Author Archives: Abbie Jury

About Abbie Jury

jury.co.nz Tikorangi The Jury Garden Taranaki NZ

Her last butterfly (of the season)

018It is a somewhat gloomy grey and damp day here today, brightened by a knock at the door. There stood a woman, slightly abashed. She had read a piece I wrote recently about monarch butterflies and decided that we were better placed than she was to offer a good home to her last monarch of the season. It had hatched last night and was yet to fly. This little delivery involved a drive of at least 20 minutes to get here (and presumably the same to get home again) but we are not going to discuss the carbon footprint.

What a lovely ray of vibrant colour this butterfly offers, perched on the discarded sasanqua camellia flowers I was photographing yesterday. When he is ready to fly, he will find some friends over on our butterfly hillside. I was charmed.
002

Late Bloomers – the tree dahlias in autumn

Tree dahlia 'Orchid', bred by Keith Hammett

Tree dahlia ‘Orchid’, bred by Keith Hammett

The last clarion call of the autumn flowers here are the tree dahlias, wildly impractical plants to grow but I absolutely love them. There is nothing like their over the top blooms soaring skywards in late autumn.  At least we are lucky in this country that we get clear blue skies with strong light all year round. Otherwise they might be soaring up to the gloom of lower light levels of other climates.

For problem number one is that these are frost tender plants which is not surprising when you consider they originate from Central American areas like Mexico, Columbia and Guatemala. We are not actually frost free in Tikorangi. We have areas of the garden that are so protected now by overhead cover that we can grow the most tender material, but out in the open we still get sufficient frost to require placing tender plants carefully. We may only get three visible frosts each winter, but the air chill on a calm night can get low enough to wreak havoc. And because these tree dahlias don’t start flowering until May and continue into June, they can get hit late in their season.

Left to right: 'Chameleon" , 'Orchid' (both Hammett varieties), D. imperialis and an unnamed Hammett variety.

Left to right: ‘Chameleon” , ‘Orchid’ (both Hammett varieties), D. imperialis and an unnamed Hammett variety.

A hint to the second problem lies in the name – the ‘tree’ part. These are not trees. They have nothing to do with trees. They are a fully deciduous herbaceous perennial but their rapid growth in summer and autumn sees them take on tree-like proportions. It is nothing for them to be 3 metres high, sometimes 4 or even 5 metres. Being dahlias, they are plants for sunny, open positions but they also benefit from some support and shelter from wind which can knock their brittle stems over. They have the hollow stems that are typical of dahlias. Some we grow against sheds or to the side of frames already in place for runner beans and frost protection frames for the bananas and sugar cane.  Some we fence in with heavy duty bamboo cross bars – hitching rails, Mark calls them.

Below ground, they have big, chunky tubers which mean that they are difficult to grow amongst other plants and they take up quite a bit of space for their six weeks of glory.

Not many gardens have both the space and the conditions that suit such particular requirements, along with a tolerance for their scruffy off-times. But if you have and can, they are as easy to grow as your more modest dahlia but with more spectacular results.

New Zealand plant breeder, Keith Hammett, has done a lot of work with dahlias, including tree dahlias. The orange starburst variety which he named ‘Orchid’,  with its twisted petals is more compact than any of the others we grow. It only reaches about 2 metres maximum though that is 2 metres high  and 2 metres wide. We have it by a big mandarin tree whose fruit are ripening as the dahlia blooms. It is a lovely combination.

Dahlia imperialis, my personal favourite

Dahlia imperialis, my personal favourite

My favourite is the simple Dahlia imperialis species and it is the most commonly available plant. When it first comes out, it looks like a clematis from a distance. Yes the blooms are a little floppy and the petals are larger and soft, so easily damaged, but I like the somewhat pendulous form and I think the lilac pink colouring is pretty.

Dahlia imperialis Alba - soaring skywards as winter descends upon us

Dahlia imperialis Alba – soaring skywards as winter descends upon us

Being a species, there are a fair number of different selections of D. imperialis. Our late season double white is Dahlia imperialis alba plena. ‘Alba’ of course means white and ‘plena’ means full and is applied to fully double flower forms. This one towers above a shed and puts on a wonderful display with its shaggy blooms but usually gets cut back by the cold when still in bloom in early June.

While tree dahlias can be grown from tubers in the same way as their smaller dahlia cousins, they are also commonly propagated from cuttings which are easier to handle than their oversized tubers. I admit I have yet to try it – there is a limit to how many tree dahlias we can place here – but the advice is to cut the stems that flowered in autumn, making sure that you have at least two nodes per cutting. Lay it flat because the new roots form from the nodes and cover to a depth of about 10cm. Or you can take spring cuttings from fresh growth. It does not appear to be difficult. I may report back on this because we are taking cuttings this year. We have a newly available position where a large tree fell, opening up what looks to be an ideal space for a tree dahlia or maybe two.

