Tag Archives: Mark and Abbie Jury

Treading more lightly on the land

The onions are not the main purpose of this story – more on those a little later. They are just more visually appealing than the sight of rubbish sorting at its most basic level.

I mentioned in last week’s post the heartening sight of how little landfill waste was generated by the 50 members of the IDS when they lunched here.   This week it was a coachload of Massey University environmental ecology students who visited. I put out my labelled pots for the waste, curious to see how they would respond. They passed with flying colours. Of course they did. What else would one expect from these young people on whom rests so much hope for the future?

I now realise what I have failed to do is to photograph the lunch food laid out for these large groups. Therein lies the key to minimising inorganic waste. With the IDS, the menu included quiches cut in squares, small filled rolls, green salad and fresh watermelon for dessert. And coffee, tea and chilled water served from large jugs. All the food came out on china or wooden serving dishes. The only disposable items used were the cardboard ‘plates’ and bamboo forks.

The students had an expansive range of options from which to assemble their own filled rolls and sandwiches with fresh fruit to follow. Plus the option of yoghurt and treats like muesli bars which admittedly generated individual waste. But the bulk of the food was in multi-use plastic containers and even the butter came cut in individual cubes from a large block so there was no packaging needed and no wastage. The students had been told to bring their own water bottles which they refilled from a nearby tap.

I have learned two things. If you set up a situation where individuals are expected to sort their waste, they do it but most waste is reduced by the steps taken in the catering. We have become so used to individually packaged portions – marketed as being both convenient and hygienic – that many people have forgotten that it used to be done differently and sometimes that is better. A sandwich or filled roll prepared on the spot to one’s own tastes is hugely preferable to getting one somebody else prepared four hours earlier and then left to sweat in its own plastic cling-film wrapping.

Soy beans! Part of the Tikorangi soy bean crop

Waste is much on our mind here. Hence the onions seen above. And the delight at a successful soy bean harvest. Why onions and soy beans when they are extremely cheap to buy, you may wonder. Why not grow the higher value crops? We grow those too, or at least Mark does. Space is not a problem for us. But commercial onions are reputed to be one of the most heavily sprayed crops and we know ours are spray-free. And soy beans may be cheap as chips but they also come with very high food miles. The food miles are on our soy beans are zero. Besides, when it comes to taste treats, freshly picked edamame beans steamed and sprinkled with a little rock salt is right up there as gourmet food.

Not all crops are worth growing. The peanuts gave a really good yield last year but were so tedious to de-husk by hand that even Mark decided they weren’t worth the effort. He is quite happy to prepare the beans, seeing his attempts to produce as much food as he can from our own property as a worthy challenge. Not only does it hugely reduce the amount of waste we personally produce but we also know the origin of our food, the conditions in which it has been grown and the age of the produce.

This all feels like a return to where we were at back in the 1970s, though we are more lined and more experienced now. If more of us had stuck with that rejection of consumerism back then, maybe the world would not be in such a parlous state.

One man has indeed made a good start on the annual a-mowing of the meadow

Applying related principles of lightening our footprints on the land to the ornamental garden is an entirely different topic because there is the added factor of aesthetics. We are spending a lot of time discussing and experimenting here but in the meantime, I can tell you that one man went to mow, went to mow the meadow. With our smart new sickle-bar mower because that is all that could handle the mountains of meadow grass. So much grass, in fact, that Mark was wondering if we should be teaching ourselves the old skills of building haystacks. This current and most major mowing is just the latest instalment of an ongoing experiment.  How far can we change our gardening habits and tread more lightly on the land yet still be happy with the high aesthetic values we strive for in the garden? Time will tell.

Tikorangi notes: the calm before the storm

Mood photo as we wait in the calm before the storm. It is the neighbour’s dead tree

It has been a discombobulating day. Since late yesterday, the entire country has been subjected to saturation warnings about the impending Cyclone Cook. I have never seen such a massive advance warning campaign and mobilisation of emergency services prior to an event happening. Be prepared, we have been told, for the worst weather event in the last 49 years. This includes urging us to have at least three days of food and drinking water to hand, to have prepared our own personal evacuation plans – including pets, not to plan on travelling anywhere until the storm has passed even though it is Easter, to tie down trampolines and to put away anything that can be blown around, including the outdoor barbecue.

