Garden thoughts

Just another heavy transporter passing along one of our road boundaries. A particularly noisy one this Sunday morn.

I garden. A lot. So I have a lot of solitary thinking time. Never more so than this week when it has taken every ounce of my inner strength to maintain some equilibrium in the face of relentless heavy traffic from the gas well site on the farm across our bottom road. The company is ‘demobilising’ the workover rig that has been on site and that has generated as much, maybe even more, heavy transporters along our two road boundaries than at the peak of the bad days from 2011 to 2013. Once the rest of the rig gear has been moved out, the ‘well stimulation’ equipment will all be trucked in for four weeks of intensive fracking and flaring. Super! Yes we still carry out open air flaring and extensive fracking in this country. Worries about climate change apparently lie with somebody else, anybody else – a concern divorced from current, high-level activity.

This is why our garden is still closed to the public. Fortunately my coping mechanisms are better than they were during the bad old days, but it does take a lot of mental energy to keep some positivity and inner serenity, I tell you. Especially for one who is not naturally of a serene disposition.

The gnarly trunks of the aged Kurume azaleas. In the background, Mark has draped old shade cloth over the newly sown areas of grass to discourage the pesky rabbits and sparrows.

Back to gardening. I mentioned last week that I was doing a clean-out of the Rimu Avenue. I still am, though I have broken the back of it and am now working more on the margins, including the bed of venerable Kurume azaleas which are underplanted with cyclamen. This is another area that can be left pretty much to its own devices for extended periods of time but it looks better when I get in and clear out the regenerating growth from the base of the azaleas, take out dead wood and shake out the accumulation of leaf litter from the trees above that builds up in the canopy.

It is not really self-sustaining gardening. More like lower-input gardening. For those who like a bit of substance to your gardening reading, you may enjoy Noel Kingsbury’s latest post on the subject of so-called ‘natural gardening’. He is an English writer and a specialist in that new wave style of perennial gardening led by Piet Oudolf.

We have never talked about ‘natural gardens’. Naturalistic, yes, and we have played around with various other descriptors. Enhanced nature, romantic gardening, gardening WITH nature rather than trying to control it but maybe the one we use most is sustainable gardening. We try hard to reduce the negative inputs (spraying, chemical fertilisers, really high input labour practices, use of internal combustion engines for routine maintenance and suchlike). For us, sustainable gardening is also about being able to manage this place as we get older in the next couple of decades. We have no plans to leave in our old age. I anticipate that, like his father before him, Mark will be carried out in a wooden box and hopefully that will not be for another 20 years. So we have to be mindful of how we manage our acreage and what expectations we have of the garden.

Fairy Magnolia White has opened her first, fragrant blooms this week.

Mark sees it in simple terms. He thinks that we all like to be surrounded by pretty things and that is why he loves flowers and always has done. It is the prettiness – sometimes even astounding beauty – combined with nature that feeds his soul, and indeed mine.

It is perhaps the dearth of homegrown gardening TV programmes and Monty Don and BBC Gardeners’ World taking a break from our screens that drove him to start recording ‘Best Gardens Australia’. This is not gardening as we see it. In fact it has very little indeed to do with gardening. The plants are mostly added in the manner in which scatter cushions and a stylish throw might be added to complete the picture of a stylish sofa. It has a heavy infomercial component and big budget outdoor spaces, mostly dominated by the mandatory swimming pool, additional water features, hard landscaping on a grand and permanent scale (no matter how small the site) and… pavilions. Garden sheds, washing lines, wheelie bins and storage for bikes are not in evidence, but pavilions rule supreme. Along with ‘resort-style living’. In New Zealand, resort-style gardens tend to mean the intimacy and tropical look of small, Balinese hotels. In Australia, it means something very different – the Miami look of lots of stark, hard-edged white plaster and concrete.

The children’s summer house in a handsome Yorkshire garden

England has its summer houses and garden rooms and very charming many of them are, too. In New Zealand, we are generally more modest and less permanent and the gazebo is most common. I am not a fan of the gazebo as a general rule, with its tanalised pine construction and trellis decoration. We call them gazzybows. They are usually bought in kitset form and too often used as a ‘garden feature’, rather than to enhance the outdoor living experience.

