Tag Archives: garden diary

THE FINAL In the garden this fortnight: Thursday 5 July, 2012

A fortnightly series first published in the Weekend Gardener and reproduced here with their permission. However, as I have now parted company from that publication, this will be the final in this particular series.

Gloriosa superba in summer

Gloriosa superba in summer

The comments about lilies in issue 339 reminded me that I needed to thin our Gloriosa superba. While these are often referred to as climbing lilies, they aren’t a lily at all, being an entirely different family. But they are a wonderful summer flower and very obliging at growing in parched, dry conditions in the front, sunny border under the eaves of the house. There are not a lot of plants that like those conditions. The tubers are very curious. As they get bigger, they grow into large V shapes and they find their own depth in the soil – sometimes very deep down. I do not understand how they do it. It is hard not to envisage them wriggling down. If they are happy, they can multiply a bit too readily and seed down as well. I dug out a bucket of spares from a short border. They are difficult to dig out without breaking them and if you lose both tips, they are no longer any good and will just rot.

Gloriosa superba tubers

Gloriosa superba tubers

These tubers come into growth in late spring. The stems need some support because they get about a metre long before they put up a succession of odd reflexed flowers in orange-red and yellow tones which look for all the world like a coronet. They lack any fragrance but they are an excellent cut flower and the season lasts months through summer. Curiously, they are the national flower of both Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka.

Top Tasks

1) Rose pruning. We like our roses to flush early here so that they are in full flower for our annual garden festival at the end of October. Being country residents, we are still allowed an incinerator and I pile up the prunings beside it so they can dry and then be burned.

2) I prefer to keep most of our roses in one area of the garden rather than spread throughout. After pruning, I rake out fallen leaves around the plants because these can harbour disease and then follow up with a mulch of fresh compost.

3) Carry my wire brush with me in my gardening basket. While the lichen growth we get here is apparently a sign of very clean air, we can end up with too much moss and lichen in our humid climate. I find it much easier to do a little often, rather than trying to clean entire areas at once. I have stonework, concrete, brickwork and plant trunks in my sights.

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In the garden this fortnight: June 21, 2012

A fortnightly series first published in the Weekend Gardener and reproduced here with their permission.

Before - too much mondo grass, not to mention superfluous hostas and Ligularia reniformis needing attention

Before – too much mondo grass, not to mention superfluous hostas and Ligularia reniformis needing attention

There are times, I admit, when the advice I give as a garden writer is from the do-as-I-say school. Digging and dividing perennials is an example – a recommended activity but not as urgent as other tasks here so rarely gets done. I am reformed, inspired by the dramatic response of plants which I lifted, divided and replanted into well dug soils last year. They romped away. I am working my way through the garden borders, lifting pretty much every perennial (but leaving Helleborus orientalis – the most common hellebore. It doesn’t appreciate being disturbed). As some have been left for well over a decade, it is a major task and takes some physical effort. It also gives the opportunity to clean up the perennial plantings to achieve a more cohesive look. Years of plugging gaps had meant that some were pretty hodge-podge in the selection of plants.

I have carted away two barrowloads of green mondo grass from just one smallish border – too much mondo. A drift of yellow polyanthus will give winter colour, interplanted with bluebells for early spring contrast. The variegated Soloman Seal (Polygonatum multiflorum var.) will give spring and summer detail, all held together by the evergreen tractor seat ligularia (L. reniformis) and the green mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus) – but in moderation. All of this is in the lee of a large mandarin tree, which gives wonderful orange winter colour with its abundant fruit. The fun part of gardening is deciding on different combinations for different areas but after the hard work, patience is needed before it all starts growing again.

And after - it needs to grow but it is very tidy

And after – it needs to grow but it is very tidy

TOP TASKS
1) Limit the mondo grass – both the black and green forms. It seems to have quietly spread into too many areas where it is not needed at all.
2) Get a layer of compost mulch onto the borders where I have been working. The compost will feed the plants while stopping dirt splash in rain. It is a fiddly job because it needs to be placed around in each plant by hand.
3) With only two months until spring here, the pressure is on to get winter projects done. This includes my reconstruction of the rose garden. It will make a major mess so once started, it is a case of needing to persevere until it is done. I have not been game to start yet but will run out of time unless I get moving.

In the garden this fortnight: Thursday February 9, 2012

A fortnightly series first published in the Weekend Gardener and reproduced here with their permission.

