Tag Archives: Mark and Abbie Jury

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.

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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.

The sweet beet conundrum

Not parsnips. Sugar beet, albeit planted a little late so the tubers are smaller than commercially grown crops

The row of sugar beet may not be a gourmet delight. Mark likes to try different vegetables and I felt obliged to give this new crop a fair trial in the kitchen. The relatively low number of recipes on the internet was a bit of a giveaway. Along with a Canadian friend who described the crop as stock feed. Indeed a fair proportion of the recipes on line were for using the green tops, not the white root.

The first sugar beet root that he brought into the house, we tried raw and grated but it had a bit of an aftertaste. I used the rest of that one in a vegetable stock. Reaching for the internet,  the only recipe I could find that appealed was for sugar beet latkes. I am not sure if there is any fundamental difference between latkes, rosti, hash browns or plain old potato pancakes but the sugar beet version required grating and then salting. During this process, it turned greyish so that by the time I added the other ingredients, it bore a distinct visual resemblance to the New Zealand treat of whitebait. It did not, however taste of whitebait (a very small grey fish with noticeable black eyes, for overseas readers). Following the recipe, I added grated fresh ginger and a pinch of cardamom.

Looking more like the NZ fishy delicacy of whitebait – sugar beet latkes

When it came to frying the latkes, they browned much faster than the potato latkes cooked alongside. That will be the high sugar content. They tasted fine when cooked. Perhaps rather sweet for our taste, gingery with a hint of cardamom. But not good enough to convince me we should make it a dietary staple.

I might try just boiling a couple of beets in water to get a sugar syrup. But as we don’t eat stewed fruit, I can’t really think we need sugar water. The sugar beet crop may be a one-off crop.

Impressions of Parham – horticultural excellence

The white border at Parham

Parham was the only garden we went to on our recent trip without knowing anything about it in advance. As a result, while I have a fair number of photos and recollections, I lack an overview, a wider context. There is an interesting lesson for me there on future trips – we learn more if at least one of us does a bit of advance research on the destination. When we live so far away, making a second visit is unlikely so we need to short circuit the familiarisation step to have any hope of getting beneath the superficial.

The yellow border at Parham

That is why I only offer this as ‘impressions of Parham’. Just for context, it is a private house, garden and estate in Sussex that opens to the public. They say house. We New Zealanders are more likely to describe it as a mansion. Or stately home, at least. Big, historic – Elizabethan in fact. That is the sixteenth century one, not last century’s one who is still with us. We did not tour the house. I did not even think to photograph it. Nor did we look at the estate, a 16th century deer park and working farm, or test the on-site café which serves locally sourced food including from the garden. I can report that the plant centre had some of the best displays I have seen in a garden centre and good plants on offer and that the gift shop was better than many I have visited and not exorbitantly priced. I bought myself a souvenir – a pretty milk jug with Redoute’s roses on it.  I don’t even think we found the Pleasure Grounds. It was just the extensive walled gardens that we looked at. But, as you may gather, this is a multi-faceted operation which has to work hard to keep it financially viable and in private ownership.

There was a team of seven hard working gardeners though I can’t tell you if they are all full time. We met the head gardener because he did his apprenticeship under the eye of our friend who took us there. Britain still has an enviable tradition of training professional gardeners. I have seen a few gardeners at work when we have been out touring, and I can tell you that these Parham ones were hard workers and focused on tasks to hand.

From memory, they are required to provide 30 buckets of blooms to the big house a week. That is a huge amount and they must be hard pressed in winter. But the production of both food and cutting flowers was impressive – highly productive, in fact. Also done without chemical sprays.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The herbaceous borders were another modern take on classic design and techniques. The blue border was the most recent to have had a major makeover and it certainly looked glorious. I complimented the woman in blue whom I photographed strolling through the border, for her superb choice of toning colours. The yellow border was less flowery on the day but carefully composed and  easy on the eye. The shorter white border was also at peak border perfection that the Brits can do so very well. If there was a red border, I missed it entirely but I do not think there was.

Along the back wall – for this is all contained in a walled area – were the hot, vibrant colours and combinations, many of which were designed to zing.

Some of the statuary was… very white. Not necessarily to my taste. Some were more subtle than others. This was not. I am sure there will be somebody out there who can explain the significance of this figure and the inscription he is marking out with his finger.

