Author Archives: Abbie Jury

About Abbie Jury

jury.co.nz Tikorangi The Jury Garden Taranaki NZ

Garden Diary: January 15, 2017 – trees that are no more, pond weed, Maxim Brussels sprouts and the like

Hydrangea Libelle

Hydrangea Libelle

It is hydrangeas looking gorgeous here this week. If you are on Facebook, I posted an album of last week’s hydrangea images. We regard them as really easy here but it has been pointed out to me that in other climates they are nurtured treasures. Try telling a Taranaki person that when they are a roadside wildflower here.

The decidedly indifferent summer weather continues and we start to worry about whether Mark cleaned the swimming pool for no purpose this season. Neither of us have even been tempted to get in so far. The water temperature has reached a level I find acceptable (anything 24C or over is suitable, in my book) but the air temperature is hardly conducive to swimming. At least it is pleasant gardening weather and on the worst rainy day, I finally made myself sit down and rewrite the Garden section of this site.  I am as guilty as many others of leaving background material untouched and not updated. The next area that needs an upgrade is the one on Jury plant hybrids but if the summer continues in this manner, that may happen sooner rather than later.

I may, however, get diverted. I read the feature by Lynda Hallinan in the January issue of NZ Gardener magazine – ‘With the benefit of hindsight… 40 lessons learned in five years of country gardening’. There is a format I could purloin, I thought. 40 lessons from a country garden after 65 years of intensive gardening. Sure, not all those 65 years were by Mark and me (though if you combined our totals, we are getting close to that), but I could bring you the collective experience from Mark’s great grandfather – who goes back to 1870 and the first plantings here, his parents and now us. So 145 years in total but only 65 of those represent intensive gardening. I need to locate and scan in some of the early slides which, if my memory serves me right, show the development of parts of the garden at five and ten year intervals. Our 40 lessons may be closer to a book than a single article, however.

Cornus proved to be a pushover

Cornus kousa proved to be a pushover

It has been a week of felling trees. The first, Cornus kousa, was a push-over. Literally. Formerly a fine specimen, over the years it had started to die back and I asked Lloyd to cut it back to live growth. He reported that it was very shaky and that he reckoned he could push it over by hand. So he did. Mark can no longer make the only slightly suggestive quip in his repertoire –  inviting people to admire his large kousa. The main trunks were rotten to the core so they didn’t even provide firewood.

Betula pendula is to be winter firewood

Betula pendula is to be winter firewood

The second tree gave Mark a few pangs as he felled it – a large silver birch. We don’t regard Betula pendula as a quality, long term tree in our climate, though they can be graceful and attractive in their time. This one paid the price for casting too much shade in the area where Mark is developing his long term vegetable garden and orchard. It will provide a lot of good firewood so will be appreciated in the burning but Mark couldn’t help but muse upon all the decades it had lived and the changes that have occurred all around it in that time. It is one thing when a tree falls of its own volition because it has given up its grip on life, quite another to fell it because it has simply become expedient. Though, it must be said that we do have plenty of other very large trees here.

On the vegetable front, I sourced three punnets of Brussels sprouts for Mark to plant yesterday – ‘Maxim’ variety, which is his preference. He rarely buys punnets of plants, raising almost all crops from seed but his Brussels are an exception. They are also one of the few brassicas he grows, along with some of the quick-maturing Chinese greens. I particularly dislike broccoli – a controversial opinion, I know. Neither of us are keen on cauliflower and we are terribly sniffy about the merits of cabbage. But both of us enjoy Brussels sprouts freshly harvested from the garden. Though last season, our Californian quail beat us to the crop. We had the first pick of the season’s green beans for dinner last night.

img_3727I spent a happy afternoon puddling in the goldfish pond. Every few years – well, maybe once a decade – Mark catches all the goldfish and drains the pond entirely to start again. In the interim, it needs a bit of ongoing maintenance and the pondweeds and plants were building up too densely. I try and keep the plants to a central strip. The goldfish need cover from circling kingfishers. The weed is problematic but it can be kept from reaching choking proportions by scooping with an old kitchen sieve. There are worse ways to spend a quiet summer’s day when the temperatures are not warm enough to warrant swimming.