022 - CopyFirst published in the May issue of NZ Gardener and reprinted here with their permission. 

Tramps in the garden. Trampolines, for the avoidance of doubt.

The modern safety version of the family trampoline is not going to have the life expectancy of the traditional design so grin and bear it

The modern safety version of the family trampoline is not going to have the life expectancy of the traditional design so grin and bear it

My final article when I wrote for the Waikato Times was on washing lines.  Before the axe fell upon my contributions (replaced, I was, by syndicated copy which is “generic” in  nature, shall I say?), I always intended to follow up at some stage with a piece on that other awkward feature of so many New Zealand gardens – the children’s trampoline. What to do with this cumbersome eyesore?

Honestly, I do not believe there is a great deal you can do besides grin and bear it. The attempts I have seen to camouflage trampolines (or tramps, as we call them) have been doomed to failure. The bottom line is that if you want your children to use this large and relatively expensive piece of equipment, it needs to be in prime position – full sun, flat land, alongside your main living area where all the action is happening. In the other words, right in the heart of your outdoor space where it will look irredeemably ugly but it should at least deliver the squeals of happy, active children.

Attempting to hide the trampoline in a more aesthetically pleasing manner is more likely to ensure that it won't be used much. The spiky stumps on the hard trimmed hedge to the left looked downright dangerous to me.

Attempting to hide the trampoline in a more aesthetically pleasing manner is more likely to ensure that it won’t be used much. The spiky stumps on the hard trimmed hedge to the left looked downright dangerous to me.

Try and screen it – and I have seen this done – and you immediately create shade issues and banish the children from the centre of family activity. They will not use it anywhere near as much and you may well wonder why you bother having it.

Somebody once told me that it was easy to dig a huge pit in the lawn and set the tramp level to the ground. Yeah right. In many soils the water will not drain away and you develop a festering swamp of mosquito larvae below. It is nowhere near as much fun for the children and when you get rid of the tramp, you have a great big pit that needs filling.

The disused water tank stand which made the tramp twice the fun. I see from the date that our daughter was only 6 at this time. By modern standards, we clearly allowed our children to take physical risks.

The disused water tank stand which made the tramp twice the fun. I see from the date that our daughter was only 6 at this time. By modern standards, we clearly allowed our children to take physical risks.

We had a very large tramp for our children, large enough to accommodate three smallish people and their rioting and tumbling father. It was large enough, even, for two teenagers. True, it required a stool to climb up to it and it was of the traditional design shunned today as unsafe. It lacked both a mesh cage and covers for its springs. What is more, we discovered by chance that when located by an adjacent platform, the fun increased exponentially. The disused stand for the water tanks was the first platform. When we dismantled this, we built a custom platform from which the kids could jump up and down. It gave both a rest area and a launch pad. More cautious parents may shudder, but in the decade or more that we had the trampoline, there were no serious injuries and I can’t recall minor ones either. The tramp received a huge amount of use. It was a problem when it came to tipping on its side to mow the lawn. It took up a lot of space. When the kids stopped using it (our youngest was well into his teens), it was with great relief that I sold it. Should grandchildren enter our lives, I will not be getting a tramp for them at our place. Their parents can endure it at their own home.

Essentially, children’s play equipment is incompatible with the beautiful designer garden look. I have never seen them combined well. I am philosophical. Once the children have grown, there is plenty of time to achieve the designer look. And the modern safety design of the trampoline makes it more the plaything of younger children so the useful life span of it is halved.

As a postscript, if you have a swimming pool and think that relocating the tramp to that play area seems sensible, it is illegal in this country. Not only must swimming pools be fenced to code, no additional activity such as the barbecue, washing line or children’s play area is permitted inside that fence.

A friend has responded through Facebook with two links to creative ideas on reusing your old trampoline. The first is for hanging beds which look really stylish but will take a great deal of effort. These would never have worked for our super-sized rectangular trampoline but there is a whole section of the internet on repurposing trampoline parts, including some interesting constructions for keeping chickens. In case you wish to. If my memory serves me right, we bought our trampoline for $250 and sold it again, maybe 12 years later, for $180. That is the easier option.

Oh, and should you live in a tornado prone area, trampolines have a large wind sale area and become airborne. While hardly the equivalent of USA’s tornado alley, we can get small twisters here and I have seen a trampoline suspended maybe 10 metres up a pine tree. I have no idea how the owners ever got it back down.

Introducing (drum roll please) Daphne Perfume Princess

Mark's Daphne Perfume Princess

Mark’s Daphne Perfume Princess

By the time a new plant bred by Mark finally gets released onto the market, it has been a part of our lives for so many years that it no longer feels new or exciting to us. Mark has long since moved on to the next generation of plants. But we remain excited by this daphne, named Perfume Princess.

