Tag Archives: Abbie Jury

Rubbish in the magnolias

This particular view of our place is one enjoyed by the neighbour’s cows

I headed out this morning to photograph the view the dairy cows that surround us get at this time of the year. Very pretty, it was too. Our property is in dairy heartland, for those of you who do not know this area, so largely a green landscape of rye grass.

Tied neatly in a bag

But why, of why, do people think it is “tidy” to tie their rubbish into a neat plastic bundle to throw on the road verge for somebody else to pick up? This is not a rare event around here. Do these people not realise that the plastic that they discard will not decompose? Either somebody else has to pick it up or it will lie there, breaking into smaller bits, until a flood comes through to sweep it downstream out to sea where it will kill turtles, fish and seabirds instead.

A preponderance of high energy drinks and snacks. Some are even gluten free.

A forensic analysis of the contents shows a disproportionately large number of high energy foods and drinks which suggests that, in this case, it may have been recreational cyclists that discarded this bundle. There is a cycle trail that runs along that road. In which case, shame! Shame! Shame! You get out on your bike to enjoy the beautiful countryside which you proceed to despoil. Cyclists do not have this unlovely attribute to themselves, however. It is more commonly thrown from cars. It appears that we live about the distance from the city that it takes to completely eat a takeaway meal from MacDonalds, Burger King or KFC. We know this because we often pick up the waste from our road verges.

What is wrong with these people? Could they not just open their eyes, smile at the flowers, sniff the scent-laden air and take their rubbish home with them?

The view of the other end of the property

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Bluebells in a New Zealand springtime

There is something wildly romantic about a proper bluebell wood. I have never forgotten being entranced by the haze of blue through woodlands near Castle Douglas in Scotland and that was more than two decades ago. Those particular bluebells and woodland trees are native to the area but this does not stop many of us trying to replicate the effect at home.

Bluebells are best suited to the meadow look, in our experience. They grow too vigorously to tuck tidily into garden borders but their charms become obvious in a less constricted, wilder setting. The whole woodland style is dependent on having deciduous trees fairly widely spaced because the bulbs need light to bloom. In this country, we tend to have a mix of deciduous and evergreen in our gardens and lean more to “bush” or even “forest” than open “woodland”. On top of that, the time at which the bluebells are in growth, coincides with the spring flush of grass so mowing becomes problematic. As with most bulbs, it is best to let them die down naturally because that leafy stage is replenishing the strength of the bulb for next season’s flowering.

We solved this problem by planting bluebells in our wilder areas that we do not mow and on the margins of plantings in the park where we used to mow the wider area regularly. That way, we had defined swathes of blue in bloom and then swathes of long foliage until they went dormant. Now that we have stopped the regular mowing, it will be interesting to see if they spread naturally to give us expansive carpets rather than swathes. They set seed so freely that we try and remove at least some of the spent flower spikes.

It took UK writer Ken Thompson to demystify bluebell differences for me. The English Hyacinthoides  non-scripta has sweetly scented, deep blue flowers on a droopy spike which means most hang to one side. Individual flowers are narrow tubes with reflexed tips. The Spanish H. hispanica is much stronger growing with an upright spike and flowers radiating all round. There is a greater range of colour from pale to dark blues and lilacs along with the pinks and whites. Individual flowers are bell-shaped and while the tips of the blooms flare out, they don’t reflex. They have little scent.

But to add to the mix, there are the natural hybrids. The English and Spanish forms cross freely and the hybrids fall somewhat in the middle with characteristics from both parents.  I had previously tried to unravel the species and headed out looking for the cream anthers that define the English one as compared to the blue anthers of the Spanish form, ending up totally confused. Of course I did. I wasn’t factoring in hybrids. If Ken Thompson is right in his interesting book ‘The Sceptical Gardener’ – and I am willing to accept that he is correct given that he is an academic plant ecologist – and the majority of bluebells growing in UK gardens now are either the Spanish version or hybrids, then it seems likely that almost all of what we see in this country will be the same.

I stopped down the road to examine some bluebell patches on the site of one of the first settler houses built in Tikorangi. If we had any proper English bluebells around here, Mark hypothesized, that seemed a likely site. No, they were either Spanish or hybrids. Ditto with the bluebells here which date back to his great grandmother’s days and have now mixed with all the others we have.  I can’t see any point in nursing ideals of species purity when it comes to bluebells in New Zealand.

