Tag Archives: shrubbery

Tikorangi Notes, Feb 8, 2015: In search of a missing tennis ball

New dog Dudley lacked application when it came to searching for his missing tennis ball in the shrubbery

New dog Dudley lacked application when it came to searching for his missing tennis ball in the shrubbery

When we first plant a garden, we all experience impatience – waiting for the plants to settle in, to grow and to fill the space. At some point, often without us even noticing, the garden morphs over to the point where it is all about trimming back, shaping and letting in light. This thought came as I spent my weekend on an entirely different task to that I had planned. The shrubbery beside the driveway had indeed reached the point where it would benefit from some serious attention.

Our new dog Dudley was the unwitting catalyst. Dudley, or Dudders to give him his cricketing nickname, is a four year old fox terrier – a re-home from the SPCA (as opposed to a rescue dog). He was clearly a much loved dog but a townie dog and it has been a steep learning curve of liberation for him to move to the country and space. In his nine short days with us, he has won a place in our affections already and settled in better than any of us ever anticipated. Dudley plays and therein lies the connection. Yours truly was never a sporty gal at school and my ball skills were always a little lacking. Out entertaining Dudders on the lawn with a tennis ball, I hurled it into the shrubbery in error. He quickly gave up the search.

I have removed a prodigious amount of material - to the left for compost, to the right to be chipped and then composted

I have removed a prodigious amount of material – to the left for compost, to the right to be chipped and then composted

I, on the other hand, have spent two full days cutting back and clearing out a prodigious amount of plant material. Yet the tennis ball remains missing. Each time Mark passes, he asks whether I have found it yet. He has suggested I may not know my own strength and maybe launched it further than I realised. That seems unlikely but its whereabouts remains a mystery. The shrubbery, however, is now open to the light and there are gaps to be filled when the autumn rains arrive. I expect it to look well furnished and handsome again by spring and I am keeping it largely true to my original theme of blue and white flowered shrubs only.

I have long thought that shrubberies are one of the lowest maintenance forms of gardening and they probably are but even they need a major clean out once every five years.
???????????????????????????????In the garden it is still all about lilies. Big, blowsy, over the top auratum lilies. I am not picking the ones in the garden but in a small area of Mark’s new vegetable garden is a congested block of his seedling auratums, raised in anticipation of our new summer garden. There I can pick by the armful and oh, how I love these extravagant blooms. Auratums are a strong argument for the vigilant border control we have in this country. We do not, repeat NOT, need the lily beetle here. It is a nasty critter that takes up residence on auratum lilies and covers itself in its own excrement. We have seen it in the UK where it is an unwelcome arrival which has all but destroyed the auratum display in some areas.
DSC01258 (Small)DSC01260 (Small)2013_0105carol0023 (Small)Following my final photo feature for the Waikato Times on the topic of washing lines, Times reader Carol Lodge sent me a lovely email of appreciation and sent me photos of her new washing line which struck me as genuinely creative and resourceful. She says: “The insulators and stays for the washing line came from a trade with the power board gang who were replacing poles down our road- morning tea in return for the insulators…. My husband is a radio ham and apparently , and not by coincidence my clothesline is tuned to the 80 metre band.”

It is a bit like the final word on washing lines, isn’t it? But I am off garden visiting with friends in Auckland this weekend at the Heroic Garden Festival. It appears to have lost many of its heroic origins now – become “straightified” a gay friend observed – but I may well find additional examples of washing lines and other ideas to share from these smaller urban gardens.

I have ALL the lilies

I have ALL the lilies

The vexing issue of underplanting

A row of alternating annuals makes a statement, though it may not be the statement the gardener is aiming for

I had a day out and about looking at gardens recently and I was struck by the nature of under planting, though this preoccupation may have had more to do with my thoughts at the time. What I noticed about the under planting was how badly it was done in a couple of gardens. Bear with me, dear readers. You are going to have to imagine it because I know the garden owners so I was not going to whip out m’camera and take photos of the worst examples to embarrass them in the newspaper and on line.

Words like mishmash and hodgepodge came to mind as I looked at the bottom layer of plants in otherwise perfectly competent gardens. In other words, they had good upper layers of larger plants but when it came to the bottom layer of ground covers and under plantings, the selection criterion seemed solely that the plant should not reach more than 30cm in height. And there was one of this, one of that and one of the other, bunged in higgledy piggledy in most spaces.

Even worse, and I had to visit my local garden centre to set up a photo to demonstrate, is the horror of alternating annuals in a row along the edge. These certainly make a statement in the garden, though it may not be the statement that the gardener thinks when he or she plants them. I saw something similar (maybe with pansies and alyssum?) looking incongruous in a garden with otherwise high quality woody trees and shrubs and there were not any resident children to justify such a lapse in taste.

Nor am I a fan of edging plants, or indeed anything planted in rows other than proper hedges or vegetables, but that is a matter of style and personal taste. Fringes of mondo grass, liriope or anything else leave me cold but edging rows of matched annuals make me raise my eyebrows. Not even moderately tasteful white petunias cut the mustard when planted as an edging.

The contemporary look is to plant in blocks. The landscaper look is to plant in sharply defined geometric blocks each comprised of only one evergreen plant. Clivias are good, renga renga lilies are a bit untidy. Hellebores are probably acceptable, as is liriope or trachelospermum. Natives like prostrate muehlenbeckia are better.

