Tag Archives: Abbie Jury

Knitted smallgoods!

Away from gardening for this post. Our local town of Waitara never fails to surprise me. Over the last four decades or so, Waitara has suffered the fate of many small towns with a decline in retail outlets. Most of the main street retailers seem to be either takeaway food outlets or charity shops now with a fair representation of empty premises. So it was that  I had failed to notice the window display in the disused butcher’s shop. Knitted meats!

Red saveloys, larger brown salamis and strings of sausages – pink for uncooked, appropriately beige for pre-cooked barbecue ones

I may have laughed out loud. Here is whimsical folk art on the main street. The windows were pretty dirty and the light conditions were less than ideal, but I offer the best of my photos for your amusement. I think it was the strings of sausages (both raw and precooked and labelled as such), saveloys and salamis that amused me most.

Others may be more impressed by the mince. Or maybe the bacon or chops. All presented on clear plastic trays and covered in cling film as the real produce usually is. It all just seemed like an idea off the square to fill an empty display window but with a debt to historical context. Waitara grew to be more than just a coastal cluster of houses because it had a huge freezing works (meat killing and processing plant). First started in 1881, the permanent closure of the works in 1997 dealt a body blow to the town which took well over a decade to recover from the shock and disruption.

The window on the other side of the locked door contains an eclectic mix of seaside accoutrements plus penguins. A knitted diorama, no less. This may appeal more to children but it was the unexpected cultural and historical context of the knitted meats that took my fancy.

 

 

Tikorangi Notes: a folk art garden, bearded irises, macadamia nuts and a bit of advice

Pat and Brian’s garden 

Either Pat or Brian – or both – like a bit of symmetry in places

I called in to see a local friend and as we walked around her garden, I figured that what she creates is a form of folk art. Hers is a heavily ornamented and decorated garden and regular readers will know that this is not my style at all. But I find Pat’s creative instincts charming in context. Many of her garden pieces have a story to them and they all have meaning for her. She doesn’t just buy something and place it in the garden. She repurposes, restyles and recycles items that others would dump and they bring both her and her husband a great deal of pleasure.

Rusty old cream cans repurposed to grow air plants 

Washing machine bowls reused as strawberry planters

Pat does not know the names of any of her plants and she has no botanical curiosity. But, and it is a big but, she has an eye for good plants and she has always been willing to buy plants that take her fancy. While she may not know the names, there are some interesting plants and a wide variety within her garden.

Above all, I think I like her garden because there is personal joy in it for both her and Brian. It is not a show garden but they keep it very tidy indeed because that is how they like it. I have been into a few gardens in my time that I would describe as joyless places, done for show and admiration from others, but more like a chore for the owners than a source of personal delight. Give me Pat’s folk art instead any day.

My blue-purple bearded irises are all in bloom. We are not bearded iris territory – they are better in drier climates with hotter summers than we get – and it is not easy for me to find good places for them. I was given a number of excellent named varieties several years ago but I see I only have one variety left and I have lost the name of it. It has a large flower and is very pretty, arguably much more so than the smaller flowered, robust one that forms most of my patch. But that is looking at the blooms as specimen flowers. Grown as a bed of several square metres, the plain Jane, utility variety is a way better performer. The big powder blue needs staking or it starts to lean and then the blooms get damaged very quickly. There is a lesson there if you are buying bearded irises. If you want to grow them as single specimens and are willing to stake and support them, then go for the big flowers if that is what appeals to you. If you want to do a bed of pretty colour, choose smaller flowered varieties that can stand up straight on their own.

Decorative pink racemes of macadamia flowers. The white flowered forms we have are nowhere near as eyecatching. 

Our macadamia trees are flowering and the nuts are dropping. There are reasons why these nuts are expensive to buy and it is to do with the cracking of them, I am sure. Astonishingly, the rats can bore into the rock-hard shells but it takes careful positioning and a sharp hammer blow for humans. We have tried a range of different macadamia nut crackers but they are tedious to use when you have to load the nuts one at a time and then separate them from their shells.

