Category Archives: Abbie’s column

Abbie’s newspaper columns

Dispensing with the big pond

Everything grows so quickly. Back in the 1990s, the whole area was much more open

The big pond is a good example of how conditions can change over time. Sometimes decisions need to be made rather than fighting nature to try and preserve an increasingly unsatisfactory status quo.

The pond had ceased to have a function. Originally, it was our swimming pond where we used to gather as a family for summer dips. That stopped when we built a swimming pool which didn’t carry the perils of resident eels.

Our son Theo used it in his middle childhood. He and his mates built a bike jump and it became a show of macho youthfulness to see how high up the hill they could start their run with an old pushbike. The aim was to build up as much speed as possible, hit the launch pad and part company from the bike in mid-air, both boy and bike landing separately in the deepest part of the pond. It was the responsibility of the rider to dive to retrieve the bike and get it back to shore. It sounds dangerous and maybe it wasn’t the safest of childhood pursuits but there were no major injuries.

By last spring, the water had all but disappeared from view

Over time, the weed infestation took hold – possibly because of increased nutrient loading in the water from upstream farming activities. It was several years ago that I figured that it was unwise to get into the water when I had open skin wounds, even just minor abrasions. It only took a few hours for fungal infections to start getting a hold. It is not water that I would swim in these days.

With the growth of weed, we lost any reflective qualities of the water.

It was only three years ago that Theo did a major clean out for us.

Three years ago, Theo was at home for a couple of weeks, en route from Amsterdam to Melbourne. He did a trojan job clearing the pond of accumulated weed but short of finding somebody willing to do that every year – volunteers are not so much thin on the ground as entirely absent – we needed to concentrate the flow of the river into a designated channel and abandon the pond.

The platforms that enabled Lloyd to reach the middle of the pond

I missed the photo of Lloyd walking on water. By last Monday, he had reached the point where the pond narrowed sufficiently for him to stretch from the banks. We have an extra-long handled rake and have put a long handle on the drainage fork. All I can show you are the platforms he was using made from corrugated iron, linked by wide wooden boards. The principle is of spreading the weight so the human on top does not slowly sink into the morass of water weed and silt. With the water level dropped as low as we can get it, the silt layer is still about a metre of soft, floating soil particles. With resident eels. Lloyd hauled all the weed to the sides of the pond and has basically created terraces which will compact and solidify over time, leaving a winding channel in the middle.

Lloyd hauling out large swathes of Lousiana iris 

The wakendorfia have all been removed this week and the oxygen weed raked out of the smaller, upper pond.

At the same time, he and I removed 2/3 of the Louisiana iris (ratio of foliage to flower is much too high to justify massive swathes of them). I dug out the remaining Wachendorfia thyrsiflora. It is showy in bloom but too invasive and free-seeding to keep by running water. We try to manage what we may be spreading downstream. I took a rubbish bag down with me to load all the bulbs of the weedy montbretia (Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora) and all the bits of Tradescantia fluminensis  – both invasive weeds that repeated floods keep delivering us from upstream. Readers may know the tradescantia by its common name of ‘Wandering Jew’, or maybe ‘Wandering Willie’. We have decided that the Jew epithet is nothing short of downright offensive and Willie carries other connotations so we have trained ourselves to refer to it as ‘Wandering Trad’. Let’s lay the responsibility for this plant where it belongs – which is presumably with plant collector, John Tradescant, not with the Jews in the millennia when they lacked a homeland.

We have reached this stage of narrowing the pond to just a stream channel. The water is very low at the moment because of unusually dry conditions

There is still a clean-up to be done around the stream but fortunately, we are in high summer and it is dry. All the plant material is being left out to be dried by the sun and we will then stow it beneath established trees and shrubs where it can rot down. It has to be dried out so that it doesn’t take root and grow again. The mud and silt will be raked out along the sides where necessary. And we will let the grass grow long again. I am hoping the result of some pretty solid work across the past couple of weeks will be a greatly improved meadow display this coming spring and water that is more bubbling brook than sluggish stream morphing into swamp.

The big lesson we have learned from this is that we need to do more to control the growth on the banks of the stream, not by stripping them bare or spraying but by strimming them twice a year when the park gets mowed. It is all part of the learning process on how to manage a more natural-style of gardening.

Another week in the garden of Jury

Subtitled: Rain! At last! A study in a sparrow’s nest, waterworks, the raspberry coop, tamarillos and an update on the new grass garden.

