Sit down, why don’t you?

Adirondack chairs

It took my American editor to clarify once and for all that these are not Cape Cod chairs, as often claimed but Adirondack chairs. You have been told. These specimens are somewhat more stylish than many examples, achieved by the graceful curve of the back legs and some relatively simple shaping of the back slats. Small detail can make a significant difference. Sadly, it did not make these chairs any more comfortable. I tried one and can report that anybody under two metres in height would find it most uncomfortable and there is some doubt whether those over two metres would think any differently.

at Wisley

I am sure there is a technical term for this seating design which reminds me of the dosey-doe move in American square dancing. I photographed this at Wisley, the RHS garden, where Mark and I mimicked a couple we once heard elsewhere. “ ’ere love, wot canya see from your side?” “”Oh a luverly pitcher with them waterlilies. Wot abaht you?”. When I then saw a similar seating arrangement in a French bed and breakfast, I realised it must have a tradition. Curiously, this seating configuration can actually give some sense of intimacy to sitting with your one companion in a public setting.

Stone, concrete or brick seating can be a problem

Stone, concrete or brick seating can be a problem, especially in a cool climate with high rainfall or when located in the shade. While the softening ivy, moss and seeding ground cover makes the seat meld visually with its surroundings, it also makes it damp to the derriere as well as being cold and unforgivingly hard. I speak from experience here with our own stone seating arrangements. Keep them in full sun and free of moss.

Seating in the round

Seating in the round – a particularly elegant example I saw in a private garden, but I still think this is more for appearance than congeniality. I once read an explanation that humans do not like to sit with their backs to strangers because of potential threat. Certainly this type of seating is more likely to be used for short term rest only and not in a companionable social setting. Sometimes these seats are built around existing trees but they seem to smack of the institutional garden more than the private, domestic living space.

elegant styling

There are many variations to the simple bench from the most basic example that is sold cheaply in our hardware stores to somewhat more elegant styling such as this. It is the curve of both the seat and the back which make this example more aesthetically appealing – and no doubt correspondingly more expensive. Being English, this is probably constructed from oak. The cheap benches in New Zealand are often Indonesian hardwoods which are not overly durable if left outdoors through our winters.

coming up short on practicality

I offer this as an example of a seat which looks stylish while coming up short on practicality. It is very close to the ground which is fine until you hit about 50. The curved seat looks comfortable but consider how hemmed in your arms would feel in this solid set up. If you are going to have the arms and back at the same height, then make the back shorter, not the arms higher. The use of wide armrests on outdoor seating – also seen in the Adriondack chairs – is a handy device for accommodating the coffee cup or wine glass.

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

Garden Lore

Then in we went, to the garden glorious
Like to a place, of pleasure most salacious
With flora paynted and wrought curiously
In diverse knottes of marveylous greatnes.

Anonymous (reprinted in “Up the Garden Path” by Laura Stoddart.

Clipped rather than pleached but certainly on stilts

Clipped rather than pleached but certainly on stilts

Pleaching

It is quite recent that pleaching has become synonymous with a hedge or row of trees on stilts. Technically, pleaching is the interweaving of adjacent plants on a relatively two dimensional plane. There is a school of thought that it dates back to animal proofing hedges by making them more dense but the sophisticated version came into European gardens as much as 400 years ago – the elegant, grand allees of trained, matched trees which give architectural structure.

Think of it as a dense espalier where the horizontal branches are trained and interwoven. However it is more likely these days that what is called a pleached avenue is simply limbed up trees which have been allowed to merge together on the upper storey and are then shaped as one – in other words a hedge with bare legs. I am pretty sure that is what is being done in this street scene I photographed in the little French town of Vernon. It appears that a hedge trimmer may be used to shape the canopies to something resembling cubes and over time, when the trees join together, it will create a flat plane. These are tilias or lime trees.

If you want a pleached avenue, the advice I have seen is never to go less than 2.5m spacings. You can’t magic these creations up quickly. The trees take time to grow and the effect relies on generous spacings which allow each plant trunk to shine in its own right. Otherwise, you are just planting a hedge.

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

Dig Deeper by Meredith Kirton

dig-deeperThe subtitle of this book is “ Seasonal, sustainable Australian gardening” and therein lies a problem which I do not think the distributors, Allen and Unwin, understand. While only three hours away by jet, Australian gardening might as well be a world away. It is different in so many ways that it is difficult to understand how a publisher might think that it is appropriate to claim this book as “the definitive gardening manual for the modern gardener” in New Zealand. It isn’t.

