Tag Archives: clipped hedging

Tikorangi Notes: a top-knot hedge, magnolia time, soy milk and tofu (because we are multi-faceted gardeners here)

“Just add some googly eyes”, a friend suggested

This hedge in my local town of Waitara makes me smile every time I pass it. I think it is just Cupressus leylandii, often referred to as Leighton’s Green. Was that as high as the owner could reach to trim, do we think? Or did they like the top-knot look which makes me think of Kim Jong-Un? This may remain a mystery. I rather hope it is deliberate.

The Kim Yong-Un of hedge design? 

First flowers of the season on Magnolia ‘Lanarth’

I have been so busy looking down at the early snowdrops, Cyclamen coum and the first of the spring narcissi, or looking over in the hopes of the mountain being free from cloud so I can start my seasonal photos of Magnolia campbellii in our park framed against the distant snowy mountain flanks, that I have forgotten to look up. It is not just M. campbellii in flower. ‘Lanarth’ is opening now (technically M. campbellii var mollicomata ‘Lanarth’) and the season for this magnolia is short but spectacular. ‘Lanarth’ came from southernmost China via Cornwall. We have two plants of it growing in the garden. This is the one behind our house and it flowers first because it is a warmer location than the first and larger plant of it down in our park. These early flowers lack the colour intensity that sets it apart from many other magnolias.

Magnolia ‘Vulcan’, the first of the new generation of reds

And ‘Vulcan’ has opened its first flowers. It is still a very special magnolia for us, even though there is now a plethora of red magnolia hybrids on the market. This magnolia from Mark’s father, Felix Jury, was the breakthrough to the new generation of reds.

Magnolia Vulcan, showing some kereru damage to the petals

I didn’t notice the somewhat raggedy petals until I looked at my photos on the computer screen. That is pigeon damage – our native kereru – as opposed to rat or possum damage which looks different. Soon there will be so many blooms open, that the petal-nibbling kereru efforts will not be obvious. We have plenty to share.

With the early blossom opening (mostly Prunus campanulata or Taiwanese cherries), the tui population is increasing rapidly as they return for this favourite feast. We have some tui who stick around all year but scores of others flock in over this period of early spring. “When trees dance” is how Mark describes it.

Mark is drying and winnowing his crop of soy beans 

I wrote about the bean mountain back in 2015 and since then the soy bean harvest has assumed daunting proportions. Mark’s home production of organic soy beans is apparently somewhat unusual. Aficionados tell me that it is now impossible to buy organic soy beans in this country that have not been irradiated as a condition of their importation. I don’t think we have a local soy bean industry. Apparently the soy bean mountain here is more of a valued resource than I had realised.

Soy beans are not my favourite bean to eat whole. I will reach for the kidney beans and fava beans first, or even the borlottis which are also not my favourite. I swapped a few kilos with a local person found on Facebook who makes a variety of different miso pastes which proved delicious. But what to do with the rest? I started making soy milk about a year ago in an attempt to reduce our intake of dairy. We are not so enamoured of soy milk that we use it all the time. I still prefer cow’s milk in tea and coffee but I use the soy milk in many other situations when I would formerly have reached for cow’s milk and I find it more than acceptable in the breakfast muesli and porridge.

The amazing Soyabella!

The recent gift of a Soyabella machine has revolutionised my life. It was a bit tedious and messy making soy milk with the food processor, strainer, muslin cloth and a big preserving pan on the stove. This handy little Chinese machine, not much larger than an electric jug, makes a litre of fresh, hot soy milk in about 15 minutes with close to zero human effort. It is a wonder, my Soyabella. And it has opened up the world of home-made tofu. Why home-made tofu? For us it is both a way of using our home-grown soy beans but also about drastically reducing the plastic that comes into the house. With the arrival of nigari this week, I made the first block of tofu and, between Soyabella and I, the hardest part of was finding the right-shaped weight to fit on top of the tofu block to press it. It was perfect, just like a bought block. Nigari is just a coagulant – mostly magnesium chloride – which separates the soy milk into curds and whey.

A small but perfectly formed block of tofu

It was our trip to China three years ago that really converted us to tofu as a food staple. The crispy tofu was delicious so I searched the net for instructions. It isn’t difficult. Press the block of tofu for an hour or more to squeeze out excess water (I just use an inverted plate on top of it with a weight on that). Slice or dice the tofu and marinade for a few minutes only so it doesn’t take in more liquid. Dust it with cornflour and shallow fry. Voilà! Crispy tofu.

