A fortnightly series first published in the Weekend Gardener and reproduced here with their permission.
We have a garden where we are constantly trying to push the climatic boundaries and grow plants which are not naturally adapted to our conditions. For us it is what makes gardening really interesting. But we had a wry smile at the suggestion from Christchurch paeony growers that anywhere south of Auckland should be able to grow these herbaceous beauties. There are reasons why Taranaki gardens do not have paeonies and it is not for want of trying. We can grow some of the tree paeonies but those beautiful, over the top rose paeony types simply don’t perform. As they are not even successful in inland gardens where winters are much colder, it seems more likely that our high rainfall and high humidity levels are the problem. If we could grow them we would.
We have to work at plants which prefer drier, open conditions. The Marlborough rock daisy (Pachystegia insignis) can keel over for us but generally we keep it going on an exposed bank. To our ongoing embarrassment, the excellent form we have is one stolen by my late mother from the Dunedin Botanic Gardens. She was a fine gardener but she was also one of those old ladies to be feared with her handbag and secateurs when a normally strong moral code deserted her entirely. We only succeed with the celmisias (mountain daisies) and meconopsis (Himalayan blue poppies) because of the work Mark does to bring some level of hybrid vigour into his seed strains. It takes constant effort to keep them going.
We continue experimenting with orchids as garden plants. Cymbidiums are easy and we have a great deal of success with dendrobiums, calanthes and pleiones. The masdevalleas have not been successful and Mark is still working on the disas to see if we can naturalise them by our stream. Similarly, we push the boundaries with heat loving plants. While most sub tropicals will grow here, without real summer heat, the genuine tropicals are a challenge. We dream of a big solar heated glasshouse.
1) Autumn planting. We are hoping for our usual long, mild autumn when conditions are perfect for gardening, particularly for planting out. Plants then get a chance to settle in and establish before the rush of spring growth.
2) Finish getting the piles of firewood under cover. We rely entirely on wood for winter heating and we get through a large quantity. Fortunately we are entirely self sufficient but the winter firewood does not cut itself up and get itself in. Free it may be, but it is not without effort.