Sunday, September 23, 2012

Still here.

There have been a great many things going on at The Cottage the last couple of months. Both good and bad. I have been quiet in this space, but this blog is an important part of my garden journey that I love to share; I won't be abandoning it.

The front garden is going through a complete overhaul. Goodbye round-about driveway, hello perennial borders, formal paths and native garden. I'm looking forward to sharing it with you when I find the words!

X Phoebe

Friday, July 6, 2012


Waaayyy back in September last year, I bought four day old chicks to put under my broody hen Melanie (now deceased a la fox). The only remaining chick (her three siblings are now deceased a la fox) is now of lady laying age after, ohh - lets see - 11 MONTHS! That't the way it rolls in Araucana land apparently!

But now, finally, I get my wish for colourful egg cartons!

The spotty eggs are by my Barnevelder hen, the darker brown by my commercial red hen (New Hampshire, Rhode Island cross) and the paler solid pinky egg by my Sussex mongrel (mystery cross with a Sussex).

I gotta say, egg colour genes are supremely fascinating... I have mighty plans for my girls this spring with a view to expand the flock with more colourful egg layers thanks to my blue gene rooster Zorro. Bring on the spring time and more chicken adventures! Sans fox of course, this time.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Willow Arches

Structures, Tee-pees and arches are awesome in the garden - bamboo ones, steel ones or ones made out of sticks - whatever, they always look great covered in plants!

Last year I grew sweet peas on bamboo tee pees and loved the structure they gave to the veggie garden  - not to mention the wonderful fragrance they impart into the atmosphere and beautiful flowers! (You might remember this post).

This year I'm moving on from sweet pea-tee pees to arches, inspired by living willow arches and informal cottage style structures that are haphazard looking but kinda romantic looking...

Internet trawling came up with these images for inspiration:

 And this is what I managed on a Sunday afternoon:

I started with a pile of willow prunings and my tomato stakes and  in a few hours had a nifty little arch! 

After collecting the canes from a nearby tree growing in a lane way, I spaced out and hammered in the stakes, bent the arches for the top, tied them off to the stakes and then wove the canes through for support. 

And voilĂ ! A perfect support for growing this year's sweet peas and a perfect protected, shady spot to read a book and enjoy the garden from!

One word of warning should you use willow canes as the vertical supports (as in the inspiration images) be warned that they have a very high striking rate and in not too long you could end up with a whopping great willow tree in the yard!  

What do you think of garden structures? Have you had a go at making any yourself?

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Garden Vineyard: Part 2 - The Perennial Border & Grey Garden

There is something magical about walking through a well designed and well loved garden. It's an almost subconscious feeling that moves through you as you experience the rooms and appreciate the arrangements of things. I don't know if its the sheer beauty, the 'success' of the composition or even whether its part of human nature just to feel good when connecting with landscapes... Or maybe all three and a million other reasons and meanings.

I find it interesting seeing traditionally English style gardens in Australia, with soft leaved perennials, annuals and clipped hedges. The colours are often so bright, the textures and shapes so exciting and dynamic - so different to the soft, almost melancholy romanticism that I see in the typical Australian bush. The landscape industry (especially the commercial sector) is heavily swayed towards the use of native plants and 'low maintenance', monotone garden design that it is refreshing to see a garden that throws all that out the window and exalts in the sheer fun of plants and planting design, resulting in a truly pleasurable garden experience.

Looking back to the gravel courtyard entrance to the perennial border. 
The clipped hedge forms a lovely textural contrast to the climber over the arbour - and doesn't the dark green of it all bring out the bright colours of the red and green variegated Cana Lily! 

Oh, and nothing says luxury like a perfect lawn path. 

Soft greys, light greens, white flowers and hints of deep reds, all blend and mingle to create a soft and pretty picture. Particularly striking (and perhaps not so soft) is the ornamental grass Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster' in front of the clipped Lilly Pilly column - quite the display of textural contrast! 

The soft colours make way for the bright ones in a combination of purples, reds and yellows. For late Autumn, this perennial border was looking pretty good with many of the Salvias, Buddlejas and Roses forming the backbones - not to mention the punctuation of the rusty coloured heads of the Sedum 'Autumn Joys'. Again, the clipped Lily Pilly columns add structure and definition to the border, providing a place to rest your eyes. 

