Tag Archives: Taranaki autumn

Autumn, the first magnolia bloom of late winter, a bridge and the lovely tree dahlias

Autumn down by our stream 

Metasequoia glyptostroboides or the Dawn Redwood in our park

It is indubitably autumn here. The deciduous plants have coloured and are dropping their leaves. The nights are cool enough for us to have entered the time of the year when we light fires in the evening. True, the daytime temperatures are still around 19 celsius and we are enjoying one of our prolonged calm, mild and dry autumns. But autumn it is.

The first blooms open already on Magnolia campbellii in Waitara! On May 15!

This meant I was a little surprised when I ventured out of our home bubble last Friday to see the first blooms opening on Magnolia campbellii down in our local town of Waitara. The tree hasn’t even dropped all its leaves yet but there are several blooms already open. Being right on the coast and surrounded by urban concrete and seal, the temperature is warmer there than in our garden. We won’t see the first blooms on our M. campbellii, which is the same selected clone, until the start of July. Each year I talk about that as the harbinger of spring and the start of a new gardening year for us. I am not sure I can keep saying that having seen it coming in to bloom so early. This is one of the reasons why M. campbellii is not suitable for cold climates. Certainly it will flower later in colder temperatures but it is still so early in the season that it can be taken out by frosts. Waitara is pretty much frost-free.

The wisteria bridge as it was last November when our little dot of a grandson last came to stay

The big project this week, for Lloyd at least, is replacing the decking and railing on the wisteria bridge. That man is worth his weight in gold, I tell you. The wisterias – white Snow Showers on one side and Blue Sapphire on the other – had grown so gnarly and strong that they finally brought the railings down. Now they are both lying on the ground, I can see how big they are and will reduce them by at least fifty percent before we tie them back in, keeping them to a single old trunk and one or two new replacement whips.

Built on an old truck chassis that is outlasting the macrocarpa decking

Dredging the memory banks, we worked out that it is 25 years since the bridge went in. It was constructed by a visiting German engineer who was odd-jobbing around the place. The structural frame is an old truck chassis that was galvanised before it was put in place. That is still in perfectly good condition. It is the timbers that have finally given up the ghost. Initially Lloyd wondered if we could get away with just replacing the uprights and railings that were clearly rotten, but as he deconstructed the bridge, it became clear that all the timbers needed replacing. The original wood used was all untreated macrocarpa (Monterey cypress or Cupressus macrocarpa) so it has done very well to last 25 years.

Progress is being made with new decking and railing supports

Fortunately, ours is a well-stocked establishment with large sheds filled with many useful resources that we may need one day, so we just happened to have a stock of suitable tanalised pine to replace the timbers. Because of my aversion to the appearance of tanalised pine in the garden, it will be stained dark charcoal and I expect it to look very smart. This may even be by the end of the coming week because Lloyd is a project-oriented person. Once he starts something, he likes to keep to the one task in hand until it is completed. This is not a personality trait either Mark or I have and we recognise the advantages of it in other people.

Dahlia imperialis way up in the sky. The white form comes even later in the season.

The tree dahlias are in bloom. Goodness but these are challenging plants to have in the garden. They are magnificent in bloom, that is true. But placing them in the garden is difficult. They are brittle, rampant in growth, frost tender and way too large to stake. Some of ours can tower up to four or even five metres in the sky so they are dependent on surrounding plants to hold them more or less upright. If they fall over, they then smother everything around them and If I go in to try and support that low growth away from surrounding plants, they snap off in my hand. Then when they are dormant, they leave a big gap.

These are certainly not plants for everybody and every garden and there are good reasons why you rarely, if ever, see them for sale.

From a previous season, ‘Chameleon’ I think at the front and ‘Orchid’ (which I hope we haven’t lost but I can’t see any flowers of it yet where I think it should be) at the top. Both Keith Hammett hybrids.

