Author Archives: Abbie Jury

About Abbie Jury

jury.co.nz Tikorangi The Jury Garden Taranaki NZ

A book worth buying – The Sceptical Gardener

img_2087A sign of an interesting book is when you find yourself keeping it to hand so that you can refer to it in numerous conversations. Not a showy book, in this case. There is a not a photograph in sight and the production values are what might be called utility, so it fails to fit the traditional definition of a coffee table book. Perhaps the descriptor of ‘aircraft reading’, or even ‘loo reading’ captures the format – short pieces between about 700 and 1200 words long which can be read in a few minutes. But for the last few weeks it has been sitting close to hand as we discuss many of the points made in its text.

I don’t want to over-state the case; it may not be life-changing. But if you have a curiosity for information backed up by reputable science in an easy reading style, it may appeal. It is a collection of just over 100 columns first published in The Telegraph newspaper in the UK between 2010 and 2015. These are grouped into loose categories – Garden wildlife (neonicotinoids and bees, the correlation between healthy birdlife and house prices plus more), Native and alien plants – and animals, the entertaining Not worth doing (I was quite pleased to see the author in total agreement with what I have written about planting by the moon and he is illuminating on demystifying permaculture and food forests), Growing food, Practical gardening and more.

The author is both a keen gardener and a scientist – a plant ecologist – with an eye for information which is often not brought before the general public. He has the ability to communicate this information with clarity and wit to the lay person. I have come to the conclusion that, as with the best of UK gardening television, UK newspapers are capable of delivering some really thought-provoking garden writing. I wish I could say the same for New Zealand but too often we seem determined to head in the opposite direction and gear our mainstream gardening media towards absolute novices and newbies.

I bought my copy through Book Depository and it was ridiculously cheap at $NZ16.21, delivered to my letter box within a few days.

The Sceptical Gardener by Ken Thompson. Published by Icon Books ISBN 978 178578 038 7

The chainsaw mentality

Sometimes we just want to weep; never more so than when we read stories like this one in our local paper. Too many New Zealanders think that they can extend dominion over everything in their view lines and that it is fair game to cut down or poison trees that “block” that view.  These were trees established on public land, in the harshest of conditions on a coastal reserve. It is, as we say, ‘down the coast from here’ and in possibly the most exposed location we have in Taranaki. But views of the ocean are way more important to some than protection from wind, other people’s rights and the value of established trees.

"Opunake resident Kelly Knadle wants more of a clifftop shelter belt cut back and the area developed to enhance the views" Photo credit: Taranaki Daily News

“Opunake resident Kelly Knadle wants more of a clifftop shelter belt cut back and the area developed to enhance the views” Photo credit: Taranaki Daily News

Indeed, a local resident (who, I note, just happens to live in direct view line from where the trees were cut down) wants more removed. What is even worse is that this man – for the avoidance of doubt, he is a man according to the text – is willing to pose shamelessly as master of the barren view because he is seeking election to a local council. The article says:

He said he had heard that some of the neighbours did not like the increased wind now the trees were gone.

“If you are worried about the wind, go in your house, that’s what houses are for.”

He wants the smaller trees around the pohutukawas cleared along the clifftop so passersby can see the view and the pohutukawas can be seen in bloom, and have seats installed and the coastal walkway extended.

“I want to bring back this cliff area to what it was meant to be originally. It’s neglected….”

Where to begin? With his blithering disregard for his neighbours’ sentiments on this? With his dismissive attitude to the value of trees? Or with his assertion that he wants to return the cliff area to what it was meant to be originally? I don’t think he is talking about its original state pre-European settlement of the area when most of this country was forested or in bush.

The attitude expressed by the Council officer seems eminently reasonable to us. It must be a thankless task trying to keep ANY trees on public land with the chainsaw mentality that is still so alive and strong in this country. I wish we would grow up as a nation and rid ourselves of the pioneer mentality that if it is an established tree, it is fair game to cut it down. Established trees are not disposable commodities to be hacked out on a whim. Trees which have beaten the odds to grow on the most exposed and inhospitable coastline are even more precious.

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But where is the vision today? In Canberra. Apparently.

I can tell you that the Melia azedarach at the National Arboretum in Canberra was planted by Doctor Jose Ramos-Horta, President of Timor-Leste in 2010.

I can tell you that the Melia azedarach at the National Arboretum in Canberra was planted by Doctor Jose Ramos-Horta, President of Timor-Leste, in 2010.

