Tag Archives: Mark and Abbie Jury

From cob to cracker

Indian corn or flint corn

Really, I wanted to show the photo of Mark’s pretty corn cobs. This is commonly called Indian corn or flint corn. It is maize, not sweetcorn so not suitable for eating as corn on the cob. Modern sweetcorn is a very different crop after a great deal of selection to get strains with very high sugar content – so much so that I often find them too sweet.  I think Mark just grew the Indian corn out of curiosity the first time. This year he put in a bigger row of it because we used all the previous crop and he is looking for grain crops that we can grow, harvest and use here.

I only have a photo of dead pheasant. We found two which had been hit on the road but he counted more than that in the patch.

He was loving the presence of the growing population of beautiful pheasants in his cropping area across the road until he realised they had quietly consumed about a third of the Indian corn. We are still delighted to have a local population of exotic-looking pheasants but he hastily harvested the remaining cobs.

Curiously, when I dehusk the dried cobs, the remaining core also shows colour variation. Red kernels usually mean a red or purple cob.

Kernels, maize flour and the handy old coffee grinder I kept in case it was needed again one day

What do we do with the corn? Home made corn crackers! I first tried grinding the kernels in the food processor and it had to work hard to achieve a fairly coarse result. I worried the meal may crack tooth fillings. Then I remembered the old electric coffee grinder I put away in a top cupboard when we upgraded to a burr grinder for coffee beans. It does an excellent job. The texture is not completely consistent and I don’t think I can manage the process to get polenta meal out of it, but it is fine for crackers. I have stopped buying corn chips and taco shells. My thin crackers make a more than acceptable substitute, though I would be lying if I said they tasted the same. I have learned that the kernels need grinding immediately before they are used because the flour goes mouldy really quickly.

I doubt that many readers have a crop of maize or Indian corn sitting around waiting to be used, but just in case, I offer you my recipe which I adapted from a great recipe I was given for making seedy crackers.

About 1 ¾ cups of fresh ground maize flour

¾ cup of spelt flour

2 tbsp chia seeds

1 tsp salt

1/3 cup olive oil

½ cup water

Mix and then roll out thinly on baking paper with another sheet of paper on top. Sprinkle the top with coarse salt flakes and grated parmesan cheese or similar (I used grana padano because that was what I had) and cut the sheet of cracker into suitable sized squares but leave it as a sheet.

Bake in a medium low oven (about 130 on fanbake) until it is golden brown and crisp (about 30 mins but keep an eye on it).

That is it. From grinding the corn to getting crispy, tasty crackers out of the oven takes about 40 minutes. We ate them this evening with chilli beans (homegrown, of course) and will continue to eat them during the week as a snack, with or without toppings.

Rolled and ready for baking 

The finished crackers

Botanical art for beginners in the garden here

copyright T.Forbes 2006 

Do you dream of being able to paint and draw plants and flowers? Mark does and that is how we came to meet Tabatha Forbes. Dr Tabatha Forbes, thank you. She has a PhD in fine arts from Elam Art School at Auckland University.

Tabatha tutors botanical art for beginners. This is a very specific branch of art combining both accurate botanical depiction with the skills and aesthetics of painting and drawing. Mark says that he just wants to be able to paint pretty flower pictures while realising that some level of skill in both close observation and translating that to paper is required to achieve that goal. He is hoping that his time with Tabatha at an August workshop will get him started (again) on drawing and painting.

Rangiora. copyright T.Forbes 2006

Later in November, Tabatha is offering two small-group workshops in our garden during this year’s garden festival. Our garden isn’t open for the festival this year but participants will have the run of the place while here. The first workshop is on the first weekend of the festival – Saturday 2 and Sunday 3 November from 10am -3pm each day. She starts beginners with leaves – observing and drawing in detail on the first day, moving onto acrylic painting on the second day.

The second workshop on the weekend of November 9 and 10 is a follow-up – progressing onto painting berries and fruit, so more colour and added detail.

If you want to know more, Tabatha has a comprehensive website which showcases her own work, her interests and experience and current projects.

The Taranaki Daily News recently published a profile on her here: The soothing art of retreating into nature. 

For more information and bookings, please email Tabatha at drtab72@gmail.com. We will be delighted to meet you should you attend either or both of her workshops here.

