In times of trouble, you will find me in the garden

That is an old stone mill wheel from the ninteenth century, repurposed these days as a bird bath

It has been a difficult week in New Zealand. I recall commenting here to an Irish reader (*waving to Paddy*) that if anybody can get rid of Delta, we will. This week brought us the distressing realisation that we almost certainly can’t. Gone is the dream of the return to level one this summer – level one being no restrictions on day-to-day living bar those pesky border controls. Like many others, we were plunged into a state of deep anxiety. All due to just one case entering the country and now spiralling ever larger, creating the whack-a-mole situation we are now in.

I have to grit my teeth with those who declare ‘we just have to learn to live with it’. I don’t think learning to live with Covid looks like they think it does. It does not mean a return to life as it was with some people getting a bit sick and a few dying – but, presumably, nobody known to those advocating this course of action. Learning to live with Covid means living with ongoing anxiety, wearing masks, using sanitiser, scanning, restrictions on movements and gatherings and playing whack-a-mole all the time. Learning to live with Covid means an indefinite extension of the current status quo.

Scadoxus puniceus

The only path out of this is very high vaccination rate. Please, if you haven’t been vaccinated yet, get it done now. Ignore that small group of very loud, insistent anti-vaxxers. Surveys show that there aren’t that many of them, statistically speaking (somewhere between 4 and 7%?) but too many of them seem pretty determined to keep their ‘freedom of choice’ by attempting to abuse and verbally bludgeon everybody else out of exercising their freedom of choice.

Crinum moorei at the front, which will flower white later in the season, dendrobium orchid, clivias, bromeliads, Scadoxus puniceus and the wedding palm – Lytocaryum weddellianum – in a tiered woodland planting beneath giant rimu trees

What does this mean for our garden festival, scheduled to start on October 29? Goodness only knows; we certainly don’t. We were headed for one of the largest attendances ever with coach tours and ticket sales setting new records. That seems unlikely now.

I see three possibilities. The first is the best-case scenario where travel restrictions are lifted to the north of us and we plough ahead but with masks, sanitiser and physical distancing. This is also the least likely scenario.

The second scenario is the border remains in place on our main northern access to Taranaki and numbers are hugely reduced as a result. In which case it will all be much quieter and lower key.

The third is that Covid reaches Taranaki in the next few weeks and all events are cancelled but I figure we cross that bridge if we come to it.

Seedling vireya, very scented, which seems to be predominantly R. konorii growing beneath pine trees
Pleione orchids have a shorter season in bloom but are so pretty

It all makes planning very difficult here. When we know we are opening the garden, there is a lot of extra garden grooming that gets done – titivating, one might call it. It takes a lot of time to titivate a garden the size of ours and we don’t do that final flourish if it is just for our own pleasure.

Colourful woodland on rainy morning this week to lift the spirits

But if it all turns to custard, there are many (many, many) worse places to be than here. The colourful woodland this week soothes my soul and relieves my own anxieties. Woodland gardening does not generally conjure up colourful visions bar maybe a sea of snowdrops beneath bare trees if you are British, or perhaps large drifts of bluebells or hellebores.

Finally getting Mark’s neglected orchids out of his Nova house and into the garden in lengths of tree trunk with the centre rotted out
We are big fans of the dainty dendrobium orchids from the Bardo-Rose group

We like highly detailed woodland and it certainly is looking very pretty this week. We achieve this by lifting the canopy of our tall trees to let filtered light in below. Over the years, low branches have been removed to keep the lower trunks clear for maybe the bottom four metres or so. These days we do more thinning at ground level than planting and we use various strategies to ensure that plants can grow despite the massive root systems on the trees. Zach has been planting out some of Mark’s neglected orchids – mostly dendrobiums in the Bardo-Rose group – in hollowed out tree rings this week. These stump lengths are from the silver birch we dropped a few weeks ago. The rotten heart of the tree tells us we were right to fell it.

We do not get florist-quality blooms outdoors but the cymbidiums last a long time in the garden and add glamour
Cymbidium with Helleborus sternii. I would like more cymbidiums but need plants with smaller flowers. Those bred for cut flowers tend to be larger and can look out of scale in the garden.

Our interest in orchids is basically on plants we can grow outdoors in the garden so mostly pleiones, cymbidiums, calanthes and dendrobiums in practice. I like the little dendrobiums the best but the cymbidiums add a touch of glamour.

Clivias in orange, red and yellow, we have in abundance
Mark’s peach hybrids add variety but this one seems reluctant to hold its flower spikes upwards

Quite a few years ago, Mark did some hybridising with clivias to try and get some peach coloured ones. He rather lost interest but I planted out the best and they are coming in to their own. I wish this one held its flower up better but it is a pretty, pastel variation on the many oranges, reds and yellows we have. Last time I looked, there were quite a few international breeders working on peach tones and then on white and green flowers but I have no idea if these are commercially available here yet.

Wherever you are, stay sane as well as staying safe. These are trying times we are living through. I will be hiding in the garden somewhere, maybe taking photos to share.

