldn’t get over the fact that everything around the house was still on fire. Every single garden bed was burning, a full 24 hours after the fire had hit. It was scary (could we leave our house overnight, which we had to do, and still find it there the next day?) and it was deeply distressing - I mean, flames were licking the windows of my kids’ rooms and it made me mama-fierce.

The amazing fire fighters who kept showing up to put out spot fires throughout the day reassured us that the house wouldn’t burn down - they were going to be there all through the night too and this was possibly the most protected our house would ever be - but that the fires around the house would likely keep burning for a day or two longer. The fire gets into the mulch (grrrrr mulch - a post for another day, but suffice to say we have completely changed our mulching plan from here on out) and then deep in the soil. Gosh this shocked me - I truly never knew that bushfires can keep burning long, long after the front has passed over. I mean, of course it makes sense, but I had never considered it before.

Anyhoo, the upshot was that the garden beds were burning for about 48 hours and I didn’t think a single plant could survive that. And while most things did indeed die, some plants (like those bulbs outside my son’s bedroom) SURVIVED!

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I thought it might be useful to share the things that are still alive and the things that we hold out hope for over the spring, in case you live in a vulnerable area and want to think about what might be best in your garden.

There are many amazing resources online (I'll link some at the end of this post) which provide well-researched advice to maximise the chances of your home surviving a bushfire. These include studies and resources about fire retardant and fire resistant plants, and they are great guides. But I wanted to share our experience because the theory doesn't always marry up with what happens in reality. For example, the flammability of plants is determined in lab conditions, using either fresh samples or oven-dried samples. Oven-dried is probably the most relevant because high-risk fire days are usually characterised by baking temperatures and the fire-front has so much heat ahead of it that anything which was fresh, or even freshly watered, is neither of those things by the time the fire hits. Certainly, some plants are far more flammable than others and really shouldn't be planted near your home, but realistically, all plants, even the fire retardant or resistant ones, are going to be potential fuel for a bushfire. Many of the plants listed in the expert advice were planted in our garden (because we had followed the advice!) and they didn't survive. Of course, had our garden been more established (with another decade or two of growing time before a bushfire), more may well have survived. And certainly, we are still very glad we had those plants in the garden - many of them probably had a protective factor for the house. I just make note of this because "fire retardant or resistant" does not mean you will still have a garden to return to after a bushfire.

WHAT SURVIVED

Ornamental pear trees - very few of our trees survived, and this is perhaps the saddest part of losing the garden. But what I found quite interesting is that even in parts of the garden where almost nothing survived, one or two ornamental pears look like they might be okay (time will tell for sure). They certainly didn't all make it - some burst into bud or blossom in a last-ditch attempt at life in the month after the fire and then promptly gave up - but a few look like they will be okay. Yay! 

Bulbs of all sorts - most of the bulbs that were at least 2 inches below the ground seem to have survived. In fact, some were thrown into an early spring and burst into life in the months after the fire (presumably because of the sudden increase in soil temperatures?), so they did suffer a bit through the first part of winter. Despite that, I’d say that about half of the bulbs we had before the fire seem to have popped up in the last month or so.

Hellebores - to be fair, at the tail end of summer the hellebores were mostly bare so there wasn’t much surface area to burn but, unlike the bulbs, they were still above ground. Yet even in garden beds that were alight a day later, many of the hellebores survived and are now in flower. They are bringing me so much joy this spring!

May bush - I have been amazed by how many May bushes survived - four are alive, about the same number dead. A month or so after the fire, I cut the surviving ones back almost to the ground, so they are all a fraction of the size they were, but I have a feeling that they will make a great comeback this spring.

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Carpet roses - in one of our terrace beds, the carpet roses at both ends have survived - and flowered again recently! They were so badly burned that we truly didn’t think they would come back at all, but a super heavy pruning did them the world of good. Other carpet roses around the garden weren’t so lucky. Sadly, not one of my beautiful old species roses survived. I’ll have to hunt around for some more in the coming years.

Lilacs - almost all of them survived and not one of them was a huge, established plant. I have been so impressed with the survival rate of the lilacs, and so grateful that some of them look like they are about to flower - I'm definitely going to be including more in our replanting!

Irises - goodness these recovered quickly! Almost all the irises started reshooting within weeks of the fire and have seemingly happily kept growing throughout the winter.

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Convolvulus - a few died, but many of them recovered and are already starting to flower. 

The lawns - I have made note of this in an earlier post, but the lawns have all recovered in varying degrees and almost certainly made the difference between a defendable house and a destroyed one. 

Everything that was directly water bombed - our house and shed were both water bombed, and there is one section of garden on the south east side of the house that didn't burn as a result of that water hit. Some plants in that area died from radiant heat exposure, but everything else survived including (we are fairly certain - tbc) the 6 lovely Robinia psuedoacacia mop tops just outside the laundry - yay!

