Tag Archives: Taranaki garden festival

A graveyard and memories of miniature gardens and sand saucers

The yellow ixia flowers pick up the colour of the lichen

I was feeling a little discombobulated this week so I dropped in to the Te Henui cemetery to restore some energy and good humour. I have lauded this place before and it did not let me down. I was chatting to a couple of the volunteers who garden the place and mentioned that I saw it as the grown-up version of miniature gardens.

The spires of echium

The thought of miniature gardens brings back memories from our children’s primary school years and Volunteer Mary mentioned sand saucers in the same nostalgic tone. I was an urban child and the sand saucer and miniature garden competition experiences passed me by. They are an integral part of the rural school experience, formerly known as Calf Day but more often Show Day now, albeit playing about third fiddle. First violin was played by the calves, for this is a dairy farming area. The best and biggest silver cups went to such things as best leading calf (walking amenably beside the child on a rope), best groomed and best of breed. Second fiddle was played by the lambs – harder to lead and over time it became a disqualifiable matter to launder your lamb in Persil to get it fluffy white. The Greedy Guzzler award went to the first lamb to drink its bottle at speed. When you think about it, that award was always going to be taken out by the biggest lamb.

I am not a great fan of tulips but the effect of this multi coloured display was very painterly

Third fiddle: goats and activities for children without animals. While we flirted with the occasional lamb or baby goat, our children were particularly skilled at the sand saucer and miniature garden categories. I used to feel a bit guilty about them winning because they had an unfair advantage with access to a far superior range of plant material and appropriate flowers. But then I looked at the animal cups and clearly the kids who came from farming families with superior breeding lines were similarly advantaged.

I don’t have any photos of sand saucers but if you Google images, you will find a resurgence on Pinterest. Where else? For anyone with a deprived childhood, it involves filling a saucer with wet sand and sticking the flowers into that to anchor them. The scope for imagination is limited. One memorable year, a junior teacher at the school our children attended – a woman who was not one for expending unnecessary effort – decided sand saucers were ‘messy’ so they decreed Vaseline saucers instead. For this, the saucer is used face down and coated in Vaseline with flowers stuck to it. This was a travesty of an idea, I tell you. Not the same at all.

Miniature gardens were constructed in a tray with sides and most children used flowers and stems of foliage. Our children had access to suitable trays, potting mix and interesting small plants of a suitable scale, including miniature bulbs in flower. They often won.

Calendulas and bluebells – not an obvious combination but so irrepressibly cheerful

When I describe the cemetery gardens as the grown-ups version of these childhood activities, I mean that it is managed as a vast canvas of small, stand-alone gardens as opposed to a landscaped whole. This is how they manage to keep flowers all year round. As one grave space passes its best, another nearby is starting to bloom. It is a large part of the charm of the area. And the volunteers make a real effort to get harmonious colour and plant combinations. I would guess that this is a large part of the fun for them.

Planning colours and textures for a small area

Volunteer Susan took me over to see a space she had planted which she thought should work well when she held the flowers and foliage in her hand but has not translated on the ground. What did I think? It wasn’t the colour combination that was the problem, it was the arrangement of the plants on the site, I suggested. Too regimented and in equal quantities whereas one plant could be lifted and divided to fill the space and be a unifying factor. That is the charm of the grown-up miniature garden – dealing with a self-contained space in isolation without having to consider a multitude of other factors in the surrounding area.

The meadow look

And areas that are more landscaped in appearance than meadow

Besides the goal of having flowers all year round, these little gardens have to be low maintenance. The area is large and the team of volunteers, though dedicated and skilled, is small in number. There is a gentle abandon feel of wildflower meadows in some small areas, vibrant, concentrated colour in others and a delightful seasonality to how the place is managed. Gardening visitors may like to look at some of the plant combinations – they are working with a very large range of different plant material – and colour combinations. They are all there in small pictures amongst the whole.

Ajuga and bluebells softening the austerity of large blocks of unadorned concrete

I was amused when I read the description in in the garden festival programme*. It uses words like “lost oved ones”, “peace and tranquillity”, “serenity”, “lovingly tended” and “respectful”. This is proof that you can find what you want in some places. I would use words like joyous, a celebration of life and flowers amongst the headstones, sometimes witty and full of vibrant energy. It makes me smile and that is no mean feat for a graveyard. Some may find solace in quiet contemplation amongst the graves while others, like me, may in fact recharge their batteries by delighting in the whole ambience and contrast.

I quite like watching English real estate programmes (Kirstie and Phil assisting escapes to the country come to mind). They have many more little country churches complete with old graveyards surplus to requirements than we have. It is too late for me – and the wrong country – but the idea of creating a home within a traditionally sombre setting and a garden with all the hard landscaping features already in situ sounds appealing. These places may be there to remember the dead, but it does not mean that they must be sombre, morbid and gloomy. Death and taxes may be two of life’s certainties, but there can be life and colour wrapping around death and softening its raw finality, even if the same can not be said for taxes.

The one remaining mystery for me is why some families prefer to adorn their graves with fake flowers. It is a timely reminder, however, that some of these graves are intensely personal memorials with living descendants who choose to maintain the connection and to personalise the grave in their own way. It is just as well the volunteers are there to tend to the vast majority which would otherwise be largely forgotten and uncared for.