Stachys Bella Grigio

Stachys Bella Grigio

Sometimes good plants can be difficult to place. Take this Stachys ‘Bella Grigio’, new to the NZ market. It is very good – healthy, grows well, keeps its silver white colour, distinctive – so why does it stick out like a sore thumb in the garden? I saw it used extensively in somebody else’s garden a month or two ago and it didn’t look any better there, either. I just have not found the right place for it. The contrast with everything else around it is too stark and I do not think a stachys (otherwise known as lambs’ ears) should be shouting “look at me! Look at me!”. I will have to lift it soon or it will continue to annoy me. I am not convinced I am going to be able to place it here. Maybe it would just be happier in a much more contemporary, simpler garden of sharp contrasts, defined lines and limited colour range, rather than in our softer-edged, more fulsome, romantic style. The jury is still out on this plant, even though it is very good.

Plant collector: Schizophragma hydrangeoides pink and white

schizo-1Yes, Schizophragma hydrangeoides  looks like a climbing hydrangea but it is not the common climber which is Hydrangea petiolaris. This one comes from Japan and we prefer it to the usual form despite its difficult name. It is a close relative and a member of the same family but one step further back on the plant hierarchy from species to genus to family. Planted side by side, the schizophragma (pronounced skitsofragma or shyzofragma, whichever you prefer) is more floriferous and has significantly larger flower heads which seem to dance on the vine. This may be because its larger, winged petals (technically bracts, not petals) are held singly whereas H. petiolaris has its smaller bracts grouped in four, like a little flower all on its own.  The schizophrama is self-clinging and relatively slow growing so it doesn’t take over and swamp neighbouring plants. It needs something to climb up, however. If left to ramble at ground level, it doesn’t seem to flower though it does layer its way along so you can get more plants from it by this strategy.

img_6642The pink form is even more unusual. This fact was often not appreciated in the days when we used to sell plants. I recall too many customers who were at best ABP – Anything But Pink, at worst IOBW – I Only Buy White (flowers). Such self-imposed rules can certainly limit appreciation.

Schizophragma are hardy and deciduous so, to all intents and purposes, they fill an identical niche to H. petiolaris. However, petiolaris seems to perform better overseas where it is more floriferous and even gives autumn colour. Talking to our friend and colleague, hydrangea expert Glyn Church, we agreed that it is likely that petiolaris prefers a colder winter than we have, whereas the schizophragmas are perfectly happy in our conditions. As with lacecap hydrangeas, the winged ‘petals’ or bracts are the showy part whereas the proper flowers are the small, less spectacular bits behind the bracts.

For the purpose of comparison - Hydrangea petiolaris

For the purpose of comparison – Hydrangea petiolaris

Our garden diary this week – from new year resolutions to lilies … to fracking (and bits in between). 09 January, 2017

Aurelian lily season has started

Aurelian lily season has started

We don’t do New Year gardening resolutions here. Much of our daily conversation revolves around gardening and environmental concerns and we know already that 2017 will see us heading further down the track of ecologically sound gardening – soft edged, romantic gardening in a more naturalistic style which adds to environmental eco-systems rather than battling with nature to keep a hard-edged, manicured garden. I am a bit worried that Mark’s growing tendency to embrace all aspects of nature may see him convert to Buddhism. I do not share his reverence for the lowly life forms like snails (he admitted he relocates these) and flies (which he liberates out the windows) but it is an extension of a gentler way of living. If we had a shared resolution, it would be to continue our efforts to tread more lightly on this land we occupy.

I did, however, decide I would discipline myself to keep garden records on a daily basis – in the old fashioned manner of a few simple notes in a diary. In days gone by, when I used to write for our local newspaper, I was contracted to provide a weekly list of advice on what to do in the garden. It often had us scrambling to follow our own advice. As a variation on that, I thought I would try a weekly post on what we have actually done in the garden. Retrospective, but recent, so to speak.

One of his vegetable patches. He calls this one his allotment.

One of his vegetable patches. He calls this one his allotment.

We arrived home from a very hot festive period in Sydney and Canberra to an unusually cool summer in Tikorangi. The lush green appearance of home struck us afresh. While I am hoping we will get some hotter days, temperatures in the low 20s Celsius are more conducive to gardening. Mark has been playing catch-up in his vegetable gardens – hoeing weeds, sowing corn (“have you sown my basil yet?” I keep asking) and thinning and tying in his tomatoes. The main daily harvests are salad vegetables and peas – I eat my daily portions of the latter raw while he prefers his lightly cooked. We consume large amounts of fresh vegetables – the Heart Foundation would nod approvingly, I feel. This is the first year he has grown daikon, the Japanese white radish. Delicious is our verdict, though each specimen is quite large for a family of two.
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The raspberries are cropping a little late this year and I do not think we will get the usual volume that I freeze for later use. The strawberries are still producing but in smaller quantities and with smaller fruit.

