This is a story of a garden set on a rural property in the central west of NSW, an area with a hot dry climate and known for beautiful roses. Roses thrive on plenty of sun, heat and low humidity so they grow well in the fertile, clay soil of this region. I’m writing about the beginning of the garden to show that gardens can be anywhere, any size, in any location despite the climate or quality of the soil. What is required is perseverance, patience and a bit of tenacity, plus an ability to learn by mistakes and get stuck in. Some may find my story inspiring but I wrote it for me as a record and a reminder of the early days and start of my garden.

The garden began one Easter when my youngest son made the first attempt at removing the 40 year old Yucca plants from what was once a garden bed. These were the size of huge sweet potatoes and umpteen wheelbarrow loads of them were dug out from deep within the soil. He went into the garden dressed in shorts and a pair of thongs and lasted all of five minutes, returning a few minutes later more suitably dressed for the RFS. After his fantastic initial start it took weeks of heavy work for us to remove enough to start preparing the soil-as the photos show.

“Gardening is about enjoying the smell of things growing in the soil, getting dirty without feeling guilty, and generally taking the time to soak up a little peace and serenity.” 

— Lindley Karstens

Although the garden is my own and I don’t have much assistance from anybody else, I did get some welcome and appreciated help with this from my husband. It was a massive job to dig the Yucca roots out. Once the initial work was finished I was still digging up roots for weeks afterwards at times. There is an all too familiar sound of crunching when the shovel goes in that I will never forget when you hit one of these beauties. I still hear it from it time to time. when planting.

What remained after the digging was a bed of dry clay soil to which I added, gypsum, compost, dolomite, aged sheep manure from under the floor of the shearing shed and lots of sweat and toil. Soil testing underway and time to let the worms do their work.

The images above show the first steps taken in creating the garden and note the soil is starting to change colour as nutrients are added. A range of annuals was planted to give a tentative idea of a possible garden. Later, I dug this pointy concrete border out and extended the first garden into an area under the palm tree. See post called The Palm Garden or A Country Garden.

On looking at these photos it is hard to imagine that a garden grows in this area when it started out so dry and seemingly impossible to cultivate. Miraculously it has become a lush and prolific garden full of underplantings and roses that bloom all season.

The pictures above show the side garden that began as a winterised dry, dead lawn. I followed a rose growers’ advice in Victoria who said to water the bed regularly, add dolomite and sheep manure and then cover it thickly with newspaper. So this was what happened, and before it was covered, ( my wonderful husband dig the digging) dug the holes for all the roses and we placed old plates on top to mark where the holes were for the bare root roses in July. The entire bed was then covered with mushroom compost and left for 2-3 months. Clay soil although hard and dry is full of nutrients.

Life begins the day you start a garden.”

The thinking behind this method is that every time you break the soil up, you release more weed seeds and disturb the soil’s complex nature. Best to leave it alone, and the microorganisms and worms will do the digging for you. I later was told that mushroom compost is not ideal for roses but it was too late and it was a cheaper alternative to other products and seems to have done the job anyway.

According to Richgro “Clay earth, because of its density, retains moisture and tends to be more nutrient-rich than other soil types because the particles that make up clay soil are negatively charged. This means they attract and hold positively charged particles, such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium”. I have found that if clay soil does not drain well adding more compost will help drainage. Roses do not like being waterlogged because it deprives the plants of oxygen. Clay soil also is better if not walked on as compaction makes clay very hard but more organic matter and gypsum will improve heavy clay and relieve compaction given time. 

My favourite part of the garden I call The Palm Garden planted with low roses at the edge and large Enchanting, Opportunity Rose and Just Joey roses towards the back. These two areas pictured above are exactly the same place a year apart.

All these photos shown above are the same area by the house next to the verandah a few years on – Wow, what a difference- work, time, patience, sunlight and lots of water can do. An arch was added at the end of the house’s path to create interest, a weeping cherry planted as a feature in the garden bed, but it did not survive and replaced with Wollerton Old Hall weeping rose. This has not been a huge success, either. It flowers beautifully but continues to grow upwards and has no desire to weep down as planned at all; maybe it will be removed to the back next winter.

This is my first attempt at mass planting and the photos above show the garden along the front verandah edge where the roses receive maximum afternoon sun. Except for the drought summer 2019, they have thrived and recovered from any sunburn and scorched leaves. Before and after shots of the exact same garden bed showing the successful mass planting of ‘Fire Opal’ roses. What started out as a small strip gradually got wider every time I planted or whipper snipped the lawn. Fire Opal is new release rose from Treloars 2018 and is a strong and healthy short rose with beautiful lush green foliage and lovely novelty style blooms that are always out and dance in the breeze. It has been a great choice.

“No single sort of garden suits everyone. Shut your eyes and dream of the garden you’d most love then open your eyes and start planting. Loved gardens flourish, boring ones are hard work.”

Jackie French

No-one uses the front door in the country even though there is a straight path across the lawn to the door. Early each morning for a week or so, I dug out the lawn to form a narrow garden and filled it with lavender to grow under the roses. Sometime later and look at the difference with the growth of the lavender! In fact, right now, the lavender and the carpet of thyme are so thick no-one can walk down the path. The lavender thrives in the hot afternoon sun, and the bees love it. Two steel obelisks stand proudly at the entrance, growing Shropshire Lad and Pierre Gagnaire roses. It has taken some time to get the roses going on what we call ‘the rockets’, and I’ve made several changes in variety because for some reason did not grow well in those spots.

Planting bare root rose in winter along the lavender path

Such a stark contrast seen in the photos above; roses in full bloom and when first planted mid winter, cold with frost on the ground and the bare fence.

This season 2021 same area

All images taken from the garden 2017 to 2021 Di Baker

Title Quote by Oscar de la Renta

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There is peace in the garden, peace and results

Ruth Stout