Bergenia ciliata and Siberian irises – this gardener’s version of block planting

The middle ground is to gently block-plant but in more interesting combinations and in less rigidly defined grids. I am far more comfortable with that approach and it makes gardening interesting to play with different combinations. It also has advantages in making maintenance easier to group plants which require more frequent care – such as dead heading, staking, dividing, or grooming. Rectifying mistakes or bad decisions including eliminating invasive thugs is more localised if you are planting in blocks. I tend to blur the edges of my block plantings so that the overall look is softer and less delineated because that suits our style of gardening better. There is no doubt that if the upper layers of the garden are varied and mixed, some sort of unity in the bottom layer creates a more harmonious picture. I would argue that the flip side of the coin is also true: if your upper layers are rigidly conformist and consist of restrained plantings of only one or two different plants, ringing the changes with more complex and varied under plantings will make it a great deal more interesting.

Acceptable clivias

If you don’t want to go the block planting route, the old fashioned cottage garden genre may be an alternative. Essentially this is a jostle of perennials, annuals and bulbs in combination with small shrubs, often roses, where self seeding is encouraged. If you want a more modern look, you colour tone it rather than the traditional riot of random colour that nature achieves. If you like a tidy garden which is weed free, it is not an easy style to manage well. More often it is best viewed in passing, rather than looking at the detail.

Then, of course, you could ask yourself whether under planting is even necessary in some areas. The requirement that all garden beds and borders be layered with nary a glimpse of garden soil is relatively recent. In times past, it was fine to plant shrubs and trees without any bottom layer at all. It was called a shrubbery. Just don’t plant the shrubs too close together or you end up with a hedge. Each shrub needs to stand in its own space. As nature abhors a vacuum, mulch all the bare earth with something anonymous or you will grow a carpet of weeds. It is certainly easier to maintain than more complex plantings. It will probably look more attractive than the hodge podge assemblage of random plants I saw. It should look classier than the row of alternating annuals. Maybe it is time to start a movement called The Shrubbery Revival. Neo-shrubberies, maybe?

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Lower maintenance gardening

The raised beds are going - to be replaced by wider steps

The raised beds are going - to be replaced by wider steps

I have been forced to look at practical lower maintenance gardening this week. Most of the time, we are practitioners of relatively high maintenance gardening on a large scale. I think it was the late Christopher Lloyd (he of Great Dixter fame) who made a comment that the more experienced one is, the more one realises that a high maintenance garden is a great more interesting. But there are times when a low maintenance one is required, particularly with rental properties.

For our sins, we are landlords. Just the one rental house and it is one we used to live in ourselves. There was a certain irony when we bought the property many years ago. We were doing a little land amalgamation at the time and Mark had exchanged quite a few plants with a previous owner for some work with his handy little bob-cat. When we came to buy the property, the valuation mentioned the high quality plantings. We certainly paid dearly to get our own plants back.

While living in the house, we duly extended the gardens and plantings to the point where they were reasonably expansive. When it came to letting the house, we realised the scope of the lawns and gardens were beyond what most tenants would manage, so part of the successive tenancy agreements has been that we will mow the lawns and loosely maintain the gardens as required.

Mowing tenants’ lawns is not a bad thing. We mow pretty much every Friday and it gets you onto the property on a regular basis so you can keep a discreet eye on things. It operates as an early warning system, so to speak.

But gardens are another thing. Few tenants garden. A few scratch around from time to time, but none we have met take as good care as we did. It is a fact of life. In this hiatus between tenants, we are doing a major clean out and simplification in the garden. Once it has been reduced to bare bones, the onus will be on the incoming tenants to maintain the gardens at that standard. There will be nothing too demanding.

Simplification has been ongoing but reached its zenith this time. The only garden borders left are the two defined by concrete paths alongside the house. A previous property owner had put in a number of raised garden beds. The last two are going now. Out with garden beds. They just look messy if not maintained.

The designated vegetable garden needs clearing but is being retained

The designated vegetable garden needs clearing but is being retained

The designated and fenced vegetable garden is staying. In this day and age, it is probably an asset and it has good soil, is an appropriate size and is sheltered but in full sun. It will be ready for a tenant to plant. We just need to clear it first. Similarly, the citrus trees can stay. They are fine with total neglect.

The extensive perimeter plantings have matured to shrubbery and they are staying. If you want low maintenance, long term plantings, go for shrubberies. Over time, shrubs and small trees will gently mesh and knit together to provide a green and flowery undulating wall of foliage. Being relatively dense, few weeds grow beneath. The herbaceous plantings we had there have long gone but that is fine. All we have to do from time to time in the shrubberies is to go through with a pruning saw and trim anything that is getting too large. In return, the mixed plantings of camellias, rhododendrons, magnolias, maples, self sown pongas, feijoas and the rest provide a soft and pleasing backdrop to the property. They stop it from being too austere and bare.

Any plants that require regular attention have gone. The last of the roses are on the burning heap. The espaliered camellias have gone. The devastatingly rampant wisteria has gone. It put up a brave fight but truly, wisterias are unsuitable plants to leave in a situation where they are not actively managed. This beautiful Blue Sapphire had put out its runners a good 20 metres away.

I have replanted the remaining, tiny house borders. I couldn’t stop myself especially as I found spring bulbs. But I have gone for simple mass plantings. A shaded, dry border which is a pathetic 20cm wide (honestly, who would make a permanent border 20cm wide?) is now mass planted with green mondo grass and bedding begonias. Utility and easy to maintain by non gardeners. The one hot, dry border retained its existing vireya rhododendrons which have survived total neglect and fifteen years of tenants, underplanted en masse with a compact yellow sedum. That is it for herbaceous material. As the one who does the knapsack spraying, Mark approved the mondo grass and sedums as being largely resistant to glyphosate so he could spray amongst them if necessary.

When you are preparing a property for sale, it is often about good looks in the short term – as we have all learned from those property makeover programmes on TV. When you are preparing a rental, it is about easy care, easy living in the long term. It can be done.

The shrubbery is the lowest maintenance form of gardening I know

The shrubbery is the lowest maintenance form of gardening I know

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.