Category Archives: Tikorangi notes

Weeding the stream. Again. An ongoing task.

“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

I misremembered. I felt sure there was a Wind in the Willows quote about messing about in the muddy waters of a stream but I was wrong. Of course they were messing about in a boat, not mud. When I went searching, there were many other charming quotes from the same book which are gently affirming in a world seemingly gone mad, but I found another escape this week.
img_3982I have been weeding the stream. Yes, hand weeding the stream. I see it is five years since I last got down and dirty in the water, although Mark and Lloyd do a certain amount of ongoing maintenance with the long handled rake. I find it easier to climb right in and scoop by hand or sometimes with a rake. It is very muddy and Mark laughs when I stagger back up from the park but I am way too vain (or self conscious, maybe) to immortalise this by taking a selfie of Muddy Me.

There are both eels and fish in the stream – small fish, mostly mud fish – and I find it deeply unnerving when something smooth and slippery brushes past my bare legs. I wouldn’t be quite so anxious were it not for Mark’s recent encounter with an eel. He was reaching into the water to pull out some blockage when an eel mistook his hand for something else and latched on. There was blood, quite a lot of blood and all of it was Mark’s. Eels are renowned for their backward facing teeth so it is not easy to dislodge them, though I think both the eel and Mark got such a fright that everything went flying. I console myself with the thought that eels are not known for aggressive attacks and it would be bad luck for one to follow up with me so soon after. Just in case, I wear both shoes and gloves as a precaution. I am hoping one will not attack my knees, calves or thighs.  Still, as I reviewed one cleaned area of the stream a few hours later, I was disquieted to see an eel gently swimming along the somewhat bare expanse. But it was a small one and I will not be intimidated.

Clockwise from top left: crocosmia, oxygen weed, wretched Cape Pond Weed, blanket weed and tradescantia

Clockwise from top left: crocosmia, oxygen weed, wretched Cape Pond Weed, blanket weed and tradescantia

But the weeds! We get up close and personal with the weeds that are carried down to us from properties further upstream but the major flood in 2015 has caused us a few more problems than before. Crocosmia, often referred to as montbretia but technically crocosmia x crocosmiiflora, have pretty summer flowers but the huge flood carried the corms far and wide and we are now working on restricting its spread. There is simply too much of it for us to be able to eradicate it and we would get reinfested during the next flood event.

Eradication, however, is the aim with the dreaded Wandering Jew (Tradescantia fluminensis). Mark has spent two decades battling this on our properties but still we get new outbreaks washed down to us. The problem is that every piece that is broken off is capable of growing and it is truly rampant once established. Both the tradescantia and the crocosmia grow alongside the water, rather than in it.

The goal is also to eradicate the oxygen weed and the Cape Pond Weed (Aponogetum distachyum). Mark has succeeded once in eradicating oxygen weed so he was most disappointed when he saw a larger form of it getting established on our place. His theory is that it comes from people emptying their little aquariums into fresh water ways, presumably because they do not wish to euthanise their goldfish and can’t find anyone to give them too. Don’t. Please don’t ever do this. Not only do we not need or want free range goldfish in our waterways, the oxygen weed becomes a choking blanket in slow moving fresh water. We have spent countless hours pulling it out but unless we get every bit, it will grow again. Ditto the Cape Pond Weed, about which I have written several times in the past.

What I call the blanket weed – a mass of very fine filaments – is here to stay but we try to keep it from getting too solid and impeding the flow of water. It is at least easy to rake out. Besides, the aquatic life needs some cover.

We are not perfect. Although we try and dead head our waterside irises and primulas, some of those may have washed downstream. I did at least go to a lot of effort to get rid of the noxious flag iris beside and in the water when we realised what an environmental hazard it is in this country.

In the meantime, there are worse ways to spend a pleasant, mild day than poddling about in the water. Our adult son is returning home from overseas next week and plans to stay for a few weeks. He spent many childhood hours playing with his mates in the ponds and the stream  – boogie boarding up and down and playing bike jumping games into the water. I am wondering at what stage I might suggest to him that it would be a huge help to his Aged Parents if he could turn his attention to scooping or raking the weeds from the deepest sections of the ponds which are beyond my reach. We shall see.

