Tag Archives: Tikorangi: The Jury garden

Lock down day 7 – about personal space

The face of privilege today – a personal space of about 10 hectares or 25 acres

Never have I felt more blessed to be living in a big personal space. As Mark and I live this new life where we are keeping to our own little bubble* of two, there is no shortage of things to do. We breakfast together and then disappear into our own spaces, coming together for coffee at 10am – a pattern that we repeat all day.

Personal space in Hong Kong is extremely small but at least these apartment dwellers get to look out over some greenery

I feel embarrassed by our privileged position. It was perhaps relief I felt when I read English designer and gardener Dan Pearson’s latest blog  and he was working through exactly the same issues and thoughts that we are here, albeit from 20 000 km away.

New Zealand has been built on the idea that land is not in short supply, although that has changed in our largest urban areas now. With a land mass which is a similar size to the United Kingdom and a population still under five million, the norm until recently was to build suburbs with detached houses sitting on their own quarter acre (1000 square metres). Not without reason were we known as the quarter acre pavlova paradise (the pavlova – or meringue cake – having been first created here, not Australia). It is only recently that urban sections have reduced in size but there is still little appetite for semi detached housing, let alone terrace housing or even apartments.

Never has there been a more stark illustration of the need to retain public, green spaces in cities. Maybe not subsidised, private golf courses but every public space possible.

Big, country gardens used to be common. Back in the early days of our garden festival, we were just one of many. I dug out my old programmes to see what the ratio was of large to small gardens. My definition of a large garden is anything larger than an acre (0.4ha) but, reader, my dedication to accuracy soon waned. Best guess, without accurate analysis, is that it was probably 40% large gardens back in the early 1980s. Most have gone. We are great one generation gardeners in NZ.

We remain a historical relic here at Tikorangi – a legacy from different times when large, country gardens were not the preserve of the wealthy. But when I think of people locked down in tiny apartments, I feel a little as though my privilege is an affront.

Many cultures usually enjoy a lifestyle where individual space may be small but much of life is led in the community of the streets – the passieggata in Cefalu, Sicily

I looked through some of my overseas photos to find examples of high density living and all I found were a few images that perhaps convey the difference of lifestyles where people spend much of their time living in the streets, which is all very charming and exotic to us when we travel. Not so great in lock down situations.

Foshan in China – not as grim as the Paris ghettos but it would hardly lift the spirits to be confined indoors in this situation

Seared into both Mark’s and my memories are the grim, ghetto-like apartment blocks that border the railway lines where the trains leave Gare du Nord in Paris. At the time, they struck us as the epitome of misery. Anyone who has travelled on the Eurostar will have seen them. So too, some of the old tower blocks in London. I can’t even imagine what lock down in India must be like.

From our bubble to your bubble, may you be in better personal situations than those. Humour, kindness, forbearance and vicarious pleasures are what may get us through this bizarre new world we all share at a distance.

Dense living on water in Hue, Vietnam. Not a recent photo but it is interesting to see how people develop different styles of life in more populous areas

*** About ‘bubbles’ for overseas readers: this is the approved NZ government term to describe the closed group of people living together in lock down. Some are in a bubble of just one. I had to adjust my old brain to accommodate the virtual ‘date’ to meet a real friend in his solitary bubble for a pre-dinner drink yesterday, where we chatted for an hour by Messenger video link while drinking gin. Usually I meet him in town for lunch. I laughed when I saw someone on Twitter asking if it was permissible to expel somebody from your bubble.  Mind you, our bubble includes our two dogs but I was wondering about expelling Dudley from the bubble when he was inflicting the most appalling farts on us all the other day. He had clearly not been staying close to home and found something revolting to eat. He doesn’t understand bubbles.

Dudley, dicing with possible expulsion from our bubble

Lock down day 5 and the first camellia blooms of the season

Left to right: Camellias brevistyla white and pink, puniceiflora and microphylla

Autumn has arrived. The wind has a chill element that was absent just a few weeks ago and I have packed away the summeriest of my summer clothing. Well, bathing suits, sarong and sleeveless tops so far. The very earliest camellias are opening their first flowers.

