Tag Archives: Tikorangi: The Jury garden

You Should Have Been Here Last Week by Tim Richardson

The subtitle is “Sharp cuttings from a garden writer” but eagle-eyed readers may notice that the secateurs on the front cover look as if they have been through the compost heap and are anything but sharp

Tim Richardson first came to our notice with his lavish book The New English Garden. We used it as a guidebook for our last garden visiting trip in that country because we wanted to see more contemporary work.  “You Should Have Been Here Last Week” is a much more modest publication and as a result, a great deal more convenient for reading. It is a collection of writings for various publications – Country Life, Daily Telegraph, Gardens Illustrated and half a dozen others. And what an interesting collection these are.

Topics range widely and the writer does not hesitate to put forward a measured opinion, at times well apart from the Establishment. People, places, trends, theories – he will analyse the lot. His critique of the New Perennials movement, the Sheffield School and modern directions in planting struck a particular chord with us and conveyed with clarity where he considers it has developed beyond the Northern European/Piet Oudolf movement (‘Immersive not pictorial’ was particularly succinct). But if that is not your interest, maybe the politics of self-sufficiency, gay gardening, the efforts to “Re-Vita-lize” Sissinghurst and the perils of public ownership of formerly private gardens will catch your interest. Those who are aware of my opinions on the matter may laugh when I say I feel totally vindicated by his critique of the stranglehold the Arts and Crafts garden style has held over gardens for too long. Modern design does not escape his scrutiny either – his views on Suburban Modernism (Sub Mod) gives some very good advice to those who live on smaller, town sections.

There is lots of meat (or maybe high quality protein, if you prefer) in these short pieces – plenty to think about, discuss, and to challenge your thinking about gardening. And he is a good writer rich in quotable passages, sometimes cutting, controversial even.

It is worth buying, this book and it is not even expensive. I wish there was more garden writing of this quality. I did a brief search on the author and came up with this gem:

Tim Richardson, author of Sweets: The History of Temptation, is the world’s first international confectionery historian. He also writes about gardens, landscape and theatre and contributes to the Daily Telegraph, Country Life, The Idler, House & Garden, Garden Design Journal and Wallpaper. He lives in North London.”

It is an unverified Wikipedia entry and I understand he no longer writes for the Garden Design Journal – sacked, or “let go” as they say, over a satirical paragraph in a column that was too hot to handle for that publication. If you want to read the previously unpublished column, it is in this new book. Being a bit of a flibbertigibbet, I was entranced to think of him doubling as the first international confectionery historian.  He is clearly a man of many talents.

You Should Have Been Here Last Week by Tim Richardson. Pimpernel Press 2016

Treading more lightly on the land

The onions are not the main purpose of this story – more on those a little later. They are just more visually appealing than the sight of rubbish sorting at its most basic level.

I mentioned in last week’s post the heartening sight of how little landfill waste was generated by the 50 members of the IDS when they lunched here.   This week it was a coachload of Massey University environmental ecology students who visited. I put out my labelled pots for the waste, curious to see how they would respond. They passed with flying colours. Of course they did. What else would one expect from these young people on whom rests so much hope for the future?

I now realise what I have failed to do is to photograph the lunch food laid out for these large groups. Therein lies the key to minimising inorganic waste. With the IDS, the menu included quiches cut in squares, small filled rolls, green salad and fresh watermelon for dessert. And coffee, tea and chilled water served from large jugs. All the food came out on china or wooden serving dishes. The only disposable items used were the cardboard ‘plates’ and bamboo forks.

The students had an expansive range of options from which to assemble their own filled rolls and sandwiches with fresh fruit to follow. Plus the option of yoghurt and treats like muesli bars which admittedly generated individual waste. But the bulk of the food was in multi-use plastic containers and even the butter came cut in individual cubes from a large block so there was no packaging needed and no wastage. The students had been told to bring their own water bottles which they refilled from a nearby tap.

I have learned two things. If you set up a situation where individuals are expected to sort their waste, they do it but most waste is reduced by the steps taken in the catering. We have become so used to individually packaged portions – marketed as being both convenient and hygienic – that many people have forgotten that it used to be done differently and sometimes that is better. A sandwich or filled roll prepared on the spot to one’s own tastes is hugely preferable to getting one somebody else prepared four hours earlier and then left to sweat in its own plastic cling-film wrapping.

