Tag Archives: NZ meadow gardening

The end of the long, hot summer is nigh

Belladonnas – a roadside flower for us

Summer continues here with temperatures in the mid to late mid twenties during the day, and often not dropping much below 17 at night. That is celsius, of course. With our near-constant high humidity, it feels hotter. Dry heat is easier to live in. But we are not complaining. Last summer never really arrived and we would have been lucky to have a single day where temperatures reached 25 or 26, rather than the three months so far this year.

Our belladonnas range from pure white through pretty pastel pink to sugar candy pinks and all shades between

What is interesting is that while the temperatures haven’t really dropped, the garden is starting to tell us that autumn is coming. The belladonnas are already past their peak, Cyclamen hederifolium is in full bloom  as is the tiny, dainty autumn snowflake, Leucojum autumnalis. Moraea polystachya has started its blooming marathon.Even the first nerine has opened and I spotted a flower on an autumn flowering camellia – C. microphylla. Haemanthus coccineus is out and the exquisite Rhodophiala bifida have already been and almost gone, their lovely trumpet blooms touched with gold dust now withering away for another year.

Cyclamen hederafolium seed down happily for us now

Some plants are triggered into growth or blooming by temperature, some by seasonal rain (we can do the South African autumn bulbs so well because we get summer rain, even in a drought year such as this has been) and some are triggered by day length. While our weather conditions are still indubitably summer, the day length is shortening and these plants are programmed to respond.

We don’t get sharp seasonal changes because our temperature has quite a small range from both summer to winter and day to night. It will be another three months before the trees start to colour. But the garden is coming out of its summer hiatus and entering autumn, whether we are ready or not.

Stachys Bella Grigio is giving up the ghost. Whiffing off, as we say.

Some plants just like to confound you. I wrote earlier about Stachys ‘Bella Grigio’, the startling white, felted variety that was so happily ensconced in a new garden. Booming away, even. It was setting so many offshoots that I thought I would be able to carpet many square metres by the end of the season. Well, it was an ‘upanddieonyou’ after all. It has been upping and dying like mad in the last weeks. Otherwise known as ‘whiffing off’ here.

I dug up a couple of wilting plants to see what was going on. They are dying from the top down. Their roots are fine. As an aside, if you are puzzled by why a plant is clearly dying, basically they die either bottom up or top down so it is always interesting to carry out an autopsy. Each of these plants was carrying 30 or more offshoots. I took off the ones with roots and have tried replanting them and I thinned out the offsets which had not yet established their own roots because it looked a bit as if the plants were smothering themselves to death in their desire to reproduce. There was no sign of insect infestation.

“It’s probably climatic,” Mark said. His thinking is that we are too humid and it has been particularly so this summer, whereas that felted white foliage is usually indicative of alpine plants. I think it is varietal. I have heard too many stories from others who have experienced specimens of this plant thriving, established and growing well before suddenly keeling over and dying. I cleaned up two plants and replanted the offsets out of curiosity. If I have to do this every year to keep these plants alive, then I am afraid I will decide very soon that it simply is not worth the effort.

We have mown the meadow for the season. Well, Lloyd has. With our special sickle bar mower, imported from Germany. We are still learning how to best manage the meadow in our conditions and Mark thinks that we are leaving the mowing too late and that it would be best done soon after Christmas for the first mow with a follow up in autumn. Maybe next year.

Mark has just declared that the sickle bar mower is otherwise known as the primary herbivore here. He has been reading about eco-systems and wondering what we could be introducing to NZ, given that our primary herbivore, the moa, is now extinct.

You can tell our climate is mild. We have begonias as a roadside hedge.

Tikorangi Notes – of earthquakes, tree ferns and a meadow experiment

I think the Americans will like our sino nuttallii rhododendrons in bloom (and we won't mention their new president)

I think the Americans will like our sino nuttallii rhododendrons in bloom (and we won’t mention their new president)

It has been a discombobulating week. For overseas readers, I should explain it started with another major earthquake. Despite the quake being centred on the east coast of the South Island (we are the west coast of the North Island), it was the worst one Mark and I have ever felt. And I say that as inhabitants of what are sometimes called the shaky isles where we have all been raised with advice and practice at school on how to behave in an earthquake. Even here, the rocking ground was enough to significantly drop the water level in the swimming pool and to have the water sloshing out of the upstairs toilet cistern. Fortunately, after the Christchurch earthquakes, we had secured our tall pieces of furniture and bookcases.