We have lowered the water level to enable major weed removal over the next week or two

We have lowered the water level to enable major weed removal over the next week or two

Garden diary February 5, 2017 – all about flowers this week

The exquisite Worsleya procera after all the rain

The exquisite Worsleya procera after all the rain

I shall ignore the weather, bar noting that we had over 100ml of rain on Thursday night and while we get some sunny days, this is not summer as we know it. As we enter February, we may just have to accept that full-on summer is bypassing us this year. In the meantime, large parts of the country are in drought.

At least the beautiful worsleya didn’t mind the torrential rain. Maybe it is used to heavy spray, given its natural habitat beside waterfalls in Brazil. W. procera now flowers every year for us – though rarely more than two flower spikes despite the fact we have more than two bulbs – but it never fails to wow us. This really is a most exotic bulb in a particularly unusual blue shade, though neither easy to source nor grow. Ours never set seed because they are all the same clone. It is always extremely slow to set offshoots from the bulb.

Not a Hippeastrum aulicum

Not Hippeastrum aulicum

...despite the label

…despite the label

While on bulbs, I shall be a little unkind and post this photo from my visit to Auckland Botanic Gardens last week. Hippeastrum aulicum? Ahem, I think not. For they are red and flower in August and September. This patch looks mighty like belladonnas to me.

Not a camellia - a tutcheria, we think

Not a camellia – a tutcheria, we think

We went to visit a friend this week for a stroll around his garden – he is very strong on hydrangeas that go way beyond the commercial mop-top macrophylla types. But, while charmed by these, it was the yellow ‘camellia’ that excited us. Here, we thought, was an interesting summer-flowering yellow camellia that was far more sun tolerant than the yellow species we grow and that we had spent some time looking at in China last year. Ignore the background foliage which is the dreaded Rubus pentalobus (though not out of control in this shady spot). I just used it as a carpet to arrange the fallen blooms upon, with a leaf of the plant to the left. It certainly looked like a camellia in flower form, bud shape and texture and it was from a recent interesting plant collection in Asia.

I was about to email photographs to an Australia expert on yellow camellias for an identification when Mark saved us great embarrassment. Sometimes he surprises me with his knowledge, as when he came in and said he thought it was a tutcheria, not a camellia. It took a while to find the right spelling to enable a net search (he is better on names than he is on spelling) and it appears to be Tutcheria championii syn spectabilis and is found in woodlands of Hong Kong. Yes it looks like a camellia bloom and the habit of growth is similar but, like the gordonia, it is simply one of those related plants in the theaceae family which includes all camellias.

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Probably Dietes butcheriana

Probably Dietes butcheriana

Another plant mystery was solved when we managed to get what we think is the right species name on this dietes. After finding our neomarica was not a dietes, I wasn’t entirely sure whether Mark was right that this was one, either. The foliage is more spectacular than the flowers, which are rather small in comparison and not at all showy. But it appears it is the lesser known Dietes butcheriana that has made itself completely at home in a shaded area of the garden.

img_3976It is auratum lily season here and we have quite a few of these. I managed to get around staking the garden plants, in anticipation of the UK tour ten days ago – though they failed to flower on cue this summer. I don’t like to pick the flowers from the garden but… out in one of Mark’s vegetable patches, we have a large number of auratum lilies of many hues which Mark has hybridised and raised from seed in preparation for a new garden under construction. This has taken longer than anticipated so the lily patch has expanded and I can cut these to my heart’s content to bring indoors or give away.

Just a one-off auratum seedling

Just a one-off auratum seedling

This soft pink specimen is decidedly over the top. With 20 separate blooms, the flower spike is much too heavy to ever make a good garden plant and indeed it looked a bit gross out in the lily patch. But it looks splendid cut and put in a vase. You may notice the outward facing blooms. Florists prefer upward facing blooms and many of the auratums offered for sale are upward facing. Felix and now Mark started breeding for outward facing blooms because these make much better garden plants. They are hardier to weather conditions, do not gather debris and suffer less from pollen staining when grown in open conditions. Like many of Mark’s efforts, these are not oriented to commercial production, just to get better plants for our own garden. But oh we do get such a lot of delight from these summer flowers.

