Tag Archives: Abbie Jury

Starting the countdown to festival 2021

Goodness, gracious me. Just eleven weeks until we open for the annual Taranaki Garden Festival. Well, ten weeks and five days to be precise. October 29 is D-Day.

A view down into the park yesterday with Magnolia sargentiana robusta in bloom and the neighbour’s winter grazing across the road in the background.

I am not starting to panic. No sirree. The advent of an extra pair of skilled and motivated hands in the form of our Zach has taken away the pressure I felt last year. Though last year, as I was getting stressed by how much I wanted to get done, we had no idea that Covid and the difficulty of overseas travel would result in the biggest festival ever for us. We had three times the number of people we were expecting. It was fine. Our garden is large enough to absorb a lot of people without it feeling crowded. It is just a challenge as far parking and toilet facilities go. The poocalypse was memorable.

This year is shaping up to be another boomer of a festival, if early bookings and programme requests are anything to go by. It is not that we can’t travel overseas from NZ. We are not like Australia where they have to request permission giving sufficiently important reasons to be allowed to travel offshore. We can leave. It is getting back into the country that is the barrier – trying to book a place in MIQ (as we call our managed quarantine programme for almost everybody entering the country) is so difficult that few people want to risk it. And even more of us don’t want to travel overseas at this time. NZ seems a very safe haven. There is always the risk of Delta getting in but so far so good. I will be really miffed, though, if we get an outbreak just before the festival…. It is already disappointing enough that Covid in the community in Australia will probably keep that travel bubble closed, making it impossible for any Australians to cross the Tasman this spring.

An unnamed seedling magnolia of Mark’s down by Lloyd’s latest bridge. It is actually red but my camera has rendered it bright cerise.

We have never been so well prepared this far in advance. Ten weeks and we have broken the back of the major preparation work. We just need four weeks at the end to do the final round of presentation so all seems well in hand at this time.

Lloyd’s latest bridge needs some work on the approaches

Lloyd has built the last bridge essential for access around the new Wild North garden. He has had to make this one higher because the ground is boggy beneath so is now constructing some all-weather access to it. Because we live rurally on a reasonably large property, we have room to store materials that we may need one day. Who knew that the brick and concrete edging to a garden bed we dismantled some years ago would be just the ticket for retaining the edges of the access paths? We will have to buy in some pit metal, though, to get a safe surface to that area of path.

Zach’s accidental rockery project

Zach was pleased to find a stack of big rocks to build his accidental rockery on the steep zig-zag path down to the park. I say an accidental rockery because he really only started by trying to retain the soil on the steep bank so it didn’t scour out and wash down onto the path below in heavy rains. It was part-way through that it became clear that he was actually constructing a semi-shaded rockery. I found him assorted suitable plants to fill it – the Australian native Veronica perfoliata, trilliums, snowdrops, Mark’s arisaema hybrids, little narcissi – to add to the Solomon Seal and green mondo grass that are already doing an excellent job of holding the soil.

Calanthe orchids one
… and calanthe orchids two. There are many more in the garden but just these two varieties in bloom at this time.

It is a lovely time of year, despite winter’s last gasps and storm fronts. Where I am working on the margins of the Avenue Garden, the calanthe orchids are at their charming peak. In fact, everywhere I look, there are spring flowers out and a whole lot more in bud. We are on the cusp of peak magnolia season. Mark is spending many hours doing his circuits of his magnolia and michelia seedlings to assess performance.

We are busy but on track. And oh my, I couldn’t think of a lovelier place to be busy.

A reminder about our Festival workshops:

Gardening on the wilder side

There is a whole lot more to meadows and wild gardens than just letting plants grow. It takes a shift in thinking, a fresh view and different approaches to managing the garden. They are less demanding on maintenance but they still require management. “Tidying nature”, Mark is fond of saying.

We have spent a lot of time considering the less environmentally friendly aspects of domestic gardening – the use of nitrogen fertilisers, sprays to manage weeds, pests and fungi, the costs both financially and environmentally of achieving top quality lawns, meeting human expectations of tidiness and order, let alone the use of internal combustion engines like the lawnmower, hedge trimmer, weed-eater, chainsaw, rotary hoe and more.