A word about white or pink bluebells. While the English bluebell can occasionally throw a white mutant, given the rarity of H. non-scripta in this country, it seems likely that all colour variants we have are either Spanish or hybrids. The whites and pinks are charming mixed with the predominant blues, making a pretty scene. Isolate them out by colour on their own, and they become a novelty plant. Bluebells, by definition, should be mostly blue. A display of only pink bells would look awfully contrived for this simple flower while a mass of white bells might as well be onion weed, really. That is my opinion.

First published in the September issue of New Zealand Gardener and reprinted here with their permission. 

Greening the Grey

At the altar of the motor car

I have nothing but admiration for the lead Britain’s Royal Horticultural Society takes on public education on matters related to plants and the natural environment. And boy oh boy, the  paving front yards to accommodate cars is a huge issue. One in three front yards is paved, they say. This is not unique to Britain. Every western city probably has a similar situation.

The alternative suggested by RHS

Does it matter? Yes. It matters in many ways. Out of pure self interest, the paving enthusiasts of this world should worry about increased flooding. The earth is like a giant sponge that absorbs and filters water. If large areas are paved, the water is then channelled to a limited number of collection points which can’t cope in times of heavy rain. No matter how much one rails at the local council’s inability to deal with flood waters, there are limits to what can be done when water is being turned into a flowing torrent rather than being absorbed into a wider flood plain. Channelling it to flowing water also stops the natural filtration that operates through earth’s own systems so all toxins and pollutants are being headed straight to waterways.

The environmental benefits of growing plants are perhaps a harder concept to sell to people who don’t see anything wrong with living in concrete jungles. But we ignore the evidence of declining insect populations and the loss of biodiversity at our peril. Our planet is hitting crisis point, fuelled by human ignorance.

Twenty six years ago, I went to Britain on a study bursary as a Commonwealth Relations scholar. Many interesting things happened on that trip. That was how I once ended up in Belfast as a guest of the Irish Information Service at a time of high tension during The Troubles. Also, the House of Lords to listen to a famous debate about the smokies from Arbroath. As part of a fortnight hosted by the Foreign Office, we had many briefings including one from a senior government official who proclaimed, “Britain leads the world in conservation.” I hope I kept my snort silent. At the time, New Zealand really was pretty clean and green and Britain could not have been a sharper contrast. I was deeply cynical. I am not now.

We have heard and seen far more discussion at the most local and personal level about environmental matters in the parts of England we have visited. There is an awareness of the importance of green space, of trees, hedgerows, ponds, wild flowers, meadows and gardening that leaves us for dead in New Zealand. We have seen little back gardens that are set up as mini nature reserves. It may all be too little too late in global terms but at a personal level, I think it is important to daily life.

It is not that the RHS are the only body leading public education in this area, but they are an influential one and all power to that.

Postcards of Devon

The hunt dogs! Or hounds, I have just been informed (see reader comments below). Indubitably hounds. Out for a morning run on a Devon lane with their keepers on bicycles. Beautiful hounds, so very well trained and an interesting scene but still incomprehensible to me. English garden media personality and writer of steamy romantic novels, Alan Titchmarsh, may defend foxhunting on the grounds that it is, apparently, a traditional part of country life – country life, that is, as experienced by the toffs who cry ‘tally-ho’, not so much a traditional pursuit for the peasantry. But tradition alone is not a justification for anything, really.

It was interesting to be told elsewhere that the keeper of another pack of hounds had recently resigned because, he told my informant, he was worried by how often he was expected to break the law. Apparently, foxhunting may just have become more covert and is sometimes justified on the grounds of an upsurge in the population of foxes. Hmmm. The failure to institute other, more humane strategies of population control is a dubious justification for a savage method of hunting a terrified animal to the point of utter exhaustion and then letting it be torn apart, all for the pleasure of privileged humans who regard it as “sport”.

Lovely dogs, though.

The Devon roads can be notoriously narrow, though they are by no means alone in that. These roads can carry more traffic than the upgraded, single carriageway that passes by our place at home but there does not appear to be an uproar with loud demands that they be widened, straightened and allegedly made ‘safer’ for cars and trucks. It means drivers must be fully alert, dropping speed to meet the conditions, courteous and capable of backing up to the passing bays that are dotted along these roads. It is a very different ethos to the aggressive driving on New Zealand roads. If we were more defensive, tolerant and patient drivers, maybe our corner of the world would be a better place?

