Rock speakers and summer gardens

By ABBIE JURY

I don’t often read the junk mail which clutters up the mailbox but my eye was caught this week by an item on an electronic goods flier. Niles Rock Speakers, it proclaimed. Niles, I assume is the brand. These are outdoor speakers made to look like rocks, with a granite finish.

I am not a fan of piped music in the garden. I don’t want to walk around a garden, my own or anybody else’s, to the strains of music whether it be “The Flight of the Bumblebee”, pan pipes, Hawaiian muzak or anything else. So it has always been a bit of a mystery to me as to why others feel that it enhances one’s enjoyment of a garden. And when it comes to outdoor entertaining, we are more of the ‘wind up the stereo and put the speakers on the window sill’ school of making-do.

But the rock speakers had potential. More in the lines of harassing unsuspecting garden visitors, I fear, than enhancing their experience as they walk through our rockery. It would need somebody hidden inside the house with a microphone to make comments as people pass by. The jokes about flatulence are unsuitable to repeat in print and the other suggested comments make us appear a great deal too unkind so readers will just have to ponder the potential of ghostly comments. Although if the operator was within earshot, it would be fun to be able to have a rock unexpectedly give plant names as visitors pause to wonder what something is (or, as often happens in groups, where one visitor authoritatively gives the wrong name).

It is such a shame they are $700 a pair on special (usually $999). I don’t mind spending $20 on a joke but not $700. Of course subsequent to this advertising flier, the news story broke which made it clear that we were not alone in seeing the potential of these rock speakers. MI5 in the UK apparently saw a use for them too, although as recording devices, not harassment.

We are back into our analysis of summer gardens. We had an English tour group through last week and it certainly gave us more food for thought. New Zealanders excel at young tree and shrub gardens which look their best in springtime. We can gain some maturity in tree and shrub gardens faster than almost anywhere else in the world with our rapid growth rates and we tend to do tree and shrub gardens on a 10 to 20 year cycle. Plants get too big? Cut ’em down and replace them, or hack them back to a juvenile size and let them “come again”. There are a whole range of skills in dealing with large plants which are not widely mastered in our gardening scene in this country. Nor indeed are we necessarily very skilled at adapting to the changing micro climates and conditions of the garden as plants gain size.

And our gardens tend to flower in winter and spring through to early summer. Then we hit a lull because, beyond a few annuals, few people garden for summer. This is where the English tradition of the herbaceous border comes into its own. If you are visiting Dunedin, have a look at their herbaceous perennials in the lower gardens. They do an excellent job of this English summer garden look.

Around our swimming pool, we have done the clichéd thing of a sub tropical to tropical garden – exotic cordylines, dracaena, bananas, ornamental ginger, vireyas, schefflera and the like. All designed, I guess, to make us feel we are sitting in some exotic pool-side location. It was Mark who commented last week that we had missed an opportunity. The pool gardens were an ideal spot to put in a summer flowering garden of herbaceous perennials. Of course he was right. Most of the gardens there are open and sunny and we only use the area in summer. It wouldn’t matter if it was all dormant and dull and tatty in winter. It seems so obvious now that I wonder why we didn’t think of it earlier. But as the gardens have only just filled in and are looking lush and well furnished, we are not planning to rip them out to accommodate our desire for summer borders.

For us it is the lilies that get us through this period. And hydrangeas. Now I would not be without hydrangeas but I can’t get that excited about them as feature plants. They are great fillers and in a large garden the huge moptops can make a splendid background. But they are not ‘oh wow’ plants which make you stop and stare and sniff the air. The lilies certainly do that but I would wish they did not need staking. Mark is dabbling in lily breeding and I have suggested that sturdy self supporting flower spikes would be an improvement for garden plants.

The tigridias are also proving rewarding. Some of you may know them as jockey caps. This South American bulb can be a tad invasive – I notice them coming through the compost and seedlings are inclined to pop up around the place. Good wild flower potential, Mark keeps saying. Each flower is shortlived but there are many of them to a flower stem. Three large petals which look somewhat like sails, usually with a spotted centre, in white or clear vibrant red, pinks or bright yellow. Their corrugated foliage looks a bit like ribbed corduroy. My bulb book suggests them as a suitable candidate for an herbaceous border, contrasting the sword-like foliage with something fine and feathery.

I can see that I need to learn a great deal more about the perennial families. We are pretty good on perennials for shaded areas – hostas, francoas, (the bridal veil plant), hellebores, clivias, suitable bulbs, perennial impatiens and the like. But we are rather sparse on the sun loving perennial front. And it is those plants which give the summer garden feel. That said, my Coreopsis Moonbeam are a delight – a mass of very fine glaucous foliage and little lemon daisies. The self seeded purple linaria amongst them is a happy accident. There is just a limit to how many of the same coreopsis one needs in a garden.

The next major trip for us, we have decided, will have to be to see the English summer gardens at their best. We still have much to learn from the old masters in this area.

Abbie and Mark Jury have a garden and nursery at Otaraoa Rd, Tikorangi.