Author Archives: Abbie Jury

About Abbie Jury Tikorangi The Jury Garden Taranaki NZ

When your lawnmower is worth more – a lot more – than your car

Out with the old… 

and in with the new. I see Lloyd left it air-drying after its first wash on Friday. He likes to keep a clean machine.

We bought a new lawnmower. This may not seem particularly momentous, unless you have met Walker mowers. We have been a Walker mower establishment for maybe 30 years now and this is our third new machine. Walkers, you understand, are like the Rolls Royce of lawnmowers – with a price tag to match. As the person who pays the bills, I was less than enthusiastic about the move to this brand of lawnmower but I have come to accept that ours is a life where having a lawnmower that costs more than our car is a perfectly logical position.

Walker is an American brand, an evangelical company which fully integrates its faith with its business. We are Walker fans because these machines are much safer, more stable and manoeuvrable than most ride-on mowers. It is capable of turning in its own space and of mowing steep slopes without tipping. It also gives us the option of mulching or catching and gives a good result on the house lawns as well as coping with our rough road verges, grassy slopes and the variety of terrain across our acreage. That is why we have a fancy-pants lawnmower despite its price tag and ongoing maintenance requirements. We have never seen another mower that is capable of doing what a Walker does.

Over the years, the Walker has brought us much amusement. It comes with a certain amount of merchandising – caps, coffee mugs, pads and the like – and every few months we receive a copy of their magazine, Walker Talk. It appears that we became members of the ‘Walker Family’ when we bought the first mower. Were we in USA, we could even attend annual get-togethers of the Walker Family. We used to get a copy of the Walker calendar and we thought maybe we should submit a photo of Lloyd mowing here to see if we could get him as a Walker pin-up boy. The calendars featured photos of garden and park settings, all with somebody on a Walker mower in the foreground. Lloyd has long hair and a bushy beard so he may have looked more Amish than Bible Belt, even had we dressed him in the mandatory white, long sleeved shirt that all these Walker mower operators appear to wear in the US. We never got around to staging a photo shoot and the calendars stopped coming.

When the bank gave way beneath Mark on the machine (22 years ago)

I did find a photo – as in a print photo from pre-digital era – of Lloyd mowing the lawns on the Walker, wearing a Santa hat. But I need his permission before posting his photograph and he does not work on Sunday. He may, after all, be less than enthusiastic about having a photo of himself wearing a Santa hat sitting on the internet. I give you instead a photo of an upside down mower. Very stable, the Walker may be, but even it can not stay upright when the stream bank caves in. I think Mark was responsible for this mishap 22 years ago, cutting in too close to the bank.

What to do with the old machine? We were not going to get a good trade-in price on it so decided that we would try and sell it privately. The lawnmowing here is entirely Lloyd’s domain so he gave the old machine a final wash and clean and I listed it on two local Facebook buy and sell pages. Overall it was in good nick, well maintained but with very high hours on it so we set a price accordingly at $2900, leaving a little room to negotiate.

Well, who would have thought that an old Walker is so very desirable? They are a specialised machine with exacting maintenance requirements and there are much cheaper ride-ons for home gardeners. It had only been on line for a few minutes when the messages started pouring in. I am not exaggerating when I say that in the three hours that followed, I could have sold six of them at that price. Four were people willing to pay immediately, sight unseen, based on the photos. But we only had one to sell and it had been paid for and left the property within three hours. Yes, it is tempting to think that we set the price too low and we could have got more for it. But we set that price at what we thought it was worth and we are fine with that.

Oh look. We are valued customers.

Lloyd is very happy with his new Walker mower. Mark and I are happy that Lloyd is happy, though we hope this machine may see us out. And then we received this little hamper by courier from the salesman. Apparently, Walker mower owners are more craft beer drinkers than wine drinkers. Mark was most delighted by the two little bags of potato crisps which says something about the lack of such taste treats in our household. I could calculate how many bags of potato chips we could have bought for the price of the mower but then they would no longer be a treat. Mark instead calculated what sort of luxury vehicle we could be driving for the price of our three, brand new Walker mowers.

