Tag Archives: in the garden this week

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 Diary: Sunday June 25, 2011

The wisteria festooned bridge in spring

The wisteria festooned bridge in spring

I have pruned the wisterias. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with wisterias which seem to make a leap for freedom the moment my back is turned, but they certainly add to the spring display. The blue (sinensis Blue Sapphire) and white (floribunda Snow Showers) which festoon one of our bridges in the park look terribly romantic in flower, but they are inclined to try and join hands across the middle. And I am worried that some of their thicker branches are threatening the bridge timbers. We don’t worry about the borer attacks. Wisteria are not shy and backward plants which need nurturing so I just cut out badly affected branches as need be. Mark’s mother had a lovely blue wisteria up the wall of the house outside her bedroom window but Felix took it out. I can’t recall now whether he waited til after she died (when the climbing roses went west) but I can remember being a little sad at his actions. These days I know exactly why he removed it. I have had the spouting cracked outside my office window. The last thing we need is a rampant wisteria lifting the concrete roof tiles on the house and cracking our vintage spouting there.

I am also pruning the roses and my relationship with these leans more to hate than love. Yes they have beautiful flowers and fresh foliage in spring. Because we don’t spray, come summer they have some beautiful flowers but cruddy foliage. In winter, all they do is try and ensnare me as I work around the areas where they are planted. I do not feel the need to plant more roses until breeders start to offer us more options in beautifully full, fragrant blooms (of the David Austen type) on bushes that repeat flower and don’t get diseased, preferably without thorns. By far and away, the best performers here are Rose Flower Carpet white and coral, the rugosas and one called, I think, Golden Celebration which has fearsome thorns but very good habits otherwise. But none of these give me the soft and subtle flowers of the lovely Austens.

I had a matched pair of standard Mary Roses of which I was very fond. Note the past tense. Today I dug out the one that is all but dead and which has for a long time persisted in putting out strong shoots from the root stock. And therein lies a demonstration of the problem of matched, formal plantings. What do you do when one dies or ails badly? It is much easier to get the formal look with inanimate objects. I could probably source a replacement standard but I am not going to. I do not think anyone but me will notice that there is one half of a pair missing. It is a garden which, at its best, is full of froth and flower within a formal setting. I think the setting is enough – I will not worry about trying to repeat the formality in framework planting.

Repairing the stone wall (a pine tree fell on this section some years ago)

Repairing the stone wall (a pine tree fell on this section some years ago)

Shamed by a current shortage of greens, Mark is out planting a large quantity of broad beans and peas. I could tell he is going for overkill when he wanted to discuss whether broad beans would freeze well if picked young. The deep freeze is currently full of his frozen corn which, he pointed out to me, we need to be eating at the rate of one packet every 72 hours if we are to get through it before the next crop comes in. The garlic is long planted and is well into growth. These days, he takes Kay Baxter’s advice (from Koanga Institute) and aims to get it planted in autumn so it gets away before sodden winter conditions set in. He is also trying her recommended approach to plant it in a metre grid on a 10 x 10 arrangement (so at 10cm spacing) which is a great deal more economical in space than the usual rows. Keeping it to a metre square means it is easy enough to reach into the middle to weed. I am hoping Lloyd is going to remember that he said he would smoke me some garlic while we still have plenty of last summer’s crop hanging in good condition. Lloyd is the one who owns a smoker here. Smoked garlic is particularly delicious when raw garlic is called for in recipes such as aioli.

When not fluffing around with his vegetable garden, Mark has been giving his attention to his michelia propagation trials. With the flowering season just starting, the hybridist’s hat is back on his head and we face many months where the first call on his time will be his plant breeding. It is easy to underestimate just how much time and energy goes into a controlled plant breeding programme as opposed to people who just pick out chance seedlings (or worse: copy what other breeders have already done successfully. Expect to hear more on this topic, which is a sore point here).

Lloyd is continuing with repairs to our stone wall. I did say last week that these activities are best measured in terms of results, not costs….

And while the winter/early spring bulb season is just starting (Narcissus bulbocodium, galanthus, leucojums and the early lachenalias), it is the bromeliads which are the unsung hero for winter colour this week. If you can grow broms, they sure are eye-catching in bloom.

Bromeliads for winter colour. This one is a Bilbergia.

Bromeliads for winter colour. This one is a Bilbergia.

