Tag Archives: Abbie Jury

For the love of umbellifers

I am having a love affair with umbelliferous plants. Poppies, daisies and umbellifers. It is the simplicity of form, I think, that appeals to me. And my favourite of these are the umbellifers for their ability to seemingly dance lightly in the space above other weightier plants.

There is a scarily technical, botanical description of what umbelliferous plants are on Wikipedia.  They are mostly herbs – annuals, biennials or perennial, often aromatic. Typically, they have long stems often with very light, feathery foliage (though not always) and the flower heads are held above in flattish or gently mounded formation of a collection of lacy umbels. The flowers are much valued for their contribution to the garden eco-system because they attract beneficial insects. Many set seed very freely and will provide a source of food for seed-eating birds in autumn and winter.

Orlaya with blue cynoglossum at the New Plymouth cemetery

Carrots are umbellifers, as are parsley, coriander, fennel and angelica, amongst many others. The common ornamental ones include the pretty Orlaya grandiflora in flower here now (it cuts well, I have just found, and combines prettily with pastel roses in a vase) and Ammi majus.

I first started noticing the use of umbellifers in English gardens back in 2009 and predicted then that they would become a fashion flower. I can report that they have maintained their popularity in England but have yet to become a hot ticket item in New Zealand, except for the orlaya and ammi.

As seen at RHS Wisley – my lily border does not have a water feature

My new long border of auratum lilies is destined to become my nod to a garden of white umbellifers. At this stage, I am still hoeing off germinating weeds to get it as weed-free as possible before I introduce plants which I expect to seed down season after season. I will use the pretty and wayward Orlaya grandiflora with coriander for the lower growing layer, Ammi majus and maybe  carrot for the middle height and I am still debating about the tallest layer.  Will angelica be too strong a grower, I wonder? The edible angelica. I don’t want plants that will choke out the auratum lilies that are the main stars of the border.

What is referred to as ‘cow parsley’ (botanically Anthriscus sylvestris) is a common wildflower in the UK, often seen on roadsides. So too is Queen Anne’s Lace or Daucus carota, commonly referred to as wild carrot (the version we grow to eat is a form of the same thing – D. carota ssp sativus). The one to fear that comes with frankly alarming warnings is the giant hogweed – Heracleum mantegazzianum. It is a common garden escape in the UK and is apparently in New Zealand though I can’t say I have ever seen it here. The problem lies in the sap which can harm the skin by making it extremely sensitive to sunlight, causing blistering, for long periods after contact – stretching out to years, even. Don’t be tempted by giant hogweed.

Pimpinella major ‘Rosea’ at Beth Chatto’s garden where I thought to photograph the plant label as well as the pretty, airy, dancing pink flower heads

Not all umbellifers are white. Despite it being a roadside weed where we live, I have planted some wild fennel in my new summer borders. I love the way it is so tall and graceful, silhouetted against the summer sky.

Purple flowers from purple carrots at Parham House

We were very taken by the purple carrot flowers we saw in the cutting gardens at Parham House. So taken with it that I looked it up. The heritage purple carrots that have been reintroduced to the seed range (carrots did not start off orange) are the ones that produce the purple flowers.

Angelica gigas – as popular with wasps as bees

Angelica gigas is another purple flowered umbellifer, in this case a biennial which bees adore.

I have just planted a single plant of the yellow achillea, photographed here at Parham House

I had thought, based on flower form and habit, that achilleas were members of the umbellifer family. Botanically, they are not (as far as I can see) but in practical terms, they fulfil a similar garden role. Now that I have a hot, sunny, newly cultivated area, I am trying again with coloured achillea. I find them charming but they are not plants to co-exist in borders where they get overshadowed or lose all day sun.

Common fennel can look wonderful against the summer and autumn skies

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Plant Collector: Jade Cascade

Meet ‘Jade Cascade’. It has an appealing name though, to be honest, there is nothing jade about it. It really is a plain, somewhat dull green though it has attractive long ribs running the length of the leaf. It does at least cascade, or maybe it fountains, from its central point. And it is simply a terrific and eye-catching performer in the garden.

