Author Archives: Abbie Jury

About Abbie Jury Tikorangi The Jury Garden Taranaki NZ

Foxgloves – the fine line between weed, wildflower and garden plant

I like foxgloves, in a wild flower sort of way. But the common pinky-purple form around here, not so much. In fact I have been pulling them out this week. I haven’t gone to the effort of trying to get white and pale ones established to see them all gradually returning to that hard shade of deep pink. I had a pretty honey peach coloured one that flowered in isolation in a gravel heap last year and left it to seed, thinking that as it was standing alone, the seedlings would be the same colour. There were over a hundred seedlings and at least half have gone back to the deep pink colour I spurn. I have been pulling them out as soon as they reveal their true colours to try and preempt the bees cross pollinating.

No the left, yes to the right

This unceremonious rooting out of the spurned colour was because of a series of photos I saw recently showing a local garden’s ‘English-style herbaceous planting’. Leaving aside the somewhat dodgy descriptor, what struck me was the jarring appearance of the common deep pink foxglove in a more refined garden setting. To my eye, it would have worked were these white or pastel, but in that hard colour – no thanks. It takes a deft touch to bring a local weed into a garden and make it appear harmonious.

The range of shades with the common wild form to the right

On my rounds of dealing to the plants whose sole crime is that they are an undesirable colour, I see that most of the seedlings from the pure whites we had are now more pastel. Naturally I wanted to pick an array of them to arrange in gradations of hue. There is quite a bit of variation in the size of the flowers too. Some have freckles and some don’t. I like the peachy tones more than the pale pinks.

Some tried to outwit me by opening creamy lemon and ageing to purple, all on the same stem, but I can see them!

I resisted the temptation to go back to childhood habits and use them as gloves for my finger tips. In those days, we didn’t worry about their toxic properties. These days they come with a warning so I try and wash my hands after handling them without gloves. But on the scale of poisonous plants, they aren’t up there with the most toxic ones.

There are about 20 different species of foxgloves but only Digitalis purpurea has naturalised in the countryside here. I bought some seed of a yellow variant from a local supplier but Mark tells me that only one germinated. It will take years of culling to get the more desirable shades established as the dominant plant here.

The best ornamental planting I have seen remains the white foxgloves at Hidcote that first inspired me to look more closely at this plant. I wonder if they start afresh each season or let them seed down? But maybe they don’t have any other colours around to contaminate the purity of the white strain.

Mark was raised on the flower fairy books by Cicely Mary Barker. I can’t think how my English mother ever missed out on introducing them to me, especially as the author bears the same uncommon spelling of her first name as my mother did. But we raised our own children with them.  Though if I am honest, the charm lies more in the illustrations and the small book format than in the poetry which  never scanned sufficiently well to read aloud comfortably.

“Foxglove, Foxglove,
What do you see?”
The cool green woodland,
The fat velvet bee;
Hey, Mr Bumble,
I’ve honey here for thee!

“Foxglove, Foxglove,
What see you now?”
The soft summer moonlight
On bracken, grass, and bough;
And all the fairies dancing
As only they know how.

Cicely Mary Barker, 1927.

About gardening at the edges – edging options

Paver edgings in Wisley’s herbaceous borders – both practical and a design feature in this situation

The thing about garden edgings is that you shouldn’t notice them. Speaking, you understand, in general terms. They are handy things to separate garden and path or lawn, to keep mulch on the garden and to give a sharp edge if mowing beside it, if a sharp edge is what is wanted. But most are infrastructure, not design feature, so should be playing an unobtrusive, support role.

The horror. The horror.

Often, the first choice for a garden edging is the concrete mowing strip. It is very permanent. This one was not long poured when I photographed it. What worried me was the lack of attention to keeping the lines smooth and pleasing on the curves. I have photos that look way worse than this  but I can’t crop them enough to disguise the identity of this place. Added to that, the owners like to keep the concrete white – as in very W H I T E – which makes the mowing strip even more obvious. I am told they get out with the bleach and scrub the edgings. Each to their own. It is just not to my taste.

Corten steel edging at Bury Court – understated quality

I am similarly dismissive about using thinly cut tanalised timber, including tanalised ply, anywhere where it is visible, really, and as a retaining edging, it is visible. If you are going to use tanalised timber, I really do think that taking the time to stain it in a dark charcoal colour is worth the extra effort. The problem is that the tanalising means that it never weathers as untreated timbers do. It is preferable by far, to my eyes, to use metal strip edging, sometimes referred to as corten edging but I think that is just a brand name. It gently rusts and ages and has an unobtrusive air of quality, especially compared to tanalised plywood edging.

