From Noxious Weeds to Garden Games via Hollandaise Sauce and Seeds

Mark groaned when he read the letter to the editor last week from a correspondent hoping that the newly formed Friends of the Te Henui Walkway would not be removing the flowering plants – such as the flowering onion weed. Dear oh dear. There is a world of difference between wildflowers and noxious weeds and onion weed falls fairly and squarely into the second category. The correspondent would be better occupied gathering up bulbs of the snowflake (leucojum) which naturalises well, has a long flowering season and is never going to invade the area rather than trying to preserve colonising thugs. Or white bluebells could be an acceptable alternative.

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Readers who have their own asparagus patch or who enjoy this seasonal treat may like to try a recipe I saw on TV in Britain from the inimitable Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall. HFW seems to be something of a darling of mainstream TV crossing freely between lifestyle, gardening and cooking programmes while embodying much of that which is charming about British eccentrics. Pitted in some cook-off competition against a professional chef, HFW watched him fiddling about making the usual Hollandaise Sauce and then proceeded to whip up his own version. Cook the asparagus spears lightly. Soft boil a three minute egg then cut its top off, pierce the yolk, place a small knob of butter on the egg and add a squeeze of lemon juice. Dip the asparagus spears in the egg mix and eat. Voila! Instant Hollandaise Sauce without the artery hardening properties of large quantities of butter, let alone the problems of curdling.

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Keen gardeners generally know how to grow plants from seed and if you are of this ilk, you will want to have a look at Kings Seeds catalogue. I can honestly say that Mark has had hours of wholesome fun browsing this substantial listing and will have many more hours of fun when his thirty seven packets of seed turn up. It was actually meant to be forty five packets of seed but they seemed to be out of eight that he wanted. Considering I can blow $100 easily on a trip to town, his investment of $103.30 (plus the cost of the catalogue which I think was $7.50) is likely to be of much longer duration with more rewarding outcomes.

The beauty of Kings Seeds is that they don’t just offer the mainstream flower and vegetable selections (though they are here and at prices somewhat less than you will pay buying them off the shelf), there is a large range of less common selections – annuals, perennials, herbs and vegetable – and a growing selection of heirloom varieties. There are seven different types of zucchini, for example, and I counted fifty one different types of tomatoes.

You can find Kings Seeds on line at www.kingsseeds.co.nz or if you are the more old fashioned type who prefers to hold a catalogue in your hands, Mark obtained his copy from a local garden centre. Even if you have never tried growing seeds before, you may be inspired to start. There is quite a bit of information in the catalogue but my advice to absolute beginners is not to be too ambitious to start with. Five packets of different seeds are probably enough to cope with… You will need seed trays. We still use our polystyrene mushroom trays here which used to be widely available but are harder to source now. Ours are almost vintage. We puncture many holes in the base before filling with seed raising mix. Once you have sown your seeds, it does pay to keep the trays off the ground if you can, to afford some protection from marauding slugs and snails which can demolish all the tender shoots overnight. If you resort to using your outdoor dining table to hold the seed trays, cover it with plastic first to give some protection to the table. The rest of the seed raising process you can learn by trial and error and it is a wonderful activity to do with children.

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I don’t usually review garden books as part of this column, but a reprint of a 1936 classic has had me chuckling this week. 100 Garden Games certainly harks back to an earlier era when people were more willing to participate in organised activities. Chapter one has twenty five games for one or two players. I worried a bit about whether Slippity was a form of jelly wrestling, but apparently not. But the one which took my fancy was Toe Ball. This is an amusing little game, we are told, which involves quite considerable energy. Briefly, it involves lying flat on your back on the ground. A large ball of a fair weight has a cord tied around it, secured at the other end to your toe. You then fling your leg upwards with as much force as possible so the ball flies upwards and backwards over your head, while the loop slips off your toe. What I particularly liked was the quote at the end: “This is an excellent little stunt for the lawn when you are sun-bathing in swim suits.” The mind boggles.

Going into games for small groups and larger parties, the instructions and equipment can become somewhat more complex, along with the scoring rules. Tether Tennis did not, as I initially feared, involve tying up your playing partner so that he or she could not escape. Neither did Human Croquet use shrunken heads, although some players are required to take on the role of being hoops while others are balls. Human croquet is more a case of Blind Man’s Buff meets croquet.

But it was the Games For Children chapter which made me think that times had changed considerably. It is difficult to imagine that the modern child would be encouraged to make their own blowpipes (the instructions on how to construct a blowpipe are very detailed) complete with darts from thin splinters of bamboo. Given that bullrush has fallen into disfavour, a number of the rough and tumble games, such as Tyre Wrestling, are likely to be deemed unsafe.

However Whip Sport is certainly attention grabbing in the games for children. The section opens with: “Plenty of fun can be had from a long-thonged whip.” This is followed by instructions on how to make a long thronged whip, even something resembling a cat-o’-nine-tails if you so wish. After making your whip, this handy little reference book tells you how to master using it and suggests various targets. Maybe children in 1936 were better mannered and kinder, as well as being tougher. The prospect of lining up a group of children of the new millennium armed with long thonged whips and expecting them to play harmoniously and co-operatively might be altogether too optimistic.

If you feel you need this nostalgic little book in your collection, it is by Sidney G Hedges, published by Hamlyn (ISBN 978 0 600 61840 9). It may generate lots of wholesome fun in your garden this summer, if you avoid the games which ACC would like to make illegal.