A simple mat but a gamechanger when it comes to cracking macadamia nuts

I love social media. It makes my world larger, as I say. It was Twitter that delivered me a recommendation last week that is a game-changer when it comes to cracking macadamia nuts. Get one of the doormats with round holes in it, was the advice. We just happen to have what I assume is calf matting that serves the same purpose – holding the nuts in place so they don’t skitter away or worse – fly into windows and break them (this has happened before). Now, we can crack up to 100 nuts at a time and have them stay in place. True, it takes 100 hammer blows to crack 100 nuts but then lift the mat, remove the kernels and sweep away the shells and Bob’s your uncle. I am picking up the falling macadamia nuts with a great deal more enthusiasm.

Finally, two pieces of seasonal advice. In New Zealand, the weeding round right now (that you may or may not be doing but we certainly are) is arguably the most important one of the year. The weeds are romping away but not many are setting seed yet. If you can get them out now – right now – you will reduce future weeding. And get mulch onto any bare soil before it really starts to dry out. That will also contribute in a major way to stopping more weeds from germinating.

We don’t clip many plants but this little camellia collection makes a focal point at our entry

If you are pruning or clipping, keep a close eye out for birds’ nests. Our feathered friends go to a huge amount of trouble building nests and while I may moan about the sparrows and blackbirds, there is something very sad about committing the ornithological equivalent of infanticide. We are currently doing the annual clip and shape on the camellias and michelias that we like to keep as defined forms. Hedges were done last month.

Mine No Yuki received her annual trim this week

Plants that disappoint

Four years ago

Four years ago, I wrote of this roadside shelter belt:

“Finally, coming home, I stopped to record the effective trimming of this Cupressus x Leylandii down the road. It was just an ordinary shelter belt until the lower canopy was recently lifted, exposing the trunks. The fact the branches have been trimmed reasonably flush helps but it adds a whole new dimension, being able to look through. It has turned an unmemorable shelter belt into something much more graceful and distinctive.”

And today. Cypress canker.

Sadly, it did not stay that way. Now it is a prime example of canker, a common problem in cypress and why the quick growing Leylandii has fallen from favour.  Canker is a fungus (two forms of seridium, in NZ at least), incurable and untreatable. It may or not be related to the limbing up carried out earlier, but it is all a bit academic now. Taking out the dying hedge is going to be a major operation for the property owner at some stage in the future.

Cypress canker

Some cupressus species and named varieties are much more susceptible than others and if you are thinking of planting any, it would pay to do an online search. There is a handy reference here from Agriculture Victoria. The names many of us know like ‘Leighton Green’, ‘Castwellan Gold’, ‘Naylors Blue’ and ‘Swanes Golden’ are all particularly susceptible. Best not to plant them in the first place, would be my advice. The cost of removal is going to be hugely greater than the cost of initial purchase.

The sparrows are stripping the flower stems bare as they open

While on disappointing plants, it is the pesky sparrows that are making me think there is no point in growing Stipa gigantea. I have used it quite extensively in the new grass garden and I will give it another year to see if sheer quantity can defeat the sparrow population. But the signs are not looking good and I may have to replace it with something else. The flower spikes are barely forming before being stripped by sparrows and bare stalks don’t do a whole lot for the garden aesthetic.

This is how I envisaged my Stipa gigantea would look

The whole point of Stipa gigantea is the gentle waving flower and seedhead which is very tall and golden – hence its common name of golden oats or giant feather grass. It appears to be compulsory in every modern British garden which is where we first saw it. And my friend Robyn Kilty praises its virtues in her little garden in Christchurch. It is a tidy grass with attractive glaucous foliage, easy to multiply by division and appears to be sterile so doesn’t set seed like many of the grasses.

