Tag Archives: Tikorangi garden diary

Garden Diary: January 15, 2017 – trees that are no more, pond weed, Maxim Brussels sprouts and the like

Hydrangea Libelle

Hydrangea Libelle

It is hydrangeas looking gorgeous here this week. If you are on Facebook, I posted an album of last week’s hydrangea images. We regard them as really easy here but it has been pointed out to me that in other climates they are nurtured treasures. Try telling a Taranaki person that when they are a roadside wildflower here.

The decidedly indifferent summer weather continues and we start to worry about whether Mark cleaned the swimming pool for no purpose this season. Neither of us have even been tempted to get in so far. The water temperature has reached a level I find acceptable (anything 24C or over is suitable, in my book) but the air temperature is hardly conducive to swimming. At least it is pleasant gardening weather and on the worst rainy day, I finally made myself sit down and rewrite the Garden section of this site.  I am as guilty as many others of leaving background material untouched and not updated. The next area that needs an upgrade is the one on Jury plant hybrids but if the summer continues in this manner, that may happen sooner rather than later.

I may, however, get diverted. I read the feature by Lynda Hallinan in the January issue of NZ Gardener magazine – ‘With the benefit of hindsight… 40 lessons learned in five years of country gardening’. There is a format I could purloin, I thought. 40 lessons from a country garden after 65 years of intensive gardening. Sure, not all those 65 years were by Mark and me (though if you combined our totals, we are getting close to that), but I could bring you the collective experience from Mark’s great grandfather – who goes back to 1870 and the first plantings here, his parents and now us. So 145 years in total but only 65 of those represent intensive gardening. I need to locate and scan in some of the early slides which, if my memory serves me right, show the development of parts of the garden at five and ten year intervals. Our 40 lessons may be closer to a book than a single article, however.

Cornus proved to be a pushover

Cornus kousa proved to be a pushover

It has been a week of felling trees. The first, Cornus kousa, was a push-over. Literally. Formerly a fine specimen, over the years it had started to die back and I asked Lloyd to cut it back to live growth. He reported that it was very shaky and that he reckoned he could push it over by hand. So he did. Mark can no longer make the only slightly suggestive quip in his repertoire –  inviting people to admire his large kousa. The main trunks were rotten to the core so they didn’t even provide firewood.

Betula pendula is to be winter firewood

Betula pendula is to be winter firewood

The second tree gave Mark a few pangs as he felled it – a large silver birch. We don’t regard Betula pendula as a quality, long term tree in our climate, though they can be graceful and attractive in their time. This one paid the price for casting too much shade in the area where Mark is developing his long term vegetable garden and orchard. It will provide a lot of good firewood so will be appreciated in the burning but Mark couldn’t help but muse upon all the decades it had lived and the changes that have occurred all around it in that time. It is one thing when a tree falls of its own volition because it has given up its grip on life, quite another to fell it because it has simply become expedient. Though, it must be said that we do have plenty of other very large trees here.

On the vegetable front, I sourced three punnets of Brussels sprouts for Mark to plant yesterday – ‘Maxim’ variety, which is his preference. He rarely buys punnets of plants, raising almost all crops from seed but his Brussels are an exception. They are also one of the few brassicas he grows, along with some of the quick-maturing Chinese greens. I particularly dislike broccoli – a controversial opinion, I know. Neither of us are keen on cauliflower and we are terribly sniffy about the merits of cabbage. But both of us enjoy Brussels sprouts freshly harvested from the garden. Though last season, our Californian quail beat us to the crop. We had the first pick of the season’s green beans for dinner last night.

img_3727I spent a happy afternoon puddling in the goldfish pond. Every few years – well, maybe once a decade – Mark catches all the goldfish and drains the pond entirely to start again. In the interim, it needs a bit of ongoing maintenance and the pondweeds and plants were building up too densely. I try and keep the plants to a central strip. The goldfish need cover from circling kingfishers. The weed is problematic but it can be kept from reaching choking proportions by scooping with an old kitchen sieve. There are worse ways to spend a quiet summer’s day when the temperatures are not warm enough to warrant swimming.

