An Empty Paddock Has My Name On it!
I almost am lost for words when it comes to this post because the subject is so monumental! LOL, yes, I know, when am I ever lost for words?! But to be honest, I am wondering how to tackle the story of how I have built this garden from the ground up in the past two years. How on earth do I begin to explain the massive undertaking of looking out at a blank canvas of 2.5-acres of lonely paddock grass, and placing a dream onto it? Of having nothing other than a lemon and olive tree growing on an otherwise empty expanse of land, and yet clearly see the vision of a garden that would be built as a legacy? Something that would live on well after I was gone and be a gift to my children, grandchildren and God willing, a gift down through the generations? Of being alone out in the country with not a soul for company as I settled into my new home through a bitterly cold and wet winter, and yet not be lonely, not be frightened and not be deterred? But instead to be buoyed by the hope, faith and trust that I was exactly where I was meant to be, and the dream that I had held in my heart for as long as I could remember was going to happen!
I would build my dream garden, and it would be the beginning of a new decade of pursuing everything that I wanted to do with my life. My move to the country had finally freed me from an oppressive past, one that genuinely had threatened to do me in at various points throughout the struggle. But through it all, I had persevered, held on with a dogged determination, licked and healed my wounds, sought help, decided on forgiveness to get out from underneath the weight of the past and so survive and thrive.
I had gone through the worst of times to emerge stronger than ever, so I could start again with a clean canvas and ultimately be the woman I always wanted to be.
This garden at my property would herald in the third garden I had designed, created and styled in 15 years. I’m not a qualified landscape designer or trained professionally by any means, though I do think I have an innate gift for design. A good ‘eye’, as people often tell me. My fashion background has had a significant influence on how I have styled my gardens, and I apply many of the same principles about how I dress to how I do my gardens.
Work with the silhouette that is most flattering, keep the colour palette neutral for the basics first and then when that is in place, and you have a strong foundation, then add the texture, pops of colour and fabulous accessories that speak of your personality and style.
That ‘recipe’ has served me very well for 30 years. It was with this defined sense of personal style, that I built a garden for my home in Armadale, a pretty suburb in the city of Melbourne, a garden for my home near the coast down on the Mornington Peninsula and now, my long-awaited dream of a garden out here at my new home in the country would be my most exciting project to date.
It’s been a long, hard, physically exhausting and financially significant exercise, but one that I am so proud of, and it’s only the very beginning. Imagine how this will all look in five, 10, 15 years? I believe it will become a significant property that will have a wonderful life with people from all over the world. No small idea, I know. But one that I truly do ‘see’ will come to pass.
It will become a place that people visit as part of visiting West Gippsland. And when I meet people who have travelled from far and wide to visit this garden, who come to sit on a bench and take in the stupendous views and the soft, spirit-filled aura, who walk amongst the huge rose garden, or stand in wonder amongst the lavender as it sways in the fields, or who are here to enjoy the festival of peonies … well, I’ll know I was right to dream a big dream. I have been blessed to be a blessing.
So where do we start for this first GARDEN blog post, dear friend? To enjoy the garden as it is now, let’s go back to where it started when I first moved in because the Kitchen Garden tells the story in pictures. This is one worthy of any TV makeover/renovating show!
One of my greatest pleasures throughout the years - particularly when I’ve been suffering physically and emotionally - has been to potter about in my pretty and productive kitchen gardens. Doing so always allowed me to find strength and solace in very trying times, and I’ve found so much pleasure in being able to cook what I grow. There is simply nothing more delightful than going out to pick eggplant or capsicums for roasting, or to get a fresh head of cauliflower for a gratin or a cabbage for salad. And I’ve not had to get store-bought lettuce for 15 years, has I’ve always had a steady supply of basics such as cos, mignonette or rocket leaves to pick and pluck every day.
The plans I had for the kitchen garden here were exciting because not only does it form part of the structure for the outdoor room and terrace area, but it also overlooks my bedroom. I loved the idea of sitting up in bed with my cup of tea watching the sun come up, as I also look out to see everything looking green and lush growing right outside my window.