Speaking of structures, what a way to add interest with such striking foliage colours! The burgundy Berberis  pops against the Lilly Pilly column behind, which again is contrasted by the more manicured ball shape of the Philadelphus to the right.  

More fabulous clipped shapes on the right side of the border - yellow and red hues here. 

The perennial border terminates with an off centre Liquidambar and lovely lush, dark green hedge and just the hint of paths to the left and right. 

The path to the right leads to this lovely scene that opens out onto the Grey Garden.

This section of the garden is quite well known for the play on colour and texture and especially for using Lemon Scented Gums (Corymbia citriodora) with their ghostly grey trunks set amongst the clipped shapes of the Coastal Rosemary, French Lavender, Echiums, Helichrysums and Teucriums - all in the grey colour palette. It is my understanding that originally the designer envisioned this garden to be more informal and relaxed but the owner took it a step further to create the clipped, undulating waves of grey - perhaps more striking than if it were indeed to be left wild...

The Grey Garden, like most other areas of the garden is enclosed by clipped hedges which open out into small spaces often of just lawn or with a single tree. These sorts of spaces are fun to explore and ponder. What is the designer trying to tell us in this space? Are they trying to tell us anything at all - is it perhaps to make us feel something? To feel safe, a sense of  peace perhaps, or just a great place to hide when playing hide and seek?

Believe it or not but there is still more of this garden to come! Next up is the Walled Garden - a play on colour and form.

Readers note: I hope you don't mind my little explanations / analysis of the photographs. I find I always have to break down gardens into their components but sometimes I worry that it's not the most exciting reading. If you like it then GREAT but if not, sorry - I'll try and lighten up!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Where Has Hazel Gone?

Has anyone realised that Hazel has deleted her blog?!

Hazel, if you are out there, please come back, the bloggisphere isn't the same without you!


Autumn harvests are coming to an end here in my little valley. The tomatoes are going floury and the King Parrots are taking what's left. Except for the Tromboncino Zucchinis which much like the energiser bunny, never say die!

The best beans ever this year -good old Scarlet Runners. 
They are sweet raw and cooked, and tender even when bigger than the usual harvesting size, 
but best of all are the beans inside!!!

They make the BEST baked beans!!! 

Finally lots of tomatoes and lots of other pickings. 

The little Lebanese eggplants have done really well this year and make THE BEST 'Imam Baildi'  - A Greek / Turkish eggplant bake in a sweet, rich tomato sauce. I'll share the recipe if anyone is interested. But note that it's not my Yiayia's recipe (Yiayia, if you're reading can you please write it up and email it to me please!). Yiayias food is always the best.

Yesterday was spent pulling out the tomatoes and tidying up the patch. I'm still in two minds whether to pull out the Tromboncino  to make way for winter crops, or just let it keep going till its dead...

The garlic is already in (not yet sprouted), but that's about all I've done in the garden really - slightly frustrating because there is nothing better than home grown broccoli through the winter, and I've missed the boat! 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Garden Vineyard: Part 1 - The Native Section

A couple of weekends ago my mum and I headed down to Moorooduc on the Mornington Peninsula to visit a reasonably well known garden that was open for a Diggers Club event. It's well known in the sense that it's been on Gardening Australia and even Monty Don's program 'Around the World in 80 Gardens'. It is however a private garden and I recently found out that the original owner had sold it - so it was a perfect opportunity to see it for myself.

'The Garden Vineyard' is an interesting garden with a structure comprising of consecutive rooms that hold within them various planting styles using both native Australian and exotic plants. It is most well known for the 'Grey Garden', the perennial border and the native garden.

Here is the first instalment of my photos - The Native Garden. It is a clever, contemporary styled native garden with clipped shapes used to contrast wild, natural forms as well as texture and colour combinations to achieve dynamic and playful effects! It's certainly a refreshing take on the typical 'bush' garden.

The native garden is set around a sloping lawn - much like an informal English style border, 
but with native plants.

Talk about mixed colour palette! 

Love the contrasting textures and forms here of the clipped Westringea fruticosa Coastal Rosemary 
and the wild, soft Poa spp. Tussock Grass.

Lots of fabulous mass planting!

And a bog garden in a small low point, full of frogs and critters. There is also plenty of shelter for little birds to take cover in when coming for a drink...