When we used to grow hostas commercially, we had maybe 40 different varieties in production. ‘Jade Cascade’ was over-shadowed by the showier members of its family and it did not sell well. Most customers did not want to buy a plain green hosta. No, they wanted the big, showy, variegated ones and the new releases. I would counsel that it is the plainer hostas that show the fancy ones off to better advantage and that planting a whole mass of striking variegated ones looks a mishmash. My wisdom was not totally ignored – customers would buy the solid coloured gold or blue ones but green varieties? Rarely.

When we went out of production, I planted many of them out in the garden and that is a very interesting exercise. Some, like ‘Jade Cascade’, have romped away and gone from strength to strength. But not that many. Of the newer varieties we had in the nursery, many have just quietly languished, doing very little. The greatest disappointment of all was ‘Great Expectations’. Aptly named, Mark says. We had great expectations of this showy, variegated variety though we had decided it was too slow to be commercially viable for us, even in optimal nursery conditions. It became Unfulfilled Expectations before transitioning to Disappointed Acceptance. Despite being given optimal conditions (well cultivated soil, plenty of compost and humus, little direct competition, summer moisture and semi shade), the plants have languished. They are still there after many years but have failed to do anything of note, let alone increase and thrive.

Pot culture in nursery conditions is one thing. Hostas are a really easy nursery crop to get looking large, lush and enticing given the controlled conditions of a production nursery. We came to the conclusion that in the quest for the new and the novelty, hosta sports were being separated off and trialled but only in nursery conditions. Garden performance is very different. We have seen the same thing with hellebores and have even bought some which looked simply terrific in the garden centre but failed to replicate that performance once put into garden conditions. Consumers can’t generally tell whether the plants they are looking at in a garden centre have been rigorously trialled so it becomes a case of win some, lose some. Were we ever to go back into business, I think I would sort out a range of tried and true performers.

‘Jade Cascade’ would earn a place close to the top of such a list. Plain green it may be, but it has a most graceful form, good slug and snail resistance and a robust disposition. In its quiet little way, I find it draws my eye every time I walk past the area where it is growing. That is a good plant.

Jade Cascade now occupies a similar amount of garden space to the established vireya rhododendron behind it

The modest tea harvest

Camellia sinensis, the tea camellia, flowering at the end of March

With just one sizeable bush of the tea camellia, C. sinensis, the harvest was never going to be huge but after fiddly-faddling with a few minor efforts in recent years, I was determined to get as much as I could this year. I now have considerable respect for the tea-pickers of Sri Lanka and India but I assume one gets faster with practice. Mark tells me he has another three plants ready to be put out into the garden so we should, with more attention, be able to increase the harvest, though we are unlikely to achieve self sufficiency.

The first, small pick of tender tea tips

Harvesting is picking just the top two or sometimes three leaves from each growing tip, just as they are unfurling and still very soft and young.

The tea bag has a lot to answer for in terms of reducing the drinking of tea to the most convenient but mundane and utility level of activity. Where is the romance? Let alone the quality? Even worse are the gourmet tea bags which appear to be packaged in individual nylon bags and are therefore non-biodegradable, whatever the packet says. As our lives have become more leisured here at Tikorangi, we reinstated the old ways of making good loose-leaf tea in a teapot for the afternoon cup. Sometimes I bring T2 loose leaf tea back with me from Australia but we also have a New Zealand mailorder supplier at Tea Total and I have come to conclusion I prefer their teas. It is not as cheap as supermarket tea but for the afternoon ritual, we think the better quality and flavour is worth every cent.

Spreading on a flat tray to lightly oxidise and dry

My home-grown tea is free. Because we like aromatic teas, I have flavoured three batches differently. The first is lemon scented – I added some of the young leaves of the lemon myrtle – Backhousia citriodora. The second batch I dried with orange blossom (proper orange, not the mock orange philadelphus) and a few fine peelings of the outer rind of an orange and rose petals. The third was lime (lime blossoms and few young leaves) with mint and rose petals.

