Category Archives: Tikorangi notes

Dudley and the new season’s avocado crop

Behold our handsome Dudley. Or Dudders, to give him his cricketing name. I wrote about Dudley’s penchant for self-serve avocados two years ago in The Avocado Thief.

Last year the avocado pickings were very lean, bordering on non-existent, really. This year, we have a terrific crop of Fuerte avocados coming in right now and there is nothing wrong with Dudley’s memory. In the centre of a large area which we are developing into a new garden, I found his stash this morning. At this point the revolting lambs’ tails retrieved from the neighbours just across the fence outnumber the avocado stones but Dudley is working on that. Apparently he has designated this area as his outdoor dining space – not to be confused with his breakfast nook by the house where he receives his morning rations.

The evidence! Left: his stash of ageing lambs’ tails adjacent to his avocado stones on the right

Sometimes I read that one should not feed avocado to dogs as it is allegedly toxic. Dudley is a dog of many talents but he has failed to read these warnings and he has never shown any ill effects from an excess of avocado. The same cannot be said for an excess of lambs’ tails which can, at times, clog up in his gut though this does not appear to deter him for long. An excess of avocado flesh merely gives him a glossy coat. This was a townie dog that has adapted rather too well to life in the country.

Dudley’s outdoor dining area is in the middle of an area under development – loosely referred to here as the court garden because it currently resembles a tennis court in dimensions. The two year plan is for a wildflower garden. 

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Canberra’s candyfloss cornus

The cornus or dogwoods were simply amazing in Canberra last week. I have never seen anything quite like them. They do not flower like that here. These trees were a mass of bloom and you could clearly get them in shades of sugar pink to apple blossom pink and or simple white. Viewed close up, they were like stylised paintings in their simplicity. Lovely bark, too.

The blooming season is not long, I was told – measured more in days than weeks of peak bloom. But the sight is so glorious that I did not hear anybody complaining about the short season.

As far as I could make out, they were generally C. florida – or maybe some were hybrids in which case likely crossed with C. nuttallii in order to get bigger flowers. ‘Florida’ means full of flowers, not that it comes from the state of Florida. In fact, it hails from the more north eastern areas.

The cornus or dogwood family is quite large. There seems some debate over how many species, but probably in excess of 50. If you take a swathe across the temperate northern hemisphere areas from China, Korea and Japan over to North America, you take in most of the areas of natural habitat.

Why do we not see cornus looking magnificent here? Too wet. Too mild (lacking a winter chill and summer heat). Too windy. And our native puriri moth appears to wreak havoc on the cornus family. We can grow many things really well here. It is just that cornus is not amongst them.

Cornus kousa flowering in June (so early summer) in England

Cornus kousa from China and Japan appears to be more adaptable than the American species. Our specimen finally succumbed to root rot – we literally pushed it over – but on our June visits to the UK, I have often photographed C. kousa in flower and there are a number of selections that have been named along with hybrids between it and C. florida.

Cornus controversa variegata

It was another cornus – C. controversa or the layered ‘wedding cake tree’ which became a fashion plant in this country in the 1990s. It is likely we can attribute this popularity to one person. The wonderful Irish gardener, Helen Dillon did a lecture tour through the country around that time showing slides of her garden (I am pretty sure we are pre-dating power point here) and she had a terrific specimen of Cornus controversa variegata. Everybody wanted one and even we produced some plants commercially though we never planted one out here. The trouble is that it needs to be in the open and full sun in order to develop the characteristic tiered growth habit but with a white variegation, it can often look a little burned and crispy in our bright, unfiltered sunlight. The light is much softer in southern Ireland.

The sweet beet conundrum

Not parsnips. Sugar beet, albeit planted a little late so the tubers are smaller than commercially grown crops

The row of sugar beet may not be a gourmet delight. Mark likes to try different vegetables and I felt obliged to give this new crop a fair trial in the kitchen. The relatively low number of recipes on the internet was a bit of a giveaway. Along with a Canadian friend who described the crop as stock feed. Indeed a fair proportion of the recipes on line were for using the green tops, not the white root.

