Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Drystone Walls and Hard Landscaping

Peter Marshall has finished the low drystone wall, defining the new parking area in The Forecourt.

Over the next few years we aim to do a lot more stone work, using our local field stone.  We will also be using a lot of local river gravels which complement our stone.

This focus on "hard landscaping" helps add structure, clarity and permanence to the gardens

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tomato Passata Time

It is the last week of summer and that means it is time to make passata out of the excess tomatoes.

Simply fill a large pan with veey ripe  tomatoes, squishing them as you put them in.  Add a glug of olive oil.  Cook over a low heat until the resulting sauce is thick, rick and lustrous.

The passata can be used as the basis for many sauces, soups and condiments and will keep for ages in the fridge.

Monday, February 27, 2012

What's Blooming This Week?

People are often sometimes surprised to hear that Tea is actually made from the leaves of a species of camellia, Camellia sinensis
We have one tiny plant, bought last winter, which is covered in delightful small white flowers , even though it would usually be expected to flower in mid-autumn.  But it a very odd season.

Camellia sinensis is not only useful and productive but can be used as a delightful hedging or topiary plant.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Notes from the Library #35

In the introduction to his most recent book, "The Art of Creative Pruning",  Jake Hobson says that he has found inspiration for his "organic topiary" from many sources, including the tea plantations of southern India.  This set me off on a Google image search which led to finding this image of a hillside tea plantation in Kerala. 

Julia Creighton, Aran's wife, is originally from Kerala and Clive Poolman's great-great Aunt, Jane Lee Kirby, owned a tea plantation there in the nineteenth century.  Additionally John Creighton, Michael's father, lived in Kerala in the 1920's.  We seem to have quite a few family connections to these landscapes

So I am now thinking how it would be wonderful to find a location in the gardens here in Mudgee to create a "little Kerala". These clipped plantations consist of a type of Camellia, Camellia sinensis, from which tea is made.  A small hill of clipped and sculpted Camellia sinensis would be beautiful and maybe one day the family could produce its own tea here at The Drip.  For more on Jake Hobson, including information on his inspiring books click here

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Wattles and Bush Regeneration

The group of wattles in the foreground are an example of how the bushland here is slowly regenerating after more than a century of poor management, overgrazing, over clearing and neglect.

When we bought this property twenty years ago this entire area at the head of the valley was an impenetrable mass of blackberries.  Removing these was a one of our first challenges and was achieved without the need for toxic sprays.  Simply hacking them to the ground with a brush-hook and letting the kangaroos graze on new emerginbg shoots did the job.  

After several years these wattles emerged.  They are a pioneer species and many of the older plants  are already reaching the end of their life-cycle perhaps to be replaced by more long-lived trees.  Time will tell.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Trees for Mudgee Honey

Mudgee is famous for its honey. The Yellow Box, Eucalyptus melliodora, is one of the most important  local species that provides an abundant source of nectar.  Yellow Box honey with delicate, fresh floral flavours is one of most popular of all honeys.  In the [pasdt honey production was an imprtant part of life at The Drip and we are still home to huge numbers pof healthy bees.

But over-clearing, excessive use of mature trees for timber and generally poor management practices of The Drip in the past has resulted in very few Yellow Box being left.  As part of our ongoing programme to re-vegetate the property Aran and Julia Creighton planted a grove of twenty five tubestock Eucalyptus melliodora last year.  With abundant rainfall this year, the growth has been remarkable and the young seedlings are already out of their tree guards.  

We expect that in just a few years from now these new trees will be providing valuable nectar for our local bee populations.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Elderberries in an Edible Hedge

About ten years ago we started planting an edible hedge in The Nuttery with an assortment of odd plants including elderberries, hazelnuts, damson plums, edible crab apples and medlars.  It was to be a kind of a low maintenance food forest for foraging and would also give privacy to The Caretakers Cottage from The Drip Lane.

To be honest it became a bit of a neglected area and not a lot happened there until this year we decided to give it a bit more attention.  We removed weeds, mulched it, watered it and planted fifty more hazelnuts.

The result has been remarkable.  Not only has everything tripled in size but for the first time this year we have got a huge crop of totally delicious Elderberries.  We tend not to pay much attention to elderberries in this country.  Big mistake. They are totally delicious, not unlike blackberries, but juicier, making a fantastic jam or jelly. They are filled with anthocyanins and anti-oxidants so can provide significant health benefits, although if excessive amounts are eaten raw they can cause nausea.  This winter we will add more of them into our edible hedge.

Monday, February 20, 2012

What's Blooming This Week?

Robin Red-breast Bush, Melaleuca lateritia, is from the south-west corner of Western Australia.  

We have found it grows very happily here in our Water Garden, where it enjoys a moist but well-drained position.

It flowers it midsummer at a time when few native plants are flowering so is proving to be a big hit with the honeyeaters here.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Dry-stone Wall and Compost.

Peter Marshall is giving The Forecourt a quick upgrade with a new drystone wall and and a raised bed filled with compost.

The stones have all been collected from around the property and the compost is from our composting bins. Very satisfying.