It is mighty unusual for us to get excited about rain in our climate. But a good rain last night was certainly a relief. It has not been a particularly hot summer but it has been a dry one. We do not irrigate our garden. Nor should anybody else, in this day and age when we are realising that water is a precious commodity. Garden to your conditions. Grow what flourishes in your climate. Target watering only to what needs it to survive and produce, not the whole area.  But I digress. The rain last night, in addition to the 9 ml we received last week, is very welcome.

It also brought down more of the old sheaths clinging to the Queen Palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana)  We describe this particular specimen as being an entire condominium of nesting birds, mostly sparrows. As each sheath falls, so too does a spent nest. In this case, it appears there were two families of sparrows squashed into the same apartment. Sparrows may be a common and unpopular little bird here (Oi! England! Do you want your spadges back? We could do a two-for-one deal and throw in Mrs Tiggywinkle and her large family) but their nests are soft, feather-lined creations of great charm. When you think how small these birds are, creating a cosy, safe place for their offspring’s first weeks is a major effort. What is more, they have to repeat the process every year.

It disintegrated in the fall from a great height but look at how much work the little sparrows put into creating this one-season masterpiece

As I wrote last week, we have decided we will reopen the garden this year for the 10 days of the Taranaki Garden Festival. Work in preparation has already begun. I tackled the raspberry coop. Mark marvelled that he did not think it had ever looked as tidy, including back in his father’s day. Lloyd was terribly impressed by my weekend’s efforts. It is a very old pipe and wire netting cage which is scheduled for removal but not for another year or two. We call it the raspberry coop because it houses a very productive row of raspberries but it was the sad, neglected blueberry that forced me into action. It was limping on with its cropping when I saw a photo of a commercial bush that was way more impressive. Maybe ours would do better with some care and attention, I thought. So I fed it, gave it compost as well, cleared everything else around it and mulched it. I am hoping for great things next year. The coop also houses seven geriatric dwarf apple trees. With feeding and mulching, I am hoping they may become venerable, rather than geriatric. They date back to the 1950s and we still have a collection of varieties that were popular back in those days – Sturmer, Golden Delicious, Spartan and others of that era.

Never before has the raspberry coop looked this smart

The raspberry coop is on the margin of the Iolanthe garden that I have been working on transforming to a perennial meadow and if visitors are going to be looking at that, I felt that a weedy, unloved raspberry coop was not a good look at all. Now I just have to keep it this tidy and free of weeds.

A work in progress on what used to be the big pond. The water level is way up after last night’s rain

Lloyd has been slogging it out this week, carving out a stream channel through the large pond that had silted up and become choked with water weed. It is an area where the digger did not have sufficient reach to enable him to do by machine. I did not think to take my camera down to record the simple system of floating platforms and boards that has enabled him to walk on water (well, floating mats of weed, really) to cut it up and haul it to the side so you will have to wait until next week for handy hints on how manpower can achieve what machinery cannot. Some weeks, that man is worth his weight in gold. We are only days away from being able to put the water back down the channel and that will be a celebratory conclusion to a major maintenance task.

A great crop on the self-sown tamarillo

Ripe tamarillo fruit

We know this South American fruit as a tamarillo in New Zealand, formerly a tree tomato. I doubt that many people know it by its botanical name – Solanum betaceum but there seem to be plenty of other names for it around the world. ‘Tamarillo’ is another case of NZ renaming a fruit to increase its marketable qualities (like ‘kiwifruit’). For us, it is a bit like the Cape gooseberry and passionfruit – short-lived but able to pop up around the place from seed. We didn’t plant this specimen, it is a volunteer and it is carrying a great crop this year. Those hanging fruit will not be ripe until they turn red. It is not my favourite fruit but it adds variety to our diet and can be used in both sweet dishes and as part of a savoury salad. Mark’s father used to like it with a little chopped onion on wholemeal toast but it is more common to peel them and serve them with sugar.

Finally, I give you the latest photos of my grass garden, planted at the very end of May, just nine months ago. I am really delighted with it. Mark is a flower and colour man and wistfully asked if I intended to add more colour. I defensively reeled off all the flowering plants in it (pale apricot foxgloves, Verbascum creticum, Inula magnifica, salvias red, yellow and blue/green, daisies, evening primrose and more). It turns out he was discounting white flowers. What he really meant was colour. The answer to that is probably not. I am fine with it growing just as it is. It is getting the immersive atmosphere I want and to stand or sit amongst it when there is a breeze blowing is the pleasure I hoped for. It is very different to any other part of our garden.