The first sugar beet root that he brought into the house, we tried raw and grated but it had a bit of an aftertaste. I used the rest of that one in a vegetable stock. Reaching for the internet,  the only recipe I could find that appealed was for sugar beet latkes. I am not sure if there is any fundamental difference between latkes, rosti, hash browns or plain old potato pancakes but the sugar beet version required grating and then salting. During this process, it turned greyish so that by the time I added the other ingredients, it bore a distinct visual resemblance to the New Zealand treat of whitebait. It did not, however taste of whitebait (a very small grey fish with noticeable black eyes, for overseas readers). Following the recipe, I added grated fresh ginger and a pinch of cardamom.

Looking more like the NZ fishy delicacy of whitebait – sugar beet latkes

When it came to frying the latkes, they browned much faster than the potato latkes cooked alongside. That will be the high sugar content. They tasted fine when cooked. Perhaps rather sweet for our taste, gingery with a hint of cardamom. But not good enough to convince me we should make it a dietary staple.

I might try just boiling a couple of beets in water to get a sugar syrup. But as we don’t eat stewed fruit, I can’t really think we need sugar water. The sugar beet crop may be a one-off crop.

Advice on the matter of gardening gloves

Away from travel and garden trends for a moment and onto the practical matter of gardening gloves. We use these every day, washing them if they get too caked with mud to be comfortable. What I am looking for in a glove is one that stops my hands getting cold and wet in winter, that does not cause sweatiness in summer and that allows fine movement in my fingers. While accepting that the right hand glove always deteriorates first (being right handed), I also want reasonable longevity before the finger tips lose their protective coating and then develop holes.

I have stood before the gardening gloves display stand at Mitre 10 and there is a huge array to choose from. I don’t like gloves that are very stiff or large and cumbersome so I rule those out. That still leaves a large range of fabric types with the palms and fingers coated in PU, which is a polyeurethane. The problem is the price. I have tried the expensive brands and they are very good. They may last a bit longer than the cheap ones, but not hugely longer to justify the price.

I used to buy packs of three pairs at Mitre 10 and they kept us going for years. But when they changed the supplier and went to “one size fits all”, I stopped. One size does NOT fit all. One size generally fits a man with an average sized hand only. It forced me to look online. Trade Me is our NZ equivalent of EBay and indeed there are more economical options for gardening gloves.

The green gloves above are apparently bamboo fibre. 100% biodegradable they say, but I am not sure how that works with polyurethane coating on the fingers and palms. They are good. And cheap enough at $2.90 a pair plus freight. They have a similar life span to other similar gardening gloves I have tried over the years. I am happy to recommend them.

We were getting through our stash so I went on line to order more and found the white ones. A pack of 12 pair for $12. Add freight and they become $1.50 a pair. These are sold through a safety supplies company and touted as suitable for “electronics industry assembly, computer assembly, automotive assembly, precision operation, quality inspection, agriculture, etc.” The construction is the same as all the other fabric gloves with PU undersides, maybe slightly lighter grade. At $1.50 a pair delivered, they will do just fine. I am not at all convinced that the named brands are more than ten times better and more durable than these cheapies. They all perish on the finger tips, in my experience.

Gardening gloves are necessary but not exciting and will not make any hearts sing so I give you our maunga and magnolia as of 8.15am this morning. Mount Taranaki and Magnolia campbellii as seen (by the camera zoom, I admit) from our garden this morning.

 

Mostly Villas d’Este and Adriana – Postcards of Italy 2.

This Italy actually exists

Cliched though this scene may appear, it is not contrived. I just came across the view as we walked from Villa Adriana to the nearest coffee shop five minutes up the road. We wanted our morning caffeine hit before we tramped the ruins. Not only were there red poppies growing wild in the barley crop, the blue chicory and white convolvulus (field bindweed) were flowering alongside the stone wall that edged the road. I probably laughed out loud in delight.