I will be disappointed if I don’t get my sea of ethereal, waving golden orbs. I blame the early settlers. Could they not have left the sparrows (and blackbirds, many common slugs and snails, rabbits, ferrets, stoats and a host of other bothersome introductions) back in Old Blighty?

Look at the stipa in the background. I wanted that height and gentle movement

Postscript: while on disappointing plants, my Stachys Bella Grigio died completely. As predicted by a number of people who had a similar experience with this new release a few years back.

Planting a perennial meadow

My current project is planting a perennial meadow. Not a wildflower meadow. Much and all as we find annuals like soldier poppies, blue cornflowers and cosmos hugely charming, they are not wildflowers to New Zealand and basically that is gardening with annuals, freshly sowing seed each season. That is not the way we garden.

After six years, the area ‘down below’, as Felix Jury used to call it, is now more meadow than park.

We have turned the park area into what I would call an enhanced meadow, allowing the paddock grasses and self-introductions to grow (the buttercups and daisies currently in flower are very pretty!) and enhancing it by adding other plants like Higo, Louisiana and Siberian irises, primulas, bluebells, narcissi, snowdrops and even trilliums grown amongst the grass.

The area to the right is called the Iolanthe garden, due to the presence of the original plant of Magnolia Iolanthe

I want a summer flowering meadow and for us, that means strong perennials. The Iolanthe garden offered around 600 square metres of chaotic and weedy space. It was the old vegetable garden until the original and splendid plant of Magnolia ‘Iolanthe’ grew so large that it cast too much summer shade. It then became a mishmash, deteriorating to a neglected wilderness beloved by butterflies and bees but not so much by humans. Mark has used it over the years as a trial ground for perennials where it really does sort out the survivors. In a garden the size of ours, buying a 10cm potted perennial and putting it straight into the garden is likely to mean that the poor wee thing will get ignored until it is either dead or romping away and out of control. We need to grow on these plants to trial them in our conditions, to assess their performance and to watch for weed potential as well as building them up to get sufficient numbers to make a statement when planted into the main gardens. But once planted out in the Iolanthe garden, they were never loved or nurtured.

At its best, Mark’s mishmash could look like this but never all of it at the same time and never for very long

The area contains a number of permanent plants and relics from past usage. There are so many citrus trees that it should eventually become a citrus grove but that will take a couple of decades. There is a grove of Daphne bholua at one end, a stand of sugar cane at the other, some mighty big inulas, far too many bluebells and annual forget-me-nots, though they look charming at the moment with the abundant parsley, the one surviving rhubarb plant, way too many self-sown hellebores, my green tea camellias, feijoas, self-sown yams and potatoes and a whole lot more, especially weeds. How to knit all this together into one semi-coherent vision? A casual meadow of perennials is my answer.

It is a big job. The soil, being ex-vegetable garden, is friable and easy to dig and there is a fair amount of perennial material there to lift and divide to get me started. But working amongst existing plants, especially permanent trees and shrubs, is much harder than starting with a blank slate. And the weed issue is major.

I often say that meadow management has a lot to do with your tolerance level for weeds. I know that we may not be able to keep this meadow as free of weeds as we expect to keep the more controlled herbaceous plantings, but I am trying to reduce their impact from the start. I hand weed to clear each area (easier on a sunny day now that we have sufficient heat in the sun to wilt the young weeds quickly so that they will not just grow again) and remove them. I am then planting perennials in random blocks but considered combinations. So, in one block I have put in a yellow variegated agapanthus with a deciduous yellow day lily (hemerocallis) and bluebells. I have just done a block with sedums (flower colour unknown at this stage) with blue perennial lobelia and seed of the white lychnis . Nerine bowdeni has been teamed with the dark pink Japanese anemone, deep burgundy eucomis with yellow crocosmia, Stipa gigantea with pink alstromeria and so on and so forth. All blending on the edges. Then I mulch heavily with the leaf mulch we bought in from the arborist.