We want our garden to be lower maintenance so it is sustainable into the future, more environmentally friendly yet still be beautiful to our eyes. It is why we have moved some areas of the garden to being managed meadows. Added to that, this year we are opening the new four acre Wild North Garden. I say new, but work started on it thirty years ago when Mark began planting up his father’s old cow paddock.  Only now do we have it to the point where we are happy for others to see it, a new area of much looser maintenance with a wilder, more romantic feel to it.

My workshop this festival is entitled ‘A Gentler Way to Garden’ but it could be sub-titled ‘Lowering our garden carbon hoofprint’. If you are interested in walking more gently on the land but still creating a beautiful garden that can make your heart sing, you are very welcome to join this workshop on Sunday 31 October. You do, however, need to book. Details are here.

A view through to the summer Court Garden, though it looks good in later spring and right through autumn, too

The other workshop we are offering is ‘New Directions with Sunny Perennials’. It all started with our desire for summer colour here, masses of summer colour when our extensive woodlands are largely restful green. We have had a fairly close look at contemporary trends in gardening particularly in the UK but also parts of Europe – alas not quite as close as it would have been had we been able to make our most recent trip in July last year. But over several years, we have distilled our learning, so to speak, and experimented and trialled to come up with summer gardens that work in our situation and the NZ climate.

This is the same workshop that many people missed out on last year (numbers are restricted) but with the benefit of another year of experience in handling these styles of perennial gardening. We are offering it twice, Monday 1 and Saturday 6 November, as part of the Taranaki Garden Festival. More details and booking here.

Borders, more New Perennials in style than classic twin borders

Gardening magazines from nearly 80 years ago

Totally unrelated but prettier – the tui are holding their annual convention in our Taiwanese cherry trees (Prunus campanulata)

On wet and bleak days, I have been sorting through our bookcases. Not all books are precious, I decided, and not all are worth keeping. The substantial hardback books that were released annually by the American Camellia Society had probably not been looked at since the year they arrived. They took up two shelves and dated from the late 1940s through until the early 1980s. I asked Mark years ago if we needed to keep them and he thought we should but this year, he agreed they could go. I managed to rehome them with a friend who is a camellia aficionado. He assured me there was a lot of interesting reading in them. True, I sweetened the rehoming exercise by also supplying him with a surplus bookcase from here to hold them.  

Some books do not age well. World atlases go out of date. We had a surprising number of those and really, I just need to go and buy a single up to date one for the times when I want to hold a map in my hand, not look on a screen.

There are some fairly large gaps appearing in our bookcases

The internet has rendered many reference books unnecessary. Mark still reaches for books to look up details on a plant but that is because he resolutely remains a technophobe, despite my efforts to upskill him. I don’t use reference books much now, preferring the ease and immediacy of a Google search.

Some books we keep for inspiration, some for sentimental reasons, some for family reasons, some because they are simply beautiful books and some because we are sure one of us will read them one day. There is a lot of surplus dross that we will never miss between those books that justify being retained.

But then there are the odd forgotten treasures. So it was with the issues of ‘My Garden’, very early issues of the ‘New Zealand Gardener’ from the 1950s and the ‘Amateur Gardening Annuals’ from 1954 to 1957.

There are an uncomfortably large number of advertisments like this one where you, too, can nuke your lawn with a mix of 2 4 D and 2 4 5 T – often known as Agent Orange which was used to lay waste to the forests of Vietnam. Such a bargain at 35c!

‘The New Zealand Gardener’ was actually started in 1944 and is still produced today although it is unrecognisable in production values, tone and content. I could relate to a letter from a defensive nurseryman, justifying plant prices by comparing pre-1900 wages and prices to those of 1955. He had started in 1896 on 5/- a week (5 shillings, for post decimal generations, was 50c) but now his firm paid £2/16/- ($5.60) to apprentices and ‘journeymen’ were paid £12/1/- ($24.10). I may once have written on a similar theme myself, pointing out that the real price of plants has declined a great deal over time but I do not think I matched his final comment:              

“We find that those who complain about the price of a few plants think nothing about going into a shop and paying £5 for a hat!”

