The utilitarian washing line in the garden

Washing lines! These continue to be seen as essential for most New Zealanders, although they are apparently banned in a number of urban areas in the USA as inappropriate for public view. As urban apartment dwellers are limited to clothes driers or folding clothes racks, those of us with sufficient outdoor space for line drying should perhaps count our blessings.
???????????????????????????????1) This is my own washing line, dating back, I assume, to when the house was built in 1950. I like the giant bamboo prop we use to hold it up. I think it is what Kevin McLeod of Grand Designs would call “honest” or maybe “unpretentious”. Old fashioned, certainly, it offers excellent drying but you do need space and you have to walk up and down it rather than standing in one spot to peg and unpeg.
???????????????????????????????2) The rotary clothesline, often referred to as the Hill’s Hoist, is an Australasian phenomenon which features heavily in suburban backyards of both Australia and New Zealand. There is no doubt it is practical but it also lacks any aesthetic at all. Is there a sadder sight than a barren backyard with nowt but a weed infested area of broken concrete and a Hill’s Hoist washing line?
???????????????????????????????3) Presumably in an attempt to hide the heavy visual presence of the Hill’s Hoist, there seems to be strong interest in wall-mounted lines which can often folded down discreetly when not in use. I would guess this one was advertised as having 20 metres of line space (10 wires by 2 metres each) but it isn’t really 20 metres of usable space and it won’t hold large sheets without folding them in on themselves. It lacks the air circulation of the first two options so will not offer such efficient drying but the wide eaves give some protection from rain.
???????????????????????????????4) For property-proud people, the service areas needed for a household may be screened. Here the washing lines join the Sky dish, heat pump units, and probably the wheelie bins and recycling bins. The trade off is the reduction in sunshine hours on the shaded side of the house as well as reducing the air movement which dries washing more quickly. I have seen this done in a small garden but the screening was much closer to the washing line which created more shade and reduced air movement even further. Keep some distance if you can.
???????????????????????????????5) As a D.I.Y. compromise, I photographed this fixed line which is free standing in full sun but softened by the frames at either end which are wreathed in a flowering climber – one of the solanum family but I am not sure which one. Paving beneath gives reflected heat and keeps fallen items cleaner. This is the best example I found for a town section where the owner wanted a more discreet but still efficient washing line. It also took the award for the prettiest clothes line I found.
???????????????????????????????6) I spotted this line on a large country property where winters can be a little cold and bleak. It is under cover but the roof is high. It incorporates screening from view without sacrificing air movement. It is on a property with accommodation units and the owner told me there was sufficient line space to hang all the washing from the four units. She loved her washing line and, where space allows, it struck me as remarkably practical.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

My farewell message to Waikato Times readers

No longer wanted at Waikato Times newspaper….
057 - Copy - CopyIt is time for me to bid farewell to Waikato readers. This will be my last garden page. The new-look garden page will be rolled out next Saturday but I will not be part of it. I have really enjoyed writing for this publication over the past 3 ½ years and would like to thank readers for reading it. Thank you also to those of you who have emailed and even written proper letters and cards.

I have an online presence for anyone who wishes to keep following – on Facebook under thejurygarden, on Twitter as @Tikorangi and a blog at http://www.jury.co.nz. I won’t stop writing. Eventually I may manage to compose my piece on the point where heavily ornamented gardens cross over to folk art (and, scarily, where they don’t). This will, however, will remain a mystery to readers of this page.

Thanks, goodbye and good gardening.

???????????????????????????????“I shall stop being queer,” he said, “if I go to the garden. There is Magic in there – good Magic, you know, Mary, I am sure there is.”
“So am I,” said Mary.
“Even if it isn’t real Magic,” Colin said, “we can pretend it is. Something is there – something!”
“It’s Magic,” said Mary, but not black. It’s as white as snow.”
They always called it Magic, and indeed it seemed like it in the months that followed – the wonderful months – the radiant months – the amazing ones. Oh! the things which happened in that garden! If you have never had a garden, you cannot understand, and if you have had a garden, you will know that it would take a whole book to describe all the things that came to pass there.

Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden (1911).

The Return of the Red Hot Poker

Kniphofia, combined here with tall growing Campanula lactiflora, in the classic, long herbaceous borders at Hilliers Arboretum in Hampshire last June

Kniphofia, combined here with tall growing Campanula lactiflora, in the classic, long herbaceous borders at Hilliers Arboretum in Hampshire last June

Yes of course plants are subject to fickle fashion fads but that also means that those that have fallen from favour can rise again. It is the time, dear Reader, to face the Return of the Red Hot Poker.

The path back to social acceptance is somewhat more difficult for plants which have become the wildflowers of our roadsides, sniffed at as weeds although pretty enough on their days in flower. I am not convinced the agapanthus will ever recover from this lowly position in New Zealand life but the moptop hydrangea has already undergone a revival. The red hot poker is not as ubiquitous as the derided agapanthus, so maybe there is hope. In times past there were plans for it to be a great deal more common, in one area at least.

Back in the early 1980s when a cabinet minister fell out with his leader and was demoted, he came up with a clever plan to catch public attention. It was Derek Quigley, if my memory serves me right. He wanted to plant up our roadsides thematically, to pretty-up the main roads for tourists. So Canterbury, the home of grace and tradition and the place of his electorate, was to be planted in flowering cherry trees. Classy. I am afraid I do not recall what, if anything, was suggested for the Waikato. But poor old Taranaki – its roadsides were to be planted in red hot pokers if the fallen cabinet minister had his way. He was no horticulturist.

The only reason I remember this piece of folly was because of my late mother-in-law’s horror. She was given to telling very long stories and this one took many kilometres over a long car journey. The highly abbreviated version is that when she was a child, the only sex education she received was to be given a book. Something akin to the Flower Fairies of sex education, I think, for in that book Mother was portrayed as a blushing violet. Father, as quick thinking readers may have already deduced – Father was a red hot poker.

 Maybe it is time to bring the red hot poker off the roadside and back into gardens as a valued plant

Maybe it is time to bring the red hot poker off the roadside and back into gardens as a valued plant

So, were these public planting plans to go ahead, the roadsides of my mother-in-law’s beloved Taranaki were to be carpeted from one end to the other in phallic symbols.

But we do not garden in isolation and I can tell you that kniphofia – for that is their proper name – are now trendy plants again overseas. They are easy plants that lend themselves to inclusion in herbaceous plantings, both traditional and contemporary. We saw them used extensively in the modern perennial plantings we looked at in Britain last year, valued for their upright, vertical flower form. We also did a short tour of public plantings in Canberra at Christmas where kniphofia are being mass planted to soften the urban landscape. They are a great deal more versatile than most of us realise in this country.

This attractive yellow and green kniphofia with much finer foliage fitted well in the looser plantings of Wildside Garden in Devon

This attractive yellow and green kniphofia with much finer foliage fitted well in the looser plantings of Wildside Garden in Devon

Not all red hot pokers are the same as the common orange and bi-colour ones we see on our roadsides. Theirs is a huge family with many different species and a colour range from cream, through yellows, oranges, almost pink, to deep colours which are nearly red, along with a host of bicolours. Most are evergreen with long, narrow leaves and there are smaller growing, finer leafed options for areas where you can’t accommodate a huge clump. They are African plants, growing from rhizomes and fleshy roots below ground. Give them sun and reasonable levels of moisture and they will thrive on benign neglect, usually without becoming a menace. There is also variation in flowering times, depending on the species, so it is possible to pick a range that will carry the garden through many months.

If red hot pokers have unfortunate connotations for you, try calling them by their other common names of torch lilies or knofflers. I am quite taken by the knoffler epithet. If nothing else, consider the fact these flowers are particularly rich in nectar and make a significant contribution to feeding both birds and insects. There are a fair range of different knoffler cultivars already in the country, although you may need to seek out specialist perennial nurseries to find named cultivars.