Subtle detail in the edging at Hatfield House

We have a few mowing strips that we have just left to mellow and age (as in, we let the moss and lichen grow). Most of them have a brick added for additional height with the concrete strip on the outside of the brick. What has happened here over time is that the concrete and brick have remained in position but both the garden level and lawn have risen. I think this is a sign of a healthy garden environment (building up the top soil layer) but it has also rendered some of the mowing strips pointless. Were I starting again, I would probably opt for the wide pavers that I have seen used, particularly in English gardens. At least they can be lifted and repositioned if need be. The problem with excessive use of hard, visible concrete definition is that it can make any garden look very suburban. Which is fine if you want the hard-edged, tidy, suburban look but we aim for something altogether more natural in appearance.

I photographed this casual arrangement of river rocks defining a woodland path because it struck me at the time that the rocks were wrong. Unless you have a rocky stream flowing through your woodland, then the rocks are out of context. Some form of wood off-cuts or branches would seem more logical because they belong in that scene. But others may not be as picky as I am.

We tend to use what is at hand in the woodland areas – which in one garden means chunks of  pine bark. I like the little pine bark walls that serve as an unobtrusive retaining structure while still allowing some soft definition. Pine bark has good longevity and is a natural alternative for us to use, given our pine trees. Sometimes we will use lengths of wood that have fallen from the trees above and that is a softer, more environmentally friendly option than hard edged concrete or similar. A bit like a horizontal bug hotel, if you like (bug hotels being super trendy these days).

Blurring the lines between paths and garden in at Beth Chatto’s

Beth Chatto’s famous dry garden eliminated all edgings and further blurred the lines between walking path and garden by using the same honey coloured gravel as both path surface and mulch. It is a very different effect and one we admired a great deal in that context.

We have chosen just to use the cut edge on two of the four straight stretches in our Avenue Garden.

Sometimes, a straight cut line is all that is required. Would this view be better for railway tracks of hard edging in concrete or weathered steel? It just seems unnecessary.

It comes back to why you feel you need edgings and then what material and style is appropriate in the setting. Not every garden benefits from tidy edgings constraining the vegetation.

Rope hawsers, seen in somebody’s garden

Hello and goodbye, Ammi majus


Ammi majus in Mark’s ‘allotment’

I like umbellifers and I was casting around for suitable white umbellifers to dance in the auratum lily border.  “Ammi majus,” they said, “plant Ammi majus.” I have scattered some ammi seed in that border but now I am hoping they will not germinate.

Mark planted some in his vegetable garden, aka his ‘allotment’. The first year it was charming. It is sometimes known as the bishop’s flower or false Queen Anne’s Lace and, curiously, its natural habitat is the Nile River Valley. Mark was wondering about using it as a green crop. It is a member of the apiaceae family, as are most umbellifers including carrot, parsley and coriander.

Self-sown ammis already towering at 3m high

Well…. allegedly this ammi is an annual that reaches about 120cm in the UK, maybe up to two metres in NZ. Not in our conditions. Semi-perennial, we would say. Mark’s wildflower patch is swamped by towering ammis up to three metres high already and still growing (it is only spring here). The hollow stems are about 3cm across and brittle with it, so inclined to lean and fall. It is a triffid, intent on smothering everything around it. Mark thinks many of these plants probably germinated last summer to autumn so are maybe 10 months old now. It is clearly not a suitable candidate for allowing to self-seed and naturalise in a wildflower situation. That said, it would work if it was cleared out each autumn and fresh sown in early spring. I just can’t be bothered with giving it that amount of attention where I hoped to use it.

Orlaya grandiflora – more knee height than the waist or chest height I wanted but well-behaved!

I think I would be safer with the pretty Orlaya grandiflora, carrots and coriander amongst the lilies, grown solely for their dancing flower heads and ethereal nature. The orlaya seeds freely, enthusiastically even, but is easy enough to curtail if necessary.

There is no substitute for trialling plants before unleashing them in a naturalistic situation.  I learned this lesson with Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ and I am eyeing up Salvia uglinosa with similar caution.

