Tag Archives: Mark and Abbie Jury

My new weeding friend

The weed growth in this new area under development was scary after a few weeks of spring

I have a new weeding implement and a very good one it is too. Meet my little Wolf-Garten Multi-Star Cultivator Weeder LBM (I wrote the full name down from an internet search). It is my new best friend.

Having been away to Australia, then coming home somewhat unwell followed by other demands on my time, the weeds in my newly planted borders were threatening to get away on me. With my trusty weeding armoury, I made short work of quite large areas. It was the little cultivator on the long handle that covered the area quickly and efficiently. Unlike a hoe, it does not cut the plant off and being very narrow, it can get in close to plants without damage. It is only 7cm at its widest point.

My new Wolf-Garten cultivator, the modest Wonder Weeder and my short handled hoeing implement deal to most weeding situations

One weeding tool does not suit all situations. This cultivator makes short work of scuffing up the surface and dislodging the weeds where soil is friable or there is mulch. It is no good on compacted soil. It also needs to be used before the weeds have set seed and is best on a sunny day so the dislodged weeds shrivel and dry in the sun. As long as they haven’t reached the seeding stage, the weeds do not need to be removed. It is so easy to use, saving bending and stretching, that weeding is not something to dread. A quick follow-up the next day despatched the few weeds that had escaped the first round. If you have similar conditions, buy one is my advice.

Where the plants are closer together (these were newly planted areas that I was speeding around with my cultivator), I resort to the hooked wires known in this country as Wonder Weeders (cheap as chips at under $5 when I bought another three at the garden centre last week). In the case of compacted ground with club moss, liverwort or clover, I use the short-handled implement that looks like a small Dutch hoe. You can get long handled versions of the Dutch hoe to avoid having to bend or kneel, but I am fine with the precision of my short version.

 

The new baby cultivator and its full-sized companion on the left and the trusty old Planet Junior to the right

Mark is a push hoe man (the Dutch hoe is pulled towards the user whereas the push hoe is pushed away from the user) but it takes some skill to be a reliable operator and it is all too easy to accidentally sever desirable plants from their roots.  Where there is more space to move, such as in his vegetable patches (known here as Mark’s allotment), he will reach for his trusty old Planet Junior that makes quick work of surface cultivation or the big granddaddy cultivator relative of my new, small version.

What about weed sprays? Mark follows the international debate and research on glyphosate (the active ingredient of Round Up) with reasonably keen interest. When Round Up hit the outdoor maintenance world in 1974, it was seen as saving the equivalent of a labour unit and it changed attitudes to weeds in the garden. Being seen to be weed-free became mandatory for “good” gardening. Mark has used a fair amount of it over the years to maintain our gardens and wider property. With the huge volume of glyphosate that has been used throughout the world over 43 years, if it was the worst thing since Paraquat, DDT and the likes, we would expect there to be more compelling evidence but it is not an open and shut case. That said, caution is always advisable and I worry about its use as a desiccant on commercial food crops.  Certainly, Mark has hugely reduced how much he uses it, which has seen us returning to some older, tried and true methods of cultivation.

I would comment that with the amount of conflicting evidence on the safety of glyphosate, we are a little concerned about what is mixed with it to give the near instant knockdown capabilities of the over the counter, ready to use spray dispensers that are widely sold. Glyphosate used to take up to three weeks in cooler weather to kill weeds and there are various plants that are resistant to it. Those ready-mixed spray cans can kill within hours. When I used to write for the newspapers, I was sent samples of two different such sprays called “Weed Weapon” with ‘breakthrough technology’. I rarely use them but they are both scarily easy to use and efficient at killing plants, even ones that I would not expect them to knock out. The combined effects of glyphosate and saflufenacil are much greater than glyphosate alone.

Compacted soil, the result of years of no surface cultivation and likely use of weed spraying for maintenance – not our garden.

In terms of garden maintenance, repeated use of weed sprays as routine control leads to soil compaction and the growth of liverwort which we find unsightly. We are guilty of judging open gardens on their visible use of weed sprays for maintenance. But then we are subscribers to the school of soil cultivation and mulching when it comes to gardening.