21 thoughts on “In times of trouble, you will find me in the garden

  1. Benson+Fox

    Thanks Abbie – this morning I’ll now be planting cymbidiums with the clivias and bromelians under my kauri grove! Still crossing fingers to get to out of Northland to visit Taranaki during the festival… but I’m with you on the possibilities. Meanwhile – let’s all hide in the garden. Cheers, Grant

  2. Wendy Bogue

    I love your writings and long to visit your lovely paradise, but times are uncertain in this current situation. The sharing of plant knowledge in such practical terms makes it a pleasure to read. Thank you.

  3. dinahmow

    If you can get it, I’d suggest adding the pretty, very scented Pigeon orchid Dendrobium crumenatum. In the Summer from Hell that was last year my little pigeon had 13 flowers along one cane. Not as showy as some, but after rain the scent sweetens the air.
    As for Covid…it’s why we are still in QLD. and not in NZ!

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I shall get our new gardener, Zach, on the case. He is an orchid enthusiast who may be better at tracking it down. We are now looking with envy at Queensland. You have one staunch premier. To think that NZ, Victoria, ACT and NSW are all in this situation, arguably, because NSW failed to require vaccination and PPE for border staff. It all goes back to the local driver of an infected aircrew, doesn’t it?

  4. Robin Dowie

    The little dendrobiums have been very good this year. I love having them spread around the garden. I’m not feeling very hopeful of coming down to the garden festival now. We were really looking forward to visiting your garden.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Working on it! Really, it comes down to learning to live with constant low grade anxiety all the time. At least for the foreseeable future.

  5. Lisa jones

    We are coming up from Wellington specifically so we can see your garden so I hope like he k it still goes ahead :-) but don’t worry, us gardeners don’t really care about titillating because we know it’ll be amazing without it anyway!

  6. James

    I rarely comment, but just wanted to say how much I look forward to your blog posts. I’ve visited New Zealand only once and unfortunately was not able to get to your area. Wonderful place. (I have had three vaccinations!)

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      James, how kind of you to say so. I am honoured. If you do plan a trip to NZ when our borders reopen, do please come and visit. Stay even. Though it may be a year before that it is possible again.

  7. Paddy Tobin

    Waving back at you, Abbie!
    It is beyond my comprehension that you have people who are against vaccination. There are some here also but we have had a very positive uptake of vaccinations and have started the third dose for those considered most in need while the youngest of the population are in the process of vaccination also at this moment.
    We are on the cusp of removing almost all restrictions before the end of this month. Those restrictions remaining are a requirement to wear masks in indoor retail situations, on public transport and in medical centres – doctor’s, hospitals and the likes. I must say that I am unhappy with this relaxation of restrictions as we continue to have daily high numbers of new Covid cases (around 1,400 today and it has been as high as 2,000 during the last week!) I cannot reconcile these numbers with the plans to remove restrictions. It baffles me completely and we will continue to live a relatively restricted life style.
    There has been much talk of “living with Covid” here also but this is in the context of an almost 100% vaccination rate and it is being anticipated as being something similar to living with the ‘flu – annual vaccinations etc, some illnesses, some deaths. However, this “pleasant” outlook also gives a mention to the fact that while Covid is widespread in other countries there is always the danger of new variants arising which could make our vaccines ineffective.
    Let’s stay in our gardens, lock the gates, stretch the barbed wire across, load the shotguns and set the dogs free!!! I hope circumstances allow you an enjoyable and successful open day. Could I visit, I would beg a bulb of Crinum moorei – named for an Irishman! It is growing at the National Botanic Gardens here and I could ask for a bulb!

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Dear Paddy,
      We would lose our collective minds at 1400 daily cases, let alone 2000. We are freaking out at 30 to 40 cases a day here. The problem is that it is now in the most marginalised and vulnerable groups in the community and it is hellishly difficult to reach many of these people to restrict the spread – the homeless. those in emergency accommodation and a couple of the gangs. How can you expect a family housed in one room in a boarding house with shared facilities to socially distance and stay home? At least our vaccination rates are rocketing ahead with a strong effort to reach the most difficult groups of people – again those who are marginalised by poverty, distance and distrust. Though I have to say, the wealthier farming families in rural areas are a bit slow on the uptake, too. Our local area of Tikorangi is anything but poor or marginalised, let alone packed with anti-vaxxers but our vax rates are not high – I put this down to complacency and apathy. Overall, we are now more vaxxed than both Germany and the US, should exceed UK vaccination rates in the next two days. It is being treated a race here, a competitive event, which appeals to the NZ psyche. So we are on track for a very high vax rate by mid November.
      That variegated form of Crinum moorei is very attractive.
      Best regards, Abbie

      1. Abbie Jury Post author

        Besides daily tallies in the race to be the best vaccinated city (fine for city dwellers), the online tool to track vax rates in every suburb and small district in the country (which is how I know the vax rate for Tikorangi), this Saturday we have VAXATHON. Which is like the old fashioned telethons that used to run as fundraisers but with injections. Music, performers, food, giveaways, celebs, full TV coverage all day (although not on the major channels). I guess instead of the dollar graphs being shown, it will be jabs given. This is my idea of hell but whatever works.

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