We appear to have a few more issues of the English ‘My Garden’ edited by Theo A. Stephens. The fact that the August 1950 one proudly proclaims it is the 200th issue suggests it started publication in late 1933 or maybe January 1934 but our earliest copies are from 1943. It is subtitled ‘An Intimate Magazine for Garden Lovers’. I did wonder if it was a forerunner to the Royal Horticultural Society journal named ‘The Garden’ but I don’t think so. My quick browse of Theo Stephens’ publication on line simply showed me that there is a thriving international market for early copies but I am not looking to sell our ours. Looking at an issue from March 1943 – written in the midst of WW2 – was oddly haunting with parallels to the current state of our world in a global pandemic.

‘The Law and the Gardener’, in case you wish to know, is largely a scholarly dissertation on English case law related to boundary trees including whether it is legal to pick fruit that is overhanging the boundary.

“This war is giving us many new experiences and teaching us much. One thing it is bringing home to us in a way we have never experienced before is the worthlessness of money until you can translate it into some form of goods or services….

At the present time I have money which I want to exchange for services which are necessary. Where my garden normally calls for two gardeners I am quite prepared to carry on with one, and in view of the number of people I could, and would, keep supplied with vegetables, eggs, and meat, this one would be justified – but I can’t find him.”

Grammar pedants may notice the use of the Oxford comma in that quote. True, few of us need to hire one, let alone two gardeners but the labour shortage in NZ is real and the daily lives of so many people everywhere have changed in a multitude of ways as we are forced to adapt rapidly, if reluctantly, to a world that has changed dramatically in the last 20 months.

All these publications share certain characteristics. The writing content rules supreme. Photos are few in number, small and in black and white. There is next to no humour, wit or levity and very little that is personal. This transmission of information is a serious business and of a technical complexity and range that would befuddle modern gardeners. The Amateur Gardening Annual from 1954 has 54 erudite articles ranging from stump-rooted carrots to the classification of dahlias, from apple maggots to jacobinias to Australian gum trees and 49 other specialised topics. The level of technical knowledge and expertise in the average home gardener was much higher back then, apparently with a thirst for more information.

Modern garden magazines are more about entertainment, image and aspiration but maybe they will acquire some quaint, nostalgic charm when viewed from 2090?

Narcissus ‘Peeping Tom’ and Carex buchananii
A pair of kereru villains discussing which magnolia has the best tasting petals
And a pair of tui discussing which campanulata in the garden has the best nectar

Giving thanks for when midwinter turns to the cusp of spring

I was going to limit myself to a theme of red and yellow but te mounga (the mountain, Mount Taranaki) was looking so very beautiful, I wanted to share the glorious sight again

I have twice heard our government give a strong message to New Zealanders to get home urgently while they still can. The first time was in March last year when then deputy prime minister, Winston Peters, said it and it was certainly chilling. At the time, I wondered if he was being overly dramatic. He wasn’t. Within days, flights had slowed and then they stopped entirely for a time.

We heard the same message from our Prime Minister on Friday, this time aimed at New Zealanders in Australia. It was just as chilling. Get home in the next seven days or risk being stranded indefinitely.

And Magnolia campbellii is coming to its peak flowering

I saw a tweet come down my line from a journalist that made me laugh – in that ‘if you don’t laugh, you will cry’ sort of desperation. I went to look for it this morning to screenshot it for this post but it has gone. She must have decided it was too flippant when there are thousands of our citizens in Australia scrambling frantically to find flights and then get negative Covid tests within the required time frame. It showed two small boats with people on them and the caption read: ‘Is this our Dunkirk moment?’

Covid is not done with us yet. Even though Mark and I are Pfully Pfizered, as I say, I am deeply grateful to be in one of the very, very few countries in the world that has no Covid past the border and my gratitude for how our government has managed it so far remains strong. I just wish we didn’t have so many whingers and moaners looking for fault. Just look beyond our borders to see how bad it could have been here, too.

Narcissis Twilight – blooming their little hearts out down in the park

On a perfect morning like yesterday, I could not think of a better place to be. Magnolia season has started, the narcissi are coming into bloom and we are at peak snowdrop. It may still be midwinter here but we are on the cusp of spring. All I have to offer is colour. And flowers.  

Magnolia Vulcan – where the passion for red magnolias started here
Magnolia Felix Jury followed
And then came Burgundy Star, shown here, and Black Tulip which is not yet showing its full colour

We always get the best red shades on the earliest blooms each season and we get the very best shades of red overall. They don’t look this colour in all climates and soils across the world.

