Tag Archives: Abbie Jury

A garden of grasses. Mostly.

The grass garden at Bury Court

The grass garden at Bury Court

It is interesting to reflect on gardens over time. Sometimes a garden that makes you go ‘wow’ on the day is not the one that endures in the memory. In fact, not wanting to be too dismissive, but it is a rare garden that stays in the memory for long after a single visit.

That is Mark, not the owner, at Bury Court

That is Mark, not the owner, at Bury Court

The grass garden at Bury Court has endured for me. So much so, in fact, that it has inspired me to start a grass garden here.  Bury Court’s grass garden was by leading UK designer, Christopher Bradley-Hole but credit must also go to the garden owner, John Coke, whom we didn’t meet but had certainly stamped his mark on the other areas of the garden which were early Piet Oudolf. It is not that I want to recreate that grass garden which was full of soft, waving, tall grasses in informal plantings but contained within a sharp-edged, rectilinear design with a charming Japanese-influenced summer house at its centre. I am just using it as inspiration.

Anybody who has looked at gardens in the UK and Northern Europe over the past decade or maybe nearing two, will have seen the extensive use of grasses in perennial plantings. It is variously described as ‘prairie planting’, ‘New Perennials’, ‘naturalistic gardening’, ‘Sheffield School style’, ‘Oudolf- inspired’ and, no doubt, other terms as well. The bottom line is that it is the integration of grasses with flowering perennials in various styles and combinations and it has yet to catch on in New Zealand. Towards the end of our last trip in 2014, we started counting the ratios and it was common to see 3:1 – three flowering perennials to one grass. The Bury Court grass garden was 1:8 – that is one flowering perennial to eight grasses. The effect was very different and the movement of the tall grasses a delight.

A blank canvas of about 250 square metres (I paced it out)

A blank canvas of about 250 square metres (I paced it out)

I have been incubating ideas for the past three years. In an old garden, it is rare for us to be in a position to start a new area from scratch but that opportunity has arisen. Somewhere over 250 square metres of empty space in full sun with good drainage, in fact, that I can get down on for my grass garden. But we need that amount of space for we envisage B I G grasses waving in the breeze and when each plant will take up probably a square metre, that chews up the space. We have enough highly detailed garden here already, so we are looking at bigger canvas garden pictures with lower maintenance. That is the plan, anyway.

Stipa gigantea, with phlomis, at Wisley. Lovely ethereal seed heads but unproven in our conditions

Stipa gigantea, with phlomis, at Wisley. Lovely ethereal seed heads but unproven in our conditions

Our native toetoe, or cortaderia

Our native toetoe, or cortaderia

We have been given some plants of Stipa gigantea, beloved by UK gardeners. It remains to be seen if it will perform in our conditions, but I have put the first nine plants out. Also our native toetoe (which used to be a cortaderia but has now been reclassified as an austroderia) which will grow here and is our native version of the pampas grass often used overseas. Pampas (Cortaderia selloana) is on the totally banned list where we live, be it pink or creamy pampas. I have a very large miscanthus that I will relocate and divide in winter and a few other different grasses we have gathered up over the years but never found a suitable spot for. In using some of our native grasses and the Australian lomandra, there is an immediate difference to what we have looked at overseas. For our grasses are evergreen and theirs are generally deciduous. That is a big difference. Deciduous grasses give a fresh new look every spring whereas evergreen grasses hold their dead leaves so they don’t look as pristine but they are present all year round.

Aurelian lilies in abundance here

Aurelian lilies in abundance here

In terms of flowers, it will be a restrained palette. Mark has raised a lot of Aurelian lilies (clear, bright yellows and few in orange) that flower in early January and are desperate for a forever home in the garden. They will be number one, planted in groups of five. I have no idea how many there are out in his vegetable garden waiting to be lifted – maybe 80 flowering sized bulbs or so?

Crocosmia - from left: the roadside weed known as montbretia which is way to invasive to introduce to the garden, a spectacular large orange form that unfortunately does not increase quickly at all, yellow and orange forms and red 'Lucifer' for the new garden

Crocosmia – from left: the roadside weed known as montbretia which is way too invasive to introduce to the garden, a spectacular large orange form that unfortunately does not increase quickly at all, yellow and orange forms and red ‘Lucifer’ for the new garden

For mid summer, the crocosmias can add spots of colour and I may use the pure red and pure yellow tigridias too. We have a giant, autumn flowering yellow salvia that towers over 2 metres high so needs big space. I think that will fit in. Self-seeding, towering fennel (I like fennel flower and seed heads), a tall, creamy yellow alstromeria and that might be it for the initial plantings. The grasses are to be the prime focus in this new area.