Villa d’Este in Tivoli is known worldwide as one of the great Italian gardens. Built by The Man Who Would be Pope to compensate his thwarted ambition, it dates back to 1560. It was grand then. It is still grand today and water features throughout. His land excavations to achieve this garden would have put Capability Brown into the shade.

Formal but not strictly symmetrical at Villa d’Este

We have looked at some of the great Italian gardens on previous visits and had come to the conclusion that it is the settings, the hard landscaping – particularly the stonework – the history, the handling of space and proportions and the symmetry that makes these gardens endure as monuments to wealth, power and sometimes grace down the centuries. It is not so much to do with the plants or the maintenance. In a moment of profundity, as we walked through Villa d’Este, I noted that the symmetry is achieved through repetition, not through slavish measurement. It is that repetition and symmetry on a large scale that makes them so pleasing to the eye.

Attention to detail is not a strong point in Italian garden maintenance. Plants are not required to be immaculate. Irrigation hoses are often visible. It is okay to have plastic pots visible inside the terracotta pots. Water quality can leave a lot to be desired. Lawns are impossible in their climate. Some coarse grass kept green by watering is the best that one can hope for. The big picture is what matters. But, should you have grand visions of creating an “Italian-style” garden at home in New Zealand, maybe be aware that there is not one skerrick of tanalised timber – be they posts or plywood edgings or pergola beams – in any of these originals. Personally, I do not think that you can be Italianate or even Italianesque and use undisguised tanalised timber as a substitute for stone and terracotta. Ditto modern ‘dragonstone’ urns. And imposing suburban New Zealand values of pristine maintenance and velvet lawns takes such gardens even further away from the originals.

The straw broom brought a smile to our faces. Regular readers may remember me posting about the making of these in China.  Sometimes there is a charm to old ways. Besides, as Mark points out, these brooms work very well. Our first ever visit to Italy was back in the early 2000s when we went on an IDS tour of northern Italian gardens. It was there we first saw the widespread use of leaf blowers and came home and bought one. These days, Mark is using ours less and less. He is a bit of a purist, our Mark, and has become concerned at how dependent we have become on the internal combustion engine to maintain the garden.  If somebody would just make him a few straw brooms, he would be a happy man.

I am sure it takes a great deal of work to look like a modern-day princess, even more so when the temperature is over 30 Celsius and the location requires walking down and then up hundreds of steps. Mark noted that she was also behaving like a princess – the one with the pea under the mattress. I couldn’t possibly comment. Even when I was considerably younger, I do not think I ever managed the princess look.

Real life nymphs at Villa d’Este

I preferred the real-life nymphs. It transpired they were American art students doing an art history semester in Italy. Mark discreetly walked past them as they sketched and reported that they were extremely competent at drawing.

Villa Adriana – just one small view of a huge complex

Villa Adriana surprised us by its scale. It is the Emperor Hadrian’s retreat dating back to 200AD. The word villa encompasses a range of building styles and scale in Italy. The one at Villa d’Este is more akin to a palace. Villa Adriana is an entire small city of largely unrestored ruins encompassing about 250 acres. What is more, you can walk amongst them. I found a Roman toilet and an ancient olive grove that was simply astonishing. More on the olive grove another time. This was the Roman empire but it had an air of abandoned desolation even today, as though the tourist plans and archaeological aspirations of even a few years ago had fallen on hard times.

There was a fair amount of statuary of the armless, legless and formerly white variety but I think most of it was more recent reproduction already in decay. Much of the surviving, original statuary and marble had been raided 500 years ago by Cardinal Ippolito ll d’Este and relocated to his nearby pad but we did not know this when we went around Villa d’Este.

The wildflowers in the ruins of Adriana had a simple charm. In those drought-like conditions, the spring rains must bring a short-lived surge of germination and growth. The plants shoot straight into flower but conditions prevent them becoming invasive problems.

Finally, fields of sunflowers on the road to Ninfa. All facing the wrong way for the picture book image with the house and hills behind. Viewed from the other side, we lost the landscape context.