To be brutal, it is not likely to be a definitive manual for Australians either. We left this book sitting on the table for a week, browsing it in passing on frequent occasions and every time both of us came to the same conclusions – this is the most random collection of gardening information we have ever seen in a book. I think the reason why it seems random is that both author and editor lack sufficient technical expertise to make the decisions on sifting information. Mark couldn’t get over the referencing of obscure camellia species like C. amplexicaulis and C. assimilis. I was surprised to see the better part of a page promoting Cornus mas as a fruiting cherry substitute without a single mention of either taste or yield. Given it seems to like similar growing conditions, why wouldn’t you grow a good Black Dawson cherry instead? Then there are the sweeping statements, for example on growing mushrooms and fungi at home: “…more of the exotic Asian types, such as shiitake and oyster, coming on the market daily.” Daily? Oh really? If you want to know how to grow these, buy a mushroom kit and then all you need is a cool, dark place. That is the advice.

This is a big book and it must have taken a great deal of work by the author. There are many photos though most are small and of patchy quality. It is eclectic rather than definitive. Its recommended retail price in New Zealand is $75 so it is expensive. Despite the fact we have two gardening daughters living in Australia, I do not think I will be carting this book over to them. With only 10kg baggage allowance, there are other items I would rather be taking.

Dig Deeper by Meredith Kirton. (Murdoch Books; ISBN: not given).

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

Backyard Bees, A guide for the beginner beekeeper

backyard-beesI just read that a report to our Parliament set the contribution of bees to the New Zealand economy at $5.1 billion dollars. It is a bit sad that we have to put a dollar value on something to give it gravitas because actually bees are essential to the pollination of a very large number of crops we grow and a vital part of eco-systems but they are struggling in our modern world. Increasing numbers of people are looking to keep a hive or two in their back yard in an attempt both to make a difference and to harvest honey at home.

I have spoken to a professional beekeeper who finds it quite distressing to be called in to help with badly managed home hives. This is not an activity for the well meaning but naive enthusiast who thinks one can do it with little knowledge or support. Much can go wrong, including the death of the bees.

Will this book help? Yes and no. It is an Australian book so conditions are not the same. Indeed on page 12, the author says: “Australians are very lucky. At the time of writing Australia is the only country in the world without varroa mite and colony collapse disorder.” Don’t expect any advice on dealing with these. Varroa mite is a major issue in New Zealand.

This is a book written by a genuine enthusiast with an engaging writing style. Chapters cover hive location, equipment, beekeeping in each season, general management and maintaining bee health so there is some good generic information which is transferable. It is just not a complete reference of all you need to know and should not be treated as such. Just to back up the lifestyle genre, the final chapter has recipes using honey and beeswax.

If you are serious about keeping beehives, you will need more local information and additional resources. If you are more of a dilettante, you may enjoy reading this book while deciding that you will delay any commitment to getting your own hive and plant flowers to feed other people’s foraging bees in the meantime.

Backyard Bees, A guide for the beginner beekeeper by Doug Purdie. (Murdoch Books; ISBN: 978 1743361719)

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

Tikorangi roads, traffic and about that speed limit

Photo: Fiona Clark

Photo: Fiona Clark

We went back to New Plymouth District Council recently. Yet again. To discuss ways in which we could better manage matters related to heavy petrochemical traffic.

Photo: Fiona Clark

Photo: Fiona Clark

Quite a few residents worry about the heavy traffic passing our school.

Photo: Fiona Clark

Photo: Fiona Clark

Photo: Fiona Clark

Photo: Fiona Clark

Look at that speedway effect. We are still trying to get the message across that using the heart of our community as a heavy traffic layby is not good.

005We protested modern road design with such step sides that nobody can ever pull to the side let alone walk, cycle or ride a horse alongside. We see this as a major loss of rural amenity.

005aWe tabled a concern that this type of hostile road design is incompatible with these roads being part of a designated cycle route. There is nowhere for bikes to go when challenged by frequent heavy transport.

Photo: Fiona Clark

Photo: Fiona Clark

We expressed concern at recent road upgrades which make the traffic go even faster at the cost of any other road user and often to the detriment of roadside residents.

007We asked that Council make every sign count. We have so many signs and road cones now that few people take notice. Children crossing signs where locals know no children have lived for decades, horse signs (above) where no horses can be ridden any longer and ever more company signs.

Photo: Fiona Clark

Photo: Fiona Clark

We pointed out the impact of huge loads passing close by. We raised concerns at the excessive speeds some traffic travels.

Photo: Fiona Clark

Photo: Fiona Clark

Photo: Fiona Clark

Photo: Fiona Clark

We pointed out that this traffic was almost certainly parked up because it was school bus time – forcing the school bus over the centre line. We noted that if the speed limit was lowered, it should no longer be necessary to avoid school bus times as a safety measure.