Tikorangi Notes: a top-knot hedge, magnolia time, soy milk and tofu (because we are multi-faceted gardeners here)

“Just add some googly eyes”, a friend suggested

This hedge in my local town of Waitara makes me smile every time I pass it. I think it is just Cupressus leylandii, often referred to as Leighton’s Green. Was that as high as the owner could reach to trim, do we think? Or did they like the top-knot look which makes me think of Kim Jong-Un? This may remain a mystery. I rather hope it is deliberate.

The Kim Yong-Un of hedge design? 

First flowers of the season on Magnolia ‘Lanarth’

I have been so busy looking down at the early snowdrops, Cyclamen coum and the first of the spring narcissi, or looking over in the hopes of the mountain being free from cloud so I can start my seasonal photos of Magnolia campbellii in our park framed against the distant snowy mountain flanks, that I have forgotten to look up. It is not just M. campbellii in flower. ‘Lanarth’ is opening now (technically M. campbellii var mollicomata ‘Lanarth’) and the season for this magnolia is short but spectacular. ‘Lanarth’ came from southernmost China via Cornwall. We have two plants of it growing in the garden. This is the one behind our house and it flowers first because it is a warmer location than the first and larger plant of it down in our park. These early flowers lack the colour intensity that sets it apart from many other magnolias.

Magnolia ‘Vulcan’, the first of the new generation of reds

And ‘Vulcan’ has opened its first flowers. It is still a very special magnolia for us, even though there is now a plethora of red magnolia hybrids on the market. This magnolia from Mark’s father, Felix Jury, was the breakthrough to the new generation of reds.

Magnolia Vulcan, showing some kereru damage to the petals

I didn’t notice the somewhat raggedy petals until I looked at my photos on the computer screen. That is pigeon damage – our native kereru – as opposed to rat or possum damage which looks different. Soon there will be so many blooms open, that the petal-nibbling kereru efforts will not be obvious. We have plenty to share.

With the early blossom opening (mostly Prunus campanulata or Taiwanese cherries), the tui population is increasing rapidly as they return for this favourite feast. We have some tui who stick around all year but scores of others flock in over this period of early spring. “When trees dance” is how Mark describes it.

Mark is drying and winnowing his crop of soy beans 

I wrote about the bean mountain back in 2015 and since then the soy bean harvest has assumed daunting proportions. Mark’s home production of organic soy beans is apparently somewhat unusual. Aficionados tell me that it is now impossible to buy organic soy beans in this country that have not been irradiated as a condition of their importation. I don’t think we have a local soy bean industry. Apparently the soy bean mountain here is more of a valued resource than I had realised.

Soy beans are not my favourite bean to eat whole. I will reach for the kidney beans and fava beans first, or even the borlottis which are also not my favourite. I swapped a few kilos with a local person found on Facebook who makes a variety of different miso pastes which proved delicious. But what to do with the rest? I started making soy milk about a year ago in an attempt to reduce our intake of dairy. We are not so enamoured of soy milk that we use it all the time. I still prefer cow’s milk in tea and coffee but I use the soy milk in many other situations when I would formerly have reached for cow’s milk and I find it more than acceptable in the breakfast muesli and porridge.

The amazing Soyabella!

The recent gift of a Soyabella machine has revolutionised my life. It was a bit tedious and messy making soy milk with the food processor, strainer, muslin cloth and a big preserving pan on the stove. This handy little Chinese machine, not much larger than an electric jug, makes a litre of fresh, hot soy milk in about 15 minutes with close to zero human effort. It is a wonder, my Soyabella. And it has opened up the world of home-made tofu. Why home-made tofu? For us it is both a way of using our home-grown soy beans but also about drastically reducing the plastic that comes into the house. With the arrival of nigari this week, I made the first block of tofu and, between Soyabella and I, the hardest part of was finding the right-shaped weight to fit on top of the tofu block to press it. It was perfect, just like a bought block. Nigari is just a coagulant – mostly magnesium chloride – which separates the soy milk into curds and whey.

A small but perfectly formed block of tofu

It was our trip to China three years ago that really converted us to tofu as a food staple. The crispy tofu was delicious so I searched the net for instructions. It isn’t difficult. Press the block of tofu for an hour or more to squeeze out excess water (I just use an inverted plate on top of it with a weight on that). Slice or dice the tofu and marinade for a few minutes only so it doesn’t take in more liquid. Dust it with cornflour and shallow fry. Voilà! Crispy tofu.