The only justification for growing seeding campanulata cherries - feeding the scores of tui in late winter

The only justification for growing seeding campanulata cherries - feeding the scores of tui in late winter


A rash of germinating campanulata cherries

A rash of germinating campanulata cherries

We are very cautious about invasive plants here. I know there is an old cliché that says a weed is just a plant in the wrong place but in a large garden, we can’t afford to have out of control triffids. If a plant starts to look dangerous, it probably is. If it is a prolific seeder and the seed is dispersed by birds, it is even more problematic. The campanulata cherries fall into this category and if it weren’t for the scores of tui they attract to the garden each spring, we would do away with them. The seeding bangalow palm (Archontophoenix cunninghamiana) is also a source of angst. The same goes for the Himalayan Daphne bholua which doesn’t just seed. It also suckers below ground. If we lived near a national park or adjacent to a native reserve, we would feel morally obliged to review our hospitality to these ornamental plants.

We are nowhere near as tolerant of wayward perennials and annuals. Forget-me-not may be pretty but it is aptly named. We have been weeding it out for years here and still it stages a comeback. The orangeberry (Rubus pentalobus) had to go when it formed an impenetrable mat after just one year then started climbing and leaping to extend its territory – but never fruited. Some of the ornamental tradescantias (wandering willies) are also invasive. We have a very pretty blue flowered form but it sets prodigious quantities of seed and is popping up in thickets many metres away. The remains of the arum lily Green Goddess still require regular attention to get rid of the last remnants of tiny rhizomes out of the ground.

Where we have plants which set miles too much seed, like the granny bonnets (aquilegias) and the sweet williams (dianthus), we try and deadhead straight into a bucket. From there, they either go to the bottom of a hot compost heap, out with the rubbish or on the burning heap. Composting alone does not kill seeds unless you manage your compost in a way that generates considerable heat. While we don’t mind a certain amount of seeding down of pretty plants, we like to keep them confined to particular areas and don’t want to spread them everywhere when we use the compost as mulch.

I am very fond of eryngiums

I am very fond of eryngiums

Top tasks:
1) Persuade Mark to head out with the chainsaw and cut down some of the self seeded pongas. We don’t regard these as weeds because they are native, but we end up with too many of them. We have them as raised beds in the rimu avenue, where some are now 50 years old. I want to extend the constructions along further and feature more bromeliads. I have never learned to use a chainsaw and am terrified of them. Mark is equally worried by what I could do with one if I became confident so has never encouraged me to learn.
2) Mark has been raising perennials from seed in the nursery and I need to get onto planting these out. I was particularly pleased to see a tray of eryngiums – blue sea holly. It is a little bit prickly but so very pretty. Blue flowers are my absolute favourite. It would have been better had we got onto planting these out earlier but they are perennial so should grow on to star next summer.

Ponga (tree fern) trunks, used to make raised beds andwhich have lasted for five decades already

Ponga (tree fern) trunks, used to make raised beds andwhich have lasted for five decades already


In the Garden this Fortnight: January 26, 2012

A fortnightly series first published in the Weekend Gardener and reproduced here with their permission.

The dreaded Onehunga weed needs active management

The dreaded Onehunga weed needs active management

Onehunga weed is that innocent looking but prickly interloper to the lawn which makes walking in bare feet a misery. It is an annual weed and the prickles are part of its seed setting cycle. We had an invasion of it in some areas and rather than spraying, we tried scalping the lawn just before Christmas. By scalping, I mean cutting on a very low level and removing all the clippings to the compost heap. We normally mulch the clippings back in to the lawn. The lawn looked patchy for the next few weeks but the Onehunga weed was gone – including the new crop of seed heads. There is a risk element to this approach. Had we then struck a prolonged period of high temperatures and sun, we would have had to have started watering the lawn or watched a dust bowl develop. Scalping a lawn in early to mid summer is not usually recommended. As it happened, we had plenty of torrential rain to green up the lawn again.

You can spray for Onehunga weed (though you need to do it earlier in the season before the plants flower and set prickles) but we are increasingly reluctant to use lawn sprays, leaning to the view that maintaining one’s lawn chemically is getting close to environmental vandalism. Recent research from Massey has found a new strain of Onehunga weed which is resistant to the usual lawn sprays -another warning, perhaps, about gardening strategies that depend on chemical intervention. The weed generally germinates in autumn and grows through winter to flower and die in summer. If you have a lush, healthy lawn, it will find it harder to get going in competition with established grasses. Lifting the mower a notch or two higher can help keep a lawn in better condition (a scalped or shaved lawn is never a healthy lawn) and we are big advocates of using a mulcher mower, thereby avoiding having to feed the lawn. Where we need to over sow or renovate areas, we use homemade compost rather than proprietary fertiliser. Our lawns don’t look like bowling greens but they are generally healthy and green.