WHAT DIDN'T SURVIVE

The maple grove - we had put loads of love (and money) into our maple grove. It was a large area directly in front of the verandah, on the west side of the house, which was the direction of the fire front when it hit our place. None of the trees were more than 5 years old, so we aren't talking about huge 10m specimens which may have had a better chance of surviving, but all of them were characterised as "fire resistant". Whilst not one maple survived we are fairly certain that its presence is part of the reason we still have a house. The kids' cubby house was in the middle of the grove and it was non-existent after the fire, just a small pile of dust, one piece of tin and some screws remained. And yet about a dozen of the maples were still in the ground, clearly dead, but not physically gone. The ones right below the verandah almost looked like they might recover (sadly none did). We think, although we aren't certain, that the fire resistant maples gave enough of a buffer for the firefighters who stood on the lawns and, eventually, the verandah to fight the fire. The fire investigators were very interested in the maple grove and took a lot of photos and notes about it, and I suspect that is why. Anyhoo, we will definitely be replanting the grove over the next few years, as time and money allow.

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The orchard - our very productive orchard was totally destroyed, which was heartbreaking. It was the first thing we planted when we moved here, and it provided us with so much delicious fruit in recent years. But like the maple grove, it was in the direct path of the fire and possibly helped to protect the house a little (fruit trees are considered to be fire resistant). We intend to plant a new orchard but this time we will include it in the Coopermarket so that it is easier and less inconvenient to net over the summer months.

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Our giant forest pansy - this loss is so sad, as we had such a huge, glorious tree outside the kids' rooms and it looked like it might recover for a while there. I suspect it was too damaged in its roots because the bed was burning for so long after the fire. We had a second smaller forest pansy on the other side of the house and it also died. Not the most resilient of trees (which we had always noticed in dryer times anyway - they need a LOT of coddling).

Ornamental apricots, cherries and crab apples - none survived, even when they were planted directly next to an ornamental pear that did survive. They were all young, but so were the pears, so I suspect that they are just much more susceptible to burn and heat damage, particularly to their roots.

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All other trees and shrubs - including some well established fire resistant trees like Chinese pistachios, liquidambar and tulip trees, as well as camellias, roses, smoke bushes (ironic really!), crepe myrtles and a few succulents (which are fire retardant, but evidently not in these conditions). I guess the heat and extended burning was just too much, which makes the fact that most of the ornamental pears survived the same exposure seem even more extraordinary.

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We know we are just so very lucky to have any garden left at all. Whilst it is devastating to lose much of our beautiful space that we've worked so hard on over the years, we have a lot to be grateful for. This is becoming more and more evident as spring progresses and things recover, even where we least expect them to. And, more than anything else, we survived and we still have our home. For that I will always, always be grateful.

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Other resources:  An incredibly comprehensive guide to landscaping for bushfire safety  |  A useful plant list  |  Advice about reestablishing your garden after a bushfire  |  Super interesting scientific study about the flammability of plants  |  

When one lacks a garden of one’s own

Well hello there friends,

Apologies, I haven’t been here in a while. It’s not so much been through a lack of inspiration (although that has ebbed more than flowed of late), but because… well, what does one write about on a gardening blog when the garden is no more?

I’d love to share some of the goings-on around Widgetopia without feeling overly restricted by the gardening genre of this blog… which isn’t to say that there will be a massive thematic departure on here - nature is my jam, after all - but I hope that the total lack of a garden of one’s own might not exclude me from writing here when inspiration does, sporadically, strike.

So —

Autumn passed in a perversely beautiful display at Widgetopia - who knew that the Australian bush could rival European forests for beautiful fall colours? I guess we found out the hard way, but it definitely can.

Not much got done here in those autumn months, sadly. I always kind of understood on some level that natural disaster recovery efforts were slow and drawn out, but I now know that huge reserves of patience are required. And we are a few of the lucky* ones after this bushfire, so we have nothing but gratitude for anything getting done at all (*though perhaps “luckier ones” is a better phrase because I am so sick of being told that we are just sooooooooo lucky after all of this - pardon my annoyance, but GRRRRRRR!). 

Insurance is a wonderful thing, but goodness me, it does not move swiftly. At all. In fact, it is just this past fortnight that the insurance subcontractors have begun any work out here. In the meantime of course we have done what we can, but it’s funny how limited that work can be when insurance claims need to be settled first. 

So, here we are, mid-winter and things are on the go. Fences are being mended, garden beds are being rebuilt. The shed is due to be torn down, panel-by-panel, and reconstructed in-situ next week. Hopefully (please please!) replacement tanks are imminent. We are getting there with the larger structural things, and come spring hopefully we can start on the garden. If I’m honest, I’m really not looking forward to that process… I feel guilty saying that the garden is too much, but it is. Emotionally, physically… it just seems too big a task to undertake all over again. But motivation will hopefully return a little, and things tend to get done eventually around here even without huge reserves of inspiration, so hopefully that will happen in time with the garden too.

I’ll leave it at that for now… sorry for being a bit glass-half-empty, but that’s the reality of things and I’d like this space to be truthful if nothing else. On a positive note, we have been loving watching the regrowth of the eucalypts on Widgetopia. It's stunning really, watching the leaves pop out all over the blackened trees. We potter around the property every day to see what's new. As a result, I’ve rekindled my (post-summer, seriously dwindling) love affair for our Aussie bush, and have fallen headlong down a rabbit hole of trying to really understand the native forest here. It's good and cup-filling-upeth. I will definitely have more to share on that front soon.

Until then, happy hibernating to you all xxx

Starting from scratch... from scratch

Where to begin? 

Oh goodness, where to begin? Actually, that is the perfect place to start because "where to begin?" is the phrase most repeated in our home right now. Where on earth do we begin?