I doubt that many people take the time to pause and send a vote of thanks to our forbears who had the vision to create city parks and botanic gardens. Our closest city of New Plymouth has its Pukekura Park, 52 hectares of park and gardens about 5 minutes’ walk from the main street. It dates back to the visionaries of 1880 and provides a green heart to the city. It is loved with a passion by locals and attracts large visitor numbers. Other New Zealand cities have their equivalents but most date back to a similar era. Aside from Auckland Regional Botanic Gardens being established in Manurewa, I can’t think of major new ventures from modern times.

img_0854It was a second visit to the National Arboretum in Canberra that had me thinking along these lines. This enormous project, encompassing 250 hectares, is a response to the devastating bush fires of 2003 which burned out the area. It is a grand vision, still in its infancy, that will create a legacy for generations to come.

Looking over the city from the arboretum

Looking over the city from the arboretum

While some areas can look a little … utility, shall I say, at this early stage and the selection of some tree cultivars to be represented en masse may raise a dendrologist’s eyebrows, the large vision will triumph over such doubts with time. The infrastructure is going in with attention to architecture that will blend with the landscape, an attractive educational area and one of the most delightful children’s play areas I have seen in a long time. Everything appears to be done with a view to sustainable growth in the long term and it is an impressive venture. It has an international flavour with involvement from foreign embassies and heads of state. This is Canberra, after all.

Indubitably Australian at the National Botanic Gardens

Indubitably Australian at the National Botanic Gardens

Canberra also has the National Botanic Gardens which were not officially opened until as late as 1970 although the first small steps to establishing them were taken in the late 1940s. In that harsh climate of hot, dry summers and cold winters which are often dry, they don’t get the same growth rates that we get here and to my eyes, the gardens still look young. I have been to them several times now. Because the focus is entirely on Australian native plants, they have a very different flavour to anything I see elsewhere and I really enjoy that difference, along with seeing new areas being developed within the site. It is indubitably …Australian. As it should be.

Banksia species in abundance at the Botanical Gardens in August

Banksia species in abundance at the Botanical Gardens in August

It made me wonder where our courageous new ventures are here. We generally steer clear of publicly criticising the local money being spent by the Taranaki Regional Council on what are described as the ‘regional gardens’. This amounts to many millions of dollars more than I think most ratepayers realise but it also sniffs of the cargo-cult mentality – build it and the crowds will come. It remains to be seen if that will happen but it seems unlikely in the long term. The problem is that the Council took on three existing gardens, all of which suffer from issues including obscure location, difficult access, off-putting terrain, pretty awful micro climates and somewhat anachronistic gardening visions from times past.

With so much spare money sloshing in the budget, we can’t help but think it was a missed opportunity to create a new vision for future generations, getting the location, micro climate and terrain right from the start. The role of public green spaces is so very important and likely to get more so into the future. It would be good to look to the future and to invest in that, rather than resting on the laurels of the visionaries of the distant past.

Banksia pods in the children's playground at the arboretum

Banksia pods in the children’s playground at the arboretum

and acorn pods

and acorn pods

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Flagging away the flag iris

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The first time I realised there was a problem with our flag irises was when Mark intervened to pull a photo from a House and Garden feature on our garden a few years ago. It was a view similar to that above. “It’s a weed,” he said. “It is embarrassing to be shown with a weed.” It has taken a while, but this week, I have dug out the last of it.

The offending flag iris

The offending flag iris

The problem with Iris pseudacorus is its resilient and invasive ways. It can survive in water, even in salt water, beside water, on water as a floating mat of rhizomes and even just on heavy soils and flood-prone areas. It is also poisonous to both humans and stock so is not controlled by animals. It is on most New Zealand weed lists and some regional councils require active management to control its spread.

Behold the offending rhizomes

Behold the offending rhizomes

Our flag irises have never set much seed, though all the descriptions say that seeding is a problem. We would have acted faster, had we seen threatening seed set. But the rhizomes, the rhizomes! They are sign enough of an issue. They form a dense mat both on and just under the surface. It reminded me of digging out wild ginger with their ability to form a solid barrier, choking out other growth. It was heavy, muddy work digging them out and prising stray rhizomes from farthest reaches with me, precariously balanced. I did not want to end up in the stream at this time of the year.

We had them planted by running water; the upper reaches of the Waiau Stream flows through our park. It was clear that floods or any disturbance of the rhizomes could cause some to wash downstream and from there, populate the countryside. It would not have been an issue had they been by a self-contained pond with no means of escape.

True, we grow Primula helodoxa and that is sometimes flagged as a weed issue by waterways but we dead head it. It is the seeding that is problematic with that plant.