Perfume Princess to the left, centre is a large flowered D. odora 'Grace Stewart', right is a normal sized Daphne odora

Perfume Princess to the left, centre is a large flowered D. odora ‘Grace Stewart’, right is a normal sized Daphne odora

It is “just a daphne”, as Mark is wont to say, but what a daphne. For starters, the flower is significantly larger than comparable odora types. The flowering season is also a great deal longer. This is both the first and the last daphne to bloom each year in our garden. The plant itself is noticeably more robust than other odoras. It looks like a particularly healthy odora – and many gardeners will know that the common daphne is not remarkable for vigour, health or indeed longevity so any improvement in that area is welcome. It smells like a daphne and is that not why we grow them?

But it also has the capacity to flower down the stem when growing strongly. I describe it as the eucomis look. This characteristic adds a great deal to its flower power. So yes, even we are still excited by this new daphne.
046The eucomis look

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back around 1996, Mark was taken to meet UK breeder, Robin White. Some readers will know him for his Daphne Eternal Fragrance although back then, it was his work on the Party Dress series of double hellebores that fascinated Mark more. However, that visit inspired Mark to renew his efforts with daphnes after he had been disappointed with initial efforts. It was not to be as straightforward as other plant genera he works with. The progeny were few. Poor Perfume Princess was nearly lost before she ever got to show her strengths and that, we think, would have been pity.

Please, admire my restraint in not using a naff heading such as “Birth of a Princess”. Any coincidence with the arrival of the British royal baby was just that – coincidence.

Perfume Princess was released in New Zealand last weekend, launched in Australia at the Melbourne Flower Show and is available in UK and Europe. It has yet to be released in North America. It is managed on our behalf by Anthony Tesselaar Plants. We do not handle the production or distribution so any enquiries regarding availability need to be directed to them.

Garden lore: another use for gingko leaves

Ginkgo leaves

Ginkgo leaves

Bay leaves – from the culinary bay tree or Laurus nobilis – are so widely recommended as a means of discouraging pantry moth that I assume this lore has been tested by time. I have to admit to not having tried it myself but I think the idea is that you strew bay leaves in your pantry. Given that pantry moth can cost quite a bit in spoiled food, it may be worth a try if you are dogged by these pervasive critters.

I had to burn books. so badly infested were they

I had to burn books. so badly infested were they

What I did not know until I read this month’s NZ Gardener magazine is that gingko leaves are reputed to repel silver fish and whatever moth it is that likes to lay its eggs in books. I shall be trying this but I imagine it will take a year or two before I can comment on its veracity. We are in the process of building a designated library area and this has involved removing every book in the house into stacks. I was a bit shocked to find three titles amongst the teen fiction in our son’s bedroom which were disintegrating due to insect infestation. Poor Philip Pullman and Robert Jordan – such an ignominious end to be burned but inspection ascertained that nobody would ever want to read these books again. I shall be placing ginkgo leaves inside the books that were adjacent to these titles and particularly inside one which is only lightly damaged.

Now I guess the question to be asked is whether gingko leaves will also repel pantry moth.

It was only last year when I was still writing for the Waikato Times, that I featured the fascinating gingko trees.

A specious and fallacious argument

Native, but not native enough, some say

Native, but not native enough, some say

“Those pohutukawa aren’t worth saving. They not even native to the area.” So runs the latest argument for cutting out the Waitara riverbank pohutukawa. This simplistic argument is just wrong on so many levels but those who espouse the line think it sounds right.

Apparently they think (though I fear they do not in fact think at all, except how to trump those they decry as *environmentalists* – or The Green Taliban, even – with what they think is an appropriate argument) that only vegetation that existed in pre-European days should be saved. Trouble is, there’s precious little of that left in this country and none in this particular area of the Waitara River.

Pohutukawa are of course native to New Zealand. In fact their pre-European spread has been traced to the Mimi river-mouth area which, as the crow flies, is maybe 15km north of the Waitara River. Not close enough, apparently, for those who decry the trees we are trying to save. No matter that 200 years have passed and the natural spread southwards would likely have continued without human intervention. And let us not factor in the small matter of evidence that Maori recognised the use of pohutukawa for river bank retention and deliberately took steps to spread the plant further. Nope, they are not native to the Waitara so they can be felled with impunity.

The logical extension of the argument is that NO tree is worth saving unless there is incontrovertible evidence that it occurred naturally in that particular location in pre-European times and has the correct provenance. That could have dramatic ramifications for significant trees all round the country.

