Tag Archives: Tikorangi: The Jury garden

About gardening at the edges – edging options

Paver edgings in Wisley’s herbaceous borders – both practical and a design feature in this situation

The thing about garden edgings is that you shouldn’t notice them. Speaking, you understand, in general terms. They are handy things to separate garden and path or lawn, to keep mulch on the garden and to give a sharp edge if mowing beside it, if a sharp edge is what is wanted. But most are infrastructure, not design feature, so should be playing an unobtrusive, support role.

The horror. The horror.

Often, the first choice for a garden edging is the concrete mowing strip. It is very permanent. This one was not long poured when I photographed it. What worried me was the lack of attention to keeping the lines smooth and pleasing on the curves. I have photos that look way worse than this  but I can’t crop them enough to disguise the identity of this place. Added to that, the owners like to keep the concrete white – as in very W H I T E – which makes the mowing strip even more obvious. I am told they get out with the bleach and scrub the edgings. Each to their own. It is just not to my taste.

Corten steel edging at Bury Court – understated quality

I am similarly dismissive about using thinly cut tanalised timber, including tanalised ply, anywhere where it is visible, really, and as a retaining edging, it is visible. If you are going to use tanalised timber, I really do think that taking the time to stain it in a dark charcoal colour is worth the extra effort. The problem is that the tanalising means that it never weathers as untreated timbers do. It is preferable by far, to my eyes, to use metal strip edging, sometimes referred to as corten edging but I think that is just a brand name. It gently rusts and ages and has an unobtrusive air of quality, especially compared to tanalised plywood edging.

Subtle detail in the edging at Hatfield House

We have a few mowing strips that we have just left to mellow and age (as in, we let the moss and lichen grow). Most of them have a brick added for additional height with the concrete strip on the outside of the brick. What has happened here over time is that the concrete and brick have remained in position but both the garden level and lawn have risen. I think this is a sign of a healthy garden environment (building up the top soil layer) but it has also rendered some of the mowing strips pointless. Were I starting again, I would probably opt for the wide pavers that I have seen used, particularly in English gardens. At least they can be lifted and repositioned if need be. The problem with excessive use of hard, visible concrete definition is that it can make any garden look very suburban. Which is fine if you want the hard-edged, tidy, suburban look but we aim for something altogether more natural in appearance.

I photographed this casual arrangement of river rocks defining a woodland path because it struck me at the time that the rocks were wrong. Unless you have a rocky stream flowing through your woodland, then the rocks are out of context. Some form of wood off-cuts or branches would seem more logical because they belong in that scene. But others may not be as picky as I am.

We tend to use what is at hand in the woodland areas – which in one garden means chunks of  pine bark. I like the little pine bark walls that serve as an unobtrusive retaining structure while still allowing some soft definition. Pine bark has good longevity and is a natural alternative for us to use, given our pine trees. Sometimes we will use lengths of wood that have fallen from the trees above and that is a softer, more environmentally friendly option than hard edged concrete or similar. A bit like a horizontal bug hotel, if you like (bug hotels being super trendy these days).

Blurring the lines between paths and garden in at Beth Chatto’s

Beth Chatto’s famous dry garden eliminated all edgings and further blurred the lines between walking path and garden by using the same honey coloured gravel as both path surface and mulch. It is a very different effect and one we admired a great deal in that context.

We have chosen just to use the cut edge on two of the four straight stretches in our Avenue Garden.

Sometimes, a straight cut line is all that is required. Would this view be better for railway tracks of hard edging in concrete or weathered steel? It just seems unnecessary.

It comes back to why you feel you need edgings and then what material and style is appropriate in the setting. Not every garden benefits from tidy edgings constraining the vegetation.

Rope hawsers, seen in somebody’s garden

Hello and goodbye, Ammi majus

 

Ammi majus in Mark’s ‘allotment’

I like umbellifers and I was casting around for suitable white umbellifers to dance in the auratum lily border.  “Ammi majus,” they said, “plant Ammi majus.” I have scattered some ammi seed in that border but now I am hoping they will not germinate.