The yield from a tray is not large once it has dried – but fresh and aromatic

We tried making straight green tea in the past, first from fresh leaves straight into the pot and the then with leaves just wilted and left overnight. The taste was perhaps just a little too subtle for our palates. Now I do a process somewhere between green and black tea – bruising the leaves and leaving them covered overnight (which starts the oxidation process). Then I sun dry them on flat tray – which can take from one to three days, depending on the strength of the sun. And voila! Fresh tea ready for the pot. With no packaging and no carbon footprint.

In answer to the question as to whether there are different camellias for different teas, I quote Wikipedia: “Camellia sinensis and its subspecies, Camellia sinensis var. assamica, are two major varieties grown today. White tea, yellow tea, green tea, oolong, pu-erh tea and black tea are all harvested from one or the other, but are processed differently to attain varying levels of oxidation.” There are different selections of the species and some will have different characteristics, but the vast majority of tea sold in the world is indeed from Camellia sinensis.

Our form of sinensis is pink flowered which is unusual. But I think I strategically placed additional flowers to make this photo showier than it is in real life.

Dudley and the new season’s avocado crop

Behold our handsome Dudley. Or Dudders, to give him his cricketing name. I wrote about Dudley’s penchant for self-serve avocados two years ago in The Avocado Thief.

Last year the avocado pickings were very lean, bordering on non-existent, really. This year, we have a terrific crop of Fuerte avocados coming in right now and there is nothing wrong with Dudley’s memory. In the centre of a large area which we are developing into a new garden, I found his stash this morning. At this point the revolting lambs’ tails retrieved from the neighbours just across the fence outnumber the avocado stones but Dudley is working on that. Apparently he has designated this area as his outdoor dining space – not to be confused with his breakfast nook by the house where he receives his morning rations.

The evidence! Left: his stash of ageing lambs’ tails adjacent to his avocado stones on the right

Sometimes I read that one should not feed avocado to dogs as it is allegedly toxic. Dudley is a dog of many talents but he has failed to read these warnings and he has never shown any ill effects from an excess of avocado. The same cannot be said for an excess of lambs’ tails which can, at times, clog up in his gut though this does not appear to deter him for long. An excess of avocado flesh merely gives him a glossy coat. This was a townie dog that has adapted rather too well to life in the country.

Dudley’s outdoor dining area is in the middle of an area under development – loosely referred to here as the court garden because it currently resembles a tennis court in dimensions. The two year plan is for a wildflower garden. 

Plant Collector: Malus ioensis ‘Plena’ – (Betchel Crabapple)

My first sighting of a juvenile plant in a Taranaki garden last spring

When I first spotted this pretty, young tree in a local garden last spring, I could not identify it but it sure was a charming sight. In Canberra a couple of weeks ago, there were SO MANY of these trees in bloom that I felt I had to track down a name. It is a flowering crabapple, a malus. The nurseries that supply Canberra are clearly making a killing on producing this cultivar (along with the pretty dogwoods). It is being used widely as a street tree on suburban road verges, it was strongly represented in the gardens at Parliament House that we visited and was featured in many, many (many) gardens.

It is a pretty blossom tree though it does flower as its fresh foliage has broken dormancy, so the display is not on bare branches. Crab apples fit a similar niche to flowering cherries (prunus), though many varieties will flower a little later. Unfortunately, with ‘Plena’, you don’t get the bonus of coloured crab apples later in the season, although it can be used as a pollinator for the fruiting varieties.

Malus ioensis ‘Plena’ , not a prunus as I initially assumed

I have not looked closely at the plants in New Zealand to see if they are cutting grown or grafted. The Canberra plants were grafted, usually onto a rootstock that had an attractive, smooth pale grey bark. The problem with the plants in the Parliament House gardens (no photos allowed so I can’t show you), is that the lower grey bark of the root stock for the first metre or so was not particularly compatible with the graft so the union – where the grafted variety meets the rootstock – was already a bit lumpy and not attractive. They were not as bad as the linden shown here, but neither were the plants mature so they may well get worse. If you like your trees to last the distance over many years, just be cautious about buying plants that have been grafted as standards well above ground level. The closer the graft is to the ground, the less obvious any incompatibility will be.

It is a very pretty tree and one I expect we will see become as popular in this country as in Canberra.