Soy beans! Part of the Tikorangi soy bean crop

Waste is much on our mind here. Hence the onions seen above. And the delight at a successful soy bean harvest. Why onions and soy beans when they are extremely cheap to buy, you may wonder. Why not grow the higher value crops? We grow those too, or at least Mark does. Space is not a problem for us. But commercial onions are reputed to be one of the most heavily sprayed crops and we know ours are spray-free. And soy beans may be cheap as chips but they also come with very high food miles. The food miles are on our soy beans are zero. Besides, when it comes to taste treats, freshly picked edamame beans steamed and sprinkled with a little rock salt is right up there as gourmet food.

Not all crops are worth growing. The peanuts gave a really good yield last year but were so tedious to de-husk by hand that even Mark decided they weren’t worth the effort. He is quite happy to prepare the beans, seeing his attempts to produce as much food as he can from our own property as a worthy challenge. Not only does it hugely reduce the amount of waste we personally produce but we also know the origin of our food, the conditions in which it has been grown and the age of the produce.

This all feels like a return to where we were at back in the 1970s, though we are more lined and more experienced now. If more of us had stuck with that rejection of consumerism back then, maybe the world would not be in such a parlous state.

One man has indeed made a good start on the annual a-mowing of the meadow

Applying related principles of lightening our footprints on the land to the ornamental garden is an entirely different topic because there is the added factor of aesthetics. We are spending a lot of time discussing and experimenting here but in the meantime, I can tell you that one man went to mow, went to mow the meadow. With our smart new sickle-bar mower because that is all that could handle the mountains of meadow grass. So much grass, in fact, that Mark was wondering if we should be teaching ourselves the old skills of building haystacks. This current and most major mowing is just the latest instalment of an ongoing experiment.  How far can we change our gardening habits and tread more lightly on the land yet still be happy with the high aesthetic values we strive for in the garden? Time will tell.

Tikorangi notes: the calm before the storm

Mood photo as we wait in the calm before the storm. It is the neighbour’s dead tree

It has been a discombobulating day. Since late yesterday, the entire country has been subjected to saturation warnings about the impending Cyclone Cook. I have never seen such a massive advance warning campaign and mobilisation of emergency services prior to an event happening. Be prepared, we have been told, for the worst weather event in the last 49 years. This includes urging us to have at least three days of food and drinking water to hand, to have prepared our own personal evacuation plans – including pets, not to plan on travelling anywhere until the storm has passed even though it is Easter, to tie down trampolines and to put away anything that can be blown around, including the outdoor barbecue.

So this morning has seemed quite unreal here as the weather has been dead calm, quiet and grey. Only now are the rains starting in Taranaki, although the east coast is getting heavy rain falling on land already saturated from last week’s downpours. The cyclonic winds have yet to arrive. I think they are due this evening.

(Post cyclone update – it hit the east coast. We are on the west coast so escaped everything but rain. Not as devastating as feared though there are plenty of roads closed, trees down and power lines down in the eastern areas.)

The shades of nerines currently in bloom

In the meantime, summer has long gone here. Every season has its own rewards and autumn brings us the nerines. In the company of Cyclamen hederafolium and the other autumn bulbs, they are a highlight every year. Less predictable are the brunsvigias which don’t bloom every year for us. The first to flower this year, I was reliably informed on Facebook, is not, as we had thought, one of the species but in fact an amarygia – a hybrid between Brunsvigia josephinae and an amaryllis (otherwise known as a belladonna). So now we know.

The amarygia!

Brunsvigia litoralis

The second one, opening now, is Brunsvigia litoralis. I counted 36 individual florets ready to open – which they will do in sequence over the next few weeks.  These are more South African bulbs where the growth is triggered by summer rain.

Autumn is also feijoa season. I keep optimistically checking beneath our trees but our fruit have yet to start dropping (the sign that they are ripe). This is a curious fruit that central and northern New Zealand seems to have made its own, despite its South American origins. It is one of the few fruiting trees (though a large shrub, really) that can be planted and just left without any further attention. It thrives under benign neglect. In fact it crops so well that it can lead to an edge of desperation. I saw a tweet the other day from somebody who bought a property with seven feijoa trees on it “and now I pick up 20kg every two days which I try to give away”. It is feast or famine with feijoas. They have a short shelf life so are not a good commercial option but almost everybody seems to grow them so rehoming surplus can be problematic. That said, if ours don’t start falling in the next day or two, I may have to buy a bag from a roadside stall I passed the other day.

