Tag Archives: spring flowers

Elevating herbs

I have been elevating the herbs. Literally.

New dog Ralph is no respecter of gardens and one recent morn, I looked out the window to see him standing in the middle of my self-sown patch of parsley having a pee. Now I can never use that parsley again. Mark suggested washing it well might suffice but I think not.

New dog Ralph. That is a prostrate thyme at ground level that the bees love when in flower but I don’t pick because it has almost no aroma at all so I assume the flavour content is also lacking.

Then I found something even worse in the mat of marjoram. I have no idea if that was Ralph, Dudley or Thor who likes to visit from next door, but enough is enough.

I am no expert on herbs but I like to use them fresh. None of those dusty packets of dried leaves for me, thank you. I don’t even like buying pre-stuffed chook or herby-coated chicken in the supermarket because all I can smell are those dried herbs.

I keep the herbs I use all the time close to the back door so I can get to pick them without having to put on shoes. Oregano, marjoram, tarragon and rosemary are in the dry, hot border beside the house. Parsley, mint, chives and thyme are in the parallel border just across the drive. I have to walk a little further to get the bay leaves, the self-sown coriander, the second area of self-sown parsley and the less-favoured sage whereas the fennel I harvest and store the seeds. Sometimes Mark will grow basil in the summer vegetable garden. There are many more herbs that can be used but those are the staple herbs we favour.

I have only written about herbs once before that I can remember and that was back in 2009. At the time, I advised never to plant herbs on the corners of garden beds because that is where dogs will pee and cats will spray to mark territory. As far as I know, that has worked for us in the past when we favoured smaller dogs. But Ralph is larger and more energetic.

In that 2009 article, I also queried the merit of the designated herb garden which was pretty fashionable back in those days. Different herbs need different growing conditions. In the days of yore, the medieval herb gardens were much more extensive and more focused on medicinal herbs than culinary options. Scaling it down to a small modern garden is not likely to be successful in providing the different conditions needed to grow them well. Besides, while some herbs are pretty enough on their day, as a group of plants they are utility more than ornamental.

Concrete laundry tubs recycled to elevate herbs

Fortunately, we are an establishment rich in stored resources so elevating my back door herbs was not such a major exercise and cost no money. Tucked out behind the grapehouse were the old twin concrete tubs which we discarded when we renovated the laundry 20 years ago. We elevated them further using concrete pavers and blocks and I think they are high enough. They now hold mint, thyme, chives and some small parsley plants that need to grow before I can harvest them.  

Two concrete troughs and an old concrete planter repurposed in the pursuit of herb cleanliness

The oregano and marjoram need hotter, drier conditions to build up flavour. These are still in the dry house border but now elevated in smaller concrete troughs that Mark’s dad Felix made back in the 1950s in the days before you could pop along to the shop to buy such things (though mostly in plastic these days).

The narcissi in the apple border behind the trough, now minus the parsley plants – all Peeping Tom at this time of the year, although a ground hugging blue campanula and yellow daisy Doronicum orientale will take over later in the season.

I protected the drainage holes with broken pieces of terracotta pots and put in a thick layer of gravel at the base of all the tubs because drainage is everything for herbs generally (mint is the exception). I then used a 50/50 mix of top soil and homemade compost for the plants to grow in. They may need the occasional water in dry times but there is a nearby tap.

Mark has just come in and commented that Thor-from-next-door paid a visit and was lurking around the area out from the back door, peeing everywhere, including against the container holding the herbs which, fortunately, are now safely out of the way. So this new configuration has at least passed that test.

Finally, because my elevated herb planters are not very exciting visually, a few photos from yesterday morning. Spring has sprung here.

Magnolia x soulangeana ‘Alexandrina’ and Rhododendron protistum var. giganteum ‘Pukeiti’
Prunus campanulata is controversial in NZ because of its seeding ways but our trees are so full of nectar-feeding tui that we are constantly in danger of being taken out by low flying tui heading from tree to tree.
Narcissus cyclamineus seedlings growing in the park meadow agains the peeling bark of what may or may not be Acer griseum
Our garden apprentice, Zach, has created an orchid garden in the barricades and was stoked to see the first plant in bloom this week.

All I have to offer are flowers

Or the promise of flowers. The morning sun is shining on magnolia buds (or sleeping bags for mice, as our children used to call the bud casings)

All I have to offer this week are flowers.

Just another unnamed seedling – one of the series that saw that only ‘Felix Jury’ named and released

It has been a difficult week in New Zealand. After more than 100 days of a return to Covid-free ‘normal life’, where the only major change has been closed borders and an absence of international travel in or out of the country, we are now on high alert with a fresh outbreak. Auckland is back in level 3 lockdown, the rest of us in level 2. It is a case of déjà vu.

