Category Archives: Tikorangi notes

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”

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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. 

From the air – then and now

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When we moved in to the family home after the death of Mark’s father in 1997, there were a number of surprises. Some were more welcome than others but the two large format, aerial photos were particularly interesting. As far as we can make out, they must date back to around 1953, soon after the house was built and as Felix and Mimosa were at the height of activity, laying out the garden. The concrete in front of the house is still very new and white, the rockery has been constructed and some of low, stone walls are in place. It does not appear as if the sunken garden has been built yet and nothing has happened behind the house.

Running across the middle of the photograph, the avenue of rimu trees – one of our most outstanding features now – is still quite small and some of the much faster growing Pinus radiata trees are still standing at the right hand end of the rimus. Both the rimus and the pines dated back to the first Jury who moved onto the land in the early 1870s. By that date, the original tawa bush had already been cleared in this area.

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Looking down from above is not a view we see often but last week we had that opportunity.

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In the intervening years, the driveway has been relocated, additional buildings and a swimming pool have been added – and a whole lot more planting, although most of the original trees remain. The road runs left to right through the centre of this photo but is now screened by trees.

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This second photograph was probably of more interest to us than it ever was to Mark’s parents, Felix and Mimosa, because we bought the property in the foreground in 1994 – giving us both sides of the road. The house is shown centre right with the much smaller rimu trees running left to right and a large cluster of puriri trees to the right of the house. Many of these we had to fell because they were in such poor condition in the late 1990s.  No planting has yet taken place in the area we refer to as the park with one notable exception – the significant kauri tree which was the first plant Felix put in.

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And a similar view from last week. The little church on the left belongs to the neighbour’s but the heavily planted areas on both sides of the road are mostly ours. Mark always regrets that a previous owner of the foreground property (the one we bought in 1994) felt the need to take out all the land contours on the lower paddocks that border the road. Mark would have preferred to work with the better drainage and more interesting  contours that were original.

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What struck both of us from the air, was just how tree-d the place now looks. This was a surprise to us because we work hard to keep a sense of openness at ground level so the effect in the garden is more park than woodland.

All we need now is a friendly person with a drone so we can get the late winter, early spring photos which show the deciduous magnolias and the michelias in full bloom. We have many of both, in the gardens on the right hand side of the photo and in all the wind breaks and plantings on the more utility left hand side of the road. In the meantime, we will continue to beaver away at ground level.

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?