With the growing antipathy to chemical controls for weeds, we may need to revise the aesthetic value placed on weed-free gardens. Even my new-found cultivator friend has its limitations. But weeding a little often is probably the best way to go for most keen gardeners.

 

 

 

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Clipping the michelias

Starting on the left – the annual clip

This is what it will like when done – freezing the size of the plants in time with an annual clip

We have a row of lollipop michelias at our entranceway and it is time for their annual clip. Yes, one annual clip is all they get and we are maybe three weeks late on doing them this year. I did not intend to start yesterday, having other things planned. Besides, clipping the michelias feels like a Big Job. Well, it does involve a ladder for the taller ones.

I timed myself yesterday. It takes me 30 minutes a plant to clip with secateurs and to rake up the clippings. That is not long for annual maintenance on what are significant feature plants. You could do it faster with a powered hedge trimmer or even hand clippers but you lose the precision. Besides, I don’t like using the hand clippers because each time they snap shut it jars my wrists and the residual carpel tunnel syndrome I nurse in those joints.

Aesthetically speaking, cutting with secateurs means there is no leaf damage whereas the speedier clippers or hedge trimmer will cut almost every external leaf which will then discolour on the damaged edges. It is also easy to reach in at the time and remove dead wood and do a clean-up of the interior of the ball using secateurs and the finished result is less… brutally shorn, shall I say?

Most michelias can be clipped hard, especially these hybrids of Mark’s. The two smaller ones here are an unnamed hybrid from his breeding programme while the taller ones are Fairy Magnolia Blush. I have planted two Fairy Magnolia Cream in the vehicle entranceway to the left which will, over the next few years, be trained to lollipop standards.

Michelias are magnolias, just a grouping within that wider family. That is why Michelia yunnanensis has been renamed Magnolia laevifolia by the experts. Our position of continuing to refer to them as michelias is on shaky ground botanically but we find it a useful differentiation in common parlance. It is a handy point of difference to the big leather-leafed Magnolia grandiflora types which are what most people think of when evergreen magnolias are mentioned. Our agents chose to brand Mark’s hybrids as “fairy magnolias” to mark out that difference.

Magnolia laevifolia  (aka Michelia yunnanensis) defoliating in wet, cold climate

The aforementioned species, Magnolia laevifolia, is a lovely plant in bloom but not always the best garden plant. It has a tendency to defoliate in a wet spring and we have certainly had that this year. This plant is not in our garden. I photographed it at Pukeiti. It is neither dead nor dying. Nor is it deciduous. It has defoliated in the wet and that is a characteristic of this particular species that is not to its credit. Not far along the same track is a fine specimen of Mark’s Fairy Magnolia ‘Blush’ which, we were pleased to see, shows no tendency whatever to defoliate, even in the hard growing conditions of Pukeiti Gardens.

This is what Magnolia laevifolia looks like at its best, seen here in my friend Lorri’s garden 

As a piece of advice for local gardeners, if you into clipping camellias – and we clip a few now as feature plants as well as camellia hedging – the time to do it is right now. If you leave it much longer, you will be cutting off all next year’s flower buds.

We have renamed the area of our garden we used to refer to as “the park’. It is now The Meadow

Finally, for a spot of colour, may I give you a host of golden primulas (not daffodils) in our meadow garden by the stream. It is just common old Primula helodoxa but so very pretty in its season.

But where are the panda bears?

Our stands of giant bamboo are a never-ending source of disappointment to us. That is because they are enduring proof that the cargo cult does not work. The cargo cult is that school of thought that says “build it and they will come”. We often see it espoused in this tourist backwater where we live. Build a café/gondola/light rail/cruise ship terminal/tourist hub (strike out any which do not apply) and visitors will arrive. Well no panda bears have arrived here, is all I can say. I even checked that they eat Phyllostachys edulis – it is not their favourite bamboo but they will eat it.