Fallen cherry blossom petals on a pond in the wild North Garden

For overseas readers, our highest level of lockdown, level 4, was one of the tightest lockdowns in the world. Level 3 sits at what most other countries called their lockdown so still stringent. We are in level 2 here which means practicing physical distancing, signing or scanning in and out of shops, adjusting to the thought of wearing masks – and a high level of personal anxiety. So pretty much the state of most of the world. It is tough when only a few days ago, we thought we had left all that behind us.

Floral skypaper

It is still early days in the pandemic. There is so much we do not know. My tolerance for the strident voices calling for opening the border, ‘learning to live with the virus’, returning to the old normality for the sake of businesses and The Economy (caps deliberate) is less than zero. There is no ‘old normality’ anywhere in the world and we had better get used to that for the next year or two at least. It is not locking down that is damaging business; it is Covid19. Business can not thrive in a situation with rampant Covid just as most can not thrive under lockdown. The choice is of an open business environment with uncontrolled community transmission, sickness, death and a very high level of anxiety and fear in the population or going for a safe but limited environment that is Covid-free most of the time. It is a stark choice but we have seen how that latter option works and I am happy to back that as the lesser of two evils.

I wish I could share the scent of Rhododendron cubittii in flower

So, we have battened down the hatches again. Like many around the rest of the country, I am grateful to the people of greater Auckland who are cooperating with efforts to stamp out this latest cluster. As I write this, it does appear to be just a single cluster, all connected to one source.

Just an unnamed seedling in the wilder reaches of the garden

But the seasons and the plants are Covid free. It is wonderfully reassuring that the environment continues on its normal cycle even as the human inhabitants can not.
I brought home samples of three options for laying the paths in our new summer garden. The palest option is crushed limestone. While it is not as starkly white as some I have seen, I think we have decided it will be too bright, given we are going to have large areas of it. I am okay with the darker option which is largely crushed shell, though it is a little darker than I wanted. The middle one is a mix of the two and I think we will try for that one. All will compact down to give a fairly smooth surface. They are used widely on farm tracks and cattle races because they compact and don’t have sharp pieces to damage the hooves of livestock.

Self-sown nikau palm to the left of the vireya rhododendron

I retrieved this vireya rhododendron from a neglected area at the back of Mark’s vegetable garden and moved it into the Avenue Garden, where I was redoing all the underplanting two months ago. Working in our woodland areas, it occurred to me that if this garden is ever abandoned and left to its own devices, it would revert to a forest of nikau palms, puriri, kawakawa (pepper tree), tree ferns (ponga), karaka and seedling prunus, I pull out seedling nikau palms by the score and remove every seedling prunus that I come across.

Pretty calanthe orchids in abundance in the woodland areas

In times of uncertainty, there are still flowers and gardens. Kia kaha, readers. Stay safe and stay sane.

Magnolia Burgundy Star opening its red starry blloms.


Suddenly it’s spring

We have entered the season of floral skypaper

It would be churlish to complain too much about our winters here. Common wisdom divides the months of the year into four seasons so winter is June, July and August. But spring came this week. Sunny, calm, blue skies and sunshine with the temperature yesterday reaching 18° – clearly it is time I put away my merino thermals and found the mid-season tee shirts. The dreary rains of winter are but a memory at the moment (though they will return in spring for we are a high rainfall climate). Canberra had us thinking that a dry climate is much easier to live in but a high sunshine, high rainfall climate without extremes of temperature is much easier to garden in.

“Just an unnamed seedling from the breeding programme here,” as we say often

Magnolia campbellii var. mollicomata ‘Lanarth’, commonly referred to just as Lanarth

I am very sympathetic to those readers sweltering and burning in the northern hemisphere and  grateful not to be there. I am even more grateful to be here where the spring garden has exploded into life. I always say our gardening year starts with the first magnolias to flower. Each year, it feels like a new beginning. Oh, the magnolias! All those views of floral skypaper and big, bold blooms in the landscape. It is beyond glorious and this is why I try and encourage people to grow Proper Trees, not scaled down, dwarfed, shrubby things with scaled down blooms. If space is a problem, go for a narrow, upright tree (fastigiate, is the term) rather than one that promises to stay at two metres high (which it won’t, unless it is the white stellata). Aside from the soft pink M. campbellii, the dominant colours of the first varieties to flower in the season are red and purple. Believe me, looking at the first light of morning shining through these rich colours is like a stained glass window.

The yellow camellias are flowering again. This is C. nitidissima

Lachenalia aloides and an early flowering scilla that I once sorted out a species name for but have since forgotten where I recorded it…

It is not just the magnolias. While the snowdrops are already passing over (their season is but a short delight here), we have masses of different narcissi flowering all over the place, along with lachenalias, leucojums, early scillas and late cyclamen. The camellias are blooming, along with the big-leafed rhododendrons like macabeanum and giganteum. Every day, I go out and find something else to delight.