The typical off-the-shelf gazebo

I am not sure at what point a gazzybow crosses over to a pavilion. I suspect you need a budget at least 10 times larger (maybe 20), space in similarly inflated proportions and block or concrete construction (plastered, of course). By the pool. With a full second kitchen, a dining set that can accommodate a minimum of 12 people to a sit-down meal and a barbecue that can roast all the cuts of meat from a beef beast to feed the many (many) friends that the pavilion owners have assembled. Mark was a bit stunned by the pavilion shown with a drinks fridge that would rival most upmarket hotels.

Never have we felt more like the poor relatives across the Tasman than when faced by the ostentatious wealth of ‘Best Gardens Australia’. We are more in synch with the gardening philosophies of the aforementioned Noel Kingsbury.

French style. My photo library is entirely lacking in images of contemporary Australian pavilions.

So in the spirit of sweeping generalisations, I tell you that if you are a modest New Zealander, you have a gazebo. If you are nouveau riche Australian, you have a pavilion. If you are British establishment, you have a summerhouse or garden room. If you are French, you have a little, aged, shabby chic café table and chairs.

Finally, the late afternoon light falls upon our maunga or mountain on the winter solstice – a sight which keeps us anchored firmly to this place where we live and garden.

18 thoughts on “Garden thoughts

  1. Julie Milligan

    Hi, I really have to disagree with you about the Australian Gardens and your overview. All real Australian gardeners thought the series was awful and very few gardens in Australia would be made this way, most like myself build their gardens over many years, Jules.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Oh Jules! I was only writing about Best Gardens Australia, not trying to generalise from that to say that this is the norm for gardening in your country. I visit often enough to know that this is not the case.

  2. Heather

    Monty is back on Choice TV, Fri nights but they are repeats. But still extremely interesting to watch and pick up things you may have missed previously.

  3. tonytomeo

    Perhaps I should not have stopped to read this. I will read something else to calm down. This is why I no longer do my Garden Report on KSCO, and why my nearly twenty year old gardening column was discontinued from the Silicon Valley Community Newspapers. I do not ‘sell’ anything. It was too much horticulture, and not enough cheap capitalism. The articles that replace it are just like you describe there, and this in in the Santa Clara Valley, that was once famous for the production of horticultural commodities!
    The fracking was the other whammy! I live just a few miles from the epicenter of the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989. The surrounding redwood forests were harvested a century ago to rebuilt San Francisco and the San Francisco Bay Area after the Great Earthquake of 1906. Earthquakes are a part of life here that we have no problem with. When I went to Oklahoma at the end of 2012, we left the earthquakes behind. There are no earthquakes there; or at least they are very rare. There are now more earthquakes in that same region than there are here! Supposedly, they are not related to fracking. It is just coincidental that they are in the exact same regions as the fracking, and coincide with the fracking. That is SO coincidental.
    Okay, sorry about another rant. I will go read another one of your articles now.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      We are as one on these two issues, Tony. You will understand how trying I find the phone calls and emails I get EVERY WEEK from people who assume that because I have written about a plant, we are selling it and they can order one to be posted to them. What is it that they read that makes them assume that mine is a commercial site selling product??? Does it ever read like a commercial sales pitch? Even when we were selling plants, I always worked hard to ensure that my published writings were never thinly veiled marketing. I think it is a sad commentary that so many people assume that everything is a sales push these days and can’t tell the difference.