A work in progress. It won’t look like a meadow until the plants knit together and the mulch is hidden

Fortunately our weed problems are all annual weeds. There are neither oxalis nor creeping weeds so if I stay vigilant this spring and take the ones that succeed in germinating and getting through the mulch, I am hoping the plants will spread sufficiently to knit together and form a barrier to shade out the weed seeds still in the soil.

That is the plan. I shall report on progress. My mental image is of a sea of flowers from spring to autumn, alive with butterflies and bees. Allowing some annuals and biennials to seed through and the use of assorted bulbs will blur the lines between the different blocks of plants, making it more meadow than perennial garden.  The budget for this newest area is zero dollars. I am simply working with material we already have here. When I think about it, this probably means there will be a lot of pink because that is the one colour I have not used in the other perennial gardens so the leftover plant options I am now using will be dominated by shades of pink.

The caterpillar garden – all blue, white and some purple, taller growing in the centre enclosures and low growing in the outer bays. Photo taken today in early spring. 

The perennial meadow will complete the sequence of summer gardens where we have put the focus on perennials and grasses. Starting from one side, we have the caterpillar garden which looks as if it will hit its stride this year.

The lily border – basically all OTT pink, red and white auratums but I am working on getting some white umbelliferous plants seeding down to extend the flowering. Photo taken last summer. 

The grass garden – mostly tall grassy plants with just the addition of pale apricot and white foxgloves, big salvias, yellow Verbascum creticum and a few other flowers. Photo taken today.

Next the lily border, then the big new grass garden (just coming into growth now after being planted six or eight weeks ago). Then the twin herbaceous borders and finally the perennial meadow – looser, multi coloured and much more casual.

The twin borders have every colour but little white and no pale or mid pink because we are after the brights. Photo taken last summer.

Each garden has been planned to have a different feel to it and, critically, there is little overlap of plants. My aim has been a different plant palette for each area. A few, like Verbena bonariensis and Orlaya grandiflora) are spreading themselves and the foxgloves will, too (no common pink ones allowed!). There are just a few other plants that I have used in two of the gardens but the vast majority of plants are used in one area only. I have never subscribed to that old rule of repeating plants ‘to achieve continuity’ because too often it just makes everything look the same. Also, this is not a place for treasures and special plants. These are bold, showy and vigorous plantings. The treasures belong in the more detailed rockery and woodland areas.

Roll on summer. Though, to be realistic, we should hit peak summer garden next year, not this summer. But at least we will get an indication this December through to April of how it will all come together.

 

 

 

The bamboo harvest

Watching Meng gather bamboo shoots and strip them down on site, amongst our giant bamboo was an illuminating cultural experience at home.

We have dabbled with gathering them in the past, making the assumption – based on more common vegetables – that the younger, smaller shoots would be the most desirable and tender to eat, rejecting anything over 30cm. We carefully dug the shoots out and brought them up to the house to prepare.

Just the lattice tip is prepared for eating 

The husk was stripped off in situ and left to break down

Meng is a local resident now, but from north eastern China. She grew up harvesting bamboo shoots and she was not here to muck around. She rejected my small tender shoots – “too small” and selected only larger ones, most of which she kicked over with her boots. I tried kicking over with my gardening shoes and it is harder than it looks but Meng made light work of it. The tallest shoots she was harvesting were up to maybe a metre and she sliced off the top 30cm with a very sharp, heavy knife. She then stripped down the shoots, cutting off the hard, outer husks with a confident display of knife-work that would match any chef, leaving the offcuts to rot down in the bamboo grove. She was only after the tips where the inner lattice-work has developed. That, I assume, is why she rejected my small shoots – because the proportion of lattice at the tip is too small.

Meng brings these tips to the boil and leaves them steeping in the water overnight. Then she leaves them to dry and will either freeze them, dehydrate them or, I assume, use them fresh. Her partner tells me they are going to try pickling some too, which sounded interesting.