The lily border (currently empty bar Camellia yuhsienensis), backed by a clipped hedge of Camellia Fairy Blush punctuated with shaped Fairy Magnolia White all coming into bloom. Queen palms in the distance. 

Rabbit onslaught

I lack live rabbit photos but ours was a Peter Rabbit household on account of our second born being a huge fan

The rabbits have come to Tikorangi. Not just our garden but the whole area, Cute though Peter, Mopsy and Flopsy may be in Beatrix Potter books, this is one animal the early settlers introduced that this country did not need. That is equally true of rats, possums, mice, stoats, goats, wild pigs and deer but it is the rabbits that I am thinking about today. I guess we should be grateful that we didn’t get moles, squirrels or snakes in that early drive to Englify New Zealand. And would we really have appreciated beavers if they had been introduced?

Every morning, I do a patrol of my new gardens to kick over the rabbit scrapes and to check what the family that appear to live somewhere under the boundary hedge have been eating now. The swimming-pool-deck family like to eat the liriope, but that doesn’t worry me. They do not touch mondo grass so if I really wanted that coarse grass look, I could just replace the lirope with mondo.

I have a block around 4 square metres of this campanula but it did not look like this last spring. In fact it never got past being chewed rosettes of foliage trimmed to the ground.

The hedge family are more problematic. I have put cages made from wire hoops over the perovskia when it looked as though they might eat all the plants to the ground. Their love of campanulas is more problematic. I can garden without the ground-hugging campanula with its mounds of blue flowers. I would prefer to be able to garden with it in that area, but it is not a key plant. The other three I use, I want to keep and I shall be seriously annoyed if they persist with their onslaught. Those areas are too large to cage so I am trying the blood and bone deterrent.

The austroderia and Chionocloa flavicans look even more similar in the juvenile stage when both are heavily chewed by rabbits. Now dusted in blood and bone as deterrent. 

Meantime, Chionochloa rubra is unscathed

In the newly planted grass garden, it appears that native Chionochloa flavicans (often described as dwarf toe toe) is irresistible. Every plant is under siege from the rabbits. So too do they appreciate the proper toe toe – austroderia. It is going to take vigilance and determination to get these plants sufficiently established to withstand the attack. However, they leave C. flavicans relative, Chionochloa rubra alone. I guess wiry red tussock is not as yummy.

I may yet to have cut my losses, move the desirable campanulas to safer areas of the garden, cage the austoderia and find a replacement for C. flavicans but I am not quite at that point yet. In the meantime, I can be found outside after each rain with my bucket of blood and bone and a measuring spoon, sprinkling the lightest layer over the vulnerable plants. It works but it does require vigilance.

Dudley and Spike are line up waiting for breakfast – homekill possum

Rabbits are not easy to eliminate. Mark does a nightly possum round with the dogs and keeps the possum population under control with high velocity lead, as he describes it (shooting, in common parlance). The dogs find this part of their daily routine positively thrilling and hover around in anticipation for a good hour or two before this evening ritual. He maintains some level of rat control all the time. With a stream, bush and a macadamia orchard next door, rats are a part of country life. When the population is small, he uses cage traps but when it explodes, as it has this season, he resorts to bait stations. He is amazed at the amount of bait that has been eaten in recent months. It is really important to secure the baits, as a pest control officer once told me, because if they are loose, the rats will just remove them and store them up against possible future famine.

But rabbits…. They are hard to shoot in heavily planted areas like a garden, being skittery animals who run rather than freeze when they sense danger. They are not a suitable candidate for trapping and they are hard to poison. Despite our dogs being fox terriers, they only catch the occasional one, usually a baby.

So besotted with Peter Rabbit was our second-born that I bought her the Wedgewood teaset

In desperation, I bought some rabbit bait. We are not poison fans here at all and avoid it when we can. We lost our dear little Wilfred dog to secondary poisoning from cholecalciferol (the active ingredient in an over the counter possum poison to which there is no antidote) used by somebody else. Zephyr the sheltie (now deceased from other causes) had to be taken to the vet for a Vitamin K injection when he got into rat bait. So Mark was cautious about the rabbit bait, even laid carefully, following the instructions. It has to be accessible to the rabbits which means it is also accessible to the dogs. He headed out first thing the next morning to gather up the baits so the dogs wouldn’t get them and as he scooped them up, Dudley dog was in like a flash eating one. It put Mark off using poison because we could so easily lose another dog to slow and irreversible poisoning.