The lily patch in the vegetable garden

The lily patch in the vegetable garden

Garden diary, January 31, 2017. Radio, geckos, summer flowers and a tour in the rain.

img_20170129_064707A quick trip to Auckland at the weekend saw me rushing hither and yon but also enabled a face to face conversation with Tony Murrell in the studio at Radio Live. Usually we do these by phone. It is at the unseemly hour of 6.30am each Sunday morning so I had to rise even earlier to get to the studio. These conversations are remarkably complex for the early hour but both Tony and I are enjoying them enormously. Last Sunday it was partly about taking inspiration from other people’s gardens and not falling into the trap of thinking that recreating these ideas at home means using their blueprint, often from another climate, another country and another time. The link is here if you want to listen – it is about 25 minutes of solid gardening discussion.

img_3767We did not see Glenys, our resident gecko, last year so were thrilled to spot her again last week. But this one is not Glenys. It is considerably smaller so our best guess is that she is the daughter of Glenys. Whether the mother is still around and we just haven’t spotted her remains unknown but having a smaller specimen this year suggests we now have a breeding population. Why do I use the female gender? Because those more knowledgeable about herpetology tell us that this is the behaviour of pregnant geckos, incubating their young. These reptiles can disappear in a flash if they are spooked so it takes quiet movements to sneak up to see. The safe haven appears to be in the fissures of the tree, beneath the bark.

img_3770The UK gardening tour I mentioned last week has done been and gorn. It rained, steadily, when they arrived which was disappointing but we moved them all indoors for tea and cakes and the rain stopped a few minutes into the walk around the garden. While hosting these tours takes a bit of work and a surprisingly large amount of mental energy, the visitors often repay the efforts in more than money.  Being able to share the garden with appreciative visitors who have a fairly high degree of knowledge themselves – albeit with an entirely different range of plants – is what it is all about really. We don’t garden on this scale just for ourselves and it can be extremely affirming to share it with a group like this one. I have to report that the lilies in the garden did not flower as hoped but we have enough lilies planted “out the back” as we say for me to pick an impressive display for vases indoors and they did not go unnoticed.

img_3900img_3902Also putting on the very best display we have ever seen here is Tecomanthe venusta.  Other plants here may be more floriferous. Indeed there are some years that T. venusta doesn’t actually flower at all, but it is lovely when it does.

img_3784Finally, a few snapshots of summer flowers I liked this weekend. I called in to Joy Plants to check out their perennials and the kniphofia in the gardens were looking marvellous.

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There are times we get distinctly sniffy about both agapanthus and red hot pokers in this country but look at this scene – it was simple but lovely.

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Auckland Botanic Gardens have some excellent, large scale perennial plantings which are well worth a visit at this time of the year. This yellow achillea with a compact, very dark foliaged dahlia which is opening yellow flowers was a striking combination.

Fingers crossed here for some more sun this week and it really would be awfully nice if the temperature rose a few degrees more so we were in the mid twenties, rather than barely breaking into the early twenties.

Garden diary, January 22, 2017: weather bombs and little green apples

It is indoors sort of weather

It is indoors sort of weather

A friend on Twitter commented yesterday that she preferred global warming to climate change. And indeed we could do with some warming here – summer has still to arrive this year but we are certainly getting extreme weather events. These, I notice, are now styled as “weather bombs” and it was a fairly remarkable weather bomb that passed through overnight. Mark had to get the chainsaw out to clear the driveway from the fallen branch of Magnolia Iolanthe. Fortunately, it did not break the meandering but wafer-thin stone wall that edges our driveway.

img_3763We had the next three days planned for a concerted swoop through the garden in preparation for a small UK gardening tour due on Thursday. While the garden is generally closed, this tour is coming through the Royal Horticultural Society – an organisation to which we have a few personal links and which has resulted in some really interesting and enjoyable garden visitors in the past. We maintain the garden at all times, but there are final grooming tweaks that make all the difference in presenting it well to paying visitors. We may be scrambling for the next few days with the added storm damage. Unless we get some of the elusive commodity this summer – uninterrupted sun – the lilies may not open in time to wow the visitors.

