Tag Archives: Abbie Jury

Seven long years to bloom and then it dies – Cardiocrinum giganteum

The giant Himalayan lilies are coming into bloom. Cardiocrinum giganteum. It is the biggest of the lily family, hailing from areas like Tibet, Bhutan, Assam, Myanmar, Nepal and Sikkim.  It feels a bit of a triumph that we now have this bulb naturalised here. We haven’t planted any for many years and just allow them to grow where they pop up from seed.

The largest lily of them all – Cardiocrinum giganteum

These are not lilies for the home gardener on a small urban section. The flower spikes often reach three metres here and have been recorded at up to five metres. Fortunately, the stem is such that they can hold themselves up.

Usually six years of foliage and in the seventh year, it puts up an astounding flower spike

The main obstacle for most gardeners is that the bulb takes about seven years before it flowers and then it dies. Fortunately it makes offshoots around the main bulb as well as setting seed but those offshoots can take another five years minimum before they flower and the seeds take seven years. These are not lilies for the impatient gardener. And, while very fragrant, the flowers are a long way up so unless you have a grove of plants flowering at the same time, you are unlikely to get the benefit of scent. In the intervening years, they just form a clump of large, heavy textured, heart-shaped leaves that are reasonably anonymous.

Typically, these plants need cool, open, woodland conditions with soils which never dry out and are rich in humus. Those are pretty specific conditions.

The top photo is one of those really, seriously peculiar plant combinations that are a characteristic of many New Zealand gardens – a self sown Cardiocrium giganteum from the Himalayas, flanked on the right by Pseudowintera colorata (commonly known here as the mountain horopita or pepper tree) with Dracophyllum latifolium behind (both NZ natives) and then what we know as Aloe bainseii but is now, apparently, Aloidendron barberae – the tree aloe from southern Africa. It is a veritable United Nations of plants here.

Tikorangi Notes: underplanting, gardening with perennials and the magnificent nuttalliis

Pretty Rhododendron Yvonne Scott (nuttallii x lindleyi x dalhousiae) with a named clematis but I have lost its name – relevant to the last para on this post and a prettier photo to lead with than the mishmash of a garden bed below 

Not good at all. The addition of roses was a particularly ill-considered decision

I spent a good four or maybe five days taking this unsuccessful garden bed apart. It was first planted about 14 years ago and the original idea was that it continue the theme of the driveway border – mixed shrubs with predominantly hellebores as underplanting. It has never thrived and over the years, its treatment has followed a pattern that many will recognise – random attempts to spark it up that have made it messier and more disjointed.

I lifted everything except the Queen palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana), an attractive Viburnum sargentii ‘Onondaga’ and Camellia minutiflora. The location is too sunny for the hellebores and they were not thriving, so I planted them elsewhere. And I found why the plants at one end had never thrived. I could only get the spade half way in before I hit what might as well be bedrock. It was the old driveway with very heavily compacted road metal. I recalled that Mark had got the nursery staff to plant that bed when it first went in. Now, our nursery staff were whizzybang at speed-potting plants and doing the hard graft of keeping a production nursery going but gardeners, they were not. I am guessing they chiselled holes just large enough to fit the plants in. No wonder so many failed to thrive. There was nowhere for them to get their roots down.

The aim is to have a carpet of harmonious under planting by the end of summer

I took out any larger stones and rocks I could get out, dug the soil and incorporated compost at a rate of a small barrow-load per square metre. There is still not a great depth of soil but what is there should be better and I won’t try growing any more deeper-rooted plants at that end. When it came to choosing what to replant, I fell back on my mixed border philosophy. When there is a mixture of shrubs in the upper layer, it is better to choose some uniformity in the ground cover layer. The opposite is also true: where there is uniformity in the upper layer of shrubs and trees, it is more interesting to use a mixture of plants at the ground level. It may be a sweeping statement (well, it is) to say that only landscapers, non-gardeners and novices go for regimented simplicity of matching upper layer plants and a single choice ground cover – tidy, visually effective in the immediate stage but essentially dull.

A totally reliable stoeksia that is particularly amenable to being divided and transplanted

Given the feature shrubs and palm are interesting in their own right and the presence of assorted seasonal bulbs, I chose to replant at ground level with the reliable, long flowering blue stokesia which thrives with us, a ground-hugging blue campanula and two forms of our native brown carex grass.  The upright form is Carex buchananii , I think, but I am not sure what the fountaining version of it is called. They are to form the carpet. I like the combination of blue and the mid-brown carex. Then I mulched it all. Now all it has to do is to grow.

May 2019

November 2019

It is quite gratifying to see how much the grass garden has grown since I planted it at the end of May. I am hoping that it will have closed up quite a bit by the time autumn comes. There have only been a small number of deaths amongst the plants – all were  Astelia chathamica and fortunately, I have more plants to hand that I can move to the gaps. The advice from colder climates is not to move perennials in winter because they are not growing and the risk is that the roots will rot out over winter. With our mild winters, this advice does not generally apply here but that may be the case with the astelia. The divisions all had roots when they went in but it may be that some did indeed just rot out before they came back into growth in spring.

My main task in this new garden is staying on top of the weeds. Considering it is new ground, there is not a big weed problem at all and I am determined to keep it that way as it gets established. Weeds getting a hold amongst the fibrous roots systems of perennials and grasses can be a maintenance nightmare. It is better by far to keep them out from the start, as far as humanly possible. Because it is all ground that has been freshly dug this year, it is easy to hand pull those pesky weeds that do try and make an appearance.

Eighteen months to fill in seems a quick result

Even more rewarding is to see the caterpillar garden hitting its stride – nicely filled out, floriferous already, weed-free and colour-toned as I want it. It has taken about eighteen months to get it to this stage. Gardening with perennials is very different to gardening with trees and shrubs. As long as you have plenty of divisions and the ground is well-prepared, the plants can rocket away and fill spaces quickly.

Species selection of R. sino nuttallii, singled out for its unusual pink flush

However, no perennial can compete with the sheer magnificence and stature of the nuttallii rhododendrons that flower for us at this time of the year. These are not often commercially available – at least not the sino nuttallii species. You may sometimes find some of the hybrids around that are nuttallii crossed with lindleyi, sometimes with the addition of dalhousiae. If you find ‘White Waves’ on offer in New Zealand, it is proving to be one of the best of the hybrids we grow – reliable and a good survivor as well as very showy indeed. “Mi Amor’ is also available for sale. The hybrids have smaller leaves than the nuttallii species and are not all as strongly scented  but you may just have to take what you can find if you want to try growing these choice rhododendrons.

Rhododendron nuttallii x sino nuttallii – so the Tibetan form crossed with the showier Chinese form

 

 

 

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.