We may just have to learn to live with the rabbits, especially as other neighbours in the district are complaining about the rabbit population. When there appeared to be a dip in the population last year, we found ourselves hoping that a feral cat or stoat had moved into the area and that is a real compromise of principles.

How much easier life would be in NZ had it only been colonised with domestic and farm animals. It is really unusual to live in a country with absolutely zero native animals of the furred or hairy variety. When it comes to mammals, we only have two, very small, native bats that almost nobody has seen. In the short space of time since the arrival of all the introduced animals, we are nowhere near achieving any balance within nature to keep numbers in check.

When I looked, we still seem to have quite a lot of Beatrix Potter memorabilia, waiting to be reclaimed by our second-born.

Waiting for hippeastrum flowers

We only have two species of hippeastrum in the garden. And one hybrid that bravely lives on in the rockery despite never receiving any praise and I don’t even appear to have photographed it. Most people probably grow the hybrids rather than the species and they are a genus that lends itself to novelty status – enormous flowers and some odd variations that are not necessarily creations of beauty.

Hippeastrum aulicum in the garden

Hippeastrum aulicum in particular is a mainstay of our early spring woodland. I have always described it as looking more like a Jacobean lily. Because it thrives with us, we have a lot of aulicum though we don’t get seed on the plants in the garden. Mark says this is because we are not hot enough but it will set seed if brought under cover.

Hippeastrum papilio. It has taken a while to increase it from a single bulb but we now have two patches like this.

It has taken a while to build up H. papilio but we are on track now with quite a few flowering in the same woodland conditions that suit H.aulicum. They certainly have a wow factor as a garden plant but we don’t get seed. Whether this is temperature related or they are not self-fertile, we do not know.

Mark wondered if we would get any interesting variations if he crossed the two species, while acknowledging that it was more a cross of convenience rather than one based on using the best possible parents. He did it so long ago that he can’t remember now which species he used as the seed-setter. Nor can I remember how many years it is since I grew tired of the pots of seedlings kicking around the nursery so took it upon myself to plant them out. Maybe about eight years?

The plants have done absolutely nothing in the garden except grow larger in the intervening years. Until this week! Two are flowering, well over a decade after the cross was made. Curiously, they are flowering before either of their parents: H. aulicum is only just putting its flower spikes up and is still some way off showing colour and it will be October before H. papilio blooms. I probably planted out a tray of 40 pots all up so there are a whole lot more to come. Eventually.

Nothing to get excited about

So what did we get? I was a bit underwhelmed by the first one. It only has two flowers to the stem and really just resembles a larger version of H. aulicum, maybe with more prominent green veining. I prefer the original species at this stage.

It is big – much bigger than its parents. And showy. But is it an improvement as a garden plant?

The second one is certainly larger, showing considerable hybrid vigour. The flower spike is over a metre tall and the spike has five big blooms opening on it. It is another red with green veining. So it looks as though it will be big and showy, if big and showy is how you like your bulbs. We would be happy with smaller and more interesting. Mark’s only comment so far has been that it never was a brilliant cross in the first place but it was just to get some variation in the garden.

Maybe the other 38 or so will show more interesting variations over the next few years? A large part of gardening is optimism.

I see there are about 90 species of hippeastrum though most of the hybrids are from just six of the species – including H. aulicum which surprised us, but not H. papilio.

A celebration of bright light and the start of a new year of gardening

Our maunga – Mount Taranaki – on the day before the winter equinox

I have said before that the first flowers on Magnolia campbellii herald the start of a new gardening year for us. But I had not thought before of the bigger picture. On the day before the winter equinox last week, I went out on a clear day to catch the image of our maunga, our mountain, from the path down to our park. It wasn’t until I saw it on my big computer screen that I spotted the bird in the branches. I assumed it was a kereru judging by the size and shape and so did Mark when I showed him. When I zoomed close in on my screen, it is just a thrush.

