Counting down to festival in the new world of Covid

Prunus Awanui in flower this week as we pass peak magnolia and go into the next phase of spring

As a nation, we are collectively holding our breath to see if we are indeed safely back to the status of zero Covid cases, except those caught and isolated in border quarantine. Just one community case in five days and counting now, this second time round. Our team of five million that saw us achieve this status the first time round has had some defections. Hopefully, the mob of doubters, conspiracists and anti-vaxxers is small, though very noisy. Obsessed only with their own *rights*, they have no concern for the safety and well-being of others and are swallowed up by their own crusade that Covid doesn’t exist, that it is no worse than the common flu, that it is a man-made virus being used by Bill Gates and his cohorts to take over the world (never mind that these positions are contradictory), that our government is lying to us, that it is somehow tied up with the 5G network and probably chem trails, that the Covid vaccine will be mandatory (it won’t) – all because they don’t want to wear masks on public transport and maintain physical distancing while we stamp out the latest flare-up. Sigh.

Mark’s Rhododendron Floral Sun never fails to lift my spirits, even more so this week in such uncertain times

It is not helped by a prolonged election campaign where some of the opposition parties are hellbent on undermining confidence in the government and community response to Covid. Let not the fact that NZ is a shining star internationally with its Covid response and that we have fewer restrictions and a safer environment than almost every other country in the world at this time get in the way of their narrative that  it is a ‘shambles’, ‘incompetent’, a ‘failure’, an example of ‘gross mismanagement’ and all the rest. Some even advocate opening the borders and ‘learning to live with Covid’, though they seem to be unable to come up with international examples of countries managing to live comfortably with Covid on the loose in the community.

New Zealand – we done good. We are on track to eliminate this latest outbreak. The election will be over in a month. Our lives will return to the comfort of level one freedoms in this new reality that Covid has brought to our world.

‘Back in the day’, as is said, I used to write a regular piece for the local paper called ‘Countdown to Festival’ and I still look back at that series with some fond memories. It was just an assemblage of snippets from local gardeners describing their preparations for the annual garden festival and, from memory, the paper paid me the grand sum of $35 a week for it. It comprised garden hints from gardeners all around the district, some quirky anecdotes and painting small word pictures of the characters who were beavering away to get their gardens to opening standard.  I think it had a quirky charm as well as some handy advice but it all stopped when I left the Taranaki Daily News and went to write for the Waikato Times instead.

The pretty path down to the park by my washing line, The white on the left is fragrant Rhododendron veitchianum, colourful azaleas in the centre and pretty Magnolia laevifolia ‘Velvet and Cream’ on the right

My mind went back to that series because we are now totally focused on getting the garden ready for opening on October30. Hopefully, we will be in level one which, in NZ, means no restrictions at all (life as usual but with no overseas tourists) but I am assuming we can still go ahead at level two, if need be. Mostly that means physical distancing and some controls on numbers, but presumably without coach tours owing to distancing not being possible on most coaches. Note to self: buy hand sanitiser – that public health symbol of Covid – and investigate registering for QR code. Even I, an occasional mobile phone-user at best, use the Covid app to scan into all shops and businesses. It is much easier than manually signing in. Frankly, it feels weird to be contemplating getting all visitors to the property to scan or sign in but this is our world now.

Lloyd can be spotted at the back of the photo with the tractor, our fancy lawnmower towing a large trolley, screeding tool, shovel, rake, barrow and plate compactor. This is not a job for the fainthearted.

The compacted ‘terrazzo’ look

With our lives becoming so much more home-based, local and smaller – holding the chaos of the world at bay – the garden has become even more important. This week, I ordered the first truckload of the top layer for the paths in our new summer gardens. Ten cubic metres or fourteen ton to start with and we will need at least as much again. It is not cheap so there was some nervousness but we are pretty excited at the effect of this crushed limestone and shell mix (I did say our world had grown smaller!). Lloyd is spreading it by barrow, shovel and rake,  screeding it and then using the plate compressor to compact it as he goes. A torrential downpour was a good test. It compacts suffciently firmly that the torrent of ground water did not wash it away and the surface is so smooth that it can be swept or cleaned with the leaf blower. The rain brought the whiter fines to the surface so the finished effect looks more like the terrazzo kitchen benches of long ago. After building up to this for so long, it is positively thrilling, I tell you.