      All of NZ is earthquake territory, some areas worse than others. I once read that NZ and San Francisco have the tightest building codes in the world because of earthquakes. But of course the petrochemical companies deny that there is any proven link between fracking and earthquakes so there is, they say, nothing to see here and nothing to worry about. The thing about the Oklahoma earthquakes, I read, is that they are getting bigger. People in NZ are not likely to worry about quakes under 4 or 5 on the Richter scale because we have always had them (unless it is Christchurch people who know the power of major quakes and who are still on constant alert, triggered by any quakes, after their devastating experiences) but some of those Oklahoma quakes are now above 5. Also there is growing evidence that the practice of deep well injection (reinjecting the waste back into old wells as a means of disposing of contaminated fluid) may exacerbate matters considerably. Deep well injection is common practice here. But the companies assure us there is nothing to worry about… I have had to learn how to look inwards, to focus my attention on the beauty that surrounds me ever day. It helps to think that this is a twilight industry and I hope I live long enough to see the companies slink off into the sunset. The gas in the field beneath us is only accessible and viable because of fracking and ongoing intervention. What could possibly go wrong?

      1. tonytomeo

        What could possible go wrong? New Zealand gets earthquakes without the help of fracking. Oklahoma gets no earthquakes naturally, but gets them now because of fracking (let’s just say that ‘hypothetically’). So . . . promoting earthquakes by fracking added to a region that already gets earthquakes, hmmm.

      2. Abbie Jury Post author

        We have at least started the phase-out stage. The government is not issuing any new permits. So we just have to endure the wind-down transition.

  4. sarahnorling2014

    Had a chuckle over your ‘spirit of sweeping generalisations’ sentence. Give me a couple of chairs in a sunny nook over all that concrete, any day. When the ‘outdoor room’ is taken to such extremes, you might as well just be inside!

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I have contemplated the outdoor room, I admit. Even paid an architect to come up with plans that we discarded as not suitable. Because sometimes it is good to have a place to host or entertain visitors that is not as personal as inviting them into the house. But those sort of visitors have diminished in number in recent years so I have flagged the idea because there is no point for just us or family or close friends. I once paced out the distance from a house that I think is comfortable to traverse to an outdoor eating area or entertaining area and I can’t remember how far I decided was reasonable but it is not far before it just becomes inconvenient. Mind you, these pavilions often had full kitchens with power and water so I guess you just have two sets of everything! Though quite often, the access seemed to be over ‘floating’ steps or pavers across the pool area so you would want to be stone cold sober and steady on your feet. But they looked trendy and upmarket.

  5. Tim Dutton

    This article struck several chords with us. We used to have SH2 go past our front gate: trucks in low gears up hill, using exhaust brakes downhill, always having to dash out onto the road and hope nobody was hooning around the bend towards us just down the hill, out of our sight. Luckily the powers that be decided to reroute the highway a little, and the noise is somewhat reduced as a result. We feel very sorry for you.
    Thank you for featuring our gazebo! We use it a lot as it overlooks the pond and one of the nicest parts of the garden (and the house doesn’t): we often carry lunch down there on a tray in summer, sometimes drinks on sunny winter’s days too, and watch the ducks for a while, before getting back onto gardening. I think we eat at our little table in there more than we eat on the patio outside the house.
    And as for going into old age, we’d love to be here until wooden box time, though accept it may not be possible, but fully intend to garden here into our 80s at least. I’m trying to get all the really heavy work out the way in the next few years.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Oh Tim, next time you head out to your gazebo, can you count how many paces it takes? I am curious because I think one reason I have rarely seen these structures actually used on a regular basis is that they are simply too far from the kitchen to ever be convenient.
      Sadly, the road outside our place will never be moved (lucky you, even though it sounds as if you wish it could be further away still) but hopefully we will lose the excessive petrochem HT one day.

  6. Tim Dutton

    I just checked: it takes 85 paces, which includes going down a flight of 13 steps. So it is quite a long way from the kitchen. However, apart from having a lovely view over the pond it also sits next to a babbling stream (often a roaring stream over the last month), so you have the soothing sound of running water next to you. In the summer it provides some welcome shade and is a great place to unwind and take stock of what we’ve done and what needs doing for a while before heading back to an afternoon of gardening. So our lunch breaks in the gazebo tend to be longer than our lunch breaks up at the house. Perhaps the answer is to think carefully about where to site and how to use a gazebo so it isn’t just a folly.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      That is quite a distance and may entirely undermine my theory. But yes, I could not agree more on placing these structures where they will be used, not where they will look good as a garden feature.

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