When my husband became redundant at work, after being in the financial industry for 25 years or more, it was with a sense of great relief, because we could start to think about putting our plans into action for self-sufficiency. The children were grown and gone and we truly and been rattling around in a huge and very lovely old home. It had a very large and already productive garden and we could have remained in our home indefinitely, but its very size and upkeep was daunting after 4 children had grown and flown the coop, scattering themselves across the planet and making their way in the world.
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We decided that we would take a camping trip to visit Victoria; the State my husband was born in. We rented our house to friends, put it on the market and went walk-about. David had spent a good deal of his early life in Victoria and only recently, before finishing work had been to a conference in the Central Highlands of Vic. He remembered the times as a child he had visited Daylesford and Hepburn Springs with family and without telling me much about it said we would head there for a look. Well! We drove into Daylesford and that was it …I was home! We had no work, the house needed to be sold but somehow we managed to manifest a place to stay, owned by friends of family, while we waited for the house to sell and within a few weeks we moved to the little town of Lyonville. We worked on a few ideas for businesses and began a completely new journey opening an esoteric bookshop in the heart of the thriving Spa Town of Daylesford, just 12 k from home. We used to drive around the immediate countryside looking for land that would suit the dream and one day on just such ramble, we found ourselves on a little unsealed back road that reminded me of a UK country lane. It was as if we had stepped across into a different period and to cut a long story short we found land that was just beautiful, right on the top of the Great Divide. It was not on the market however. The day we sold our house, we went for a drive to look at everything on the market in the way of land or land and a cottage. I suggested we drove out again to the land we had fallen in love with and there was ‘surprise’ a for sale sign on the gate. The snag was it was 86 acres and we had planned on 10-20! We made some inquiries to see if they would sell one of the parcels but they were only interested in the whole. It is an amazing thing when a bank manager says to you, ‘we can just transfer the mortgage from one property to another without question,’ …the fates were smiling on us and so we started exploring. We could have lived and built on any of the five parcels that the 86 acres had been originally divided into. They were each as stunning as the other was, but right in the centre on a 20 acre package, was an old barn and an old dairy; they screamed to be loved in their surroundings of huge old sycamore, holly, hawthorn, blackwood and elder groves, over grown with brambles …and our new journey really began 15 years ago…
Summer – Autumn – 2012-2013 …as the wheel turns… When the air is still and sultry and the leaves on the ancient elder can’t even be bothered to stir; lifting their curled bodies upward toward the merest hint of moisture, I like to sit beneath them in the cool shade and contemplate all that needs to be done in the garden at this time of year. The answer to that of course is, there is always plenty to do but there has been too much heat to date to do it productively. I could weed …or plant …but without the necessary cooling air, it is counter productive. …writing then becomes a peaceful task as the birds’ twitter …fanning and ruffling their feathers, cooling themselves in the leafy canopy above me …dropping the occasional elderberry in their attempt to quench their thirst with the sweet, juicy morsels that leave stains on the tabletop and in my hair …no matter …it was once a dark auburn-red! …although the heat has been intense this summer, I can smell autumn in the morning mist and hear the ‘autumn warble’ of the resident magpie flock …it’s a sound they make only at this time of year… …its dark moon again and a cooling breeze comes at night now. There is dew on the ground in the morning when I walk the dogs and the scent of the forest is alluring, pungent …earthy and ripe. Soon it will be time to harvest the wild blackberries for juice and jam and for cough syrup. First potato harvest is complete, sorted and stored, according to their best use and the tomatoes are just fruiting, we’re later than anywhere else due to our altitude. Peas and beans, broccoli and cauliflower, have burst through the warm soil and will make wonderful winter soup and stew additions. Warm scented coriander and basil have thrusting flower heads, almost ready for seed collection, which will be sown when spring comes round again. A few tall, stately sunflowers are turning toward the sun from east to west, following the vast arc from morning to night; they too will be harvested when their petals fade and the huge wheels of seed change to a dark chocolate-brown. What we don’t roast as snacks, will be fed to the chookhens. This is a wonderful time of year to be still and observe, until the sun’s heat diminishes and dips towards late afternoon …then suddenly, energy returning, the birds sing their lament to the days ending and I hurry to harvest the spoils of the turning wheel before the light fades …tomatoes are roasting gently in the bottom of our huge ovens to be bottled with fresh basil, whole garlic cloves and peppercorns, in virgin olive oil and a huge pot of potato and leek soup will soon be simmering on the stove …there is nothing like the taste of home grown and prepared food and then replete, stretching out in front of the fire after a hot bath, to write, to read or just to share the events of the day… …blessings on your harvest days …Penny Reilly