Tag Archives: garden diary

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.

Tikorangi Garden Diary: Sunday 19 June, 2011

Morning coffee in our work area by the olive tree

Morning coffee in our work area by the olive tree


Rather optimistic, hoping to extract oil from the olives

Rather optimistic, hoping to extract oil from the olives

Mark has been much preoccupied by the olive crop this week. In the past I have tried with less than stellar success to pickle olives. Alas, the big imported olives I buy at the delicatessen counter are more delicious than my home grown efforts. We only have one olive tree which we keep primarily because it gives us some shade and privacy in the spot where we often have our winter workday morning coffee. But the olive crop this year was so bountiful that Mark felt compelled to gather it. I have taken a passive role on the attempts to extract some olive oil from this ripe crop but there may be good reasons why Google does not yield up a multitude of sites which give instructions on low tech olive oil extraction. His expectations were modest – a spoonful of pure, super extra virgin, zero carbon footprint oil would keep him happy but at this stage it looks as if pomace may be the winner, not oil. I do not think self sufficiency in the olive oil stakes is close.

The dominating presence of the original Magnolia Iolanthe

The dominating presence of the original Magnolia Iolanthe


Oranges (or mandarins here) and....

Oranges (or mandarins here) and....

Having completed the once in decade (or longer) makeover of the Avenue Gardens, I have moved in to what we loosely call the kitchen garden or driveway garden. Over the years, this area which was traditionally the main vegetable garden has changed in character and use. The original Magnolia Iolanthe, heeled in temporarily in the very early 1960s, is now of such generous proportions and iconic status, that Mark has gradually been relocating most of the veg growing to other sites. These days it is a mix of quick maturing vegetables, herbs, butterfly garden, nurse area for holding plants which are destined for relocation, existing citrus trees (lime, lemon, tangelo, three mandarins and three orange trees) and the omnipresent Iolanthe. At least Mark came up with a splendid purpose for this area as we plan our new garden developments. A citrus grove, he suggested. We could designate it the citrus grove and underplant with some of the many, very beautiful Camellia yuhsienensis we have looking for a forever home, as well as the annuals for butterfly food. Sounds good to me – low maintenance, purposeful, attractive and an undeniably romantic designation. So I will do a holding pattern maintenance round while we plan the next stage of development.

... and rather a lot of plants of Camellia yuhsienensis looking for forever homes

... and rather a lot of plants of Camellia yuhsienensis looking for forever homes

On a practical level, we are chipping away at hydrangea pruning and rose pruning as each area gets a winter clean-up. The rose prunings go out in the rubbish. Burning is the only other option. They can not be composted or mulched.

Having finished cleaning up after me, (oh but I am blessed to have such a competent person following behind with the mulcher, chainsaw, leaf rake and tractor) and relocating a huge clump of self sown king ferns which had established in the wrong place, our multi-skilled Lloyd has started work on restoring a stone wall which had long ago collapsed beneath a falling pine tree. Stonework is incredibly labour intensive and it is best to measure it in terms of end result, not labour costs.

On a non gardening note, I have been spending hours working through proofing a biography of my brother. He died in an avalanche in the Himalayas in 1983. At the time, communications being pre mobile phones, it took two weeks for us to learn of his death. Around that time our second daughter was born and soon after a postcard arrived saying how much he was looking forward to seeing us and meeting our new baby on his imminent return. By then, we knew he was already dead. To me, he was a beloved brother who died too young. To the wider world, he was one of this country’s foremost mountaineers and it is quite an extraordinary experience to read the story of his achievements, much of which I never really grasped. The working title is Bold Beyond Belief and the biography of Bill Denz, written by Paul Maxim, is scheduled for publication towards the end of the year.

In the Garden this Week: May 20, 2011

Arguably the most critical copper spray of the year on citrus now

Arguably the most critical copper spray of the year on citrus now

• Get a copper spray on to citrus trees as soon as dry weather returns. This is a particularly important spray to stop fruit rotting on the trees before it even ripens and to stop leaf drop. Mandarins are particularly susceptible.

• Sow broad beans and you can continue planting the reliable brassicas (except Brussels sprouts – it is far too late for them. Your Brussels should already be half a metre high by now if you are to get a crop in late winter).

• We are dubious of the practice of fertilising and routinely spraying your lawns because it is just all round bad environmental practice but if you insist on continuing to use hormone sprays, getting them on now rather than waiting for spring may contain some of the damage to neighbouring plants. Plants coming into fresh leaf in spring are extremely susceptible to the faintest hint of spray drift. Hormone sprays are used to take out undesirable lawn weeds. Hand weeding is kinder to the environment if you don’t want a bio-diverse lawn.

• Get the last of your autumn harvest in before you lose the lot. Any potatoes still in the ground will be getting eaten. We have finished the tomatoes here but the capsicums and peppers will hold longer in the shed whereas they rot in the garden. Gather nuts and dry them rather than leaving them to feed the local rodents.

• Polyanthus can be lifted and thinned. Replant the strong crowns to get a better display shortly.

• Keep an eye on leaf litter landing in fish ponds and water features. If you let it rot down in the water, it increases the nutrient levels leading to later problems with algae growth and it can even kill the fish by reducing oxygen levels. A kitchen sieve or butterfly net is a useful scoop for this task.

• Lily bulbs are now in stock at garden centres. These are best bought fresh so if you want to grow these wonderful summer bulbs, get in early. Pot them if you are not ready to put them straight into the garden because they don’t store well.

In the Garden this week: Friday 13 May, 2011

* The Chief Weed Controller here (aka Mark) advises that the weeds are germinating in abundance and to make a weeding round a priority. If you get on top of this wave of weeds, you should have a largely weed-free winter and delayed start to spring infestations, especially if you lay a mulch after dealing to the blighters. We are a bit too wet now and there is not enough heat in the sun to make push hoeing effective unless you rake it all up immediately and remove it. Hand weeding or glyphosate (weed spraying, on a dry day) are the usual techniques for this time of year.

* If you are a less than enthusiastic gardener, get out to do the big autumn clean up before the weather turns cold and miserable. Otherwise you will spend the winter looking out the windows at a messy garden. If you do a trim, tidy and weed now, you can get through the next few months with the occasional mow and raking up the debris.

* Rake up autumn leaves in discreet piles so they can break down to give you rich leaf mould to rake back out onto the garden later. They will rot down more quickly in a heap.

* Cover your compost heap or bin, if you have not yet done so. It keeps the compost warmer and stops the goodness being leached out by the winter rains.

* Gardeners in inland areas should be battening down the hatches in preparation for early frosts. Take cuttings of frost prone plants like fuchsias, begonias and vireya rhododendrons as an insurance. Coastal gardeners probably don’t need to worry about this in our milder conditions.

* Remove saucers from beneath container plants, both indoors and out. It is not good for plants to sit around in cold water during winter. Cut back your watering of indoor plants – they are better kept on the dry side now.

* Part of your tidy up round of the vegetable garden is to sow all vacant areas in a green crop – urgently. Lupins, oats, even plain ryegrass will help. Green crops condition and nourish the soil in preparation for spring planting but even more helpfully, their roots stop the ground from compacting and make it much easier to dig over later, particularly in heavy soils.