On 17 February, a bushfire hit Widgetopia. It was dreadfully quick and thorough. It was utterly devastating. 

Image source: ABC News

Image source: ABC News

Thanks to the incredible bravery of the women and men of the Rural Fire Service - people who travelled hundreds of kilometres to help save the homes of total strangers - our house and shed were saved. How that was possible I cannot even begin to answer. The roof of our house caught alight, the pylons of the verandah were smouldering, the walls of the shed were singed and yet, here I sit having a cup of tea at my kitchen bench. Bizarre. 

We lost a lot. All 20 acres were alight, much of our garden was destroyed, our beautiful cabin is no more (a dear friend described the photo of it below as a "puddle of building", and that seems most sadly descriptive). Infrastructure we need to live here - our water tanks, plumbing, septic system - were all destroyed. But, BUT, we have our home! So many of our neighbours lost absolutely everything and were not as fortunate as us. Twelve families on our street were rendered homeless, possessionless, in one harrowing afternoon. It beggars belief.

So, where to begin? We honestly didn't really know for the first month or so. We started to repair the essentials in the first few days after we were allowed to reenter the property. We are dealing with our insurance company and too many subcontractors to count. We are all set to start rebuilding our beloved cabin. And whilst many may not see it as a priority in the aftermath of a bushfire, we have begun in earnest to rebuild our gardens. Starting with the one corner of the house that sustained no damage beyond heat stress, we started tidying, mulching, replanting. We have spread 50kg of grass seed atop the charcoal that was our lawns, and our terraces are looking almost artificially green and lush as a result. Actually, things are looking rather beautiful in a perverse way. Like an autumn that arrived much too early and thoroughly.

Before I show the newest of our "before" photos (because of course we fully intend to have more beautiful "after" photos again soon), I should say here that we have ZERO regrets about putting 6 years of tireless work in to our gardens only to have it almost totally destroyed in minutes. We spent every evening after work and all our weekends before we had our babies, and then every "spare" moment with them (often with a baby strapped to my chest), in our gardens and on our trails: building, planting, slowly coaxing our property to the stage it was a few months ago. It has been an intense labour of love. The fire investigators spent some time around our house taking photos and data for future teaching, because by rights our house should not have survived. Yes, it was water bombed by aircraft multiple times, but given the speed, ferocity and direction of the fire, our house could easily have been expected to be destroyed. Certainly there is a HUGE element of luck to account for this outcome (just look at the images of the perfectly prepared houses in our street that are no more), but the landscaping and gardens seem to have played an enormous roll in the survival of our home. I might write a bit more about this one day and I have written previously about the benefits of lawn in bushfire protection, but for now I will simply say - no regrets. And we will re-plan and replant, to grow our beautiful, soul-filled and soul-fulfilling garden once again... because:

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.
— Audrey Hepburn

(In case you are new to The Tree Diaries, the most recent photos of our garden before the bushfire can be found here).

Widgetopia: The first 5 years

This blog is, at least in part, the story of our garden. The dreaming of it, the making of it, the sheer hard work of it. It is not a finished story (not by any means!!), but that doesn't make it any less of a tale.

This afternoon we did the first mow of the season and, as we looked around, it was impossible not to think about how much has changed since we first moved here in July 2011. Ordinarily the shame of our weeds and the list of Things We Haven't Accomplished threaten to blind me to what we have achieved, and definitely prevent me from sharing our garden (or photos of it) with others. I tend to focus on the single beautiful flower rather than the whole garden - much easier to tilt-shift out the bad bits that way ;) But that's ridiculous and totally misleading and not at all what I want this sporadic blogging thing to be. 

So, hereunder lies an unedited, warts-and-all photo essay illustrating the making of this little piece of paradise we call home. I didn't bother to pick up the things dumped on the porch, or pretend that we don't have tools and old gates and junk around the Coopermarket. I haven't taken the laundry off the deck or hidden the kids' toys dumped around the yard... No editing, just real life. Enjoy!

[Note: most of the "befores" in this post are from the day we came out to inspect the house before we put in an offer. There are a some in here taken shortly after we moved in and did the clearing, and after we built the eight Coopermarket garden beds, but many are pre-ownership photos. Every single "after" shot is from this lovely spring afternoon. The time of day and time of year don't marry up with the originals, but you get the idea.]

The Coopermarket

Out the back (the back garden)

The Terraces (formerly The Dustbowl)

The front entrance

Before I finish, I should point out that we fell in love with our property as it was, without wanting to make any landscaping changes. We both love the Australian bush and simply wanted to spend all of our time building trails to ride and run (which is what we did for pretty much the entire first year here, by the light of head torches each night after work and every spare moment on the weekends). I wanted the bush to come right up to the doors and windows of the house, just as it had when we first fell in love with the place. However the danger of bushfires made clearing around the house a necessity, so we cleared and then contemplated our next move. A few years later, this is where we are up to. Plenty more to do (these photos are SCREAMING at me to add to my list!), but totally smitten with where we're at.

And lest you think that we have our sh*t together... as I was uploading these photos from my phone today, I noticed this. Many years later and the shovel still gets dumped in the same spot every time!

Around here

"Living seasonally" seems to be a bit of a thing these days, albeit somewhat hard to translate into an Australian lifestyle. Australian seasons tend to blur into one very long hot summer and a mild, miscellaneous season of spring-like weather but, in the southern tablelands, winter is very real indeed. Living seasonally on our little mountainside is somewhat inevitable and, to me, it is all kinds of wonderful! 