Further south the damage has been huge and the enormity of this event is still being revealed. It is major and will take years to repair – damaged townships and settlements but also the main trunk road and rail services are completely out of commission and it is difficult to see how and when repairs will be possible. Being a sparsely populated area of this country, there is very little in the way of alternative routes available. Our hearts go out to the people so badly affected.

Closer to home, we have been sprucing up for a small American tour due on Wednesday. This is the first tour we have accepted since we closed the garden three years ago and there is nothing like knowing you will be hosting an overseas group to focus one’s eyes differently. We will not be raising the topic of their recent presidential elections (I think there may be a huge gap – a chasm, even – between how much of the world views that event and how it is seen internally by too many in the USA, so best avoided).

New shoot on black mamaku

New shoot on black mamaku

I expect they will notice our tree ferns. Here they just seed down and we cut them out (eventually) if they are in the wrong place. I cut all the fronds off the wheki (Dicksonia squarrosa) and the black mamaku (Cyathea medullaris) in preparation for the chainsaw. I have no intention of ever learning to use the chainsaw myself. It terrifies me. It is one job I leave for the men in my life. The new shoots on the denuded trunks are wonderfully decorative – icons, even, of New Zealand design. We also have plenty silver ferns (Cyathea dealbata) popping up around the place.

I think it is a wheki (Dicksonia squarrosa)

I think it is a wheki (Dicksonia squarrosa)

While tree ferns, or pongas as we call them here (pronounced ‘punga’) are closely associated with New Zealand, the most common form grown with care – bordering on reverence, almost – in Europe and the UK is actually an Australian native, Dicksonia antarctica. Visitors from the northern hemisphere are usually in awe of them occurring naturally here and being seen as expendable when they pop up in the wrong place.

Tomorrow morning on Radio Live’s Home and Garden Show, Tony Murrell and I will be discussing meadow gardens. **** Given that these discussions take place between 6.30 and 7.00 in the morning, it is always something of a surprise to me when people comment that they listen. But it is quite liberating to be chatting that early because it gives a certain freedom in these extended conversations which both Tony and I enjoy a great deal. If you are interested in listening later, the link gets posted on both Radio Live’s Facebook page and, I think, their website. Last week we were talking about Piet Oudolf and the new perennials style.

Buttercups and daisies - weeds or a meadow?

Buttercups and daisies – weeds or a meadow?

We are into our fourth spring season of experimenting with letting much of the park develop into a meadow. At this stage, our meadow is a mix of naturally occurring plants with the addition of bulbs, irises and primulas, managed with minimal intervention.  It is a challenging process in terms of how we view weeds. Certainly it is looking very pretty at the moment with carpets of buttercups and daisies and even the dandelions look colourful. I am okay with some pink Herb Robert getting away, also monarda (bergamot or bee balm) but I draw the line at docks. Mark’s particular hate is the plant he refers to as ‘stinking billy goat weed’ but the internet does not appear to agree with him on the name. Also, it is not to be confused with horny goat weed or blue billygoat weed. He is right that it is a stachys and a stinky stachys at that. It is the smell that he hates so we are generally pulling it out. I did a search and the photos seem to correlate with Stachys macrantha. If that is correct, it is a great deal more appreciated overseas than in our park. Maybe a reader can enlighten me whether S. macrantha has a pungent odour when disturbed?

A wheki which still has its old foliage undisturbed

A wheki which still has its old foliage undisturbed

*** Update: No discussion on meadows this morning on Radio Live, due to circumstances beyond everybody’s control. Instead I discussed outdoor furniture with Hamish Dodd. Meadows with Tony Murrell next Sunday at 6.35am.