Tag Archives: roadside fennel

Summer thoughts

“I thought I saw you bent over, working in the garden,” Mark said. “And then I realised I was talking to a pink bucket.”

I went looking for the pink jacket made from Nana’s old bedspread and I found a whole lot of pink  clothes that the elder daughter does not wish to part with so has left here. Most i sewed for her 20 to 25 years ago and most are recycled from fabric Nana had used or stored, although I can not take credit for the pink prom dress on the right!

In self-defence, he would like it known that he was some distance away at the time. And I would like it known that I would not be seen dead wearing skirts, shorts or trousers in that shade we refer to as highlighter pink – on account of highlighter pens. Mark’s late mother had a penchant for that hue in both clothing and, occasionally, soft furnishings. When we moved in to the homestead, we found one such relic – a nylon quilted and frilled bedspread in bright pink. Our elder daughter was 16 at the time and took a liking to the colour so I made it into a quilted jacket for her, to be worn with a rather small pink brocade skirt also made from some repurposed fabric left behind by her Nana. Amusingly, she has kept onto it and it hangs in the wardrobe of her old bedroom here with other favoured clothes from her youth. It is like a trip down memory lane every time I look in there.

Vireya rhododendron Pink Jazz

It was this passion for pink – bright pink – that led Mark to name a bright pink and yellow vireya rhododendron for her. He prefers descriptive names for his plant selections and rarely names them for people (the notable exception being the magnolia he named for his father, Felix Jury). When he does, it is by allusion. So, our JJ’s vireya was named ‘Pink Jazz’ – Jazz being the name her friends called her. Each time it flowers in the garden, I smile at the memories. (And, to pre-empt enquiries, we have no idea if it is still in commercial production. It is not one we kept any control over so other nurseries can produce it – or not- as they choose.)

I had been admiring the crop of figs that was coming along nicely. Our fig tree carries two crops – the first ripens in mid-summer and the later crop only ripens in autumn if we get a good season. But when I thought the first ones may be ripe, I looked closely and the crop was greatly reduced. The birds are not as fussy as we humans when it comes to savouring the delights of a fully tree-ripened crop.

Bagging figs so they can ripen on the tree before the birds get them

Now I am bagging the individual fruits. In a nod to growing concerns, I have shunned the white plastic bags with the bottom cut off and freezer ties we have used in the past. This year, the fruit are individually bagged in paper (no need to cut the bottoms off with paper, Mark told me after I had done the first few) and jute string so fully degradable if any land on the ground. It takes a bit of effort but the rewards of tree-ripened fruit warmed by the sun make it worthwhile. I must put some good camembert or brie on the shopping list. Is there anything more delicious than a platter of ripe figs, soft brie, my fresh grapefruit jelly made this week, walnuts and homemade oat crackers?

It is high summer here and Lloyd has started to mow the meadow. We have learned from our experience that in our verdant conditions, we must mow twice a year – once in high summer and then again in late autumn. The grass loading is just too great to deal with if we only cut it down once a year, as is recommended practice from places where conditions are harder and grass growth is a great deal less.

Fennel, not a ‘yellow lace-cap hydrangea’

The roadsides in our area are full of flowers at this time of the year – crocosmia, hydrangeas, agapanthus and fennel in particular. Whether you see these as weeds or wildflowers is entirely a matter of personal opinion – it is a bit like the glass half-full or half-empty scenario. I stopped to photograph the wild fennel and agapanthus because it reminded me of the English summer visitors that arrived one year. I have told this story before so apologies to long-term readers who may have read it earlier. These visitors wanted to know what the ‘yellow lace-cap hydrangeas’ and ‘giant bluebells’ were that they were seeing everywhere. I managed to identify the former as fennel but could not for the life of me think what the giant bluebells were – until I drove out our gateway and it dawned on me that they were the lowly agapanthus that is so happy in local conditions that it has naturalised itself. Agapanthus is not generally favoured as a garden plant in most of NZ – too common, more often seen as a weed. But in midsummer, our roadsides are glorious when they bloom.