Photo: Fiona Clark

Photo: Fiona Clark

Photo: Fiona Clark

Photo: Fiona Clark

Our community continues to try and function as it always has. This is our sports club and hall area.

Photo: Fiona Clark

Photo: Fiona Clark

Heavy transport -including tanker and trailer units carrying petrochemical product pass through the middle of this activity.

Photo: Fiona Clark

Photo: Fiona Clark

The fun run and walk continue as the tanker passes by.

Photo: Fiona Clark

Photo: Fiona Clark

Look at the wee dot with her sunhat to the left of the tanker – the fun run and walk again.

Photo: Fiona Clark

Photo: Fiona Clark

We asked for a lower maximum speed limit to be trialled. At the moment it is 100 km and many of us think that is just too fast for safety. The Council listened. They heard what we were saying and saw what we were showing. They wanted to take some action and the easiest initial action was to instruct staff to start the process of looking at lowering the speed limit but only on one road – Otaraoa Road. But even such a small gain is progress, we thought. It was reported in the local paper. Enter these three men.

Photo credit: Taranaki Daily News.

Photo credit: Taranaki Daily News.

Nobody consulted them, they said, claiming to speak for the good folk of Tikorangi – the “genuine residents”. You can read their story here.
019 Oh there have been some jokes. Shame the newspaper photographer didn’t stick around to snap these men with a petrochemical tanker and trailer unit bearing down on them at speed from behind, more than one person said. Where are their banjos and rifles, another quipped. Goodness, even Jed Clampett and the Beverley Hillbillies have been mentioned. But what on earth made these men think it was all right to attempt to discredit me, then get into their vehicles to drive down and pose outside Mark’s and my place, resembling a Wild West posse? I can only assume they meant to look intimidating and confrontational when all they had to do was to pick up the phone and ask a few questions.
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There is no problem with speed, they said. The problem, seen clearly here, is allegedly the vegetation from OUR place blocking the view! Oh really? The pictures tell the story. Heavy transport is one of the highest impact effects of petrochemical development. There are ways it can be managed better to reduce the negative impacts. That is what we have been saying since early last year.

A host of golden narcissi

Some narcissi are better than others when it comes to naturalising. We are having some success with the cyclamineus types.

Some narcissi are better than others when it comes to naturalising. We are having some success with the cyclamineus types.

Is there any plant more evocative of spring than daffodils? They have been cultivated for eons, though many gardeners don’t realise how varied they can be. There is a lot more to the daffodil than the King Alfred types and the modern hybrids, though these are what are most commonly found for sale in garden centres, King Alfred being the handsome, large, pure yellow, classic daffodil.

‘I shall decode them this week,’ I thought. Firstly, daffodils are just the common name for narcissi. And there I stopped. There is a wealth of information around about narcissi if you want the technical details. But when there isn’t even widespread agreement as to how many actual species there are – maybe up to 60 or maybe not anywhere near that – and when separate groups have been introduced instead to classify the family, it is not a tidy little family tree to summarise. This is a plant that has lent itself to extensive hybridising since the days when Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection.

 Left to right: All dwarf varieties. N. bulbodium citrinus (the bright yellow form flowers later in the season), N. cyclamineus (or close to that species with its fine form and swept back skirt), ‘Twinkle’ showing its cyclamineus genes. Fourth along is ‘Twilight’ which we regard as an exceptional performer with a long flowering season, comparable to the world renowned ‘Tete a Tete’ to its right. Finally are the first two flowers to open on what we think is ‘Jetfire’.

Left to right: All dwarf varieties. N. bulbodium citrinus (the bright yellow form flowers later in the season), N. cyclamineus (or close to that species with its fine form and swept back skirt), ‘Twinkle’ showing its cyclamineus genes. Fourth along is ‘Twilight’ which we regard as an exceptional performer with a long flowering season, comparable to the world renowned ‘Tete a Tete’ to its right. Finally are the first two flowers to open on what we think is ‘Jetfire’.

In terms of narcissi as garden plants, basically the wider range of different types you can grow, the more you can extend the flowering season. We have been enjoying them since early July and the last to flower will be in mid October. All I did to get the line-up photos this week was to head out to the garden on Sunday. In a few weeks, I would be picking different varieties for such photographs. We do try and keep them in separate clumps around the place to separate them, but that is how we choose to plant. There is nothing against mixing and mingling.

The varieties that don’t set seed (in other words they are sterile) flower for much longer than their more fertile cousins. This is the secret behind both Tete a Tete and Twilight, as shown in the photo.

Narcissus ‘Beryl’ has yet to open her flowers this season but is another reliable performer amongst the dwarf narcissi.

Narcissus ‘Beryl’ has yet to open her flowers this season but is another reliable performer amongst the dwarf narcissi.