But is there a lovelier autumn sight than their blooms set against a blue sky? We only have half a dozen different ones – the pink and white forms of the species D.imperialis and four from breeder, Keith Hammett. ‘Chameleon’ is a good performing, more compact hybrid of Keith’s that does not shoot for the sky so is more amenable as a garden plant with pure yellow flowers in abundance but it still needs plenty of space.

One autumnal wind will blow the taller ones over but they are a seasonal delight while they last.

A beautiful deep colour on one of Hammett’s hybrids growing through the raspberry coop.

Week six of lockdown already but gardening continues

Te mounga – Mount Taranaki – with its first major snowfall of the year this week

The first wintry blast struck this week and our mounga has put on his winter coat. In our part of NZ, these early cold blasts are generally brief – two days this week – and we are now back to mild, calm and sunny autumnal days. This settled weather can often continue through until the shortest day, which is only six weeks away now, when we settle into proper winter. By mid August we will warm up again and spring will be here so we mustn’t complain about a full-on winter that only lasts about 7 or 8 weeks.

Flooding in the sunken garden soon after the upper garden beds were removed 

Flooding has not been a problem once the grass was well established

Eighteen months ago, I wrote about the unexpected consequence of flooding the sunken garden when we stripped out the surrounding garden borders that had clearly soaked up the rainfall in the past.  Fortunately, we did not rush into major work to rectify the situation because it turned out to be temporary. When the grass was fully established, the flooding issues disappeared. It is an interesting lesson in the importance of vegetation – even just grass – in preventing water run-off. Presumably all the roots create small channels, enabling the water to be soaked up by the ground where it falls. Bare soil is not good. It is a shame that the Council has never learned this. They still send out contractors to spray the roadsides, under the delusion that bare, denuded road verges channel the water away quickly, solving flooding issues. All it does is concentrate the flooding issues at the lowest point and prevent the ground from absorbing and filtering the water long before it gets to that lowest point.

Stipa gigantea – I removed maybe six plants from this section to give the remaining ones room to spread to their natural form

I have also been thinking about the lessons I am learning in the new grass garden. Even with quite a bit of gardening experience, I thought I was planting at final spacings in the new grass garden when in reality, I was planting for immediate effect. I am now going through removing overplanting – just about every second Stipa gigantea at this stage. Many plants, especially grasses, look better to my eyes when they have their own space without competition. It is then possible to enjoy the shape of each plant rather than the massed effect where shapes become enmeshed. Maybe next time, I will have learned enough not to repeat the same mistake of overplanting. It is even more important with trees and shrubs which are not as easy to thin as perennials.

Lloyd is back!

As we dropped down a lockdown level to 3*, Lloyd was able to come back to work. Physical distancing is not a problem here. I was very pleased to see him back. I do not drive the quad bike or the tractor – nor indeed the fancy lawnmower – and cannot manage a trailer so cleaning up after cutting back and clearing areas is much more problematic without him. With both his wife and son-in-law being medical professionals, he is extremely mindful of safe practices and the dangers of getting careless with regard to Covid, so we feel quite safe about him joining our home and workplace bubble.*

(*For overseas readers: we have our own Covid vocabulary in NZ and, thanks to the very clear communication from our prime minister, we all know exactly what bubbles and levels are and we have swapped out ‘social distancing’ for the more accurate ‘physical distancing’. With daily Covid cases down to one or two only, some days none at all, we are on track to eliminate the virus from our shores as long as we maintain border controls and quarantine. What happens longer term is as yet unknown but in the present, we are still alive and well, bar a few unfortunates.)

An autumn morn this week

Can I give a shoutout to our travel agent and the company she works for – Hello World? Against all expectations, she negotiated a full refund of both our long-haul airfares on Qatar Air and the travel insurance we took out for our cancelled trip to Greece and the UK. The money appeared back in our bank account yesterday. This was by no means a sure thing and many others have been left with airline credits, heavy penalty fees and financial loss. I am deeply relieved. None of us know when the world may open up again but in the medium term, we have our fingers crossed that the border with Australia may open soonish so that we can see our three children and grandson again.