Category Archives: Abbie’s column

Abbie’s newspaper columns

Tikorangi notes: this, that and the next thing too.

A beginner’s class in botanical art, day two

A reminder about the botanical art workshops being offered in our garden next weekend , November 2 and 3 with an intermediate class the following weekend, subject to enrolments. More details here if you are interested.

Last week was busy. In this life of ours, we are always active and on the move but generally free from external commitments, in charge of our own pressure points. But last week we had two tours through. Despite the garden being closed, we still accept the occasional group.

The IPPS group. I was too busy to take any photos at all of the Oregon Hardy Plants group.

First up was the IPPS conference (the NZ chapter of the International Plant Propagators Society) so former colleagues, essentially. They were followed by the Oregon Hardy Plants  tour where we like to go the extra mile and roll out the welcome mat, given the huge distance they have travelled.

It takes a bit of work to lift the garden back to opening standard. I start about six weeks out and do a complete round of the garden – all weeds out, dead plants removed, any bare patches sorted and the major tidy up. Lloyd does the big annual clip on the hedges – with a string line, powered hedge trimmer and hand clippers – and he removes any piles of garden debris we (mostly *I*) have accumulated around the place. Two weeks out, all three of us start the second round of the garden attending to the details that make it look sharp including edges, sweeping and motor-blowing, leaf raking woodland tracks, scooping up sludgy camellia blooms on the lawns, mulching where necessary and a final weed. Other projects have to go on hold at this time.

The  interview was filmed indoors as rain was threatening outdoors

We put physical energy into preparing for tours but that can pale beside the mental energy that goes into hosting them in person so the day after the Oregon people, I headed into town for a pleasant luncheon with friends. I knew we had a film crew coming in that afternoon but I wasn’t worried. We were not the subject of the filming and the garden was to be just a back drop. They were filming a documentary on a good friend of mine who is an artist and she had asked me if I would be interviewed. I expected a low-key crew of maybe two enthusiastic young people filming something that not a lot of people would ever see. I was wrong. When they arrived, it was way more major and professional than that. That’ll l’arn me. I had thought they might just talk to me casually for five or ten minutes but it was closer to a full 45 minutes of filming me talking and then filming us walking around the garden. I am delighted to see this external recognition of my friend, Fiona Clark. I was just surprised that the filming was not the low-key event I had anticipated. I am assuming (hoping?) that the footage of me will be edited down to maybe 3 minutes in the final documentary but I felt I had earned a stiff gin at the end of it.

Now it is back into the garden, between the pesky showers that dog our typical spring. And any pressure is self-imposed. The greatest pressure is the thought that we are entering the stage when it has been too cold and wet to enjoy planting out suddenly morphing into the point when it is too late before temperatures rise, the sun is strong and the winds too drying to risk it any longer.

Geranium madarense – white(ish) to the left, the more usual cerise pink to the right

When I was given the Geranium madarense, I was pleased. We have plenty of the common cerise form seeding around but the white sounded interesting. Because it is not a pure white, it is not as interesting as I hoped. It may even be deemed a little insipid. At least I can afford to let it seed around so time will tell if it has merit.

Ever so small at this stage, but I have high hopes of the one veronicastrum 

This is what I am hoping for, photographed at Le Jardin Plume in France. We even have the thalictrum to the left as well, although it is currently somewhat smaller in stature, too.

European readers will laugh at my delight at the plant of Veronicastrum virginicum that I am carefully nursing through. It is a mainstay of UK gardens in particular. New Zealanders who have come back from seeing this handsome, large plant in gardens overseas but rarely here, may appreciate our efforts. The seed is so fine that it looks like specks of dust and we only managed to get one plant to germinate. The bamboo cage is to protect it from rabbits. I have no idea if our pesky bunnies will actually eat it but I am not willing to risk it. I was talking to Kate Jury of Seaflowers Nursery on the IPPS visit and we agreed that there are good reasons why it is not seen much here. It is not an easy plant to get started. I assume once it gets going, it may romp away but I had a bad moment in winter when it disappeared altogether as I had not realised it was fully deciduous. I see it now has more than one growing shoot so I am hoping it will be a dig and divide type of perennial once established. Gardeners learn to thrive on optimism and patience as well as perspiration.