Mark planted some in his vegetable garden, aka his ‘allotment’. The first year it was charming. It is sometimes known as the bishop’s flower or false Queen Anne’s Lace and, curiously, its natural habitat is the Nile River Valley. Mark was wondering about using it as a green crop. It is a member of the apiaceae family, as are most umbellifers including carrot, parsley and coriander.

Self-sown ammis already towering at 3m high

Well…. allegedly this ammi is an annual that reaches about 120cm in the UK, maybe up to two metres in NZ. Not in our conditions. Semi-perennial, we would say. Mark’s wildflower patch is swamped by towering ammis up to three metres high already and still growing (it is only spring here). The hollow stems are about 3cm across and brittle with it, so inclined to lean and fall. It is a triffid, intent on smothering everything around it. Mark thinks many of these plants probably germinated last summer to autumn so are maybe 10 months old now. It is clearly not a suitable candidate for allowing to self-seed and naturalise in a wildflower situation. That said, it would work if it was cleared out each autumn and fresh sown in early spring. I just can’t be bothered with giving it that amount of attention where I hoped to use it.

Orlaya grandiflora – more knee height than the waist or chest height I wanted but well-behaved!

I think I would be safer with the pretty Orlaya grandiflora, carrots and coriander amongst the lilies, grown solely for their dancing flower heads and ethereal nature. The orlaya seeds freely, enthusiastically even, but is easy enough to curtail if necessary.

There is no substitute for trialling plants before unleashing them in a naturalistic situation.  I learned this lesson with Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ and I am eyeing up Salvia uglinosa with similar caution.

The cutting of the rampant ammi – too rampant

Just another week in the Garden of Jury – late spring, umbrellas and bird’s nest or two

Umbrellas are a part of our lives here. We own quite a few of them and use them often to move around the property. That is because it rains quite a bit and the rain can often be torrential. We get 150cm a year (60 inches). I try and keep the respectable brollies that are in good condition tucked away for when visitors need them, confining us to the somewhat derelict ones. When I say we own quite a few, I mean getting up towards 20 of them and I don’t want to end up with 20 old, crusty brollies. Here I am, drying out some of the better ones to put away again after a garden tour last Sunday.

The tour was a small group of British and American gardeners, led by a tour host whom we particularly like, which is why we agreed to their visit when the garden is otherwise closed. It is a very different dynamic to host tours with a knowledgeable leader and plenty of time for a leisurely walk around followed by morning tea. We really enjoy their company and that has not always been true for garden tours down the years. The more you get, the less personal the experience and, I am sure, less rewarding for the visitor too. The rain didn’t even matter much and it stopped soon after it started.

The English visitors felt right at home as soon as we reached the park and they saw the meadow although one of them marvelled, looking back and seeing our native tree ferns growing amongst the trees – they are self-sown here but very highly valued in the UK. Though truth be told, the most common tree fern grown overseas is the Tasmanian species, Dicksoniana antarctica.

Iris sibirica, Stipa tenuissima and common fennel in the morning light

I showed them the progress on the new garden area and those from colder climates were simply amazed at the growth rates we get here, it being a mere sixteen months since I started planting this area. The other side to that coin, of course, is that while we get a quick result we have to start thinning and managing the growth much earlier. The Iris sibirica are looking particularly good this week and stand well above waist height. We only have three different forms of this iris – the deep ‘Caesar’s Brother’, a white form and the one above which may or may not be ‘Blue Moon’. If I see other colours being offered, I would be tempted to buy more having found how spectacular they can look when massed as single colours.

The simple charm of a grey warbler nest

Behold a grey warbler nest. These are exquisite, small creations that hang from branches but this one had broken off in the recent winds. The migratory shining cuckoo is entirely dependent on the grey warbler for its continued survival because it pressgangs in the warbler into fostering its egg and then the hatchling. I asked Mark how the cuckoo, a larger bird, managed to get its egg into the nest. He is fount of considerable knowledge on these matters and he tells me the cuckoo enters through the hole, lays its egg and then forces its way out the side. The little warbler then repairs the nest and hatches out the cuckoo’s single egg with its own eggs but the larger cuckoo hatchling pushes the baby warblers or warbler eggs out of the nest. Before you worry too much about the warblers, it is the second clutch of eggs they raise that can be supplanted by the cuckoo in the nest and the warbler population is not under any threat at all.

