Tag Archives: Abbie Jury

A Wayne in a Manger

The Bakelite Holy Family

Ours is a secular household. This is not unusual in New Zealand which has a determinedly secular government and state. But I do love a nativity set. This may be because we lacked a nativity set entirely in the box of Christmas decorations when I was a child. At some point, Mark and I inherited his mother’s set – referred to now as the Bakelite Holy Family. I am guessing it dates back to the 1940s because bakelite was dropping from common usage at the end of that time. For those too young to remember the bakelite light switches of earlier times, it was one of the early precursors to the plastics of today.

Joseph used to have a tiny lantern that hung from his left hand. To my shame, I vacuumed that up at least 35 years ago. Had I known its absence would bother me down the decades, I would have been more determined in the search through the dustbag of the vacuum cleaner at the time.

Who knew that minimalist nativity scenes have become a thing? Were it not for social media, this new fashion would have escaped my notice entirely. If you type it in to Google, you will find plenty of examples. Some made me laugh out loud.

I do like the stylish glass version, though not enough to buy it. Besides, our house is more maximumist than minimalist so it would not look the same.

This wooden block one reminded me of The Emperor’s New Clothes. An over-priced utilitarian approach with no craftsmanship, masquerading as cutting-edge style. But it made me laugh with its brazen approach.

Minimalist but with some primitive art charm, I felt

There are many nicer wooden ones on offer, I see.

This one pushes minimalism about as far as it can go but it has design flair and style. Artistic, even.

But as I entertained myself trawling through photos of minimalist nativity sets, it struck me that it is the composition that is most important. No matter whether coloured balls, cylinders or blocks are used, the central grouping of three is Mary (often in blue), Joseph and Baby Jesus. To the right are the three Magi (being so secular, I had to google whether they were kings or wise men – pretty much interchangeable, it seems, so I settled on the more archaic Magi). To the left there is usually a donkey and a sheep and sometimes there is an angel on the central manger. Unless you are American, in which case you may put the Magi on the left and the animals on the right.

A temporary installation

Could I, I wondered, re-create an ephemeral nativity scene using flowers? Mark immediately offered the pineapple offshoots from the Ananas sagenaria for the three Magi. Okay, it is not my finest work but yes, you can re-create the nativity scene in flowers and natural materials and it is still identifiable. Composition and some relativity in scale is all it takes. If any readers feel the desire to re-create their version in flowers, please send me photos to share. I may try again before Christmas to see I can get flowery AND minimalist smart.

I bought a beautifully crafted nativity scene for equally secular Second Daughter who lives in Sydney. Made by a retired toymaker, each figure is whittled from different NZ native timbers. Amusingly, she has a domestic debate with her French partner every year. He is adamant that Baby Jesus cannot be placed until Christmas morning. I have no idea if this is a French custom or whether it is just a tradition from his family but Mark, ever the pedant, pointed out the same logic would apply to the three Magi.

I am not generally one for cute kiddie anecdotes but I did like the story a friend told me of a mother showing a nativity scene to her very small son. He insisted it was not Jesus in the crib, it was Wayne. Why Wayne, you may wonder. “A Wayne in a manger, no crib for a bed… “

Baby Wayne may be slight improvement on Baby Cheesus, do we think?

Finally, I cannot find a high-resolution image of the nativity created from disposable face masks but you get the picture. On Pinterest (where else), you can find the directions for creating rather charming angels for the Christmas tree from face masks. I am not sure how I feel about this manifestation of the times we now live in. Resigned amusement, maybe?

When good plants go rogue

I liked how the cutwork foliage provided a contrast to the dominant grassy foliage

It is no good. The plume poppy had to go from the sunny Court Garden. While I liked the foliage contrast, it is just waaaay too invasive to leave in place.

That is the full extent of the flowers. Pinky beige, perhaps?

The plume poppy is Macleaya cordata, native to China and Japan. It has an attractive blue-grey leaf that looks a bit like the plant version of cut-work embroidery. In spring and summer it shoots up stems to maybe two metres before flowering. True, the flowers are not exciting. More brown than gold, they look like seed heads even when they are in full bloom but they have a certain feathery charm while playing second fiddle to the more striking foliage. The problem is that it runs below ground, more like sprinting than running in some situations.