* Powerco Taranaki Garden Festival, to give the annual event its full name, runs from 26 October to 4 November this year. The Te Henui cemetery is included as one of the gardens to visit this year.

Tikorangi Notes: Tuesday 11 October, 2011

Notable, perhaps, for a total absence of any PC thinking here!

Notable, perhaps, for a total absence of any PC thinking here!

Tikorangi Notes: Tuesday 11 October, 2011

I am a little late with the links to latest posts this week. They were available on Friday as usual but I was in Hamilton speaking at the Waikato Home and Garden Show – where I found a wonderful example of absolute lack of any hint of political correctness. Golliwog scarecrows – gollycrows, perhaps. I am guessing that the creator had simply no concept whatever of the debate two decades ago about Little Black Sambo, the Black and White Minstrels and golliwogs which forever labelled these as monuments to racial stereotyping.

Latest posts:

1) Cyrtanthus falcatus – a first flowering for us of this interesting large bulb and member of the amaryllis family. We must have waited well over a decade for this event.
2) Kicking off the debate here on the difference between maintenance and sustainability in the garden – Abbie’s column.
3) Grow it Yourself looks at potatoes this week.

Rhododenrons Floral Sun and Rubicon

Rhododenrons Floral Sun and Rubicon

Tikorangi Notes: Tuesday 11 October, 2011

Arisaema sikkokianum

Arisaema sikkokianum

As the magnolias pass over, it is the time for rhododendrons and the mid season bulbs to come into their own. While the soft golden tones of Rhododendron Floral Sun and the pure red of Rubicon side by side may lack subtlety, they present an eye catching combination in our carpark. Rhododendrons often have a relatively short time in full bloom but the anticipation of fat buds showing colour and starting to open extends the flowering season substantially. It is also arisaema time for us. A. sikkokianum is not the easiest variety to keep going as a garden subject and it needs to be increased by seed as a rule, but it is one of showiest species in flower with its pure white spadix and its bloom held above the foliage. A. speciosum is not as showy but is trouble-free to grow and settles in most comfortably for the long haul. It has very curious burgundy snake’s head flowers held just below the tall, open foliage.

With our annual garden festival now just two and a half weeks away, the pressure is on the groom the garden to pristine standard for the 10 days which is our peak time for garden visitors. Formerly referred to Rhodo Festival, this year its full name is the Powerco Taranaki Garden Spectacular (!). More details at www. gardenfestnz.co.nz.

Countdown to Festival: May 21 ,2010

Fan-shaped leaf rakes to the right, not to be confused with a traditional garden rake

• In the south at Patea, Rudi Milesi has been out raking up autumn leaves to make compost to return to the garden. He uses a leaf rake which is the fan-shaped implement, not the traditional rake whose prongs dig in rather than grabbing and sweeping. He is also determinedly staying on top of the autumn weeds and has been busy pruning. In a densely planted small garden, he needs to avoid overgrowth and competition between plants by keeping them under control. With the calm weather this autumn, Rudi says he is really pleased with how refreshed the garden is looking.
• Also southwards but near Manaia, Jenny Oakley can’t wait to get back into her garden after a forced period of inaction. She finally got off her crutches this week following a hip replacement and is feeling very liberated to be able to walk unaided. She says she is but one of three garden openers who has had to undergo this operation this year. Other gardeners are hoping this is coincidence and not an indication of a hitherto unsuspected occupational hazard.
• In Stratford, Erica Jago is back in the festival with her pretty garden, Merleswood after a break of a year. Her pond proved such a challenge recently that she had to enlist some male help as it required greater brute strength than she has. The common ornamental grass, acorus, had staged a complete takeover and wound itself around and through all the rocks, achieving menacing proportions. With a reasonably large garden to maintain on her own these days, Erica has been strategising ways of streamlining the garden for easier management. The recent replacement of the gate to her pond area meant much easier access with the lawnmower and proved to her that relatively small alterations can make a big difference to the convenience of maintaining the garden.
• Not far inland from Merleswood is Gordon Dale Gardens where Jan and Graeme Worthington are excited at their upcoming UK trip where they will exchange seven weeks of inland Stratford winter for an English summer – a trade many of us would enjoy. Jan is keen to fit in some gardens to their tour and is gathering recommendations on the must-see options. As always, travelling in a group of four, there needs to be some negotiation on differing interests and the trip will not be wall to wall garden visits. I recommended Hidcote near Stratford on Avon as the single best garden we saw last year and we went there on Glyn Church’s recommendation, it being one of his absolute favourites.
• Back in the Festival after a break of a decade are the inimitable Josephine and Quinton Reeves in New Plymouth. Josephine feels the garden has come a long way in ten years, assisted by Quinton in his self appointed role as garden boy. Though clearly the garden boy did not know his place when he took to ribbing his wife about a recent trip out to a plant sale when she returned with her little car so jam packed that there was no side or rear visibility. But the plants were so cheap, was her justification.
• The first garden openers’ meeting of the year was held in Stratford earlier this week where details of a full programme of workshops and speakers was revealed along with a dramatic take on the landscape installation this year. Watch for further details. Morale is high amongst garden openers after an across the board 25% increase in visitor numbers last year. All are hoping for a repeat of the magic spell of spring weather at the end of October this year.