Iris sibirica

Iris sibirica

Lovely Higo irises

Lovely Higo irises

and Louisiana iris

and Louisiana iris

Fortunately there are alternatives to the flag iris which do not seem to be a weed problem and are arguably considerably prettier.  Iris sibirica, the Higos and the Louisianas are all happy in similar conditions and give us a League of Nations in our park – Northern Europe and Siberia, Japan and USA. We just happened to have plants of all hanging about waiting to be planted. So while the three patches of flag irises are now muddy and apparently bare, in a few months’ time, they may even be flowering again in hues other than yellow.

036We are enjoying the water meadow effect we are achieving in that area of the garden.

More Louisianas that Mark has been raising to plant out

More Louisianas that Mark has been raising to plant out

 

 

The perfect dish of Brussels sprouts

For I have found the perfect serving of Brussels sprouts*. Some may scoff, especially as I failed to record this memorable occasion on camera. But I am a woman of honesty and integrity so you can take my word for it when I say that I was recently served a Brussels sprouts dish to die for. It was at a little Middle Eastern restaurant called Sefa Kitchen in Bondi, Sydney. In the absence of photographic evidence, we will have to make do with a somewhat fuzzy image of their bone marrow meze with its preserved lemon gremolata and polenta chips, to convey the ambience of this little eatery.

photo0108Their menu describes the dish as “Brussel sprouts** with almond tarator and zhoug”. I had to google both tarator (usually a yoghurt, cucumber and walnut based sauce) and zhoug (hot green spice paste of Yemeni origin). From memory the sprouts were not boiled or even steamed. They may have been lightly roasted.

img_7002111Alas, my plans to attempt some re-creation of this taste treat at home this season have been thwarted by our resident Californian quail. We are very fond of these charming birds which are slowly increasing in number but have no intention of consuming either the birds themselves or their lovely speckled eggs. When you have watched Mama and Papa Quail herding their young, which resemble fluffy little bumblebees, around the garden, the thought of putting them on the dinner plate is unimaginable. But it was a close-run thing when a mob of them found a way into the protective cloche Mark has placed over this season’s crop of Brussels sprouts. The crop was decimated and the few we have salvaged are poor, shredded examples of this vegetable.

But for those who think the much maligned Brussels sprout is only palatable when cooked with bacon, I can recommend the Sefa treatment as being one of those rare restaurant dishes that is genuinely memorable.

Loosely related only, those who have visited here or know the area will realise that we live in a rural area of little sophistication, though it has its own charms. I like to travel but my most recent trip to see our daughters in Australia reminded me that nobody, just nobody, could ever think that Tikorangi is hipster.

photo0106I give you the ultimate example of Bondi hipsterdom in Sydney.

img_1024And the somewhat quaint example of hipsterdom in Canberra. No, I do not think pulling out the stained, blue woolly hat that my late mother in law used to adorn her teapot will achieve the desired level of hipsterdom when I lack the gluten-free friands as accompaniments.

Quail-pecked Brussels sprouts are the best we can manage.

* A singular teensy tiny member of the brassica family is a Brussels sprout. More than one are Brussels sprouts, not Brussel sprouts. I guess there should be an apostrophe in there somewhere, presumably at the end of the first word because they are, apparently, named for the city of Brussels.

** You may notice that Sefa have failed to get to grips with the plural term but I can forgive them that on account of the delicious nature of the dish.

Plants that do not know their place – high maintenance culprits

Dudley on the bridge amidst 'Snow Showers'

Dudley on the bridge amidst ‘Snow Showers’

You will never see me advocating enthusiastically for low maintenance gardening. It is not our style. But I do think some plants need to know their place in life. Some clamour for way more attention than they deserve. We have been thinking about plants that are unjustifiably high maintenance. First to go here were almost all plants that require chemical intervention (spraying) to keep them looking good – or even alive. Goodbye underperforming roses and badly thrip-infested rhododendrons. These might be great in other climates, but here? No. Next in the spotlight are some of the other high maintenance plant options.

Who doesn’t love wisteria? But unless you are willing to give them the attention they require, they are best admired in somebody else’s garden. More than any other plant I can think of, they cannot just be planted and left. Miss a prune and it only takes one season for them to crack the spouting – I know this from experience. They also put out runners that R U N considerable distances. What is more, if you prune them incorrectly, they don’t flower which really defeats the purpose of growing them.

We dug three wisteria out this winter. Two were not flowering well enough to justify keeping them (not enough light, I think). The third was running amok in a wild area and threatening world domination. We have still kept about seven plants, including two on our bridge which are great performers but I am meticulous about pruning them both in summer and winter. Even so, they can join hands in the middle, trying to block passage through.