Stachys Bella Grigio

Stachys Bella Grigio

Sometimes good plants can be difficult to place. Take this Stachys ‘Bella Grigio’, new to the NZ market. It is very good – healthy, grows well, keeps its silver white colour, distinctive – so why does it stick out like a sore thumb in the garden? I saw it used extensively in somebody else’s garden a month or two ago and it didn’t look any better there, either. I just have not found the right place for it. The contrast with everything else around it is too stark and I do not think a stachys (otherwise known as lambs’ ears) should be shouting “look at me! Look at me!”. I will have to lift it soon or it will continue to annoy me. I am not convinced I am going to be able to place it here. Maybe it would just be happier in a much more contemporary, simpler garden of sharp contrasts, defined lines and limited colour range, rather than in our softer-edged, more fulsome, romantic style. The jury is still out on this plant, even though it is very good.

Garden Diary – the first entry May 28, 2010

Mark covets the neighbour's wife's toy - her Bosch trimmer

Mark covets the neighbour's wife's toy - her Bosch trimmer

Ha! I knew I loved writing, but I didn’t realise quite how much until I stopped the weekly routine. So herewith the first of a new series. Instead of casting around each week to dispense advice on what readers should be doing in their garden, I thought instead I would record what we have actually done.

Mark has been playing with a new toy which belongs to Lloyd’s wife (Lloyd being our neighbour, friend and one remaining staff member). I don’t think his wife knows they are over here but despite initial scepticism, these battery powered clippers by Bosch have proven to be so useful that I can see Mark needs a set for his birthday. He has spent hours cutting back the long grass from the bulbs he has naturalised in the park (dwarf cyclamen, dwarf narcissi, snowdrops – galanthus – lachenalias and more). The clippers are much faster to use than snips and have saved a major flare-up of his RSI. He is besotted with them and loves to demonstrate how easily they cut back spent perennials and seed heads as well. To me, they resemble hairdresser’s clippers. Not that I have anything against hairdressers.

Drying the maize crop for the pigeons

Drying the maize crop for the pigeons

In the edible garden, which is entirely Mark’s domain here, he has been continuing his nightly rat and mouse bait round to combat the growing population. He gathered the maize which he grows to feed his pigeons (I call him the Jack Duckworth of Tikorangi) and has it spread out to dry. He continues to eat fresh sweet corn every day for lunch. The walnut harvest is being dried, the last of the tree-ripened apples were gathered this week but there is a major failure in the vegetable garden. He did not follow the advice we dispensed weekly a couple of months ago and there is a dearth of green vegetables. I have had to buy some – the first vegetables we have bought for close to a year.

Lloyd has spent much of the week weed-eating areas which we can not mow. If he times this autumn round well, grass growth slows so much that it does not need to be done again until we open the garden at magnolia time. An amazingly mild autumn may upset this routine. Grass growth continues unabated.

Our most reliable Friend of the Garden, Colin, has been up for the week. He likes to escape his retirement village (widely known in this country as a Home for the Bewildered) and spend an intensive four days in the garden at least once every six weeks. As a retired horticulturist, he is one of the few people we trust with areas full of treasures so he has done a major clean up of Mark’s cold border in the park – just in time as the trilliums are pushing through.

I am continuing my major revamp of the Avenue Gardens – this week a badly overgrown area of choking and choked perennials which has involved some pretty heavy digging. I have taken out the lot, divided them and discarded large quantities which are surplus to requirements before replanting in freshly dug ground. I have also been dividing and potting Soloman Seal (polygonatum multiflorum) to sell during our annual garden festival at the end of October and digging and dividing some large clumps of a particularly good variegated form of Crinum moorei. We know only too well that one of the drawcards here is our ability to offer plants for sale that can’t be found elsewhere.

For any local readers who noticed the article that replaced me in the Taranaki Daily News on Friday:
1) The unnamed vireya photographed was Golden Charm (one of ours, bred by Felix Jury).
2) The advice given to cut your luculia back to half a metre high after flowering only applies to Luculia gratissima (Early Dawn is the common sugar pink one in flower now). If you do that to Luculia pinceana types (Fragrant Cloud is the spectacular, heavily scented almond pink one most commonly available), you will kill them. We prefer to let Early Dawn grow. It forms a graceful under-storey large shrub.