Barrels of fun

It’s a little ironic, given that I can’t actually drink wine at the moment, that I spent most of this weekend eyeing up wine barrels. Painting them, planting them, tying ribbons on the jolly things… they’re my new favourite garden accessory.

In my city garden, I had four big box balls in red painted wine barrels, with a fringe of mondo grass, parked just inside the front gate. Now those clipped buxus balls have had a green and white makeover. They’re in dark green wine barrels, underplanted with white annual petunias and white scaevolas with pale pink ‘Bubblegum Blush’ petunias around them. I plonked them along the edge of the wildflowers, where one day (but not this week) we’ll have a rock wall. (The rocks are all in a big pile in the paddock, waiting for the Hunk to get his leg out of plaster and his Achilles tendon back in action. A job for 2012, perhaps.)

I like the effect of big chunky wine barrels dotted about the garden, so I went a little silly and bought another eight whole barrels and five half barrels off Trade Me. The eight whole barrels are the perfect height to double as outdoor bar leaners with a big sun umbrella from Briscoes in each. They look pretty swanky, even if I do say so myself. Mind you, it took me about an hour to sew the strip of bunting around the base of the plain green canvas umbrella. (That was half an hour to sew most of it on, then another half an hour on the phone to Mum so she could explain how to rethread the bobbin in her sewing machine when the cotton ran out. Mental note to self: I must learn to sew. I haven’t sat at a sewing machine since high school home economics classes!)

In the half wine barrels, I’ve planted trailing annual petunias and small-flowered perennial petunias (also known as calibrachoas), ‘Polly’ daisies and impatiens. And, for the entrance to the marquee (and to stop the kids tripping over the guy ropes – small feet are somehow magnetically attracted to guy ropes), I’ve got a pair of half wine barrels with green painted metal obelisks clothed in climbing subtropical Mandevilla ‘White Fantasy’ flanked with the heavenly scented Gardenia ‘Fragrant Star’. That’s if they’re still flowering. My six potted Murraya paniculata – you ain’t smelled nothing until you’ve sniffed this shrub’s gorgeous citrusy scent – finished flowering this week. Ah well, you can’t win ’em all.

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Oh, to be five years old again…

I’ve been channelling my inner Martha Stewart this afternoon, pimping out plain white shoes for the flowergirls (my wee nieces). The shoes cost $10 a pair on sale at Pumpkin Patch, the ribbon was $1.50 a metre from Spotlight and the greeny-white faux flowers cost the princely sum of $2 from the $2 shop. Aww, so cute – and so cheap!

Looking to the cosmos

In hindsight, I could have sowed half the amount of white cosmos as I did. I sprinkled 10 packets of the stuff around the lawn. It’s such a great gap filler, but I’ll be out there dead-heading for hours this weekend (nipping off the old flowers makes all the difference if you want your plants to keep producing new buds).

The other problem that’s just starting to show its head is mildew: because I’ve sown it so thick, and because I foolishly fed it at Christmas with Nitrophoska Blue to speed up its growth (it was so puny back then that I panicked), it’s now getting the floral equivalent of athlete’s foot. I’ll give it a blast with Yates Fungus Gun tonight and then just keep my fingers crossed that it hangs on for another week without all dying out in the middle. It’s rather lovely, even so.

(I especially like the contrast of the ferny foliage and delicate daisies in front of this barbed wire ball sculpture from Wire Art. I bought this as a gift for the Hunk back when we first met and it was sitting outside our garage, still wrapped in black plastic, when the garage burnt down last May. The plastic melted and stuck to the wire, so every time I walk past it I pick a few more bits off it. It’s quite a novel form of stress relief.)

Ducks in a row

At the end of 2009, I acquired six Pekin ducks (three boys and three girls) with the intention of serving crispy five-spice roast duck for Christmas dinner that year. But they were so darn cute that I immediately fell in love with them and couldn’t let a carving knife anywhere near them.

Last spring, they started laying eggs. We’d come home to find a duck egg sitting in the middle of the driveway, or in a flower bed, or under a fruit tree. Then the dog started eating the eggs as fast as they could lay them, so the ducks scarpered to the neighbour’s lifestyle block and parked themselves up on their lawn. We didn’t see them again for three months.