The first blooms on Magnolia campbellii herald the start of a new garden year – for us, at least.

This week, the first flowers opened. And I made a connection between the first flowers, the winter solstice and Matariki. The last is a traditional Maori celebration now gaining popularity in the wider population. Sometimes referred to as the Maori New Year, its timing is determined by the rise of a cluster of small stars known to Maori as Matariki but commonly called the Pleiades in astronomical circles. The exact date of the appearance of this star cluster varies from year to year, but it is usually soon after the winter solstice. And it occurred to me that the calendar which we all follow where New Year is accepted to be January 1 is, of course, a northern hemisphere creation so everything seasonal is reversed. It makes perfect sense that the first flowers on M. campbellii signal the start of our new year in the garden.

Reaching high into the mid-winter sky, Dahlia imperialis Alba and a bougainvillea shoot

And what a week it has been. Cool nights (which means between about 3° and 8° Celsius where we are), followed by sunny, calm days with a temperature of 14° to 15°. We cannot complain about that in mid-winter, even though we know winter storms will return over the next six weeks before temperatures start rising in August.

The shaggy spires of Jacobinia chrysostephana syn. Justicia aurea in the early morning light

As usual, in this part of the world, we keep that clarity of bright light all year round. Not for us a watery winter sun held low in the sky and lowered light levels of winter gloom. No, we have bright sunshine and clear blue skies on good days where the only difference is the air temperature. And it is not so bad to winter-over in conditions where, even as I type with warm gloves (blood circulation to the arthritic fingers is not what it once was) in my office with the heater on, I know that after my 10am coffee, it will be warm enough outside to head outside and start on today’s project. And still we have a garden full of flowers.

Luculia Fragrant Cloud in full bloom

Luculia Fragrant Cloud with its sweet almond fragrance

Mark’s Daphne Perfume Princess – we have rather a lot of these scattered through the garden

Vireya rhododendrons planted in sheltered positions throughout the top garden flower intermittently through the year but are perhaps most appreciated in mid winter


Epiphytes and ponga logs

It took Lloyd 10 days of determined work to clear up after the fallen tawa tree. It was a big job. He has hauled out many trailer loads of firewood and dispersed most of the vegetation. What is left now will stay in situ and we will work around it. The trunk will outlive us.

One path is still blocked unless you are of small stature and willing to crouch to pass beneath the trunk. It is likely that it will be left like that. Mark and I will continue to use the path but others will take the easier route. You can see the epiphytes still clinging on to the fallen trunk.

When I wrote about the weight of the tree coming down, Canadian gardener, Pat Webster, commented: “To think that the weight of epiphytes could contribute to its demise makes my head reel… this is not something I experience in Canada.” It hadn’t really occurred to me that this is a distinguishing feature of mature trees in this country but of course it is. The collospermums are not referred to as widow-makers for nothing. You would not want to be beneath a falling cluster but apparently a number of the early pioneers and bushmen were.

In New Zealand, we usually refer to our remnants of original vegetation as ‘native bush’. Sometimes ‘native forest’ but commonly ‘the bush’. Even forest may be misleading. It is more like cool climate jungle in reality – near impenetrable at times, almost entirely evergreen and layer upon layer of vegetation. Perfect conditions for epiphytes to get established and a frightening experience for those early settlers who arrived expecting something more resembling England’s rolling fields and rather sparse woodland.

I was thinking of Pat’s comment when I came upon another clump of collospermum that is waiting to be dismantled and removed from a path. This fell off the stem of a tree fern – the very one in this photo which still has several remaining. The abundance of epiphytes is presumably an indication of our high humidity, regular rainfall, absence of both extreme cold and extended dry periods and the predominance of evergreens giving shelter.

The demise of the tawa tree brought down several self-sown tree ferns (known here as pongas). One or two it uprooted and launched into the air as spears – or maybe javelins. They embedded themselves into the soft ground and stream bed by their crowns. Lloyd asked me if I had plans for the ponga stems, which can last for many years in some situations. Well yes, I did.