The steeping in water is important. In the past I have followed internet instructions and brought them to the boil in at least two changes of water which presumably achieves the same end. Raw bamboo shoots are bitter and contain some level of cyanide.

It is time I gathered my paltry few and prepared them for future use. Meng’s harvest is much larger than we require for our needs. I feel that serving up a meal of homemade tofu from homegrown soy beans with fresh bamboo shoots may be a pinnacle of virtue signalling. I admit that I do not find bamboo shoots particularly exciting as a taste treat but they add variety and texture.

Mostly, I was entranced by the sight of Meng in our bamboo grove carrying out an efficient harvest.

 

 

Tikorangi notes: Iceland poppies are not from Iceland, naturalising trilliums, bluebells and escaping root stock

I have never been a fan of Iceland poppies. They were the one flower I remember my mother buying  when I was a child – a bunch of stems still in bud. She would burn the stems and then put them in a vase where they would open to what seemed garish and unappealing flowers to me. Tastes change and in recent years, I have found my eyes drawn to mass displays of these simple blooms. This patch is on a traffic island which holds the very modest clock tower in my modest local town of Waitara and it makes me smile when I pass.

The Waitara clock tower in a traffic island 

Ironically, on the opposite corner was this stand of fake flowers outside a Gold Coin shop.

Iceland poppies do not come from Iceland. I finally checked and in fact they come from the chilly areas of Europe, Asia and North America – sub polar territory, so presumably alpine meadows.  In the wild, Papaver nudicaule  (nude because of its bare stem which makes it a good cut flower) are pretty much all white or pale yellow. The other colours are recessive genes which have been brought out by plant breeding – presumably line breeding which is selecting down the generations of individual plants to pick out the stronger colours until those coloured genes have come to the fore.

Puketarata Garden near Hawera

This is not a plant I have ever felt the need to grow myself but there is a simple appeal to a mass display. I remember being quite charmed by their use in the clipped buxus formation at Jen Horner’s garden, Puketarata, one spring. It is hard to beat the simplicity of a single poppy, or indeed a daisy flower.

This poor little white one survived being taken off at the base with the strimmer last spring

These trilliums represent a minor triumph in Mark’s experiments with plants he can establish in meadow situations. We have plenty of trilliums in our woodland gardens but establishing them in a cultivated garden is different to getting them to naturalise on his bulb hillside. When I say “naturalise”, I mean that they are now sufficiently well established to return each year, able to compete with the grass and uncultivated soil. They are not actually increasing yet but they are at least established.

Mark has raised more seed and has about 70 pots of them in flower in the old nursery area. He is disappointed that most of them have come up white and said that he wants the red ones for planting in the meadow and he asked that the pale yellow ones be kept together as a group in one area. For him, this is all part of blurring boundaries in gardening again. He really likes the idea of trilliums thriving in managed garden conditions and then, as the garden becomes looser and more informal further out, the same plants popping up as wild flowers. Especially when it is something as choice as trilliums. Maybe I could surprise him with the surplus Paris polyphylla making an appearance on the bulb hillside, too.

I photographed this small flowering growth on Prunus Pearly Shadows as an example of unwanted root stock shooting away, even on a very well-established tree. Many plants are budded or grafted onto other rootstock so that the desired cultivar can utilise the strength of strong growing root stock. Which is well and good when the rootstock is compatible and doesn’t escape. If you don’t cut off the root stock, it can overwhelm the grafted selection so it is best to see to it as soon as you spot it. How do I know it is rootstock? It is a single white; Pearly Shadow is a fluffy pink double and is not yet in flower.

Prunus Pearly Shadows

This particular tree is a splendid example of what is described as a ‘vase-shaped form’. It has not been shaped. It grows naturally in that upward Y shape. It is in our car park area and has so far attracted three reversing cars. I am not quite sure how people fail to see it in their rear vision mirrors.