img_3752Yesterday was so miserable that I retreated to the kitchen, in part to deal with a surplus of Sultan plums. The tree is cropping very heavily this year but is not particularly flavourful. Mark put this down to his failure to thin the crop earlier in the season but I am sure the shortage of hot sun hasn’t helped, either. Jam, I thought. I shall make some Sultan plum jam, channelling my late mother-in-law who was the best jam-maker ever. These days I only make small batches – we are not great consumers of jam and a few jars for gifts are all I really need. I have learned that reducing the boiling time to set is what makes all the difference. Sometimes I resort to using the jam setting sugar which is, presumably, so heavily laced with pectin that it only takes 4 minutes of boiling to reach setting point. But I didn’t have any in the cupboard and it seems excessive to get in the car to drive to the supermarket for just one item. But fear not. I now know that one can make one’s own pectin by boiling up little green apples and those we have in abundance. I thinned some of the apple crops and chopped and boiled the fruit, using that liquid instead of water in the jam.

img_3755The result was a few jars of brandied Sultan plum jam though the brandy was a bit of a waste. I am not sure it is discernible except, maybe, to those with the most refined jammy palates. I then went onto fresh orange and ginger marmalade and finished up making some plum sauce. After all that, I felt so virtuous I opened a bottle of wine.

I wrote about the invasive, weedy nature of Commelina ‘Sleeping Beauty’ three years ago. Despite being vigilant weeders here, it is still making its presence felt. Not only is it a weed, it is a weed that is very difficult to eradicate. It has staged an appearance in odd places where it was never even planted. I found another three escapees of it this week.

img_3760At least we knew the showy equisetum was invasive. I planted it in a pot because it was an interesting looking plant. It succeeded in breaking the first terracotta pot and making a bid for freedom but I was quick enough to nip that in the bud. This week, I will lift this second pot and get rid of it altogether. It is not good enough to keep sacrificing pots to the cause and it is a high risk plant. I asked Mark if he knew which species it was and he shrugged, saying he has zero interest in equisetums except he does know that it can be dried and used as a polishing agent, though we are talking about fine sandpaper polishing rather than furniture oil. We have another little equisetum that his father planted in the rockery and we have been attempting to eradicate ever since – for decades. We will not be inviting any more members of this ancient plant family into our garden.

But will the auratum lilies in the garden open in time for Thursday's visitors?

But will the auratum lilies in the garden open in time for Thursday’s visitors?

Garden Diary: January 15, 2017 – trees that are no more, pond weed, Maxim Brussels sprouts and the like

Hydrangea Libelle

Hydrangea Libelle

It is hydrangeas looking gorgeous here this week. If you are on Facebook, I posted an album of last week’s hydrangea images. We regard them as really easy here but it has been pointed out to me that in other climates they are nurtured treasures. Try telling a Taranaki person that when they are a roadside wildflower here.

The decidedly indifferent summer weather continues and we start to worry about whether Mark cleaned the swimming pool for no purpose this season. Neither of us have even been tempted to get in so far. The water temperature has reached a level I find acceptable (anything 24C or over is suitable, in my book) but the air temperature is hardly conducive to swimming. At least it is pleasant gardening weather and on the worst rainy day, I finally made myself sit down and rewrite the Garden section of this site.  I am as guilty as many others of leaving background material untouched and not updated. The next area that needs an upgrade is the one on Jury plant hybrids but if the summer continues in this manner, that may happen sooner rather than later.

I may, however, get diverted. I read the feature by Lynda Hallinan in the January issue of NZ Gardener magazine – ‘With the benefit of hindsight… 40 lessons learned in five years of country gardening’. There is a format I could purloin, I thought. 40 lessons from a country garden after 65 years of intensive gardening. Sure, not all those 65 years were by Mark and me (though if you combined our totals, we are getting close to that), but I could bring you the collective experience from Mark’s great grandfather – who goes back to 1870 and the first plantings here, his parents and now us. So 145 years in total but only 65 of those represent intensive gardening. I need to locate and scan in some of the early slides which, if my memory serves me right, show the development of parts of the garden at five and ten year intervals. Our 40 lessons may be closer to a book than a single article, however.