Some flowers of summer

 

 

Tecomanthe venusta at its best 

I have been busy gardening all week so all I have to give you this weekend are summer flowers. The New Guinea Tecomanthe venusta has never bloomed better than this week. The vines are simply smothered with its pink trumpets and I had trouble getting a photo that does it justice. True, it is not the prettiest pink to my eyes, but with all its blooms sprouting out from bare wood, it is spectacular. We have it growing under the verandah on our shed because it is a tropical climber and we are warm temperate, not tropical. For much of the year, it serves as the repository for the birds’ nests I pick up around the place. 

Mummified rat in a nest

If you can get over the somewhat grotesque aspect, the mummified rat found in a blackbird nest is a little haunting. I found it like that.

Calodendron capense 

Not an aesculus, a calodendron

Across the southern hemisphere, it is the south east of Africa that gave us the cape chestnut or Calodendron capense. This is another plant that probably prefers a drier climate and few more degrees of heat than we can give it but some years, it pleases us with a really good season in bloom. Even before I found its common name of cape chestnut, I noticed the similarity of the blooms to the aesculus, or horse chestnut. The edible sweet chestnut, by they way, is a different plant altogether, being Castanea sativa. It is not even a distant relative though there is some botanical heritage shared between aesculus and calodendron so the latter should really be the Cape horse chestnut. I haven’t found any advice that it is any more edible to humans than the common horse chestnut.

Tecoma stans – with apple tree and nicotiana in the Iolanthe garden 

Tecoma stans – it is very yellow.

Tecoma stans is also from southern and central Africa and it is coming into its own now it is well established and has some size. It is growing in the Iolanthe garden where I have been working and because I have spent most of my time on my knees in that garden, eyes faced downwards, it was the bright yellow fallen blooms that first caught my eye. I had meant to photograph the falling blue of the jacaranda flower carpet but I left it a bit late so this is the best I can offer.

Jacaranda to the left, tecoma to the right – fallen flowers

The echinaceas have been slow to come into their own this summer. Some were set back when I did a certain amount of digging and dividing of large clumps over autumn and winter but the main problem has been the rabbits. They never touched them in the previous two years but developed a taste for them in spring when they started coming into growth and it took me a while to notice.

Mark has been waging war on the rabbits this summer. Every evening he heads out with our useless fox terriers – one too old and deaf to be any good on rabbits and who just likes to feel a part of things these days and the other who has never really caught on to how to hunt. Dudley hangs around waiting for Mark to shoot them. “Come on Dad, hurry up.” He appears to think he is a retriever, not a terrier. Mark is simply gobsmacked at how many he has shot in recent weeks – around 23 in just one area of the garden that is probably only an acre or two in total. They are spread over the rest of the property – in fact, right across Tikorangi we are told by others – but they aren’t wreaking havoc there on the same scale as in the house gardens.

Mark is on a mission, the fairly useless dogs don’t want to miss out on potential excitement but fail to honour their terrier heritage

Next spring, I will be out with the blood and bone in early spring at the first hint of growth on the echinaceas. We beat the bunnies on the lilies though I admitted defeat and moved the campanula that they took down despite my best efforts. I will win on the echinaceas.

Managing weeds in herbaceous plantings. Vigilance is the key.

Fresh plantings in the Iolanthe garden

I have been spending many hours in my new Iolanthe garden. I use the word ‘my’, not the plural ‘our’ because this is a solo effort. It is certainly the most difficult of the new summer gardens I have planted and that has to do both with working around existing plants that are remaining in place and the heavy weed infestation in the area. I was starting to get discouraged at the scale of what I still have to do but there are enough glimpses of how it will look to keep me going most days.

Informal, or maybe meadow-ish in time. Hopefully by next summer.