Whilst we don't get the deep, months-long freeze that marks winter in some parts of the world, we do get much colder weather than the rest of Australia. We've had several deep frosts so far this winter and hibernation is in full swing. Unlike summer, where the chores seem endless and the days are loooonnnnnggg and busy and the water tanks run dry and the bushfires threaten and the snakes are every whichway and it is so flippin hot all the time and URRRRGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!! 

Ahhhh, winter. She slows everything way way down and is naturally much more simple. The days are short and the mornings are too cold to achieve much of anything. We write far fewer "to-dos" and the pressure to get through them is much less. Our weekends suddenly feel restful, rather than a 48-hour block of hard labouring. The garden also slows right down - very little maintenance required - but it is the nicest time of the year to be outside for the warm hours in the middle of a crisp sunny day. Gardening becomes a lovely pleasure again, instead of a frustrating battle against the elements. I slowly rebuild my much-waning enthusiasm and have the space to daydream about things I'd like to do in the garden when spring rolls around. Winter, a proper winter, is so restorative and I absolutely adore it... -10°C and all!

Our winter days revolve around the fireplace: collecting firewood from where we have left it dotted around the property to weather over the summer, collecting kindling on a walk with the pup, setting the fire in the way that I was taught when I was a little girl. And then playing with the kids in front of the fire, drying the washing in front of the fire, knitting or reading in front of the fire... The fireplace truly is the heart (or hearth ;) of our home for the three or four months of winter.

There's not a lot in bloom in the garden at the moment, unsurprisingly. But there is just enough colour to brighten up the gloomiest days, or make a little posy for the kitchen bench. Most of our camellias are taking their time to flower this year, but the deepest red one out the back is looking lovely. 

Hebes are still proving to be one of my absolute favourites for the fluffy flowers they just keep giving.

The first of the daphne is just starting to give off its Fruit Loop-y smell. Sprigs of daphne will be dotted around the house for the rest of winter so that their scent can cheer up my winter-hating hubby.

Our polygala bushes (the ones that survived that is) are still producing flowers like crazy - they are so much more frost-hardy that I realised!

And the iceberg rose, she who I once maligned and now love completely, still has a few perfect blooms. It is just about to finally finish for the year I think, but I am loving each and every flower that has clung on.

Other than that, all is bare and quiet in the garden and I love it. What's going on around your patch this winter?

Thoughts on things. And camellias.

Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but there’s been quite the hiatus here on The Tree Diaries.

I’ve noticed. I’ve had a crisis of confidence of sorts... a moment of questioning why on earth I feel authorised to write about gardening - something that I am learning from scratch and a hobby which stems from passion rather than any sort of expertise - and putting those words out into the world to be judged.

It’s weird, isn’t it, this internet age we live in? Where anyone with a laptop and camera can join the myriad of voices and pitch her views? For sure, I am overthinking this (it’s what I do!). And to be fair, I have a tendency towards an all-or-nothing mentality: not sure how to navigate the tricky world of social media and the blogosphere? Stop sharing anything, anywhere, with anyone!! Ever! Such a sensible, measured reaction… ;)

So in all my adult wisdom, I’ve decided not to be so extreme this time round and instead land upon a middle ground. I love gardens and gardening, and I am a writer to my core, so the blog stays. I’m not fabulous about letting people into all aspects of my life, so social media will take a back seat for a while. 

On that note, if you have been relying on instagram updates about new posts on The Tree Diaries, you might miss a bit (or a lot) from now on. I’m just working on the Winter Edition of the newsletter now, which hopefully will go out in a few weeks, so if you want to stay up-to-date (and get seasonal planting tips and the like), sign up here.

In the meantime, scroll down for a brand new interview in the Gardening From Scratch series, this time with Paul West of River Cottage Australia fame. And, in the spirit of jumping back in, later this week I'll have another post up about my absolute favourite garden in Australia.

And because no blog post is complete without photos of flowers, this one is peppered with beautiful camellias from a recent visit to Cockington Green (an over-priced but fabulously twee miniature village in Canberra). The camellias there are stunning and were in full bloom when we visited. The 15 ft camellia hedges flanking the back path are just incredible... and rub salt into the wounds of a recently failed attempt to do the same at our house, sadly. Anyway, there's nothing that cheers up the cold winter days like beautifully blooming camellias.

Varieties pictured (top to bottom) are: 1 Camellia sasanqua ‘Showa Supreme’; 2 Camellia sasanqua ‘Lucinda’; 3 Camellia sasanqua ‘Showa Supreme’; 4 Camellia sasanqua ‘Exquisite’. 

Bamboo do you do

We use bamboo canes in our garden for lots of different things - staking up tomatoes and beans, supporting protective bags around vulnerable saplings... one memorable time, trying to defend myself against a particularly jerky wallaby (not my finest moment). But, until last spring, it never occurred to us that we could use bamboo that we'd grown ourselves.

Hubby and I were at Glenmore House last year and one of the things we loved about Mickey's kitchen garden is her exceptional use of structures. Specifically, seasonal garden structures. Long lengths of bamboo tied neatly into teepees or crafted into a frame. Wooden pegs holding nets in place, and old rusted tin cans keeping them from lifting in the wind. By summer's end, beans have wound their tendrils 12 ft up around the supports and tower above everything else. Tomatoes have consumed a cross-hatched frame. Berries are running wild, but not out of control, along a temporary fence. It makes a functional space look beautiful. 