Toxic tutu (Coriaria arborea) copyright T.Forbes 2006

Waiting for hippeastrum flowers

We only have two species of hippeastrum in the garden. And one hybrid that bravely lives on in the rockery despite never receiving any praise and I don’t even appear to have photographed it. Most people probably grow the hybrids rather than the species and they are a genus that lends itself to novelty status – enormous flowers and some odd variations that are not necessarily creations of beauty.

Hippeastrum aulicum in the garden

Hippeastrum aulicum in particular is a mainstay of our early spring woodland. I have always described it as looking more like a Jacobean lily. Because it thrives with us, we have a lot of aulicum though we don’t get seed on the plants in the garden. Mark says this is because we are not hot enough but it will set seed if brought under cover.

Hippeastrum papilio. It has taken a while to increase it from a single bulb but we now have two patches like this.

It has taken a while to build up H. papilio but we are on track now with quite a few flowering in the same woodland conditions that suit H.aulicum. They certainly have a wow factor as a garden plant but we don’t get seed. Whether this is temperature related or they are not self-fertile, we do not know.

Mark wondered if we would get any interesting variations if he crossed the two species, while acknowledging that it was more a cross of convenience rather than one based on using the best possible parents. He did it so long ago that he can’t remember now which species he used as the seed-setter. Nor can I remember how many years it is since I grew tired of the pots of seedlings kicking around the nursery so took it upon myself to plant them out. Maybe about eight years?

The plants have done absolutely nothing in the garden except grow larger in the intervening years. Until this week! Two are flowering, well over a decade after the cross was made. Curiously, they are flowering before either of their parents: H. aulicum is only just putting its flower spikes up and is still some way off showing colour and it will be October before H. papilio blooms. I probably planted out a tray of 40 pots all up so there are a whole lot more to come. Eventually.

Nothing to get excited about

So what did we get? I was a bit underwhelmed by the first one. It only has two flowers to the stem and really just resembles a larger version of H. aulicum, maybe with more prominent green veining. I prefer the original species at this stage.

It is big – much bigger than its parents. And showy. But is it an improvement as a garden plant?

The second one is certainly larger, showing considerable hybrid vigour. The flower spike is over a metre tall and the spike has five big blooms opening on it. It is another red with green veining. So it looks as though it will be big and showy, if big and showy is how you like your bulbs. We would be happy with smaller and more interesting. Mark’s only comment so far has been that it never was a brilliant cross in the first place but it was just to get some variation in the garden.

Maybe the other 38 or so will show more interesting variations over the next few years? A large part of gardening is optimism.

I see there are about 90 species of hippeastrum though most of the hybrids are from just six of the species – including H. aulicum which surprised us, but not H. papilio.

A celebration of bright light and the start of a new year of gardening

Our maunga – Mount Taranaki – on the day before the winter equinox

I have said before that the first flowers on Magnolia campbellii herald the start of a new gardening year for us. But I had not thought before of the bigger picture. On the day before the winter equinox last week, I went out on a clear day to catch the image of our maunga, our mountain, from the path down to our park. It wasn’t until I saw it on my big computer screen that I spotted the bird in the branches. I assumed it was a kereru judging by the size and shape and so did Mark when I showed him. When I zoomed close in on my screen, it is just a thrush.

The first blooms on Magnolia campbellii herald the start of a new garden year – for us, at least.

This week, the first flowers opened. And I made a connection between the first flowers, the winter solstice and Matariki. The last is a traditional Maori celebration now gaining popularity in the wider population. Sometimes referred to as the Maori New Year, its timing is determined by the rise of a cluster of small stars known to Maori as Matariki but commonly called the Pleiades in astronomical circles. The exact date of the appearance of this star cluster varies from year to year, but it is usually soon after the winter solstice. And it occurred to me that the calendar which we all follow where New Year is accepted to be January 1 is, of course, a northern hemisphere creation so everything seasonal is reversed. It makes perfect sense that the first flowers on M. campbellii signal the start of our new year in the garden.

Reaching high into the mid-winter sky, Dahlia imperialis Alba and a bougainvillea shoot

And what a week it has been. Cool nights (which means between about 3° and 8° Celsius where we are), followed by sunny, calm days with a temperature of 14° to 15°. We cannot complain about that in mid-winter, even though we know winter storms will return over the next six weeks before temperatures start rising in August.

