Countdown to Festival – June update

In Stratford, June and Colin Lees at Cairnhill Garden have battened down the hatches for winter. Given the severity of inland frosts, they have moved their stoneware birds in under cover. Last winter one of the herons suffered a severe head injury, literally splitting in two. Fortunately potter and fellow garden opener, Joyce Young, put it back together in time for Festival. June is learning how to handle the blue Himalayan poppies. She bought a couple of plants a few years ago from a Wanaka grower and one has achieved perennial status (even the Lingholm strain can be short-lived) impressing garden visitors and setting prolific amounts of seed. There are few garden plants to equal the pure blue of these poppies so June is determined to nurture the many seedlings to flowering size.

Havenview vegetable gardener supreme, Maree Rowe on Kent Road has all her garlic planted and fed with copious amounts of compost to keep this gross feeding crop happy. She reports that her Queensland Blue pumpkin harvest this year was huge and weighty after growing them in one of the compost bins. She has completed the annual review to maintain her certification as a member of Organic Farm NZ, a process which is both rigorous yet supportive and encouraging. And Maree claims that her building skills are improving and she gained some practice extending the chook pens and runs for her new chicken additions. Now she is waiting in anticipation of plenty of fresh eggs being laid every day in spring.

In Kakaramea, Jacq Dwyer at Te Rata has been planting more fruit trees in the orchard, including a damson plum to encourage sister Michelle’s efforts making her Dam Fine Damson Gin. Michelle brought back a bottle of sloe gin (sloes are a small bitter fruit, actually a member of the prunus family, often found in hedgerows) from the UK but her efforts with damsons eclipse that liquor. With a six week turnaround, her recipe is considerably faster than the minimum twelve months required by the recipe I have tried. Jacq has also been lifting big clumps of native grasses, grooming out the dead strands and replanting divisions.

On Heta Road at Thorveton, Mary and Barry Vinnicomb are delighted with their new family member – a little silver blue kitten. Mary felt she deserved a special name such as Penelope, but really she is named as much for the memory of the honesty seed heads referred to as silver pennies in Mary’s childhood. Alas Mary is struggling to keep her roadside beautification efforts going in the face of drunken vandals. It is just a little garden around a concrete power pole with a colourful pelargonium and orange Californian poppies but even that proved too tempting to late night revellers who had to destroy it, along with smashing a pair of pots from inside the Vinnicomb. driveway. However, they tangle with Mary at their peril. Not one to give up easily, she now plans to plant the power pole in the prickliest rugosa rose she can find. Rugosas are known for being both high health and incredibly prickly.

Also in town, Coleen Peri of La Rosaleda complains that she is dying to get onto her rose pruning (an enormous task in her garden where she grows a large number of them) but by the time she kits up to go outside, the rain has started again. It was with triumph that she managed the feat of getting her new 170kg statue of Diana the Huntress and a concrete bench seat of similar weight into position in the garden. She did have to hire in some brawn, grease a hand or two and supply a couple of bottles of wine to carry out the task. It is likely that Diana has found her permanent home amongst the trees..

At Festival HQ, work on this year’s programme is well down the track and it will be available at the official launch which takes place at the TSB Showplace on July 8. The inimitable Ruud Kleinpaste will be the guest at the launch. While he is best known as the Bugman, we can vouch for the fact that he is no slug when it comes to gardening either.