The chainsaw brigade see the predominantly African planting in the foreground as being of more value than the established pohutukawa seen in the background

The chainsaw brigade see the predominantly African planting in the foreground as being of more value than the established pohutukawa seen in the background

No matter that the planting adjacent to the threatened pohutukawa is predominantly exotic South African, full of aloes, agaves and succulents. I am sure these folk will think that is worth preserving because it cost good money.

No matter that the Waitara River bears no resemblance at all to what it must have been like in 1800. The oh-so modern engineer is determined to render it a bare, grassed canal as testimony to his engineering skills. You know, using grasses that aren’t even native to this country. There is no plan to restore the plantings to how they were before human intervention. In fact, these folk who decry the existing trees as “not even native to the area” are almost certainly totally ignorant of what was native to the area.

Do these proponents of ecological purity ensure that any plant they choose for their own garden is an eco-sourced native plant? Nah. All they are trying to do is to discredit those who wish to retain the trees by using an argument that they think sounds frightfully clever.

The trees behind are to be clear felled. Removed entirely.

The trees behind are to be clear felled. Removed entirely.

Because, according to local Community Board member Joe Rauner, it is going to “look amazing” when these trees behind the concrete wall are felled soon. Note the supports going into the top of the concrete wall (the Berlin Wall of Waitara or the Graffiti Wall as some of us call it). That is to be overhanging security fencing which always means barbed wire. Visualise the backdrop without a single tree left. That is what is coming.

Postscript: I wonder if these naysayers who claim “not native enough to warrant saving” would use the same argument against protecting and valuing the kauri trees growing around our area. By their definition, they are even lower value than the Waitara pohutukawa because they certainly did not grow anywhere near this far south in pre-European times.

Human design vs nature’s ways

I have been waiting for an opportunity to use this photo - see the final paragraph below

I have been waiting for an opportunity to use this photo – see the final paragraph below


“… he relays a story … about living with the American landscape architect Dan Kiley on the shores of Lake Champlain in Vermont in the late 1950s, and of the Kiley’s eight children, ‘living wild like an independent tribe’. Kiley once got his children to help him with tree placement for a project by giving each one a rubber or metal stamp with a different tree on it, then telling them them to bang their stamps down wherever they chose across a large sheet of paper until told to stop. The different tree types were mixed and dispersed in a way that avoided any of the tired symmetries of classical, beaux-arts garden planning: Kiley was ‘looking for actions that didn’t look contrived’.”

Allan Smith, What I learned from Momo: or, When is a house a stand of trees? (reprinted in Tell You What: Great New Zealand Nonfiction 2015).

It was a light-bulb moment for me when I read that paragraph this week. Not because it was an attempt to get away from the rigidity of classical symmetry, but because I am guessing that Kiley realised how very difficult it is for people to recreate genuinely random sequences in gardening.

I first became aware of this when I asked one of our nursery staff to plant out the surplus black mondo grass as a carpet beneath an orange tree. She felt the need to create a pattern, to plant in an arc. I sighed and replanted it myself, putting this down to her inexperience.

Years later, I visited a gardening friend to whom I had given a large surplus of hosta divisions and in her informal woodland, she had instinctively planted in straight rows alongside the path. So it is not inexperience that leads many, if not most, to plant in an orderly fashion, even in informal settings. I think it is more visceral than that – a human instinct to impose order on wild and random nature.

I was recently asked for ideas to under plant a tightly defined, quite formal planting of fruit. As the owners had mentioned they had a beehive on order, I suggested bee and butterfly food – a mix of lower growing annuals and perennials with simple, single flowers. My mental image was of a froth of artfully casual bloom which would teem with insect life, contrasting with the formal structure and permanent plants. As soon as the owner mentioned going to buy punnets of annuals, I knew. I just knew that when I return, I will see a mix of plants spaced at regular intervals and in patterns. Rows perhaps, or worse – alternating two varieties along a row. No artful casualness is likely. The Victorian bedding plant genre and the French parterres still have a lot to answer for when it comes to suburban-style planting in the new millenium.

The advice when planting bulbs in a carpet or meadow situation is to scatter them by hand and then plant where they land. This should give genuinely irregular spacings, mimicking nature, and avoid the serried rows of commercial production (think tulip fields, for an example of the latter). It is more problematic to do this with anything but bulbs – hence the Kiley approach. I would hazard a guess that if Kiley sent his workers out to plant the trees in a random fashion, they would instinctively revert to a grid or phalanx.

Not unrelated, perhaps, is the compulsion so many gardeners have to use edging plants. How curious that this imposition of human will and order on random and wayward nature is such an instinctive response for many.

About the photo at the top: I think it was a temporary floral art exhibit. Even that cannot be said to redeem it in any manner.

I lack many photos of bedding plant schemes, hence this one from Wisley.

I lack many photos of bedding plant schemes, hence this one from Wisley.