Tag Archives: laying garden paths

Counting down to festival in the new world of Covid

Prunus Awanui in flower this week as we pass peak magnolia and go into the next phase of spring

As a nation, we are collectively holding our breath to see if we are indeed safely back to the status of zero Covid cases, except those caught and isolated in border quarantine. Just one community case in five days and counting now, this second time round. Our team of five million that saw us achieve this status the first time round has had some defections. Hopefully, the mob of doubters, conspiracists and anti-vaxxers is small, though very noisy. Obsessed only with their own *rights*, they have no concern for the safety and well-being of others and are swallowed up by their own crusade that Covid doesn’t exist, that it is no worse than the common flu, that it is a man-made virus being used by Bill Gates and his cohorts to take over the world (never mind that these positions are contradictory), that our government is lying to us, that it is somehow tied up with the 5G network and probably chem trails, that the Covid vaccine will be mandatory (it won’t) – all because they don’t want to wear masks on public transport and maintain physical distancing while we stamp out the latest flare-up. Sigh.

Mark’s Rhododendron Floral Sun never fails to lift my spirits, even more so this week in such uncertain times

It is not helped by a prolonged election campaign where some of the opposition parties are hellbent on undermining confidence in the government and community response to Covid. Let not the fact that NZ is a shining star internationally with its Covid response and that we have fewer restrictions and a safer environment than almost every other country in the world at this time get in the way of their narrative that  it is a ‘shambles’, ‘incompetent’, a ‘failure’, an example of ‘gross mismanagement’ and all the rest. Some even advocate opening the borders and ‘learning to live with Covid’, though they seem to be unable to come up with international examples of countries managing to live comfortably with Covid on the loose in the community.

New Zealand – we done good. We are on track to eliminate this latest outbreak. The election will be over in a month. Our lives will return to the comfort of level one freedoms in this new reality that Covid has brought to our world.

‘Back in the day’, as is said, I used to write a regular piece for the local paper called ‘Countdown to Festival’ and I still look back at that series with some fond memories. It was just an assemblage of snippets from local gardeners describing their preparations for the annual garden festival and, from memory, the paper paid me the grand sum of $35 a week for it. It comprised garden hints from gardeners all around the district, some quirky anecdotes and painting small word pictures of the characters who were beavering away to get their gardens to opening standard.  I think it had a quirky charm as well as some handy advice but it all stopped when I left the Taranaki Daily News and went to write for the Waikato Times instead.

The pretty path down to the park by my washing line, The white on the left is fragrant Rhododendron veitchianum, colourful azaleas in the centre and pretty Magnolia laevifolia ‘Velvet and Cream’ on the right

My mind went back to that series because we are now totally focused on getting the garden ready for opening on October30. Hopefully, we will be in level one which, in NZ, means no restrictions at all (life as usual but with no overseas tourists) but I am assuming we can still go ahead at level two, if need be. Mostly that means physical distancing and some controls on numbers, but presumably without coach tours owing to distancing not being possible on most coaches. Note to self: buy hand sanitiser – that public health symbol of Covid – and investigate registering for QR code. Even I, an occasional mobile phone-user at best, use the Covid app to scan into all shops and businesses. It is much easier than manually signing in. Frankly, it feels weird to be contemplating getting all visitors to the property to scan or sign in but this is our world now.

Lloyd can be spotted at the back of the photo with the tractor, our fancy lawnmower towing a large trolley, screeding tool, shovel, rake, barrow and plate compactor. This is not a job for the fainthearted.

The compacted ‘terrazzo’ look

With our lives becoming so much more home-based, local and smaller – holding the chaos of the world at bay – the garden has become even more important. This week, I ordered the first truckload of the top layer for the paths in our new summer gardens. Ten cubic metres or fourteen ton to start with and we will need at least as much again. It is not cheap so there was some nervousness but we are pretty excited at the effect of this crushed limestone and shell mix (I did say our world had grown smaller!). Lloyd is spreading it by barrow, shovel and rake,  screeding it and then using the plate compressor to compact it as he goes. A torrential downpour was a good test. It compacts suffciently firmly that the torrent of ground water did not wash it away and the surface is so smooth that it can be swept or cleaned with the leaf blower. The rain brought the whiter fines to the surface so the finished effect looks more like the terrazzo kitchen benches of long ago. After building up to this for so long, it is positively thrilling, I tell you.

I think the uppermost two topknots on Mine No Yuki need to removed entirely but that can wait if we run out of time

Lloyd has also been clipping our shaped and cloud pruned camellias this week and will start on the hedges soon. In the meantime, Mark rather defies my work schedule but has been painstakingly giving the geriatric apple trees a major and considered prune. Next up, the two avenues of Fairy Magnolia White and the punctuation points of Podocarpus parlatorei in the new gardens are awaiting their annual trim. Mark is by far the most skilled pruner here.