Our kitchen garden is not quite so picturesque as the one at Glenmore House, but you get the idea.

Mickey mentioned that the bamboo canes in her garden are ones she's grown herself - primarily because she loves the long lengths that she can harvest (typically, commercial ones are only available up to 1.8m or 6ft long, presumably so that people can fit them in their cars). Until that moment, it had never occurred to either of us that we could grow and harvest our own bamboo for that purpose!

In fact, we already had bamboo growing in the garden. Several years ago we replaced an ugly corrugated metal screen outside our shower window (it's a floor-to-ceiling window) with slatted merbau. It's waaaayyyy prettier, but not quite so private. This is hardly a problem given our location in the middle of nowhere, but when we have visitors it can feel a smidge disconcerting to shower essentially in the open. We planted a maple in the garden bed just outside the window, which is great in the summer, but a bare trunk is hardly going to cover the important bits come winter... So planted bamboo behind the maple. 

Bamboo has a justifiably bad reputation for being an invasive species - it can be incredibly vigorous and the running varieties can easily get away from you and take over. For that reason, we picked a clumping variety, which are far less likely to take off, and we made sure that the garden bed was completely contained by edging to about 3 inches under the soil. So far so good - it has certainly thickened up nicely, and is doing it's job to screen the bathroom window, but it hasn't broken its garden bed confines.

Because it's so vigorous, we've had to cut it back several times in the past few years. And being the somewhat tardy gardener that I am, often this job hasn't happened until the canes are twice the size of the wooden screen. Which, of course, means we have now the perfect super long canes for our towering garden structures! Yay for the to-do list fail! 

I can't imagine that The Coopermarket is suddenly going to be as lovely as the kitchen garden at Glenmore House, but it'll be so nice to build our supporting structures from our own bamboo next spring. 

A tomato epiphany

We are drowning under piles of tomatoes right now. There are baskets and tupperware containers and bowls, and a wheelbarrow for goodness sakes - all completely full of tomatoes. They are haunting my dreams. And we have yet to harvest four of the beds. Oh my.

This happened last year too... Spring finally drags itself out of bed after a long cold winter and I get waaayyyyy overeager in my seed-starting, desperate to make the most of the summer ahead. Plans of growing enough tomatoes to bottle a year's supply of passata seem entirely reasonable in early spring.

Come December and January, I am struggling to find the time and enthusiasm to keep tying up the plants and keep things neat, tidy and somewhat manageable in The Coopermarket. But I figure all will be okay! Wild gardens are healthy gardens right?!?!? 

Cut to February or March (or, as may be the case, April) and the final weeks of harvest - we are overwhelmed with the task of picking and processing and seriously question why we thought it was a good idea to put in 40 tomato plants in the first place. There are those horrible tiny fly/bug thingies hovering around some of the baskets of tomatoes in the kitchen... you just know that means something is rotting and about to liquify, taking a few others along with it. You know that you should be spending every evening processing tomatoes but the motivation up and left when the cold weather finally rolled in. The couch beckons but the tomatoes beckon (taunt) louder.

So, to my ephipany this evening: grow fewer tomatoes!

After much beating-myself-up-for-being-a-terrible-housewife in the past week, I suddenly remembered that our goal was never, and most likely never will be, self-sufficiency. We want to continue to eat seasonally, locally and grow what we can. But if the tomatoes are the break of me every year, there seems to be an easy fix... grow fewer tomatoes!

I will need to be reminded of this plan come September. Inevitably the seed catalogues will call my name and I will get overeager again... I expect that many of my friends will be receiving gifts of tomato seedlings when it comes time to plant. But I already feel a huge weight off my shoulders knowing that, you know what? I can just GROW FEWER TOMATOES!

{The top photo is all of the varieties that we grew this year - all Diggers seeds, a mix of heirloom, organic and hybrid seed types, and all extremely tasty!}

Garden Ramble // Roogulli

My wonderful friend and fellow gardening-from-scratch-in-horribly-rocky-ground warrior, Linda, recently gave me a heads up about an open garden over on her side of our little mountainous region. She said that it sounded like a garden much like the incredibly productive one that she is creating, so of course I was on board to go for a stickybeak.

The owners of Roogulli describe their property as a "small farm and big experiment". They are landscape designers by trade and are using their property to test some of their ideas about sustainably sound landscape design practices. When they bought the property back in 2004, it was pretty much heavily grazed paddocks with a couple of trees dotted around. So truly, they started with a blank slate (albeit one with soil, which neither Linda nor I are able to claim) and have built a productive and beautiful garden in roughly a decade. Even though the garden at Roogulli is vastly different from the one that we are building here, I can't tell you how reassuring it is to know that they have achieved all of this in just 10 years or so. It gives us hope that we are not fighting a losing battle!

The kitchen garden is fully netted, which is a brilliant idea but difficult to execute... Certainly a goal for The Coopermarket, but a distant one. Within its confines, there is a small polytunnel greenhouse with wicking beds, as well as open air beds of fruit and veg. The fence visible from the driveway has been cleverly used to espalier apple trees - the perfect use of space and a lovely way to make the whole space look less utilitarian and "caged". 