The light is so different in Italy

Tikorangi notes: the calm before the storm

Mood photo as we wait in the calm before the storm. It is the neighbour’s dead tree

It has been a discombobulating day. Since late yesterday, the entire country has been subjected to saturation warnings about the impending Cyclone Cook. I have never seen such a massive advance warning campaign and mobilisation of emergency services prior to an event happening. Be prepared, we have been told, for the worst weather event in the last 49 years. This includes urging us to have at least three days of food and drinking water to hand, to have prepared our own personal evacuation plans – including pets, not to plan on travelling anywhere until the storm has passed even though it is Easter, to tie down trampolines and to put away anything that can be blown around, including the outdoor barbecue.

So this morning has seemed quite unreal here as the weather has been dead calm, quiet and grey. Only now are the rains starting in Taranaki, although the east coast is getting heavy rain falling on land already saturated from last week’s downpours. The cyclonic winds have yet to arrive. I think they are due this evening.

(Post cyclone update – it hit the east coast. We are on the west coast so escaped everything but rain. Not as devastating as feared though there are plenty of roads closed, trees down and power lines down in the eastern areas.)

The shades of nerines currently in bloom

In the meantime, summer has long gone here. Every season has its own rewards and autumn brings us the nerines. In the company of Cyclamen hederafolium and the other autumn bulbs, they are a highlight every year. Less predictable are the brunsvigias which don’t bloom every year for us. The first to flower this year, I was reliably informed on Facebook, is not, as we had thought, one of the species but in fact an amarygia – a hybrid between Brunsvigia josephinae and an amaryllis (otherwise known as a belladonna). So now we know.

The amarygia!

Brunsvigia litoralis

The second one, opening now, is Brunsvigia litoralis. I counted 36 individual florets ready to open – which they will do in sequence over the next few weeks.  These are more South African bulbs where the growth is triggered by summer rain.

Autumn is also feijoa season. I keep optimistically checking beneath our trees but our fruit have yet to start dropping (the sign that they are ripe). This is a curious fruit that central and northern New Zealand seems to have made its own, despite its South American origins. It is one of the few fruiting trees (though a large shrub, really) that can be planted and just left without any further attention. It thrives under benign neglect. In fact it crops so well that it can lead to an edge of desperation. I saw a tweet the other day from somebody who bought a property with seven feijoa trees on it “and now I pick up 20kg every two days which I try to give away”. It is feast or famine with feijoas. They have a short shelf life so are not a good commercial option but almost everybody seems to grow them so rehoming surplus can be problematic. That said, if ours don’t start falling in the next day or two, I may have to buy a bag from a roadside stall I passed the other day.

With our garden closed to the public these days, we don’t accept many tours or groups but the New Zealand chapter of the IDS (International Dendrology Society) was an exception a few weeks ago. Of all the horticultural societies we have encountered over time, the IDS remains our favourite. It attracts the most interesting and knowledgeable people and we really enjoyed their visit. There were 50 in the group and they ate lunch here.

A very small volume of non-recyclables on the right

I show you the waste because I find this very affirming. I put out three receptacles labelled compostable, recyclable and non-recyclable. The right-hand pot of non-recyclable waste was barely a quarter full. All credit to the caterer who set up a situation that generated next to no waste and to the group who were happy to cooperate. Over the years, we have hosted many groups and the volume of waste left behind used to be a real problem for us when we didn’t have a rubbish collection service. Now we have that service but we don’t really need it. It is possible for a large group to move around, eating and drinking on the go, and not leave a whole lot of inorganic waste to mark their passage. This is a good sign. At least, I think so because these things are of increasing importance these days.

  • Dendrology, to save you asking or Googling – is the study of woody trees and shrubs. The thing about dendrologists is that the vast majority are interested in ALL plants, not just woody ones, as well as ecology, natural habitats, gardening and even design.