The cutting of the rampant ammi – too rampant

Just another week in the Garden of Jury – late spring, umbrellas and bird’s nest or two

Umbrellas are a part of our lives here. We own quite a few of them and use them often to move around the property. That is because it rains quite a bit and the rain can often be torrential. We get 150cm a year (60 inches). I try and keep the respectable brollies that are in good condition tucked away for when visitors need them, confining us to the somewhat derelict ones. When I say we own quite a few, I mean getting up towards 20 of them and I don’t want to end up with 20 old, crusty brollies. Here I am, drying out some of the better ones to put away again after a garden tour last Sunday.

The tour was a small group of British and American gardeners, led by a tour host whom we particularly like, which is why we agreed to their visit when the garden is otherwise closed. It is a very different dynamic to host tours with a knowledgeable leader and plenty of time for a leisurely walk around followed by morning tea. We really enjoy their company and that has not always been true for garden tours down the years. The more you get, the less personal the experience and, I am sure, less rewarding for the visitor too. The rain didn’t even matter much and it stopped soon after it started.

The English visitors felt right at home as soon as we reached the park and they saw the meadow although one of them marvelled, looking back and seeing our native tree ferns growing amongst the trees – they are self-sown here but very highly valued in the UK. Though truth be told, the most common tree fern grown overseas is the Tasmanian species, Dicksoniana antarctica.

Iris sibirica, Stipa tenuissima and common fennel in the morning light

I showed them the progress on the new garden area and those from colder climates were simply amazed at the growth rates we get here, it being a mere sixteen months since I started planting this area. The other side to that coin, of course, is that while we get a quick result we have to start thinning and managing the growth much earlier. The Iris sibirica are looking particularly good this week and stand well above waist height. We only have three different forms of this iris – the deep ‘Caesar’s Brother’, a white form and the one above which may or may not be ‘Blue Moon’. If I see other colours being offered, I would be tempted to buy more having found how spectacular they can look when massed as single colours.

The simple charm of a grey warbler nest

Behold a grey warbler nest. These are exquisite, small creations that hang from branches but this one had broken off in the recent winds. The migratory shining cuckoo is entirely dependent on the grey warbler for its continued survival because it pressgangs in the warbler into fostering its egg and then the hatchling. I asked Mark how the cuckoo, a larger bird, managed to get its egg into the nest. He is fount of considerable knowledge on these matters and he tells me the cuckoo enters through the hole, lays its egg and then forces its way out the side. The little warbler then repairs the nest and hatches out the cuckoo’s single egg with its own eggs but the larger cuckoo hatchling pushes the baby warblers or warbler eggs out of the nest. Before you worry too much about the warblers, it is the second clutch of eggs they raise that can be supplanted by the cuckoo in the nest and the warbler population is not under any threat at all.

I have a collection of birds’ nests and have been wondering how to display them. I have at last found a suitable tree skeleton that I think can be severed and brought under cover so I can tie the nests to the bare branches. Whether I can do it without it looking terribly naff remains to be seen.

Gardening is a wonderfully cyclic affair. Is there anybody as finely tuned to the seasons as the keen gardener? Yesterday was the first pick of the roses for the season. All but two of these have such scoury foliage that they have been banished to Mark’s vegetable garden (a large area that he refers to as his allotment) so the only reason they still survive is for the cutting of the blooms. Not only is gardening cyclic, it can also be distinctly ephemeral. But often those ephemeral pleasures can be the most charming on the days when they are at their best.

The roses used to grow in borders surrounding the sunken garden before I cut my losses on their awful foliage and stripped out the area for a more sculptural simplicity 

I think it looks better now for the simpler appearance

Hello vibrant colours

The result has been that the British planting palette is no longer based on the colour theory of Jekyll and the Arts and Crafts movement; indeed, it’s no longer a ‘palette’ at all, since colour is deemed of secondary importance to form.

(Tim Richardson, first published in Country Life, 2011)

Scampston Hall In Yorkshire – the work of Piet Oudolf

Mark is re-reading the collection of Richardson’s writings in ‘You Should Have Been Here Last Week’. I am waiting in line. It warrants another reading. It was the rather sweeping claim that colour is now playing second fiddle in British gardens that had Mark and I pausing to think. When you read on, I think his use of the word ‘form’ is misleading. He is not talking about hard landscaping (all the permanent structures, paving and infrastructure of a garden that gives it year round form). He is talking about planting styles – the way the plants are grouped and the huge changes that have come into the contemporary gardens. The rhythm of the planting is a better description, because it is about the move from static picture gardening (often best admired in a photograph) to the more dynamic, immersive experience of moving through a garden. It is a very different experience and has certainly been a revelation to us on our last three garden visiting trips to the UK.