Beyond the confines of the kitchen garden, the owners have created what they call a "food forest". The trees within the forest are all fruiting (not an ornamental to be found!), and mostly underplanted with edibles or green mulches. The owners have planted a native hedge around the outside, designed to channel cold air away from the fruit trees, which has really made us think about doing a similar thing here... the cold winds in winter and the hot drying winds in summer are a huge issue on our mountainside, and unless we design well to manage them we will always be fighting a losing battle. Excellent take-home from this open garden!

Also within the food forest, a second smaller polytunnel contains old bathtubs being used as wicking beds for herbs and citrus. We have always had so much trouble growing both herbs (I know - seems like it should be the easiest thing to grow right?!?! I mean, I use to grow them on a tiny balcony in the inner city for goodness sakes!) and citrus. We are planning to put in a greenhouse this winter and whilst I do hope to use it to get a small earlier crop of tomatoes, I think it's primary function will be herb and citrus growing... must investigate further because greenhouses are fraught with rapid-solarised-plant-death problems if not managed well in the Aussie summers.

For me, one of the most interesting things about Roogulli was actually something extremely insignificant in the scheme of this beautiful garden - the presence of fumaria! A lot of it, clearly allowed to run its rampant ways and not torn out to look presentable for an open garden!! Fumaria is basically the reason that I started this blog, so obviously I had to ask the owner about it. Although he seemed utterly perplexed that my only question about the whole garden related to a weed-or-not-a-weed, he answered very thoughtfully: yes, he does let it do its own thing, so long as it doesn't take over productive plants; and yes, he is pleased to have it (pollinator attracting, as evidenced from the happy bee below, and an effective nitrogen fixer for the soil apparently). He noted that it dies back completely in the winter and, whilst it does run rampant, so far it hasn't bothered him enough to take measures to control it beyond pulling it back every once in a while. I feel so much better about my decision not to try to eradicate it after seeing it at Roogulli.

I was intrigued by the landscaping around the house too - the only "unproductive" parts of the garden (in that they aren't edibles). Plantings in these gardens are based around native grassland plants, although it is worth noting that the owners are slowly replacing the grasses with small shrubs and groundcovers because the maintenance of the grasses is too intensive. I've never been a huge fan of grasses in gardens - they do provide really interesting shapes and structural focal points, but they can so quickly look unruly. I find it interesting that the owners are slowly phasing them out here... 

I'm always curious about groudcover choices (due to an aversion to mulches and a desire to rid our garden of all dry mulches within the next few years), so I was taking note of the various ones in use here - particularly the beautiful gravilleas which were covered in bees. 

Roogulli was such an interesting garden to visit - "small farm and big experiment" really seems an apt description. Although it's quite different to our ornamental/cottage-y garden (with edibles as a secondary component), this garden is how I imagine Linda's garden to be one day - full and beautiful and productive, with not an inch of space wasted. It'll be fun to watch it slowly come to fruition over the next decade or two!

A plum idea

This drizzly autumn long weekend, whilst my family is chowing down on hot cross buns, I will be thickly spreading summer on toast in the form of 'Luisa' plum jam. Mmmmmmmmm! Which reminded me that this post has been sitting in my drafts folder since, oooof, who knows when. I am posting it much too late to be of any use to anybody in the southern hemisphere this year, but perhaps it will be useful to those of you heading into spring....

When life gives you plums, so very many plums... You go through all of your cookbooks and dig out every single recipe to use them all up!

This year we've had, at a guess, a total of around 40kgs of plums from the 3 trees in our orchard (a fourth tree didn't fruit at all). I know many of you have had that amount from single trees, so we are certainly not the only ones trying to make the most of all of this fruit, all at once. And in years to come, as our trees mature and reach their full fruiting potential... oooof, I know that I am going to want to have a very handy resource of recipes to make the most of them.

So in order to keep my plum recipes in one place, I thought I would start a little list here on The Tree Diaries. I would love to hear your own favourite plum recipes or preserving methods too.

Plum jam - I have shared my standard jam recipe elsewhere on the blog, so I won't bother repeating it but it's an easy way to use fruit and be able to enjoy their flavour all year round. There are so many delicious baked goods that can be made with jam, so you don't have to spend all of winter missing summer fruits. Best of all, it only requires the fruit of your choice and sugar, which I always have on hand (plums are a medium-high pectin fruit, so you probably won't need to add any pectin to achieve setting). I made four jars of plum jam from the very last of our plums, the 'Luisa' variety. 

Plum cordial - I used the same recipe as for nectarine cordial that I shared a few weeks ago, but this time I had tartaric acid on hand so I added a small amount (1 tsp, for a batch that used 350g plums). I used the other half of our Luisa plums for cordial as they have the nicest colour.

Plum tart - this, my friends, was ahhhhhhhmazing. After spending the better part of a day looking and salivating over a million and one versions of plum crumble cakes, I found this very simple tart in The Cook and Baker cookbook and knew it was the one. Better still, we have lots of apricot jam from earlier in summer. I can not possibly emphasise enough how delicious this is. Although, to be honest, there are about thirty recipes in The Cook and Baker book that I feel I absolutely need to have in my belly! This recipe can be found elsewhere on the internet in it's original form, in case you want to skip my ad-libbing.