Onehunga weed is shallow rooted so if you only have a small area of grass, you can hand weed it. It is always better to get in early before it spreads – which it will do at alarming speed if you ignore it.

This one is auratum Flossie - all the lilies are opening now
This one is auratum Flossie – all the lilies are opening now

Top tasks:
1) An emergency staking round on some of the top heavy auratum lilies. We grow a lot of these for summer fragrance and blooms. Because they are garden plants and not show blooms, we support the flower heads on neighbouring plants where possible, but some just have to be staked. Home harvested, fresh green bamboo stakes are less visually intrusive than bought bamboos stakes. We shun plastic stakes but will use rusty old steel on occasion.

2) The rose garden is looking tired. I have major plans for a renovation of this area in winter but will start by lifting and dividing some of the stronger perennials, potting them to planter bags and keeping them out of sight and under irrigation while they recover. It takes many more plants than anyone ever expects to furnish a garden which has been gutted out. I need to start now to have sufficient plants to do a major rework and replant in winter.

In the Garden: January 5, 2012

A fortnightly series first published in the Weekend Gardener and reproduced here with their permission.

I am very selective about container plants these days

I am very selective about container plants these days

As summer takes hold, I am grateful that I have dramatically reduced the number of plants I grow in containers. I am not particularly reliable at hand watering and there is nothing worse than feature plants in pots, troughs or containers that stand out because they are gasping for water, drooping and defoliating badly. It is also very difficult to get water into potting mixes which have dried out completely because the water just flows straight through. A squirt of detergent can act as a surfactant and help water absorption. Because I only grow bulbs, the odd large bonsai or choice shrubs in pots, I never add water retention crystals. With our high rainfall, these products keep the potting mix too wet, rotting out the roots and the bulbs. This is particularly so in winter when plants don’t want to live with their roots sogging in cold, wet conditions. The only time I have used water retention crystals was in my hanging basket phase (it passed quickly) and when I tried seasonal pots of annuals – which also passed quickly. We went on holiday leaving lovely big pots of blooming pink petunias and blue ageratum and came back to pots of withered, dead plants. The water retention crystals were not enough. I decided then and there that I preferred a more permanent and sustainable style of gardening.

In issue 323 of the Weekend Gardener, I wrote about plunging pots to reduce watering requirements while still keeping individual plants featured. It only works if the pots are porous (I keep to terracotta) and they still need the occasional water but they are much easier to maintain over summer. I have found I need to keep an eye out for slug infestations around the plunged pots. They like the damp, dark conditions and can take up residence on the outside surfaces of the pots. I found an entire slug convention on one pot recently but at least it encourages them into one area for easy eradication.

The peaceful, neverending task of hoicking out flat weeds

The peaceful, neverending task of hoicking out flat weeds

Top tasks:
1) Weeding is never ending. At this time of year, some of it can be done quickly by push hoe. If any weeds get away on us and set seed heads, we try and remove them from the area but the aim is always to get them before that stage so they can be left to wither and die in the summer sun.
2) The autumn bulbs will be starting to move very soon, putting out fresh roots. I need to thin the Cyclamen hederafolium, Colchicum autumnale (the autumn crocus) and check over the clumps of nerines (mostly sarniensis hybrids) before they are growing.
3) When I feel the need to do something quiet and mindless, I head out with the lawn tool to dig out flat weeds in the grassy areas of our park. It is a bit like King Canute holding back the sea but it makes me feel more virtuous than spraying and it is a soothing summer occupation.

In the Garden: Friday December 16

A fortnightly series first published in the Weekend Gardener and reproduced here with their permission.

The antique stone mill wheels are fine as garden decoration

The antique stone mill wheels are fine as garden decoration

Ours is a garden that is very light on ornamentation and we prefer it that way. The last thing I want for Christmas is a garden ornament or colourful display pot. The three stone antique millwheels are fine, but generally we like to feature glimpsed views or plants as focal points rather than statuary or any type of installation. We are lucky that we garden on a sufficiently large scale to be able to use the glimpsed view, even the odd borrowed vista. It is a bit more problematic in a tiny, town garden with a view of next door’s washing line. But using plants as a feature point is possible no matter what size the garden.