Mark has done the first four geriatric apple trees but there is a whole lot more pruning waiting to be done and I am not yet seeing him show the signs of urgency I am hoping for

I am here, there and everywhere. Garden grooming is my strength. Attention to detail. At least it gets me all round the place. We have passed peak magnolia, the snowdrops have long finished and the dwarf narcissi are all but over. Now it is bluebell time, Japanese cherries, rhododendrons, evergreen azaleas and mid spring bulbs. The plants and the seasons are not disturbed by Covid.

The mid spring bulbs are starting – Moraea villosa and sparaxis

The freshly laid paths in the Court Garden look a little stark but we are confident they will mellow and soften quickly. The initial stage is preternaturally tidy.

Notes from the Garden of Jury – September 13

The little sights in the garden can bring me delight – bluebells and narcissi against the twisted trunk of a giant eucalyptus

I am feeling the pressure of opening the garden again after seven years. All I can say is that if you want to see it, you had better come this year to the Taranaki Garden Festival (October 30 to November 8) because they way I am feeling, we may not open again.

We maintain the garden all the time to a level that keeps us happy but that is not the same as the level needed to reopen after such a long time closed. With seven weeks to go, there seems to be so much to do. We will get there – we are experienced at this – but it does take away some of the pleasure of early spring.

Spring has long been associated with anxiety in my mind. For seven years, from the age of 15 to 22, it was the time of major exams that could change the course of my life. I had nightmares about it all for at least two decades after that. Then spring became a pressure time for us when we were in business with the garden open, retailing plants and the never-ending demands of nursery production work. The last seven years have been bliss. Bliss, I tell you. With no external pressures or expectations of us, we have been free to take all the time we want to enjoy the daily sights of spring abundance and beauty. Whether we continue to reopen after this year will depend on how much we enjoy the festival and sharing the garden with visitors. It will have to be quite a lot to reward me for all the effort going into it right now.

A daily routine here but I admit that the photo was taken earlier when temperatures were warmer. Mark is not one of those hardy men who wears shorts all year round.

Emerging lilies. You won’t see the detail if you are reading this on your phone, but front right is the one rabbit-chewed shoot. In the past two years, all would have been attacked by now.

Regular readers may recall my despair at the rabbit predations this time last year. Mark and I were out sprinkling blood and bone after every rain to try and deter them. The auratum lilies are all coming through again and I am checking every morning. So far only one has been chewed off. This is testimony to Mark’s ongoing efforts with the gun. He has shot nearly 50 so far this year and that in a limited area of barely 2 acres. There are still a few around that need to be cleaned out and we dare not take our eyes off the ball – or the fluffy tails – because those few can increase exponentially (not unlike Covid, really) but man with .22 rifle appears to have the upper hand at this stage. In case you are wondering what we do with 49 dead rabbits, there is not much that the dogs enjoy more than fresh rabbit for breakfast.

I have tried cooking rabbit before – both casserole and pie but the only recipe I have really enjoyed is for rabbit and pistachio terrine (a recipe courtesy of Alistair Boyce) and it takes a bit of effort and pre-planning so I don’t make it often.

Lloyd in the process of compacting the base layer of pit metal. We borrowed the compactor from an obliging man up the road but they can also be hired. 

We bought this little orchard tractor over 20 years ago and it was already old then. It has done a lot of work in the years since.

We have laid the base course of pit metal for the paths in the new summer gardens. I say ‘we’, but that is in the royal sense. This has been Lloyd’s project. It took about 19 cubic metres and he did it with our baby tractor and wheelbarrow. We had thought we would get a bobcat in but Lloyd pointed out that the paths, though appearing generous, were just too narrow for the bobcat and some of the turns too tight so he thought it better to take the time to do it himself with minimal disturbance.

When it rains heavily, this path becomes the natural water course

An off the shelf solution but it needs precise installation to make it work for the best outcome

He is only half way there. There is still the top layer of crushed limestone and shell to be laid but we are letting the base layer settle first. Heavy rains highlighted a problem: in one area, the run-off from downpours naturally flowed down one path and scoured out the newest set of steps every time. We can get away with quite a bit because our volcanic soils are very free draining and surface water is absorbed quickly (this never happens in clay soils). But our rains can be torrential and when that happens, the run-off will find its natural path. Lloyd is, by nature, a problem solver. He decided we needed a drainage channel in front of the steps, one that is safe to be walked on. Fortunately, this is an off-the-shelf solution. He has laid it with an imperceptible drop to one side (this is a man who makes a spirit level his friend) and then connected it to a length of holey, plastic drainage tubing hidden just below the mulch to disperse the water more widely. We are waiting for the next downpour but we expect the problem to be solved.

