Countdown to Festival: May 21 ,2010

Fan-shaped leaf rakes to the right, not to be confused with a traditional garden rake

• In the south at Patea, Rudi Milesi has been out raking up autumn leaves to make compost to return to the garden. He uses a leaf rake which is the fan-shaped implement, not the traditional rake whose prongs dig in rather than grabbing and sweeping. He is also determinedly staying on top of the autumn weeds and has been busy pruning. In a densely planted small garden, he needs to avoid overgrowth and competition between plants by keeping them under control. With the calm weather this autumn, Rudi says he is really pleased with how refreshed the garden is looking.
• Also southwards but near Manaia, Jenny Oakley can’t wait to get back into her garden after a forced period of inaction. She finally got off her crutches this week following a hip replacement and is feeling very liberated to be able to walk unaided. She says she is but one of three garden openers who has had to undergo this operation this year. Other gardeners are hoping this is coincidence and not an indication of a hitherto unsuspected occupational hazard.
• In Stratford, Erica Jago is back in the festival with her pretty garden, Merleswood after a break of a year. Her pond proved such a challenge recently that she had to enlist some male help as it required greater brute strength than she has. The common ornamental grass, acorus, had staged a complete takeover and wound itself around and through all the rocks, achieving menacing proportions. With a reasonably large garden to maintain on her own these days, Erica has been strategising ways of streamlining the garden for easier management. The recent replacement of the gate to her pond area meant much easier access with the lawnmower and proved to her that relatively small alterations can make a big difference to the convenience of maintaining the garden.
• Not far inland from Merleswood is Gordon Dale Gardens where Jan and Graeme Worthington are excited at their upcoming UK trip where they will exchange seven weeks of inland Stratford winter for an English summer – a trade many of us would enjoy. Jan is keen to fit in some gardens to their tour and is gathering recommendations on the must-see options. As always, travelling in a group of four, there needs to be some negotiation on differing interests and the trip will not be wall to wall garden visits. I recommended Hidcote near Stratford on Avon as the single best garden we saw last year and we went there on Glyn Church’s recommendation, it being one of his absolute favourites.
• Back in the Festival after a break of a decade are the inimitable Josephine and Quinton Reeves in New Plymouth. Josephine feels the garden has come a long way in ten years, assisted by Quinton in his self appointed role as garden boy. Though clearly the garden boy did not know his place when he took to ribbing his wife about a recent trip out to a plant sale when she returned with her little car so jam packed that there was no side or rear visibility. But the plants were so cheap, was her justification.
• The first garden openers’ meeting of the year was held in Stratford earlier this week where details of a full programme of workshops and speakers was revealed along with a dramatic take on the landscape installation this year. Watch for further details. Morale is high amongst garden openers after an across the board 25% increase in visitor numbers last year. All are hoping for a repeat of the magic spell of spring weather at the end of October this year.