Before....

Before....

One of the delights of having a mature garden with old plants is that there is plenty of raw material for clipping and shaping. We don’t want to follow the Italian example and clip and shape everything, but the occasional large, cloud pruned specimen can be as strong as any man-made focal point. Camellias are wonderful for clipping and shaping because they will sprout again if you make a mistake and they grow densely if you clip every year. Some of the michelias also clip well when they are well established, as does loropetalum and the classic yews. The skill is in making

... and immediately after

... and immediately after

sure that not everything is turned into a lollipop (the easiest shape to clip), or a cake stand (which is just a vertical stack of lollipops). Mark favours the flatter topped mushroom shape or layers of clouds. We had four standard lollipops flanking our sunken garden but they had become too dense and rounded. Some radical cutting has seen them become much lighter mushrooms instead, giving a visual accent rather than completely dominating the area. He doesn’t rely on doing it all by eye, instead using lengths of bamboo to measure height and width. We don’t mind a bit of variation – these are living plants not artificial structures that can be like identical soldiers – but we want a sense of overall unity.

Top tasks:

1) Summer prune the wisterias. Turn your back for a moment and they can make a bid for world domination, or so it seems. I just tidy up the long, wayward tendrils at this time of the year and do a structural and shaping prune in winter.

2) Continue deadheading and light summer pruning of the roses. Because we never spray our roses here, I prune frequently to encourage fresh growth. They get a traditional winter prune so the summer effort is more like a nip and tuck. I rely on keeping the roses growing strongly and pushing out fresh leaf buds to keep enough foliage coming to replace what succumbs to black spot. I try and remove all spent blooms and damaged foliage to the wheelie bin, to avoid them harbouring pests and diseases on the ground at the base of the roses.

A large cloud pruned specimen of Camellia sasanqua Mine No Yuki

A large cloud pruned specimen of Camellia sasanqua Mine No Yuki

In the Garden: December 2, 2011

A fortnightly series first published in the Weekend Gardener and reproduced here with their permission.

Rhodohypoxis - one of the showiest late spring bulbs here

Rhodohypoxis - one of the showiest late spring bulbs here


Vireya rhododendrons can force dormant leaf buds from low down

Vireya rhododendrons can force dormant leaf buds from low down

It snowed in mid August. To say we were stunned would be an understatement – in the 130 years of family history here, there is no record of it ever snowing before. But it wasn’t the snow that did the damage, it was the killer frost the following morning. While we get occasional light frosts, the plants are not hardened off so a more extreme freeze can cause considerable damage. But after 3 months, some of the vireya rhododendrons which looked stone dead are forcing out fresh leaf buds from lower down the plant. They are a good reminder why it pays not to rip out plants too quickly. Clematis are also known to rally sometimes from apparent death caused by stem wilt. We will leave the vireyas to their own devices until the new growth is hardening off, at which time we will feed them and cut off all the dead wood. Vireyas have the ability to push out dormant leaf buds from quite old, woody stems but those where the bark has split in a vertical line to soil level will be a goner.

Other frost tender to subtropical material that got clobbered by the frost included the pawpaws, Michelia alba, bananas and Eupatorium sordidum. These all showed some burning and defoliation but are now covered in fresh spring growth.

Amongst the very late spring bulbs, the rhodohypoxis and tritonias are the showiest. The former are small, neat and pretty – the only danger is that they are very anonymous when dormant so hard to spot when digging in the garden or pulling out weeds. The tritonias are very orange and showy. Their downside is that, like some of the species gladioli, the flowers come out when the foliage is already starting to look scruffy.

Reminder to self: deadhead the yellow Primula helodoxa

Reminder to self: deadhead the yellow Primula helodoxa

Top tasks:

1) Stay on top of the weeding. The old saying is one year’s seeding leads to seven years’ weeding. We try hard to stop any weeds from getting to the seeding stage.
2) Deadhead the Primula helodoxa planted by the stream. They put on a wonderful display of sunshine yellow in mid spring but can seed too freely and one person’s ornamentals can become the neighbour’s weeds, especially where waterways are concerned.
3) Dig and divide my bed of Grandma’s violets. In fact these are probably a legacy of Mark’s great-grandma, but they are a little too enthusiastic about their reinstatement as a groundcover. Last year I tried to thin them but it was hard my arthriticky fingers. I think it will be easier to dig them all out this year, cultivate the bed and replant divisions.