The maligned roadside agapanthus

 

Along the verges – midsummer on North Taranaki roadsides

Blue hydrangeas – a common roadside plant

We are very blue along our Taranaki roadsides in midsummer. I meant to get out with my camera a few weeks ago to record the roadside hydrangeas flowering in our area. Many are now passing over so I had to make do with the verge planted by our neighbour across the road. It has been bringing me pleasure for many weeks now.

Basically, hydrangeas are blue in Taranaki. This is to do with available aluminium in our acid soils.  In our warm, temperate climate with adequate summer rain, they can just be planted and left. The many, many roadside hydrangeas will have been planted originally (seeding is minimal) and then left to their own devices. I don’t think anyone ever prunes them. This means that they are generally smothered with smaller flower heads. Pruning controls the size of the shrub and increases the flower size but lessens the number of blooms. Plants can survive quite happily with no pruning at all.

Weed or common wildflower? Agapanthus

It is the season of agapanthus. They are EVERYWHERE in this area, although they generally start from a deliberate planting and they are most often seen as amenity, road verge plantings rather than garden plants. They are controversial here on account of their seeding ways and the fact that they are resistant to the most common weed killer. But our roadsides would be so much the poorer without them.

Thumbs down to woolly nightshade

My definition of a noxious weed is a plant that invades and displaces more desirable native plants and I don’t think the roadside agapanthus are displacing anything more desirable. The seed is not spread by birds and generally falls close to the parent plant so is localised. I would be far more worried about woolly nightshade – Solanum mauritianum – than about agapanthus. It has no redeeming features and is highly invasive. Curiously, by this plant, I saw a small plant of Verbena bonariensis on the verge. As it is at least two kilometres from my garden where it is flowering, I don’t think I am responsible for this plant making its way to the wild. Most of our wildflowers start as garden escapes and this verbena is so light and airy in form, while being popular with bees and butterflies, that I am not convinced that it is going to be a problem in the comparative wasteland of road verges.

Chicory – not as common as I would like it to be

Chicory is another pretty blue that I wouldn’t mind making its home around here. It is a member of the dandelion family and is also used as stock food overseas so I can’t think it would do much harm here. I found this one growing on railway land when I stopped to photograph the red hot pokers.

Kniphofia in Lepperton

Like the hydrangeas, kniphofia generally start from a deliberate planting. Though some forms seed more freely than others in a garden situation, I have never seen them as a weed when on road verges. I once wrote about them – if you want to know why Father was a red hot poker and Mother was a blushing violet. I liked this scene of kniphofia and an old gateway between the state highway and the railway line in Lepperton this week.

Crocosmia – commonly referred to as montbretia

I wrote about crocosmia in my earlier post today. If we are not blue, we are carpets of red around here – or sometimes blue and red. They are just too happy in our conditions though they do look very pretty interspersed with the long grasses on some road verges.

Common fennel

Into the yellows, we have fennel, fennel and more fennel all around the district. I really like it, so much so that I have used it in the summer borders. I like the airy grace of those yellow umbellifers and the fine, ferny foliage. The insects like them too. There is a bronze form more commonly used as an ornamental but I am not willing to spend money buying a fennel and nobody has given it to me yet.

Evening primrose

I am also fond of the wild evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) which is common enough here and certainly common in wilder areas of our property. It doesn’t seem to do any harm and the bees like it.

Thumbs down, also, to convolvulus

Not all of our wild flowers are desirable. Mark keeps out the convolvulus, be it pink or white, though there is so much of it around, I can only conclude that others are less vigilant. It is a smothering plant, hellishly difficult to eradicate once it gets a foothold. This one is climbing up the Bertram Road swing bridge over the Waitara River but will very soon dominate the whole bank and bridge if not kept under control or taken out.

The wasteland of the sprayed road verge

Not all of our wildflowers are noxious weeds. But neither are all of the weeds wildflowers worth tolerating. On the other hand, is there anything much worse than this sprayed wasteland of a road verge? A practice that remains common around here.

Agapanthus a-plenty 

And sometimes agapanthus and crocosmia – one starting from a deliberate planting, the other entirely self-introduced