Ingredients: 300g plain flour (GF works wonderfully) // 150g cold butter, diced  //  250g caster sugar, plus 3 tablespoons for sprinkling  //  pinch of salt  //  2 egg yolks at room temperature  //  1 tsp vanilla extract  //  750g ripe plums  //  4 tbsp apricot jam

Method: Preheat oven to 180°C. Lightly grease and fully line a 20x30cm slab tin. Whizz the flour and butter in a food processor until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and salt and whizz again. Add the egg yolks, vanilla and 2 tbsp of cold water. Whizz until the dough forms a ball. Press the dough evenly into the tin. Quarter the plums and place them on the dough in rows. Sprinkle the top of the tart with the extra caster sugar and then bake for 45-50 mins (until golden). Leave the tart in the tin and allow to cool on a wire rack. Gently heat the apricot jam in a small saucepan and then strain it through a sieve. Brush the plums liberally with the jam as a glaze. Serve warm or at room temperature - either way it is beyond delicious!

This one is definitely on the menu again for next summer's harvest! 

Choosing between two great options

I am by absolutely no means a gardening expert - my gosh, nothing could be further from the truth. But I do love gardening - the doing of it, the reading about it, the science of it, even the learning of random Latin that comes along with it. So when people ask me questions about gardening, despite my instinct to rapidly reply with an "I know nothing!", I am trying to give a slightly more thoughtful and useful response.

(Before I go on... these photos, the ones of the ahhhhmazing ornamental pears lining Lake Burley Griffin, are from my very first year in Canberra. In fact, my very first month in Canberra... which is why I never left ;)

The other day a lovely new friend, who had been told I write a gardening blog, asked for advice about trees. Specifically, whether it was worth planting fruiting trees instead of ornamental varieties, even if you don't really care about harvesting much (or any) of the fruit. To anybody who doesn't grow fruit, this might seem like a silly question - I mean, surely you'd want to harvest the fruit right? But, as documented elsewhere on this blog (and to every person within ear shot for the last few months), keeping the fruit on the tree long enough to harvest can be a right royal pain in the butt. So I completely understand why the actual eating of the fruit might not be the deciding factor. What my friend was asking was essentially: is there any real value in the ornamental tree varieties over the fruiting ones? 

After much thought, my answer is: yes, there is considerable value in planting the ornamental varieties instead of the fruiting ones. Unless, of course, you want to harvest the fruit (obviously!).

With an ornamental tree, a Manchurian pear for example (as in the photos above), you water it, prune it and otherwise basically care for it, stake it when it is young perhaps, but generally let it do its thing. It will have glorious blossom in springtime, provide lovely shade in summer, produce firecracker colours in autumn and be bare as bones come winter. Lovely. Easy. 

But it isn't quite so simple with the fruiting variety. Sure, it will have beautiful blossom in spring (assuming it is old enough - fruiting pears will take their sweet time to produce any blossom and, therefore, fruit). But as for the foliage come summer... Hmmm, not always so easy or straightforward. Please observe Exhibit A:

This here is the result of pear and cherry slug. Please turn your attention to Exhibit B:

The pear and cherry slug is the larvae of a glossy black sawfly. Unless you get rid of them they will quickly skeletonise the leaves of cherry and pear trees, but also plums, apricots, apples... and I think they even got stuck into our almond trees this year. Whilst they won't kill a mature tree, they can kill a younger tree (they took down our three cherry trees a few years ago), and at a minimum they will set the tree back and diminish fruiting. And, clearly, they remove all ornamental value from the tree.

But here's the thing: this just does not affect our ornamental trees (including our ornamental pears, cherry, crab apples, apricot... I'm sure there are more...). At all. Even the ornamental pears that are mere feet from these fruiting varieties remain unaffected.

And pear and cherry slug is by no means the only pest or disease that affects fruit trees: scale, fruit fly, leaf minor, leaf curl... Probably countless more... They all affect fruit trees, but don't seem to affect ornamental trees in the same way, or at all. Of course there are ways to battle these problems without using chemicals (and I will happily chat about how to do that in a future post), but it is a battle that doesn't need to be fought with the ornamentals. In the past five years, we have had dealt with countless episodes of pear and cherry slug, as well as peach leaf curl (which, despite its name, also affects our nectarines). Yet, just metres away, we have ornamental varieties that receive absolutely no love from us apart from water and a good annual pruning, and that have rewarded us with strong growth, lovely blossom, excellent shade and beautiful autumnal colour.

So, in short and after much consideration: nope, I don't think that there is value in planting fruiting tree varieties unless you want to harvest the fruit. And regardless, I truly think that it is worthwhile to plant ornamental varieties throughout the garden too. They are beautiful, shade giving, pollinator-loving trees, and will add so much value to your space. 

PS Elizabeth, I have no idea if you read this blog, but if you do, my apologies for answering via here instead of in person! Playgroup never seems to afford the opportunity to actually talk!

Garden ramble // Lanyon Homestead & Plant Fair

Goodness, my apologies for the long break between posts on The Tree Diaries!! Life lately hasn't allowed the lovely introspection and naval gazing that this blog affords me, and that's okay. I am reminded of the wisdom of a fellow blogger (and podcaster), Brooke McAlary of Slow Your Home: "If you look at balance as something you need to achieve every day - keeping the scales evenly weighted between your partner, your kids, your family, friends, yourself, your spirituality, health, keeping the home, your work - you simply won't be able to do it. Because each day brings different challenges, different tasks and different needs from your life. Instead, you need to learn to tilt. To willingly throw things out of balance. And, importantly, to be OK with that." 