We have one stand of giant bamboo confined on a small island in the stream where it cannot leap for freedom. The other is on a boundary and each spring we have to dig out the new shoots which pop up across the boundary fence. They grow extremely rapidly and would colonise the neighbour’s paddock if left to their own devices. This is Phyllostachys edulis and the second word is a clue – it is edible for humans as well as panda bears. There are many edible bamboo varieties – 110 out of 1575 known species. Apparently.

I tried blanching and freezing a few shoots last spring time and they stored well. Bamboo shoots are not exactly full of rich flavours and are more of a subtle and textural addition to stir-fries. My home prepared version is easily equal to tinned bamboo shoots, maybe superior because I keep them slightly crisper. This spring I am preparing more because I can see they would be a pleasant addition to salads and platters as well.

Top photo – prepared shoots waiting to be blanched. Bottom right, a bucket load of fresh shoots only yielded enough for 14 meals. Bottom left – the shoot is sliced lengthwise and then peeled.

Mark brought in bucket of young shoots and it yielded 14 packages for freezing – each being more or less equivalent to a standard sized can. They are easy to prepare. I slice vertically and then peel off the outer layers until just the lattice centre remains. At this stage, as Mark said, they rather resemble a pagoda in form. I slice them into centimetre thick lengths.

The pagoda look of a fresh bamboo shoot

I checked the internet for recipes. Bamboo shoots can be bitter and are not palatable fresh and raw. But I covered them with cold water and added a tablespoon of sugar, bringing them to the boil and simmering them for about eight minutes. I then discarded that water and covered them with fresh, cold water and a couple of teaspoons of salt. They were then brought back to the boil for another couple of minutes, then cooled and packed in meal-sized quantities, adding a little of the cooking brine. They are in the freezer. That is all it took. The bamboo season is but brief and we are eating freshly freshly blanched baby shoots this evening with dinner.

Bamboo scaffolding on a Hong Kong street

Each time we transit Hong Kong, we pause in awe to admire the bamboo scaffolding that often encases high rise buildings. It seems unlikely that Health and Safety inspectors in the western world would ever accept the use of bamboo scaffolding but it has a proven track record and would be a great deal lighter and easy to assemble and move than the heavy pipe scaffolding used in this country.

Vegeconomy

This scene reflects experience and resources

Vegeconomists are people who suggest that the poor should be growing their own food at home. I had not heard the word until it came up on social media this week but boy, I have heard the sentiment. Often. Usually in the context of, “What is wrong with these people? Why don’t they just get off their chuffs and plant potatoes and cabbages in the garden to feed themselves?” (Can you tell it is election time in this country and one of the big issues is the rising incidence of poverty and the growing gulf between the rich and the poor?)

There are many, many good reasons to grow your own vegetables but saving money is not usually one of them. And I would bet that the judgemental vegeconomists I have heard on this matter have not actually done it themselves. Or if they have, it was when the world was a very different place forty years ago and they are now speaking with a rosy glow of smug nostalgia.

Just one section of Mark’s various vegetable patches

It is not impossible to save money growing your own veg but it takes experience, timing, the right conditions, planning and a fair amount of good fortune. And good land. I dispute that you can save money on a square metre of garden and a few pots. Mark is of the view that it is possible to save money on winter salads. We eat salad every day, fresh from his garden, and the daily fresh greens and other raw ingredients would indeed command a premium in the off season at the supermarket or greengrocer. Mark has been vegetable gardening since we moved out to a country cottage the first year we got married so he brings over four decades of experience to the edible garden. These days, with more time and a lifetime of resources, – including things like moveable cloche frames, a propagation house, bird netting and plenty of posts and poles to hold the netting up, a fully functioning compost heap plus a small tractor to cart the compost if more than a few barrow loads are needed, along with plenty of good land with good shelter – yes, these days his vegetable gardening is very productive.

Sorting the apples for winter storage (in the second fridge)

We have also learned which vegetables and fruit store well and how to eat with the seasons. And that involves a deep freeze and a second fridge. We ate the last apple from autumn this week, the last frozen asparagus from November 2016 and I think there is only one packet of frozen broad beans left though there is still plenty of frozen corn. We are eating soy beans instead of borlottis this year because the borlotti bean crop failed but the soy bean crop was remarkably good. There is still an open verdict on the success or otherwise of the surplus brussel sprout crop which is fermenting into sauerkraut at this very moment.