Here a fortnight ago, gone today on the grounds of bad behaviour

We have grown it for years in the high shade of the Avenue Gardens where it has not been problematic. The running tendency slows in shade – more a walking pace  – and in the thinner, dry soils it is easy to pull out wayward shoots and keep it to an area. I was not prepared for what it would do in cultivated soils in full sun. Not only did the runners bed down to a greater depth but they headed off with gusto in every direction, popping up metres away from the original plant.

Making a break for it

Really, it was the determination to colonise the paths that sealed the fate of this plant. Look at these runners appearing in the terrace. Not only have the shoots struck out enthusiastically on every side, this terrace is 30 cm higher than the garden bed, separated by a brick wall. I just don’t need a plant that can make such determined efforts to colonise. It was already growing through other perennials in the garden beds and leaping beyond.

It is going to take me a few years to completely eradicate it because roots that remain below ground will continue to push up growing shoots but I removed all that was visible two weeks ago and will just keep on its case until it finally disappears.

Macleaya cordata can remain quietly co-existing in the high shade of the Avenue Gardens

It can stay in the shade of the Avenue Gardens but I can’t be having invasive thugs in the Summer Gardens.

Phlomis russeliana flowering now in the shady Avenue Gardens where it will probably be fine left to its own devices for another decade or so.

Another plant that has surprised me with its vigour is Phlomis russeliana or Jersualem sage. While described as a perennial for sunny spots, we have long used it as a low maintenance, obliging bedding plant in the high shade of the Avenue Gardens. It has never needed any attention there, bar cutting the tall growth and spent seed heads back to the ground at some stage in winter. The only time I have ever done any work on lifting and dividing it was when I raided the patch to get plants for the new, herbaceous borders.

In the sunshine, the phlomis romps away and needs major attention every two years at least.

Introduced to the bright light of full sun and well-cultivated soils, the phlomis has become something of a triffid. The growth is lusher and much stronger. The twin borders are only entering their fifth summer but the blocks of phlomis have already been lifted and divided twice, discarding probably half of them in the process. I think I can get away with a total dig, divide and replant every second year if I alternate it with picking and thinning them from the top in the year between. It is a bit more work than I had anticipated for a cheerful but utility plant.  While it seeds a bit more in sunny conditions, at least it doesn’t spread below ground like the plume poppy.

The lines between a strong grower, a thug and an invasive weed are sometimes finer than we expect. Generally, we will cope with the first and get rid of those in the second two classes.

The exotica of water lilies

If I believed in woo-woo (or, at least, that plants can sense what humans are saying), I might think that the appearance of this charming, little lemon water lily flower was because of my threats made over the past few months. The plant came into our possession about ten years ago and it has lived in a vintage pot ever since without flowering. Maybe three years ago, I took it out, reduced some bulk, raised it higher in the pot and gave it some new compost mix. Nothing happened. It just put up its usual leaves. I declared this year – probably in its hearing – that this was its last year. If it didn’t flower, I would cast it out and find something more obliging to grow instead.

And lo, this flower appeared and it has won a reprieve. It is a very pretty little flower. Water lilies do have lovely blooms with a pristine purity of form.

The vintage water pump is, I admit, merely ornamental in this situation.

We have water lilies in assorted bodies of water. The purest white one in a round pond on the side law is the best, I think. A white waterlily is the national flower of Bangladesh but looking at the photos, while similar, I think it is a more tropical form than this one.

The setting
The one in the goldfish pond at the bottom of the sunken garden is a bit murky in colour

I don’t find them the world’s most exciting bloom but they have an exotic beauty to them. I looked them up to see where their homelands are and I see they are broadly spread across the globe ‘in temperate and tropical climates’ which is pretty sweeping. They are a bit more complex than I expected though, if I am honest, I would admit I have not given them a lot of thought. Their plant family is Nymphaeaceae and I will never remember how to spell that with all it’s ‘a’s and ‘e’s. There are about 5 genera in that family and maybe 70 different species which don’t all look the same as the ones we grow. That is quite a lot of different species. As far as I can see, the ones we see here are from the nymphaea group.

The bigger growing forms we have in ponds in the Wild North Garden are lovely but they need occasional intervention to reduce their spread or we would have no visible water remaining

Water lilies grow from rhizomes rooted in soil so they only grow in fairly shallow water. Many years ago, we went to visit two ‘water gardens’. In fact, they were water lily gardens. I can’t recall other aquatic plants. That is where I learned that some varieties can be such strong growers that they will entirely cover the water surface if they are not restricted. A mass of water lilies without visible water reflecting, shimmering and rippling to frame the plant is not actually that aesthetically pleasing or exciting to see.