So this morning has seemed quite unreal here as the weather has been dead calm, quiet and grey. Only now are the rains starting in Taranaki, although the east coast is getting heavy rain falling on land already saturated from last week’s downpours. The cyclonic winds have yet to arrive. I think they are due this evening.

(Post cyclone update – it hit the east coast. We are on the west coast so escaped everything but rain. Not as devastating as feared though there are plenty of roads closed, trees down and power lines down in the eastern areas.)

The shades of nerines currently in bloom

In the meantime, summer has long gone here. Every season has its own rewards and autumn brings us the nerines. In the company of Cyclamen hederafolium and the other autumn bulbs, they are a highlight every year. Less predictable are the brunsvigias which don’t bloom every year for us. The first to flower this year, I was reliably informed on Facebook, is not, as we had thought, one of the species but in fact an amarygia – a hybrid between Brunsvigia josephinae and an amaryllis (otherwise known as a belladonna). So now we know.

The amarygia!

Brunsvigia litoralis

The second one, opening now, is Brunsvigia litoralis. I counted 36 individual florets ready to open – which they will do in sequence over the next few weeks.  These are more South African bulbs where the growth is triggered by summer rain.

Autumn is also feijoa season. I keep optimistically checking beneath our trees but our fruit have yet to start dropping (the sign that they are ripe). This is a curious fruit that central and northern New Zealand seems to have made its own, despite its South American origins. It is one of the few fruiting trees (though a large shrub, really) that can be planted and just left without any further attention. It thrives under benign neglect. In fact it crops so well that it can lead to an edge of desperation. I saw a tweet the other day from somebody who bought a property with seven feijoa trees on it “and now I pick up 20kg every two days which I try to give away”. It is feast or famine with feijoas. They have a short shelf life so are not a good commercial option but almost everybody seems to grow them so rehoming surplus can be problematic. That said, if ours don’t start falling in the next day or two, I may have to buy a bag from a roadside stall I passed the other day.

With our garden closed to the public these days, we don’t accept many tours or groups but the New Zealand chapter of the IDS (International Dendrology Society) was an exception a few weeks ago. Of all the horticultural societies we have encountered over time, the IDS remains our favourite. It attracts the most interesting and knowledgeable people and we really enjoyed their visit. There were 50 in the group and they ate lunch here.

A very small volume of non-recyclables on the right

I show you the waste because I find this very affirming. I put out three receptacles labelled compostable, recyclable and non-recyclable. The right-hand pot of non-recyclable waste was barely a quarter full. All credit to the caterer who set up a situation that generated next to no waste and to the group who were happy to cooperate. Over the years, we have hosted many groups and the volume of waste left behind used to be a real problem for us when we didn’t have a rubbish collection service. Now we have that service but we don’t really need it. It is possible for a large group to move around, eating and drinking on the go, and not leave a whole lot of inorganic waste to mark their passage. This is a good sign. At least, I think so because these things are of increasing importance these days.

  • Dendrology, to save you asking or Googling – is the study of woody trees and shrubs. The thing about dendrologists is that the vast majority are interested in ALL plants, not just woody ones, as well as ecology, natural habitats, gardening and even design.

A touch of Tikorangi around the world

We are generally accustomed to seeing Jury plants growing in different parts of the world, though sometimes it generates a special thrill. A UK friend sent this photo of Magnolia Felix Jury in bloom at The Garden House in Devon last week. We had seen this particular tree growing strongly several years ago but it was summer, so in leaf, not bloom.

It takes time for a magnolia to prove itself, particularly across a range of different climates. Magnolia Vulcan has never really performed in cooler climates because it loses its flower size and blooms more in muddy-purple tones than in the deep claret-red that sets it apart here. There is always apprehension as to how other deeper coloured cultivars will perform in much harder conditions than we have. Early blooms on ‘Felix Jury’ in the chilliest climes of Northern Europe show that it retains its flower form and remarkable size, but the colour can bleach out – albeit to prettier shades than the muddy ‘Vulcan’. Whether that colour will deepen as the plants mature (which is what happened here over a period of years) remains to be seen.

This made it a special delight to be sent the photo of The Garden House specimen, showing good colour, good size and the correct flower form.