So, please spare me from glib pronouncements that people can solve their poverty related issues by planting silver beet and taties. I have a great deal more respect for those experienced growers who get out there and work with community gardens to foster a love for growing your own, or with schools to encourage children to appreciate that fresh is indeed much nicer. But the economies of mass production mean that in dollar terms, it will almost certainly be cheaper for most people to buy vegetables than to grow their own.

All this was eclipsed, I must say, by the gentleman from down south somewhere who took it one step further on social media. There was, he asserted, no reason for hunger in New Zealand when people could grow their own food and head out to the country to kill a wild goat for meat. I do not think he meant a tethered goat like this handsome fellow from up the road. I also suspect he did not get out much and maybe thought it was still 1950 when jolly practical young fellows could head out with the gun and shoot a rabbit or goat for the pot, all the while speaking with a fridge and freezer full of meat already paid for, packaged and ready for his wife to cook for dinner that night. Bah humbug.

Just for clarity’s sake – growing your own fruit and vegetables can be enormously pleasurable, tasty, convenient and healthy along with bringing better flavour and often a higher nutrition level. Just don’t expect it to save you a whole lot of money as well. And maybe stop judging the poor as lazy because vegetable gardening is just too difficult for them and planting fruit trees is not practical in an unstable housing situation.

A cardboard tower and memories of cartons

In the fading light of late afternoon, a one-day cardboard tower on the cricket field at Pukekura Park (with bubbles)

The photo is of The People’s Tower, built yesterday in New Plymouth in cold, wet and miserable conditions under the direction of visual artist Olivier Grossetête. Today it will be demolished for it was only ever to be a temporary installation. Today is the last day of our Arts Festival, you understand.

I admit Mark and I only turned up on our way to an early evening show. We did not assist with the construction in trying conditions during the day. The reason I wanted to record the magnificent sight is because of cartons. Believe it or not, cartons and carton closure tape have played a significant role in our lives. Indeed, we are probably alone in being aghast at 1500 custom-sized cartons (in two different sizes) and 264 rolls each of 100 metres of tape being used in this handsome structure.

When Mark first set up the nursery here in the early 1980s, he started by selling plants mailorder. It was a major part of our lives for the next two decades. It takes a lot of cardboard to mailorder plants, especially large grade trees and shrubs. Mark would gather as much as he could from recycling bins, particularly out the back of the supermarkets.  Needs must and there was no place for faux dignity when it came to gathering cardboard. He was a whizz at constructing cartons to protect plants – it took several biscuit cartons, for example, to construct a sturdy protective cage for a single magnolia. We still have the industrial strength staple guns and hand-held dispensers for the tape.

As the nursery became more profitable, we took to buying in the largest size cartons. Because these were custom made to our specifications, we had to order them in quite large quantities. It worked out just over $5 a carton and this was back in the 1990s. The bill for a batch of cartons seemed eye-wateringly large at the time and, as the bill-payer, I have never forgotten my anxiety at the cost of cardboard. In the same manner, it took many years for Mark’s eyes to stop zeroing in on potential sources of recyclable cartons. So we did marvel at the wanton display of extravagance in the cardboard and tape People’s Tower, magnificent though it is.

Funnily enough, I checked this week on the date of our last ever mailorder catalogue. It was 2003. We must have had one helluva reputation because even today, I field enquiries pretty much every week from people wanting to mailorder plants from us. Dear Peoples, we do not sell plants at all these days. And we have not sent plants to your door for the past 14 years. Cardboard cartons and carton closure tape are well in our past.

Mark is casting an experienced eye over the cartons and the tape….

The changing face of Kings Cross – the London one.

On our last day in London, we headed off to see the urban renewal project in Kings Cross. Our second daughter had lived in the area for some of her four year London sojourn so I had visited her there, in an ex-council flat. Inner city, gritty urban is how I would have described it a decade ago and I am sure large tracts of it still are. But the greening of Kings Cross has transformed the area to give it a people-friendly heart.