The loveliest water lilies I have seen were in the Xishuangbanna botanical gardens in southern China. They were held up above the water on longer stems and I think this makes them a different genera to the common nymphaea types we grow here. “They’re tropical,” Mark said, but he may have been generalising from the fact that it was hot and many of the plants we were looking at there were very tropical. I have no idea if that type is even in NZ.

This week at least, I am happy that the pretty lemon one has flowered after a very long wait.

Clip clip clipetty clip. The hedges have been done

Lloyd clipped the Camellia transnokoensis hedges to the left; Zach clipped the feature camellias to the right this year.

We don’t have a lot of clipped hedging here, I am prone to declaring. I may have to amend that. I paced them out and came to a rough estimate of somewhere over 150 metres which seems rather more than I thought. It is probably more accurate to say that we don’t have a lot of garden where the design is defined by clipped hedging. Just the Wave Garden, in fact.

Clipped Camellia minutiflora in the Wave Garden

I have been thinking about hedge trimming because it has taken up almost all of Lloyd’s work hours this week. At the same time, I saw a comment by an English gardener about currently trimming his clients’ hedges and that seemed odd to me because it is autumn there. I am guessing they trim in autumn so that they retain their sharp lines over winter. In colder climates, sharply defined shapes are often what gives winter interest in places where plants don’t flower all year round. Maybe they trim twice a year?

On the left is clipped Camellia Fairy Blush with a low buxus hedge in front. At the back is clipped totara (Podocarpus totara). You too can keep this forest giant to this size over 110 years if you keep it clipped hard!

We cut in spring for two reasons. One is that we want to look sharp for the spring garden festival starting this Friday. The other is that the majority of our clipped hedges are small-leafed camellias. Trimming those in autumn would take all the flower buds off so we trim in spring before the next season’s buds are set.

Hedges of Camellia Fairy Blush provide a demarcation line between the sunken Court Garden and the gardens either side of it.

We only trim once a year and we accept that come next autumn and winter, the hedges will be looking a bit woolly. I seem to remember that if you have hedges of teucrium or lonicera, you need to trim every four to six weeks in the growing season – and we have a growing season that lasts nine months of the year. That does not sound fun to me although maybe some people don’t mind forever trimming their garden hedges.

I can’t help but think that people who are obsessive about sharp hedges all year round might be better to make permanent walls instead – more expensive to erect but a lot lighter in maintenance down the years.

This wave hedge at La Plume was sensational.

The wave hedges we saw at Le Jardin Plume in France still rule supreme for me. I have never seen hedges like them. Alas, I may not see them again in this new world we are in.

Chupa chups to the right, umbrellas to the left

While Lloyd has been trimming hedges, Zach has been clipping feature plants. He pointed out to me that the taller michelias at our entranceway (Fairy Magnolia Blush) are more like chupa chups than lollipops, which is right because they are fully round, not like the two dimensional round lollipop. The small ones to the left we trim to an umbrella shape – so flatter on top than the rounded chupa chups.

No longer a path that terminated in an unattractive building, even if it currently terminates at the raspberry coop

Visitors who have seen our new summer gardens may recall the path that led to nowhere as we airily waved and said that we planned to move the two buildings in the way. Well, it is done. The large propagation house and Mark’s personal botanical treasure house have indeed been moved and we have opened up a new area. True, the path still doesn’t go straight through yet. It now terminates at the raspberry cage. I have served notice that can not be taken down until somebody has built me a new raspberry cage. I love the raspberry harvest more than I love the thought of a long, long vista there.

Zach gave the Podocarpus parlatorei pillars their annual trim and has started training the top over to form the arch Mark envisaged.

This year’s Taranaki Garden Festival was shaping up to be the busiest ever in over 30 years of its life span. Alas, now it is on track to be the quietest ever. The NZ Rhododendron Association were to have their annual conference at the same time and we were expecting four coach loads of rhododendron lovers on the very first morning of festival. It was cancelled this week. Northerners can’t get here, southerners no longer want to come and who can blame them? I am expecting pretty much all our tour bookings to be cancelled in the next few days.

