Category Archives: Seasonal garden guides

Weekly garden guide, In the garden this week, In the Taranaki garden

THE FINAL In the garden this fortnight: Thursday 5 July, 2012

A fortnightly series first published in the Weekend Gardener and reproduced here with their permission. However, as I have now parted company from that publication, this will be the final in this particular series.

Gloriosa superba in summer

Gloriosa superba in summer

The comments about lilies in issue 339 reminded me that I needed to thin our Gloriosa superba. While these are often referred to as climbing lilies, they aren’t a lily at all, being an entirely different family. But they are a wonderful summer flower and very obliging at growing in parched, dry conditions in the front, sunny border under the eaves of the house. There are not a lot of plants that like those conditions. The tubers are very curious. As they get bigger, they grow into large V shapes and they find their own depth in the soil – sometimes very deep down. I do not understand how they do it. It is hard not to envisage them wriggling down. If they are happy, they can multiply a bit too readily and seed down as well. I dug out a bucket of spares from a short border. They are difficult to dig out without breaking them and if you lose both tips, they are no longer any good and will just rot.

Gloriosa superba tubers

Gloriosa superba tubers

These tubers come into growth in late spring. The stems need some support because they get about a metre long before they put up a succession of odd reflexed flowers in orange-red and yellow tones which look for all the world like a coronet. They lack any fragrance but they are an excellent cut flower and the season lasts months through summer. Curiously, they are the national flower of both Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka.

Top Tasks

1) Rose pruning. We like our roses to flush early here so that they are in full flower for our annual garden festival at the end of October. Being country residents, we are still allowed an incinerator and I pile up the prunings beside it so they can dry and then be burned.

2) I prefer to keep most of our roses in one area of the garden rather than spread throughout. After pruning, I rake out fallen leaves around the plants because these can harbour disease and then follow up with a mulch of fresh compost.

3) Carry my wire brush with me in my gardening basket. While the lichen growth we get here is apparently a sign of very clean air, we can end up with too much moss and lichen in our humid climate. I find it much easier to do a little often, rather than trying to clean entire areas at once. I have stonework, concrete, brickwork and plant trunks in my sights.

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In the garden this fortnight: June 21, 2012

A fortnightly series first published in the Weekend Gardener and reproduced here with their permission.

Before - too much mondo grass, not to mention superfluous hostas and Ligularia reniformis needing attention

Before – too much mondo grass, not to mention superfluous hostas and Ligularia reniformis needing attention

There are times, I admit, when the advice I give as a garden writer is from the do-as-I-say school. Digging and dividing perennials is an example – a recommended activity but not as urgent as other tasks here so rarely gets done. I am reformed, inspired by the dramatic response of plants which I lifted, divided and replanted into well dug soils last year. They romped away. I am working my way through the garden borders, lifting pretty much every perennial (but leaving Helleborus orientalis – the most common hellebore. It doesn’t appreciate being disturbed). As some have been left for well over a decade, it is a major task and takes some physical effort. It also gives the opportunity to clean up the perennial plantings to achieve a more cohesive look. Years of plugging gaps had meant that some were pretty hodge-podge in the selection of plants.

I have carted away two barrowloads of green mondo grass from just one smallish border – too much mondo. A drift of yellow polyanthus will give winter colour, interplanted with bluebells for early spring contrast. The variegated Soloman Seal (Polygonatum multiflorum var.) will give spring and summer detail, all held together by the evergreen tractor seat ligularia (L. reniformis) and the green mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus) – but in moderation. All of this is in the lee of a large mandarin tree, which gives wonderful orange winter colour with its abundant fruit. The fun part of gardening is deciding on different combinations for different areas but after the hard work, patience is needed before it all starts growing again.

And after - it needs to grow but it is very tidy

And after – it needs to grow but it is very tidy

TOP TASKS
1) Limit the mondo grass – both the black and green forms. It seems to have quietly spread into too many areas where it is not needed at all.
2) Get a layer of compost mulch onto the borders where I have been working. The compost will feed the plants while stopping dirt splash in rain. It is a fiddly job because it needs to be placed around in each plant by hand.
3) With only two months until spring here, the pressure is on to get winter projects done. This includes my reconstruction of the rose garden. It will make a major mess so once started, it is a case of needing to persevere until it is done. I have not been game to start yet but will run out of time unless I get moving.

