Tag Archives: Abbie Jury

Paint it black – the wisteria bridge

Tanalised pine

Two weeks ago, I mentioned that Lloyd was reconstructing this bridge. Twenty five years ago, it was built from untreated macrocarpa that we just left to weather naturally. Now it is tanalised pine and I am not a fan of tanalised pine in its raw state as a construction material in the garden.

Monet’s green bridge

Monet’s bridges at Giverny are painted green. It is not a shade of green I like. In fact, I sniffily refer to it as ‘lavatory green’, on account of it being the colour that Mark’s mother thought was suited for lavatories (and kitchens) back in the 1950s and 1960s when she was choosing the colour palette for both her new house – where we live now – and the beach house they built.

Poet’s Bridge, Pukekura Park (photo credit: Wiki Commons)

Locally, there appears to be a penchant for red bridges. I attribute this in part to the decision to paint what is known as Poet’s Bridge in Pukekura Park fire-engine red. Pukekura is the much-loved public gardens in the heart of New Plymouth.

The domestic version of a red bridge in a local garden – stained, not painted, by the looks of it

There also appears to be some idea that red bridges evoke the exotic Orient – well, China and Japan at least. This red bridge is a tidy little construction I photographed in a local garden.

A genuine Chinese bridge, festooned

When I went through my photos from our one and only trip to China (we will probably never will get to Japan now), I had a mental image of a red bridge but I see it was Mark and me on a bridge festooned in red ribbons.

The bridge at Yu Er Park was of somewhat showier design, but not red

Other Chinese bridge photos I had were more like this.

Our bridge gone black

Well, our bridge is now black. It is a bit blacker than I wanted it. Mentally I was thinking more charcoal off-black but it will fade because we have gone for stain, not paint. I am wary of painting anything in the garden because once painted, it has to be repainted as the paint peels and deteriorates. Stain can just age gracefully.

I hadn’t factored in the rather stark contrast of bird poop on the black surface but I am sure it will all find its natural balance over time. We have yet to tie the wisteria canes back in and that, too, will soften the sharp black lines. And one of the wisterias is white ‘Snow Showers’ so that will distract from the bird poop when it is flowering.

I am fine with the decision to go black and the bridge is a great deal more solid now than it was. There is no danger now of a bridge timber or railing giving way beneath the weight of an adult body.

Invasive plants

I don’t know its name. I am guessing it is a species.

Remember this pretty aster I showed in March? I loved its profusion and lightness. So did the bees and butterflies love it. But I was worried that it was too large and too dominant immediately by the path so set out to reduce its bulk and spread. That was illuminating. The initial divisions that I had planted were now so dense I had to cut them into squares to get them out but that was fine. What worried me was how far and how fast it was s p r e a d I n g. It had probably colonised its way out about a metre all around by sending out long runners below ground. The runners will put up a small rosette of leaves maybe every 20cm but they keep running and they are certainly aren’t going to let the roots of other plants deter them. Nor indeed were the stone edging or compacted path a deterrent.

That is about two years of growth in the pink tub and on the path and just from one patch.

By the time I came to the second clump, I decided on total elimination and that turned into quite a major operation. The first clump, I just tried to reduce and thin somewhat but I am pretty sure I may have to carry out more drastic action next year.

I am trying some in a confined drum and will see how that works. It is such a lovely plant in leaf and flower that I want to keep some of it but I really don’t want it invading large areas. Come to think of it, it may be the same aster that took over the Missouri Meadow at Wisley, choking out most of the other plants.