It is not the sasanquas that bloom first. It is obscure species that we rushed to buy when NZ’s camellia specialist, Neville Haydon, announced his retirement. These are hardly spectacular but they have a simple charm on a small and detailed scale. I had to pick them because my camera skills are not up to doing them justice on the bush.

Camellia brevistyla

Starting with Camellia brevistyla, we have used this extensively for hedging in the caterpillar garden. Its flowering season is the shortest of all but it can be clipped to a tidy hedge around 60cm high and it becomes a mass of pretty white blossom for not much longer than about 10 days.

The one rogue pink brevistyla

Mark raised all the hedging brevistyla plants from seed and one – just the one – is flowering pink. I wondered if I should be replacing it in the quest for perfect uniformity in the hedges but no. The odd imperfection is delightful in its own way and it is only for a brief period that it is visibly different to all its seedling siblings.

Camellia puniceiflora

Next may be the tiniest of all we grow– little Camellia puniceiflora. Fully open, it measures about 2cm across and the blooms resemble tiny daisies on the bush. Though when I think of it, Camellia trichoclada is so small that even though it is planted in a prominent spot that we walk past many times a day, even we can fail to register it in bloom. it is not a camellia you grow for is floral display.

Camellia microphylla with ripe seed pods from last season

Finally, we have Camellia microphylla with its seed. The flower does not look so very different to brevistyla. Maybe ever so slightly larger and a botanical analysis with a magnifying glass will pick other differences. Because we grow them both, I can observe that the bush C. microphylla grows taller and the flowering season is longer – maybe 20 days in full flight instead of just 10. I think its foliage is a better forest green but that may just be because it is growing in shadier conditions.

These species won’t be widely available for sale in NZ but can be raised from seed with relative ease. The botanic gardens around the country usually establish collection so find the person in charge of camellias if you want to try and find seed to grow. We also get seedlings germinating beneath them all, rather too many of little brevistyla.

Our entranceway, after the camellias had been given their October prune. Camellia sasanqua Elfin Rose behind the palm, C. puniceiflora clipped as a three tier cake stand, C. trichoclada is the low flat plinth at the front, C. gauchowensis as the column. All shapes have evolved from accentuating the natural form of each plant.

I have been trying to discipline myself to get back into daily writing but my scattered brain has me also trying to sort through and file the last six months of photographs. So it was I found these photos of camellias straight after clipping. The date on the photos is November 1 so obviously Lloyd was doing the clipping round in October. We only clip once a year. The timing isn’t critical – any time after flowering and after the plants have made their first flush of new growth – but if you leave it any later, you will be cutting off next season’s flower buds.

The same scene five months after clipping

I took the second photo of the same scene yesterday to show it after five months. There is a slight blurring of the sharp edges now but overall, they have remained fairly crisp. That is why we can get away with a once a year clip. They won’t make more growth until after flowering.

I have written often about the scourge of camellia petal blight and the devastating effect on the japonicas. We have a fair number of big old japonicas dating back to Mark’s father’s days of collecting and breeding them, along with a collection of reticulatas. These days they are very messy in flowering season as the blighted buds and blooms drop prematurely and lie around looking ugly and brown. We need to do a major review plant by plant right around the garden but, even blighted and with a messy season, many of them serve a function as a green backdrop and as shelter in our windy climate. These bigger leaved varieties do not clip in the same way as the smaller foliaged species, hybrids and sasanquas.

We don’t want to clip all our camellias. Heavens above, we have quite enough to do here without making more work for ourselves. But clipping key plants gives an interesting punctuation point in the garden. They do look very sharp immediately after their annual haircut and the older the plant, the more characterful it can be made to look.