Where bulbs have stopped flowering, there are several possible causes. The most likely is the dreaded bulb fly which I have written about before. The grubs eat the bulbs from the inside out. Don’t ever let your clumps get so crowded that they push each other out of the pot or ground. There is no point in making it even easier for the offending narcissi fly. Shallow pots are not best suited to narcissi. Laying mulch on top of the bulbs as you wait for the foliage to die down can also help. Other reasons for poor flowering may be too much shade, cutting off the foliage too early the previous season (leave it for at least 6 weeks after flowering), wet ground, too much nitrogen fertiliser or congested, overcrowded clumps that need to be lifted and divided. Some varieties are much better than others at naturalising and being left to their own devices in paddocks or long grass situations but sooner or later, most will respond well to some attention.

If you like the novelty types with pink or apricot colours, split coronas (that is the trumpet bit), full frilled flowers and the like, then you need to look to the modern hybrids. We were given a whole collection of these a few years ago. We weren’t sure what to do with them so we planted them in the veg garden where they flowered well. We looked at them for two seasons and then dug up the lot and gave them away. When it comes to bulbs, we prefer the simplicity of the smaller varieties closer to the originating species. Charm over showiness.

Left to right: An old, scented double variety often found in paddocks and around homesteads even today. The closest bloom I could find to a King Alfred type in our garden this week is this larger flowered cultivar with classic trumpet (corona) and skirt but in lemon. Third along is what is often called a jonquil with its delicious scent, but it is actually a N. tazetta hybrid which we think is ‘Soleil d’Or’. Next to it is one of my favourites, the fragrant N x ‘Odorus’ which is believed to be a natural jonquilla hybrid (crossed with psuedonarcissus). Finally on the right is ‘Peeping Tom’, rated a dwarf variety though somewhat larger in size than most dwarves. It is a remarkably reliable performer.

Left to right: An old, scented double variety often found in paddocks and around homesteads even today. The closest bloom I could find to a King Alfred type in our garden this week is this larger flowered cultivar with classic trumpet (corona) and skirt but in lemon. Third along is what is often called a jonquil with its delicious scent, but it is actually a N. tazetta hybrid which we think is ‘Soleil d’Or’. Next to it is one of my favourites, the fragrant N x ‘Odorus’ which is believed to be a natural jonquilla hybrid (crossed with psuedonarcissus). Finally on the right is ‘Peeping Tom’, rated a dwarf variety though somewhat larger in size than most dwarves. It is a remarkably reliable performer.

While we all know of Wordsworth’s host of golden daffodils, less well recorded is the fact that he was out walking with his sister, Dorothy when they came upon the sight. Her record of the event did not reach such legend status but has its own charm:

“When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow park we saw a few daffodils close to the water side, we fancied that the lake had floated the seed ashore & that the little colony had so sprung up – But as we went along there were more & yet more & at last under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about & about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness & the rest tossed and reeled and danced & seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the Lake, they looked so gay ever dancing ever changing. This wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here & there a little knot & a few stragglers a few yards higher up but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity & unity & life of that one busy highway.”

Dorothy Wordsworth, The Grasmere Journal Thursday, 15 April 1802

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

Garden Lore

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

William Wordsworth, Poems in Two Volumes (1807)

Bug hotels or insect hotels

Insect Hotels

Bug hotels or insect hotels – are these the hot new accessory for gardens? This question comes from the house that inaccurately predicted the rise and rise of the garden obelisk a few years ago. These failed to make an appearance in every second garden in this country, as we expected. The insect hotel has a certain rustic and childlike charm and I am sure we will see at least some installations. The trick appears to be the use of a range of different materials to attract hibernating insects, giving them somewhere to over-winter. They need to be located in sheltered positions, out of the wind, rain and direct sunlight.

I liked the optimism in one publication which talked about appealing “to a wide variety of beneficial insects” (italics mine). Unless you are going to set up an audition for all incoming guests, there is no way that you can separate the beneficial ones from their less desirable colleagues. It is highly likely that queen wasps may find it a perfect location for over-wintering. It won’t be all charming ladybirds, damsel flies and dragon flies. There will be a fair number of slaters, earwigs, centipedes and spiders so if the children in your life are squeamish about creepy crawlies, you may want to think again before going too far down the track of this as a child-centred activity.

These constructions are favoured in Britain where there is much more conversation about ecosystems and sustainable gardening than we have here. There is also greater pressure on the environment because of population density. Unless your yard is spartan and manicured to within a centimetre of its life, odds on the bugs will find natural spots of their own as they always have – hedges, leaf litter, wood piles, beneath rocks, sheltered cracks in paving and underneath the house. The only reasons I can see to construct insect hotels are that they can look cute and are an educative tool.

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