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Countdown to Festival, September 10, 2010

  • Mary Vinnicombe is not alone, I am sure, in being heartily sick of the recent rains. While Mary and Barry’s town garden, Thorveton, has just enough change of level within it to add interest, it is located on a hill. In one of the recent downpours, Mary felt considerable chagrin to watch her topsoil, mulch and Bioboost washing down into the neighbour’s property and she wondered why she had bothered feeding all her garden beds. If only the next neighbour up the hill had been as dedicated, then the Vinnicombe’s garden would have maintained its status quo despite the water flow. The heavy rains we experience here, combined with our light volcanic soils, make gardening easier in many ways but also leach out valuable nutrients from the soil which is why continuing to add compost, humus and some sort of fertiliser is an important part of the gardening cycle.
  • Out at Gordon Dale Gardens on the Forgotten World Highway, Jan Worthington says there is a life beyond the garden. She went out to a golf meeting and then lunch with a friend, arriving home later in the day to find her daughter, Amy, had done the hanging baskets and planted out the flower seedlings in the garden. Jan is looking forward to seeing how a border of dwarf cinerarias combines with her roses, heucheras and aquilegias. Alas this wonderfully cooperative daughter is headed off overseas next week so the extra pair of hands is of very limited duration.
  • While on a golf theme, the appropriately named Manaia gardener, Margaret Putt, has been dividing her time between her twin loves of golf and gardening. She was in Dunedin with her junior golf team last week and, with hindsight, felt great relief that it was earlier on Saturday night when they transited Christchurch airport on the way home so the quake did not affect their travel. Margaret is well into her major first round on the garden, getting all the rough stuff out before she does the intensive final grooming circuit on her hands and knees. She was, however, complaining about the cold wind last Sunday afternoon when she was out weeding amongst the self seeded Livingston daisies around her letterbox.
  • Around the coast, Chris and Steak Goodin have netted in the wisteria. The Attack of the Sparrows last year was so bad that Chris’s wisteria had next to no flowers left. At the time she was thinking that a return of sparrow salmonella might not be a bad thing, even if they had to gather up the little corpses, but she is not leaving it to nature this year. Chris thinks that the white netting will be less noticeable than the black bird netting they have used previously. Steak has also affixed chains along the pergola which makes tying in the climbers much easier.
  • In at Festival HQ, Lisa Haskell is pleased with the strong interest coming from Australia this year. TAFT representatives have been at the Melbourne Flower Show promoting our festival for the last couple of years but it was a talkback radio garden host from Brisbane who interviewed Lisa about our event last week. It takes repeated efforts to get into new markets and Australia is a big one for us. Ironically, it is just as cheap for people to fly in from the east coast of Australia as from down south. In the interests of being their usual wonderful hosts, Festival gardeners are practicing leaving their Aussie jokes for the privacy of their own homes behind locked doors and closed curtains.

Countdown to Festival, September 3

• Down in Kakaramea, the self-styled Angelina Jolies of the chicken world (that is Jacq and Mich Dwyer of Te Rata) are pleased that their now pampered chickies are starting to lay again. These are 10 rescue birds – hence the Angelina reference – poor featherless things when adopted, who now live in the lap of luxury and fortunately know how to show their appreciation. Jacq reports that Mich has planted three types of potatoes so far. She splits the bags with neighbour Emma who reciprocates later in the season when they plant the next crop. Jacq has enclosed her rose garden in an electric fence as a temporary measure to keep out the marauding possums which are capable of taking off every new shoot overnight.

• Te Popo gardeners, Lorri and Bruce Ellis have been making paths safe. First up, the attractive but dangerously slippery brick path from the back door had to be lifted. Lorri says the gravel may not look quite as pleasing aesthetically but it is at least safe. In a damp climate, anything that becomes slippery when moss grows is a hazard – Lorri notes that they have also learned that large river stone steps are very treacherous. With a very steep section linking the bottom of their dell to a bridge constructed from wharf piles, Bruce has had to use a plastic product recommended for cattle races and also recently installed on the track from the car park at Dawson Falls to Wilkes Pool. The material is laid down, secured and then the cavities are filled with fine stones and gravel. Lorri is pleased with the result. She says it is hardly visible but your feet feel very secure and it stops the surface from scouring out when it rains.