We inherited several old tanks with holes in the bottom that I am now using to contain plants that look dangerous

We are extremely cautious about invasive plants in our garden. Make that our country, not just our own garden, because garden escapes of invasive plants are a major problem in the wild. I like to shock overseas gardeners by telling them that it is actually illegal to grow the giant gunnera where we are in Taranaki. It became a noxious weed on the coastal cliff tops near Opunake where eradication was such a huge issue it was banned altogether. Our soft, warm-temperate climate makes plants which may be called ‘vigorous’ or ‘strong growing’ in harsher climates downright invasive pests here. And it is not just gunneras. Agapanthus, flag iris, campanulata cherries, the bangalow palm (Archontophenix cunninghamiana) , erigeron daisy, pampas grass, perennial sweet peas, Fuchsia boliviana  – our country is littered with plants that are a great deal more prized overseas but either discouraged, banned from sale or banned entirely in some areas here.

My gardening friend from Christchurch, Robyn Kilty recommended Calamgrostis ‘Overdam’ as a possible alternative to C. ‘Karl Foerster’ which had become dangerously strong growing here. I looked it up and found I can indeed buy it but the description from one producer included the terrifying words ‘may be invasive’. Make that ‘will be invasive’ in our conditions. Where Robyn gardens in Christchurch, such plants are not a problem with their cold winters and hot dry summers which restrict growth. There is no such brake on their growth here.

Some plants invade by seeding too freely. To some extent, that can be controlled by dead heading if the plants are lower growers. We dead head most of our agapanthus here and I dead head the likes of crocosmias. Or choosing sterile varieties can eliminate the seeding problems, especially when it comes to trees.

This white daisy – name unknown – is vigorous without being invasive. If cut back hard, it flowers a second and even third time which is very obliging of it.

Some plants invade by putting out runners along the ground which then make roots. Wisteria are a prime example of this and believe me, you do not want to plant wisteria unless you are willing to restrict them and prune them at least once a year. Somebody once told me that the largest plant in the world is a wisteria which has layered its way along. I have no idea if that is true but I wouldn’t be surprised.

And some plants, like the aster (and indeed the calamgrostis) invade by determinedly spreading their roots below the ground. They are way more problematic though you can resort to spraying with herbicide if you use it. The underground spreaders tend to be very strong indeed, choking out the competition and getting their roots intertwined with anything in their way.

I have kept six plants of Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ to see if I can contain them by root pruning them once a year with a sharp spade. I think I discarded 18 of them and digging those out was a major effort, I tell you, after only one year in the ground. I had to barrow in quite a few loads of soil to fill the holes that were left.

Mark is going to try some of the aster down in the park meadow where the competition from other plants is greater and the area is mown twice a year so that may curb the rampant growth. If it doesn’t, he will have to reach for the herbicide.

A profusion of aster that looked as though it had the potential to turn into a takeover by aster

Autumn, the first magnolia bloom of late winter, a bridge and the lovely tree dahlias

Autumn down by our stream 

Metasequoia glyptostroboides or the Dawn Redwood in our park

It is indubitably autumn here. The deciduous plants have coloured and are dropping their leaves. The nights are cool enough for us to have entered the time of the year when we light fires in the evening. True, the daytime temperatures are still around 19 celsius and we are enjoying one of our prolonged calm, mild and dry autumns. But autumn it is.

The first blooms open already on Magnolia campbellii in Waitara! On May 15!

This meant I was a little surprised when I ventured out of our home bubble last Friday to see the first blooms opening on Magnolia campbellii down in our local town of Waitara. The tree hasn’t even dropped all its leaves yet but there are several blooms already open. Being right on the coast and surrounded by urban concrete and seal, the temperature is warmer there than in our garden. We won’t see the first blooms on our M. campbellii, which is the same selected clone, until the start of July. Each year I talk about that as the harbinger of spring and the start of a new gardening year for us. I am not sure I can keep saying that having seen it coming in to bloom so early. This is one of the reasons why M. campbellii is not suitable for cold climates. Certainly it will flower later in colder temperatures but it is still so early in the season that it can be taken out by frosts. Waitara is pretty much frost-free.