Climbing roses are another plant that I personally think are best admired in somebody else’s garden. I once planted ‘Albertine’ over an arch in the vegetable garden. It looked lovely in flower but then it produced many long whips covered in fierce thorns. Not only were they waving away waiting to ensnare anyone who walked down the path, pruning was a Major Mission. When it took me the better part of a day to prune it and tie it in, I decided that the rewards did not justify the effort. The advice often seen in English media about letting climbing roses scramble through trees and not worrying about pruning them at all does not translate to our gardening conditions. Any rose that strong is more likely to collapse the host tree, or swamp it at least. We are trialling some semi-thornless pillar roses but rampant, thorny climbers – no thanks.

magnolia-little-gemAny potentially large tree planted in the wrong place is going to be high maintenance. Vegetable time bombs, we call them. I see it with Magnolia grandiflora “Little Gem” in urban gardens more than any other plant I can think of. Aforementioned “Little Gem” is only little by comparison with something that might equally be called “Extremely Giant Gem”. It is not a dwarf tree. Plant it in a confined space – I know of a twin row of five or six aside lining a very narrow driveway in town – and it will either be high maintenance on an ongoing basis to keep it confined or an expensive removal job when it becomes a major problem.

Clipped hedges can give great definition in a garden – green walls, really. But I rate any hedge that needs trimming more than once or twice a year as high maintenance. While some people are quite happy to trim hedges frequently to keep sharp-edged definition, I see that activity as being like vacuuming the house. There is nothing creative about such a repetitious activity. To me, hedges are   utility tools, a background, not the centre of attention so they shouldn’t be demanding as much or more attention as the foreground stars of the garden. I would not plant any in teucrium or lonicera for these reasons.

A blight upon your buxus!

A blight upon your buxus!

Buxus used to be infinitely useful and undemanding hedging plant. But with the advent of buxus blight in many areas, that status has changed. I know of gardeners who are spraying their buxus hedges every few weeks, just to keep them leafy and to hold blight at bay. Woah there! Aside from environmental considerations (even if it is just a copper spray, the long term use of that is not good), it turns a handy, low maintenance plant into a high maintenance option.

Camellia Fairy Blush

Camellia Fairy Blush

Give me our small leafed camellia hedges any day. A hard prune in early spring followed by a light tidy-up in autumn is all they need. Also they light up a winter’s day while feeding the birds and over-wintering monarch butterflies. Camellias ‘Fairy Blush’, transnokoensis and microphylla are our preferred options.

We can and do fuss over some plants but utility plants? No. They need to know their place in life and that means not being so demanding.

First published in the September issue of NZ Gardener and reprinted here with their permission. 

 

 

The Evolution of a Garden

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Fallen branches and the occasional large tree are a fact of life here with our oldest trees dating back to the 1870s. The pinus radiata, in particular, are not stable trees in the long term. We usually hear them land so I was surprised to find this sight down the Avenue Gardens on Saturday. Mark had commented in the middle of the night that we had an earthquake culminating in a bang but neither of us had thought more of it.

IMG_1411Not an earthquake. A falling dead tree. Pinus radiata often drops all its side branches when it dies, before keeling over or, in this case, snapping a third of the way up. This is good because the side branches can cause even more damage when a tree falls although it can and does clip other trees as it falls. As falling trees of at least 135 years of age go, this was on the minor end. The trunk broke in three as it fell, with the longest length (about nine metres) rolling over to a final location which is not bad at all, though it did initially land on a garden bed.

IMG_1471On Monday, we started clearing the paths. Surprisingly, there is quite a bit of good firewood in the centre of the trunk and by the end of the day, the pile of split wood in the shed was growing satisfactorily. There is nothing quite like the Squirrel Nutkin feel of seeing the firewood for 2017 already stacked and drying.

IMG_1586The longer lengths will remain in situ and we will garden around them. It is just a stumpery that chose to arrive. The main damage was to woodland orchids – dendrobiums and cymbidiums and some crushed bromeliads. I rescued most of the bits and replanted. There is no shortage of chunky wood chip to house all the orchid pieces. The pine bark we use as a natural edging, stacked as a low wall in places. It doesn’t break down so is relatively permanent while creating its own eco-system.  I planted the odd small fern and orchid piece on the length of log to hurry up the colonisation process.

IMG_1587It is a lot easier to garden with nature, rather than in constant battle to keep it under control. By Tuesday, it looked like this. We are fine with that. It will settle down again over the next month or two and look as if it has always been like that.

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