Camellia sasanqua Mine No Yuki

 

 

 

Day 3 of lock down and a minor mystery is solved

As we adjust to lock down and our personal worlds become so much smaller, I did at least solve a small mystery yesterday. I saw a lovely combination of vibrant pinks when we visited Cloudehill Gardens in the Dandenongs outside Melbourne last year. I can repeat that in my new perennial meadow, I thought.

Nerine bowdenii flowering in late May here 

My perennial meadow planting with hidden N. bowdenii

In my mind, I had it as a combination of the deep pink Japanese anemone and Nerine bowdenii. As the anemone came into flower, I found myself wondering where the nerine was before realising that of course it flowers much later here. I considered the possibility that Cloudehill had a selection that flowered much earlier in the season and kicked myself for not checking the flowering times here – easily done in these days of digital photo files that give dates. There seemed to be a story in there about not assuming that combinations seen in different climates will also work at home. I found my photos.

Belladonnas at Cloudehill! Of course. Not N. bowdenii. But then the Japanese anemone actually comes from China. The world is looking more confusing by the day.

Eagle-eyed readers will have already spotted my mistake. It was my memory. Not Nerine bowdenii at all. Those are belladonnas. That explains it. I am not sure that I want to bring big, thuggish belladonnas into the garden. We have them in abundance on the roadside and on our margins but they aren’t the best garden candidates. In fact we already have both on our roadside and all I need to do is shuffle some of the right pink tones closer to the anemone there.

I just need to relocate some pink belladonnas in the right tones on our roadside and I will have that combination.

As Mark and I had a leisured start to our morning on day two of lock down, he quipped that half the houses around the nation were currently undergoing paint jobs. Lloyd, our garden staffer, had gone in to a Mitre10 Mega on Tuesday and reported that everybody else was in there buying paint and they had sold out entirely of his preferred brand.

We are in the garden so there is no major change for us, except the absence of Lloyd during the week. I have found, however, that my focus and concentration are scattered all over the place. I am telling myself that there is plenty of time – a whole month at least – and it is fine to allow myself a few days to mentally settle into the peculiar new reality we are all facing. Friends have noted the same phenomenon. It doesn’t matter if major tasks get left for a little while.

Fiddly faddling on the Magnolia laevifolia. But where is Lloyd when I need him? He is always most obliging about dealing to my piles of prunings.

This is why I spent yesterday entirely distracted by a very small garden with an untidy Magnolia laevifolia draping itself over the garage roof, leading to a build-up of leaf litter composting on the corrugated iron roof. It is a smaller, defined project that I can complete before my scattered brain gets distracted elsewhere. Fiddly-faddling, I call it. Mark describes it as montying – a reference anybody who watches BBC Gardeners’ World will understand. May you all fiddly-faddle or monty in tranquil safety wherever you are.

Belladonnas we have a-plenty in a variety of hues but their flowering season is brief and their season is full, smothering leaf is very long

 

Day one of lock down

This is just to say

I have eaten
the 48 cans of baked beans
that were in
the pantry

and also 72 packets of after dinner mints
you were probably
saving
for the

pandemic

forgive me
it’s my first day
working from home

so many hours
and no one
here

                                                                            David Slack (reprinted here with his kind permission).

What a lot can change in a week. This came through Twitter just last Thursday as many people were still at the stage of setting up working from home. Now, a week later, we are in full lock down as a country, probably for a full month at minimum. We are, as our Prime Minister says, going early and going hard with Covid19. With very few cases of community transmission (passing the virus on to non-family members), locking down is the only way to attempt containment. Existing cases should become obvious in the next two weeks and while we can’t expect to remain Covid-free longer term, careful management may mean our health services can cope.

Sometimes there are advantages to being a country of isolated islands that can cut off physical contact with the rest of the world. Our borders are closed and almost all passenger flights have ceased.

Ugni molinae, Myrtus ugni or the NZ cranberry

The cranberries are fruiting. Well, what we know as the cranberry in NZ which is actually Ugni molinae and nothing whatever to do with proper cranberries. Feijoa season has started up north and the grape season is underway. By the end of a month, the cranberries will be a distant memory, we will have eaten all the grapes and the feijoa season will be past its peak. Only then will we know the extent to which this drastic action of lock down has worked.