Mark’s Lachenalia reflexa hybrid

While the red magnolias dominate the early season, when it comes to lachenalias, it is the yellow and oranges as well as red that bloom first. We have to wait for later in the season to see the less vigorous but arguably more desirable blues, lilacs, pinks and whites.

Hippeastrum aulicum

Still with the bulbs, the first hippeastrums are opening. We don’t go in for the hybrids much, preferring the evergreen species of H.aulicum and H. papilio which have settled in very happily to their permanent homes in the woodland.

Camellia impressinveris

It is, of course, camellia season. I spent some time this week writing a piece about camellias for an overseas publication so I am a bit camellia-d out but the yellow species never fail to thrill, even if they are not as floriferous as the more usual varieties.

One of Mark’s seedling vireyas

The big-leafed rhododendrons down in the park are just starting to break bud and show colour but the sub-tropical vireya rhododendrons in the upper gardens flower intermittently all year so we always have some in bloom. This a scented red which Mark raised for the garden that has never been named or put on the market.

In the chaos of the wider world, home has never looked safer or offered more solace for the soul.

Building bridges

Building, not burning.

Lloyd has been busy in the Wild North Garden. With a network of ponds and natural springs, we need bridges if anybody other than ourselves is to venture round.

Forever to be known to me as Gloria’s bridge, for reasons known to Gloria and her crossing of the small stream

Most of our bridges are simple affairs. Because we can get flooding, they need to be secured and stable but are we certainly not building dinky humpback bridges with a nod to Japan and China. They are very popular, I have noticed, in other people’s gardens.

Simply referred to as the stone bridge, because that is what it is
The high bridge with its new timbers. It is a fair drop down to the rapids and water below

In the days when we were a bit more ambitious about opening to the public, we put two bridges in the park which were conceived as features. What we call the high bridge or the wisteria bridge is constructed on an old truck chassis that had been galvanised to protect it from rust. It is not visible, but that is what is holding the bridge timbers securely. Both it and the stone bridge were constructed by a hyperactive and obliging German engineer who was spending some time in New Zealand.

If you are building a bridge from scratch, may I recommend staining it from the start, rather than painting it? That is, if you don’t want to leave the timber in its natural state. Stain tends to age more gracefully than paint. Repainting a bridge regularly, let alone the preparation work necessary for getting the fresh paint to adhere, does not sound fun to me. We stained the new timbers on the high bridge because we had to replace the weathered timber with tanalised pine and I am not a fan of the look of tanalised pine.

Basic but adequate construction. Fit for purpose, we might say.

The other three bridges – yes, we have five down in the park – are definitely more rustic. It is that simple construction that Lloyd is repeating on three of the four new bridges we need in the Wild North Garden. He drives wooden piles into the ground, secures cross bars to the piles and then attaches rough sawn timber to those cross bars, also wiring the boards together so that if one comes loose, the other may hold it in a flood situation. In a life rich with sheds, we have various lengths of interesting timber stored for the day we may need them, like now. Being rough sawn, they don’t get as slippery as finished timber but he has wrapped one or two down in the park in chicken netting, secured beneath, to reduce slip hazards.

The fourth new bridge is more of a conundrum. When Mark first started working in that area, he had three large tree logs placed where he wanted bridges. His plan was to get somebody with a large chainsaw in to carve a flattish walkway into the trunks and to add side railings. That was 20 years ago and two of those trunks are no longer sound enough to work on. They can just gently moulder away. The third one is still remarkably sound and is in exactly the right place for a bridge but it no longer seems a good plan to chainsaw into the old trunk. It will open it up to rot all too quickly. Mark hopes that it will be possible to construct a timber frame and attach it to the trunk and then secure bridge timbers – walking planks – and side rails to that frame. Watch this space. Lloyd is a practical and experienced man. If it can’t be made to work, he will tell us. If it can, we will have a bridge that is more of a feature than a utility crossing.

Beware of using bridges as pointless garden features. Or, if you are going to make a bridge to nowhere, make it a BIG one. I give you two examples, both from Yorkshire in the UK, oddly enough.