Mark says I shouldn’t call it a meadow garden because it is not a meadow. It is really a perennial garden but different to the other perennial gardens I have put in. An informal flower garden filled with a wide range of perennials planted informally (randomly, even) and also self-seeding annuals. With some grasses and various fixed shrubs and a fair swag of citrus trees (several still small) and three feijoas. Informal it may be but I still don’t want a heavy infestation of weeds. So I weed – but avoid putting the weeds into the compost heap, stowing them instead at the back of shaded shelter plantings around the property – level the soils in the area where I am working, plant and mulch, square metre by square metre. I paced it out and the whole area is around 600 square metres.  Such is the weed seed loading in the soil, I have to go over every finished area within a few days as the seeds start germinating in the recently disturbed soil. It is tedious. It is also a lot of work and I say that as a gardener who is not afraid of work. But I am on a mission to get it done, even though it now means carting water as we enter high summer (on account of there not being tap in that area). Meadowish, or meadow style, perhaps.

The lesson I have learned about this style of gardening is that there is a fine line between an informal garden – where seeding down of desired annuals and biennials is encouraged – and a weedy mess. If you want the former, then you have to start by controlling the latter.

The grass garden is filling in, seven months from planting. We still haven’t done the paths but will get around to them this winter.

The grass garden is filling out but still has quite a way to go before it has full cover. This summer is the one that matters most when it comes to weeding. I have learned this. Fortunately, it is easy to do and I have found that the push hoe is the best implement for getting beneath the mulch without disturbing it too much and severing the weeds. I go over it often – thoroughly at least once a week with random weeding each time I walk through on most days. Next summer should be much easier.

Both the perennial borders and the lily border are in their third summer and are pretty much weed-free. So too the caterpillar garden and that is only in its second summer. I don’t claim them to be totally free of weeds but what pops up is easily dealt to, minor and mostly annual, not perennial weeds. More importantly, given the new summer gardens are largely herbaceous perennials, there is not a problem with nasty weeds intertwined with the root systems of the permanent plantings.  The key to achieving this state is eternal vigilance but there are a few more tools in the arsenal against weeds.

The perennial borders going into their third summer – mostly free of weeds now.

Keeping soils well cultivated means weeds are easily pulled out, though this is easier with our friable soils. If you have heavy soils that make clods in winter and then set to concrete is summer, pulling weeds out is more likely to mean you leave the root systems behind and the perennial weeds will just keep on growing.

Trying to avoid any weeds ever going to seed reduces weeding into the future. One year’s seeding, seven years’ weeding goes the old saying. Based on my recent experience, I would say that you can cut that short to two or three years but take your eye off the ball – or weeds – and you are back to the beginning.

The caterpillar gardens in their second year – and the weeds are under good control.

Mulch, mulch and mulch but be sure it is a weed-free mulch. While we make hot compost, it is clear that it is often not hot enough to kill all the seeds and our compost is not as free of weeds as I would wish. While I prefer the look of compost as a mulch over other options, whenever I use it, I try and get back around several times over the next few weeks to pull out any germinating volunteers. If you are buying compost, it should be sterile – at least the stuff you buy in environmentally-unfriendly, heavy-duty plastic bags at the garden centre.

Being economical gardeners, we use what we have to hand for mulch. And what we have to hand is sawdust, wood shavings and wood chip. The first two are bright orange and stay that way for at least nine months which can be a pretty awful look in a garden so I only use those in areas where the colour will not worry me. The sawdust and shavings I laid in an established mixed border worried me so much over ensuing months that I eventually covered them up with leaf litter.

The lily border is just coming into its month of seasonal glory and is also largely free of weeds.

Garden mulch should be visually neutral so that you look at the plants and the design, not the mulch.

Mostly, I use wood chips which are not perfect but at least they are a muted shade of greyed beige when dry, brown when wet and they are 100% weed free. But this also comes with a qualification. Our domestic wood chipper produces a very fine grade product which ages quickly and therefore looks more natural. The arborist that we use has a commercial chipper which is like the fastest muncher in the west, dealing with prodigious amounts of wood and leaf at speed and the resulting mulch is a reasonably fine texture that ages well. But other commercial operators have mulchers that produce a much coarser product. Chunky rather than chipped. It takes way longer to mellow, even in full sun, and it will always look coarse. I hate the look and I would not want to be working amongst it either.

Large expanses of wood chip mulch in a public garden. It is hard to believe that all that space will ever be covered by the plants so the wood chip is a more or less permanent feature.

In addition to that, the areas where I am using wood chip are destined to be entirely covered by plants within twelve months or so. I find large areas of wood chip mulch, destined to remain that way for years to come, a barren and desolate look.

The lesson here is that if you are going to buy wood chip mulch, check the texture and remember that finer is preferable. You are probably going to be looking at it for at least a year.