‘White Waves’, I think.

At this point of mid spring, it is all about the rhododendrons and clivias. I am guessing that this handsome rhododendron that we relocated from the old vegetable garden six weeks ago is ‘White Waves’. It is one of the easier, scented nuttalllii hybrids to grow (R. nuttallii x {R. lindleyi x dalhousiae}) and a quick net search tells me it is still available for sale in NZ.  We are very fond of the big nuttallii trumpet types though they are too tender for cold climates.

The bamboo gatherers are coming in to do the final pick of the season so I gathered a few to prepare for ourselves and they made a welcome addition to a stir fry last night. I have frozen most of the prepared shoots but am also trying pickling one jar, just to see whether we like them pickled.  I may report later if they are delicious.

The top blew out this morning 

At least it fell considerately, mostly on the grass paths and not so much on the garden

Today is too windy with a cold southerly for me to garden but it snapped off another of our old man pines (P. radiata). As our treemageddons go, this is not a major one and most of it fell on the grass paths. We were drinking our morning coffee in the house when we heard it fall. In conditions like this, we do not linger long beneath these swaying, towering behemoths. We get through a prodigious amount of firewood each winter but I feel we should be onto storing away for the winter of 2022 by now.

Planting a perennial meadow

My current project is planting a perennial meadow. Not a wildflower meadow. Much and all as we find annuals like soldier poppies, blue cornflowers and cosmos hugely charming, they are not wildflowers to New Zealand and basically that is gardening with annuals, freshly sowing seed each season. That is not the way we garden.

After six years, the area ‘down below’, as Felix Jury used to call it, is now more meadow than park.

We have turned the park area into what I would call an enhanced meadow, allowing the paddock grasses and self-introductions to grow (the buttercups and daisies currently in flower are very pretty!) and enhancing it by adding other plants like Higo, Louisiana and Siberian irises, primulas, bluebells, narcissi, snowdrops and even trilliums grown amongst the grass.

The area to the right is called the Iolanthe garden, due to the presence of the original plant of Magnolia Iolanthe

I want a summer flowering meadow and for us, that means strong perennials. The Iolanthe garden offered around 600 square metres of chaotic and weedy space. It was the old vegetable garden until the original and splendid plant of Magnolia ‘Iolanthe’ grew so large that it cast too much summer shade. It then became a mishmash, deteriorating to a neglected wilderness beloved by butterflies and bees but not so much by humans. Mark has used it over the years as a trial ground for perennials where it really does sort out the survivors. In a garden the size of ours, buying a 10cm potted perennial and putting it straight into the garden is likely to mean that the poor wee thing will get ignored until it is either dead or romping away and out of control. We need to grow on these plants to trial them in our conditions, to assess their performance and to watch for weed potential as well as building them up to get sufficient numbers to make a statement when planted into the main gardens. But once planted out in the Iolanthe garden, they were never loved or nurtured.

At its best, Mark’s mishmash could look like this but never all of it at the same time and never for very long

The area contains a number of permanent plants and relics from past usage. There are so many citrus trees that it should eventually become a citrus grove but that will take a couple of decades. There is a grove of Daphne bholua at one end, a stand of sugar cane at the other, some mighty big inulas, far too many bluebells and annual forget-me-nots, though they look charming at the moment with the abundant parsley, the one surviving rhubarb plant, way too many self-sown hellebores, my green tea camellias, feijoas, self-sown yams and potatoes and a whole lot more, especially weeds. How to knit all this together into one semi-coherent vision? A casual meadow of perennials is my answer.

It is a big job. The soil, being ex-vegetable garden, is friable and easy to dig and there is a fair amount of perennial material there to lift and divide to get me started. But working amongst existing plants, especially permanent trees and shrubs, is much harder than starting with a blank slate. And the weed issue is major.