The wisteria bridge as it was last November when our little dot of a grandson last came to stay

The big project this week, for Lloyd at least, is replacing the decking and railing on the wisteria bridge. That man is worth his weight in gold, I tell you. The wisterias – white Snow Showers on one side and Blue Sapphire on the other – had grown so gnarly and strong that they finally brought the railings down. Now they are both lying on the ground, I can see how big they are and will reduce them by at least fifty percent before we tie them back in, keeping them to a single old trunk and one or two new replacement whips.

Built on an old truck chassis that is outlasting the macrocarpa decking

Dredging the memory banks, we worked out that it is 25 years since the bridge went in. It was constructed by a visiting German engineer who was odd-jobbing around the place. The structural frame is an old truck chassis that was galvanised before it was put in place. That is still in perfectly good condition. It is the timbers that have finally given up the ghost. Initially Lloyd wondered if we could get away with just replacing the uprights and railings that were clearly rotten, but as he deconstructed the bridge, it became clear that all the timbers needed replacing. The original wood used was all untreated macrocarpa (Monterey cypress or Cupressus macrocarpa) so it has done very well to last 25 years.

Progress is being made with new decking and railing supports

Fortunately, ours is a well-stocked establishment with large sheds filled with many useful resources that we may need one day, so we just happened to have a stock of suitable tanalised pine to replace the timbers. Because of my aversion to the appearance of tanalised pine in the garden, it will be stained dark charcoal and I expect it to look very smart. This may even be by the end of the coming week because Lloyd is a project-oriented person. Once he starts something, he likes to keep to the one task in hand until it is completed. This is not a personality trait either Mark or I have and we recognise the advantages of it in other people.

Dahlia imperialis way up in the sky. The white form comes even later in the season.

The tree dahlias are in bloom. Goodness but these are challenging plants to have in the garden. They are magnificent in bloom, that is true. But placing them in the garden is difficult. They are brittle, rampant in growth, frost tender and way too large to stake. Some of ours can tower up to four or even five metres in the sky so they are dependent on surrounding plants to hold them more or less upright. If they fall over, they then smother everything around them and If I go in to try and support that low growth away from surrounding plants, they snap off in my hand. Then when they are dormant, they leave a big gap.

These are certainly not plants for everybody and every garden and there are good reasons why you rarely, if ever, see them for sale.

From a previous season, ‘Chameleon’ I think at the front and ‘Orchid’ (which I hope we haven’t lost but I can’t see any flowers of it yet where I think it should be) at the top. Both Keith Hammett hybrids.

But is there a lovelier autumn sight than their blooms set against a blue sky? We only have half a dozen different ones – the pink and white forms of the species D.imperialis and four from breeder, Keith Hammett. ‘Chameleon’ is a good performing, more compact hybrid of Keith’s that does not shoot for the sky so is more amenable as a garden plant with pure yellow flowers in abundance but it still needs plenty of space.

One autumnal wind will blow the taller ones over but they are a seasonal delight while they last.

A beautiful deep colour on one of Hammett’s hybrids growing through the raspberry coop.

RIP little Albert

Just last month, I introduced you to Albert, our visiting piwakawaka. Albert was the type of companion who liked to announce his presence but, being a very small bird, we didn’t really notice when he wasn’t present. So, we didn’t worry when a few days passed without a visit. No alarm bells rang for us, so to speak.

Sadly, Albert had extended his house visits to the upstairs bedrooms and became trapped in one of them when the door was closed to keep the house warmer on a cool night. I found him, passed away on the bedspread yesterday when I went to open the windows.

Albert alive would, apparently, have weighed no more than 8 grams. Deceased and dehydrated, he weighed little more than a cluster of feathers. It was poignant. I was sad. Mark was sad when I brought the little body downstairs. I buried him in the garden where I was working. Small of stature he may have been, but he deserved dignity in death.

Such an exuberant little life filled with energy and chatter snuffed out.