Magnolia Athene against the bright blue sky yesterday

It is August – time for magnolias, laying paths and killing moss

Magnolia campbellii ssp mollicomata ‘Lanarth’

Lanarth down by the water in our park

As August arrives, there is so much happening in the garden. Every day sees something else in bloom and now I get anxious that if I forget to look for a few days, I might miss something. I tell you, spring can be stressful.

Mark’s yellow Lachenalia reflexa hybrid

But our thoughts go out to overseas readers whose lives continue to be disrupted, discombobulated and sometimes turned upside down by Covid-19. Never has New Zealand felt so comfortably remote and self-contained, a small cluster of islands holding the unpredictable forces of chaos at bay, so far. May you stay safe and well, wherever in the world you are.

We are inching ever closer to finishing the new summer gardens, or at least to completing this stage of development. There are just the path surfaces to be laid and that has to wait until the man I hope can deliver the materials and arrange a bob-cat returns from holiday next week. We solved the problem at one end where the steps down to the garden were at a lower level than the camellia and michelia hedge that forms the backdrop. It was always going to involve some means of separating the levels. We priced steel edging because I really like that au naturelle, unobtrusive, thin look of gently rusted steel. Buying the branded product specifically designed for garden edging was very expensive indeed and that was without factoring in freight. Ever-handy Lloyd priced buying the steel locally, cut to suitable size, and it came in at about a third of the price but still somewhere over $1000. It was not going to bring me enough pleasure to warrant spending that amount of money.

Compromising with a stained timber edging

Much and all as I dislike tanalised timber in the garden, I compromised and said that would be okay as long as we stained all bits that will be visible to charcoal black. It was a solution that cost $103 (to buy six metre lengths of timber) and once the paths are laid, I do not think it will be obvious at all. The paths will be built up by about eight centimetres so there will not be a whole lot left visible.

A handy bobcat back when we started work on these gardens

Because it is going to take up to 30 cubic metres to lay all the paths, our plan – subject to the advice from the man currently on holiday – is to lay a base core of pit metal compacted to about 3 or 4cm deep and then lay the crushed, creamy yellow limestone on top of that to another 4cm. We think the pit metal will be much cheaper than limestone. We need to hire a bobcat and operator because none of us want to be carting 30 cubic metres of anything and the bobcat will be able to do a lot of the compacting that is necessary. If you have never seen a bobcat operating, believe me they are fast, manoeuvrable and quite mesmerising to watch.

On another practical level, a packet of Cold Water Surf washing powder entered my life. I had forgotten about its existence. It is vile, over-scented stuff that I would never use in the laundry but others may not mind that overpowering scent of chemical fragrance. We use unscented washing powder in this household of sensitive skins. But damn, that Cold Water Surf is a whizz on killing moss.

People in drier climates will not relate to the issues of excessive moss and lichen growth that we get here. There is nothing wrong with some, but we can get way too much. Sometimes we water blast (jet wash) the paths but that also takes off the surface of the concrete and flushes out any filling between pavers. It is just as fast for me to scrape off the top layer of moss, sprinkle Cold Water Surf to kill what remains and then use a stiff broom to sweep the residue off.

And it can kill very fast. This rather deep-rooted moss browned off within hours and died soon after.

I am no chemist so I struggle to get a grip on the difference between carbonate, bicarbonate and percarbonate. But as far as I can see, the active ingredients in many of the expensive, branded moss killers are often sodium carbonate (washing soda or soda ash), or sometimes sodium percarbonate (which is washing soda and hydrogen peroxide – a common ingredient in eco-friendly bleaches and other cleaning products).

You can buy both sodium carbonate and sodium percarbonate in powder form and I have done so but it worked out relatively expensive to use in the garden when cheap Cold Water Surf works just as well. Logically, this must mean that I was spreading the pure product too thickly when it can be extended by adding some sort of neutral carrier (Mark suggested sand). At a practical level, the products were fine powder and the coarser texture of the laundry powder makes it easier to spread evenly. Also, logically, any proprietary laundry powder should work unless some have a higher percentage of washing soda than others and that I do not know.

I am wondering whether it will work on our sandy coloured pavers in our front entrance courtyard. I water blasted these a few years ago. It was my first ever go on the water blaster and it took a lot longer than I thought it would. It was also wet and messy and blew out the sand between the pavers which Lloyd than had to refill. But they looked like new when done. Now they are blackened and discoloured again. I know there are branded products that attach to the hose that will also work and are quicker to use, albeit expensive. If laundry powder will do it, that appeals to my economical nature and avoids buying another product sold in a hard plastic container. I shall experiment and report further.

Narcissus Peeping Tom