I often say that meadow management has a lot to do with your tolerance level for weeds. I know that we may not be able to keep this meadow as free of weeds as we expect to keep the more controlled herbaceous plantings, but I am trying to reduce their impact from the start. I hand weed to clear each area (easier on a sunny day now that we have sufficient heat in the sun to wilt the young weeds quickly so that they will not just grow again) and remove them. I am then planting perennials in random blocks but considered combinations. So, in one block I have put in a yellow variegated agapanthus with a deciduous yellow day lily (hemerocallis) and bluebells. I have just done a block with sedums (flower colour unknown at this stage) with blue perennial lobelia and seed of the white lychnis . Nerine bowdeni has been teamed with the dark pink Japanese anemone, deep burgundy eucomis with yellow crocosmia, Stipa gigantea with pink alstromeria and so on and so forth. All blending on the edges. Then I mulch heavily with the leaf mulch we bought in from the arborist.

A work in progress. It won’t look like a meadow until the plants knit together and the mulch is hidden

Fortunately our weed problems are all annual weeds. There are neither oxalis nor creeping weeds so if I stay vigilant this spring and take the ones that succeed in germinating and getting through the mulch, I am hoping the plants will spread sufficiently to knit together and form a barrier to shade out the weed seeds still in the soil.

That is the plan. I shall report on progress. My mental image is of a sea of flowers from spring to autumn, alive with butterflies and bees. Allowing some annuals and biennials to seed through and the use of assorted bulbs will blur the lines between the different blocks of plants, making it more meadow than perennial garden.  The budget for this newest area is zero dollars. I am simply working with material we already have here. When I think about it, this probably means there will be a lot of pink because that is the one colour I have not used in the other perennial gardens so the leftover plant options I am now using will be dominated by shades of pink.

The caterpillar garden – all blue, white and some purple, taller growing in the centre enclosures and low growing in the outer bays. Photo taken today in early spring. 

The perennial meadow will complete the sequence of summer gardens where we have put the focus on perennials and grasses. Starting from one side, we have the caterpillar garden which looks as if it will hit its stride this year.

The lily border – basically all OTT pink, red and white auratums but I am working on getting some white umbelliferous plants seeding down to extend the flowering. Photo taken last summer. 

The grass garden – mostly tall grassy plants with just the addition of pale apricot and white foxgloves, big salvias, yellow Verbascum creticum and a few other flowers. Photo taken today.

Next the lily border, then the big new grass garden (just coming into growth now after being planted six or eight weeks ago). Then the twin herbaceous borders and finally the perennial meadow – looser, multi coloured and much more casual.

The twin borders have every colour but little white and no pale or mid pink because we are after the brights. Photo taken last summer.

Each garden has been planned to have a different feel to it and, critically, there is little overlap of plants. My aim has been a different plant palette for each area. A few, like Verbena bonariensis and Orlaya grandiflora) are spreading themselves and the foxgloves will, too (no common pink ones allowed!). There are just a few other plants that I have used in two of the gardens but the vast majority of plants are used in one area only. I have never subscribed to that old rule of repeating plants ‘to achieve continuity’ because too often it just makes everything look the same. Also, this is not a place for treasures and special plants. These are bold, showy and vigorous plantings. The treasures belong in the more detailed rockery and woodland areas.

Roll on summer. Though, to be realistic, we should hit peak summer garden next year, not this summer. But at least we will get an indication this December through to April of how it will all come together.

 

 

 

The bamboo harvest

Watching Meng gather bamboo shoots and strip them down on site, amongst our giant bamboo was an illuminating cultural experience at home.

We have dabbled with gathering them in the past, making the assumption – based on more common vegetables – that the younger, smaller shoots would be the most desirable and tender to eat, rejecting anything over 30cm. We carefully dug the shoots out and brought them up to the house to prepare.

Just the lattice tip is prepared for eating 

The husk was stripped off in situ and left to break down

Meng is a local resident now, but from north eastern China. She grew up harvesting bamboo shoots and she was not here to muck around. She rejected my small tender shoots – “too small” and selected only larger ones, most of which she kicked over with her boots. I tried kicking over with my gardening shoes and it is harder than it looks but Meng made light work of it. The tallest shoots she was harvesting were up to maybe a metre and she sliced off the top 30cm with a very sharp, heavy knife. She then stripped down the shoots, cutting off the hard, outer husks with a confident display of knife-work that would match any chef, leaving the offcuts to rot down in the bamboo grove. She was only after the tips where the inner lattice-work has developed. That, I assume, is why she rejected my small shoots – because the proportion of lattice at the tip is too small.