In the current situation, it is is already clear that it will bring out the best in most people and the worst in a few. Best to be one of the majority in this situation. Stay safe. Be kind. Stay home. At least we are still allowed outside to garden.

Despite an extensive photo library, I lacked any photos of cans of beans or packets of After Dinner Mints. So please, have a random, delicate fungi instead.

 

Theatre set design in the garden

Not Duquette’s garden. Just a photo from a NZ garden I have in my files.

Mark and I were sitting watching Monty Don’s series on American gardens when he came to the garden of the late Tony Duquette. Think Hollywood in the 1940s and 50s, a flamboyant set decorator, costumier and interior designer with extreme, international magpie tendencies who crammed much of what he collected into his own, quirky garden. Google him if you want to know more. Monty Don referred to some of it as being cobbled together with ‘cardboard and string’.

Not The Laskett, either. Just another example from a NZ garden

It started me thinking about those who approach their gardens as a theatre set. We have never been to The Laskett, the much-acclaimed UK garden of Sir Roy Strong and his late wife, Julia Trevelyan Oman. It too, comes out of the land of theatre design, I understand. It is not a garden style that we feel an affinity with so we tend to seek out other gardens when we travel.

A much loved local garden that belongs to Sue

But it is a style that some people enjoy. At its best, it may be described as quirky, eclectic, imaginative, flamboyant. At its worst, tacky, veneer gardening. I shall try not to be judgemental. It is just that at times, I wonder how very different set design in acclaimed gardens is from the folk art that abounds in some of the more loved gardens in my local town. They seem to me to be on the same continuum, at times distinguished as much by social prestige, acreage and financial resources as by flair. Some people just really like heavily decorated gardens.

The D.I.Y trompe l’oeil, constructed from trellis timber

I think what worries me at times is when this theatrical approach to garden design and ornamentation brings rather too much of the two-dimensional, temporary nature of the theatre into the garden. I prefer gardens where features are well made, substantial and underpinned by quality. The 10cm deep pond lined in plastic is never going to delight me like a well thought-out pond, constructed from permanent materials where consideration is given to its longevity and sustainability. More substance, less illusion. Preferably not constructed out of tanalised plywood, either, and three dimensional as befits its outdoor setting.

Not for the faint-hearted, the Dawson garden 

The orchid theatre, based on the auricula theatre and it certainly was… theatrical

That said, the one theatrical garden that did surprise me and make me laugh out loud is in Auckland. Or it may be ‘was’, in the past tense now. When I last saw it, it was on the market and it was such a very personal garden that it is hard to imagine new owners coming in and leaving it in the same state. The first time I saw it, it was a private visit with its creator, Grahame Dawson. The second time I visited as part of a busy garden festival. The place was jam-packed with visitors and the two owners were leaping around, hosting with the most. It was indeed like watching energetic producers directing a cast of many in a theatre scene.

The theatre curtain in tillandsia 

There was such a crush on the second visit that this was the only photo I took

What set the Dawson into a different class for me was the underpinning quality. Yes it was quirky and individualistic. But it was executed with attention to detail. It was solid and three dimensional, a garden designed to be lived in and enjoyed by the owners and their friends, not done for show. To me that matters but others may be perfectly comfortable with the ephemeral nature of theatre set design in a garden.

Sometimes, theatrical touches can fall short. NOT from the Dawson garden.

The first autumn blooms and the journey to gardening nirvana

Amaryllis belladonna – more roadside flower than garden plant in our conditions

As the calendar moves into March, the autumn bulbs are the first reminder that summer will not be endless. First Cyclamen hederafolium and Colchicum autumnale remind is that the seasons wait for no man or woman. Now they have been joined by the belladonnas and the truly tiny Leucojum autumnale.