If you lay wood mulch, be it chip, sawdust or shavings, and then want to work in the area, always, but always, scrape back the mulch before digging in the soil. Eventually the mulch will get incorporated in the soil and add desirable carbon content but you want it to have spent at least a year ageing and mellowing on the top surface so it starts to break down. Incorporating it in the soil earlier than that means that it robs the soil of nitrogen as it breaks down and that causes plants to show a yellow tinge and slows growth. Believe me, I have seen it happen where I have not been careful enough. You can counter it by adding nitrogen fertiliser but as you only notice it when the plants start to discolour and look stunted, they can take a time to recover.

This is my last new garden. When completed, we will have managed to reach the goal we set ourselves maybe fifteen years ago when we first decided we wanted summer gardens. The dollar budget for this last area is zero dollars because I am amalgamating and repurposing plant material we already have. The time and effort required, however, is substantial.

The narrow line between weedy mess and a host of summer blooms and seeding plants cheek by jowl 

Win some, lose some

Alchemilla mollis in my garden

I photographed my patch of Alchemilla mollis for my friend, Chris. He, too, had admired the acid yellow froth in English gardens and wanted the same effect in his own home garden but found his efforts were not rewarded. This is as good as I can get it here.

Alchemilla mollis at Blooms of Bressingham in the UK

I do not understand why it never seems as lush. It originates from southern Europe so is presumably not dependent on winter chill. though maybe there are chillier areas in southern Europe because it certainly seems to perform better in cooler places with lower light levels. I even wondered briefly if what we grow in New Zealand as A. mollis is in fact its smaller cousin, Alchemilla erythropoda. But apparently the latter is much, much smaller so I guess not. It is A.mollis, but not as northern gardeners grow it.

Do not laugh at this poor little specimen of a veronicastrum. A lot of effort has gone in to getting it to this stage. The bamboo stakes were part of rabbit protection when it was even smaller.

I have written before about our single, solitary specimen of the blue veronicastrum, V. virginicum, which we have nursed through from seed to its second summer. It is even setting flower buds. It is just that the plant is only 20cm tall when it should be hitting two metres in bloom. It is clearly not a rapid grower and I wonder if northern gardeners buy established plants to start with. It is a common, hardy, American plant and nowhere in the international literature do I see mention of it being difficult to establish.

This was more the effect I was hoping for – at Le Jardin Plume in Normandy

This stronger blue veronicastrum, which will be a named form, was used by Piet Oudolf in Trentham Gardens near Stoke-on-Trent in the UK

We sourced two different packets of seed which disconcerted Mark when he came to sow them because they were so fine he got out his magnifying glass to check that he wasn’t just sowing dust. Despite being a professional at dealing with seed and going to the trouble of stratifying them in the fridge, he only ended up with this one, solitary plant. Time will tell whether it gets more strength and grows large enough for us to divide it. In the meantime, Mark is trying it from cutting as well. It is a plant we would like to use in our summer gardens but I would have expected it to be a little more enthusiastic in its second summer. In fact, I thought it would be a lot more robust and vigorous.

Astrantias are another mainstay of English summer gardens that we have tried and failed with. They flower and then just fade away. Heucheras are another plant that we have given up on. Once planted out in the garden, the lush nursery specimens just quietly sat and languished, failing to thrive. There is no substitute for trialling plants before investing too much money, time and energy on using them on a larger scale.

Scadoxus multiflorus ssp katherinae naturalising in our woodland

But I mustn’t moan. We do have our successes. I am pretty sure some successful growers of the aforementioned perennials would look with awe and envy at our summer display of Scadoxus  katherinae. We will have only started with a few bulbs, possibly just the one at the very beginning, and we certainly didn’t plant this large swathe in the woodland. They have just gently seeded down and spread a little more year by year without ever causing a problem. They have very large bulbs (of a similar size to a belladonna) which sit close to the surface and stay evergreen with that large, lush foliage for much of the year.

Gloriosa superba prefers full sun and has also gently spread itself around

Ditto the Gloriosa superba, at times a little more problematic with their natural seeding. They are one of the types of tuber that finds their own depth in the soil and they bury themselves really deeply. This can make them difficult to get out if they are in the wrong place. But when they bloom with that lovely reflexed shape, it is like having fiery coronets in the garden.