We have no expertise at all in urban landscape architecture and precious little in public horticulture so I make no pretence at doing anything other than trying to convey impressions of the humanising of a former industrial area.

A sandpit in Handyside Gardens

Upon entering a small precinct named Handyside Gardens, what did we see? A sandpit! A sandpit designed to be used by children. I asked the dad’s permission before photographing him with his little boy in the sand. Sure it is surrounded by tall buildings so shade must be an issue, but that is the nature of inner city living. This was an area that had been designed to give a series of intimate spaces with lots of different seating areas. Leading out from the sandpit was a rill or small canal of flowing water which looked clean and inviting for children to play in. Indeed some of the sand had made its way into the rill. “Wait til you see the fountain,” said the father in the sandpit.

And a rill, or canal

We wandered our way along, noting all the different seating areas and planting that was not out of the usual School Of Bedding Plants and Floral Clocks. These plantings are the work of Dan Pearson whom I have mentioned before although his involvement in the entire project goes well beyond just the planting plans. It is therefore no surprise that there was a mix of material which shows that pretty seasonal plantings are possible even when the brief includes functionalism and practicality. There were plenty of scented plants though a high mortality rate on recently planted trachelospermum jasminoides suggested that somebody may have planted out a whole lot of nursery stock that had been grown under cover and not hardened off.

As we walked along, we saw a few sodden children in their togs (bathing suits) and towels walking towards us. We rounded the corner and there, truly, was an amazing sight. The fountain in Granary Square. It was large and safe for playing. The seating around was occupied by parents watching their children as the water danced in sequences, sometimes stopping altogether for a brief moment, sometimes shooting high and then in waves across the area. It was magnificent. And safe fun. An urban beach, of sorts. Our kids would have stripped off and been in that water like a shot when they were young. It wasn’t exactly tropical on the day we were there but clearly kids still love water play. At night it lights up – 1000 different points of water and light.

The fountain installation in Granary Square was fantastic

A lull in the water

 

The skip garden. Look at that magnificent glasshouse made form recycled window frames on the right.

Further on we found the skip garden, a movable community garden supported by students at the Bartlett School of Architecture. Unfortunately the skip garden café was closed on the day so we couldn’t try the locally produced fare.

From there we wended our way round to the Gasholder Park, a major redevelopment utilising the old gas tanks for upmarket canal-side apartments and green space and gardens open to all. There is serious money going into this redevelopment around Kings Cross and plenty more information on line if you wish to look it up. The somewhat remarkable impression is that it is not just serious money to cater to the wealthy; it is serious planning to provide an enhanced living environment for all which seems unexpectedly inclusive in this day and age.

That is a floating nest and the background is green canal water

London has a major network of canals and Mark was shocked every time at the water quality and the rubbish. According to our London friends, ‘wild swimming’ is the rage. That is swimming in ponds, lakes, rivers and canals. We have plenty of issues with water quality in New Zealand, but all I can say is you would be a brave or drunk fool to want to swim in London canals. And you would not be wanting to enter those cesspools with any open wounds or even scratches. Maybe there will come a day when  the city canals get cleaned up and no longer used as a receptacle for rubbish. Then the birds may not line their nests with plastic waste.

There was lots more to see around the Kings Cross area but it was time for the flights home. For those who have never done it, this involves around 25 hours flying to New Zealand. It is usually done as two long haul legs of a bit over 12 hours each via Asia (or the USA if you are unlucky) or 7 hours and 18 hours via Dubai or one of the other Arabic emirates. It is not fun.

There is an album of additional photos posed on our garden Facebook page for those who may wish to see more.

A day at Wisley

An attention grabber! The Pink Pantser in the RHS Wisley glasshouse.