The shaggy spires of Jacobinia chrysostephana syn. Justicia aurea in the early morning light

As usual, in this part of the world, we keep that clarity of bright light all year round. Not for us a watery winter sun held low in the sky and lowered light levels of winter gloom. No, we have bright sunshine and clear blue skies on good days where the only difference is the air temperature. And it is not so bad to winter-over in conditions where, even as I type with warm gloves (blood circulation to the arthritic fingers is not what it once was) in my office with the heater on, I know that after my 10am coffee, it will be warm enough outside to head outside and start on today’s project. And still we have a garden full of flowers.

Luculia Fragrant Cloud in full bloom

Luculia Fragrant Cloud with its sweet almond fragrance

Mark’s Daphne Perfume Princess – we have rather a lot of these scattered through the garden

Vireya rhododendrons planted in sheltered positions throughout the top garden flower intermittently through the year but are perhaps most appreciated in mid winter

 

The early camellias

49 different cultivars in bloom at this early time of the season

It was a bit bleak outdoors today and I could not find the motivation to grub around in the soil so I entertained myself looking at the camellias in bloom. It is very early in the season for us and most are still in tight bud but I found 49 different ones with open flowers.

A collection of sasanquas

The early sasanquas are past their peak now but still very pretty. All the above are different named cultivars and typical, with their rather loose form and a readiness to shatter when they fall. This is helpful because it means the mass of fallen blooms break down quickly. Sasanquas used to be somewhat spurned as lacking flower form, useful mostly for hedges and sunny positions but fashions change. They are not afflicted by petal blight here which is a huge plus and these days, we find we prefer those looser flowers which have a pretty charm of their own.

Show Girl!

I didn’t add Show Girl to the sasanqua flower ring because it is so out of scale. It is a most unusual cross between a sasanqua and a reticulata and it comes into full flower early, with the sasanquas. The individual blooms are nothing special but it is lovely both on the tree or falling to a carpet of petals beneath.

The earliest flowering species

We have gathered up a reasonable collection of camellia species over the years – most of what has been available in this country. But it appears that this early in the season, you can have any colour you like as long as it is white. Or the one, minuscule pink C. puniceiflora. In the centre is C. yunnanensis already showing its unfortunate trait of the stamens turning black with age. Camellias where the stamens stay yellow are far more desirable.

Three different species or all variants of the one?

These three species came to us under the names of C. brevistyla (left), C. microphylla (right) and C. puniceiflora (top). Australian camellia expert, Bob Cherry, advanced the theory to Mark that they are all just different forms of the same species and Mark has come to the conclusion that he is probably right after several seasons of examining them with his hand lens. Species in the wild can vary considerably. In time, DNA testing will prove it either way. Of these three camellias, the form of C. microphylla that we have is easily the best as a garden plant.

Hybrids, seedlings and a few japonicas

These are a mix, some named cultivars and some seedlings. Mark has used camellias extensively for hedging and shelter around the perimeters of the garden, on our roadside and separating different areas. You can see how desirable it is for the stamens to stay yellow as they age. Generally, it is the ones with visible stamens that provide an important source of food for the birds and the bees through winter. The fully double, frilly blooms are purely ornamental. The majority of the japonicas and all the reticulatas are still just at bud stage and, alas, will be hit by camellia petal blight when they do come into bloom.

There is a whole lot more to choosing a camellia than just a pretty flower. The habit of growth, ultimate size, length of time in flower, how the blooms age and fall, colour of the foliage, reliability and more come in to play as well.  Sometimes everything else is so good that a pretty ordinary flower is still acceptable. One of the red singles above is worth its place simply because it feeds our native tui (birds) – a sight that brings us pleasure every year.

We have literally hundreds, if not into the thousands camellias all over the property. Some are named, many more are just seedlings from the breeding programme. But they are almost all just one-off plants. I can think of only four that we have planted in quantity. The three bottom ones above, we have used as hedging. From left to right, they are Mark’s first named cultivar, ‘Fairy Blush’, C. transnokoensis and C. minutiflora. All three have small leaves that respond well to clipping, good foliage colour, dense growth and masses of dainty flowers.

The flower in the top centre is C. yuhsienensis – not a hedging camellia but one we like so much that we have chosen to feature it repeatedly in two different areas of the garden. In bloom, at its best, it resembles a pretty michelia but with bullate (heavy textured) foliage.

Mark says he found the first incidence of camellia petal blight today. This is later than usual, which we put down to a drier than usual autumn. I admit I lose enthusiasm for camellias as the season progresses and blight hits badly but these early season bloomers gladden my heart on a winter’s day.