Week six of lockdown already but gardening continues

Te mounga – Mount Taranaki – with its first major snowfall of the year this week

The first wintry blast struck this week and our mounga has put on his winter coat. In our part of NZ, these early cold blasts are generally brief – two days this week – and we are now back to mild, calm and sunny autumnal days. This settled weather can often continue through until the shortest day, which is only six weeks away now, when we settle into proper winter. By mid August we will warm up again and spring will be here so we mustn’t complain about a full-on winter that only lasts about 7 or 8 weeks.

Flooding in the sunken garden soon after the upper garden beds were removed 

Flooding has not been a problem once the grass was well established

Eighteen months ago, I wrote about the unexpected consequence of flooding the sunken garden when we stripped out the surrounding garden borders that had clearly soaked up the rainfall in the past.  Fortunately, we did not rush into major work to rectify the situation because it turned out to be temporary. When the grass was fully established, the flooding issues disappeared. It is an interesting lesson in the importance of vegetation – even just grass – in preventing water run-off. Presumably all the roots create small channels, enabling the water to be soaked up by the ground where it falls. Bare soil is not good. It is a shame that the Council has never learned this. They still send out contractors to spray the roadsides, under the delusion that bare, denuded road verges channel the water away quickly, solving flooding issues. All it does is concentrate the flooding issues at the lowest point and prevent the ground from absorbing and filtering the water long before it gets to that lowest point.

Stipa gigantea – I removed maybe six plants from this section to give the remaining ones room to spread to their natural form

I have also been thinking about the lessons I am learning in the new grass garden. Even with quite a bit of gardening experience, I thought I was planting at final spacings in the new grass garden when in reality, I was planting for immediate effect. I am now going through removing overplanting – just about every second Stipa gigantea at this stage. Many plants, especially grasses, look better to my eyes when they have their own space without competition. It is then possible to enjoy the shape of each plant rather than the massed effect where shapes become enmeshed. Maybe next time, I will have learned enough not to repeat the same mistake of overplanting. It is even more important with trees and shrubs which are not as easy to thin as perennials.

Lloyd is back!

As we dropped down a lockdown level to 3*, Lloyd was able to come back to work. Physical distancing is not a problem here. I was very pleased to see him back. I do not drive the quad bike or the tractor – nor indeed the fancy lawnmower – and cannot manage a trailer so cleaning up after cutting back and clearing areas is much more problematic without him. With both his wife and son-in-law being medical professionals, he is extremely mindful of safe practices and the dangers of getting careless with regard to Covid, so we feel quite safe about him joining our home and workplace bubble.*

(*For overseas readers: we have our own Covid vocabulary in NZ and, thanks to the very clear communication from our prime minister, we all know exactly what bubbles and levels are and we have swapped out ‘social distancing’ for the more accurate ‘physical distancing’. With daily Covid cases down to one or two only, some days none at all, we are on track to eliminate the virus from our shores as long as we maintain border controls and quarantine. What happens longer term is as yet unknown but in the present, we are still alive and well, bar a few unfortunates.)

An autumn morn this week

Can I give a shoutout to our travel agent and the company she works for – Hello World? Against all expectations, she negotiated a full refund of both our long-haul airfares on Qatar Air and the travel insurance we took out for our cancelled trip to Greece and the UK. The money appeared back in our bank account yesterday. This was by no means a sure thing and many others have been left with airline credits, heavy penalty fees and financial loss. I am deeply relieved. None of us know when the world may open up again but in the medium term, we have our fingers crossed that the border with Australia may open soonish so that we can see our three children and grandson again.

One year on – the Court Garden

April 25, 2020

I say one year, but that is from when I first started planting the new grass garden. Much of this is only eleven months. I took this photo last Saturday, April 25.

May 16, 2019 

May 16, 2019

These photos, taken from either end, are dated May 16, 2019. We still haven’t filled the steps or laid the path surfaces but the plant growth has been phenomenal. New ground – plants love new ground. I expect the rates of growth to slow.

I planted at what I intended to be final spacings and there is only one section that I have put in too closely and will need to reconsider. The rest, I think, will be fine for some time. Mark would like more flowers so I am working in a bit more colour as I find plants that I think will be able to compete. The giant Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum) which the bees and monarch butterflies love is the next to move in.