In the garden this fortnight: June 7, 2012

A fortnightly series first published in the Weekend Gardener and reproduced here with their permission.

Naturalising bulbs in conditions of rampant grass growth

Naturalising bulbs in conditions of rampant grass growth

Meadows of naturalised bulbs are a complete delight and a contrast to the highly cultivated type of garden most of us have. But they are best suited to places where there isn’t vigorous grass growth and regular rain. This means that good dairy country like Taranaki is by definition not suitable for bulb meadows. All that grass overpowers and hides them. But we are undeterred. Mark has been working on a bulb hillside in recent years where we have a native microlaena grass (probably M. stipoides) which is much finer and less vigorous than introduced pasture and lawn grasses. He likes the bulbs on a hill because it is possible to get closer and to look up at the flowers from a pathway. He is very pleased with how the dwarf narcissi, species cyclamen, colchicums, snowdrops (mostly Galanthus S. Arnott) and pleione orchids have settled in over the last three years and started multiplying. The bluebells (hyacinthoides) are more robust and build up well in open areas under the trees where we can control the grass with a weed-eater. The exercise is getting the last grass trimming round done before the bulb foliage is too far through the ground with flower spikes formed.

Lachenalia bulbifera

Lachenalia bulbifera

In a different area of the garden, in recent years I have been planting surplus bulbs around the trunks of large trees where the grass won’t grow because the ground is too dry and poor. These are ideal conditions for some bulbs and the lachenalias from South Africa, stronger growing dwarf narcissi like the bulbocodiums and peacock iris (Moraea villosa) don’t mind at all. There is plenty of light because these trees have dropped all their lower limbs over time. It is not quite the meadow we would like with big drifts, but it is what we can manage in our climate.

The Theatre of the Banana

The Theatre of the Banana

Top tasks:

1) Get the winter cage erected around the bananas. They are the only plants we wrap up for winter but we are very marginal banana growing territory and we are willing to work at trying to get a home grown banana crop. I refer to the construction as the Theatre of the Banana.

2) Sort out the compost heaps. We make quite large quantities of compost but at the moment, the waste is accumulating faster than we are layering it into compost piles. We work a three heap system – the heap we are currently using, the heap that is curing and the one we are building. At the moment there seems to be enough for two new compost heaps.

In the Garden – May 24, 2012

A fortnightly series first published in the Weekend Gardener and reproduced here with their permission.

Sanvitalia procumbens planted for the monarch butterflies here

Sanvitalia procumbens planted for the monarch butterflies here

It has not been a good year for monarch butterflies. We put this down to the unusually cool, wet summer but find it worrying how just one season can almost wipe out the population. We don’t just grow one or two swan plants (usually Gomphocarpus fruticosus). We plant them in succession throughout the season, like green beans and sweet corn, to ensure continued supply because it is the end of season caterpillars we target so we can have them wintering over. Usually we will have monarchs visible in the garden at any time of the year, but they are a rare sight this season so it is not looking good for winter and the early flush in spring. It is not for want of food – there are untouched swan plants in abundance.

In order to provide plenty of food for the butterflies in autumn, Mark fills any spaces in the vegetable garden with nectar rich annuals. We don’t do a lot with annuals in the ornamental gardens beyond self sown pansies and love-in-the-mist (Nigella damascens), but the autumn vegetable garden resembles a meadow mix these days. The gem this year has been a miniature zinnia relative, Sanvitalia procumbens “Mandarin Orange” from Kings Seeds. While the flower colour could be a little cleaner, it is such a tidy, little filler plant it has been promoted out of the vegetable garden and into the rockery.

