“I want it said of me by those who knew me best, that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow. ”

Abraham Lincoln
Before shot 2017

This is the story of a garden in the central west of NSW known as the Lachlan Valley. You may find the story of my garden inspiring and like to follow me as I tackle the ups and downs of rural gardening. My area is well known for beautiful roses, so despite the thorns and the hot, dry climate of Australia my garden began. Beautiful roses make great photo opportunities, along with quotes from inspiring gardeners and my own stories, I hope you will enjoy a rose is a rose is a rose.

“Life begins the day you start a garden”

This quote from Gertrude Stein means; the rose is what it is, and likewise, my garden is what it is. From the early days and humble beginnings, the garden has bought many hours of fun and pleasure and sensational rose blooms. Because roses thrive on plenty of sun, heat, and low humidity they grow well in this region’s fertile, clay soil.

“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
After shot 2021

The love of gardens and gardening has universal appeal. Perhaps because of the innate appreciation of nature, we want to get our hands in the dirt and be outside amongst the elements tending our patch of earth. Whether a garden is for growing vegetables, designing comfortable outdoor recreational spaces or a beautiful vista to view from our homes; gardens can be whatever we want them to be.

All gardens will have limitations and challenges, varied climatic conditions, soil quality and space. All we need is a vision, some hard work and perseverance, an ability to learn from mistakes, a little patience and tenacity.

“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

Our rural garden began one Easter weekend a few years ago when my youngest son was visiting. He made the first attempt at removing excess 40-year-old Yucca plants from what was once a small garden bed. After the weekend we continued the work by burning the old Yuccas which made it easier to see what was underneath the dried foliage and began the long task of removing the plants. Underneath the hard earth were hundreds of massive roots the size of substantial sweet potatoes. It took many weeks of heavy work to finally remove enough to start preparing the soil-as the photos will show.

Digging the Yucca roots out was a massive job and often for months afterwards, every time I dug into the soil, there was that all too familiar sound of crunching when the shovel goes in that I will never forget when you hit one of these beauties.

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

The images above show the first steps taken to create the garden and note that the soil is starting to change colour as nutrients are added. I planted a range of annuals to give a tentative idea of a possible garden. Later on, I dug the old concrete border out that was the remains of an early Australian concrete border ( built in 1910). See post called  The Palm Garden. Removing this meant the garden was extended into more lawn area and is now a prolific flowering rose garden.

These are before and after shots of the exact same garden bed showing the successful mass planting of ‘Fire Opal’ roses. What a vast difference once the garden starts to take off.

It is hard to imagine that a garden grows in this area at all as the soil seemed impossible to cultivate and yet miraculously it has become a lush and prolific garden full of underplantings and roses that bloom all season.

The method I’ve used is basically the no-dig style garden. 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. My garden was originally lawn and the basic steps are to smother the grass with a thick, wet layer of newspaper or cardboard and cover it with compost, straw, mulch or whatever organic materials you have. Water it and leave. I had made the holes for roses prior to mulching and placed an old plate on each so I knew where they were. After a few weeks my bare root roses arrived, I planted them directly into the prepared holes, watered and waited for them to grow.

Clay soil can have problems with drainage by adding lots of compost material will help improve the soil structure over time. 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 again by adding more organic matter and possibly gypsum will help improve heavy clay and relieve compaction given time.

According to the company 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”.

My favourite part of the garden I call The Palm Garden. It is planted with low roses at the edge as a border with larger roses – Enchanting, Opportunity Rose and Just Joey towards the back amongst a few others.

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 path to create interest, a weeping cherry planted as a feature in the garden bed, but it did not survive and was replaced with Wollerton Old Hall weeping rose. This has started to grow but has yet not reached its full potential. It flowers beautifully but continues to grow upwards and has no desire to weep down as planned at all. Time will tell.

My first attempt at mass planting is pictured above. It shows the garden along the front verandah edge where the roses receive maximum afternoon sun. What started out as a small strip gradually got wider every time I planted or whipper snipped the lawn. Fire Opal is a new release rose from Treloar’s 2018 and is a strong and healthy short rose with beautiful lush green foliage and lovely, novelty style blooms that are always out in flower and dance in the breeze. It has been a great choice.

No one uses the front door in the country even though there is a straight path across the lawn to the door. 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.

Such a stark contrast is 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

My garden is surprising, and I would not have thought it possible to have such an abundance of roses so quickly. I have a strong vision that inspires me to put the time in and work within the constraints of what is available.

For me, the challenges are the not so pleasing appearance of a high fence to keep sheep and kangaroos out of the garden, the ravage of rural insects and pests and the high degree of sun exposure. Within these constraints, I care for all the plants, but if it doesn’t work, I’m happy to attempt a different approach or try another way.

Occasionally, I look back at these photos after setbacks; drought, insects, floods and scorching heat have caused significant problems. It helps remind me where it began and that a garden doesn’t happen overnight. It takes patience, and you have no choice but to use what you have and work within the scope of your garden space, climate, soil, and weather to the best you can. There are always compromises to deal with; the main thing is to enjoy the process and fun of gardening, the digging, the sun, the soil and most definitely the rewards. And don’t forget to make time to….

Stop and smell the roses

Content Di Baker 2021 Updated

All images taken from the garden 2017 to 2021

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