Tag Archives: Abbie and Mark Jury

Behind the scenes – winter works

We get a tad defensive about our weather here. That has a lot to do with summers that are a little cooler than areas that boast better summer holiday climates and we take longer to warm up in spring. So forgive me for boasting our autumn sunshine hours being the highest in the country for the three months just passed – 1207 hours to be precise. There is a lot to recommend sunny days in autumn and winter.

There are places in NZ that only get 1600 hours a year. We are usually above 2200 hours, sometimes even 2400 but even so we seem to be getting more than our share of sunshine this year. And goodness, we are achieving a lot in the garden.

It takes a surprising amount of work behind the scenes to manage this pretty spring scene of overhead azaleas and Tulipa saxatilis – a speces tulip from Crete – in the foreground

Mark and I have spent the better part of a week tackling the azaleas. Many of these are venerable old plants, mostly Kurume azaleas which are most often seen as low, tight buns smothered in flowers. Years ago, Mark made the call to limb up and thin, rather than to cut down and shape to tidy mounds. Our approach takes more work and we like the grace of the twisted stems which are white with lichen and the overhead carpet look. But, and it is a big but, that canopy needs ongoing work thinning and cleaning or it becomes a tangle of dead twiglets festooned in hugely excessive amounts of lichen. We had left this patch too long and it has been a major task to get it back. It is, Mark observed wryly after a day spent up the ladder carrying out microsurgery, one of those jobs nobody else will notice we have done. But we will notice and it will bring us renewed pleasure.

You can see the ladder nestling in the midst of these very tall evergreen azaleas
This is the spring look of an overhead carpet of colour we are working to regain

Lichen is apparently a sign of clean air. We could spray it out but we choose not to spray as a part of routine garden maintenance. Being azaleas, we could also cut down hard and let the plants ‘come again’, as is said, but we don’t want to cut down 70 years of growth and clipped mounds of azaleas are a bit suburban in style for our garden.

Adding the lower rail for safety reasons

“Have you any idea what Lloyd is doing?” Mark asked me on Friday as he noticed Lloyd cutting timber and heading down to the park. Yes, I did know. He was adding a lower rail to the high bridge and a very tidy job he made of it, too. He had become aware of the lack of protection for small people when he took his young granddaughter around the garden last spring. While it is certainly not childproof now, at least none will fall off if they take a step backwards. With the height of the bridge and rocky rapids below, it seemed a minor safety measure we could make with relative ease.

Zach has been solving a couple of longstanding issues down in the park. While the Primula helodoxa puts on a wonderful display in spring, Mark was concerned at the weed potential downstream and wanted the plants removed from the banks and the immediate flood zone so the seed from our plants did not colonise the Waiau Stream from here to the ocean. I had been worrying about two cold, sloping beds with very heavy soil that Mark had put in nearby. While they looked splendid when he first planted them, over the years they had gone back badly and we didn’t really know what to do with them. They were a step too far for us to give them the attention they needed to keep the complexity of suitable plantings and to keep them free of weeds. Last year, when we reopened for the first time in seven years, I took the temporary step of doing a quick tidy-up and getting Lloyd to carpet them in wood chip. That at least made them look cared for but didn’t solve the issues.

A pretty expanse of yellow but that is a huge amount of seed, much of which will potentially wash down stream
The primulas have largely gone from beside the water to the lower slopes of the hillside above the flood zone

I wanted to incorporate the beds into the meadow we now manage in the park. Zach, bless his energy, enthusiasm and ability to pick up on ideas quickly, has taken on board the concept of blurring the lines between cultivated areas and wilder areas. Sharp demarcations in the garden belong in the most intensively maintained areas. I mean tightly defined edgings, of course. In the more naturalistic spaces, we find a softer transition pleasing to our eyes. The survivors of the original plantings are still there – some very good hostas, trilliums and interesting arisaemas in the main – but now they are interplanted with a hillside of yellow primulas relocated above the flood zone. More meadow than garden and much of the informal ponga edging (lengths of tree fern trunks) has been removed so the meadow grass and buttercups can invade, as it will anyway. I am looking forward to spring to see how seamless it will appear.

Too much miscanthus

Next week, Zach and I will tackle the miscanthus in the grass garden. Normally, I would leave it standing longer into winter but it needs Major Thinning. I am anticipating culling somewhere between 50 and 70% of it, which can be done without it being apparent to anybody else that anything has changed. It does involve digging every plant, dividing some of them and replacing fewer at wider spaces. It needs doing. I badly overplanted them and underestimated how much they would grow. But I learn from every mistake I make along the way. When they are planted too closely and the clumps get large, they fall apart. With smaller clumps and more space, they will hold themselves upright well into winter. I am hoping we can then get away with root pruning them in situ every second year and maybe avoid having to dig and divide for at least another five years. That is the plan.