We like to end up our UK garden trips at Wisley, the flagship garden of the Royal Horticulture Society about an hours south from London. It gives a context to what we have seen and it is interesting to look at the evolution of some of the recent plantings and reflect on styles and designers over time. The twin Piet Oudolf borders are a personal favourite. And they are certainly standing the test of time with considerably lower input than the classic double herbaceous borders. They were not without controversy when first planted in 2000. I still recall talking to an English visitor in our garden here. I commented that we were heading over to the UK to look at contemporary planting directions and he replied disdainfully, asking if we would be planting in a herringbone design as they had at Wisley.

The Oudolf borders July 2, 2017

The Piet Oudolf borders are not in fact a herringbone design and when we got to see them, they were a delight – soft rivers of colour. Those rivers give a sense of form to a garden which has no hard landscaping. In case you are interested in the background to these borders, I quote the instigator of this planting. “I started talking to Piet about these borders in 1997 with plans agreed in 98/99 with planting using 17000 9cm plug plants in Jan.2000.The only significant change to Piet’s maintenance regime was to mulch the entire borders with 6mm quarried gravel in c.2004 to a depth of c.60mm.This was `topped  up` in 2009.”

And back at the same time of year in 2014

There is considerable restraint and knowledge in the selection of plants. It is a lot more than just picking for flower colour. Obviously, compatibility in growth habits is an issue but so too is a high level of uniformity in height, an ability to stay upright without staking, repeat flowering without the need to deadhead and a succession of blooms and foliage interest from spring through to autumn. Allied to that, there is no place for dominating thugs in this type of planting, nor for prolific seeders. I would guess a fair proportion may be sterile (in other words, not setting viable seed) which usually prolongs flowering, eliminates seeding issues and keeps the plants true to type. When we did a count on our last visit, we estimated a proportion of about 3 perennials to each grass in these borders. Each river of colour is comprised of just a few different plants. I think it was looking at the composition of several rivers that led us to the 3:1 ratio. The borders have to work equally well viewed looking up or down the slope and also close up, so the individual combinations of plants are as important as the mass effect. For those readers trying to keep echinaceas going, over time these borders have apparently shown that E. pallida is short lived while E. purpurea is longer lived. It is multiple visits that help us to understand better how these plantings are put together and managed. You can never take it all in on just one visit.

Detail of one river in the Oudolf borders

I posted earlier on the Missouri Meadow as observed over our visits.  In 2014, we saw the new South African meadow in its infancy. This is Professor James Hitchmough again, as was the Missouri Meadow but in this case, the focus is on South African plants, not North American ones.

 

South African meadow 2014

and three years on in 2017

Three years on, the dominant plant at this time of the year is the eye catching Berkheya purpurea, which Mark covets for our garden. It is a thistle. The maintenance regime on this meadow is clearly more hands-off than the Oudolf borders. It will be interesting to see it again a few years’ time. With agapanthus, kniphofia, crocosmia, nerines, geraniums, eucomis, osteospermum, gazanias and more, there is quite a mix in there including a few that would be thugs in our climate. We love these meadow plantings and find the range of meadows illuminating but our London friends (one a keen home gardener) could not relate to the whole idea of a South African meadow in this context. So that was an interesting response.

These friends had recently been to Great Dixter and expressed surprise at Christopher Lloyd’s dramatic ‘subtropical’ garden being taken out and seeing conifers going back in instead. It became a little clearer when we came across the Wisley project along similar lines. The conifers are being used as a framework for subtropical plantings. This is not a combination that would ever occur to a New Zealander but we will reserve all judgement until we see the finished product. Sometimes it is good to be surprised. Conifers are long overdue a revival and who knows? Maybe a new combination will launch a new fashion. Or maybe not.

Tom Stuart-Smith plantings were a delight

There is so much more to Wisley. The Tom Stuart-Smith plantings in front of the glasshouse really appealed to us this visit. They had seemed a little ‘blocky’ and amenity in style when young. Now the combinations and the relaxed style of mature plantings is a highlight. The trial grounds included both echinaceas and nepetas as well as coloured lettuces. The national collection of rhubarb never fails to amuse – though more the concept of it than the reality, I admit. I have posted an accompanying album of more photos to Facebook again. It starts with the succulent cake and ends with the Famous Five and the issue of whether George was a boy or a girl.