Meng brings these tips to the boil and leaves them steeping in the water overnight. Then she leaves them to dry and will either freeze them, dehydrate them or, I assume, use them fresh. Her partner tells me they are going to try pickling some too, which sounded interesting.

The steeping in water is important. In the past I have followed internet instructions and brought them to the boil in at least two changes of water which presumably achieves the same end. Raw bamboo shoots are bitter and contain some level of cyanide.

It is time I gathered my paltry few and prepared them for future use. Meng’s harvest is much larger than we require for our needs. I feel that serving up a meal of homemade tofu from homegrown soy beans with fresh bamboo shoots may be a pinnacle of virtue signalling. I admit that I do not find bamboo shoots particularly exciting as a taste treat but they add variety and texture.

Mostly, I was entranced by the sight of Meng in our bamboo grove carrying out an efficient harvest.

 

 

Tikorangi notes: Iceland poppies are not from Iceland, naturalising trilliums, bluebells and escaping root stock

I have never been a fan of Iceland poppies. They were the one flower I remember my mother buying  when I was a child – a bunch of stems still in bud. She would burn the stems and then put them in a vase where they would open to what seemed garish and unappealing flowers to me. Tastes change and in recent years, I have found my eyes drawn to mass displays of these simple blooms. This patch is on a traffic island which holds the very modest clock tower in my modest local town of Waitara and it makes me smile when I pass.

The Waitara clock tower in a traffic island 

Ironically, on the opposite corner was this stand of fake flowers outside a Gold Coin shop.

Iceland poppies do not come from Iceland. I finally checked and in fact they come from the chilly areas of Europe, Asia and North America – sub polar territory, so presumably alpine meadows.  In the wild, Papaver nudicaule  (nude because of its bare stem which makes it a good cut flower) are pretty much all white or pale yellow. The other colours are recessive genes which have been brought out by plant breeding – presumably line breeding which is selecting down the generations of individual plants to pick out the stronger colours until those coloured genes have come to the fore.

Puketarata Garden near Hawera

This is not a plant I have ever felt the need to grow myself but there is a simple appeal to a mass display. I remember being quite charmed by their use in the clipped buxus formation at Jen Horner’s garden, Puketarata, one spring. It is hard to beat the simplicity of a single poppy, or indeed a daisy flower.

This poor little white one survived being taken off at the base with the strimmer last spring

These trilliums represent a minor triumph in Mark’s experiments with plants he can establish in meadow situations. We have plenty of trilliums in our woodland gardens but establishing them in a cultivated garden is different to getting them to naturalise on his bulb hillside. When I say “naturalise”, I mean that they are now sufficiently well established to return each year, able to compete with the grass and uncultivated soil. They are not actually increasing yet but they are at least established.

Mark has raised more seed and has about 70 pots of them in flower in the old nursery area. He is disappointed that most of them have come up white and said that he wants the red ones for planting in the meadow and he asked that the pale yellow ones be kept together as a group in one area. For him, this is all part of blurring boundaries in gardening again. He really likes the idea of trilliums thriving in managed garden conditions and then, as the garden becomes looser and more informal further out, the same plants popping up as wild flowers. Especially when it is something as choice as trilliums. Maybe I could surprise him with the surplus Paris polyphylla making an appearance on the bulb hillside, too.

I photographed this small flowering growth on Prunus Pearly Shadows as an example of unwanted root stock shooting away, even on a very well-established tree. Many plants are budded or grafted onto other rootstock so that the desired cultivar can utilise the strength of strong growing root stock. Which is well and good when the rootstock is compatible and doesn’t escape. If you don’t cut off the root stock, it can overwhelm the grafted selection so it is best to see to it as soon as you spot it. How do I know it is rootstock? It is a single white; Pearly Shadow is a fluffy pink double and is not yet in flower.

Prunus Pearly Shadows

This particular tree is a splendid example of what is described as a ‘vase-shaped form’. It has not been shaped. It grows naturally in that upward Y shape. It is in our car park area and has so far attracted three reversing cars. I am not quite sure how people fail to see it in their rear vision mirrors.