The bed will be planted with aromatic Catmint, Nepeta cataria, featuring delightful pale lilac/blue flowers and silver grey foliage.  This looks fantastic against the soft pinks and earth tones of our local stone and our particular variety is propagated from plants that have grown here in The Old Cottage Garden since around 1880, so we know it survives our conditions.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Protecting Grape Vines from Possums

Possums cause a massive amount of destruction and figuring out ways to keep them from destroying the gardens is an ongoing challenge.

This grape vine, intended to cover a pergola and provide cooling summer shade, has been decimated by possums this summer.  The spiky things that we have now attached to the pergola definitely keep birds from landing.  Will they stop possums running along the timber rails?

Within a week or so we should know the answer.

Monday, February 13, 2012

What's Blooming This Week?

The Red Swamp Banksia, Banksia occidentalis, a spectacular Western Australian species, is commencing its flowering season here at The Drip.

This year, after so much rain,  there are dozens of flower spikes forming. 

Like many plants chosen for the Water Garden it provides a welcome food source for local honeyeaters.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Propagating Strappy Leafed Plants

We do a lot propagation and The Shadehouse is a huge asset in this regard.

This bench is currently filled with strappy-leaved plants which we have increased by simple  division.

The intense blue leaves of the Pilliga form of Diannella revoluta are a standout, much better than the more commonly available variety known as Cassa Blue,  and it would be good to build up significant stocks of this for use in The Hill Garden

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Silver Foliage Plants for a Bank

We are always on the lookout for combinations of plants that might work together in particular situations.  This combination of Grevillea lanigera with Tuecrium fruticans has got potential.

Both plants have wonderful silver foliage. This tells us that they both enjoy a very sunny situation and can probably tolerate dry conditions.  Tuecrium is an excellent choice for clipping into topiary, becoming very dense with repeated tip pruning.  Grevillea lanigera is prostrate and provides a weed suppressing groundcover.  Both can be easily propagated.

A combination of massed Teucrium shapes, sitting in a broad base of Grevillea lanigera,  would work on a hot sunny bank.  And birds and insects will enjoy the flowers.  So this combo will end up on one of the large steeps banks flanking the wine cellar in The Main Courtyard.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Making Mulch out of Mess

Regular and intensive pruning is a feature of our gardens here at The Drip anbd this means we produce a lot of  clippings.

Clive managed to repair our shredder today and it is worth its weight in gold turning all this stuff, even quite thick branches, into mulch.  It is very satisfying knowing that everything we take out of the gardens is being returned to the soil, adding life and vitality to an ever-improving ecosystem.
We compost all the shredded material before using it in the gardens, adding other materials, including blood and bone, locally produced garden lime and manure from the chooks, the sheep and Ricky the alpaca to make a wonderful rich compost.

Monday, February 6, 2012

What's Blooming this Week?

Nasturtiums are a classic old-time Cottage Garden favourite.  But less well known is the fact that they are not only edible but potentially very health-giving. They may even contain anti-cancer compounds.

Nasturtium contain compounds known as Glucosinolates. Certain of these compounds have been shown in credible scientific tests to inhibit or prevent the development of certain cancers including multiple myeloma, prostrate cancer and colon cancer.

Try tossing a few shredded leaves through your next salad. They, like Watercress to which they are related and which also contain Glucosinolates, will add a pungent tang to the salad mix.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Notes from the Library #34

We are always on the look out for new gardening books to add to our library here at The Drip.  Online searching is an effective  way to find  new  titles to add to our wish-list.

This week I discovered a publishing house that is definitely worth keeping an eye on.  Timber Press is the publisher of the inspiring Jake Hobson titles  "Niwaki" and "The Art of Creative Pruning" and an international publisher of books about gardening, ornamental and edible plants, garden design, sustainability, and natural history.  

A new title which has caught my eye on their website and which will be added to the library as soon as it becomes available is "Free Range Chicken Gardens.  How to Create a Beautiful Chicken Friendly Yard".  It seems that our chooks will be getting an upgrade in their garden area soon.   For more from Timber Press click here

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Rocks, Moss and Lichens in the Gardens

With lots of rain having fallen and more still to come, the mosses and lichens are looking great.

The sandstone here combined with clean, fresh air allows a rich collection of these to grow here.

We are so lucky to have these natural assets in our gardens.  Similar bush stone is sold in garden shops for considerable sums of money.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Westringea is "Aussie Box". Really?

We have an irritating and rather pathetic habit in this country of naming Australian plants after well-known European plants. When the English first arrived in Australia 224 years ago they inevitably tried to reassure themselves by calling Australian plants after familiar plants from back home.  It seems we still feel the need to do this.   A recent example of this ongoing cultural cringe is the decision by Ozbreed to market Westringea fruticosa as "Aussie Box". 

In the past it has been called "Native Rosemary".  But now it seems that since Australians have taken such a liking to Box hedging, the marketing people at Ozbreed have decided to capitalize on thisIt is true that Westringea does make a great clipped hedge, though whether it will prove as long-lived as Box remains to be seen. The photo shows a young Westringea planted in The Hill Garden near a clipped Bursaria, another Australian plant which was also called Australian Native Box at some stage.  It all gets a bit silly really.

Why not just give these plants original  Australian names instead of attempting to ape overseas garden traditions yet again?  We would never refer to Uluru as Ayer's Rock anymore so perhaps it is time to give local names to local plants.  In the meantime I will stick with LatinTo see more on The Hill Garden click here