Tag Archives: Mark and Abbie Jury

That was the week that was.

Actually ten days, but ‘those were the ten days that were’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

About day five, Mark commented that this may be both the wettest and the most successful Taranaki garden festival in the long history of the event. The numbers were huge – three times what we expected in our garden. Apparently over one million of us travel overseas every year and with that coming to an abrupt halt, there are huge numbers of people suffering from cabin fever so getting out and about in our own country. Added to that, we were opening for the first time in seven years.

I was delighted to meet so many people who follow this site and on social media. So often people recognised things I have written about and commented on seeing them in real life. Some had more retentive memories than I have.

Sodden overflow carparking

But it rained. Almost every day and many nights. Not constantly but enough to have us awash at times. The carparking was challenging in the extreme. I used to think we could park 27 cars in our parking area if we managed it carefully but Brian – Carpark Volunteer Extraordinaire – achieved heady new heights when he managed to stack in 54 vehicles at the same time, all with access to an exit. That was before the rain rendered parts of the overflow grassed area unusable.

An aggressive tree stump biding its time – as it was a few weeks ago
The same stump after it snared its prey

Yet another large tree stump leapt out to trap an unsuspecting vehicle. Lloyd had to get the chainsaw out to free the car this time (he jacked up the previous car that stranded itself on a different tree stump earlier) so it is now a shadow of its previous self.

Blocking off some paths because of mud baths and opening others

We were barrowing out wood chip to muddy tracks and redirecting the routes in the park meadow, to close off tracks that had become mud baths.

Look at the number plate!
Rarely has a specialised tradesman been such a welcome sight

I had thought that with friends volunteering in the carpark and at the entry, Mark and I might get to swan around like lord and lady of the manor. Ha! Wishful thinking. My life is all glamour – or not. On Monday the septic tank that services our visitor toilets cried ‘enough’ and backed up and overflowed. This is not what anybody needs on a day with hundreds of visitors in the garden including a large coachload. All credit to the company that sent a man with a truck, a pump and hose out within a few hours. I decided this event was best described as a poocalypse. The operator was a tad surprised at my enthusiastic response, commenting that it was a warmer welcome than he gets from his wife. I hasten to add that it was all smiles and words; I did not embrace this man, despite my relief at his appearance.

Dudley, settling into his new role at the garden entrance

Dudley came to us an adult dog – an SPCA rehome – five years ago after we had closed the garden, so this was his first festival. He took to it like a duck to water. He is very food-focused, our Duds. Despite being a well-upholstered dog, he suffers permanent anxiety about where his next meal might come from so he was delighted to find that most garden visitors who have food will share it with him. As he took to checking all car boots when they were opened, we couldn’t decide whether to confer the new title of Carpark Liaison Officer on him, or perhaps Biosecurity Manager.

Dudley in his element

Geriatric Spike is an old hand at such events but now past the role of greeting visitors. He would lurch out to make a guest appearance from time to time but being stone deaf, somewhat unsteady and with acute dementia, he caused us great anxiety each time he found himself in the busy carparking area. I lost count of how many times I carried him back to his beds in the house. We can’t shut him in because he needs the door open at all times to carry out frequent bodily functions. And because he came to us as a chained dog (another rescue dog), we have never tied him up again so that was not an option.

Come the final Sunday evening, we were people-d out and talked out. Monday passed in a zombie-like state. Only today are we coming back to life. Now we have almost dismantled the accoutrements that were needed for the festival and we can bask in the euphoria of all the positive comments we received. Clearly we have been doing something right in the last seven years.

Will we open again next year? Ask us in a few months’ time.

Dudley is wondering why the excitement has ended and where all the people who fed him have gone.

The sight on Monday morning when it was all over

Aaand… we are open again

Day one of the garden festival opened not with a whimper, but with a hiss and a roar. The cars started rolling in just before 9am and by 9.10am the main lines of our modest but usually adequate carpark were full. I had gaily told our volunteers that we wouldn’t need them before 9.45 or 10.00 but I was wrong. We were scrambling from the start and didn’t draw breath til the lunchtime lull.

The first line of carparking
Opening up to new lines of carparking. That was soon full to overflowing. It appears we can actually park 54 cars and campervans but that may be our full capacity.

Numbers are not a problem in the garden. We actively garden and open about seven acres and we can sink a lot of people into that area without it feeling crowded. It is the carparking that can be a problem because we have to get vehicles off the road so we manage it carefully. We were directing cars into our second and third parking lines which was fine until one visitor managed to get their vehicle marooned on a large tree stump. This is a feat that nobody else has achieved since Mark’s mother did the same thing on the same stump in the 1970s. It completely blocked the exit for half the vehicles.