It is peak bluebell time in the park and even if these can be weedy, the drifts of colour are very pretty. Bluebells should, in our opinion, be predominantly blue. But the addition of a few white or pink ones amongst the blue gives a contrasting accent of colour that can lift the blue. The pink is also a strong grower, the white less so. We don’t want bluebells everywhere so I am removing them from some areas of the garden they are attempting to infiltrate but we are happy to let them spread in our meadows.

The tale of Sir Francis Drake’s small balls

The Chinese box was allegedly a later addition

I would like to tell you the tale of Harry. He could equally have been called Tom or Dick, but I will preserve his anonymity by calling him Harry. He was a neighbour of ours in the rural sense, which means that he lived a few, but not too many, kilometres from us.

Harry was a retired farmer, confident of his position in the world. And he had a pendulum in which he placed absolute trust. My first encounter with him must have been December 23 or 24,  2007, when he called in to see if we had a fax machine. His pendulum had told him where the missing UK child, Madeleine McCann was. She was, he assured me, being held in a commune in the centre of Spain dressed as a boy, with her hair cut and dyed dark. He wanted to let the Spanish police know so they could get Madeleine home for Christmas. I thought he was cutting it a bit fine, really.

As we walked over to my office where the fax machine was, he whipped out his pendulum and *located* ten dead bodies deep beneath our driveway. Historical, I think. They were a long way down. He then proceeded to tell me how he knew that the war medals stolen earlier that year from Waiouru Army Museum had been taken across country to the Port of Napier and they were now in Berlin. His pendulum told him so. Events were soon to prove him wrong on this but I am sure his pendulum gave him an update to explain this later.

Because it was so close to Christmas, I was busy in the kitchen and I left him in my office with a friend who was staying, to assist in sending his fax to the Spanish police. They had some issues getting the fax to go through and when the phone bill arrived later, there were multiple calls to a Spanish number, costing about $15. To this day, I wonder what the Spanish police thought, getting repeated faxes and calls from Mark Jury Nursery in NZ in the middle of their night. He turned up the next day with a bottle of wine as a thank you but I knew that it was the cheapest bottle of wine at the Waitara New World supermarket, costing about $6.50.

We then went through a period when he became fascinated by Mark. He arrived one day, bearing a cracked and chipped old vase that he had seen in a shearing shed out the back of beyond and he bought for a dollar. It had a vaguely Spanish look to it but his pendulum had told him that an ancestor of Mark’s had carried that vase back on one of Christopher Columbus’s expeditions to South America. So deeply ingrained are middle class manners, that I conversed courteously with him on this topic, but I recall laughing later with Mark that he did not offer to gift this family artefact to us. After all, he had paid a dollar for it.

But wait, there is more. Next he turned up with another artefact he had found. His pendulum swinging over this item informed him that one of Mark’s ancestors had sailed with Sir Francis Drake. I mean, Columbus, Drake, not much difference, is there? I didn’t mention the previous Columbus visit. He assured me these were very small bowling balls, used by Drake to while away the shipboard hours. Reportedly, Drake was playing bowls onboard in the lead-up to his great victory over the Spanish Armada. Quite what role Mark’s ancestor played in this game of bowls with Sir Francis Drake, the pendulum failed to specify.

For the avoidance of doubt

Astonishingly, Harry gave us Drake’s small balls. ‘Somebody has put them in a Chinese box at some stage,’ he told me. For the avoidance of doubt, he had put a sticker on the bottom. ‘Drake 1590 1739’ the sticker reads. Bit of an oops there with the date, apparently, though we do not know whether it was the pendulum or Harry’s research that made the mistake.

I opened the Chinese box, quelling my excitement. I am sure you can visualise the scene.

The big reveal: Sir Francis Drake’s small bowling balls? Or Chinese chiming balls, maybe?

Reader, they are Chinese chiming balls that were all the fashion a few decades ago. The chimes still work. Maybe Taiwan 1970?

I feigned gratitude but informed Mark that next time I saw Harry arrive here, I would hide. He was all Mark’s to deal with from now on.