• At Havenview Vegetable Garden, Maree Rowe is fed up with the rain but at least she has managed to get her Jerusalem artichokes and yacon dug up and the best tubers replanted. I had to look up yacon – a starchy root vegetable prized in the Andes. I had mentally placed it as Japanese but that of course is the daikon which is something radish-y, not to be confused with a brand of heat pump. The yacon sounds more interesting. Maree’s garden is to be featured in the Weekend Gardener soon as part of the lead-in to this year’s festival. She just wishes her potager had more to show but it is at least weed-free and tidy and by the time the actual event arrives, the seeds should be sprouting in abundance.

• In Hawera at Puketarata, Jennifer Horner has been worried about her lawns and about getting the timing right for doing work on them so they look improved by the end of October. She was disconcerted to see the tops of her pohutakawas down the driveway get tickled up by frost this year but they will be flushing with new growth shortly. Apparently Hawera received a doozy of a frost this year which more northerly gardeners escaped entirely.

• At La Rosaleda in New Plymouth, Collen Peri is a great deal more relaxed about opening this year now that she knows what to expect. She has done her first round of fertilising – mostly blood and bone and Bioboost, following up with a mulch of Grunt. None of her plants should feel hard done by after that lot. She says she is a novice when it comes to her little vegetable patch but she does like to grow strawberries and cherry tomatoes for her little fellow Will to pick and her Moneymaker tomatoes astonished her last year with their ability to thrive and crop despite complete neglect. This spring will be an exciting one for Coleen at her iris patch which is located away from her garden. She bought a large (very large, actually) collection of bearded irises from a mail order nursery closing down and this spring, she will get to see the whole range in flower.

Countdown to Festival August 27, 2010

  • In Stratford at Merleswood, Erica Jago has been enjoying her drifts of little English snowdrops beneath the deciduous trees. Their flowering season is now pretty well over for the year but the winter display of the cornus is more lasting. Cornus alba has bright red stems while Cornus stolonifera “Flaviramea” has lovely yellow stems. Erica has them planted in her pond garden and the cooler climate of Central Taranaki accentuates the colour. Cornus are otherwise known as dogwoods and the reference to stolonifera just means that plant suckers along below ground.
  • Just down the road at Te Popo, Lorri Ellis has been waging war on surplus tree ferns. Lorri has come to the conclusion that tree ferns sneak in under the radar and manage to grow before she even realises they are there, though she is willing to admit that this may in part be her failure to differentiate them from more desirable ferns in the early stages. If you want to shock English and northern European visitors, tell them how we cut down ponga ferns willy nilly – they pay mega bucks for them at home and value them greatly, taking great care to over-winter them though the closely related Tasmanian tree fern is more commonly available than our NZ species. Lorri and Bruce have also been reconstructing their low wall of sawn timber logs which edges an area near their pond. But as the mondo grass (ophiopogon) which softens the hard lines has spread (it, too, is stoloniferous), to get it out has involved digging out all the irises, tulips and daylilies as well to disentangle them. The day lilies and irises will appreciate this lifting and replanting exercise and should romp away with renewed vigour.
  • Around the coast past Okato, Chris Goodin is feeling pretty relaxed about this year’s festival, now that she knows what they are in for after being first-time openers last year. Chris has finished making her quota of wedding and opera dresses for the time being and is now into gardening mode. She is particularly thrilled to have just had it confirmed that Auckland artist Karl Maughan will be exhibiting some of his paintings, particularly of rhododendrons, at the Goodins during festival. There is an added incentive to visit. Chris tells me that in the latest Next magazine (the one with Petra on the cover), on page 59 there is a photograph of a fancy woman standing in front of one of Karl’s paintings. Just remember page 59 for the next time you are waiting in line at the supermarket checkout and you are not looking at the fancy woman but at the picture on the wall behind her.
  • In town, Mary Vinnicomb was relieved to have finished pruning the climbing roses – she says her knees don’t really appreciate climbing up and down the ladder repeatedly. Many other gardeners will have knees which would go out in sympathy with that sentiment. Her Magnolia Lanarth has done its flowering dash for the year but Mary is grateful that it is still alive after its near terminal encounter with spray drift from somebody else’s property last year. Magnolia Burgundy Star is opening its flowers and Camellia Our Melissa has been an absolute picture along the front fence. Mary says it is quite fun to be working out of sight in the garden and to hear people admiring Our Mel as they walk past. She is worried, however, that her early narcissi (jonquils and daffodils) seem to be reducing in number, not increasing, and she wonders if it is due to the nasty narcissi fly which lays it eggs in the crown of the bulb so the larvae wriggle down to feed.
  • At Havenview Vegetable Garden, Maree Rowe is frequently accompanied by her son’s characterful dog, Smoke. She is willing to overlook Smoke’s inclination to snooze on freshly dug beds because this dog has developed a taste for grass grub. She is in fact so keen on them that she will actually dig up the lawn looking for them and Maree says it is like having a chook at her feet whenever she is digs – the dog is waiting and looking for delectable grubs. I am sure this is not natural behavior, but at least they are organic grass grubs in this garden.

