The first thing we did at Wombat Hill on that wintery August day, almost three years ago, when we settled on this piece of land, was to plant two apple trees and a mulberry. The mulberry tree has grown enormous but we compete with the rosellas and king parrots for fruit so have only managed a handful so far – will this be the year we net the orchard? Hopeful. The apples have grown into lovely shapes (I love how when I actually care for a plant and watch its growth, the way it puts out its branches and buds, I learn so much. I become aware of its unique identifying features … and then wish I could pick up a delicate water colour brush and reproduce just that curve of a branch, the angle of its leaf, the colour as the sun strikes) and this season I picked about 10 huge Granny Smith apples – they are the size of small pumpkins and deliciously tart – perfect for pie.
We stood looking at that gently sloping, eastern side of the house garden and decided yes, that would be a lovely spot for a small house orchard. And there was a particular depression in the land that made us wonder what else had once been there – Julian decided it would make a good pond. So with hand and shovel, barrow and bucket, digging began. Then the ducks arrived and it seemed just perfect that they should live in said orchard with the pond. Are we there yet? Not quite. Many more fruit trees have been added – more apples, peaches and pears, pomegranates and plums, almonds and walnuts, even a hawthorn. Everything is a slow labour of love around here. Julian has read up on ponds and studied their optimal shapes – layers of shallow and deep and banks for plants and rocks. We have dug and dug and dug – and last spring achieved the perfect depth with just the right layers – and then days before we could finally wrangle the huge expensive liner into the pond, it rained. We were glad for the rain. Oh how we needed it, having endured a very dry winter – and just bought water. But the ducks and geese leapt in to that freshly filled pond with glee and as the water slowly evaporated over the coming weeks, we noticed that all that careful shaping and digging was once again reduced to the smooth sided evenness the ducks produce with their swimming and bank nibbling.
Ah well. We know how to dig. And all that soil and rock dug out? We quickly realised the perfect use for it – a terrace on the shaded western side of the sloping house garden, overlooking the kitchen garden, and just a short walk from the front porch. Somewhere we could sit, with table and chairs, with our breakfast coffees to plan out the day’s adventures. Somewhere to collapse with icy cold drinks after we’d worked hard in the kitchen garden and fields. Somewhere to wile away the long summer evenings with twinkly lights and platters of slow eating food. And this Easter just past, after looking at a messy pond out the kitchen window, and a half built terrace out the front for too long, we seized the four lovely days at home together, with no urgent animal houses to build, and we (mostly Julian) worked and worked and worked. Trees were trimmed to allow for good gathering. The fence into the next field was cut, reposted, and a lovely old fashioned scrolled farmgate was added – now we can lean on the pretty gate and talk to the sheep and ponies, maremmas and alpacas when they come round to this field – it’s so lovely. The retaining wall was carefully built with plenty of good drainage. Just the right amount of dirt was added, levelled and then compacted. A bed of small aggregate was sprinkled out, bucket by bucket, raked to a two inch depth and then levelled – Julian’s really into levelling. And finally, the beautiful octagon table that Julian built at Christmas, was carried by all three of us, out the workshop, around the back, down the field, through that new gate, into the house yard and up onto the new terrace – and levelled of course.
I added the biggest pot that would fit in my car – a terracotta citrus pot – and planted a lovely sprawling gardenia – perfect for the shaded spot, and oh how I adore the scent of the gardenia. Always takes me straight back to my grandparent’s terrace on their small seaside cottage in Harrington. And I planted a tumbling, feathery native plant in the tops of the retaining blocks that not only like the shade, but are drought tolerant. We still have lights to hang from the trees and we are pondering whether the barbeque should go down there. It was a marvellous afternoon when we stood back, smiling, looking at the loveliness all that hard work has created. Now, well we sit there all the time, just like we knew we would. Breakfast with knitting and reading and university study and assignments (Noah). High teas! Late afternoon drinks and chats that last until the sun is so low we can barely see the quacking ducks to put them away.
Yesterday morning started slow. Julian made coffee and headed out to the terrace with his reading. I followed, still in my nightie with my cross stitch. The dogs came too – they love the terrace – Fu lies at our feet, Pakkun bakes in the sun, Doug sniffs around for lizards. And it was so good.
I am loving cross stitch this year. It was the first genre of craft I really embraced, back in my late teen years. I bought a book of cross stitch patterns based on antique samplers and quickly chose an enormous red house – took me years to finish. In between I stitched lots of presents for family and friends and christmas decorations. Discovered Prairie School Sampler – I would still love to stitch almost every one of their beautiful designs. I love the order of all those little crosses – making them as neat as I can, all their little arms going in the one direction (do you know, I actually met someone who DIDN”T do this – their cross stitch looked rather lumpy). I love watching the picture emerge. The more old fashioned the better – the kind of cross stitch that looks like it was painstakingly stitched by one of Jane Eyre’s fellow orphans in a dark and freezing stone room as she waited to be rescued by love. And this design – All Creatures Great and Small – by Barbara Ana is utterly perfect :-) If you haven’t already discovered Creative Poppy, pop over now and have a look – so many beautiful patterns – Barbara Ana with her lovely sad and lonely orphan samplers, Kyoko Maruoka with her pretty whimsy, Perrette Samouiloff with her French styled nostalgia, Riverdrift House ticking all my english literature, royalty loving boxes – there’s so many to choose from, and they are instantly downloadable and printable – you can sit there in bed, browsing away and decide yes! I simply must start that one right now! And you can! Now to just gather every colour of floss they make, and a few rolls of linen and I’ll never even need to leave the farm …
I stitch away – telling myself I’ll just cross stitch the fish, then I’ll just do the boat, then I’ll just add the flower – and before I know it, hours have passed and those vegetable seedlings and glorious ornamental grapes have not planted themselves. Oops. But hey, I’m sitting on the terrace that Julian built for us. Looking out at our ducks and geese, their little houses that we built, the kitchen garden that will forever be a work in progress, and our growing orchard with my lovely husband at my side. And I’m even wearing the L L Bean vintage styled flannel dobby nightie that I have coveted for more than ten years – found one night after reading Little House with Noah and searching for “red flannel nightie” so I could play the Ingalls women once again (just like when I was little and our cubby house in Brisbane was the Little House in the Big Woods and we were snowed in) but L L Bean didn’t ship internationally then. Now they do! Huzzah! And I have the cream and red pintucked nighties all ready in time for our approaching winter.
If winter ever comes …