Countdown to Festival, September 3

• Down in Kakaramea, the self-styled Angelina Jolies of the chicken world (that is Jacq and Mich Dwyer of Te Rata) are pleased that their now pampered chickies are starting to lay again. These are 10 rescue birds – hence the Angelina reference – poor featherless things when adopted, who now live in the lap of luxury and fortunately know how to show their appreciation. Jacq reports that Mich has planted three types of potatoes so far. She splits the bags with neighbour Emma who reciprocates later in the season when they plant the next crop. Jacq has enclosed her rose garden in an electric fence as a temporary measure to keep out the marauding possums which are capable of taking off every new shoot overnight.

• Te Popo gardeners, Lorri and Bruce Ellis have been making paths safe. First up, the attractive but dangerously slippery brick path from the back door had to be lifted. Lorri says the gravel may not look quite as pleasing aesthetically but it is at least safe. In a damp climate, anything that becomes slippery when moss grows is a hazard – Lorri notes that they have also learned that large river stone steps are very treacherous. With a very steep section linking the bottom of their dell to a bridge constructed from wharf piles, Bruce has had to use a plastic product recommended for cattle races and also recently installed on the track from the car park at Dawson Falls to Wilkes Pool. The material is laid down, secured and then the cavities are filled with fine stones and gravel. Lorri is pleased with the result. She says it is hardly visible but your feet feel very secure and it stops the surface from scouring out when it rains.

• At Havenview Vegetable Garden, Maree Rowe is fed up with the rain but at least she has managed to get her Jerusalem artichokes and yacon dug up and the best tubers replanted. I had to look up yacon – a starchy root vegetable prized in the Andes. I had mentally placed it as Japanese but that of course is the daikon which is something radish-y, not to be confused with a brand of heat pump. The yacon sounds more interesting. Maree’s garden is to be featured in the Weekend Gardener soon as part of the lead-in to this year’s festival. She just wishes her potager had more to show but it is at least weed-free and tidy and by the time the actual event arrives, the seeds should be sprouting in abundance.

• In Hawera at Puketarata, Jennifer Horner has been worried about her lawns and about getting the timing right for doing work on them so they look improved by the end of October. She was disconcerted to see the tops of her pohutakawas down the driveway get tickled up by frost this year but they will be flushing with new growth shortly. Apparently Hawera received a doozy of a frost this year which more northerly gardeners escaped entirely.

• At La Rosaleda in New Plymouth, Collen Peri is a great deal more relaxed about opening this year now that she knows what to expect. She has done her first round of fertilising – mostly blood and bone and Bioboost, following up with a mulch of Grunt. None of her plants should feel hard done by after that lot. She says she is a novice when it comes to her little vegetable patch but she does like to grow strawberries and cherry tomatoes for her little fellow Will to pick and her Moneymaker tomatoes astonished her last year with their ability to thrive and crop despite complete neglect. This spring will be an exciting one for Coleen at her iris patch which is located away from her garden. She bought a large (very large, actually) collection of bearded irises from a mail order nursery closing down and this spring, she will get to see the whole range in flower.