Countdown to Festival: August 13, 2010

  • Quinton Reeves from Wintringham in New Plymouth describes his lawn as currently looking like army jungle camouflage if viewed from above. This is because he took advice from an expert and used Cold Water Surf sprinkled in powder form to kill out the unwanted mosses. It has apparently worked a treat and he is now waiting for the grasses to come away with renewed vigour. We have never heard of this simple remedy before but plan to experiment with moss in other areas. The trick, Quinton says, is to apply it after a rainy period (no problem there) and the lawn has had a day to dry out and it must be Cold Water Surf which is alleged to have an ingredient which is missing from other brands. So now you know.
  • Also in town, La Rosaleda’s Coleen Peri was shocked to find her renga renga lilies (arthropodium) sporting their own form of acne (orange blotches due to rust), giving lie to the belief that these tough plants are maintenance free and indestructible, bar heavy frosts. Coleen treated the rust but also chopped the plants back hard and disposed of the affected foliage. This may stop the cycle of rust continuing and the plants will have recovered with fresh foliage by festival time. Coleen’s little fellow, Will, discovered to his cost that hurtling down a garden path between rose bushes on his scooter was fraught with danger when he canned out and landed in a rose, embedding a thorn in his cheek. The rose bush fared worse, being snapped off entirely, but Will has made a good recovery.
  • Jan and Graeme Worthington of Gordon Dale Gardens are fresh back from their tour of Britain and Ireland. They were enormously impressed by Beth Chatto’s garden near Colchester (her garden is a magnificent example of how to manage large scale herbaceous plantings over time and her dry garden is magic) but equally impressed by the sight of Mrs Chatto herself, now at a very advanced age, climbing up a red brick wall to water some plants. They will hardly be emulating her dry garden at Toko, but Jan says her first task on return is to prune her 200 roses and to try and salvage the sweet pea babies which have been swamped by weeds in their absence.
  • In Manaia, Jenny Oakley has taken advantage of the presence of a couple of strong and willing young men to spread the contents of four large compost bins across her vegetable and perennial beds. In the process they also uncovered two pairs of secateurs and one Niwashi hand hoe, despite Jenny’s best efforts to keep garden tools to hand and to mark them with ribbon and insulation tape. Any synthetic, fluorescent type of colour is going to stand out best in an outdoor setting because these are not the colours of nature. Jenny, by the way, votes her Niwashi as her most favourite garden tool.
  • In Kakaramea at Te Rata, Jacq Dwyer is delighting in the fragrance of her Daphne bholua. This is the upright Himalayan daphne. It can get a bit scruffy with age and does have a few bad personal habits but we are in complete agreement with Jacq that its perfume is the best and the strongest of any of the daphnes. While on scented plants, Jacq says she has just bought a wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) and is looking for the best position in the garden where its scent can be enjoyed. As she has already moved her davidia (ghost tree) twice in search of its permanent home, the chimonanthus may be in for a period of slight instability in its life. There are gardeners who only buy plants for specific garden positions or gaps and there are gardeners, like Jacq, who buy plants because they love them and who then set about finding the right spot.
  • At Paradiso Vegetable Garden, Denise Wood is delighting in the simple sight of her lemon tree underplanted with white primulas and looking very fetching. Her broad beans have been a success at previous festivals so she is pleased to see them growing well and already a metre tall. The sweet peas are also coming along well. By the time she has done her round freshening up the paintwork this month, she feels that she will have done most of her preparations.