May our sunny days of early winter continue for another week at least.

The Lost Gardens of Tikorangi

Sometimes in life, you just have to wait for the right person to turn up. So it was with our Wild North Garden.

This area of about 16000 square metres (or 4 acres for oldies and Americans) used to be called the cow paddock, on account of it being the paddock where Mark’s dad Felix kept his house cow for many years. Around 1990 – goodness that is thirty years ago – Mark started on the area. First, he milled the old pine trees planted there by his great grandfather 100 years previously, most of which were dead or dying. The purpose was to get timber to build the very large shed we continue to refer to as ‘the packing shed’ because the purpose at the time was to accommodate our mailorder nursery. While there was heavy machinery on site, Mark had them dig out ponds and waterways which are supplied by springs at the lowest point and a not-quite-stream that flows from the neighbours.

Some pretty spring scenes have evolved but the area has become increasingly difficult to navigate

He started planting, mostly trees and shrubs. Most of the plant material is unnamed seedlings from his breeding programme so there are quite a few magnolias, michelias and rhododendrons. He also added specimens of the woody trees and shrubs we were selling through the nursery, just to make sure we had them represented somewhere in the garden. The result is an eclectic mix. There is also a beautiful, if wayward grove of giant bamboo.

Over the intervening years, the trees and shrubs have grown and the plans to develop the area have been put on hold year by year. We were just too busy with the rest of the garden and with earning a living. From time to time we would add a bit more. Mark planted the Louisiana iris while I added the Higo iris.

The area had minimal maintenance only – a bit of seasonal mowing in grassy areas and Mark would battle his way in to deal with seedling prunus and other invasive weeds. Come spring, we would venture down to enjoy the ambience of pretty, if wild, spring scenes but it was becoming something resembling Sleeping Beauty’s forest.

Enter Zach, the newest member of our team – the right person to bring fresh energies to this wild area, to tame and shape it to a wild garden rather than an overgrown wilderness. He turned up as a garden visitor last November and happened to have both the right skill set and the ability to share our vision of how the area could look. Sometimes gardening can be positively exciting and it really is a thrill to see this area being brought into shape. It is like the final frontier. This is the last major addition to the garden. The boundary fences with the neighbours mean there is no more room for expansion.

I wrote a few weeks ago that “There is a fine line between a wild garden and an unkempt wilderness”. Canadian gardener, Pat Webster commented on that post: “Wild gardens take an enormous level of skill and attention to detail. I visited one in England some years ago that was designed with ‘wild’ in mind. In its heyday, it may have been superb but when I saw it, the balance had tipped and it was simply too overgrown for me.” This is a new learning curve for us but we have come to grips with meadows and summer perennials over the last decade; we can get our heads around wild gardening.

Opening up. The misty light is smoke from the fire. We take out any lengths suitable for firewood and what remains is either stacked to the side to rot down in its own time or burned if it is too far to haul it to the sides.

At this point, the focus is on opening the area up, finding space and light, preserving the plant framework that is already well established while culling the unwanted incursions and removing wayward branches and dead plants. “It has become a woodland,” declared Mark as we stood and looked at the newfound space. Note, dear reader, forests and jungles are dark and dense, vegetated from top to bottom. Woodlands are open and airy with some high canopy but enough light getting through to allow woodland plants below to establish and flower.

Lesson number one on wild gardens has already been determined: never, ever, ever plant climbers like wisteria and honeysuckle, even when it is a very good honeysuckle with much larger flowers that was given to us by the then-curator at Eastwoodhill Arboretum. Rampant climbers need to be in tended, cultivated garden areas. In wild gardens, they simply rampage far and wide and cause no end of problems.

Natural clumps of cutty grass but which one?

The clumps of what we call cutty grass in this country have been kept as sculptural features. With more light they will fill out further. Is it Carex germinata? Or maybe Gahnia lacera? This is not our area of expertise at all. It is one of our native grasses commonly referred to as cutty grass because it will cut all the skin on your hands if you make the mistake of grabbing it with bare skin. It gave me the idea that I could relocate my surplus plants of the festooning Carex comans ‘Red’ which is more honey brown than red and which just arrived here of its own accord – red tussock. I really like it but it has settled in so happily in the two places I have used it that I need to remove half the plants to allow the others room to let their natural form star. I think I will have enough to feature on the sunny side of the margins in the North Garden.

Mark has bigger plans. His mind is ticking over that now there may be space to explore a large, free-form Oudolf-inspired meadow. Maybe. At least starting with the surplus Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ I must cull from the new Court Garden – there should be enough to plant close to a few hundred square metres. That might pack some visual oomph.