Cornus proved to be a pushover

Cornus kousa proved to be a pushover

It has been a week of felling trees. The first, Cornus kousa, was a push-over. Literally. Formerly a fine specimen, over the years it had started to die back and I asked Lloyd to cut it back to live growth. He reported that it was very shaky and that he reckoned he could push it over by hand. So he did. Mark can no longer make the only slightly suggestive quip in his repertoire –  inviting people to admire his large kousa. The main trunks were rotten to the core so they didn’t even provide firewood.

Betula pendula is to be winter firewood

Betula pendula is to be winter firewood

The second tree gave Mark a few pangs as he felled it – a large silver birch. We don’t regard Betula pendula as a quality, long term tree in our climate, though they can be graceful and attractive in their time. This one paid the price for casting too much shade in the area where Mark is developing his long term vegetable garden and orchard. It will provide a lot of good firewood so will be appreciated in the burning but Mark couldn’t help but muse upon all the decades it had lived and the changes that have occurred all around it in that time. It is one thing when a tree falls of its own volition because it has given up its grip on life, quite another to fell it because it has simply become expedient. Though, it must be said that we do have plenty of other very large trees here.

On the vegetable front, I sourced three punnets of Brussels sprouts for Mark to plant yesterday – ‘Maxim’ variety, which is his preference. He rarely buys punnets of plants, raising almost all crops from seed but his Brussels are an exception. They are also one of the few brassicas he grows, along with some of the quick-maturing Chinese greens. I particularly dislike broccoli – a controversial opinion, I know. Neither of us are keen on cauliflower and we are terribly sniffy about the merits of cabbage. But both of us enjoy Brussels sprouts freshly harvested from the garden. Though last season, our Californian quail beat us to the crop. We had the first pick of the season’s green beans for dinner last night.

img_3727I spent a happy afternoon puddling in the goldfish pond. Every few years – well, maybe once a decade – Mark catches all the goldfish and drains the pond entirely to start again. In the interim, it needs a bit of ongoing maintenance and the pondweeds and plants were building up too densely. I try and keep the plants to a central strip. The goldfish need cover from circling kingfishers. The weed is problematic but it can be kept from reaching choking proportions by scooping with an old kitchen sieve. There are worse ways to spend a quiet summer’s day when the temperatures are not warm enough to warrant swimming.

Stachys Bella Grigio

Stachys Bella Grigio

Sometimes good plants can be difficult to place. Take this Stachys ‘Bella Grigio’, new to the NZ market. It is very good – healthy, grows well, keeps its silver white colour, distinctive – so why does it stick out like a sore thumb in the garden? I saw it used extensively in somebody else’s garden a month or two ago and it didn’t look any better there, either. I just have not found the right place for it. The contrast with everything else around it is too stark and I do not think a stachys (otherwise known as lambs’ ears) should be shouting “look at me! Look at me!”. I will have to lift it soon or it will continue to annoy me. I am not convinced I am going to be able to place it here. Maybe it would just be happier in a much more contemporary, simpler garden of sharp contrasts, defined lines and limited colour range, rather than in our softer-edged, more fulsome, romantic style. The jury is still out on this plant, even though it is very good.

Our garden diary this week – from new year resolutions to lilies … to fracking (and bits in between). 09 January, 2017

Aurelian lily season has started

Aurelian lily season has started

We don’t do New Year gardening resolutions here. Much of our daily conversation revolves around gardening and environmental concerns and we know already that 2017 will see us heading further down the track of ecologically sound gardening – soft edged, romantic gardening in a more naturalistic style which adds to environmental eco-systems rather than battling with nature to keep a hard-edged, manicured garden. I am a bit worried that Mark’s growing tendency to embrace all aspects of nature may see him convert to Buddhism. I do not share his reverence for the lowly life forms like snails (he admitted he relocates these) and flies (which he liberates out the windows) but it is an extension of a gentler way of living. If we had a shared resolution, it would be to continue our efforts to tread more lightly on this land we occupy.

I did, however, decide I would discipline myself to keep garden records on a daily basis – in the old fashioned manner of a few simple notes in a diary. In days gone by, when I used to write for our local newspaper, I was contracted to provide a weekly list of advice on what to do in the garden. It often had us scrambling to follow our own advice. As a variation on that, I thought I would try a weekly post on what we have actually done in the garden. Retrospective, but recent, so to speak.