Last but not least - the show stopping part of the garden:
The twisted trunks of the Red Flowered Yellow Gum Eucalyptus leucoxylon 'Rosea' are set off by the clipped wave form of the Saltbush Rhagodia spinescens below. What a stand out! 

Its not often you come across interesting native gardens like this and I was really excited to have been able to go along. If it's open again in the near future, I highly recommend that Melbournites make the treck and see it! Well worth it for the inspiration as many of the design techniques could be easily be adapted to smaller suburban backyards...

I hoped you've enjoyed this post because there's still the Grey Garden and Perennial Border to go! 

Oh and if there are any plants you'd like me to ID, let me know!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

About Time

Its been ages since I've visited this space and I've been very bad to not pop in and write a hiatus post, but I'm BACK, with a bit more garden mojo, a working computer and camera. Hooray!

Thanks to Mrs Bok and Liz for swinging by to say hi, twas a much appreciated incentive to get back on the blogging wagon!

There hasn't been all that much happening in the garden and I'm still harvesting tomatoes, beans and eggplants, so as usual my Autumn plantings are delayed...  Yesterday our neighbour cut down to very tall dead / dying pine trees (two far right tree trunks in the background of the below photo) right on our fence line and so there is a new section of garden to start from scratch. Otherwise, Zorro's the king, the chickens are doing their thing and enjoying the maggoty tomatoes!

I managed an afternoon with a cup of tea and the camera in the garden last Sunday to take some snaps of the status of things. Its all rather drab but the hazy afternoon added a magical quality to the messy garden that suited my ho hum autumn mood.

The dying plant / stake / rusty metal jungle.

Beans and tomatoes still kicking along...

The Clean-up crew.

At least the front garden is looking good. The triffid Tree Dahlias will be great this year (I pinched the pruned canes from a neighbour's green waste bin last spring - talk about absolute cutting success! But I did get sprung by another neighbour in the process, most embarrassing).

That's about all that's going on here at the moment, but there are a few garden visit posts and harvest pictures to come, so stay tuned! It's great to be back and thanks for sticking with me!


Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Long Awaited Harvest + Fruit Fly Update

It seems that many of you are winding down your summer harvests, but for me after the Christmas Carnage and fruit fly scare, things are kicking on and I'm finally able to pick things from he garden.

First things first - yes, I most likely do have fruit fly in the garden, but the DPI is no longer taking reports or conducting inspections within the Melbourne metropolitan region so I have been advised to set traps and harvest fruit -  like tomatoes before they completely ripen to reduce chance of 'stinging' (adult flies laying eggs in the fruit). So it's a yay on one hand and a bit of a bother on the other. But oh well life goes on! Hopefully I won't end up with a plague of locusts or something...

Otherwise all is well (except for powdery mildew) in the garden and there are - as always - WAY too many zucchini like vegetables to consume for just two people.

Button squashes are new to my world and totally rock my socks.

Good ol' Black Jack.

Another new love: Romanesco Zucchini. One crazy zucchini! 
These fellas seem to grow in the blink of any eye!

Lebanese Zucchinis for stuffing. Delicious. 

Only Scarlet Runner beans this year - the other varieties were too damaged by the Christmas Day storm to go on and were ripped out. New favourites - very Phoebe Friendly. 

CORN! Best corn EVER! Honey and Cream F1 Hybrid this year from Diggers. 

And finally, at long last, some tomatoes! These are Costoluto di Marmande. 
Destined for some red sauce I think... Next year remind me to plant more cherries and early varieties. I always end up with late beefsteaks which delay my Autumn planting. 

I'm really not ready for Autumn plantings! Summer's only just happening for me, but I do fancy some brussel sprouts...

Saturday, February 18, 2012

And the winner is...


Mrs B
Jody L

Thank you lovely ladies and gentleman for commenting! 
I will email through the codes for you to print out your own tickets.

Could Barbara Good and Jody L could please send me an email please - I haven't been able to find email addresses for you.

And just for good measure - The girls and Zorro managed to break out of the coop today - of course through the front door (that I obviously didn't close properly). They had a great time hunting worms and eating critters in the veggie garden! Hopefully they will reward me with some lovely eggs tomorrow!