Fennel, seen as a roadside weed here but I think it will fit well in the grass garden

Fennel, seen as a roadside weed here but I think it will fit well in the grass garden

Being gardeners, not designers, we are working from gut instinct and experience, not a formal plan. We are debating about whether to turn it into a gravel garden by using fine gravel as both mulch and path surface but that is a bit further down the track. We happen to have a small mountain, almost a mountain range, even, of fine gravel that would be suitable if we decide that is a good idea.

It is not instant gardening. Because it is dependent on plants, not hard landscape features, it will take time to fill in and mature. But that is in the nature of long term gardening – gradual evolution rather than instant gratification.

And a weedy carex - at least we think it is a carex, that we are hand digging to remove from both the new garden and the park. Decorative seed heads but way too badly behaved and invasive

And a weedy carex – at least we think it is a carex, that we are hand digging to remove from both the new garden and the park. Decorative seed heads but way too badly behaved and invasive

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, 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.



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.


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.

A melon mystery solved at the Otara markets

We are big melon fans here, though keener on rock melons than water melons. Every summer, Mark goes to a great deal of effort to grow melons and it is either feast or famine – a complete glut of rock melons or next to none – because they need a lot of summer heat to develop and then sweeten before the autumn rains and cooler night temperatures.  But the melons which are often included as part of airline meals on long haul flights were, both of us thought, a terrible disappointment, being served unripe. Not so!

Clockwise from the centre top, bought as honeydew, Galia, rock and Twist melons

Clockwise from the centre top, bought as honeydew, Galia, rock and Twist melons

At the Otara markets, I found a stand of melons which seemed a snip at a dollar each. I had never seen Galia and Twist melons before. The vendor explained to me that that these were firm fleshed variants on the rock and honey dew melons and he specifically mentioned the supply for airline meals. The Galia is a crisp version of the honeydew (green fleshed) while the Twist melon is the crisp version of the standard orange-fleshed rock melon. Crisp melons are varietal, quite possibly bred and selected specifically for markets where soft-textured melons are not easy to handle. So now you know.

img_3788The Otara Markets in South Auckland are held each Saturday morning. Because I come from rural New Zealand, I find the mix of cultures, different styles and colour fascinating. We don’t see much of this in Taranaki and New Plymouth. We also pay a great deal more for our fruit and vegetables and have a way more limited range from which to choose.

Selling quick-maturing Asian greens from the carpark Selling quick maturing Asian greens from the carpark. 

img_3792Preaching with a loud sound system but no visible congregation or audience.

A spot of faith healing going on beside the carpark, A spot of faith healing being carried out beside the carpark.

Colourful korowai - traditional Maori cloaks - made with dyed feathers
Colourful korowai – traditional Maori cloaks – made with dyed feathers

img_3796There is something so visually appealing about piles of fresh garden vegetables being sold on market stalls.




Garden lore: don’t do this at home

img_3822Well lookee here. When I was submitting three new articles a week to the Waikato Times – that was in the days before syndicated features and the resulting copy that became the newspaper equivalent of elevator muzak – I used to be on constant alert for subject matter. Old habits die hard and I reached for my camera to bring you this example of what not to do, photographed on a street in Auckland’s upmarket Mount Eden.

Don’t. Just don’t do this at home. The homeowner is disposing of lawn clippings by building a small grass mountain around the street tree on the road verge outside. It is not good for the tree and may even kill it over time. Building that mound can cause a condition called ‘collar rot’ – opening up the tree to fungi that attack the bark around the base of the tree. Bark needs to breathe, not be suffocated. Grass heaps also heat up as they start to decompose and that heat is bad for the tree, potentially killing the bark. Then the grass compacts down to an anaerobic sludge which can suffocate the surface roots. All this just so the homeowner doesn’t have to put their grass clippings out in the green waste or to find ways to compost it on his or her own property? Tidiness is not everything in the world of gardening and nature.

The story of Theo’s ‘nake


I was cleaning the dead wood and needles out of Pinus sylvestris ‘Beuvronensis’ and decided that Theo’s ‘nake could be moved to the back shed instead of lying coiled, menacingly, within this tree as it has for maybe two decades. It is still in very good condition, this rubber snake. I say “coiled menacingly” because it looks remarkably realistic as long as one doesn’t inspect too closely and spot the lichen encrustations.