Suddenly it is winter

The first blast of winter arrived yesterday. Camellia sasanqua ‘Crimson King’ in the foreground.

Fallen leaves and a leaden sky

While our climate is generally benign, the first serious winter chill arrived, appropriately enough, on the first calendar day of winter in New Zealand – June 1. The winter fronts come straight up from the Antarctic. Our mellow, extended autumn with calm, sunny weather and temperatures sitting around 18 or 19 degrees Celsius disappeared overnight.

This too will pass. Generally the worst of our winter weather hits after the winter solstice – June 22nd to be precise – and today, June 2, has dawned fine and sunny, albeit with a chilly temperature. Mark is taking heed of this sudden drop. Today’s task, he declared, is to cover the bananas. You can see the semi-permanent bamboo frame in the photo. He needs the extension ladder these days to get the windbreak sheltering cover in place for the bananas have grown to a substantial size. At least we get a crop from them these days but we wouldn’t if he didn’t spend a day shrouding them for winter. That is as far as battening down the hatches goes here. We don’t wrap anything else up for winter.

Camellia sasanqua ‘Elfin Rose’

with Nerine bowdenii at its feet

Winter it may now be, but this does not mean bare branches bereft of leaves and an absence of flowers. The sasanqua camellias are at their peak, many of the species camellias are opening along with the first flowers on the early japonicas and hybrids. ‘Elfin Rose’ has been a particular delight this week, with the colour-toned Nerine bowdenii below. We cloud prune ‘Elfin Rose’ into stacked layers, both to restrict its growth and to make it a feature shape all year round. This annual clipping takes place as it makes its new growth after flowering – so some time between mid winter and mid spring. Clipping later would remove next season’s flower buds and we want both the form and the flowers.

It is perhaps a good indication of our generally mild conditions that vireya rhododendrons also feature large in late autumn and early winter. These are, of course, frost tender. Many are very frost tender – especially the big, scented cultivars with heavy, felted foliage. The one above, where we have a bank of maybe five of them beneath the mandarin tree, is ‘Jiminy Cricket’. It was bred by the late Os Blumhardt and is a full sister seedling to the more widely marketed ‘Saxon Glow’ and ‘Saxon Blush’ (not marketed by us). In our opinion, it is also superior to those two but all of them show more hardiness than most vireyas on account of having the relatively hardy species R. saxifragoides as one breeder parent

Vireya rhododendron ‘Sweet Vanilla’ with ‘Golden Charm’ in the background

We place the more tender vireyas with greater care, on the margins where they get plenty of light but adjacent overhead cover will give them protection from most frost damage. This is one of Mark’s breeding  which we released as “Sweet Vanilla”. Big flowers and exotic fragrance to delight, even on the coldest days. We have no idea if it is still in production and commercially available – it is not a plant we kept under our management with intellectual property rights so anybody can produce it if they wish – but I hope it is because it has stood the test of time as a garden plant.

Daphne ‘Perfume Princess’

Also hitting its stride is Mark’s Daphne ‘Perfume Princess’, aka Mark’s Retirement Fund. It was opening its first flowers at the end of March but they were just a teaser. As we enter winter, it will bloom through until early spring and bring us scented pleasure all that time. It is not big and showy like most of his deciduous magnolias, but it is a cracker of a plant in the smaller world of daphnes.

A seedling clematis at our entrance way having a late season revival this week

While we are not expecting the full onslaught of winter until June 22 – give or take a few warning episodes prior to that – by late July, the first of the magnolias will be opening along with the snowdrops. Temperatures will start to rise in August. Our winters are not as long and bleak as experienced in many other places but human nature being what it is, we probably moan just as much about the cold and winter storms.

 

Planting the new court garden

A big, blank space. Bamboo stakes are used to define the areas to be be cultivated and to get the curves right. 

In the world of gardening, I am not sure that there is much that is more exciting than starting planting a new garden which has been years in mental incubation. Indeed, I am surprised how positively thrilling I am finding it to be out in the space actually putting the plants in.