With our garden closed to the public these days, we don’t accept many tours or groups but the New Zealand chapter of the IDS (International Dendrology Society) was an exception a few weeks ago. Of all the horticultural societies we have encountered over time, the IDS remains our favourite. It attracts the most interesting and knowledgeable people and we really enjoyed their visit. There were 50 in the group and they ate lunch here.

A very small volume of non-recyclables on the right

I show you the waste because I find this very affirming. I put out three receptacles labelled compostable, recyclable and non-recyclable. The right-hand pot of non-recyclable waste was barely a quarter full. All credit to the caterer who set up a situation that generated next to no waste and to the group who were happy to cooperate. Over the years, we have hosted many groups and the volume of waste left behind used to be a real problem for us when we didn’t have a rubbish collection service. Now we have that service but we don’t really need it. It is possible for a large group to move around, eating and drinking on the go, and not leave a whole lot of inorganic waste to mark their passage. This is a good sign. At least, I think so because these things are of increasing importance these days.

  • Dendrology, to save you asking or Googling – is the study of woody trees and shrubs. The thing about dendrologists is that the vast majority are interested in ALL plants, not just woody ones, as well as ecology, natural habitats, gardening and even design.

The slow autumn fade

As the nights cool and day length shortens, there is no denying that autumn is here. Coastal Taranaki is not renowned for autumn colour. It is generally drier climates with sharp seasonal changes of temperature that get the showiest displays. The trees we have that do change won’t be showing much until the end of May and into June. In our climate, the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn are extended in time but at least it means the depths of winter are but brief.

I did a round-up of flowers one year to see what was actually in bloom at this time. We think mainly of our rockery which has a second peak with the showy autumn bulbs (those that are triggered into growth by summer rain) but I see I managed to gather flowers from 40 different plant genera across trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and bulbs and that wasn’t including the last gasp of plants well past their peak season. We are blessed to live in a mild climate where plants grow and flower all year round.

Despite all that, it is a time of year that brings out the Squirrel Nutkin in me. Or is that the Laura Ingalls Wilder of The Little House on the Prairie fame? There is something visceral in preparing for cooler months and achieving a state where I know there is enough firewood to keep us warm and food supplies stockpiled against winter famine. Not that I grow the food crops – that is Mark’s domain. And indeed, the supermarket is only 10 minutes’ drive away but that is never going to be as satisfying as seeing the home produce rolling in. April is all about chestnuts, gathering walnuts, drying beans, sorting the apples and pears, gorging on rock and water melons, freezing tomatoes and corn, harvesting grapes and the like.

Miscanthus

In recent years, I have turned my attention towards the quiet charm of seed heads. This is the influence of British gardening media. They come from harsher climatic conditions where growth stops in winter and a preponderance of deciduous material means that the winter garden often looks, well, let’s be honest – dead. Their gardeners are urged to leave seed heads in place until spring as a major source of food for birds and wildlife. Dying of starvation is apparently an issue in colder climates.

There is far more discussion about the contribution domestic gardening can make to sound eco-systems and environmental management in British garden media. It is a conversation I have yet to see in this country where we are more likely to assume that any form of gardening makes a worthwhile contribution to nature – which is not necessarily true at all. It is time we questioned some of our practices like pouring on fertilisers, routine spraying, irrigation and lawn management but we can at least let some of our plants go to seed for the birds.

Hibiscus trionum

Not all seed heads are precious, I admit. I try and dead head our roadside agapanthus in the interests of public reputation (though as they are heavy seeds, they don’t spread far from the parent plant). There is a limit to how many crocosmia and tigridias we want so I dead head those. Some rhododendrons will seed themselves to death if not dead headed after flowering. And some simply have no aesthetic merit. Given that our feathered friends have enough food all year round here and many of our native birds are fruit and nectar feeders, I don’t feel obliged to keep everything intact for them in situ.