I have a collection of birds’ nests and have been wondering how to display them. I have at last found a suitable tree skeleton that I think can be severed and brought under cover so I can tie the nests to the bare branches. Whether I can do it without it looking terribly naff remains to be seen.

Gardening is a wonderfully cyclic affair. Is there anybody as finely tuned to the seasons as the keen gardener? Yesterday was the first pick of the roses for the season. All but two of these have such scoury foliage that they have been banished to Mark’s vegetable garden (a large area that he refers to as his allotment) so the only reason they still survive is for the cutting of the blooms. Not only is gardening cyclic, it can also be distinctly ephemeral. But often those ephemeral pleasures can be the most charming on the days when they are at their best.

The roses used to grow in borders surrounding the sunken garden before I cut my losses on their awful foliage and stripped out the area for a more sculptural simplicity 

I think it looks better now for the simpler appearance

Hello vibrant colours

The result has been that the British planting palette is no longer based on the colour theory of Jekyll and the Arts and Crafts movement; indeed, it’s no longer a ‘palette’ at all, since colour is deemed of secondary importance to form.

(Tim Richardson, first published in Country Life, 2011)

Scampston Hall In Yorkshire – the work of Piet Oudolf

Mark is re-reading the collection of Richardson’s writings in ‘You Should Have Been Here Last Week’. I am waiting in line. It warrants another reading. It was the rather sweeping claim that colour is now playing second fiddle in British gardens that had Mark and I pausing to think. When you read on, I think his use of the word ‘form’ is misleading. He is not talking about hard landscaping (all the permanent structures, paving and infrastructure of a garden that gives it year round form). He is talking about planting styles – the way the plants are grouped and the huge changes that have come into the contemporary gardens. The rhythm of the planting is a better description, because it is about the move from static picture gardening (often best admired in a photograph) to the more dynamic, immersive experience of moving through a garden. It is a very different experience and has certainly been a revelation to us on our last three garden visiting trips to the UK.

Olympic Park in London

I digress. I was going to take issue with his suggestion that colour is no longer a driving factor in such plantings. On the contrary, most of the contemporary plantings we have walked amongst use bold, vibrant colour but in a different way. The Victorians gave us floral clocks and garish bedding plants but they were all ankle-height, more or less. The Edwardians moved into the refined ‘pastelle’ era that still endures in many New Zealand gardens today. Then came all that colour toning and use of white that still remains de rigueur, still mostly pastel. Good taste, many think. The vibrancy of the masses of strong colour evident in many of the more modern plantings is like a statement of a new age. Big, bold, colourful and no longer vulgar.

I got to thinking about this because the Resene magazine ‘habitat’ (the lower case indicates modernity, darls) turned up in my letter box. Resene is a leading paint brand in this country. And I burst out laughing at the guide to ‘your next big colour trends’. This is because we are renovating our two main living rooms so I know that the greying of New Zealand has continued unabated, along with white or off-white walls. And black kitchens now, I notice. We have no white and no grey in our house and ended up with a choice of exactly one green carpet for these rooms surrounded by garden.

I give you edited highlights from the Resene mag:

“As communities galvanise over social and political movements you can see design trends going bolder, with true reds, or stormy blues and dark brooding tones.” Leaving aside my pedantic worries about the ad hoc use of commas, I wondered where these galvanising communities are, along with the bold colours which seem to be singularly missing in action.

But the article goes on: “Warmer colours are generally on the rise, … Such colours carry the promise of global exploration and porous borders….” Oh really? Who writes this stuff? Did they cut their teeth writing real estate copy? Given my penchant for dusky pink in other areas of the house, I was a bit worried about telling Mark that this is now very dated, so dated in fact that it is “millennial pink” and – wait for this – “a colour borne out of the global movement toward gender fluidity”. I tell you, that had simply never occurred to me.

So what does the article tell me about green, given my decision to swap out the blues for greens in our dining and living rooms? “Green has been emerging in homes during the past few years as our eco-consciousness grows and yearning to connect with nature via biophilic design.”