Olympic Park in London

I digress. I was going to take issue with his suggestion that colour is no longer a driving factor in such plantings. On the contrary, most of the contemporary plantings we have walked amongst use bold, vibrant colour but in a different way. The Victorians gave us floral clocks and garish bedding plants but they were all ankle-height, more or less. The Edwardians moved into the refined ‘pastelle’ era that still endures in many New Zealand gardens today. Then came all that colour toning and use of white that still remains de rigueur, still mostly pastel. Good taste, many think. The vibrancy of the masses of strong colour evident in many of the more modern plantings is like a statement of a new age. Big, bold, colourful and no longer vulgar.

I got to thinking about this because the Resene magazine ‘habitat’ (the lower case indicates modernity, darls) turned up in my letter box. Resene is a leading paint brand in this country. And I burst out laughing at the guide to ‘your next big colour trends’. This is because we are renovating our two main living rooms so I know that the greying of New Zealand has continued unabated, along with white or off-white walls. And black kitchens now, I notice. We have no white and no grey in our house and ended up with a choice of exactly one green carpet for these rooms surrounded by garden.

I give you edited highlights from the Resene mag:

“As communities galvanise over social and political movements you can see design trends going bolder, with true reds, or stormy blues and dark brooding tones.” Leaving aside my pedantic worries about the ad hoc use of commas, I wondered where these galvanising communities are, along with the bold colours which seem to be singularly missing in action.

But the article goes on: “Warmer colours are generally on the rise, … Such colours carry the promise of global exploration and porous borders….” Oh really? Who writes this stuff? Did they cut their teeth writing real estate copy? Given my penchant for dusky pink in other areas of the house, I was a bit worried about telling Mark that this is now very dated, so dated in fact that it is “millennial pink” and – wait for this – “a colour borne out of the global movement toward gender fluidity”. I tell you, that had simply never occurred to me.

So what does the article tell me about green, given my decision to swap out the blues for greens in our dining and living rooms? “Green has been emerging in homes during the past few years as our eco-consciousness grows and yearning to connect with nature via biophilic design.”

I had to google ‘biophilic design’, I did. And that was a revelation. There are many listings on the topic and from my most perfunctory look, it appears to be a marriage of Rudolf Steiner and biodynamics with inner city, apartment living – philosophically speaking. So now we know.

All this return to colour thinking was also sparked by wandering through our park and looking at the deciduous azaleas with their OTT, unabashed vibrancy – vulgarity, some may think. And I remembered the man who came around the garden when we were still open and asked ‘what is the big orange rhododendron behind the house’. We have garden borders behind the house but I couldn’t think of a plant like that there so I suggested he go and pick a flower and bring it to us. Well, not only did it transpire that ‘behind the house’ meant the spacious park area but he returned bearing an entire head of an orange azalea that he had snapped off, not the single bloom. After all that, we did not have it available for him to buy.

In self-defence, I say that our bold azaleas are mostly interspersed throughout the park, so surrounded by acres of verdant green rather than being planted en masse to dazzle the eyes. And they have been there quite a long time so endured the changing fashions of colour down the decades.

I was slightly alarmed by an inadvertent colour combination in my new borders. I picked a flower of each to show the colours more clearly. I am pretty sure I thought the bearded irises were all yellow when I planted them but 80% are purple. While the colour is sparse in these early stages of planting, I am thinking ahead to when each forms a large wodge of colour.

Take the blue-purple out to keep the ramped-up colour.

Or take the yellow out and it looks very different, toning it down considerably. I am marking the ones flowering yellow. I think I prefer the second version but it all comes down to personal taste in the end.

Out and about

I must get out more. Well, I say that but truth is that there is nowhere I would rather be than in the garden here. What I miss is the outside stimulation of looking at different ideas and the absence of a Big Trip this year. The only travel we have done has been to see our children in Australia.  I am contemplating something more adventurous next year. In the meantime, a trip to town must suffice.

Van Nes Sensation

When I say a trip to town, I mean New Plymouth. It is a small city of 75 000 people, 22km away from where we live. I was in town yesterday on a more leisurely schedule than usual so stopped to take a few photos. Behold Rhododendron Van Nes Sensation, looking, well, sensational on a suburban street.

Van Nes Sensation was one of the big trussed rhododendrons that was very popular here in the late 1980s and early 90s. I had assumed it was one of the big, showy hybrids out of USA from that era but the ever-handy Greer’s Guidebook to Available Rhododendrons tells me that it dates back to 1925 and was the work of C.B van Nes & Sons so it is of Dutch origin. There are prettier pink rhododendrons but it is hard to beat this display on its day. It was a nicely pruned and shaped specimen, too. 