Life really has been all about "tilting" lately... tilting away from this blog and other creative interests and into my family and homelife. And whilst that has been necessary, wonderful and worthwhile, I am so very glad that I am here again, in this happy space! I have lots of bits and pieces to share (including an incredible Slovenian Gardening From Scratch instalment), but first up is a garden we visited today in the far southern part of Canberra - Lanyon Homestead.

Every year we say that we are going to visit Lanyon during the annual plant fair, and every year we are away and miss it... But not this time! Despite being on our gazillionith week of high summer, we braved the heat and the long drive and saw what the fuss is about.

As a plant lover, the fair was wonderful. So many growers that we usually have to mail-order from, all in one place and ready to answer questions and sell their beautiful (and some rare) plants and bulbs. Miraculously though, I didn't buy a single one (yay for self control!)*. Instead we explored the kids' craft tent, caught up with my bee school teacher who was there with a great backyard beekeeping display, and pottered around the beautiful gardens.

Lanyon Homestead sits on a working farm, right at the feet of the beautiful Brindabella Ranges. The homestead itself is a restored 1850s home, and it is surrounded by various garden "rooms" (although not in a deeply formal, Sissinghurst sense), separated by photinia hedges.

The plant fair was centred around the Bunya Lawn, which is under two giant Bunya pines. My hubby could only remember one thing about Lanyon from his childhood school visit and it was these huge trees - I don't blame him, they were pretty impressive.

I was more than a little enamoured with the picking garden - several large, interconnected beds filled with flowers for the house... Dreamy! The towering canna lilies that filled the middle of the beds were unexpected and impressive but not really my thing - partly because I just don't value them as a picking flower, but mostly because of the sheer bulk of their planting (we tuck ours down the back of the garden, where they can proliferate unchecked and tower over a fence, but not overwhelm everything else). But the bountiful anemones (windflowers) and dahlias that surrounded the mass of cannas - yes please!

The picking garden sits above the kitchen garden and rose beds, both of which seem impressively productive. Beyond these beds are beautiful lawns dotted with old fruit and nut trees, including an orchard planted between the 1930s and 1970s. I find it so helpful to know when trees were planted, in order to have slightly more reasonable expectations of our own, very young garden... knowing that many of these trees were planted almost 100 years ago really keeps things in perspective!

* Self-control extended only so far as the plants... we did buy ourselves a metal pear sculpture from an artist couple based in Dalgety, something we've had our eye on for a while. It will sit proudly in the orchard, perched upon a chunk of rock in the ground that we never did manage to remove.

Anyhoo, the Plant Fair was a fun family day out - the kids' craft tent and enormous serves of Devonshire tea kept the littles happy, and hubby and I got a giant pear - smiles all round! Well worth the long drive.

A cordial introduction

We had quite the unexpected (but very welcome!) glut of nectarines this year. As our orchard is so young I didn't hold much hope for more than a handful of fruit, but boy did those little trees outdo themselves!

We have four nectarine trees in the orchard - one 'Early Rivers', two 'Goldmine' and one that I obviously didn't write down the varietal name of way back when we planted them five years ago. We managed to harvest the fruit from all but one tree before the pesky lorikeets came and stripped it bare (under full tree netting and all!). 

Confronted with bucket loads of fruit, I spent an evening pouring over Sally Wise's wonderful book 'A Year on the Farm'. Sally is the guru of how best to preserve high summer fruit to enjoy all through the depths of winter.

The recipes that kept jumping out at me were Sally's cordials and fizzy drinks. There wasn't a specific recipe for nectarines, but the general process for cordial seemed to be fairly consistent: fruit, sugar, water, tartaric acid and citric acid. Having neither tartaric or citric acid in my pantry, I did a bit of internet searching and came up with my own version... and now we have a few beautiful big bottles of nectarine cordial in the cupboard, to drink with sparkling water on a hot afternoon, mix with champagne as a bellini alternative, or perhaps mix with a sneaky tipple of vodka and soda water.

The rest of the excess fruit I chopped up to freeze. On Sally's recommendation, the fruit was first mixed with a bit of ascorbic acid, which is pure vitamin c powder (available from chemists), used to help preserve fruit when freezing. The frozen fruit will be perfect to add to muffins and other baked treats all through winter.

So, should you wish to make your own...

Nectarine cordial

Ingredients: 1kg nectarines // 250g caster sugar  // juice of 1 lemon  //  750ml water

Method: Halve and destone the nectarines and then blitz them in a blender or food processor. Put the resulting nectarine slush into a big pot and add the sugar, lemon juice and water. Bring to a rolling boil and then boil the mixture for a full 2 minutes. Strain the liquid through a fine metal sieve and then pour into sterilised bottles. Process the bottles using your preferred method - I use a basic waterbath method (the largest pot we own, filled with water - place the bottles into the pot - bring water to the boil and then keep boiling for 10 minutes for this cordial). Please keep in mind the risk of botulism - although the sugar helps lower the risk, you should always be really careful when preserving foods. Pour over ice, add something sparkling, enjoy!

Thank you for hand modelling husband!