Thanks again for commenting and reading! 
And thanks to Better Homes and Gardens for offering the tickets for the give away.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Giveaway: Better Homes & Gardens Live - Melbourne

For the first time Better Homes and Gardens will be launching their live event in Melbourne on the 24th to the 26th of February at the Royal Exhibition Building, Carlton! The three day event will host four stages, with live demonstrations from the Better Homes and Gardens experts and over 250 companies exhibiting - with everything from furniture and decorating, to gardening (including vegetable growing), food, animals (including chickens!) and everything else within the Better Homes and Gardens sphere!

All the experts you know from TV will be there, demonstrating their creative ideas to help inspire you to bring a little more fun, life and character to your place. There will also be heaps to do and plenty of activities for kids so check out the time table list for all the info.

The team has offered the awesome Ballynoe Cottage readers the chance to win one of 10 (that's right folks, TEN) double passes to the event!  

So! If you are in Melbourne or will be over the 24th to the 26th of Feb and can get to the Carlton Gardens, pop a comment below and I'll randomly draw the 10 lucky winners on the 18th of February. Please include your email address in your comment so that I can send you the ticket link (if you'd rather keep it private, just send me an email with your details). Good Luck!

AND if you darlings are so inclined we could even make it another Melbourne Blogger's Catch UP! WOO!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fruit Fly in Melbourne

A couple of weeks ago Liz from Suburban Tomato posted about problems she was having with her tomatoes - mainly critters eating them and damaging the fruit. Her photos and descriptions looked pretty similar to problems that I had last year and now that I'm finally starting to harvest this year's tomatoes, I'm having the same buggy problems AGAIN!

Last year, most of my tomatoes had dimples, rotten patches and gaping holes dug out of them. I had caught slaters burrowing into the fruit and making the holes but I wasn't able to work out what was causing the rotting. I did however notice that there were lots of little flies around but didn't think anything of it.

The damaged fruit looked like this:

Mystery rot on an unripe Costoluto di Marmande tomato.

Slater burrows in an unripe Grosse Lisse.

The other day, I picked my first tomato of the year (harvest is late this year because of the Christmas Day hail  storm that wiped out most of my tomatoes), I was so excited, but soon excitement turned to horror when one of my fingers sunk into the soft rotten flesh of my first tomato. To add to the trauma a whole lot of maggots proceeded to emerge from the wound and (after taking a photo for ID) I threw it to the chickens who promptly devoured it with much raucous delight!

So, to Google I went with my conundrum and my conclusion is that, yes, indeed I do have Fruit Fly in the garden and holy moley I have to inform the DPI (Department of Primary Industries)! The fruit fly will probably be Queensland fruit fly which has been in Melbourne since 2008. If you are in Melbourne or outer Melbourne have a read of SGA's article about fruit fly. Make sure you inspect fruit regularly because its not just tomatoes they like. They affect citrus, pears, apples, peaches, capsicums - the list goes on! I'm sure all Victorians are aware of the damage fruit fly can do to our fruit growing industry - we've all seen the signs when driving into fruit producing districts and know not to take fruit into those areas. To think that fruit fly is in my garden is almost too much!

Come Monday morning, I'll be contact the DPI on the Fruit Fly hotline on 1300 135 559 to see what they say. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.  

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Meet the new Girls

Now we have a (reasonably) finished coop, Joel and I have added to our feathered flock. Way back in March last year we bought three girls, then a bit later, when Melly kept on being broody, we introduced four day old chicks for her to rear. Things were going great guns until Melly and two of her chicks were killed by a fox early one morning. Then, just recently, Dumpling and one of the two remaining chicks were killed by a fox. After having seven chickens at one point, we were down to two, and I was a little too sad to do anything about it. Over the summer break however, Joel, his dad and I set to work, making a new fortified run and fixing the coop to make sure that the girls would be safe from Mr and Ms fox.

So now, (FINALLY) we have been able to add to the flock, in the knowledge that they will be a little safer. The first additions were three little young ones from Abundant Layers in Emerald. From left to right - A Plymouth Rock called Rocky (clever I know), a Barnevelder called Gerty (she's Dutch) and a Silver Laced Wyandotte called La Perla or Pearl for short.

These little darlings are between nine to twelve weeks old and are the youngest and smallest of the bunch. They will each lay different coloured eggs from light brown to a dark brown, so hopefully I will be able to tell who lays what. Point of lay is around 20 weeks, so I have a wile to wait before I get any eggs from them, but its so worth it!