A tui in Prunus campanulata ‘Felix Jury’

I had an idea that I would pick a branch of each of the Prunus campanulata (Taiwanese cherries) currently flowering to show the range of colours and flower size. We have somewhere over a dozen in bloom at the moment and more still opening, with a garden full of tui and bees as a result. So I headed out with my flower basket and snips, channelling my very late mother in law who left the basket… and gave up. Maybe next year. The problem, I realised quickly, is that I would need a ladder. Too many are flowering well above my reach. And as the trees are spread far and wide through the garden, it is a task that would be better carried out with obliging ladder carrier. But that is the thing about long term gardening: there is always next year.

Finally, an animal story. When we first adopted poor, unloved Spikey dog in 2009, we worried that he felt the cold badly. His coat was very thin – at least compared to the Shetland sheep dog we also had at the time – and he had not one ounce of body fat. Daughter made him a coat of many colours. I put it on him one chilly morn and Mark laughed at the ridiculous sight. Spike then hurtled down the avenue gardens after a rabbit and reappeared without his coat. Suggestions ranged from him being too embarrassed to be seen in the coat to Mark’s idea that he had regifted it to a needy rabbit family. Years passed and we never found the Joseph coat – until this week. It is a little brittle after 8 or 9 years in the open but a triumph to the resilience of yarn blends. One minute – that is how much wear that coat had.

In the meantime, he had been gifted a genuine Harrods coat and I had bought him a little number that made him look like the canine version of Julian Clary. But we always knew that as a bogan, freewheeling dog, he would have preferred a black vinyl number with chrome studs. These days he is over 14, stone deaf with a heart condition and possibly some level of dementia so he has passed the winter days sleeping in his bed by the fire. Yesterday, with spring in the air, he came out of hibernation and could even have been described as frolicking as he accompanied us around the garden with visiting friends. There may be life in the old dog yet, if he doesn’t get taken out by a heart attack.

Magnolia campbellii, looking more like a painting at maximum zoom with the snow of the distant mountain behind

Tikorangi Notes: Friday 10 August, 2012

Lanarth again - at its best against our blue skies

Lanarth again – at its best against our blue skies

Aloe aloe aloe

Aloe aloe aloe

I was caught slightly on the hop this week when somebody rang from the Wairarapa, planning a garden visit. I suggested another week would be better for the magnolia display and he asked what else was in flower. I burbled on, mentioning the big-leafed rhododendrons, michelias and camellias. I could also have reeled off the campanulata cherries, swathes of early flowering narcissi, vireya rhododendrons, hellebores, early clivias, azaleas, the last of the snowdrops, early lachenalias, calanthe and cymbidium orchids, Cyclamen coum, bromeliads, even some of the aloes. Mark keeps reminding me that in harsher climates, gardens don’t have flowers all year round. We take it for granted here and while August is technically winter, the spring flowering has started in earnest now. It is unstoppable. Mind, the magnolias did not appreciate the hail storm two days ago. I went out looking for a good photograph and the first Vulcan blooms all looked as if somebody had ripped all the edges of the petals. Give it another few days, and many replacement blooms will have opened. It is a magic time of year here and the birds are in agreement too.

Cymbidium orchids in the woodland

Cymbidium orchids in the woodland

All the early narcissi are in flower

All the early narcissi are in flower

Tikorangi Notes: Friday 3 August, 2012

Magnolia Lanarth is coming into flower

Magnolia Lanarth is coming into flower

With the advent of August, our garden is now open again for the season and more is coming into flower every day. Magnolia campbellii is in full bloom, Lanarth is opening as is Vulcan, assorted unnamed seedlings are opening and the early michelias (now reclassified as magnolias) are in full bloom. Between the michelias and the many daphne plants, the garden is full of scent. The earliest of the big leafed rhododendrons (R. macabeanum and R. sino grande types) are coming into flower. And at the lowest level, there are many early spring bulbs blooming. As the snowdrops start to pass over, the early narcissi (many of the cyclamineus type) are blooming and Cyclamen coum flowers on. Mark’s efforts on his bulb hillside are bearing fruit (or maybe bearing flowers in ever increasing quantities is a better description). While we may get a cold snap or two, spring has very much arrived.

Mark's bulb hillside - Narcissus cyclamineus at the front, galanthus in the centre and Narcissus Twilight to the rear

Mark’s bulb hillside – Narcissus cyclamineus at the front, galanthus in the centre and Narcissus Twilight to the rear

We have no new posts this week to list – the gardening page of the Waikato Times has been put to one side to make additional space for Olympic sports news.

Magnolia campbellii in full flight this week

Magnolia campbellii in full flight this week