I had to google ‘biophilic design’, I did. And that was a revelation. There are many listings on the topic and from my most perfunctory look, it appears to be a marriage of Rudolf Steiner and biodynamics with inner city, apartment living – philosophically speaking. So now we know.

All this return to colour thinking was also sparked by wandering through our park and looking at the deciduous azaleas with their OTT, unabashed vibrancy – vulgarity, some may think. And I remembered the man who came around the garden when we were still open and asked ‘what is the big orange rhododendron behind the house’. We have garden borders behind the house but I couldn’t think of a plant like that there so I suggested he go and pick a flower and bring it to us. Well, not only did it transpire that ‘behind the house’ meant the spacious park area but he returned bearing an entire head of an orange azalea that he had snapped off, not the single bloom. After all that, we did not have it available for him to buy.

In self-defence, I say that our bold azaleas are mostly interspersed throughout the park, so surrounded by acres of verdant green rather than being planted en masse to dazzle the eyes. And they have been there quite a long time so endured the changing fashions of colour down the decades.

I was slightly alarmed by an inadvertent colour combination in my new borders. I picked a flower of each to show the colours more clearly. I am pretty sure I thought the bearded irises were all yellow when I planted them but 80% are purple. While the colour is sparse in these early stages of planting, I am thinking ahead to when each forms a large wodge of colour.

Take the blue-purple out to keep the ramped-up colour.

Or take the yellow out and it looks very different, toning it down considerably. I am marking the ones flowering yellow. I think I prefer the second version but it all comes down to personal taste in the end.

Does ‘Hit the Deck’ work?

‘Just spray it on, brush it off and rinse.’

I was so discouraged by the state of swimming pool decking that I succumbed to advertising and bought some “Hit the Deck”. I can’t remember how much I paid for it but it wasn’t cheap. But the deck, the deck. We laid it maybe 18 years ago and in the time since, it has been water blasted (jet washed) once. That didn’t do the grooved non-slip surface any good. It is low grade, plantation grown, quick turnover Pinus radiata that we use in this country, tanalised to extend its life span but still a soft wood which will rough up badly with water blasting. Hence the “Hit the Deck” to deal to the blackened and slippery surface before we start swimming this summer.

My test area

Did it work? Yes, but it wasn’t as easy as it looked in the advertisements. If you look closely at the TV advert, they are using it on flat timber, not the grooved product that is widely sold for non-slip decking. It would not just brush off with the stiff broom they sell for this purpose. I did a small test area and found that to get it off, I had to get on my hands and knees with a stiff scrubbing brush. It is not possible to get a powerful enough scrubbing motion at the end of a long handled broom. It is a reasonably large deck and I didn’t fancy doing the whole area on my hands and knees so I handed the job over to Our Lloyd and suggested he try a very light cleaning with the water blaster, so as not to rough up the surface more but to get enough pressure to spray off the mix and the accumulated mosses, moulds and lichens. That worked and it was both faster and not as back-breaking but it still isn’t an easy job that you can knock out in an hour.

The deck looks hugely improved. Not perfect but the decking is getting on in years. So yes, the product does work.

Somewhat belatedly, I looked at what the Hit the Deck contains. I had turned a blind eye to this when I was more worried by the slippery decking. I can report that it is sodium percarbonate. And that, Reader, is a mixture of washing soda and hydrogen peroxide. You can check its chemical properties on Wikipedia which notes: “The product is used in some eco-friendly bleaches and other cleaning products…”. So it is relatively harmless and I guess you could mix your own if you wished and I am sure that it is likely to cheaper because there are no advertising and branding costs to be factored in.

I have written about the moss-killing properties of washing soda or soda ash before. It does work, I can vouch for that.

To deadhead or not to deadhead, that is the question

“Felix’s legacy”, as we say

I asked Mark what the name of this very pink, frothy rhododendron was and he replied, “Felix’s legacy”. Lower case on legacy because it was never named or released. What is interesting about it, aside from its close resemblance to what we call candy floss in this country (fairy floss in many countries – spun sugar), is that if you look at it closely, it has no stamens and it appears to be fully sterile. This means that it does not set seed and the blooms die off more gracefully, while the display looks very clean when in bloom. A plant showing this type of sterility is often described as a mule.