I think the uppermost two topknots on Mine No Yuki need to removed entirely but that can wait if we run out of time

Lloyd has also been clipping our shaped and cloud pruned camellias this week and will start on the hedges soon. In the meantime, Mark rather defies my work schedule but has been painstakingly giving the geriatric apple trees a major and considered prune. Next up, the two avenues of Fairy Magnolia White and the punctuation points of Podocarpus parlatorei in the new gardens are awaiting their annual trim. Mark is by far the most skilled pruner here.

Mark has done the first four geriatric apple trees but there is a whole lot more pruning waiting to be done and I am not yet seeing him show the signs of urgency I am hoping for

I am here, there and everywhere. Garden grooming is my strength. Attention to detail. At least it gets me all round the place. We have passed peak magnolia, the snowdrops have long finished and the dwarf narcissi are all but over. Now it is bluebell time, Japanese cherries, rhododendrons, evergreen azaleas and mid spring bulbs. The plants and the seasons are not disturbed by Covid.

The mid spring bulbs are starting – Moraea villosa and sparaxis

The freshly laid paths in the Court Garden look a little stark but we are confident they will mellow and soften quickly. The initial stage is preternaturally tidy.

12 thoughts on “Counting down to festival in the new world of Covid

  1. Glenys in California

    New Zealand is a ray of sunshine in troubled times. We are also nearing an election in the US with “a narrative that it is a ‘shambles’, ‘incompetent’, a ‘failure’, an example of ‘gross mismanagement’ and all the rest”. I think New Zealand will be fine. Your garden is looking gorgeous in spring. Oh, if only we were free to attend the Taranaki garden festival!

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      How kind of you to say so, Glenys. And indeed, any problems in NZ look very minor compared to the US. We watch aghast and disbelieving from afar.

  2. tonytomeo

    It must be nice. Our facilities remain closed . . . except that some of the lodges were used by firefighters who were pleased with the accommodations, even without housekeeping. Now, some of those who lost their homes are living in some of the cabins that would otherwise get no use. It is excellent that our facilities can be of use, but it is weird. It is also weird that we must avoid those who are here. I get it. Our ‘situation’ is deplorable. I have tried to be polite, but have given up in regard to those who express their lack of concern for others.
    Wow, I did not mean to rant so.

  3. elainebolitho

    Thank you Abbie for sharing the preparations for your garden opening – also very interested in the big path laying exercise. Looking good. Blessings for a successful opening.


  4. Paddy Tobin

    Under the geriatric apples trees – what are they? Velthemias? They look so beautiful; good strong colours.

    The garden is looking wonderful and the visitors will enjoy it very much.

    Great new re Covid with you but dreadful here: 396 new cases today! It is very worrying and we are staying very much at home!

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Well spotted. They are indeed veltheimias. We have two forms in pink and in lemon and pink and they are very easy to grow and seed down here.
      396 new cases is not good. There seem to be few options to deal with this virus in the short to medium term. Stay safe, Paddy.

  5. Tim Dutton

    We totally agree with your sentiments about the selfish but very vocal minority. Why do they get so much news coverage I wonder?
    Anyway, we were pleased to see your Veltheimias doing so well, having recently bought a couple and on the morning of this blog post Mel had placed the pots under two of our even more geriatric pear trees, wondering if that would be a good place to plant them. It seems it may well be.
    In the picture that Lloyd is photo-bombing, what are the vigorous looking green spires coming up behind the Phormiums? They look a bit like Campanula medium to me.
    The finished path surface looks impressive. Can’t wait to see the Court Garden in real life.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Hi Tim. The veltheimias are not fussy. We used to assume that being South African, they would enjoy baking in reasonably hot, Erykah conditions. Since then, we have dispersed the seed far and wide and they are happy almost everywhere but they look more lush in semi shade/ woodland areas.
      The plants in the photo are Verbascum creticum. They never get that large in the rockery but they have achieved quite some stature in cultivated garden conditions. It is a great biennial – lovely big yellow flowers.
      I don’t get why the naysayers get so much media attention! I think we were all convinced during the main lockdown that there was a substantial group opposing it, only to find that they comprised about 6%!!!!

      1. Tim Dutton

        Mel wondered if it was a Verbascum, in fact when our Campanula medium grew from unknown seed the first time I thought they were Verbascum right up until the flowers formed.

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