On the rainy Tuesday, Mark summer pruned the grapevines which are grown under cover. I started the summer pruning of the wisterias – leave these to their own devices at your peril. The Higo iris in the park continue to flower and bring us great pleasure (nearing two months in bloom now) but it is the lilies coming on stream now. I picked the first of the Aurelian hybrids that Mark raised. These are currently in one of the vegetable gardens, pending the move to a permanent home in a new garden but in the meantime, I can cut them all I like without spoiling the display.

The floral display in late March

The floral display in late March

I have been lifting and replanting many of the belladonna bulbs by our main entrance. We grow these as a roadside wildflower. They are a bit strong and bullying to make a good garden plant and their flowering season is brief but they are an early autumn delight. The window of opportunity to lift and divide is narrow because they stay in growth for most of the year and I have been meaning to do this for some years. I discard all the small offshoots and bulbs. We don’t need more than we already have.

A vintage faggot binder

A vintage faggot binder

Because we have big clumps beneath a huge old eucalyptus that is one of the original trees here, replanting involves gathering up debris which we will use as fire-starters as winter. Some eucalypts shed a prodigious amount of stringy bark and twiggy growth. I want to say gathering faggots, for that is what the term used to be before the word became debased as sneering abuse. Because we lack the time-honoured faggot-binder that I photographed – enviously – in a Yorkshire garden, I stuff them in old sacks instead and stack them in the pine cone shed.

Loading out means many massive loads such as this one

Loading out means many massive loads such as this one

Finally, the omnipresent petrochemical industry. I haven’t written about this in recent times for two reasons. Firstly the pressure lifted somewhat with a decrease in activity due to low global prices for oil and gas (click on the *Petrochem* tab on the top menu bar for more information on how very bad it was at its peak). Secondly, we had to learn to live with it or it would break us, as it nearly broke me three years ago. I have learned to look inwards to our own place – circling the wagons, I call it. Others may call it practicing mindfulness. But the industry grinds inexorably on. Today, they are loading out all the equipment from the latest round of “repairs and maintenance” on Mangahewa C site. You or I may call this fracking and refracking – repeatedly – but in the parlance of this new age, we were assured that this is now called “behind pipe opportunities”. Alas I am not joking.

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The Mangahewa C site flare last week. Photo: Fiona Clark

Fracking (to get the gas flowing again) is always followed by flaring and this wonderful image from last Saturday was captured by Fiona Clark. We live maybe 2km nearer to this site than she does so we get the benefit of the sound effects too. CO2 emissions and global warming, anyone? This is why I circle the wagons and look inwards to our own patch. The contrast could not be more extreme.

Not exactly circling the wagons - just Mark on our incredibly useful and long lived baby tractor.

Not exactly circling the wagons – just Mark on our incredibly useful and long lived baby tractor.

Summer iris

Dietes grandiflora

Dietes grandiflora

It took me a while to warm to Dietes grandiflora but now I love the pretty butterfly-like blooms that we get all summer. We have a large patch of it but as overhead shade grew, the incidence of flowers decreased year by year. It wasn’t until a big chunk of it was moved to a sunny spot – left to sit upon the ground, in fact, and never even planted – that I realised its flowering potential was much greater than we had been seeing in recent times.

Dark colocasia with dietes

Dark colocasia with dietes

Last summer, I looked at the somewhat neglected and misdirected state of the gardens around our swimming pool. Unlike most pool owners that I see, we did not locate ours in a prime garden position and turn it into a landscape feature. We knew from past experience that we would never maintain a pristine pool twelve months of the year and we did not want it in full view. Instead we found a side-line position which was still convenient and sunny but largely out of sight. In these circumstances, there is not much point in planting for year round appeal. We only want it looking good over summer. I removed all the bulbs and spring flowering material and opted for a combination of a dark-leafed ornamental taro (black colocasia) in combination with Dietes grandiflora. As I write this, it is too early to claim huge success but it is looking promising and will be easy to maintain. ***

Dietes bicolor

Dietes bicolor

There is nothing quite like becoming a staple of amenity landscapers to remove the mystique of a plant. And indeed I photographed the pale yellow Dietes bicolor in a shopping centre carpark where it grows in the harshest of conditions – windswept, foot trampled, bashed by cars, hot, dry and left to its own devices. And still it flowers for many months on end. We don’t have it in our garden, but I wouldn’t turn it away. Grown in slightly kinder conditions, I am guessing it may flower more prolifically and an annual groom of spent foliage would keep it looking tidier. It may be that D. bicolor is favoured in such plantings over its prettier relative, D. grandiflora, because it is more compact at about two thirds the height.