The lily border (currently empty bar Camellia yuhsienensis), backed by a clipped hedge of Camellia Fairy Blush punctuated with shaped Fairy Magnolia White all coming into bloom. Queen palms in the distance. 

Stripes, hedges and gardening on the flat

Striped gardening a la Monet (photo: Michal Osmenda via Wiki Commons)

Striped gardening a la Monet (photo: Michal Osmenda via Wiki Commons)

There I was last week, railing against the fad for edging plants everywhere and referencing planting in stripes. We watched a programme which we had recorded on Monet’s famous garden at Giverny. There was his striking central allée and it was planted in long stripes! But beautiful, complex stripes created with painterly style and panache.

I have yet to visit Giverny and I may have trouble motivating Mark to accompany me. Being a New Zealander, he has an abhorrence of crowds and that particular garden is renowned for packing ‘em in. That said, good friends of ours went last year, not expecting to be overly impressed, but they were blown away by it so if we are in that part of the world (an hour or so north of Paris), we will probably go. And admire planting in stripes.

It is probably no surprise that a Frenchman would go with formalised planting. The genre of parterres (regimented planting of colour on formal terraces) is closely identified with the French nobility of old. It was primarily designed to be viewed from upper windows and is essentially using flowering plants as a tool to paint patterns in stylised form, such as we see on fabrics.

Monet used more of a mix and match of colours to get the beguiling complexity we associate with Impressionist art, but if you look at the composition around that central allée, it is still geometric.

The danger is that if you over simplify it, you are more likely to end up with bedding plants arrayed in the style of the old fashioned traffic island or floral clock.

Next up came a programme we had of BBC Gardener’s World where lead presenter, Monty Don, was walking down one of the paths in his garden and lo! There was another garden in distinctive stripes. It was all dead straight. Very tall hedges either side, a middle layer of matched small bushes planted in long stripes inside, edged by buxus with a narrow path between the matched borders. There is something engaging in the simplicity of such a scene, but it is still really like a house hallway outdoors – an access way which you want to lead to somewhere more open and spacious at either end.

David Hobb's garden in Canterbury

David Hobb’s garden in Canterbury

It started a conversation here about creating a garden on a dead flat site with no established trees or structure. That is apparently what Monty Don did and he went with masses of clipped hedges to give form. I saw the same strategy in large Christchurch gardens on the flat. These hedges gave both structure and protection from Canterbury’s winds which can howl across the plains.

Mobile hedge-trimming platform from Trotts Garden in Canterbury

Mobile hedge-trimming platform from Trotts Garden in Canterbury

Ever practical gardeners, we could see difficulties in the longer term. In order to get good structure, you need to let the hedges grow tall – around the 4 metre mark in large spaces. Formal hedges need trimming at least once a year, more often if you want clean crisp lines. If you get the mechanical hedge trimming contractors in, you have to keep a vehicle path width down either side of the hedge. If you do it yourself, you need mobile scaffolding, a good eye and the determination to get it right. It is not a path we would choose to go down ourselves. There are more fun things to do in the garden than endless hedge trimming. These may not be gardens to grow old in, unless you can afford the labour to carry out the trimming.

The alternative in large flat gardens is to plant good long term trees with sufficient space to grow to reach their potential. They can give the structure and form in the long term and as long as you choose well, they are not going to need anywhere near the regular maintenance of the formal hedge.

Next, on the long, wet weekend, we reviewed yet another of the gardening programmes we had saved. This time it was the UK’s longstanding and vastly experienced garden presenter, Alan Titchmarsh (a refreshingly unpretentious Yorkshireman) with his Love Your Garden series. One episode showed a simply astounding, verdant, lush forest on a very traditional, flat, rear section.

If you have ever seen British suburbia, the British equivalent of our traditional quarter acre section is a narrow plot which is the width of the semi detached or terraced house (in other words, two rooms wide if you are lucky) with a small front area and a longer rear area. This was one of those. I think Alan Titchmarsh said it was 30 metres long but it can’t have been more than 8 metres wide, if that.

The gardening owner had taken this long, thin rectangle and entirely disguised it. The main device was a zigzag wall structure running diagonally across the yard which had then been planted heavily. The foliage hid the wall but that structure turned a blank, open canvas into a much more complex design with different conditions in which to grow plants. Against the odds, there were hidden areas to be discovered and the garden was not visible at any point in its entirety (except, presumably from an upstairs window).

You can take a dead flat, unprepossessing piece of ground and turn it into something surprising and deceptive if you have flair. But then you can take planting in stripes and turn it into something special as well, if you are another Claude Monet.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.