Rhododendron – one of the sino nuttalliis

When I analyse the seed heads I have photographed over the years, it is the perennials, including the grasses, that are the highlights. A few of the trees and shrubs are exceptional – particularly rhododendrons. But the graceful plumes, the fluffy pompoms, the flat heads that create silhouettes against the sky, the swept-back hairdos mostly come from perennials. The silky seed heads of the clematis are often as pretty – in an understated sort of way – as the flowers themselves. Hibiscus trionum also has exquisite seed pods with a beauty all of their own. I leave the tiered phlomis blooms on the plants until early spring because they keep their form and hold themselves erect.

Clematis tangutica

Sometimes I cut a few seed heads to bring indoors but, like hydrangea heads, they soon start to look somewhat forlorn and dusty to my eyes. Autumn can be melancholy enough without bringing it inside. But in the right place, these attempts by the plants to ensure their survival into the future can also create little cameos of detail which are delightful to look at.

Clematis tangutica at top, left to right: rhododendron, Schima khasiana, Hibiscus trionum and schizophragma

First published in the April issue of New Zealand Gardener and reproduced here with their permission.  

Ah. The nostalgia of the knitted dishcloth

Second daughter had reason to visit South Africa recently so my delightful birthday package contained several items from that trip. Included was the hand knitted cream square above. “I remembered your knitted dishcloths,” she said.

Ah. My poverty measure. “You don’t know you are poor until you have tried knitting your own dishcloths,” I joke these days but it is true. In what I call our poverty days, money was very tight indeed. Unable to justify buying a new dishcloth and lacking enthusiasm for recycling old rags, I set about knitting my own from cotton string in the traditional style of dishcloths prior to the Wettex sponges now favoured. It wasn’t a great success. The knitting was fine. The problem lay in my cotton string which lacked the absorbency of the commercially produced cloths and it didn’t last very long before wearing through.

The new South African face cloth looks as if it may be made to last – potential, even, as a family heirloom. It is not large, as can be seen by the comparator towelling facecloth. But it is dense. So much so that I think it may be more suited to exfoliation of tougher parts of the body rather than washing one’s face. It too is hand knitted, part of an indigenous initiative to support individuals in smaller communities. While I would like to think that one could knit one’s way out of poverty, I am not sure how realistic that is with face cloths. But there is something about this simple object that I find gently poignant.

A colchicum is not an autumn crocus

Crocus to the left, colchicum to the right

It is that time of year, dear Readers, when it is time to remind some of you, that the larger bloom to the right is NOT a crocus. Not at all. It is not even a relative. It is a colchicum. The left-hand flower is an autumn flowering crocus, probably one of the C. serotinus group, maybe salzmanii.

Colchicums come from the family of Colchicaceae and the order of Liliales.

Crocus belong to the subfamily of Crocoideae, family of Iridaceae and order of Asparagales.

That is the botanical explanation. The lay explanation is that crocuses are much smaller and daintier and bloom at the same time their fine foliage is coming through. Many of the 90 or so species flower in spring but some will bloom in autumn.

Colchicums flowering now

Colchicums, on the other hand, bloom well before their foliage ever appears and have much larger chalice blooms – and more stamens if you can be bothered counting. Compared to the crocus, they look as if they are on steroids but in fact it is the product of colchicine which is extracted from them. Colchicine’s main use was – or is – as an anti-inflammatory for the treatment of gout. Not one to try yourself at home, however, because it is highly toxic in the wrong hands. When the foliage appears much later, it is large and lush all winter until it dies off, untidily, in mid spring.

Because they flower before the foliage appears, colchicums are sometimes referred to as “naked ladies” (even “naked boys” I found somewhere on the internet though I have never heard that), but that is merely confusing to those of us who understand belladonnas to be naked ladies.

Crocus, but probably serotinus, not the saffron crocus

Crocus, on the other hand, give us saffron. Well, the saffron crocus does but we failed with our efforts to grow it here despite starting with a fair number of corms. They did not reappear after the first season. Too wet and humid, I think.

Colchicums are a better bet when it comes to naturalising bulbs in a meadow setting, being somewhat tougher and showier in such circumstances.

A sense of place

I illustrate this column with a few photos of gardens that have struck a particular chord, enduring in my memory long past the experience of visiting them. What they have in common is a strong identity and sense of place. 