I was worried that I had too much Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ until I took a closer look this morning. There are only four waves across the whole garden and I don’t think that is too much. It is just that it is very dominant at this time of the year. It is a brilliant tall grass and only throws up a few unwanted seedlings.

Big miscanthus flopping after only 10 months 

All it took was three lengths of jute string to restore order and form

A friend gave me a larger growing form of miscanthus, similarly variegated but with a wider leaf. It was too large for her and fell apart too readily. It is an excellent looker but I worried when even the fresh divisions started to fall apart and flop onto the paths as early as January. I don’t want plants that I have to dig and divide every year. The solution was simple. I tied a string around each clump, just a length of anonymous jute string that is not visible. A five minute job solved the problem.

I would like more large grasses for variety but have failed to source additional options so far. They are obviously not that popular in this country. I looked at Miscanthus ‘Zebrinus’ which is available and rejected it. The variegation looks too much like spray damage to me.

For those of you who are interested in grasses, I offer this update on performance of others I have used:

Chionochloa rubra (our native red tussock) is brilliant. My favourite grass of all. It needs space around each plant so that its attractive fountaining habit can be admired.

Chionochloa flavicans is often described as a miniature toetoe though it is a different family. I had a lot of trouble getting plants large enough to survive sustained attack from rabbits. Mark has shot 34 of those cursed bunnies so far this summer and most of the plants are now large enough to withstand future attacks. If you can control the munchers, it does indeed look like a small toetoe in flower though it is pretty anonymous in leaf and form.

Proper toetoe are now classified as austroderia and I think it is A.fulvida that I sourced through Trade Me – the only three plants I had to buy for this whole new garden. They have grown ten fold since I planted them but that is fine because I gave them space. I am looking forward to their flowering next year.

Stipa gigantea (Golden Oats) – an attractive enough grey-green, fine-leafed grass but the main appeal is their ethereal, large flower heads on tall spikes. The wretched sparrows took out every one of the main flowering but they have persevered and continued to put up new flower spikes. It appears to be sterile.

Miscanthus, as mentioned above, is a key feature and the only fully deciduous grass I have used. We started with just one established plant which was elsewhere in the garden and I have lifted and divided it over three years to get as many as I want. It doesn’t need to be divided that often but I wanted more plants.

Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ I took out of the twin borders because it is too rampant. I thought it may be fine in the more spacious grass garden but it is too rampant. It is beautiful when it puts its flowers up in late spring but it is altogether too strong, spreading rapidly with its expanding root system. I am thinking I will take every second plant out this autumn and look to replacing it altogether as soon as I find a less vigorous alternative.

If any readers have other suggestions of tall grasses that are available in NZ, I would be pleased to hear.

To dead head or not to dead head, that is the question

Phlomis and Stipa tenuissima in the morning light of autumn

I have never done so much dead heading in my life before. Not that I mind it, you understand, more that I am surprised to find it becoming part of my routine. The need was not anticipated. But neither have we ever had extensive areas of summer perennials before. This week, I achieved what was a milestone for me – the completion of the revamped Iolanthe Garden as a perennial meadow (I use the word ‘meadow’ loosely, here.) That gives us close to an acre (0.4 hectare) of new summer gardens finished.

It has been heavily influenced by the New Perennials movement, led by its uncrowned monarch, Dutch designer, plantsman and gardener, Piet Oudolf. Anything and everything you read about this modern approach to perennial gardening will refer to its lower maintenance requirements and leaving the plants and all the seed heads to stand well into winter, that there is beauty in that black and brown decay of autumn and winter until everything is cut down to the ground – usually in February, so very late northern winter. Besides, all those seed heads feed the birds and save them from starving when food supplies are desperately short. Oudolf has coined the term ‘fifth season’ to describe that period in late autumn when low light levels, frost, dew and sometimes snow light the blackened tips of plants to make them sparkle. There are many beautiful photographs on line capturing this phenomenon.