A feat unmatched in close to fifty years…
The offending stump

Lloyd to the rescue, though even the normally unflappable Lloyd was a little stressed by this situation. He didn’t want to pull it off with the tractor because that would have pulled the whole front bumper off the car so, ever resourceful, he sent the owner around the garden while he carefully and laboriously jacked up the car using timber bracing until he had it sufficiently clear to enable him to back it off, with no visible damage to the car. I think the visitor was grateful.

My free garden tour at 11am attracted rather too many people for me to manage it as well as I can with smaller numbers. Mark has always been in awe of my ability to take a tour around the garden and to emerge an hour later with more or less the same numbers with which I started. The group this time was too large so I did lose some along the way but it is not compulsory to stay to the end.

Led by the pied piper of Tikorangi, yours truly

Gloria and Pat are mostly managing the gate and we are proud of the 100% cooperation rate with scanning or signing in. Dr Ashley would be proud of us, we feel. It seems that people will forget or neglect to scan unless reminded but everybody agrees that we want to keep NZ free from Covid so they are happy to scan the QA code when specifically requested. For overseas readers, this is the tracing app the government is encouraging so that in the event of a new case, everybody who may have been exposed can be contacted immediately.

Music from 1pm tomorrow (Sunday)

Day one saw numbers that were four times higher than our ten year average for the same day but that was eclipsed this morning. Since then, torrential rain set in so it remains to be seen how the day pans out but the hardy and determined are still out and about and the forecast is much improved for tomorrow. I am hoping that will be the case because we need at least fine-ish weather for the gentle and melodic guitar music by Dominique Blatti from 1pm onwards.

What is affirming is the overwhelmingly positive response from visitors. We were nervous about the meadow – would people relate to it or would New Zealanders see it as full of weeds? Fortunately the reactions have been the former and if anybody at all has thought the latter, they have been too polite to tell us. Ditto the new summer gardens – would people see them as part of the interconnected whole of the garden or would they see them as disconnected, too jarringly different in character? The former option triumphs. This is all music to our ears.

Eight more days until we close the gates again to visitors.

Generally unenthused by green flowers and other garden observations

Mark has never been a fan of green flowers. I asked him why and he replied with utter simplicity, “because I like colour”. As I have observed before, green is colour neutral in a garden situation. Maybe Hippeastrum papilio passes muster because it has quite a bit of red in it and has some hefty flower-wow-power but his preference lies with the glowing red of H. aulicum.

Hippeastrum papilio

I am pleased with H. papilio. We started with a single bulb and now have two good sized patches of it with a profusion of flower spikes this year – at least a dozen on the point of opening in one area alone. It is just patience, time and lifting and dividing that gets a single expensive bulb to a significant block – or an extravagant budget if you want a quicker response. We grow our hippeastrums in woodland conditions because the narcissi fly stay out in the sun so the bulbs don’t get burrowed out by narcissi fly larvae.

We have plenty of green hellebores – Helleborus ‘Sternii’, H. argutifolius and H. foetidus feature heavily in the woodland Avenue Garden – some green arisaemas and a single green orchid but generally I see Mark eyes glaze over with disinterest when green flowers are praised by others. He will go as far as white fading to green or white with streaks of green – but predominantly white, thank you.

Helleborus sternii
I think I was having difficulty getting a good photo in the garden of Helleborus foetidus and, to be honest, it looks more exciting staged
Just the one green orchid but it has a certain grace and style
Yellow clivias, we have a few. Quite a few really.

Some readers may remember when the first yellow clivias became available here, retailing for up to $50 a plant, as I recall. I think about this as I pull out the self-sown seedlings and discard them as surplus to requirements. If you want to raise plants from seed, if the seed is yellow, the plant will flower yellow. Red seed gives orange or red flowered plants. Now the fashion appears to be for the new green flowered varieties, but not here, for reasons already stated. I wouldn’t mind some richer yellow ones but I have only seen one in another garden. The pale yellows can be a bit insipid en masse but really sing when combined with orange and red clivias. Pretty peach clivias would also be a nice addition and are now available but haven’t come our way yet.

The trimming of the Podocarpus parlatorei in the summer gardens

Our focus is entirely on getting the garden ready for opening. Mark is trimming the Podocarpus parlatorei to pillar shapes and he is welcome to this job. It has to be done with secateurs and loppers more than clippers to get the main shape formed. Hopefully it can be done with electric clippers in the future once the shape is defined and the plants have bushed out so it is foliage that needs to be trimmed and not woody branches. The top knots are because he wants to stretch them over to form an archway in time. There are six of them and as the chief shaper is currently incapacitated by a bad shoulder and a cracked rib, it is taking him some time. Notice the old shade cloth spread beneath to capture the mess. Lloyd does the same when he is trimming hedges. It only takes a moment to spread a drop sheet (old sheets or curtains do the same job) yet it makes the clean-up so much faster.