The most recent additions are the two Rhode Island Red /New Hampshire crosses seen above hanging out with Julia (far left) and Frida (middle). These girls are a commercial laying breed mix and came from a hatchery. I was rather stunned to see that they had been de-beaked, which is a process where one third of the chicken's beak is removed to avoid feather pecking and cannibalism. Their beaks will eventually grow back but the problem has been that they have been unable to defend themselves when pecked (to work out the pecking order) by all the other girls (and my man Zorro). The three little girls on the other hand (Rocky, Gerty and Pearl), have not been de-beaked and all have featherless rumps and backs because they peck themselves and each other... Hopefully this is a habit that they will grow out of now that they are free to forage in the run on scraps, seeds  and insects, thus diverting their attention elsewhere. Apparently feather picking will be a real issue when the European Union bans de-beaking and housing chickens in individual cages in 2012. It will be interesting to see what happens. But I digress. These two new girls, named Elizabeth (after Elizabeth Tudor) and Red (I cant tell the difference between the two!) are almost nineteen weeks old and apparently not far off laying. So not-far-off that yesterday I found this little egg on the floor of the run. Its the cutest little spotted egg I have ever seen! 

I feel rather sorry for the girl who laid it because its almost perfectly round - it must have been quite the surprise! It will be great to finally have fresh eggs again, but most of all I'm happy to have a full run and hear their happy noises in the garden.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Blue in the Garden

There is something lovely about blues and mauves in the garden on a hot summers day. They seem to have an emotionally cooling effect that contrasts so well with the scorching bright white heat...

January's colour palate at the cottage is definitely within this colour spectrum. Surprisingly my Salvia leucantha Mexican Sage  (purple flowers in the foreground) is flowering now, when it usually flowers closer to autumn and winter.

Grey foliaged or hairy leaved plants like the Licorice Plant or Helichrysum petiolare and indeed the Salvias, Lavenders, Nepetas (Cat Mints) and Perovskia's (Russian Sage) cope well with the heat and the dry and look great when contrasted with greener foliaged plants in the summer garden. 

The tall soft grass heads in the photo above are from Calamagrostis Karl Foerster which is a fantastically tough ornamental grass that sends its flowers through lower growing shrubs to add height and textural dimension. They are also very elegant when softly nodding on a light breeze too (I bought it from here). 

I'm loving my Eryngium planum Sea Holly (above) which has just started to flower, turning this metallic blue colour!  Its a funny looking plant with a leafy base like a large gem lettuce that sends up these tall flower spikes almost 70cm into the air. It tends to get a bit top heavy and flops over, but I fashioned a bamboo tee pee to support it which has worked well and looks good. Bonus.

And then there is the good old Nigella 'Love in the Mist' with its soft feathery foliage, pretty blue flowers and unusual looking seed pods. Its a great plant to use as a textural contrast in the garden against strappy leaved plants. It seed pods are quickly swelling at this time of the year, getting ready to ripen and spread throughout the garden before it dies away over winter. I was originally excited thinking Nigella damascena (Love in the Mist) was the plant that produced the black nigella seeds you see on top of Turkish bread and I went crazy sowing it through the garden, only to find out that no, its Nigella sativa that is responsible for those tasty little black seeds. Oh well! At least it was a pretty mistake!

Limonium perezii Sea Lavender, is another great plant for the summer garden. It is a very dry tolerant plant and rewards you with these pretty lavender flower heads that are semi everlasting. The leaves are also a fabulous design tool in the garden as they are large and a soft greenish - grey - blue that sets off any fine leafed, grey or bright green leafed plant. Please note that I killed that cabbage moth after I took the photo.

Last but not least is the good old artichoke which has been putting on it's electric blue show for a couple of weeks now. I have artichokes dotted throughout the garden after seeing one flowering for the first time here. They too are a great plants for contrast and can be used like exclamation marks in the garden - to emphasise and draw attention to a particular spot. They are better as background plants, due to their large size but the grey dissected leaves are so striking that they stand out no matter where they are. Monty Don has written a great article about the globe artichoke's close cousin the Cardoon which he likes to use for colour and structure in his beautiful garden. If you have a cup of tea and a bit of time, have a read through his article here.  

Do you have any blue things flowering in your garden at the moment? 
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