“It’s very personal”

frack-off-show-poster-5-26-march-opening-5-march-3-pm

I haven’t posted about the petrochemical development all around us for some time. It is not that it has gone away. No sirree, not at all. It became a situation where I had to change my personal coping strategies.  Being asked to contribute a piece of writing for the ‘Frack Off’ exhibition that opened yesterday was a poignant experience, focusing my thoughts on what has happened in the area I call home and the extent of the personal impact. Which is why I titled this piece:

It’s very personal 

I live in a place more beautiful than I ever dreamed possible. It is also a place that is now in the evacuation zones for two separate well sites and not so far from another dozen sites on this side of the river. Fracking and petrochemical development is very personal for me. I live with it day and night. Every day and every night.

From 2012 to 2014, I worked with others campaigning for better management of rampant petrochemical development, fighting to save what remains of pre-industrial Tikorangi, the area where I live. It nearly broke me.

My adult daughter sent me an iPod so I could listen to music and shut out the environmental noise when outdoors, as I am most days. How ironic that one of my favourite tracks was the original version of ‘Ring of Fire’ at a time when we often had only one quadrant of the night sky that was not lit up by gas flares.

Oddly, it was a single word – solastalgia* – that enabled me to refocus my life and to learn how to live with the changes beyond our garden boundary. Naming a condition is a remarkably powerful tool and the discovery of solastalgia made me realise I was not over-reacting or going mad. I was in grief, desolated even.

I circled the wagons and looked inwards. Moving is not an option for us. The family roots go very deep here, back to 1870. Quite simply, this is our place to stand.

Petrochem is a sunset industry exploiting a finite resource. I hope I live long enough to see the day the companies exit Tikorangi. But if I am not alive, others will be resident in this place where I currently live. They will see the return of dark nights, unlit by the burning of gas flares and high intensity site lighting. They will listen to the return of silence – the absence of huge volumes of heavy transport, generators priming up to frack, the underlying roar of the gas flare, the sound of a drilling rig, the frequent helicopters and all the clamour that accompanies the fossil fuel industry.

Beyond the boundaries of our property, Tikorangi has changed forever, despite our efforts from 2012. The raising and strengthening of the roads for heavy transport has removed any vestige of usable road verge. The many installations above ground may be removed – the well sites and the pumping stations with their hostile security fencing, maybe even the high-tension pylons and lines. But the network of pipelines below ground, crisscrossing almost every local road and at times running the length of the road beneath the seal, will presumably remain.

None of us can know the long term impact of frequent fracking and deep well reinjection. Will the contaminants find their way closer to the surface? We have to hope that the companies and regulators are correct when they claim it is safe but this is recent technology and the bottom line is that nobody knows.  

In many ways my world has grown smaller. I used to look beyond those circled wagons to the wider community. I learned that in order to survive, I had to narrow my focus. At least this little area where I stand, ringed by trees, can endure.  

Solastalgia It is the ‘lived experience’ of negative environmental change. It is the homesickness you have when you are still at home. It is that feeling you have when your sense of place is under attack.” (Glenn Albrecht, philosopher).

Our Tikorangi corner of the exhibition

Our Tikorangi corner of the exhibition

I feel honoured to have been invited to contribute to this exhibition – awed even, to be in the company of such New Zealand literary luminaries as Elizabeth Smither and David Hill, let alone the visual artists. But our Tikorangi corner was haunting for me, for we are on the front line.

What can I say? That is our tap water to the left.

What can I say? That is our tap water to the left.

Fiona Clark is both a good friend and a neighbour. She is best known for her photography and has an exhibition opening later in April with American artist, Martha Rosler, at Raven Row in London. For ‘Frack Off’ she chose to go with an installation rather then photography and video.

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I add Fiona’s words, for those who wish to understand the significance of her display cases.

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Oh the irony, the irony, to walk out of the Frack Off exhibition and there, all along the main street of New Plymouth are flags and banners welcoming the upcoming petroleum conference. img_4232

Not MY New Plymouth. That is all I can say.

‘Frack Off’ has been curated by Graham Kirk whose own work is the Muppet poster. The exhibition is open until March 26 at the J D Reid Gallery at 33a Devon Street West which is down the bottom of the dip where the Huatoki Stream is piped beneath the the city, near the intersection with Brougham Street.