Winter food is also necessary to keep these monarch delights at home. The most successful plant we have is the yellow daphne (Edgeworthia papyrifera) which attracts them from a considerable distance. As a general rule, it is single flowers which are rich in available nectar. The fancier and fuller the bloom, the less likely it is to feed butterflies and nectar seeking birds like tui. There is plenty of information on http://www.monarch.org.nz if you wish to know more about encouraging butterflies in your garden.

Top tasks:

1) Mark is relocating the late season monarch caterpillars into the warmth of his glasshouse to give them a better chance of reaching maturity before the winter chill. Every caterpillar is precious this year.

2) Cut off the Love Lies Bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus) in the rockery. We let these naturalise for autumn height and colour, but they set vast amounts of seed and there is a narrow line between naturalising and taking over.

In the Garden – May 10, 2012

A fortnightly series first published in the Weekend Gardener and reproduced here with their permission.

Sasanqua camellias do not have to be white - pink Elfin Rose

Sasanqua camellias do not have to be white – pink Elfin Rose

We are grateful that we live in such a mild climate where we don’t have to put our garden to bed for winter. Instead we can have plants flowering all year round and continue active gardening, even in the coldest months. At this time, the autumn flowering sasanqua camellias are in full flight. One of my particular favourites is pretty “Elfin Rose”. Too often, people get hooked on white sasanquas but strawberry pink is very cheering on a grey day. “Elfin Rose” also has a long flowering season and wonderful forest green, fine foliage. By contrast, our “Mine No Yuki” looks magnificent for a week, or until we get some heavy rain which turns the pristine white blooms to a disappointing brown mush.

We have vireyas in flower all the time. If you have plenty, there are always some blooming because these rhododendrons don’t have a set flowering season. However, they don’t tolerate more than a degree or two of frost, so you need protected sites. We also have bromeliads in bloom looking wonderfully exotic while the late autumn bulbs continue to delight. Somewhat to our surprise, the first snowdrops appeared in mid April. Maybe our disappointing summer means winter will bypass us this year? The impatiens, which are fully perennial in our woodland area, will continue in flower until the worst of the winter chill cuts them back. While we wouldn’t mind being a degree or two warmer overall, it seems churlish to complain about the colder seasons here.

Bromeliad in flower now

Bromeliad in flower now

Top tasks:
1) The winter and spring bulbs are well on the move and many are through the ground. We need to ensure that they don’t get completely smothered by a build up of autumn leaves and to keep an eye out for marauding slugs and snails.
2) Sadly, it is time to put the outdoor furniture away for the season. It lasts a lot longer if we don’t leave out to the elements when we are not using it.
3) Continue the autumn clean up round on scruffy perennials. We make hot compost so we can put seeding plants through the compost heap but it is not to be recommended if your compost never gets hot enough to kill the seeds and any mildew or blight.

In the garden this fortnight: April 26, 2012

A fortnightly series first published in the Weekend Gardener and reproduced here with their permission.

The pretty Moraea polystachya has a long flowering season

The pretty Moraea polystachya has a long flowering season

We are not noted for autumn colour here. I can’t think that anybody has ever said: “Oh but you simply must go to Taranaki to see the autumn display.” The trigger to deciduous plants to turn is temperature related and we drift so imperceptibly from summer through autumn to early winter, that even plants renowned for their capacity to blaze with colour are usually a disappointment. Besides, we are so verdant and green and our native plants are all so resolutely green that all we can do is to admire the occasional single deciduous specimen. Generally it is inland areas with drier climates and much sharper variation in seasonal temperatures which put on the big displays.

However, our autumn is marked by much smaller, pretty pictures of autumn bulbs. We garden extensively with bulbs. In a large garden with some huge trees, it is the dainty, often ephemeral pictures which give the charm and detail. Autumn flowering bulbs are harder to find for sale because most people don’t think beyond the more common spring bulbs.

Cyclamen hederafolium - the easiest of the species in our climate

Cyclamen hederafolium - the easiest of the species in our climate

At the moment, it is the pink and white Cyclamen hederafolium, blue Moraea polystachya (autumn peacock iris), a rainbow of colours in the ornamental oxalis, bold lilac colchicums (often incorrectly referred to as autumn crocus), the real autumn crocus and the beautiful hybrid sarniensis nerines which are carrying the season in the rockery. Out on the roadside, the belladonna lilies are in bloom. Some, like the colchicums, do not flower for long but are very showy. Moraea polystachya is a gem of a bulb. It flowers down the stem so it has an exceptionally long season stretching into months rather than weeks. It can seed down but is easy enough to thin out if necessary.