Kniphofia combine well with the grasses much favoured in modern perennial plantings – seen here at the display gardens at Blooms of Bressingham in Norfolk

Kniphofia combine well with the grasses much favoured in modern perennial plantings – seen here at the display gardens at Blooms of Bressingham in Norfolk

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Plant Collector: the cream poinsettia

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Christmas is over and my time is running out. But having featured the traditional red Christmas poinsettia in Plant Collector in December, I could not resist sharing this variation. This is the cream poinsettia, spotted outside a Sydney florist. Before you get too excited at this novelty, I must tell you that the photo is flattering. The reality was that the plants appeared somewhat murky in colour and insipid to boot. Not chic.

A net search tells me that this is just another form of Euphorbia pulcherrima from Mexico and is but one of many variations of this species. The poinsettia market may be predominantly – almost solely, even – disposable house plants but it is clearly huge. Any such market has a taste for novelties and new releases. Who knew that there were poinsettias that resembled curly kale? Nasty variegations that could pass for coleus? All manner of colours and combinations are attainable for the poinsettia. To be honest, merely being a somewhat insipid and off-colour cream is the least of the transgressions.

Keep to the red Christmas poinsettia is my advice. While not original and arguably lacking in sophisticated allure, it is at least a handsome plant of merit in its place and time.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Garden Lore Friday 23 January, 2015

The form of the orange-tree, the cocoa-nut, the mango, the tree-fern, the banana, will remain clear and separate; but the thousand beauties which unite these into one perfect scene must fade away; yet they will leave, like a tale told in childhood, a picture full of indistinct, but most beautiful figures.
Charles Darwin The Voyage of the Beagle (1839)
???????????????????????????????Garden Lore: standard bay trees
I have been guilty of describing Buxus sempervirens (the common box hedging) as the dullest plant in the world. But I was wrong. In a moment of hyperbole, I declare that Laurus nobilis can wear that crown. At least standardised laurels planted as formal, ornamental features. How many bay leaves can you use in the kitchen? I severed the top knot of my lollipop bay tree because it had become twiggy, over-large and infested with thrips. Again. What is more, it suckers badly from the base and needs frequent attention to keep it looking even half-way respectable. I figure I will keep it clipped to a mound closer to ground level where I can pass over it with the hedge clippers more easily.

There is nothing choice or special about Laurus nobilis, even when it is trained to a lollipop standard. It is handy in the kitchen as a flavouring and it is reputed to repel pantry moths in the food cupboard. The trouble is that we get such a bad infestation of sap-sucking thrips that there are months on end when I struggle to find clean leaves to use. It might be handy to make leafy garlands and laurel crowns were we to hold family games in the manner of Ancient Greece.

It is probably better in a colder, drier climate than we have. When it comes to formal lollipop plants, I much prefer the small leafed camellias which keep better foliage, michelias or even our native matai and miro which can be clipped to tight balls over time. Even buxus makes better balls than bays.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

The January Garden

Auratums and pink lobelia

Auratums and pink lobelia

I don’t cut many flowers to bring indoors. It feels a bit like murdering them to sever them in their prime and bring them indoors to die. We were lucky that Mark’s parents had the foresight to plan the garden so there is a different view from every house window and we have plenty of flowers in sight all year round. The lilies are different. In summer I love to bring in huge stems to scent the house. They are big. They are bold. They are beautiful. Lilies define our summers.

You need quite a lot of lilies to justify cutting the entire stem off and, after many decades, we have a few. Mark’s father Felix started breeding auratums maybe four or five decades ago and Mark has continued. This was never for commercial reasons. It was to build up plants for the garden, to extend the colour range and the season and particularly to get outward facing blooms rather than the upward facing ones which are preferred in floristry. Constantly replenishing with newly raised plants is also a safeguard against the potential ravages of lily virus. Not that we have had a problem with lily virus and disease, but if we ever do, we are prepared.

The lily we scorned at Wisley

The lily we scorned at Wisley

We noticed a floriferous new lily at the Royal Horticultural Society Wisley Gardens last June. People were admiring it and but Mark took one look and said: “Gross. No good as a garden plant. Look at those upward facing blooms waiting to mark.” Not only are the upward facing blooms more vulnerable to weather damage, but the pollen falls internally and spoils it sooner. So I photographed it, but not for the same reason as the admirers. It was showy but we wouldn’t give it garden space.