It is peak bluebell time in the park and even if these can be weedy, the drifts of colour are very pretty. Bluebells should, in our opinion, be predominantly blue. But the addition of a few white or pink ones amongst the blue gives a contrasting accent of colour that can lift the blue. The pink is also a strong grower, the white less so. We don’t want bluebells everywhere so I am removing them from some areas of the garden they are attempting to infiltrate but we are happy to let them spread in our meadows.

The tale of Sir Francis Drake’s small balls

The Chinese box was allegedly a later addition

I would like to tell you the tale of Harry. He could equally have been called Tom or Dick, but I will preserve his anonymity by calling him Harry. He was a neighbour of ours in the rural sense, which means that he lived a few, but not too many, kilometres from us.

Harry was a retired farmer, confident of his position in the world. And he had a pendulum in which he placed absolute trust. My first encounter with him must have been December 23 or 24,  2007, when he called in to see if we had a fax machine. His pendulum had told him where the missing UK child, Madeleine McCann was. She was, he assured me, being held in a commune in the centre of Spain dressed as a boy, with her hair cut and dyed dark. He wanted to let the Spanish police know so they could get Madeleine home for Christmas. I thought he was cutting it a bit fine, really.

As we walked over to my office where the fax machine was, he whipped out his pendulum and *located* ten dead bodies deep beneath our driveway. Historical, I think. They were a long way down. He then proceeded to tell me how he knew that the war medals stolen earlier that year from Waiouru Army Museum had been taken across country to the Port of Napier and they were now in Berlin. His pendulum told him so. Events were soon to prove him wrong on this but I am sure his pendulum gave him an update to explain this later.

Because it was so close to Christmas, I was busy in the kitchen and I left him in my office with a friend who was staying, to assist in sending his fax to the Spanish police. They had some issues getting the fax to go through and when the phone bill arrived later, there were multiple calls to a Spanish number, costing about $15. To this day, I wonder what the Spanish police thought, getting repeated faxes and calls from Mark Jury Nursery in NZ in the middle of their night. He turned up the next day with a bottle of wine as a thank you but I knew that it was the cheapest bottle of wine at the Waitara New World supermarket, costing about $6.50.

We then went through a period when he became fascinated by Mark. He arrived one day, bearing a cracked and chipped old vase that he had seen in a shearing shed out the back of beyond and he bought for a dollar. It had a vaguely Spanish look to it but his pendulum had told him that an ancestor of Mark’s had carried that vase back on one of Christopher Columbus’s expeditions to South America. So deeply ingrained are middle class manners, that I conversed courteously with him on this topic, but I recall laughing later with Mark that he did not offer to gift this family artefact to us. After all, he had paid a dollar for it.

But wait, there is more. Next he turned up with another artefact he had found. His pendulum swinging over this item informed him that one of Mark’s ancestors had sailed with Sir Francis Drake. I mean, Columbus, Drake, not much difference, is there? I didn’t mention the previous Columbus visit. He assured me these were very small bowling balls, used by Drake to while away the shipboard hours. Reportedly, Drake was playing bowls onboard in the lead-up to his great victory over the Spanish Armada. Quite what role Mark’s ancestor played in this game of bowls with Sir Francis Drake, the pendulum failed to specify.

For the avoidance of doubt

Astonishingly, Harry gave us Drake’s small balls. ‘Somebody has put them in a Chinese box at some stage,’ he told me. For the avoidance of doubt, he had put a sticker on the bottom. ‘Drake 1590 1739’ the sticker reads. Bit of an oops there with the date, apparently, though we do not know whether it was the pendulum or Harry’s research that made the mistake.

I opened the Chinese box, quelling my excitement. I am sure you can visualise the scene.

The big reveal: Sir Francis Drake’s small bowling balls? Or Chinese chiming balls, maybe?

Reader, they are Chinese chiming balls that were all the fashion a few decades ago. The chimes still work. Maybe Taiwan 1970?

I feigned gratitude but informed Mark that next time I saw Harry arrive here, I would hide. He was all Mark’s to deal with from now on.