Cyclamen hederafolium (formerly known as neapolitanum) is the easiest and most reliable of the species cyclamen. It too has a long flowering season, followed by attractive, heart shaped leaves with white markings. It combines very well with black mondo grass and in places we have English snowdrops (galanthus) to come through in late winter, extending the seasonal interest amongst the cyclamen foliage.

Top tasks:
1) Cut off all last season’s leaves on the Helleborus orientalis and remove them to the compost heap. We have done this for many years now, following the advice from Terry Hatch at Joy Plants. It removes any build up of aphids and it means that the flowers are highly visible as they come through with just delicate new leaf growth. As the season progresses, the new foliage takes over and fills the whole patch. Timing is important – if you leave it too late, you have to trim carefully around all the emerging flower stems.
2) After raking off the hellebore foliage, I will weed out the rash of germinating seedlings and then cover the whole bed with a mulch of compost to a depth of about 3cm. This feeds the soil and discourages weeds. Hellebores are one perennial that is best left undisturbed. It is better to raise seed than to try and divide existing clumps. They can sulk for years before recovering.

The Nerine sarniensis hybrids are a real autumn feature in the rockery

The Nerine sarniensis hybrids are a real autumn feature in the rockery

In the garden this fortnight: April 12, 2012

A fortnightly series first published in the Weekend Gardener and reproduced here with their permission.

Celmisia (New Zealand's mountain daisy) are not within their normal climatic range here

Celmisia (New Zealand's mountain daisy) are not within their normal climatic range here

We have a garden where we are constantly trying to push the climatic boundaries and grow plants which are not naturally adapted to our conditions. For us it is what makes gardening really interesting. But we had a wry smile at the suggestion from Christchurch paeony growers that anywhere south of Auckland should be able to grow these herbaceous beauties. There are reasons why Taranaki gardens do not have paeonies and it is not for want of trying. We can grow some of the tree paeonies but those beautiful, over the top rose paeony types simply don’t perform. As they are not even successful in inland gardens where winters are much colder, it seems more likely that our high rainfall and high humidity levels are the problem. If we could grow them we would.

Pachystegia insignis (the Marlborough rock daisy) is also used to somewhat different conditions

Pachystegia insignis (the Marlborough rock daisy) is also used to somewhat different conditions

We have to work at plants which prefer drier, open conditions. The Marlborough rock daisy (Pachystegia insignis) can keel over for us but generally we keep it going on an exposed bank. To our ongoing embarrassment, the excellent form we have is one stolen by my late mother from the Dunedin Botanic Gardens. She was a fine gardener but she was also one of those old ladies to be feared with her handbag and secateurs when a normally strong moral code deserted her entirely. We only succeed with the celmisias (mountain daisies) and meconopsis (Himalayan blue poppies) because of the work Mark does to bring some level of hybrid vigour into his seed strains. It takes constant effort to keep them going.

We continue experimenting with orchids as garden plants. Cymbidiums are easy and we have a great deal of success with dendrobiums, calanthes and pleiones. The masdevalleas have not been successful and Mark is still working on the disas to see if we can naturalise them by our stream. Similarly, we push the boundaries with heat loving plants. While most sub tropicals will grow here, without real summer heat, the genuine tropicals are a challenge. We dream of a big solar heated glasshouse.

Top tasks:

1) Autumn planting. We are hoping for our usual long, mild autumn when conditions are perfect for gardening, particularly for planting out. Plants then get a chance to settle in and establish before the rush of spring growth.

2) Finish getting the piles of firewood under cover. We rely entirely on wood for winter heating and we get through a large quantity. Fortunately we are entirely self sufficient but the winter firewood does not cut itself up and get itself in. Free it may be, but it is not without effort.