Cypella coelestris

Neomarica caerulea

Mark was sure the showy, tall iris that we have also planted by our swimming pool was a dietes. But no. When I went to look it up, I found there are only six different dietes. Five are from southern and eastern Africa and, oddly enough, one from Lord Howe Island. The  pool iris is very tall – stems maybe two metres high at times and generally capable of holding themselves up. I spend a bit of time on hot summer days floating around the pool on a lilo and those pretty flowers waving above me are a delight. Some detective work initially had me thinking it was a Cypella coelestris which comes from Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. But it appears I was wrong, too, and it is in fact a Neomarica caerulea – the walking iris – from Central and South America.  It is pretty international, the iris family. After spending some time analysing photographs on line and looking at descriptions, it was a reader who gave me the simplest way to tell them apart. The cypella grows from a bulb and the neomarica from a rhizome. I rushed straight out to look and, sure enough, rhizomes. In my defence, they are closely related, along with the trimezia.

Each flower on the neomarica only lasts a day, but it continues to flower down the stem, a trait that can be seen in other irises and iris relatives. In our conditions, the neomarica is not fully deciduous, though it dies back to a neat clump of foliage through winter.

Tigridia pavona

Tigridia pavonia

A net search tells me that a number of American sites describe the cypella as being like a blue tigridia. We grow a fair number of Tigridia pavonia and all I can say is ‘oh really?’ To me, it is indubitably iris with its three upright blade petals and its fall of three sepals. While the tigridias are also members of the iris family, they are not as obviously iris-like. Maybe renaming them is just somebody’s idea of a marketing ploy to sell a plant which is not so well known.

Tigridias, however, share similar characteristics to both dietes and neomarica in that they are summer flowering, each bloom only lasting a day but continuing to open fresh flowers from the same stem, so easy to grow that they might be deemed to have weed potential and somewhat loose in form. Tidy gardeners may describe them as scruffy and they don’t fit so comfortably into a tightly maintained small space. But for those who like a certain summer abandon with lots of flowers, these are delightfully casual options for the summer garden.

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*** Postscript

Current update on the colocasia and dietes planting is that the former is doing brilliantly and out-competing the latter entirely on height. It may take another season to see if the dietes is able to rise to the required height to get enough sun to bloom.

First published in the January issue of New Zealand Gardener and reprinted here with their permission. 

We’d rather drink the gin than spray it on weeds, thanks.

Not an expensive brand and bought duty-free but we would still rather drink it than spray it on weeds

Not an expensive brand and bought duty-free but we would still rather drink it than spray it on weeds

Christmas dinner conversation covered many topics but I wanted to test something I had read on the biochemist and the synthetic organic chemist at the table. The location was Canberra where we ate outdoors on a balmy evening and the temperature was still hovering in the late 20s Celsius as the night drew in.

Before leaving home, I had read the following passage in a new publication:

“You’re not trying to get your weeds drunk but the alcohol in cheap gin stops them in their tracks. Grab a bottle of spirits, mix with the juice of 2 lemons and spray on weeds.”

Discretion is the better part of valour so I won’t name the source of this advice but, as a gin drinker, it raised many questions. Where can I buy this cheap gin that is referenced? I wondered if it meant the diluted, flavoured gins that I see for about $15 at the bottle store but the Australian contingent tells me these are a New Zealand product and this advice seems more international, so maybe not. Why gin? Is it the juniper berries that are the magic ingredient or will any strong alcohol work as well? Is it really meant to be applied undiluted because around $30 to $35 for a litre of weed spray is extraordinarily expensive? What does the lemon juice do?

img_3601The biochemist and the synthetic organic chemist were more amused than anything else. They could not see any reason why gin should be more efficacious than any other form of alcohol. But none of us really wanted to sacrifice the Christmas gin to carry out field trials. Mark recalled the routine use of kerosene for weed control on carrots in his father’s day. When we arrived home, he found me the reference in the McPherson book, “Vegetable Growing in New Zealand”. It is so old, it doesn’t even have a date on it but the publisher was Whitcombe and Tombs Limited and it is a few decades or more since I have seen that name.

In case you want to know more about kerosene as a weed spray, it is advised to use it at full strength (!) through a high pressure nozzle at a rate of 40-50 gallons of spray per acre. Now you know.