Even I found it touching to see Mark’s delight at the specimen of Magnolia Felix Jury growing a few doors up from where our daughter lives in Canberra. He felt it was like having a touch of Tikorangi in her street. Canberra is not exactly Magnolia Central so if ‘Felix Jury’ blooms as well there as at The Garden House, it will be a showstopper. The house owners were a tad surprised when I knocked on their door to ask if I could take photos and explained why. They also had Mark’s Fairy Magnolia Blush growing to the immediate left of the umbrella. Nothing illustrates the stark difference in climate to here more than an astroturf lawn.

Up the ladder

Just one view of Mark’s pruning efforts this week

In a garden with many trees, ladders are a part of our life. While our son, Theo, and I have been down in the park clearing the ponds and the stream of invasive weeds (lots of heavy raking), Mark has been up the top doing a round of summer pruning. Particularly cherry trees which need to be pruned right now, since summer is already morphing into autumn. You can see the extension ladder up Prunus Pearly Shadows to the right of the photo.

I am always in awe of how much material Mark can remove when pruning, without it showing except to the most discerning eye. This is a high level and under-appreciated skill though he does say it takes him a great deal of time looking before he ever makes the cuts. And he is forever up and down the ladders to look again from all angles and locations. For you cannot glue a branch back on if you get it wrong and find that you have just destroyed the shape of the tree by taking the wrong piece off.

Mark, being an agile and wiry man with very good balance, has given me the most alarming photos of how not to use ladders. Do not try this at home. He would like a disclaimer added that he is not stupid. He only does this with the ladder in a stable position and with something firm to hand that he can grab should anything go awry. Never with the chainsaw. He is extremely mindful of safety and caution with the chainsaw when mistakes can be fatal.

Because ladders play such a role in our lives, we were pretty interested in this permanent ladder structure seen attached to a tree in a tourist park in Jinghong, near China’s southern border. Presumably this tree is climbed regularly to warrant the construction of a ladder, although the reason why was not clear to us at the time. It can’t be that good for the long term health of the tree to have the wooden pegs bored into its trunk but at least they are not nails.

Who needs ladders, anyway? A friend shared this link via Facebook this week – how a Vietnamese tactical police unit climbs the outside of buildings with just a length of bamboo. No, it does not involve pole vaulting. We were pretty impressed, I tell you, and it has given Mark a new range of jokes about how we can dispense with ladders here and follow their lead. Who needs aluminium ladders when we have a wonderful resource of bamboo growing here? It would solve the problem of the oft-asked question here of where the ladders are when one of us need one and there are none in the shed.

On dry land – Christmas in Canberra

 

We spent Christmas in Canberra. Why Canberra, you may wonder. Or you may not. We are one of those New Zealand families where all three of our children have headed off into the merry blue yonder and the daughter with our first and only grandchild lives there.

For those not in the know, Canberra in winter is very much colder than anything we ever get in Taranaki, but a dry cold. Canberra in summer is very much hotter, but a dry heat. I don’t think we had a daytime temperature that was below 30C on this visit and it only dropped a few degrees at night. It doesn’t make gardening easy, although roses are happier there and they can do corker lavender and other Mediterranean plants, along with their own natives.

Helichrysum growing as a wildflower

Adapting to growing a different range of plants and gardening in different ways is one aspect – though their conditions are just a more extreme version of Central Otago, parts of Canterbury and Hawkes Bay. The wildlife is more of a worry.We were staying in a house at the base of Mount Ainslie, a large nature park literally 15 minutes walk from the centre of the city. As she dropped us off, daughter commented that we should take care on the back terrace “because this is Redback Central”. That struck terror in us, especially as I recalled her saying previously that cane furniture is not suitable for Canberra because it was altogether too accommodating to redback spiders. We carefully brushed down the underside of the outdoor furniture before the seating of our posteriors thereon. We weren’t keen on the ants either, though the scarily large ants were harmless sugar ants. Or so we were told. It was the small ants that were the bite-y ones.

Snakes are also common in this inland area and we were a bit neurotic about the ornamental pond in overgrown grass beside the outdoor terrace. Snakes are apparently attracted to water in the dry summer months. Kangaroos graze on the adjacent reserve and the presence of fresh kanga poop on the driveways and paths each morning indicate they extend to the road verges at night. As there is a city ordinance that bans most front fences (though hedges are acceptable), this must be a challenge for front gardens. The abundant rabbit and possum population did not appear as damaging to gardens as we would expect here, though daughter was bitterly disappointed when a possum (a protected species in the homeland) took out her entire apricot crop in one night.