A very pretty and presumably well behaved street tree in Canberra

 

 

 

Plant Collector: the good and the bad of nandina

There are not many plants that I actively dislike but the dwarf, coloured nandina is one. You can tell I do not care for it because I gave no loving attention at all to taking this photograph of a plant on a random street frontage in town. Yet this plant is everywhere. One of those bullet-proof, easy-care plants which is alleged to have ‘year-round interest’ with its coloured foliage so a perfect fit for non gardeners who merely want plants to act as low or no-maintenance soft furnishings in the garden.

The taller version – Nandina domestica ‘Richmond’ seen here – has sufficient aesthetic merit to justify a place in the garden

Mark was as surprised as I was when I told him I had looked it up and there is only one species of nandina and that this boring little coloured mound which is rarely above knee height is the same species as the far more graceful and attractive Nandina domestica ‘Richmond’ that we grow. I can only assume that the common name of heavenly bamboo was initially applied to the more graceful, taller type of selections like ‘Richmond’. I guess, at a pinch, one could claim it has a bamboo look to it, though probably only to those who have never actually looked at the real thing. It is actually a member of the beriberidaceae family (think berberis). Apparently nandinas only berry in warmer climates and ‘Richmond’ is self-fertile so will berry without needing the pollinator that most others do. It is worth growing – easy, reliable and low maintenance yet with a grace and elegance to it, as well as seasonal interest with its berries.

The institutional look of utilitarianism

The dwarf forms lack all of these more desirable attributes except utilitarianism. The more you have, the more utilitarian your garden will look. I have photos of a private garden which has planted a score or more of them but it is too easy to identify the place from my photos and I do not want to upset the owners.  I can, however, offer you this photo of it being used in a public garden. It will not look much different in your garden at home. But it will be easy-care.

The dwarf forms seem to be available under a whole bunch of different cultivar names with some variation in leaf tones and berrying capacity. You can tell it will be a dwarf form by the descriptions of it as clumping, compact or dwarf with projected heights of 60 to 75cm. The red berries, if you get a berrying variety, will never be as showy on a 60cm mound with coloured leaves as they are on their taller sibling with its green leaves and the panicles of berries displayed prominently at eye level or above.

In the interests of disclosure, I will admit that we have one of the dwarf nandina in our garden, though not in a prominent position. Its days are numbered. Probably in single digits since I worked out how much I actively dislike it.

Togs, togs, togs. Undies! A post that is not about gardening.

When I headed across the Tasman two weeks ago, I anticipated a couple of extra degrees of warmth – so late spring rather than our changeable mid-spring. I was wrong. Summer seemed to have arrived already in both Sydney and Canberra and I did not pack sufficient summer clothes. However, it was not yet summery enough to make me think of swimming.

Sydney daughter lives on the fringe of wealthy but staid Bellevue Hill, where it meets the uber-trendiness of turmeric latte Bondi. It could not be more different to Tikorangi and our local town of Waitara so I always find plenty to look at while out walking and I usually carry my camera. However, when confronted by three confident young men wearing only the briefest of swim attire and striding along some distance from the beach, whipping out my camera was truly the last thing I thought of. I was almost flustered by this brazen display of masculinity.

Australia continues to embrace the briefest of brief swim attire for men, usually referred to as budgie smugglers. For recreational wear, New Zealand men long ago moved to the more modest baggy attire of surf shorts. I am fairly sure that only competitive swimmers and the occasional embarrassing older dad wear such brief togs in NZ these days. But then I do not think we have ever had an onion-munching prime minister who took some pride in being photographed publicly in these budgie smuggler togs. If you google Tony Abbott, you will find plenty of evidence and if you are not Australian, it is near incomprehensible.

I was relaying my surprise to my daughter and she found me this You Tube clip. I laughed and laughed.

It is simple, if you can’t see the sea, you are wearing underpants. Or if you are more than 300m from the water’s edge, you have entered the underpants transformation zone. These young gentlemen were certainly wearing revealing undies, in that case.

And even being a buff, gym-fit, Bellevue Hill, private school educated, stockbroker type of young man does not make wearing undies in public acceptable attire