Overseas readers may not be aware that we are one of few locations in the world without snakes. Not even in zoos do we have snakes, so keen are we to preserve our snake-free status. As a result, we probably have more of a morbid interest and fear of snakes than most people and it amused us over the years to have this rubber specimen discreetly perched in the branches, though not without a recoil and a shudder. I have never forgotten reading ‘The Poisonwood Bible’ by Barbara Kingsolver with the green tree snakes which, from memory, killed one of the children of the obsessed missionary to the Congo.  In my mind’s eye, Theo’s ‘nake is intertwined with those fearsome creatures.

Why is it Theo’s ‘nake? When our children were young, Mark used to combine speaking engagements with family holiday trips. I had a rule that the children were only to be subjected to one garden, nursery or plant shop a day. At most. While interesting for us, such places are not necessarily riveting for young children. But California Garden Centre in Wellington in the early 1990s was a hit. Back then, its founder, Keith Lowe, was still actively involved. Keith is well known in the garden centre scene of New Zealand and in bonsai circles and I am sure that anybody who has met him will nod in agreement when I say he is one of life’s special people. He was the first mainstream retailer to turn up to visit when Mark was starting to expand the nursery from its mailorder origins to wholesale and he remained one of our most loyal customers. Not only did he take an interest in us, that extended to our children. When we visited his garden centre – I think it was the first to move into having an expansive gift shop alongside – he was extremely generous. So generous in fact, that I had to quietly ask Theo, our youngest and still a pre-schooler, to stop admiring anything because Keith insisted on giving him any object of admiration.

img_3739That is how the snake entered our family. Theo admired it. He was still too little to pronounce his s’ss (or should that be esses, or maybe ‘isses?) and he always referred to it as “my ‘nake”. He had a great deal of fun with it for several years. Yes, you can harass New Zealand cats with fake snakes and even adults instinctively flinch when a snake’s head looms close. When he grew out of it, we relocated it to the Pinus ‘Beuvronensis’. I think it may be time to move it to the back shed and produce it with a flourish should our son, now in his late twenties, ever have offspring.

It may be our recent trip to Canberra (snake territory… shudder) that made me more squeamish than usual about a rubber snake. There was also a news item last week that California Garden Centre has been sold – to none other than film-maker Peter Jackson. I think it unlikely that Jackson intends to continue running it as a garden centre but none of our family will forget Keith Lowe.

Postscript: I mentioned cleaning out the debris from Pinus sylvestris ‘Beuvronensis’. We have assorted aged, dwarf conifers and I try and do a clean-up once a year. They look a great deal better if I dislodge all the debris that catches within their tight branch formations and I like to think it keeps them in better health.

Plant collector: Schizophragma hydrangeoides pink and white

schizo-1Yes, Schizophragma hydrangeoides  looks like a climbing hydrangea but it is not the common climber which is Hydrangea petiolaris. This one comes from Japan and we prefer it to the usual form despite its difficult name. It is a close relative and a member of the same family but one step further back on the plant hierarchy from species to genus to family. Planted side by side, the schizophragma (pronounced skitsofragma or shyzofragma, whichever you prefer) is more floriferous and has significantly larger flower heads which seem to dance on the vine. This may be because its larger, winged petals (technically bracts, not petals) are held singly whereas H. petiolaris has its smaller bracts grouped in four, like a little flower all on its own.  The schizophrama is self-clinging and relatively slow growing so it doesn’t take over and swamp neighbouring plants. It needs something to climb up, however. If left to ramble at ground level, it doesn’t seem to flower though it does layer its way along so you can get more plants from it by this strategy.

img_6642The pink form is even more unusual. This fact was often not appreciated in the days when we used to sell plants. I recall too many customers who were at best ABP – Anything But Pink, at worst IOBW – I Only Buy White (flowers). Such self-imposed rules can certainly limit appreciation.

Schizophragma are hardy and deciduous so, to all intents and purposes, they fill an identical niche to H. petiolaris. However, petiolaris seems to perform better overseas where it is more floriferous and even gives autumn colour. Talking to our friend and colleague, hydrangea expert Glyn Church, we agreed that it is likely that petiolaris prefers a colder winter than we have, whereas the schizophragmas are perfectly happy in our conditions. As with lacecap hydrangeas, the winged ‘petals’ or bracts are the showy part whereas the proper flowers are the small, less spectacular bits behind the bracts.

For the purpose of comparison - Hydrangea petiolaris

For the purpose of comparison – Hydrangea petiolaris