But we will be here, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and all prepared next Friday. It will be down to locals to fly the flag for our gardens and the associated arts trail. It is disappointing but so much of life in this era of pandemic is disappointing. At least with gardens, they will still be here next year.

Out and about, in a very limited, local way

Ixias by the railway track near Lepperton

I flashed past these eye-catching ixias (corn lilies) at speed and promptly thought that I should have stopped and photographed them. I then thought I couldn’t be bothered until a couple of kilometres down the road when I turned and went back. Are they not pretty? They are growing on wasteland beside the railway in Lepperton and the sight of them stopped me being grumpy about something else that had happened.

There is nothing choice or rare about ixias. We have them in the twin borders in several colours and they show up each year on one of the mass bulb suppliers’ catalogues. But as a wildflower, their charm seems greater to me. I was glad I had dug some to put down in the Wild North Garden where they may recreate the simple charm of the railway siding.

The rare sight of a camellia hedge in full bloom, though now past its peak

I also stopped to photograph a camellia hedge because a mass flowering camellia hedge is a rare sight for us in these days of the cursed camellia petal blight. This one is down the road from us (in a rural sense – maybe 5km down a different road entirely to the one we live on but still ‘down the road’). We used to have mass displays of larger flowered camellias in informal hedges but they are a thing of the past here. The plants haven’t gone; it is the flowering that is a memory. This particular hedge is in an extremely open situation, exposed to both full sun and wind from every direction. It confirmed for me that the extremely sheltered microclimate we have in our own garden has exacerbated camellia petal blight to be some of the worst in the world. Fungi thrive in a protected situation. It is a trade-off. That microclimate enables us to grow many other plants that would not otherwise thrive but at the expense of the japonica and hybrid camellia flowers.

Camellia ‘Waterlily’
Camellia ‘Les Jury’ to the left and Felix’s ‘Waterlily to the right. Something that had finished flowering but appears to be white at right angles in the centre.

It was Mark who drew my attention to the fact that it is Camellia ‘Waterlily’, one of his father’s early cultivars. We have the original plant in the garden here. Next to it, to the left, is a clipped hedge – now at the end of its flowering season – of Camellia ‘Les Jury’. It is the best red his Uncle Les bred so they have the Jury camellia brothers right and left of the gateway.

Each spike is a cluster of a huge number of individual flowers with long stamens on the xeronema

We don’t have a whole lot of native plants that carry gardeners’ bragging rights with them but the Poor Knights’ lily – Xeronema callistemon – is one. It grows on the rocky cliff faces on the Poor Knights islands, often washed by sea water and never drying out but never getting waterlogged. According to Wikipedia, those offshore islands of New Zealand which few people ever get to visit but are a treasure trove of unique flora, were so-named because their shape reminded the early Europeans of a bread pudding popular at the time, the Poor Knights Pudding.  There is a random piece of information for you.

Xeronema callistemon in the central row on a bank in Waitara, thriving in a regime of benign neglect

Their natural habitat is not easy to re-create in a garden situation which is why they carry some bragging rights. I am pretty sure they are also frost-tender and it takes a long time for them to reach flowering size. Despite all that, there is fine display of huge plants on a shady bank in my local town of Waitara. Prostrate rosemary festoons down the bank below them and they are flanked by some pretty scruffy trachycarpus palms but eat your heart out, gardeners who have failed with the xeronema at home. Finding a suitable spot and then allowing benign neglect seems to work better.

Poor Knights lily and Marlborough rock daisy in our swimming pool garden. Maybe they feel at home because we have a salt water filter on the pool and they can smell the salt? Or maybe not.

Our best plants are just coming in to flower. I admit we groom the plants a bit – removing spent leaves. I like the combination with the Marlborough rock daisy (Pachystegia insignis) – another cliff dweller but this time from a location which must be close to 1000km south of the Poor Knights Islands.

Trimming the hedges here is largely done by Lloyd. If you look carefully, there is tape on the bamboo to mark the desired heights and he also checks with a string line.

Meantime, it is all go on preparing the garden for the Taranaki Garden Festival, opening on October 29. We have our fingers crossed that we stay at level two which enables it to go ahead. We will be awfully miffed if we get Covid Delta in Taranaki with a last-minute cancellation after all this work.

Kia kaha. Stay sane and stay safe in these trying times.  We are living through an event that will become a significant point of history for future generations to study. It is not a comfortable position for anyone.