We went to south Devon to have another look at one of our all time favourite gardens – Wildside. More on this garden in a future post, but it is on the edges of Dartmoor. It rained on our day there, though fortunately it was not cold. There is a certain evocative gloom to the open moorland on a grey day with low light levels. Because I have always done my reading from across the world in New Zealand, the geographic location of different moors is hazy at best (though I think I have the heaths and heathers of Scottish moorland separated in my mind). I kept thinking of the likes of Daphne du Maurier but I see she set ‘Jamaica Inn’ on Bodmin Moor which is the next one down and Dartmoor belongs to ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’. But one can imagine this landscape with the bleak winds of winter blowing across it and it certainly has its own identity, including the roaming stock and lack of fencing.

While in the area, we headed over to see the RHS garden, Rosemoor. The original garden and accompanying land was gifted to the RHS by Lady Anne Berry, now a long-time resident of Gisborne. Lady Anne had been particularly kind to us in our earlier years so we were pleased to finally get to see Rosemoor. While the traditional rose garden left me unmoved, the rose and clematis combinations in the adjacent garden enclosure were a delight.

I make Mark pose for vanity photos beside what we call ‘Jury Plants’ as we come across them around the world. Part gentle boasting, part family record. In this case it is Phormium ‘Yellow Wave’, bred by his father Felix and one of the first generation of variegated flaxes for home gardens. He never received a cent for it (or a penny, as it would have been back then) and is rarely credited with it. It is not easy to keep good foliage on phormiums in New Zealand so Felix moved on to astelias and then clumping cordylines in his attempts to get an extended colour range into plants with this habit of growth and foliage. Eventually, this led to our Cordyline ‘Red Fountain’ but Phormium ‘Yellow Wave’ continues to hold some ground internationally.

Still at Rosemoor, the herbaceous plantings are terrific. If you are looking for a middle road between the traditional herbaceous border and the grassy new wave look of Oudolf, Stuart-Smith and New Perennials proponents, you probably end up with something closer to these Rosemoor beds and borders. Lots of vibrant colour and care with combinations, often quite tight colour toning but also lighter on plant options that need continual maintenance to keep them flowering and looking good. However, these are herbaceous plantings for large, public spaces, not so much for downscaling to the home garden. You can see more in the album on our Facebook page if you are interested.

IMO* Green waste

My Sunday mornings with Tony Murrell on Radio Live’s Home and Garden Show have moved to the more civilised hour of 7.45am. This was just as well this morning with our land line down. Because we live in a mobile black spot, I headed out across the property under an umbrella (it was spitting), to the point where I know I can get at least one and sometimes two bars on my mobile phone. I was committed to speak on my concern of the week – green waste and the ubiquitous wheelie bins.

“Go forth and multiply” – the rise and rise of the wheelie bin

When the directive came to “go forth and multiply”, I cannot think that it was ever meant to apply to wheelie bins. But that is the case. We live in the country and for years we took responsibility for our own waste disposal. When the local council extended rubbish collection to many rural areas, it was undoubtedly convenient but it came with a hefty price tag. We now have a wheelie bin for recyclables and an inconveniently shaped bin for glass which needs to be transferred to a wheelbarrow to transport it out to the roadside. But wait, there is to be more. Plans are afoot for another wheelie bin to take the non-recyclable rubbish, another for green waste and I am not sure where the plans are to give us a fifth small bin to sit upon the kitchen bench to take the green waste before we transfer it out to the wheelie bin.  Plastic, plastic and more plastic.

As I said, we live in the country. Everybody I know who lives in the country has some sort of composting system. There is no need to charge us for removing our green waste and increasing its carbon footprint further by transporting it to a central depot.

Wheelie bins of London. I have seen British gardening shows showing strategies for concealing your wheelie bins in little enclosures with “living roofs”

What worries me the most is that this new drive to collect everything from the gate actually fosters an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. And these great thunking wheelie bins encourage people to put yet more rubbish out. Councils such as ours can espouse “zero waste by 2040” sentiments all they like, but these are aspirational only when their actions are geared to hoping residents will sort their rubbish at home before they wheel it out for collection. It is still predicated on ratepayers paying a levy for somebody else to cart away their rubbish and to deal with it. The feel good factor without actually achieving much at all.

Wheelie bins of Coogee to the right

Our Sydney daughter lives in a third floor apartment and has a worm farm. She alerted me to Compost Revolution, an organisation that works with Sydney councils to encourage residents to take responsibility for their own green waste and to deal with it at home. Attend a two hour course and you get either a free or heavily subsidised composting option – Bokashi, worm farm or bin, whichever is best suited to your circumstances. That is a constructive model that gets ‘buy-in’ from participants and changes long term behaviour. Green waste can account for around half of household waste. So it is a huge reduction in volume if it can be dealt with on the home site and a big reduction in carbon footprint if it is not being carted away for recycling. It is interesting that Compost Revolution appears to have worked on solutions applicable to high density urban living.