Planning a trip

I loved my one, limited trip to Greece in 2004 but didn’t see a lot of vegetation

I like travelling. I am also mindful that in these rapidly changing times, the ability to fly across the world on a whim may be a privilege with days that are numbered. In fact, I feel defensive about even owning up publicly to planning another trip. But I am and it is very exciting.

The sight of wildflowers growing in their natural habitats can fairly be described as thrilling, for some of us at least. We haven’t seen a lot of it but I have been casting around for a tour that would suit us and I wasn’t overly keen on travelling to alpine meadows as they break into spring. A chance remark from a visiting friend put us onto a small tour company whose speciality is wildflower tours. The company is led by Christopher and Basak Gardner whom some readers may know as the authors of a beautiful book “The Flora of the Silk Road”. Another NZ colleague whose opinion we trust gave a ringing endorsement, having gone on two different tours with them.

Just look at the enticing small tours Vira Natura offer.  We are opting for the summer tour of the Pindos Mountains in Greece where the temperatures will be cooler than down on the coast at that time of the year. Lots of summer wildflowers, including Lilium chalecedonicum, and a  small group, staying in traditional hotels, led by a botanist.

Patmos, not Pindos, in 2004 but Greek at least

I have only been to a small part of Greece – an island-hopping trip in the Dodecanese with Second Daughter who was living in London at the time. I absolutely loved it and have longed to return. But Mark’s interest in arid island landscapes and swimming in the warm Mediterranean sea might last two days at the most before he became bored. And I could never inflict an island-hopping tour on him when he can get seasick out snorkelling, let alone travelling on ferries and catamarans. A land-based wildflower trip, however, is something that will delight both of us.

Because we are travelling so far, we will likely tack another week or ten days on to the end of the trip and head over to England (despite Brexit and all that). We are really keen to track how some of the naturalistic plantings we have seen have matured with the passage of a few more years. It is all very well to look wonderful for the first year or two, but how is it five years or more down the track? The Missouri Meadow at Wisley that so enchanted us in 2009 did not fare well but no doubt lessons have been learned. Meadows, prairies, wildflowers and naturalistic plantings may not need the heavy maintenance input of more traditional garden styles but they still need skilled management.

I offer our tentative list with the thought that some readers may have recommendations or comments to make. This will be mid-July, so heading into high summer.

London – I want to revisit the Nigel Dunnett planting at the Barbican that so delighted us on a previous visit and I can’t think why we have never been to see the Oudolf plantings at Potters Fields. Then up to Trentham Gardens near Stoke-on-Trent, primarily to see how the Dunnett plantings are maturing and to see the more recent additions he has made. We are particularly interested in his work. There is also a major magnolia planting there and we would like to see if any of ours have been used.

Wildside, a very special private garden in our opinion

Heading further north than we have been before, we are thinking of visiting Lowther Castle in Cumbria, mostly to see the gentle romance of Dan Pearson’s recent work. While up there, we would add in the outrageous, historical topiary of Levens Hall and probably pay a return visit to Arabella Lennox-Boyd’s lovely garden, Gresgarth (if it is open). Heading south, there has been so much talk about Piet Oudolf’s plantings at the Hauser and Wirth Gallery in Somerset that it would be a pity to miss them, even though we have a fairly good understanding of the Oudolf style now. Then to North Devon to see Keith and the late Ros Wiley’s particularly special garden called Wildside. We have been twice before but it remains our absolutely all-time favourite garden other than our own. It is worth the journey. We will go as far as arranging the dates and itinerary around Wildside’s limited opening days.

Heading back towards London, I would like to see Derek Jarman’s garden, even if it is only a brief stop en route. His book about the making of his garden is the best personal account I have read of any garden.

I am not sure how well we understood Great Dixter back in 2009

Finally, on this whistle-stop tour, we may revisit Sissinghurst to see what changes the outgoing head gardener, Troy Scott Smith and advisor, Dan Pearson have wrought in recreating the romance of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson’s original creation, which had become largely a distant memory in the face of ever-growing crowds of visitors. And we probably should have a second look at Great Dixter. We would look with different eyes now and it is time to lay to rest the most enduring memory of our one previous visit when we encountered some gardening underling who had clearly failed at Gardeners’ Charm School. It is not fair to judge the life’s work of Christopher Lloyd and, more recently, Fergus Garrett on the shortcomings of one graceless underling. Besides, on our only other visit, rather of a lot of what we were looking at seemed like serendipity. I think now we may have fine-tuned our observation skills and understanding to the point where we can discern what role careful editing (in modern parlance) plays in creating this experience of happy chance when it comes to keeping a light but skilled hand on garden maintenance.