It is a blank canvas, what we refer to as the court garden, on account of it looking like a tennis court when it was just an open space. We have talked about it a lot, stood and looked at the space and mentally envisaged the possibilities – which were pretty much endless – for this open, sunny area. Having narrowed down the plan, I set about refining the plant palette and building up the material to go in. As Mark has observed in the past, ours started as a poor man’s garden. His father could not afford to buy in all the material to plant up the large garden across several acres so applied himself to raising a lot of it. These days, rather than a poor man’s garden, it is an economical couple’s garden. It would cost a lot to buy in all the plants needed to fill over 450 square metres and they would arrive as small specimens. I have been gently building up plants for a few years now so what are going in are reasonable large divisions. Instant effect, Mark calls it.

This is to be my contemporary grass garden, inspired by the work of Christopher Bradley-Hole at Bury Court  but different. Immersive, not pictorial, to coin the phrase of English writer, Tim Richardson. It is set a little lower than surrounding areas so we step down into it to be surrounded by the movement of large grasses, shoulder or head high, planted in waves. A prairie on steroids perhaps? It is not designed to be viewed from a vantage point so much as to be experienced within.

Doryanthes palmeri (which will grow much larger) with Stipa gigantea

I have planted the first waves using Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’, Stipa gigantea, Chionocloa rubra and Calamagrostris ‘Karl Foerster’. And I have found a suitable space for Doryanthes palmeri. The next two waves will be Elegia capensis and Astelia chathamica. I do need to buy in about three plants of our native austroderia, commonly known as  toetoe. For, as Mark says, what is a grass garden in New Zealand if it lacks toetoe? I have sufficient plants for a wave of Chionocloa flavicans (which looks like a smaller toetoe) but I am not pinning my hopes on that because it seems to be like Christmas dinner for the rabbits and I am learning that I must garden that area with the rabbits, rather than fighting them all the time. It is one of the very few plants I am using that we have not trialled and come to understand already.

Moody miscanthus in the autumn light . It will be on a much larger scale in the new garden

Once I have planted all the waves of grass, then I will paint within with the few flowering plants I plan to use – the giant autumn-flowering salvias in yellow and red, tall yellow Verbascum creticum for spring, the very tall white nicotiana we have seeding around the place, maybe foxgloves in white and fennel. Nothing small, nothing detailed, no bulbs except the huge Albuca nelsonii. I expect the large evening primrose to find its way into the area of its own accord and I am sure Verbena bonariensis will seed down from the neighbouring borders. But the flowering plants are all secondary to the movement of the grasses.

Mark is rotary hoeing. The vintage piece of equipment in front is his prized Planet Junior that he uses often.

For those of you who are interested in the mechanics, Mark killed off the weeds and dead-headed the nasty carex we have through there to reduce future seeding. He is currently rotary hoeing the area. I drew up a planting plan and expected to be out there with my large piece of graph paper, keeping fairly closely to that plan. But in practice, it is just a guide. My spacings on paper were too close. My eyes on the ground are better than a paper plan. I rake out the rough-turned sods and then lay out each wave and sometimes I dig the plants back up again to move them a little to change the angle or the spacings. I am constantly mindful that this must be a low maintenance area. We have quite enough high maintenance areas already.

We won’t mulch immediately. Because our soils are so wonderfully friable, we will allow the first couple of flushes of weeds to germinate and rake them off. Weed control from the start is critical, especially with big grasses. Only then will we mulch. I have decided against the fine gravel mulch I had thought I would use. I am sure I will have to refine the plantings at least once in the early years and don’t want all that gravel incorporated into the soil. Neither do I want sharp edgings to the paths (which are about 1.8 metres wide to allow for plant flop). I want it to be more seamless so the current thinking is that we may opt for a granulated bark mulch which can be spread across both garden and paths. That we will have to buy in by the truckload.

We should see results this summer in our soft growing conditions and by the second summer, it should be hitting its stride. I am optimistic. Sure, it is hard work but if you are into active gardening, this is probably the peak of fun.  The culmination of years of thinking and planning and something entirely different. I will keep readers posted on progress.

Postscript: I am a dirty-kneed gardener. Mark laughs at me and regularly tells me I should not be allowed indoors. Indeed, I often shed my trousers in the laundry before I enter the house. Don’t tell me about knee pads. I have tried them and they don’t suit me. I have an abundance of kneeling pads but unless it is wet, muddy and cold, I find it easier to wash my clothes than constantly re-position the kneeling pads.

What I don’t understand is how Mark stays so clean, despite gardening as much as I do. Well I do know. He either uses long-handled tools or squats. My gardening mother stayed clean by always bending. With dodgy knees and a dodgy lower back, I kneel. Kneelers with dirty knees unite, I say.