It is hydrangeas looking gorgeous here this week. If you are on Facebook, I posted an album of last week’s hydrangea images. We regard them as really easy here but it has been pointed out to me that in other climates they are nurtured treasures. Try telling a Taranaki person that when they are a roadside wildflower here.
The decidedly indifferent summer weather continues and we start to worry about whether Mark cleaned the swimming pool for no purpose this season. Neither of us have even been tempted to get in so far. The water temperature has reached a level I find acceptable (anything 24C or over is suitable, in my book) but the air temperature is hardly conducive to swimming. At least it is pleasant gardening weather and on the worst rainy day, I finally made myself sit down and rewrite the Garden section of this site. I am as guilty as many others of leaving background material untouched and not updated. The next area that needs an upgrade is the one on Jury plant hybrids but if the summer continues in this manner, that may happen sooner rather than later.
I may, however, get diverted. I read the feature by Lynda Hallinan in the January issue of NZ Gardener magazine – ‘With the benefit of hindsight… 40 lessons learned in five years of country gardening’. There is a format I could purloin, I thought. 40 lessons from a country garden after 65 years of intensive gardening. Sure, not all those 65 years were by Mark and me (though if you combined our totals, we are getting close to that), but I could bring you the collective experience from Mark’s great grandfather – who goes back to 1870 and the first plantings here, his parents and now us. So 145 years in total but only 65 of those represent intensive gardening. I need to locate and scan in some of the early slides which, if my memory serves me right, show the development of parts of the garden at five and ten year intervals. Our 40 lessons may be closer to a book than a single article, however.
It has been a week of felling trees. The first, Cornus kousa, was a push-over. Literally. Formerly a fine specimen, over the years it had started to die back and I asked Lloyd to cut it back to live growth. He reported that it was very shaky and that he reckoned he could push it over by hand. So he did. Mark can no longer make the only slightly suggestive quip in his repertoire – inviting people to admire his large kousa. The main trunks were rotten to the core so they didn’t even provide firewood.
The second tree gave Mark a few pangs as he felled it – a large silver birch. We don’t regard Betula pendula as a quality, long term tree in our climate, though they can be graceful and attractive in their time. This one paid the price for casting too much shade in the area where Mark is developing his long term vegetable garden and orchard. It will provide a lot of good firewood so will be appreciated in the burning but Mark couldn’t help but muse upon all the decades it had lived and the changes that have occurred all around it in that time. It is one thing when a tree falls of its own volition because it has given up its grip on life, quite another to fell it because it has simply become expedient. Though, it must be said that we do have plenty of other very large trees here.
On the vegetable front, I sourced three punnets of Brussels sprouts for Mark to plant yesterday – ‘Maxim’ variety, which is his preference. He rarely buys punnets of plants, raising almost all crops from seed but his Brussels are an exception. They are also one of the few brassicas he grows, along with some of the quick-maturing Chinese greens. I particularly dislike broccoli – a controversial opinion, I know. Neither of us are keen on cauliflower and we are terribly sniffy about the merits of cabbage. But both of us enjoy Brussels sprouts freshly harvested from the garden. Though last season, our Californian quail beat us to the crop. We had the first pick of the season’s green beans for dinner last night.
I spent a happy afternoon puddling in the goldfish pond. Every few years – well, maybe once a decade – Mark catches all the goldfish and drains the pond entirely to start again. In the interim, it needs a bit of ongoing maintenance and the pondweeds and plants were building up too densely. I try and keep the plants to a central strip. The goldfish need cover from circling kingfishers. The weed is problematic but it can be kept from reaching choking proportions by scooping with an old kitchen sieve. There are worse ways to spend a quiet summer’s day when the temperatures are not warm enough to warrant swimming.
Sometimes good plants can be difficult to place. Take this Stachys ‘Bella Grigio’, new to the NZ market. It is very good – healthy, grows well, keeps its silver white colour, distinctive – so why does it stick out like a sore thumb in the garden? I saw it used extensively in somebody else’s garden a month or two ago and it didn’t look any better there, either. I just have not found the right place for it. The contrast with everything else around it is too stark and I do not think a stachys (otherwise known as lambs’ ears) should be shouting “look at me! Look at me!”. I will have to lift it soon or it will continue to annoy me. I am not convinced I am going to be able to place it here. Maybe it would just be happier in a much more contemporary, simpler garden of sharp contrasts, defined lines and limited colour range, rather than in our softer-edged, more fulsome, romantic style. The jury is still out on this plant, even though it is very good.