Tikorangi Diary: Sunday June 25, 2011

The wisteria festooned bridge in spring

The wisteria festooned bridge in spring

I have pruned the wisterias. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with wisterias which seem to make a leap for freedom the moment my back is turned, but they certainly add to the spring display. The blue (sinensis Blue Sapphire) and white (floribunda Snow Showers) which festoon one of our bridges in the park look terribly romantic in flower, but they are inclined to try and join hands across the middle. And I am worried that some of their thicker branches are threatening the bridge timbers. We don’t worry about the borer attacks. Wisteria are not shy and backward plants which need nurturing so I just cut out badly affected branches as need be. Mark’s mother had a lovely blue wisteria up the wall of the house outside her bedroom window but Felix took it out. I can’t recall now whether he waited til after she died (when the climbing roses went west) but I can remember being a little sad at his actions. These days I know exactly why he removed it. I have had the spouting cracked outside my office window. The last thing we need is a rampant wisteria lifting the concrete roof tiles on the house and cracking our vintage spouting there.

I am also pruning the roses and my relationship with these leans more to hate than love. Yes they have beautiful flowers and fresh foliage in spring. Because we don’t spray, come summer they have some beautiful flowers but cruddy foliage. In winter, all they do is try and ensnare me as I work around the areas where they are planted. I do not feel the need to plant more roses until breeders start to offer us more options in beautifully full, fragrant blooms (of the David Austen type) on bushes that repeat flower and don’t get diseased, preferably without thorns. By far and away, the best performers here are Rose Flower Carpet white and coral, the rugosas and one called, I think, Golden Celebration which has fearsome thorns but very good habits otherwise. But none of these give me the soft and subtle flowers of the lovely Austens.

I had a matched pair of standard Mary Roses of which I was very fond. Note the past tense. Today I dug out the one that is all but dead and which has for a long time persisted in putting out strong shoots from the root stock. And therein lies a demonstration of the problem of matched, formal plantings. What do you do when one dies or ails badly? It is much easier to get the formal look with inanimate objects. I could probably source a replacement standard but I am not going to. I do not think anyone but me will notice that there is one half of a pair missing. It is a garden which, at its best, is full of froth and flower within a formal setting. I think the setting is enough – I will not worry about trying to repeat the formality in framework planting.

Repairing the stone wall (a pine tree fell on this section some years ago)

Repairing the stone wall (a pine tree fell on this section some years ago)

Shamed by a current shortage of greens, Mark is out planting a large quantity of broad beans and peas. I could tell he is going for overkill when he wanted to discuss whether broad beans would freeze well if picked young. The deep freeze is currently full of his frozen corn which, he pointed out to me, we need to be eating at the rate of one packet every 72 hours if we are to get through it before the next crop comes in. The garlic is long planted and is well into growth. These days, he takes Kay Baxter’s advice (from Koanga Institute) and aims to get it planted in autumn so it gets away before sodden winter conditions set in. He is also trying her recommended approach to plant it in a metre grid on a 10 x 10 arrangement (so at 10cm spacing) which is a great deal more economical in space than the usual rows. Keeping it to a metre square means it is easy enough to reach into the middle to weed. I am hoping Lloyd is going to remember that he said he would smoke me some garlic while we still have plenty of last summer’s crop hanging in good condition. Lloyd is the one who owns a smoker here. Smoked garlic is particularly delicious when raw garlic is called for in recipes such as aioli.

When not fluffing around with his vegetable garden, Mark has been giving his attention to his michelia propagation trials. With the flowering season just starting, the hybridist’s hat is back on his head and we face many months where the first call on his time will be his plant breeding. It is easy to underestimate just how much time and energy goes into a controlled plant breeding programme as opposed to people who just pick out chance seedlings (or worse: copy what other breeders have already done successfully. Expect to hear more on this topic, which is a sore point here).

Lloyd is continuing with repairs to our stone wall. I did say last week that these activities are best measured in terms of results, not costs….

And while the winter/early spring bulb season is just starting (Narcissus bulbocodium, galanthus, leucojums and the early lachenalias), it is the bromeliads which are the unsung hero for winter colour this week. If you can grow broms, they sure are eye-catching in bloom.

Bromeliads for winter colour. This one is a Bilbergia.

Bromeliads for winter colour. This one is a Bilbergia.

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