Centralised waste collection in Tivoli

I was impressed by the European models I saw of centralised collection points where people sorted to the appropriate bins as they dropped off their rubbish. In a densely populated, old town like Tivoli, individual household collection would be near impossible. These collection points were emptied each day and the area swept. There was nothing offensive about them, even in very hot weather. Everything about this model encourages a reduction in volume and individual responsibility.

Rural waste collection in Camembert, France

Rubbish disposal, New Zild style, near where I live. 

In France near Camembert was this smart and tidy collection point for community refuse. It remained tidy for the several days we stayed nearby. Sometimes I despair at home. Prior to the collection of our refuse from the gate, Council tried a local collection point down the road from us. People treated it like a roadside tip. Literally. It was revolting. Don’t worry about how the system works. Just hiff your rubbish out from your vehicle whenever you want. Sometimes we seem so backward and uncivilised in this country I love and never more so than on household rubbish. Out of sight, out of mind.

Don’t, just don’t pile up your lawn clippings around the street trees. This is likely to kill them. Mount Eden, Auckland

At the very least, next time you replace your lawnmower, get a mulcher mower. It chomps the clippings so finely that they reintegrate with the turf. This means you do not need to collect them and then find some means of disposing of them. It also means you never have to feed your lawn because you are not stripping all the nutrients off. And look at other ways you can deal with the majority of your green waste on site rather than paying somebody else to remove it and to take responsibility for your waste. It matters.

Should you wish to do a bit of DIY compost, I have in the past posted step by step instructions on

 

*IMO – in my opinion. The Radio Live Home and Garden Show opinion pieces each Sunday may translate to a new series of posts here.

Advice on the matter of gardening gloves

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A garden destination for all tastes and expectations? Trentham in Stoke-on-Trent

Trentham Gardens shows that it can get pretty close to being all things to all people. Even on a cool, grey Monday afternoon, the place was humming. Mark and I have a running gag about the “sense of arrival” at gardens. One day I will explain the origin of our cynicism about this but we worked out long ago that the greatest “sense of arrival” is a full carpark. And on this Monday afternoon, I photographed our rental car so we could find it again later. As an aside, you can have any colour of car you like in Britain, as long as it is black or grey. And one grey rental car looks pretty much like 80% of the other cars.

Trentham had a long and illustrious history before falling on hard times. Very hard times. The splendid Capability Brown lake apparently became the smelly, festering sewer for the Trent River and all who lived and worked nearby – especially the potteries for which Stoke-on-Trent is famous – resulting in the family vacating the grand home. When nobody wanted to take the estate off his hands, the 4th Duke of Sutherland committed an act of great vandalism in 1912 and had most of the house demolished. Why? Many must have asked that question down the years.

Why? The remains of the original house

St Modwen Properties certainly must have asked that question when they took over the property in 1996 and declared a brave mission statement:

“Regenerate and restore the historic Estate and gardens turning it into a premier tourist and leisure destination of national significance.” 

The shopping village – Swiss chalet naff?

Those plans included extensive gardens, monkeys, a luxury hotel on the site of the original house (yet to materialise) and a whole lot more. Are they on track? They sure are. Moving from the well-filled carpark, you first encounter the retail village. True, it is what I might describe as ‘Swiss chalet naff’ in style but it appears to pull the punters and I bet the main street retailers hate it. We are not good shoppers so we passed through quickly.

The Italian terraces where the main plantings are by Tom Stuart-Smith

We were there to see the Tom Stuart-Smith and Piet Oudolf gardens and then we found there were extensive new plantings by Nigel Dunnett. Three modern stars of the gardening scene is pretty good. And add in the David Austin rose border to make it four stars. But if ever there was a destination that fitted the “but wait there is more” descriptor, it is Trentham. There are summer concerts (see my footnote *). We did not go to the Monkey Forest (with real monkeys). Nor did we find the maze or the show gardens or go on the model railway. We should have taken the boat ride because the walk around the lake was closed for some reason so we could not get access to all the new Dunnett plantings. But honestly, there is enough there in the gardens around the site of the old house to keep most of us happy.