It was protection from the abundant and intrusive birdlife that saw the next door garden shrouded in white netting. The owners, Croatian migrants who escaped then-Yugoslavia in the 1960s for a better life in free Australia, were keen food producers growing many fruits and vegetables. It was an interesting visual effect, the shrouding of the garden, though you wouldn’t be able to expect a fruit crop in our humid conditions with the tree foliage compressed into tight domes.

Streetscapes of Canberra

Mark’s little bouquet of wildflowers, gathered by a river

It wasn’t all hostile and locals presumably learn the  routine precautions that are necessary to protect their physical safety while gardening. We loved the dry grasslands and the wild flowers. The shimmering golden light is so very different to the bright, clear light we get at home in our landscape of verdant green and bright blue sky. Being able to take our baby grandson for his first river swims without worrying at all about water quality was a poignant experience for us as New Zealanders of this new millennium. The streetscapes of Canberra are all dominated by wide avenues, even in the suburbs, lined with very large trees. There was no evidence of clamouring locals wanting to take chainsaws to these specimens. Instead, everyone sought out the welcome shade to make walking in the heat of the day bearable.

Golden light

More golden light

In terms of domestic gardening, those who were irrigating heavily to enable a style of gardening imported from wetter climates were very obvious. This looks increasingly irresponsible in today’s world. Astro Turf seemed an option for some who wanted the effect of green lawns without the stigma of irrigation. We bought our daughter a book on American prairie gardens a few years ago and she is delighted with the effect of her little patch of perennials and grasses and waxes most enthusiastically about the feather reed grass – Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’’. This style of gardening has very low water requirements so is well suited to her conditions.

We flew home to our own garden which, even though we know it so well, looked unusually lush, well-furnished and, above all, green as green. We’d rather garden here than in a harsher climate and we have much to be grateful for in this country when it comes to the absence of poisonous fauna and large kangaroos.

First published in the March 2017 New Zealand Gardener and reprinted here with their permission. 

Poignancy – taking our baby grandson swimming in the Canberra rivers when this is no longer an option in too many of New Zealand’s polluted rivers

From the air – then and now

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When we moved in to the family home after the death of Mark’s father in 1997, there were a number of surprises. Some were more welcome than others but the two large format, aerial photos were particularly interesting. As far as we can make out, they must date back to around 1953, soon after the house was built and as Felix and Mimosa were at the height of activity, laying out the garden. The concrete in front of the house is still very new and white, the rockery has been constructed and some of low, stone walls are in place. It does not appear as if the sunken garden has been built yet and nothing has happened behind the house.

Running across the middle of the photograph, the avenue of rimu trees – one of our most outstanding features now – is still quite small and some of the much faster growing Pinus radiata trees are still standing at the right hand end of the rimus. Both the rimus and the pines dated back to the first Jury who moved onto the land in the early 1870s. By that date, the original tawa bush had already been cleared in this area.

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Looking down from above is not a view we see often but last week we had that opportunity.

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In the intervening years, the driveway has been relocated, additional buildings and a swimming pool have been added – and a whole lot more planting, although most of the original trees remain. The road runs left to right through the centre of this photo but is now screened by trees.

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This second photograph was probably of more interest to us than it ever was to Mark’s parents, Felix and Mimosa, because we bought the property in the foreground in 1994 – giving us both sides of the road. The house is shown centre right with the much smaller rimu trees running left to right and a large cluster of puriri trees to the right of the house. Many of these we had to fell because they were in such poor condition in the late 1990s.  No planting has yet taken place in the area we refer to as the park with one notable exception – the significant kauri tree which was the first plant Felix put in.

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And a similar view from last week. The little church on the left belongs to the neighbour’s but the heavily planted areas on both sides of the road are mostly ours. Mark always regrets that a previous owner of the foreground property (the one we bought in 1994) felt the need to take out all the land contours on the lower paddocks that border the road. Mark would have preferred to work with the better drainage and more interesting  contours that were original.

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What struck both of us from the air, was just how tree-d the place now looks. This was a surprise to us because we work hard to keep a sense of openness at ground level so the effect in the garden is more park than woodland.