One of his vegetable patches. He calls this one his allotment.

One of his vegetable patches. He calls this one his allotment.

We arrived home from a very hot festive period in Sydney and Canberra to an unusually cool summer in Tikorangi. The lush green appearance of home struck us afresh. While I am hoping we will get some hotter days, temperatures in the low 20s Celsius are more conducive to gardening. Mark has been playing catch-up in his vegetable gardens – hoeing weeds, sowing corn (“have you sown my basil yet?” I keep asking) and thinning and tying in his tomatoes. The main daily harvests are salad vegetables and peas – I eat my daily portions of the latter raw while he prefers his lightly cooked. We consume large amounts of fresh vegetables – the Heart Foundation would nod approvingly, I feel. This is the first year he has grown daikon, the Japanese white radish. Delicious is our verdict, though each specimen is quite large for a family of two.
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The raspberries are cropping a little late this year and I do not think we will get the usual volume that I freeze for later use. The strawberries are still producing but in smaller quantities and with smaller fruit.

On the rainy Tuesday, Mark summer pruned the grapevines which are grown under cover. I started the summer pruning of the wisterias – leave these to their own devices at your peril. The Higo iris in the park continue to flower and bring us great pleasure (nearing two months in bloom now) but it is the lilies coming on stream now. I picked the first of the Aurelian hybrids that Mark raised. These are currently in one of the vegetable gardens, pending the move to a permanent home in a new garden but in the meantime, I can cut them all I like without spoiling the display.

The floral display in late March

The floral display in late March

I have been lifting and replanting many of the belladonna bulbs by our main entrance. We grow these as a roadside wildflower. They are a bit strong and bullying to make a good garden plant and their flowering season is brief but they are an early autumn delight. The window of opportunity to lift and divide is narrow because they stay in growth for most of the year and I have been meaning to do this for some years. I discard all the small offshoots and bulbs. We don’t need more than we already have.

A vintage faggot binder

A vintage faggot binder

Because we have big clumps beneath a huge old eucalyptus that is one of the original trees here, replanting involves gathering up debris which we will use as fire-starters as winter. Some eucalypts shed a prodigious amount of stringy bark and twiggy growth. I want to say gathering faggots, for that is what the term used to be before the word became debased as sneering abuse. Because we lack the time-honoured faggot-binder that I photographed – enviously – in a Yorkshire garden, I stuff them in old sacks instead and stack them in the pine cone shed.

Loading out means many massive loads such as this one

Loading out means many massive loads such as this one

Finally, the omnipresent petrochemical industry. I haven’t written about this in recent times for two reasons. Firstly the pressure lifted somewhat with a decrease in activity due to low global prices for oil and gas (click on the *Petrochem* tab on the top menu bar for more information on how very bad it was at its peak). Secondly, we had to learn to live with it or it would break us, as it nearly broke me three years ago. I have learned to look inwards to our own place – circling the wagons, I call it. Others may call it practicing mindfulness. But the industry grinds inexorably on. Today, they are loading out all the equipment from the latest round of “repairs and maintenance” on Mangahewa C site. You or I may call this fracking and refracking – repeatedly – but in the parlance of this new age, we were assured that this is now called “behind pipe opportunities”. Alas I am not joking.

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The Mangahewa C site flare last week. Photo: Fiona Clark

Fracking (to get the gas flowing again) is always followed by flaring and this wonderful image from last Saturday was captured by Fiona Clark. We live maybe 2km nearer to this site than she does so we get the benefit of the sound effects too. CO2 emissions and global warming, anyone? This is why I circle the wagons and look inwards to our own patch. The contrast could not be more extreme.

Not exactly circling the wagons - just Mark on our incredibly useful and long lived baby tractor.

Not exactly circling the wagons – just Mark on our incredibly useful and long lived baby tractor.

Christmas greetings

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Wishing you a Christmas Day filled with happiness and best wishes for 2017.

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Christmas fare here – fresh strawberries from the garden for breakfast.

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The pohutukawa – often call New Zealand’s Christmas tree because it blooms around Christmas.

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I think they are Yoga Santas. At least I hope that is the case.