Jacaranda! In Tikorangi! We are not exactly within its normal climatic range of conditions

The jacaranda tree is having a good flowering this year, albeit not as spectacular as in drier, hotter climates. I love jacarandas so to have one that blooms in our conditions is a great pleasure. Blue flowered trees are not common when you think about it and the carpet of fallen blooms beneath is also a delight.

Pretty much the only flower I cut to bring indoors and one stem fills a vase and scents a room. We have hundreds in the garden.

And we are into the season of the auratum lilies. I pick some to bring indoors to scent the house and truly, they are gorgeous. We have hundreds of these in the garden AND NO LILY BEETLE IN NZ! For this we are truly grateful and thank our tough border control. Their peak blooming over the next weeks will more than compensate for the absent astrantias, hopeless heuchera, anticlimactic alchemilla and the very disappointing veronicastrum.

Aurelians, Asiatics, Auratums, Orientals and other flowers of the graveyard

‘High Tea’

‘High Tea’ on the left and a yellow Oriental to the right

I went back to the Te Henui cemetery this week to take my gardening friend some of the giant albuca she wanted. The dedicated volunteers keep the whole place blooming all year round but it was the lilies that caught my eye this week. One lily in particular was standing sturdy and straight with no staking and reaching a heady height of maybe 1.8m. “What is it?” I asked. “It’s an Oriental, she said. “I bought the first one from a bulb outlet and it is called ‘High Tea’ and the rest came in a mix of Orientals that I picked up at The Warehouse.”

The yellow one next to it was clearly an Oriental – and a very pretty one at that with good yellow colouring for one with Japanese auratum lily in its parentage. ‘High Tea’ had me puzzled and then I realised it was very similar to one we had at home that I relocated last year. I hadn’t noticed it before the previous summer but Mark and I had discussed it when it suddenly produced a fairly spectacular performance. Neither of us have any recollection at all of acquiring it in the first place or planting it in its original location. Mark took one look at it this morning and said, “It is an Aurelian”.

This took me down the rabbit hole of looking at lilium groups. Does this matter to the home gardener? Not at all. You can happily grow plants without knowing anything at all about their origins or relatives. But it is a bit like doing crosswords – some of us like the challenge and find it interesting trying to work out the genetic lines and the different groups.

Left to right: a typical Aurelian trumpet in soft orange, one of Mark’s Aurelians in yellow with larger flowers and better scent, an early auratum bloom at the back with its flatter flower, in front the Asiatic which resembles ‘High Tea’, and late blooms of Lilium regale on the right with a deep pink form which may or may not be regale but is an Asiatic.

We grow a lot of Aurelians and auratum lilies and they are a strong feature of our summer gardens. But neither of us were at all sure what the definition of an Oriental lily was. It turns out that Oriental is a broad term that takes in a whole lot of hybrids between different species but the dominant genes come from Japanese lilies. They flower a little later in the season and they usually have the best fragrance. L. auratum that Mark and his father before him have done quite a bit of work on to get a range of good garden plants here would be classified as falling within the Oriental group even though they are just variations on the one species.

What makes the cemetery yellow Oriental interesting is that it the result of an effort to get yellow auratum hybrids. Auratums come in shades of pink, white and red so the yellow has been introduced from a different species and will have involved some sophisticated hybridising techniques.

A very good yellow as far as auratum hybrids or Orientals go

Trumpet lilies from the wider Asian area have the catch-all term of Asiatics. They are not renowned for their scent, but we have a lot that are scented. They also have finer foliage and flower a little earlier in the season.

The Aurelian group is a blanket term for hybrids with L. henryii in their parentage. So all Aurelians are Asiatics, but not all Asiatics are Aurelian. Once you get into these larger groupings, the breeding can be very complicated involving several different species and hybrids.

So Mark was right that ‘High Tea’ is not an Oriental and it may indeed be an Aurelian. It is certainly an Asiatic.

Dierama

The graveyard is a splendid backdrop for plants. Lots of framing of small pictures that are a delight. Flowers this week included Dierama pulcherrimum which the internet and I know also as angel’s fishing rod but a social media follower declared was in fact fairy’s fishing rod on account of Tinkerbell but the detail eludes me. I like the graceful form and the gentle way the blooms age.

What we call calla lilies are not lilies at all. They are zantedeschia from Africa. I pulled most of mine out because they were too shy on flowering and not worth the space in the garden but this patch was doing well in the graveyard. The gardener in me wanted to rogue out the stray orange one. If the flowers look familiar, it is because they are the same family as the common arum which is a noxious weed in New Zealand.