Countdown to Festival, July 30, 2010

  • Festival gardeners have not been slacking inside during winter. Much of the preparation work is carried out while others huddle by the fire. In Waitara, Alathea Armstrong has finished her structural alterations – widening borders and altering shapes, much aided, she says, by a mild winter. Currently she is keeping track of her emerging delphiniums after the Attack of the Slugs last year. It would be a brave slug that ventured near the plants now. She has been planting a new bed using the two roses Lavender Dream and Mum in a Million and she is most enthusiastic about the Mum rose which she grew last year and describes as being absolutely gorgeous.
  • Down the road, Margaret Goble says she is back on track with garden preparation after a rather bad garden accident in February took her out for some time. Family and friends rallied around, much to Margaret’s gratitude because hers is a large and detailed garden to manage singlehandedly. Rose pruning has been completed (an enormous task with her huge rose collection which is meticulously maintained) and lime and BioBoost have been added to the soil. Her window boxes and handsome hanging baskets are planted and she is eyeing up the concrete which has turned green over winter.
  • Up the hill a little from Stratford, at Mountside Betty Brunton has joined the league of Gardeners on Crutches after recent surgery and is trying to work out how she can get around her garden with the spray unit while only semi mobile so that she can get Vapourguard onto her recently pruned hydrangeas, fuchsias and roses. She wants to protect the fattening buds from getting frosted. Her hellebores are looking fantastic and evoke memories of the late Jill Kuriger who was a fine plantswoman, a Festival stalwart for many years and a wonderful gardening identity. Betty says her trilliums are just pushing through the ground and she is hoping that my Mark will hurry up and have some plants of the related paris ready to share soon.
  • Still in the Stratford area but across the other side, Bruce and Lorri Ellis at Te Popo had their garden routines disrupted when recent high winds swept through taking out two trunks of a triple trunked Montezuma Pine. As the tree was around 100 feet tall (or over 30 metres), this type of damage is not for the faint hearted. One trunk catapulted to earth landing with force in Lorri’s pink garden where it caused huge damage but at least that was better than the second trunk which became wedged half way down in a 50 foot (15 metres) claret ash. The surviving trunk also had to removed because it was now unstable and a threat to nearby buildings so specialist arborist services were required. Something unforeseen like that can really blow the budget and take up time. Here at Tikorangi it was one of our tawa trees we lost about the same time but at least it fell cleanly and didn’t do too much damage to the big leafed rhododendrons below.
  • In New Plymouth, Alan and Cath Morris at Pukemara describe their garden activities as fine-tuning in preparation for their first Festival experience. They have finished the pruning round somewhat earlier than usual because they are having some time out in August. Alan has constructed a park bench out of marcrocarpa and sited it in their Gully Garden so that visitors will be able to have a rest and admire the outlook. They have also relocated a bed of azaleas which had been getting too shaded by adjacent rhododendrons. In fact they are quite pleased with how the garden is looking even though it is wearing its winter cloak and plan to keep it that way up until opening time at the end of October. At this stage, there does not appear to be any garden angst or panic in the Morris household.
  • Also in New Plymouth at Nikau Grove, Elise Lind says her current challenge is learning to garden in shade. As all their plantings have grown, the character of the place has changed and where once there was sun, now there is overhead canopy. This is exactly what they wanted, especially on the waterfall bank but there is an ongoing process of having to find under planting suited to the changing conditions. At least, Elsie notes, there is the indubitable bonus that weeds tend to be sun lovers so they are far less of a problem these days.