Mickey Robertson gardens at Glenmore House near Camden. Sounds like a scene out of Pride and Prejudice? Well yes, you do feel as though you've traveled back in time where women wear linen and the air smells clean. Winter, she says, is crisp mornings thawing to glorious blue-sky days. Early morning reveal traces of frost on cabbage and kale leaves; and sometimes, just sometimes, the paddocks blanketed in white. Evenings also have a rhythm all their own as woodsmoke trails through the valley. Here she shares glimpses of days in her winter garden.
Mickey Robertson in her natural habitat, Glenmore House. Photo - Luisa Brimble
I’m enjoying…crisp mornings
Where summer is all about early rising to water the Kitchen Garden in a panic before the vengeful sun hits, winter mornings have a more leisurely start. Now the sun is a welcome companion to my watering sessions, warming my body and aiding the release of intoxicating waves of scent that invigorate the senses. There’s nothing like the pungent waft of coriander on a chill winter morning! As winter continues, my walks always take me past the pantry wall where hellebore foetidus makes a green punctuation mark at the end of a bed. Jasmine smothers the wall behind it, and, from a certain angle, the green spikes of the hellebore are backed by dense mauve spikes of lavender. It’s a beautiful winter vision, but one I’ve never quite managed to capture with my camera!
I’m working…on pruning
This is the great big task of winter, and it’s not a job for the faint hearted: wielding those secateurs through all the perennials requires a big effort. It’s such good exercise though, and the end result is a garden cleared of clinging foliage which may otherwise encourage fungal disease. Each section of garden is tackled one plant at a time, removing all spent growth, right to the ground in many cases. Once the entire ornamental garden has been cut back, it’s time to add slow-release fertiliser, compost and a layer of mulch. This process takes weeks, but the sense of satisfaction when it’s done is wonderful. With everything tucked up - neat, tidy and rested - you can be assured that all is in order for the season ahead.
Pruning the perennials is a gardener's workout! Photo - Robin Powell
It’s time to…
Cut back all perennials hard, in many cases right to the ground. Follow with weed, feed and mulch.
Prune roses back to an outward-facing bud. Follow with weed, feed and mulch.
Check trees for dead wood, clear a good wide circle around their base. Feed and mulch.
Sow seed (under cover) for summer fruiting vegetables.
Harvest peas daily. The more you pick, the more you will produce.
Tend the compost. Make sure it’s in top condition for adding to the vegetable bed in the coming process of seasonal crop rotation.
Spray for bindii. Don’t forget – you will be very angry come Christmas if you do!
Make the time to list your plants. Find all your old labels and get them in order. I try each winter to make the time for this and last year I made good progress. I’d like to think that this year, I may even complete the task!
The more you pick, the more you produce! A wee radicchio with plenty of room to grow. Photo - Luisa Brimble
I’m loving… peas
It’s the season of the pea; twining through the structures we built so patiently in the autumn. The first to harvest are the snowpeas, also called mangetout, which are followed by the sugarsnaps and lastly, the podding peas. The one shown here is a personal favourite, the purple podding pea – so pretty, and so tasty. Broad beans are the other legumes that really get a move on through the winter months, and I check each day that their fragile branches remain within the boxes we make for them, to allow them to sway in the breeze without snapping, as I can’t bare to lose even one beautiful green pod! Lettuces, raddichio, and kale are also at their best and the companion plants of calendula, borage, poppy and fennel make the kitchen garden a visual delight.
Purple podding pea – so pretty, and so tasty. Photo: Luisa Brimble
I’m planning… next season’s Kitchen Garden
There’s no rest for the vegetable gardener! We grow many of our veg here from seed, and now it’s time to propagate summer fruit, such as tomatoes, capsicum and aubergine. But first, the treat of looking through those tempting seed catalogues to top up any varieties I may not have saved, as well as looking longingly at plants I would like to grow but probably can’t find the space for. Not that I won’t try!
A bumper harvest indeed! Photo - Mickey Robertson
6 great plants in the winter garden!
The sweet scent of Jasminum polyanthum is one of my favourites – I even had it trailing through my wedding bouquet. It flowers here toward the end of July.
Jasminum polyanthum. Photo: Haris M/Shutterstock
As well as oranges and lemons we grow clementines, planted on a sentimental impulse the day our eldest daughter Clementine, was christened! They are delicious.
Oh my darlin' Clementine! Photo: Luisa Brimble
Cup of gold
Solandra maxima has waxy, golden trumpet flowers that trail up the north-facing wall of the old stone house, well away from frost.
Solandra maxima. Photo - Mickey Robertson
Rose 'Souvenir de Malmaison'
Dry days and a north-facing wall mean that in winter this beautiful old bourbon rose doesn’t follow her tendency to ‘ball’.
Souvenir de Malmaison. C'est magnifique! Photo: Luisa Brimble.
This makes makes a clump of dark green leaves and enchanting bright green flowers. Don’t worry about the name – it refers only to the smell of crushed foliage.
Gorgeous hellebore Foetidus. Photo - Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/shutterstock
Lavandula dentata is the lavender variety happiest in Sydney’s environs. It flowers constantly in winter, its haze of mauve flowers thronged with adoring bees.
Lavendula dentata. Photo: Carlos Neto/Shutterstock
Mickey hosts monthly Kitchen Garden Days that include tours of the garden, lunch in the loggia, and heaps of practical information from Linda Ross. She also runs Cooking classes, Weaving workshops and cook a Glenmore Christmas luncheon day. Find out more at www.glenmorehouse.com.au or check out our Events Page.