Tikorangi Garden Diary: Sunday 12 June, 2011

Fattening magnolia buds signal the need for a nightly possum patrol

Fattening magnolia buds signal the need for a nightly possum patrol

Despite the torrential rains this week attempting to undermine our gardening efforts, we are nearly at the end of the renovation of the Avenue Gardens. Now it is just a case of getting the mulch on to suppress the legions of weed seeds which will be triggered to germinate by digging and cultivating the soil. We have done a lot of lifting and limbing, reclaiming vistas that had gradually disappeared over the years. It always feels rather brutal cutting off branches laden in flower buds (both rhododendrons and camellias in this case) but it is best to carry out hard pruning in winter.

It may be fine in a small garden to plan hard pruning for the exact time as flowering passes its peak, just before the plant puts on its new growth. The timing is different for every plant and maybe in a small garden, one is out and about every day, ready with the loppers, saw and secateurs to seize the moment. But in a big garden, it is far more likely that we working somewhere else entirely and the opportunity passes without notice for another year. So we are hard pruning right now. Overcrowding had forced many plants to grow out at an angle so some of the pruning has been an attempt to counter that inclination.

The mulcher is working overtime (with Lloyd on the end of it). Small mulchers tend to be so slow and limited that they are more trouble than they are worth, but ours is a reasonably grunty machine capable of most of what we require. If the wood is too large for the mulcher, then it is big enough to warrant cutting up for firewood. We do not, however, mulch hydrangea prunings. Not after Lloyd told us he tried mulching his at home one year and discovered micro-propagation. The carpet of mulch became a carpet of hydrangea buds which all took root and grew.

Hydrangea and rose pruning has also started. While gardeners in colder climates may prefer to leave this until after the worst of winter (pruning can trigger fresh new growth which then gets frosted), our winter temperatures are not low enough to cause problems.

Mark thinks he is getting on top of the rat population but is now starting possum patrol. The magnolia buds are swelling and while they are not a favoured food for the pesky possums as the oranges are, every year at least one develops a taste for them. As they gnaw in and eat out just the tasty centre of the bud, it is not clear that anything has happened until the flowers open in a sad and deformed manner. Year in and year out we receive phone calls from concerned magnolia owners wondering what is wrong with their tree at flowering time. Nothing that high velocity lead earlier in the season can’t cure. Often the gaudy rosella parrots are blamed but in our experience, it is the other pesky Australian import – the possum.

Tikorangi Notes: Friday 20 May, 2011

The lovely tree dahlias - not a plant for places which get early frosts

The lovely tree dahlias - not a plant for places which get early frosts

A favourite late autumn and winter scene here - the Queen Palm and silver birch set against the blue sky

A favourite late autumn and winter scene here - the Queen Palm and silver birch set against the blue sky

Latest posts:

1) The second edition of the Tui NZ Fruit Garden – is it an improvement on the first version which was withdrawn from sale with indecent haste this time last year? (Subtitled: why cooks should keep to writing recipe books and not over reach themselves with garden books.)

2) Podocarpus henkelii – a handsome, slow growing, evergreen tree from South Africa in Plant Collector this week.

3) Garden tasks for the week as autumn
slowly morphs into winter.

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.

In the garden this week: May 6, 2011

• Get green crops sown urgently in bare areas of the vegetable garden. You are running out of time for the seeds to germinate and start growing before winter slows all growth.

• Finish the autumn feeding round as a priority. There is no point in feeding plants which have stopped growing for winter but we still have a little warmth left before the full blast of winter returns to stay.

• Make the final cuts to the root balls of large plants you plan to move soon. You should have cut the first two sides some weeks ago. Cut the other two sides and beneath the plant and leave it to rest for another week or two before moving it. You can move quite substantial plants as long as you have enough combined physical strength (or mechanical equipment) to take a very large root mass with it. Prepare the new location in advance so when you come to do the move, the plant is not left with its roots exposed to drying winds or light for long.

• It is the very last chance to sow seed of quick maturing green vegetables such as mizuna and other Asian greens, spinach and winter lettuce if you are to ensure continued supply through the colder times.

• As winter looms, sowing microgreens in seed trays can be a quick and nutritious harvest, especially if you have a glasshouse, conservatory or large eaves to protect the germinating seeds and to lift the temperature. Pretty well any and every vegetable can be eaten as a microgreen which is when the first half dozen young and tender leaves appear. BBC Gardeners’ World was recommending it as a great way to use up leftover seeds remaining in open packets from last year which seemed sensible.

• The grass seed should be calling you if you still have bare areas to sow. You will get better results if you do it immediately rather than in the depths of winter.

• The very large stinky plant shown on our newspaper’s garden pages last week was in fact the Titan Arum by common name (or Amorphophallus titanum, to be more botanically correct). It has one of the largest flowers in the world and smells so revolting because it relies on tricking beetles and flies that usually feed on rotting meat in order to be pollinated.