Unnecessary. And a bit twee, to my eyes.
Castle Howard

Finally, may I urge local readers to take time out to admire the stand of Magnolia campbellii down in the gully in Powderham Street, opposite the condemned parking building (or beside the liquor store, if that is a better locator for you). Or just along from this view of the windy wand.

Len Lye’s wind wand. Turn right at this intersection to the find the magnolias

In our garden, our eyes are so often trained upwards to look at magnolia flowers on the tops of mature trees so it has a certain novelty looking into huge magnolias in bloom at eye level. That is the effect you can get when you plant in a gully.

The stand of three Magnolia campbellii on Powerderham Street last Fiday

Winter has arrived on cue

Early blooms on Mark’s Camellia Volunteer

Here we are in midwinter, just past the shortest day, which was last Monday, and in the middle of Matariki, the Maori New Year which is determined by the rise of the Matariki (Pleiades) cluster of stars, so determined by astronomy not the Gregorian calendar.

Our first polar blast of winter is forecast to arrive this week. The golden days of late autumn and early winter are over. Winter, of course, is a relative matter. We have only ever had snow once here in Tikorangi – on August 15, 2011, to be precise. It was a memorable event. Our worst weather here is usually limited to heavy rainfall – which can seem incessant – and sometimes wind. We moan about that but it is more soggy, grey days than months of bleak weather when it is too cold to be outside.

Magnolia campbellii

I headed out with my camera before the heavy rain set in this morning. Matariki and the winter solstice are always marked by the early blooms on Magnolia campbellii here. Now I just have to wait for the few days of calm, clear weather over the next six weeks or so when conditions are right to capture our seasonal scene of the magnolia and te mounga.

Luculia Fragrant Cloud and moth-eaten cordyline

The luculias are all in bloom and sweetly scented too. ‘Fragrant Cloud’ is my favourite, seen here alongside a typically moth-eaten native red cordyline. Why do I say typically moth-eaten? Because that is literally true. Our native cordylines look much cleaner overseas whereas you would be hard-pressed to find one here that does not have holes in all its leaves on account of a native moth, Epiphryne verriculata. Its common name is the cabbage tree moth – of course it is – and it is only found in NZ. We have to take the rough with the smooth here and at least it is all part of our ecosystem.

Crassula ovata in the rockery
It is a tall begonia, probably a species – one of those plants that quietly occupies a frost-free position and never demands any special care while flowering most of the year

Also signs of a climate that is remarkably benign, the Crassula ovata and a tall begonia are also blooming happily in midwinter.

Daphne Perfume Princess, easily distinguished by its vigour, health and a very long season in bloom, as well as larger individual flowers

We have Mark’s Daphne ‘Perfume Princess’ well represented in the garden. That is because when he selects a new plant, he carries out propagation trials and we need to build up stock to be able to start the licensed growers with initial material. We gave a certain number of plants to friends but I must have planted out at least fifteen of them around the garden – all by paths or the driveway so we can catch the delicious scent as we pass.

Camellia yuhsienensis
I helpfully added a red arrow just to draw attention to the posterior of a busy little honey bee working the flowers in midwinter

On a gloomy winter’s day, the coloured camellias like ‘Volunteer’ at the top cheer me up more than the white ones, but Camellia yuhsienensis is looking delightful – seen here used on the farthest margins of the summer gardens. Even on a grey day, the flowers are feeding the honey bees at a time of the year when food sources are in limited supply.

Chionochloa rubra with our native toetoe (Austroderia fulvida) behind. These native grasses need plenty of space

Zach cut down all the Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ in the Court Garden last week and lifted the lot. We only replanted around 30% of them at wider spacings. Here’s hoping I have the spacings right this time because it was a big job. Interestingly, it is our native plants that are the winter stars. The form of Chionochloa rubra (red tussock) is a constant source of delight to me and it looks best when it stands in its own space, rather than being hemmed in by other plants. The red and black phormiums (coloured flaxes) have come into their own with a bit more size and the silver Astelia chathamica glows in the lower light levels.

Red flaxes and silver astelia are particularly distinctive in winter

The use of native plants is one aspect that sets of NZ gardens apart and never more so than in winter because, with very few, minor exceptions, they are all evergreen. We don’t have the bare borders in winter that characterise so many northern European gardens in colder climates. A mix of natives and exotics carries us through twelve months of the year.