Colchicum, not autumn crocus. The foliage is unrelated, being a dianthus

Colchicums are often referred to as autumn crocus but there is no botanical connection, just a visual perception. The best known leucojum is L. vernum or the common snowflake which flowers in spring – a vigorous bulb that is widely found around old house sites that date back to the nineteenth century. The old brick chimney may be all that is left standing but it is highly likely to have clumps of the double daffodils and snowflakes, maybe some violets and a couple of really old camellia trees. For overseas readers, almost all the early European settlers’ homes were built in wood and house fires were common which is why the chimney is the only remaining evidence.

Blink and you may miss the delight of tiny Leucojum autumnale

Little Leucojum autumnale is a very different creature, a fleeting, dainty little flower that has to be measured in millimetres, not centimetres. It is very cute but easily swamped by larger plants if you are not careful. I see it is now classified as an acis, not a leucojum but it may take me a while to remember that. It comes from the western areas of the southern Mediterranean so places like Spain, Morocco, Tunisia and Sicily which are very hot and bone dry but the first autumn rain will trigger the bulbs into their very short flowering and growing season.

Some welcome rain fell this week – 62ml to be precise, which was very welcome after an exceptionally dry summer. Sadly it was followed by the first chill wind of autumn which rather reinforced the message of the autumn bulbs. Summer 2020 is over and we are now entering our long autumn season. I have removed my togs and towel from the swimming pool and put them in the laundry basket although the younger visitors here are still swimming.

What I call English manor house style of twin borders – seen here at Parham House

Cottage garden style as per Margery Fish at East Lambook Manor

Beth Chatto’s dry garden

As the summer borders reach their point of peak profusion, I ponder again how full I want these borders to look. The tradition of herbaceous borders is to have them packed so full that no soil is visible. Cottage gardening encourages the plants to meld and run together whereas herbaceous tradition says that each plant occupies its own space without much intermeshing with its neighbours. And then there is the Beth Chatto dry garden where, even in a mature garden, she kept each plant standing alone in its own space. Mark likes the Chatto approach because it displays the individual plants to their best. It is a style he has used extensively in the more detailed woodland areas. If you analyse the Chatto dry garden, they are predominantly smaller plant varieties growing in very hard condtions (dry river bed with very low rainfall) which could not be further from our summer garden conditions which foster lush and exuberant growth.

I am leaning to the traditional herbaceous position for these summer borders but it is a constant learning process about how each plant variety performs. I want to be able to walk amongst the plants to weed, stake and dead-head and that means knowing how much space to leave between each different clump that they may floof themselves over the space to fill it but still leave me passage between the plants at ground level without tramping on them.

The summer borders here

The bouffy aster needs staking to keep the path clear. I do it very simply and this is not visible when the plant is allowed to flop back

I love this big, bouffy aster coming into flower. We have the more compact version that makes a low carpet in bloom and another similar one that is just above waist height. I am guessing this larger version is a species – or close to it – with its daintier, paler blue blooms that are like a cloud of butterflies dancing on the bush. This year I have had to stake it to keep the path clear and it is obvious I have too much of it too close together for future seasons. Some at least will need to be moved to another area before next summer.

It is a constant learning process but that is what makes gardening interesting. Once a garden is all planted up, most of the gardening activity is simple and repetitive maintenance – outdoor housework, in effect. The interest levels in that are not high. It is the ongoing learning and constant tweaking in search of the impossible state of perfection that makes it interesting. That is how I see it for those of us who actively garden.

As a final comment: the new summer gardens have all been planted following the modern trends of lower labour input and management than the older, more traditional herbaceous plantings of the English manor house style of borders. But they still involve me in quite a lot of deadheading, dividing, staking and cutting back. I enjoy doing it but it is certainly more than I originally anticipated. My gardening nirvana may be when I have tweaked the plantings to the point where such a high level of intervention is no longer required.

Dispensing with the big pond

Everything grows so quickly. Back in the 1990s, the whole area was much more open

The big pond is a good example of how conditions can change over time. Sometimes decisions need to be made rather than fighting nature to try and preserve an increasingly unsatisfactory status quo.