Very smart edging in an English garden

The new lily border needs an edging to keep the mulch on the bed despite the birds and rabbits scratching. I had wondered using the rusted steel edging, often referred to as Corten steel. I really like the look and it weathers gracefully, while, I understand, being flexible enough to bend around curves. I did a quick calculation of how many hundred metres I needed to edge the new Court Garden and to highlight the curves of the lily border and the caterpillar garden and looked on line. Yes, I really like the unobtrusive crispness of Corten steel edging but I don’t love it several thousand dollars’ worth.  That is a lot of money that I could spend on an overseas trip that will inspire me and bring me memories. Garden edging may please me but it is never going to inspire me.

When the compromise is tree fern or punga lengths

The ponga lengths will have to do and are arguably more suitable for our relaxed style. They come already furnished with an abundance of softening epiphytes and they are free. I will get over my passing disappointment at taking the easy option over expensive aesthetics.

Pong lengths softened with existing epipyhtes for added interest

Of gnomes and statues

Context matters. I photographed this in a garden on a country estate in England. And it did not seem out of place at all there, to my eyes. But is it just a classier form of the garden gnome? 

There I was, bereft of ideas for a post this weekend when a visiting colleague gave me the best quote, which he attributed to the renowned Irish gardener, the inimitable Helen Dillon.

“Statues are just the gnomes of the upper classes.”

We laughed out loud. Of course we did. I did a quick search on line and I see Helen Dillon attributes that statement first, in 2004, to a garden visitor commenting on an aged statue in her garden – a semi clothed woman of Victorian vintage. More recently, she reportedly ascribed the comment “to a friend”. Maybe the visitor went on to become a friend?

We lack both gnomes and statues in our own garden but I have always had some fascination for a good gnome garden. There is one down the way, in my local town of Waitara. I have wondered about calling in and asking permission to photograph it but I just don’t think my motives are sufficiently pure and that makes it discourteous and lacking in respect on my part. You will have to imagine it, instead. It is a much-loved garden and were there a National Collection for gnomes and ornaments, this one would almost certainly qualify. I noticed it one time when the son of the house had carefully cleaned and repainted the entire population and that would be no mean feat, believe me. They gleamed in the sunlight.

Gnome gardens do tend to associate with succulents. I have no idea if this is by choice or chance on the part of the gnomes.

I could only find a single photo of a gnome in my extensive photo files. Clearly I need to rectify this.

Gnomes have a long and somewhat more celebrated history than their current position in gardens suggests. There is a wealth of information on line, should you feel compelled to find out more about gnome history. But there is no denying that their slide in social status has seen them end up pretty close to the lower end, if not right at the bottom.

Classical statuary in NZ gardens is more commonly of this ilk

Which brings us to the statues. New Zealand is no longer the egalitarian society many of us like to pretend but the differences are not so much one of social class as economic status. We are somewhat lacking in the upper classes in this country. Our colonial forebears were more interested in shaking free from the shackles of the class system back in the Old Country and few of the early settlers came from the gentry. There are a few aspirants that linger on, but they are more a curious sub-group than a social and political force. I am pretty sure that if you took a census of New Zealanders and asked what social class they see themselves in, over 90% would declare themselves as middle class. Just as ethnic affiliation is a matter of personal choice in this country (as in, people define which ethnic groups they identify with and there is no reliance on blood quantum), so too is social class. I think it is one of the nicer aspects of living in New Zealand.

Saint Fiacre, I think, again in a grand English garden but by no means uncommon in a miniature form in NZ gardens

But does a reproduction classical statue, or even a figure of Saint Fiacre, make you more middle class than a gnome? That is the question. Many people who would shun Snow White, Grumpy, Sleepy, Dozy, Mick and Titch in the garden clearly believe so. The evidence is there in many, many gardens. What it doesn’t do, in this far-flung island nation of the South Pacific, is make you upper class and that has nothing to do with the dollar price-tag on the statue. Wealth and class should not be confused.

I would suggest that the downward slide in social status of classical statuary continues to take place (prole drift!), just at a slower speed than the rapid descent of the gnome. In this country at least.

We don’t have gnomes in our garden because they only amuse us in other people’s gardens. We don’t have classical statuary because it seems irrelevant to the context of our garden. Each to their own. But we are still chuckling at the Dillon quote