 

I apologise for the fact that I can not recall the name of the creator of this very interesting house and garden landscape south of Blenheim but I understand he has since died. I have never forgotten this remarkable place

What is it that lifts a garden – a good garden – above other good gardens? I have seen that special character described with various terms over the years, including having ‘soul’ or ‘the wow factor’. Or, more pretentiously perhaps, possessing ‘genius loci’. I wrote about genius loci in a sharp column seven years ago.

Ladies and gentlemen gardeners, it now appears that the current term is that the garden has ‘a sense of place’. It is one that appeals to me more than the soul or wow factor descriptors because it is less subjective.

Gresgarth Hall near Lancaster in the UK

I came across the term twice this week, both from UK media. The first instance was a survey on the Thinking Gardens website, being carried out Janna Schreier. Searching for a more rigorous measure than the loose use of the descriptor ‘soul’, she defined ‘a sense of place’ as being one ‘with a distinctive character which fosters emotional engagement’. Her survey then listed possible attributes of that and asked the participant to rank each on a five-point scale. These were:

  • Uniqueness
  • Strong identity
  • Fit with surroundings
  • Thought provoking
  • Harmonious design
  • Brings back memories
  • Personal to the owner.

I would point you to the survey but it finished yesterday. In a subsequent exchange of emails, I commented that plantsmanship was missing from that list but was critical for us here when it came to top-level appreciation of a garden. I rank plantsmanship* as being of equal importance to harmonious design. But from that list, I probably ranked strong identity, personal to the owner and maybe uniqueness as most important. Though uniqueness is very hard to define – pretty much every gardener I have ever met who rates themselves thinks their own garden is both unique and original, though too few are. In my opinion.

Grahame Dawson’s small, urban, industrial chic garden in Auckland challenged my preconceived notion that such plots of land must, by definition lack genius loci

Two days later I saw a tweet from Dan Pearson*, the UK landscaper for whom I carry a bit of fan-girl torch.

Dan Pearson @thedanpearson 

Another inspiring day talking gardens with Troy at Sissinghurst. Sure progress with their project to key the gardens sense of place.

Could anywhere have a stronger sense of place than New Plymouth cemetery?

Aha! I thought. A sense of place is it, then. And I like that term. It is much more encompassing than just ‘genius loci’. Oddly, we have our own word in New Zealand. Our country is gently taking on more Maori words into our language, particularly when there is no word for word translation that captures the complexity of the Maori concept. The word is tūrangawaewae, about which Te Ara, the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand says:

“Tūrangawaewae is one of the most well-known and powerful Māori concepts. Literally tūranga (standing place), waewae (feet), it is often translated as ‘a place to stand’. Tūrangawaewae are places where we feel especially empowered and connected. They are our foundation, our place in the world, our home.”

I recently described our garden as ‘our place to stand’. Must have been a bit prescient there? Though a “place to stand” is more about the personal experience of the garden-maker than the “sense of place” which is the experience of the fortunate garden visitor. Certainly there is something special that sets apart some gardens over others, that makes a few gardens particularly memorable. I am happy to consider that above design, context, plant content and maintenance, that special quality that sets them apart is indeed that they have a clear sense of place.

I have not often seen that special quality of a sense of place in public gardens but the Oudolf borders at Wisley are a notable exception

Footnotes:

*I continue to stick with Mark’s off the cuff definition of plantsmanship, even while I hesitate over the gender reference in the word: “The ability to use different plants in creative ways in the right environment and to feature unusual plants.”

*I subscribe to Dan Pearson’s weekly blog – Dig Delve. It is a gentle insight into plants and the very personal garden he is building with his partner, Huw Morgan.   There is no big-noting, self-promotion or even that faux modesty that is now favoured by many writers. Rather, it is quiet and modest, an insight into creating a garden from scratch that focuses on eco-systems, sustainability and soft-edged naturalism. I find it most refreshing and calming in this day and age when so much of gardening appears to be about whizzy-bang instant results to impress.

I had a special affection for Te Popo garden when it was in the hands of Lorri and Bruce Ellis and I now see that response as inextricably tied up with that strong sense of place that they created.

Te Popo again in Central Taranaki

Bury Court in the UK – much more than just beautiful buildings and an early Oudolf garden. A garden I wish to return to soon.

Wildside in Devon – a very strong sense of place is one of the defining features