As I was photographing from the footpath, the neighbour was washing her car in a very tidy front yard. “Lovely, isn’t it,” she said before adding, “shame it makes such a mess”. And there were a few pretty pink florets that had blown on her drive. A mess? I wasn’t sure how to reply.

Down near one of the city beaches, I saw this very colourful front garden on a steep slope. I wrote a piece back in early 2013 about city gardening on a steep slope and I see it still comes up in internet searches. This one is clearly a big challenge, right by the beach, so subject to salt winds and the house is at the top of the section. The access driveway was so steep that it had steps up the centre of it, between the wheel tracks. It is also what I describe as a generous garden. It is not as though the owners will use this outdoor space for recreation. It exists primarily to bring pleasure to passers-by and the owners have worked very hard to achieve this colourful and lush view. The section has been terraced, retained and permanent steps made to give access. It may not to be everybody’s taste but it takes a keen gardener to create and present a garden well in such an exposed and unpromising situation. And it certainly eclipsed the hanging garden of Strandon on the neighbouring property.

Purple and acid yellow atop a substantial, unadorned concrete block retaining wall.

There was another scene of a very tidy, pretty, palest yellow front fence with a roadside planting of nasturtiums but my photos in full sun do not do it justice. I had seen it first in the soft gold of early evening light and it caught my eye.  I have never seen common nasturtiums used in a bedding plant setting before, but it was very pretty. I have been wondering about growing nasturtiums again because I once followed the advice to pickle the seed heads and buds as a substitute for capers. It worked brilliantly though it takes a long time to pick a jar full of nasturtium seeds. They are just a bit … determined, are nasturtiums, when it comes to having them in the garden.

Finally, it was back to the graveyard (aka Te Henui Cemetery) because Sydney-based daughter was with me and she expressed a desire to see it. It is so pretty, so vibrant, and so unexpected. It is part of the garden festival this week. I asked one of the volunteers yesterday how it was going with garden visitors. “They seem to like it,” she said, in a self-deprecating way. “They arrive with very low expectations since it is a cemetery, so it is not hard to please them.” It is better than that. Do visit, if you are in the area.

Does ‘Hit the Deck’ work?

‘Just spray it on, brush it off and rinse.’

I was so discouraged by the state of swimming pool decking that I succumbed to advertising and bought some “Hit the Deck”. I can’t remember how much I paid for it but it wasn’t cheap. But the deck, the deck. We laid it maybe 18 years ago and in the time since, it has been water blasted (jet washed) once. That didn’t do the grooved non-slip surface any good. It is low grade, plantation grown, quick turnover Pinus radiata that we use in this country, tanalised to extend its life span but still a soft wood which will rough up badly with water blasting. Hence the “Hit the Deck” to deal to the blackened and slippery surface before we start swimming this summer.

My test area

Did it work? Yes, but it wasn’t as easy as it looked in the advertisements. If you look closely at the TV advert, they are using it on flat timber, not the grooved product that is widely sold for non-slip decking. It would not just brush off with the stiff broom they sell for this purpose. I did a small test area and found that to get it off, I had to get on my hands and knees with a stiff scrubbing brush. It is not possible to get a powerful enough scrubbing motion at the end of a long handled broom. It is a reasonably large deck and I didn’t fancy doing the whole area on my hands and knees so I handed the job over to Our Lloyd and suggested he try a very light cleaning with the water blaster, so as not to rough up the surface more but to get enough pressure to spray off the mix and the accumulated mosses, moulds and lichens. That worked and it was both faster and not as back-breaking but it still isn’t an easy job that you can knock out in an hour.

The deck looks hugely improved. Not perfect but the decking is getting on in years. So yes, the product does work.

Somewhat belatedly, I looked at what the Hit the Deck contains. I had turned a blind eye to this when I was more worried by the slippery decking. I can report that it is sodium percarbonate. And that, Reader, is a mixture of washing soda and hydrogen peroxide. You can check its chemical properties on Wikipedia which notes: “The product is used in some eco-friendly bleaches and other cleaning products…”. So it is relatively harmless and I guess you could mix your own if you wished and I am sure that it is likely to cheaper because there are no advertising and branding costs to be factored in.

I have written about the moss-killing properties of washing soda or soda ash before. It does work, I can vouch for that.