My goal today is to finish down in the park. It is all about tidying in that area, but selective tidying because we like a looser, more natural look in that area. Then it is back up to the top gardens for the final round with fingers crossed that we get no major storms between now and October 30.

Down in the park tidying up so I get to enjoy the wisteria, bluebells and rhododendrons
Rhododendron ‘College Pink’ is both very large and very pink
Following the pink theme, ixias in the new borders
Finally, the bird bath – well used, particularly by tui. It is the outer mill wheel from a grain mill. I used to worry that it wasn’t level until Mark pointed out that is to that small birds can also use it without fear.

Counting down to Festival – 25 days to go

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Admiring the scale of the Monstera delicoosa climbing a massive rimu tree

We had a film crew in this week, complete with *actors*. The garden was just a venue – the filming is for a major community funding trust but it was more fun than I expected. I was impressed by the gusto shown by the willing participants, if somewhat amused to hear one admiring the ‘snowdrops’ as he walked past a pretty clump of white Dendrobium (orchid) ‘Bardo-Rose’.

In the sunken garden they whipped out their phones because, as they declared, that is what garden visitors do nowadays and how right they are. I don’t do Instagram because it is geared to mobile phones and we lack phone reception here so I continue to use a camera, not a phone. But here we have the videographer filming the visitor photographing the other visitors photographing the blue Moraea villosa.

I was riveted by the drone and hope we may get to see the drone footage at some stage. Now I know who to get in to do some drone footage next year when the magnolias are in full bloom – a time when I am guessing we would be looking our most dramatic and colourful from above.

What was particularly affirming was the wildly enthusiastic response to the new summer gardens where we finished the paths this week. I look at this area and I see gardens filled with plants that I hope will do a whole lot of growing before we open in a month. They looked at the whole and went ‘wow’. One of the crew declared that it reminded him of Hamilton Gardens. This was a compliment. I do not doubt that for a moment. I was just a bit taken aback because I had not thought we were emulating the themed gardens that are enormously popular public gardens in the city of Hamilton. We are a private, domestic garden. This has been achieved on a shoestring budget by three people, albeit with a lot of experience.

Trilliums in meadow conditions

Sometimes I feel as though I am living with a pixie. In this case, a pixie who has been out planting trilliums in the meadow. It is of course Mark who has both raised the plants and then planted them. Last year I spotted a couple. As I tidy up the park in preparation for opening, I must have come across about 20 of them this week.

We have trilliums in the garden. Growing them in long grass is an experiment but so far it is working and they are continuing to get a little larger each year, rather than fading away.

There is a lesson in this. If you want to experiment with choice plants in a meadow, it helps to raise them yourself. You wouldn’t want to be buying a score – or more – of them to experiment with.

Oh look! How very 2020. My 1950s washing line (a single wire held up with a bamboo prop) with washable facemasks hanging like bunting and two linen tea towels that were sold as a fundraiser in aid of the Australian bushfires last summer. It is not that we are wearing masks at this time, but that our scientist daughter has crafted masks for her parents in two styles with added, optional, washable filters. I was washing them before putting them safely to one side – prepared, just in case.

For overseas readers, NZ has reachieved its status of no community transmission, with any Covid cases caught in quarantine at the border – so most of the country is free from all restrictions on movement and crowd sizes again. We have our fingers crossed that we remain free from any Covid cases in the community for the garden festival at the end of the month and hopefully well beyond. If one is going to be confined to one’s home country with no overseas travel, New Zealand seems to be one of the best places to be at this difficult time. May you all stay safe, wherever in the world you are.

Finally a few photos of the season. I struggle to get good photographs of the swathes of bluebells here. We are just past peak bluebell and they are so pretty even if the Spanish bluebells and hybrids are inclined to be so enthusiastic that they border on being problematic in some areas.

I finally got down to tie in the wisteria to the high bridge. They are quite a bit reduced in size this year as a result of the work we undertook on the bridge but still very pretty. I use black twine because, of all the ties I have tried over the years, synthetic black twine lasts the longest and is the least distracting the eye.

Rhododendron Noyo Chief

We flower rhododendrons more or less from August to the end of November. This is Noyo Chief. It is an undeniably handsome red, even if big reds are not my personal favourite. It is certainly a good performer on a healthy bush and what more can one ask?

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.