Looking across the Stuart-Smith plantings to a surviving original gateway

Tom Stuart-Smith planting

Put briefly, Tom Stuart-Smith has been given free rein on the original Italianate terraces. The planting is typical of his signature style that we have seen – big, bold and handsome combinations. The phlomis, Stipa gigantea, eryngiums, geraniums, tall campanulas and thalictrum all  come to mind at this time of the year. We saw his beautiful terraces at Mount St John in Yorkshire a few years ago and the Trentham plantings are in a similar mode but on a much bigger scale. The earlier photos I had seen of the Trentham terraces had looked a bit bitsy but these have matured to generous plantings that envelop the visitor.

More signature Oudolf than “Floral Labyrinth” and we were a little too early in the season to see its full glory

The Piet Oudolf gardens are styled as the “Floral Labyrinth” – do I detect the earnest hand of the marketing wing of Trentham in that name? Stylistically, they were similar to his work we saw at Pensthorpe in Norfolk on our last visit. Mark describes it as Gertrude Jekyll on steroids – carefully composed clumps of large perennials which will hold themselves up and not require ongoing dead heading, knitted together in a harmonious flow. When I say large, I mean a fair swag of them are shoulder or head height but no taller and a clump may be more than two metres across. We were just a little early for the full glory of peak flower but the veronicastrum and geraniums were lovely and there was plenty of other interest.

Piet Oudolf’s “Rivers of Grass” at Trentham

The Rivers of Grass were charming in a much lower key way. I deduced these were also the work of Piet Oudolf because there is a similarity to the meadow at Bury Court so I was pleased to be proven correct on that. Then I realised that Scampston in Yorkshire also has its Oudolf drifts of grass, though I was unconvinced by that one in a more rigid layout. All seem to use molinia which has a shimmering quality, seen at its best at Trentham on the day we were there, with the subtle inclusion of other flowering plants to add richness.

Dunnett at Trentham

More Dunnett and his Sheffield team at Trentham

The newest plantings are those of Nigel Dunnett and his Sheffield team. The photos tell the story. These are so fresh and deceptively simple. Just a joy. It is the first time I have seen a Sheffield planting that is so tightly colour-toned as the blue border. Consumer demand? Further round the lake, I understand it is more woodland which would have been interesting had the path not been closed because we have only seen Sheffield plantings in full sun so far. What a delight they are. I see their branding is as “Pictorial Meadows” which seems an appropriate descriptor.

The ‘Upper Flower Garden” – oops

What is really interesting on this massive project is that a private business has looked to some of the top designers and practitioners working in the field of contemporary landscape, design and gardening to turn a very old site into a modern attraction. We are lucky indeed that St Modwen, as owners of Trentham, had the vision to go well beyond the obvious Victorian bedding plant tradition. It is a brave decision. If you are looking at a mass market, the reality is that the average Joe or Josie Public is going to be quite happy with bedding plants of the floral clock genre – lots of tidy colour planted in patterns. These are not entirely lacking at Trentham, as witness the “Upper Flower Garden”. I raised my eyebrows at these but I bet poor old Tom Stuart-Smith has to avert his eyes in horror when he stands on this top terrace to get a long view of his plantings out to the lake. But in the hands of a less visionary investment company, this could have been the story of the entire place.

My photos are entirely ‘of the day’ – a snapshot in time. When top-flight plantspeople are given free rein, they are not planting for a small window of time. These are plantings that are designed to take the gardens through the seasons, or at least three seasons from spring bulbs through to autumn colour with a more static picture of winter rest. This is a high level skill but never more so than in public plantings predominantly of perennials, where one planting must gently age and fade gracefully as the next wave of plants takes over. Which is to say that should you visit a month or two months later, the gardens may look very different but should still look as if they are at or close to their peak.

There is a really complex entry charge system, depending on which areas you want to visit (the gardens count as one area). Goodness me, you can even use Tesco Clubcard vouchers (Tesco being a supermarket chain). It is worth looking on line – I found a two for one weekday voucher there though I then felt a bit mean when I used it.

Postscript *I do not want to overstate the evening concerts. In fact I looked at the programme boards and wondered if it was just the one contracted band in different guises. The amphitheatre stage was but modest. Maybe they are catering to a specific local demographic, this year at least? On our last visit we saw Hatfield House in London preparing for a major concert. U2? Or was it UB40? I have waited three years to use my photo of the portaloos at Hatfield. Trentham is not trying that scale of concert at this stage but give them time. I am sure they will be looking at it for feasibility and profitability.

Portaloos at Hatfield House in 2014

Because I had many more photos than I could use on this post, I have added an album on Facebook.