Romneya couteri

The beautiful white flower that looks as though it is tissue paper is the Californian tree poppy, Romneya coulteri. It is one of those plants that is either extremely happy and inclined to become rampantly invasive or it is unhappy and it dies. Our attempts to grow it resulted in its death.

Beautiful, ethereal gaura floating like butterflies.

I assume this is false valerian (Centranthus ruber) but I will stand corrected if my assumption is wrong.

This local graveyard remains one of the very best places to see a huge range of flowers and some charming and well thought out combinations.

 

Raspberry nostalgia

There is only so much disaster news I can cope with. Usually I find solace in the flowers and trees of the garden. Yesterday, as I picked the raspberries, it was nostalgia that struck me in a huge, sentimental wave. One of the better aspects of growing older is that the store of memories grows greater with each passing year and sometimes I find myself drawing out past memories that I have not thought about for a long time. Though my raspberry memories flood back every year as I carry out the harvest here.

The summer of 1969 was a seminal event in my teenage years – the first experience of adult freedom. We grew up earlier then. I was only fifteen when, with my three best girlfriends at the time, we organised a summer stint fruit picking. We would rather have been picking cherries or apricots but it was a raspberry orchard in Beaumont, Central Otago, that was willing to employ us. In those days, orchardists provided basic accommodation and meals for their seasonal workers. In this case, it was a boys’ bunkroom and a girls’ bunkroom.

The picking of the raspberries. I think we were paid 45c a box. That is yours truly at the front.

Kate, Pippa, Clare and I thought we would have a great time – get suntanned, lose weight and earn money. We had a great time but none of the rest was the case. It rained. A lot. The raspberries went mouldy on the vines. The orchardist wife catered lavishly for us. With fresh scones, raspberry jam and cream on offer every morning and afternoon tea, I think all of us put on weight. The money was scant. Based on the kilo and a half of raspberries I am currently harvesting every second day, I think those wooden boxes probably held about 10lb or 4 ½ kilos. From memory, we were paid 45c a box. I remember working out that if the weather held and I picked as fast as I could until there was no more daylight, it was possible to pick eight boxes in a day. Even back then, $3.60 a day for close to 10 hours work was not great money.

Suffering from cabin fever in the rain, we persuaded Kate – the oldest one in our group and the only one with a driver’s licence – to requisition her mother’s car. Her parents were particularly amenable even when they were not best pleased. Four girls, cheap petrol and a Ford car. I have photos of the time taken on my Box Brownie camera. Very democratic, those photos were. One of each of us at Kate’s parents Arrowtown holiday house, then posing at the top of the chairlift on Coronet Peak (Pippa had the most model potential, I had all the glamour of a sack of potatoes) and heading out to the Beaumont pub for a celebratory dinner.

Posing on Coronet Peak. It may have been mid summer but it was still alpine.

Clare, Pippa and I had all sat School Certificate that year and the results came out in January. Kate was a year ahead of us at school. On the day the results were released, we clustered around the one phone in the house to make the all-important calls. I think I am right to say that a combined total of 200 across the top four subjects constituted a pass overall. The school we attended had set a mark of 330 as the point where they encouraged a student to skip the next year and go straight into the final year of schooling. Clare and I were aiming for that and to this day, I still feel a sense of guilt that Pippa’s relief at passing fairly comfortably (from memory, I think she got 246) was eclipsed. At 336, I met the school criteria for promotion (this is why I was only 16 when I started university a year later). Clare achieved a massive 372 and went on to study at Cambridge University. Memories can be oddly specific.

Ready for a celebratory dinner at the Beaumont pub. I am top right. Kate’s mother’s car and the bunkhouse also included, along with the shadows of the photographers with Brownie Box cameras.

I can’t remember what we ate at the Beaumont pub celebration on the day although I can still picture the setting in my mind. What I remember most is that they sold us a bottle of Gimlet, even though the legal age for drinking was still 21. Times were different. Gimlet was an early premix of gin and lime. Given our ages, I am guessing we diluted it with lemonade. With hindsight, it was just as well that Kate, as our driver, was a very modest drinker because the rest of us were certainly very merry, though not paralytically drunk.

Harvesting the raspberries always makes me think back to that summer of freedom, youth and naïve innocence.

In a sign of the times, Kate made contact with me through Facebook after a gap of maybe 40 years and honestly, social media has some very good points.