A week of determined gardening

The first half is now all planted

I have not been shilly-shallying around. The first half of the new court garden is planted and I have started on the second half. This is not light work. Mark has rotary hoed and I follow up with raking the area out and getting clods of roots out, as well as squishing the abundance of grass grubs. It has only just occurred to me that had I transferred all those grubs to a jar instead, we should have had enough for a meal of alternative protein. Whether grass grubs are delicious when tossed in garlic butter in a hot pan will likely remain mystery, however. I am not that intrepid.

Starting on the other half – the pressure is on to get it planted before winter sets in 

I describe this as romantic chat between two wheelbarrows (me being a two barrow gardener)

The rush is on because our soils are still warm and temperatures are mild, despite it being late autumn. I am hoping for a few more weeks of grace so the plants can start forming new roots. You would not want to be doing it this late in the season in colder climates or places with heavy soil where the plants would languish in wet, compacting ground. With our excellent drainage and friable, volcanic soils, we have much more leeway.

My plantings are neither complex nor detailed. This is a novel experience here. Most of our garden is highly detailed so going with sweeping plantings of large growing perennials is very different and way easier to put in. Because I am digging and dividing from other areas to get the plant material, it is heavy work but it means I am able to put in sizeable clumps at finished spacings. Had I bought the plants, it would be different. When you are starting with nursery-grown plants in small 10 cm pots, it is really difficult to envisage their mature size and the instinct, always, is to over-plant to get a quicker effect. That of course makes for more work in the future because that over-planting will need thinning sooner, rather than later.

B I G salvias for autumn colour, though I am having to cut back early because of transplanting them

I planted the waves of foundation plants first, using just seven different plant varieties (5 grasses, Astelia chathamica and Elegia capensis), added the blocks of a few additional plants I wanted to use (two black flaxes or phormium, a block of rushes that I have lost the name of already, the giant Albuca nelsonii and a plant of Carmichaelia williamsii which has had a hard life but I hope will survive and thrive) . Finally, I added the flowers. At this stage just the giant inula (likely Inula magnifica), big salvias for autumn flowering, pale foxgloves and Verbascum creticum. I hope I have at last found the right spot for these botanical thugs. The plant selection is fairly typical of the way we garden in that it will end up around 25% native plants integrated with exotics. We have never gone for the deliberate “native garden” but instead select native plants that will work in a mixed situation.

The discards of earlier generations to the left, our plastic generation to the right

There are times when working in the garden here takes on the flavour of an archaeological dig. This used to be a farm and farmers were not exactly renowned for taking their rubbish to the dump. It then became an outlying area of the garden in Mark’s father time, before becoming nursery in our time. I always gather up all the non-biodegradable rubbish as I garden and this haul interested me. Given that our nursery years coincided with the widespread switch to plastics, I was surprised that the volume of modern plastics and synthetics (on the right) was not greater. We must have been tidier than I thought. On the left is the older rubbish. Metal, glass, broken china and some pieces of clay pots, basically. There is quite a lot of broken horticultural glass there. Felix was doing his home propagation back in the days of terracotta pots and wooden seed trays covered with sheets of glass. While the broken glass would have been hazardous in the beginning, time has dulled the edges. Unlike modern plastics, I don’t think there is evidence that glass and shards of pottery enter the food chain and pollute the oceans. In this time when there is growing concern at plastics in the environment, we are relieved to be out of the nursery industry – a business that is now built on extensive use of plastics, some of which may be reused but precious little of it will ever be recycled.

Dahlia imperialis towers some 3 to 4 metres high against the autumn sky

Finally, because I read a brave comment in a southern blog this week boldly declaring, “Even though it’s May, that most dire of months for gardens in the southern hemisphere…” (waving to my friend, Robyn Kilty) , I offer you three flowering plants this week. All are big, rangy, brittle, frost tender and come into their own just as the autumn storms hit. But are they not lovely?

This evergreen tree hydrangea is even larger. Now, I understand classified as a form of H. aspera

And the luculia season has started, bring us sweet scent. Luculia pinceana ‘Fragrant Cloud’.





13 thoughts on “A week of determined gardening

  1. dinahmow

    I am now following you from Mackay, in tropical coastal Queensland. Despite almost 40 years “across the ditch” I have fond memories of NZ gardens.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I love the international reach of the internet. I did plant the Queensland spear lily this week (Doryanthes palmeri) but that is about as far as the Australian plant contribution to this new garden goes at this stage.

  2. Tim Dutton

    We’re loving following the progress of this area of the garden. You certainly have been very busy! We envy you for your Taranaki soil, because whenever we visit Taranaki gardens it seems they grow plants about twice as fast as our garden does. The archaeological dig that you experience is a familiar one for us. Our garden was part of a farm a few decades ago and even after nearly 30 years since we moved here I can still unearth agricultural trash, discards and implements of all sorts. The biggest problems to remove are buried sheets of roofing iron and buried sections of electric fence: I curse when I encounter either.
    We wouldn’t try grass grubs (or any other insect for that matter) no matter how good someone said they tasted!
    Big Salvias for late autumn colour are great, aren’t they? Ours seem to be doing particularly well this year. Don’t yet know whether our new-this-year S. confertiflora will survive a winter here, even in a protected spot, so must take some cuttings soon.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Yes, we are blessed with our friable soils. Thankyou for naming the red salvia for me – I did not realise it was confetti flora until I looked it up. I see crickets are being trialled as a commercial crop in ten Wairarapa. Somehow, I think a crunchy cricket would be less off-putting than fat, white and grey grass grubs. Never really been drawn to huhu grubs either but I am sure this is just cultural conditioning.

  3. Paddy Tobin

    Your two wheelbarrows photograph reminded me of someone describing a small rural school here in Ireland as a “two-kettle school” meaning that the teachers (all two of them!) didn’t get on well enough to even share a kettle!

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I am laughing! Though this is a five barrow establishment. I have two that are mine, all mine. Mark has his, Lloyd his and there is a spare barrow by the potting bench. Same with spades – though there are almost certainly more than five of those. Such is the level of courtesy here that we ask each other before we ‘borrow’ their barrow or spade. Imagine the hostile atmosphere in that school staffroom!

  4. tony murrell

    Hi Abbey and Mark, I am really liking the way the garden is shaping up! From discussions, deliberation and now motivation, the garden now has longer legs!

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I am having such a satisfying time planting it, Tony. The last major planting I have planned. It had better be good!

  5. tonytomeo

    Even in Australia you can find (almost) archeological artifacts. We find a bit of debris at the farm because the only people who had been there previously buried it in an arroyo that is now eroding. It is sort of compelling in a way.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      In earlier days, farmers sometimes ploughed up taonga (Maori word for treasure but not in the gold coin sense – way more spiritually significant). It is said that Maori groups in retreat or making a hasty exit buried their taonga for safe keeping, so that they could return later to retrieve them. Mark’s father ploughed up several greenstone (NZ jade, known here as pounamu) taonga. Alas, all we tend to find are items like his Dad’s buried, defunct toaster of old slippers!

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      The country is littered with farmers’ dumps. One near us is just a big pit that is right beside a stream and probably leaches straight into it. I do not understand how people can continue dumping like this.

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