Whatever happens, we must keep this area as low maintenance and distinctly different to any other area of the garden. It will walk on the wild side and be free from most hard landscaping. There are just a few bridges to build and we are waiting for Lloyd to come back from holiday to start on those.

Tikorangi Garden Diary number 2, June 3, 2011

A magic run of autumn weather has seen all three of us out in the garden every day. Temperatures remain very mild even though we are now technically in winter. I am nearing the end of my marathon on the Avenue Gardens – another two weeks of reasonable weather and it may be done. We are not big on measuring (and counting plants does not even enter our orbit – we can never believe people who boast that they have 245 roses or 415 rhododendrons. Who can be bothered counting?). But reading a brag book boast by somebody else, I had to pace out the Avenue Gardens to see if I was exaggerating my current task. It measures somewhere over 4300 square metres which I think converts to over an acre of intensive garden. No wonder it is a major task.

Dividing the streptocarpus

Dividing the streptocarpus

Today has been lifting and dividing streptocarpus – members of the gesneriad family. We are not big on bedding plants here but the streptocarpus survive well in reasonably hard, woodland conditions. They have tiny root systems and seem to muddle on very successfully despite benign neglect so I am hoping they may thrive in freshly tilled soils. They are frost tender and more commonly grown as house plants (like their siblings, gloxinias) but add a touch of the exotic as garden plants.

Mark has been doing a weeding round. He is the Chief Weed Controller here and takes his role very seriously. In a large garden, weed control is the first line of defence against the encroaching wilderness that hovers forever on the boundary, waiting to make inroads. We admit to using glyphosate. There is no way we could maintain the garden without it. The push hoe is fine in summer for the veg garden and for emergency intervention, but glyphosate is indispensable. Mark lives in fear that research may one day rule that it is unsafe, but as long as we can believe that it is not an environmental threat, we will continue its use. The aim here is always to avoid any going to seed. Good weed spraying should be as close to invisible as possible, which means getting the weeds when they have just germinated and never, but never, spraying edges. Various edging tools were designed to get clean, crisp edges, not weedkiller which leaves an unsightly dead fringe.

Bigger is better when it comes to walnuts. Standard walnuts to the right, what we think is Freshford Gem to the left

Bigger is better when it comes to walnuts. Standard walnuts to the right, what we think is Freshford Gem to the left

We are drying walnuts and have a good crop from our large walnut this season. As far as we know, it is Freshford Gem, an Australian selection. It is far more rewarding to work with big nuts, rather than the standard size so if you have a choice when it comes to buying trees, chose the ones that boast very large individual nuts.

I was just ever so slightly put out this morning to read the garden pages of our local paper (until last week, I contributed the bulk of copy) and to see that my beloved Plant Collector column has been replaced with indecent haste – by a shopping reporter. Sigh. Gone is the freedom I had to write about any interesting or appealing plant, regardless of whether it was available to purchase or not. Now garish synthetic clogs are the order of the day. It must be a sign of the times. The Philistines have taken over.

In the garden this week: May 6, 2011

• Get green crops sown urgently in bare areas of the vegetable garden. You are running out of time for the seeds to germinate and start growing before winter slows all growth.

• Finish the autumn feeding round as a priority. There is no point in feeding plants which have stopped growing for winter but we still have a little warmth left before the full blast of winter returns to stay.

• Make the final cuts to the root balls of large plants you plan to move soon. You should have cut the first two sides some weeks ago. Cut the other two sides and beneath the plant and leave it to rest for another week or two before moving it. You can move quite substantial plants as long as you have enough combined physical strength (or mechanical equipment) to take a very large root mass with it. Prepare the new location in advance so when you come to do the move, the plant is not left with its roots exposed to drying winds or light for long.

• It is the very last chance to sow seed of quick maturing green vegetables such as mizuna and other Asian greens, spinach and winter lettuce if you are to ensure continued supply through the colder times.

• As winter looms, sowing microgreens in seed trays can be a quick and nutritious harvest, especially if you have a glasshouse, conservatory or large eaves to protect the germinating seeds and to lift the temperature. Pretty well any and every vegetable can be eaten as a microgreen which is when the first half dozen young and tender leaves appear. BBC Gardeners’ World was recommending it as a great way to use up leftover seeds remaining in open packets from last year which seemed sensible.

• The grass seed should be calling you if you still have bare areas to sow. You will get better results if you do it immediately rather than in the depths of winter.

• The very large stinky plant shown on our newspaper’s garden pages last week was in fact the Titan Arum by common name (or Amorphophallus titanum, to be more botanically correct). It has one of the largest flowers in the world and smells so revolting because it relies on tricking beetles and flies that usually feed on rotting meat in order to be pollinated.