You can have too much of a good thing – Verbena bonariensis and fennel

It is different in New Zealand. Boy is it different. Only the coldest parts of the country have that winter hiatus. Most of us have flowers and seasonal interest all year round. A large proportion of the plants we use are evergreen so never die down to ground level. There is food for the birds all year round and they are not in danger of starving. Besides, most of those seed and grain eating birds are the introduced ones (sparrows!). Our native birds tend to favour fruit or partaking of nectar. Our light levels don’t drop in winter. A midwinter’s day can be as clear and bright as midsummer.

And we have a problem with garden escapes becoming weeds. That is the big issue that has me out there dead heading. Much and all as I love Verbena bonariensis, I don’t want mountains of it everywhere. The same goes for crocosmia be it yellow, orange or red, kniphofia (red hot pokers), some of the asters, tigridia (jockey caps), eryngium, dietes, fennel, nicotiana, verbascums and quite a few other plants we are growing. Even Gloriosa superba sets so much seed it is threatening to become a weed. There is nothing for it but to get out there with my snips and bucket to reduce the seed heads.

Amaranthus caudatus – not unwelcome in this situation but a surprise arrival in the compost

There is a slight problem with disposing of the seed heads. Even though we make hot compost, too many seeds come out the other end of the process and live to germinate and grow another day in another place around the garden. This unexpected display of amaranthus arrived in the compost I spread in this area. I have learned my lesson. Now I stow the seed heads in deep shade on the wilder margins of the property where few will germinate because they don’t see the sun.

A sampling of seeds that need removing. I contemplating setting it up as one of those quizzes for bored readers to identify but I would rather be out gardening. Top left tigridia and fennel, bottom left nicotiana, eryngium and dietes, centre crocosmia, top left aster, bottom right Lilium formasanu,. kniphofia and Verbena bonariensis.

The skills come in knowing which plants need total removal of seed heads (kniphofia and tigridias, for example), which plants need the removal of most seed heads to restrict their self-seeding (such as eryngiums, fennel, crocosmia, verbascums and Verbena bonariensis) and which plants don’t need to be dead headed because they are either welcome to seed down (I am not sure than I will ever have too many echinaceas) or because they don’t seem to cause a seeding problem (phlomis and the grasses). Then there are a few plants that I will dead head because that encourages them to flower again (roses, though I don’t grow many of those these days, and some of the daisies).

There is no substitution for observation and experience. We can not just take gardening practices from other climates and assume it will be the same here. If I have another 20 years, I may be able to come up with plant lists that are specifically designed for our conditions. For anyone thinking that maybe it would be better to concentrate on using our native plants, consider the fact that most of our sunny perennials are alpine. In our lowland conditions, native perennials are shade loving foliage plants with a heavy emphasis on ferns.

I want some eryngiums to self seed but not all of them

Two footnotes: the acclaimed film about Piet Oudolf, called ‘Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf’ is available free to stream this weekend only. We plan on watching it this evening, as long as I can work out again how to get Chromecast working. Where is a teenager or young person when you need one? It is being streamed from https://www.hauserwirth.com/?fbclid=IwAR2YXqr5-VDT2TwThnzWxVF2lzS4HXMVCV-l9166HQsVlTqqktF-QYsMTm4

And we are opening the garden and unveiling the new summer gardens for ten days this spring during the annual Taranaki Garden Festival, October 30 to November 8. As part of that, I am considering offering workshops on new directions with sunny perennials and managing meadows in our climate. Numbers will be strictly limited so look for details when the programme comes out.

May your lockdowns go well, or at least harmoniously. The end is in sight for us in NZ, with the strong possibility that we can eliminate the virus and return to some sort of Covid-free normality – as long as our border stays closed. Just don’t try injecting, drinking or otherwise consuming disinfectant – you may then be Covid-free but actual scientists tell us you will also be dead.