Back to the matter of the gin. Given the lack of field trials, I turned to the internet. There were plenty of sites advising the use of gin as a “natural” weedkiller though none I found particularly credible. I admit there are limits to my interest in this topic so I cannot claim to have done exhaustive research. But I did ascertain the following:

  • It does not have to be gin. It is the alcohol that works – isopropyl alcohol (also referred to as rubbing alcohol) is likely to be the cheapest source of the active raw ingredient.
  • The addition of lemon juice is for the desiccating (drying) effect.
  • It is usual to dilute it quite heavily with water.
  • Liquid detergent is often added as a surfactant (spreader and sticker).
  • Vinegar (acetic acid) is the most popular base ingredient and appears to act in a similar manner to alcohol.
  • The increasingly widespread advice to use salt is a problem in that it will contaminate your soils.

One of the better sites I came across was The Garden Counselor. I particularly liked the comment: “I am not opposed to using vinegar as a weed killer, only the cavalier promotion of the idea.” Substitute the word “gin” for “vinegar” in that quote and it pretty much sums up what I think.

If you want to be purist and shun liquid detergents – also referred to as ‘dish soap’ in American parlance – in your homemade spray, you may like to check the ingredients of your pure soap substitute. I was shocked, I tell you, genuinely shocked when I checked the ingredients of many soaps recently. Even expensive, luxury soaps usually contain sodium palmate as the main ingredient. That is palm oil. Think of the orangutans and the issues regarding palm oil production. I am not sure about the justification of “from sustainable plantations” either. It seems to me that this just means the land has already been clear felled for monoculture. It is so hard being an ethical consumer these days.

As far as we are concerned, the bottom line is that if you want to avoid manufactured chemical weed sprays, hand weeding or boiling water are the best alternative eco-options. Also, there is still a desperate need for sound, well-researched and tested advice on organic gardening.

We drank the gin with lime and soda instead.

Setting the table for a summer Christmas in Canberra

Setting the table for a summer Christmas in Canberra

Christmas greetings

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Wishing you a Christmas Day filled with happiness and best wishes for 2017.

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Christmas fare here – fresh strawberries from the garden for breakfast.

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The pohutukawa – often call New Zealand’s Christmas tree because it blooms around Christmas.

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I think they are Yoga Santas. At least I hope that is the case.

Things that fall from above

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Mark is feeling anxious. At this time of the year, the very large Abies procera ‘Glauca’ just out from our back door is dropping its cones. Very large cones they are, and prolific too. We know not to park the car beneath the tree lest the panel work get dented. However, one falling cone almost took Mark out yesterday, hitting the ground mere centimetres in front of where he was walking at the time. The tree was planted by his father who relocated it from the rockery in front of the house when it was clear that in fact it was neither very slow-growing nor a dwarf specimen as he had thought. Unfortunately, the site he chose is less than ideal, being close to the house and immediately beside the driveway.

Abies procera 'Glauca'

Abies procera ‘Glauca’

I doubt that should a cone land upon the head of a passing human, it would do major damage but it would not be a pleasant experience. And at the back of my mind, I recall a story some years ago of a poor woman in an Auckland park being killed by a falling seed cone – from a palm tree, I think. That is seriously bad luck.

img_3325While on the subject of falling plant material – and leaving aside our elderly Pinus radiata and eucalyptus which have been known to fall from time to time – the fronds from assorted palms can be fairly major. The photo is of a nikau palm, breaking off close to the ground so any damage is minimal. But the falling fronds from our Queen palms (Syagrus romanzoffiana) can wreak some havoc, breaking entire branches from the shrubs beneath them. When you look up, they don’t look worrying, but when they fall, they are often a good 4 metres in length and the curved pod of the leaf – still technically a petiole, I think – is as heavy and solid as wood. They could serious damage to a car beneath or indeed rip the spouting off the side of your house if you have it planted close by.

Queen palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana)

Queen palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana)

When it became all the rage to plant palm trees in Auckland in the 1990s, we couldn’t help but think that many folk did not realise how large they can grow and how much damage mature falling fronds can then cause.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and as gardeners, we tend to make our big planting mistakes early in our years. These can certainly come back to haunt us, or indeed subsequent property owners, many years down the track. At least our Queen palms are in locations where falling fronds are not a huge issue but we have learned not to plant any special trees or shrubs beneath them. The alternative is to only grow plants up to 2 or 3 metres in height and that simply would not do at all for us.

Many Abies procera cones

Many Abies procera cones