Railway tracks of blue nepeta that many of wish we could achieve in NZ but rarely succeed

What we saw of Parham’s gardens were predominantly herbaceous or productive and sometimes both at the same time. They were not flashy or even particularly innovative, but they were very good. It is an example of high level horticultural excellence. Presumably it is tourism, both domestic and international, that enables a private estate such as Parham to maintain this level of excellence.

If you want to see more photos and get more detail, I have matched again to an album on our Facebook page.

The garden at Bury Court

Layers of Oudolf plantings in the walled garden

One of the gardens that so impressed us on our 2014 visit that we wanted to go back and have another look was Bury Court Barn near Farnham in Surrey. On this recent visit, we were honoured to be taken around by the garden owner himself, John Coke. I say honoured because while this garden is attributed to two big name designers – Piet Oudolf and Christopher Bradley-Hole – this does not accurately reflect the skills and hands-on involvement of the garden owner himself. It is very much his place.

The front garden was the first to be done and is a walled area. We have seen a number of large scale Oudolf plantings now. Bury Court is early Oudolf but, more interestingly, it is domestic and private in scale and design which makes it very different. The perennial plantings are still big, bold and bouffy but on a scale suited to this environment.  I look at the photos and I see how much thought has gone into the combinations and juxtaposition of plants but when you are surrounded by them in person, it is more an experience of being enveloped by the vibrancy.

One of the prettiest of meadows

The meadow is signature Oudolf, I realised when I spotted the Trentham grass rivers. And tactile, evocative, full of gentle movement and startlingly pretty. Again, deceptive simplicity. John Coke wryly noted that to keep it looking as it does makes it the most labour intensive area of the garden. We saw the same hands-on intensive maintenance going into Les Carrés Américains at Le Jardin Plume in Normandy. There are lower maintenance styles of meadow but they won’t look like this one.

Clearly the white wedding border by the functions hall in a converted barn

Bury Court has embraced the wedding and events market, as have many gardens. We have done the opposite and shunned weddings at least, but that is another story. I couldn’t help but notice the brilliant placement of all the event paraphernalia. They do the full shooting box – wedding ceremony, function, corporate events and all but it has been organised so that it does not dominate or dictate the nature of the entire property and the privacy of the home has been preserved by clever design, not barriers. Despite a sophisticated functions set-up, it still feels a personal and private garden.

The techniques of separation of different areas of this garden are both subtle and effective

Considering they started with quite a lot of buildings (oast houses, even!) and the area is not huge, the design skills that underpin this discreet separation are considerable but hidden. As I commented on the perfect Cotswolds garden, the thing about really-o, truly-o good design is that you don’t notice it but it underpins the entire garden environment and experience. As we sat having coffee in the front grass garden, there was a wedding taking place but it was entirely removed from us. I would have asked John Coke about this subtle separation had I thought about it at the time. It was only afterwards that it occurred to me that this was what had been achieved and that it was done by skill, not chance. My guess is that this is the result of a collaborative effort between the designer of the front garden, Piet Oudolf, and the garden owner himself.

The grass garden at Bury Court

I wanted to go back to Bury Court to have another look at the grass garden, a more recent major garden designed by Christopher Bradley-Hole. Despite my initial cynicism (how could a garden comprised almost entirely of grasses be remotely interesting?), I found it nothing short of inspirational when we first saw it in 2014. In the intervening three years, it appears that the flowering perennial count has dropped We worked it out to be about one perennial to eight grasses on that earlier visit but that seems unlikely now that the grasses have matured.

A bold Japanese-inspired summer house and reflecting pool

This grass garden is signature Bradley-Hole, I am told – sharp-edged, geometric design filled with gentle movement and informal plantings. On a second visit, I noticed the level of unobtrusive detail that underpins this garden – how the slight change of ground levels is handled, the definition and the materials used to strengthen the sharp lines of the design, the proportions of the summer house, the pond and the total space. Again, highly skilled design can be so subtle that you are barely aware of it yet it provides the foundation for everything else.

Now I want to see this garden in the autumn when the grasses are all shades of tawny gold and brown.

Again, I have too many photos of this particularly good garden to use in this post so have added an additional album to our Facebook garden page.

Garden owner and creator, John Coke