Mark’s comment is that it should be really interesting to look at real wildflowers in the wild and follow it up with looking at the application of that naturalistic style in the more managed context of gardens and amenity plantings.

Finally, Greek goat, as seen on the tiny island of Lipsi

Drowning the planet in plastic

 

Left to right: food scraps, glass, general waste and recycling

We have had two new rubbish receptacles delivered and our rates (local council taxes) have increased accordingly. I am grateful that we have a large, double carport where we can hide these in the deepest recesses – I pulled them out to pose them with a pretty background – but I can see that the sheer amount of space they take up must be a real problem for many urban dwellers, particularly those in small units or with minimal outside space.

One size must fit all. Our council has lofty zero waste ambitions but all I can see is a redistribution of waste to different containers and nothing about a reduction overall. In vain did I submit to Council, pointing out that rural dwellers do not need a food waste collection. I even directed them to the Australian system many councils have opted in to where there is a project to educate residents to deal with food waste on site, via the supply of no-charge options of a worm farm, a bokashi composting system or a black compost bin. Our apartment-dwelling Sydney daughter has a worm farm in her carpark space to deal with her food waste. But neither councillors nor council staff were listening and so our food scraps bin (that is the smallest of the three bins) arrived this week and we will pay for its weekly collection even though we will never use it.

Times past

Some readers will be old enough to remember old-time rubbish collection. Why, we still have one of those old rubbish tins here – we retain many such handy old relics from times past. About 40 years ago, multi wall paper bags came in, to be replaced soon after by more capacious, thin plastic bags. And now heavy duty plastic bins. With every change, the capacity has increased and so has the volume of household waste. Murphy’s law. Not our household waste, I hasten to add. We have gone all out to reduce waste and minimise how much enters our place in the first place. We are meticulous at sorting it and it’s really only the blue bottle bin that needs to go out regularly on account of our wine drinking habits. Out there on the verge for everyone to see is evidence that the Jurys prefer drinking Pinot Gris but generate very little waste other than the bottles. I hope they, at least, are actually recycled.

A lifetime supply of left-over plastic pots 

and cartons of left-over planter bags from PB2s to PB 90s which we will almost certainly never use now

Back when we had the nursery in production, we were aware of how dependent the nursery trade is on plastic. It was many years ago that we heard talk from Germany of making suppliers responsible for taking back the inorganic packing and waste generated in the supply of their product and we dreaded having to deal with that. I see the comment in the annual sales report we received this week from our agents who handle the international sales of Mark’s cultivars: “there is also pressure on the use of plastics in the industry which will impact on containers and packaging as we identify more sustainable options”. That is the use of ‘we’ in the royal sense, meaning the whole industry. It needs to happen but it will take a whole lot more pressure by customers to force the pace of change. The garden industry is not as good for the environment as many like to think. While we continue to use and reuse the hard plastic pots and cartons of planter bags left over from our nursery days, the fact remains that at an individual level, we are continuing to smother our planet in plastics.

It is local body election time here. These are rarely exciting events, so dominated are local politics by older (rather too often, just old) middle class, white men, many of whom have held their office for decades. Readers may be faintly amused – or aghast – at our local council’s attempt to convince the younger generations to vote with a campaign featuring the poo emoji with a smile superimposed on top and the byline ‘I give a shit’. Mark groaned and pointed out that the yoof of today are way more sophisticated than we ever were and maybe still are. I am not at all convinced that the sight of the fairly well-paid Council CEO – and presumably other staff – out and about wearing ratepayer-funded tee shirts with a smiling turd and declaring that they give a shit (don’t we all? Literally) is going to woo a younger voting demographic when the problem is more likely that they look at the candidate line-up and see a majority who resemble white great uncles or grandfathers.

As my daughter says upon occasion, “you can’t polish a turd”. But you can apparently, smother it in glitter.