All we need now is a friendly person with a drone so we can get the late winter, early spring photos which show the deciduous magnolias and the michelias in full bloom. We have many of both, in the gardens on the right hand side of the photo and in all the wind breaks and plantings on the more utility left hand side of the road. In the meantime, we will continue to beaver away at ground level.

For the sake of the birds

I love cats. But when our last cat was in her twilight years, Mark commented that he did not want another. I felt a twinge of sadness, resentment even. But I knew he was right and these days I make do with the cats of the internet.

The late Buffy

The late Buffy

In our years together, we have had a succession of furry felines. Every one was both loved and ginger, male or female. To me, all cats should be ginger. Buffy, our final cat, was named by the children for the vampire slayer. She took her name seriously and slayed not vampires, but rodents, probably skinks, birds in abundance and she gave no quarter to visitors who thought they might stroke her without permission or – horrors – move her from a chair that they might sit there instead. Buffy met the world on her terms. And she was a killer.

If we still had a cat, we would not have the ground-dwelling quail

If we still had a cat, we would not have the ground-dwelling quail

I believe Gareth Morgan when he says all cats are roaming killers, contrary to what their owners think. The hidden cameras prove him right. Urban cats may not achieve the same tally of bird kill but that is likely to be because of a lesser population of birds. We live rurally with no domestic cats in residence nearby. Mark maintains an ongoing rodent control programme, particularly against rats, and is on constant alert for other predators, including feral cats. We can never be predator free, but vigilance keeps the incidence lower than the norm.

Waxeyes feeding from aloe

Waxeyes feeding from aloe

The rewards lie in the bird population. Everybody I know claims their garden is ‘full of birdsong’ and we are fortunate that there is a certain base-level bird population throughout most of the country. A friend who recently moved from a very large, cat-free country garden to a leafy town suburb commented how much she missed the birdsong. I bet if you asked her neighbours, they would be shocked and think this a gross misrepresentation. But the difference between that base-level population and an environment that is truly rich in bird numbers and variety is huge.  These days, our garden feels so alive. 

Our beautiful but lumbering native pigeon - the kereru

Our beautiful but lumbering native pigeon – the kereru

We have never set out to feed the birds. But on a property which is heavily planted in both natives and exotics with many different varieties, particularly flowering ones, across 25 acres, there is a succession of food all year round.

We have seen the kaka again recently so it appears to be resident in the area

We have seen the kaka again recently so it appears to be resident in the area

It is not that we have much in the way of rare birds, although the arrival of a kaka for two months in late winter was a thrill and we are on the feeding flight path of native falcons (karearea).  Mostly it is about the tui which we count by the score, the kereru that are permanent residents here, korimako (bellbirds), ruru (moreporks) at night, piwakawaka (fantails), white-faced herons, silvereyes, pukeko, shining cuckoos in season and all the formerly common birds of our bush and grasslands. Then are the introduced varieties. It is one of the delightful introductions that we know we would miss entirely if we had a cat. The Californian quail spend a lot of the time on the ground and nest at ground level so are extremely vulnerable to predation. These are charming additions to the garden, a gentle presence all the time. We do not eat them.

Tui feeding from veltheimia

Tui feeding from veltheimia

The one grief for us is the incidence of bird-strike on our windows, exacerbated by double glazing which turned the windows almost mirror-like. Because the reflection is all of sky and trees, too many birds think they can fly through. Window decals do not work. Believe me, I tried. A young kereru still died when it flew straight into one. Mark constructed an open bamboo grid that he suspended from the eaves in front of our very large picture window which claimed too many birds. It does not impede the view from indoors and we can still open the windows. Upstairs was more problematic because we lack eaves. Reluctantly – and I say reluctantly because we like the views – we have hung sheer curtains in the two worst affected rooms. These work – Mark has seen a young kereru take avoiding action when it registered the visual barrier.

The grief of window-kill kereru

The grief of window-kill kereru

One solution to window-kill

One solution to window-kill

We place a high value on creating a sound eco system and the increasing bird population tells us we are succeeding. It is not just the birdsong. It is the movement, the interaction between the birds (we witness many a battle), the charm of different nests, even the falling feathers – all enrich our lives well above and beyond just having a garden. If the trade-off for us is forgoing the character and pleasure of a resident cat, then so be it. We would rather have the birds.

First published in the February issue of New Zealand Gardener and reprinted here with their permission. 

Fantail nest

Fantail nest