Subtitled: Rain! At last! A study in a sparrow’s nest, waterworks, the raspberry coop, tamarillos and an update on the new grass garden.
It is mighty unusual for us to get excited about rain in our climate. But a good rain last night was certainly a relief. It has not been a particularly hot summer but it has been a dry one. We do not irrigate our garden. Nor should anybody else, in this day and age when we are realising that water is a precious commodity. Garden to your conditions. Grow what flourishes in your climate. Target watering only to what needs it to survive and produce, not the whole area. But I digress. The rain last night, in addition to the 9 ml we received last week, is very welcome.
It also brought down more of the old sheaths clinging to the Queen Palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana) We describe this particular specimen as being an entire condominium of nesting birds, mostly sparrows. As each sheath falls, so too does a spent nest. In this case, it appears there were two families of sparrows squashed into the same apartment. Sparrows may be a common and unpopular little bird here (Oi! England! Do you want your spadges back? We could do a two-for-one deal and throw in Mrs Tiggywinkle and her large family) but their nests are soft, feather-lined creations of great charm. When you think how small these birds are, creating a cosy, safe place for their offspring’s first weeks is a major effort. What is more, they have to repeat the process every year.
As I wrote last week, we have decided we will reopen the garden this year for the 10 days of the Taranaki Garden Festival. Work in preparation has already begun. I tackled the raspberry coop. Mark marvelled that he did not think it had ever looked as tidy, including back in his father’s day. Lloyd was terribly impressed by my weekend’s efforts. It is a very old pipe and wire netting cage which is scheduled for removal but not for another year or two. We call it the raspberry coop because it houses a very productive row of raspberries but it was the sad, neglected blueberry that forced me into action. It was limping on with its cropping when I saw a photo of a commercial bush that was way more impressive. Maybe ours would do better with some care and attention, I thought. So I fed it, gave it compost as well, cleared everything else around it and mulched it. I am hoping for great things next year. The coop also houses seven geriatric dwarf apple trees. With feeding and mulching, I am hoping they may become venerable, rather than geriatric. They date back to the 1950s and we still have a collection of varieties that were popular back in those days – Sturmer, Golden Delicious, Spartan and others of that era.
The raspberry coop is on the margin of the Iolanthe garden that I have been working on transforming to a perennial meadow and if visitors are going to be looking at that, I felt that a weedy, unloved raspberry coop was not a good look at all. Now I just have to keep it this tidy and free of weeds.
Lloyd has been slogging it out this week, carving out a stream channel through the large pond that had silted up and become choked with water weed. It is an area where the digger did not have sufficient reach to enable him to do by machine. I did not think to take my camera down to record the simple system of floating platforms and boards that has enabled him to walk on water (well, floating mats of weed, really) to cut it up and haul it to the side so you will have to wait until next week for handy hints on how manpower can achieve what machinery cannot. Some weeks, that man is worth his weight in gold. We are only days away from being able to put the water back down the channel and that will be a celebratory conclusion to a major maintenance task.
We know this South American fruit as a tamarillo in New Zealand, formerly a tree tomato. I doubt that many people know it by its botanical name – Solanum betaceum but there seem to be plenty of other names for it around the world. ‘Tamarillo’ is another case of NZ renaming a fruit to increase its marketable qualities (like ‘kiwifruit’). For us, it is a bit like the Cape gooseberry and passionfruit – short-lived but able to pop up around the place from seed. We didn’t plant this specimen, it is a volunteer and it is carrying a great crop this year. Those hanging fruit will not be ripe until they turn red. It is not my favourite fruit but it adds variety to our diet and can be used in both sweet dishes and as part of a savoury salad. Mark’s father used to like it with a little chopped onion on wholemeal toast but it is more common to peel them and serve them with sugar.
Finally, I give you the latest photos of my grass garden, planted at the very end of May, just nine months ago. I am really delighted with it. Mark is a flower and colour man and wistfully asked if I intended to add more colour. I defensively reeled off all the flowering plants in it (pale apricot foxgloves, Verbascum creticum, Inula magnifica, salvias red, yellow and blue/green, daisies, evening primrose and more). It turns out he was discounting white flowers. What he really meant was colour. The answer to that is probably not. I am fine with it growing just as it is. It is getting the immersive atmosphere I want and to stand or sit amongst it when there is a breeze blowing is the pleasure I hoped for. It is very different to any other part of our garden.