Although you can to leave auratum lilies in the ground year after year, lifting and replanting deeper on a regular basis saves having to stake every stem. They work their way upwards over time. In our free draining soil, if I put them anything up to 20cm down, they are much better at holding themselves upright. The other technique to save forever staking (and then de-staking at the end of the season) is to grow them through shrubs which can act as supports. Apple trees and azaleas work well for us. When I do have to stake, I prefer to harvest my own bamboo lengths and leave the leaf axils in place to grip the flower stem. It saves tying to a smooth stake.

Just another unnamed seedling (or JAUS, as we call them here)

Just another unnamed seedling (or JAUS, as we call them here)


Auratum bulbs do not respond well to drying out, even in their dormant season. This is why they are usually sold in bags of sphagnum moss or sawdust. Always try and buy them as soon as they come into garden centres in early winter and get them into the ground as soon as possible.
Orange tiger lilies growing through the espaliered apple trees

Orange tiger lilies growing through the espaliered apple trees

Our lily season starts with what we call the Christmas lily, or Lilium regale from China. It even Others sometimes refer to L. longiflorum as the Christmas lily. It is typically pure white and hails from Japan whereas L. regale has deep pink petal backs fading out to white. The orange tiger lilies with their reflexed petals follow soon after. They lack scent but they are a showy addition to the summer garden and very easy to grow. Next we get the aurelians – scented trumpet lilies in pretty gold and apricot shades. Most of ours have been raised from seed. They have a lovely elegance to them both in the garden and as a cut flower. You will notice their trumpets face outwards and downwards.
Aforementioned JAUS

Aforementioned JAUS

These are all but an overture to the main event – the glory of the auratums which take us through January and well into February. There is nothing subtle or understated about the flower power. Their common name is the “golden rayed lily of Japan”. How lovely is that?

???????????????????????????????First published in the New Zealand Gardener and reprinted here with their permission.

Garden lore: Friday 16 January, 2015

062 - Copy - CopyIf it were of any use, every day the gardener would fall on his knees and pray somehow like this: “O Lord, grant that in some way it may rain every day, say from about midnight until three o’clock in the morning, but, you see, it must be gentle and warm so that it can soak in; grant that at the same time it would not rain on campion, alyssum, helianthemum, lavender, and the others which you in your infinite wisdom know are drought-loving plants – I will write their names on a bit of paper if you like – and grant that the sun my shine the whole day long, but not everywhere (not, for instance, on spiraea, or on gentian, plantain lily, and rhododendron), and not too much; that there may be plenty of dew and little wind, enough worms, no plant-lice and snails, no mildew, and that once a week thin liquid manure and guano may fall from heaven. Amen.”
Karel Capek, The Gardener’s Year (1929)
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Garden Lore: trees and power lines
Despite the intense and not always good natured rivalry between New Zealand and our closest neighbours across the ditch, there are some things they do better in Australia . Mandatory country of origin labelling on food is one. Though it was with wry amusement we noted a bin of avocados on sale in Canberra proudly bearing the placard “Produce of Australia”, while each fruit bore an irritating little sticker telling us they were in fact New Zealand avocados.

What also caught our attention were the efforts the lines company was willing to make to keep large trees in Sydney. I took this photo on the street where our daughter lives in Bellevue Hill. It would be a baking hot concrete and tarmac environment without the trees. A window has been cut through the canopy where necessary to accommodate the lines and there are spacers and insulation on the lines to guard against storm damage. Of course it must cost more money but it is a very different mind-set from this country where lines companies rule supreme and want a clearway free of trees around every set of power lines up and down the country. I have yet to see an example here where power lines and large trees are allowed to coexist so it was interesting to see that it is possible. Large trees are not replaceable in the short to middle term and play an increasingly important role both in urban settings and in producing the oxygen we breathe.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.