I also felt such a strong sense of the wonderful abundance this property would produce. I’d felt so much loss over the past decade, and it was now time to build up every part of my life. I had all the room in the world to spread out do something extraordinary, and so I knew I wanted to not only have vegetables, salads and herbs here but also to incorporate as many flowers as possible. Everything had to be both beautiful and bountiful!
So I was tickled pink about the potential. I loved that this space was right outside the kitchen door - no walking miles to cut some parsley or pick a tomato! - and also that it was right next to the outdoor room. It gave me a gorgeous opportunity for bringing both areas together visually and so create a strong statement about the decorating style of the house and garden.
I knew I’d whip this area into something beautiful within minutes of moving in … and I did! I wasted no time in tackling this by putting local lads to work pronto!
The clearing of the old garden felt cathartic, and being out there looking at the stunning view as I worked away gave me great energy to get stuck into the job!
No words are required to describe the scene here! It’s at this point when things look such a mess that a gal must hold on to her vision! It’s easy to get a sinking feeling that nothing will ever come together, but in a day or so it will start to look just as I had imagined.
Finally some order! And a blank canvas to plant out all sorts of lovely herbs, vegetables, salads and flowers. I am starting to feel I’m making real progress at this stage and it helps me to begin the process of settling into my new house and turning it into a home.
This frumpy area is now a blank canvas and I can start to see how this will all look. I liked the idea of working around the large standard rose that has grown up here because it gives an organic shape to follow for this area. By mirroring the canopy of the rose - which is the gorgeous French rose, Crepuscule - the circular bed below looks natural in its setting.
The overall shape of the area is rectangular, so I have the form of the corners to work with, which appeals to me. I’m not one for rambling, higgedly piggedly gardens. I like order, structure, neatness, all of which I know is a reaction to the chaos I’ve experienced. This is how deeply personal a garden can be, reflecting the thoughts and feelings deep in our heart and mind. No need for psychotherapy here, as it’s all laid out - literally - in the design of my garden!
By shaping my garden to be on the ‘formal’ side - and I use the word very loosely because, after all, I do realise I am just an ordinary house plonked in an empty paddock at this stage! - it helped me to feel more organised or more pulled-together, not so at the whim and mercy of life. I had only just finished radiation treatment in January, so I was still very fragile, yet also most determined to be brave and get on with my new world.
And here is a sweet note about finding this quite advanced Crepuscule standard rose in this space. When I first saw the property, I took its presence as a sign this was the right spot for me, because, on the day that I last saw my darling daddy before he died, this lovely rose was growing all over the front fence of his house. It was as if he was saying to me, ‘OK, kiddo, this is it! This is the spot! Be brave, buy it and build something worthwhile to celebrate your life. And I’m here to support you.’
My dad always let me know he thought I was capable of achieving anything. He didn’t have money to give me, or position or prestige, or even the full effort of being a present father all the time, but he always told me how much he loved me and how he believed I was capable of achieving anything I set my mind to. He had great faith in me, a currency that is priceless for a parent to give a child. He told me whatever I could see and believe, I could achieve.
Having this lovely rose bloom throughout spring - though it’s a year-round haven for the little birds who flit in and out of it every day squawking at the top of their lungs, which always makes me smile - allows me to share my new country home with my dad, John Michael Foster. I know he’d be proud of me.
So, the foundation of the kitchen garden is now set. All I had to do was decide what to plant, step back and watch it grow!
It didn’t take long for the kitchen garden to develop into an oasis of leafy greens. In those early months over that first winter and spring, I planted all the classic potager plants and everything grew beautifully. Having armfuls of fresh and hardy kale, silverbeet, spinach, swiss chard, celery, all sorts of herbs and cut-and-come-again lettuces made going to the effort and expense of having the area landscaped all worthwhile. This plot has not been empty since! There is a steady supply to make a meal every day of the year. Even something as simple as scrambled eggs or an omelette is elevated to taste as if it’s from the best chef when it’s full of healthy and happy fresh greens.