Having started with six ducks, by January, when they returned home, we were down to three. (The boys have abandoned their womenfolk; only the girls remain.) Every day they waddle up through the paddock from the swamp to wait patiently by the chicken run (I chuck them a few handfuls of grain while I’m feeding the chooks). If they’re not there, I only have to yell “quackers” from the house and they come running.

I think Pekin ducks are the most adorable birds. They’re such gossips – all day they yabber away to each other – and they’re best of mates. They’re also kitted out in such lovely white feathers that it seems a shame not to include them in the wedding ceremony somehow.

So, for the past week, I’ve been bird whispering… luring them slowly away from the chicken run to hang out on the lawn, where they can look cute in our photos. And – success! – this morning when I got up, they were already waiting for me under the floral bunting (Mum has sewed several hundred metres of these gorgeous green and white flags for me, bless her) on the deck outside our front door.

I may yet regret my decision to invite the ducks. They are notoriously pongy poopers. Here’s hoping I don’t end up dragging my veil through a ducky deposit or two…

Stick ’em up

I’ve been pondering what to tart up the trestle tables in the marquee with. I’d already decided on simple bowls of mixed dahlias (I’ll have enough to do on the big day without fluffing about endlessly arranging fiddly floral displays), but I didn’t want to use glass bowls. Originally I thought about using galvanised buckets, but they’re a tad too tall – and there’s nothing worse than sitting at a table with an arrangement in the middle that’s so big you can’t see over or around it. Today I found the ultimate vessel: white ceramic mixing bowls. I bought eight for $15 each on sale at Stevens. Plus they’ll come in handy on the day before the wedding, when I intend to knock out a couple of hundred cupcakes…

And here’s a nifty tip from Vida Flores. The easiest way to display large, heavy, short-stemmed flowers in shallow bowls like this is to grab a roll of Sellotape and run strips across the top of the bowl, from side to side, to make an invisible supporting grid. Then just drop the blooms through the grid until there are no gaps showing. It’s ingenious – it means you use fewer flowers and you don’t have to jam them all up tightly so they support each other.

Why patience is a virtue

I can’t quite believe how much my new garden has grown over the past six weeks or so. Just before Christmas, it looked like a barren wasteland. I’d sown the wildflowers, along with 5 packets of white cosmos, 2 packets of pink cosmos and 2 packets of giant green zinnias… but there was bugger all to show for it. So I started panicking and planted heaps and heaps and heaps (and that’s a conservative estimate) of potted colour between Christmas and New Year. Then, of course, we had a couple of torrential downpours and suddenly the wildflowers and cosmos rocketed off. The cosmos, especially, has pretty much overwhelmed all the other plants I’ve put in. So much so that I’m now pulling the jolly stuff out by the trailerload. 

If nothing else, this wedding garden palaver has taught me that (a) patience is a virtue; (b) a perfect lawn is worth every cent; (c) a lick of green paint can pimp up anything and (d) take lots of progress photos because otherwise you’ll never believe just how much you can achieve in a few short months of working-bee madness.

Foraging for dinner

Three torrential storms in three weeks + warm nights and hot days = free mushrooms for dinner!

Dad popped over today to spray some thistles and came across a surprise crop of seasonally-confused fungi in one of of the back paddocks. We ended up picking half a bucket of baby buttons and meaty field mushrooms (though I have to confess to hopping over the fence to pinch a few from the neighbour’s hill paddock too). I guess it makes up for all the flooding last weekend, when our pump shed ended up half-submerged in the raging torrent. I’ll bake them tonight with new season’s garlic, breadcrumbs, thyme, parmesan and lashings of cream.

And for dessert?

Homemade wild blackberry and apple pie with (more) lashings of cream.

On the way back from ‘shrooming, I grabbed a basket of apples from our orchard and foraged for a small bowl of dark, delicious blackberries from the side of one of the cattle races. I could probably have picked half a bucket of blackberries too, except the only thing I had to collect them in was Dad’s sun hat… and he was worried about ending up with a sunburnt noggin so I had to cut my foraging short.