The pond had ceased to have a function. Originally, it was our swimming pond where we used to gather as a family for summer dips. That stopped when we built a swimming pool which didn’t carry the perils of resident eels.

Our son Theo used it in his middle childhood. He and his mates built a bike jump and it became a show of macho youthfulness to see how high up the hill they could start their run with an old pushbike. The aim was to build up as much speed as possible, hit the launch pad and part company from the bike in mid-air, both boy and bike landing separately in the deepest part of the pond. It was the responsibility of the rider to dive to retrieve the bike and get it back to shore. It sounds dangerous and maybe it wasn’t the safest of childhood pursuits but there were no major injuries.

By last spring, the water had all but disappeared from view

Over time, the weed infestation took hold – possibly because of increased nutrient loading in the water from upstream farming activities. It was several years ago that I figured that it was unwise to get into the water when I had open skin wounds, even just minor abrasions. It only took a few hours for fungal infections to start getting a hold. It is not water that I would swim in these days.

With the growth of weed, we lost any reflective qualities of the water.

It was only three years ago that Theo did a major clean out for us.

Three years ago, Theo was at home for a couple of weeks, en route from Amsterdam to Melbourne. He did a trojan job clearing the pond of accumulated weed but short of finding somebody willing to do that every year – volunteers are not so much thin on the ground as entirely absent – we needed to concentrate the flow of the river into a designated channel and abandon the pond.

The platforms that enabled Lloyd to reach the middle of the pond

I missed the photo of Lloyd walking on water. By last Monday, he had reached the point where the pond narrowed sufficiently for him to stretch from the banks. We have an extra-long handled rake and have put a long handle on the drainage fork. All I can show you are the platforms he was using made from corrugated iron, linked by wide wooden boards. The principle is of spreading the weight so the human on top does not slowly sink into the morass of water weed and silt. With the water level dropped as low as we can get it, the silt layer is still about a metre of soft, floating soil particles. With resident eels. Lloyd hauled all the weed to the sides of the pond and has basically created terraces which will compact and solidify over time, leaving a winding channel in the middle.

Lloyd hauling out large swathes of Lousiana iris 

The wakendorfia have all been removed this week and the oxygen weed raked out of the smaller, upper pond.

At the same time, he and I removed 2/3 of the Louisiana iris (ratio of foliage to flower is much too high to justify massive swathes of them). I dug out the remaining Wachendorfia thyrsiflora. It is showy in bloom but too invasive and free-seeding to keep by running water. We try to manage what we may be spreading downstream. I took a rubbish bag down with me to load all the bulbs of the weedy montbretia (Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora) and all the bits of Tradescantia fluminensis  – both invasive weeds that repeated floods keep delivering us from upstream. Readers may know the tradescantia by its common name of ‘Wandering Jew’, or maybe ‘Wandering Willie’. We have decided that the Jew epithet is nothing short of downright offensive and Willie carries other connotations so we have trained ourselves to refer to it as ‘Wandering Trad’. Let’s lay the responsibility for this plant where it belongs – which is presumably with plant collector, John Tradescant, not with the Jews in the millennia when they lacked a homeland.

We have reached this stage of narrowing the pond to just a stream channel. The water is very low at the moment because of unusually dry conditions

There is still a clean-up to be done around the stream but fortunately, we are in high summer and it is dry. All the plant material is being left out to be dried by the sun and we will then stow it beneath established trees and shrubs where it can rot down. It has to be dried out so that it doesn’t take root and grow again. The mud and silt will be raked out along the sides where necessary. And we will let the grass grow long again. I am hoping the result of some pretty solid work across the past couple of weeks will be a greatly improved meadow display this coming spring and water that is more bubbling brook than sluggish stream morphing into swamp.

The big lesson we have learned from this is that we need to do more to control the growth on the banks of the stream, not by stripping them bare or spraying but by strimming them twice a year when the park gets mowed. It is all part of the learning process on how to manage a more natural-style of gardening.