This raises the question about deadheading. The common wisdom amongst keen gardeners is that all rhododendrons need deadheading. In fact, they don’t. They just look a whole lot better for it. Because we have so many, we have only ever targeted the most critical plants to deadhead, which means the ones that set copious amounts of seed. Excessive seed setting can affect future flowering because it takes a lot of energy for plants to set seed.

Nuttallii seed from a plant we missed deadheading last year

Some of the nuttallii types particularly benefit from deadheading. Over time, they are inclined to die back or even die off as a result of their seed setting because it can weaken the plant. When the plant sets a whole lot of seed, it usually inhibits new growth on that branch. It takes a lot of energy for plants to set seed.

Lems Cameo

I mentioned last week about all the cold climate, American hybrids we tried out that didn’t like our conditions. In its day, ‘Lems Cameo’ was the most desired hybrid of all – but difficult to produce commercially because it needed to be grafted to grow strongly. I was surprised to come across it still alive in our park. My, I thought, doesn’t it display its flowers well when it has next to no foliage left at all!!! It is not a plant of great beauty when not in bloom.

Finally, this exhumed pile of wire and netting is a salutary comment on the longevity of synthetics. I found it when I was digging a hole in a bank to plant clivias. The netting must have been buried over four decades. It pre-dates Mark’s return to the property in 1980. His father did not believe in taking anything to the dump. While it can be ripped now, it is not decomposing. We are now trying to lead a life shunning as many plastics and synthetics as we can but there are decades of waste clocked up by pretty much each and every one of us, already NOT breaking down in the environment.

 

Rhododendron season – two generations of breeding

Mark’s ‘Floral Sun’ is a great performer for in our conditions

Rhododendrons have long been a part of our lives. The first ornamental plants we bought in our twenties for our first home in Dunedin were three rhododendrons, chosen with great care from a local specialist grower. They were ‘Mayday’, ‘Princess Alice’ and, obscurely, R. oreotrephes.

Mark is not exaggerating when he says he started the nursery here from one wheelbarrow up. We will give credit to his parents, Felix and Mimosa, for many things but starting the nursery was not one of them and attempts by others to credit Felix as a nurseryman never fail to irritate. The first mail order list we ever posted out in 1982 comprised fifteen rhododendrons and Magnolia Iolanthe. Five of those fifteen were first releases from his father’s breeding and the others were mostly species, including the rare R.bachii. Rhododendrons remained a key part of our mail order offering for the next 22 years, with a wide range of both species and hybrids.

Mark gathered up all the new hybrids he could find which meant a fair swag of material out of USA, very little of which thrived in our conditions. In our time, we grew all those popular varieties of their day – ‘Lems Monarch’, ‘Lems Cameo’, ‘Ostbo’s Low Yellow’, ‘Markeeta’s Prize’ and ‘Percy Wiseman’ amongst many, probably scores, of others. Very few of them are in the garden now. Most needed a colder winter and somewhat drier conditions than we could give them. They were particularly vulnerable to thrip, giving them silver leaves and weakening the plant over time because we were not prepared to routinely spray plants in the garden.

Felix’s maddeni hybrid ‘Barbara Jury’

Just another unnamed seedling from Felix’s breeding but it wasn’t that easy to sell these types of rhododendrons to customers who expected tight, ball trusses

Felix had dabbled in breeding for years and his interest in the maddeniis was because of their excellent foliage, high health performance and fragrance. He named about twelve which we released onto the market but they were always a bit of a hard item to sell because they didn’t have the full truss that most people associate with rhododendrons. No matter that they put up a wall – or maybe curtain – of gorgeous blooms, often well scented, and kept healthy foliage all year round, it took a more sophisticated gardener to appreciate their charm.

Mark’s ‘Floral Gift’ is proving to be a bit of a star over time in local gardens at least

In his turn, Mark took his paintbrush to the task of pollinating rhododendrons. He has only named four so far, three from the maddeni group and one, ‘Meadow Lemon’, with a full truss. There are more, quite a few more here but the rhododendron lost its elevated social status in the New Zealand garden. Sales declined and the earlier abundance of specialist rhododendron nurseries either changed tack or closed down. A highly competitive market became instead one of very limited supply and little specialist knowledge.

The row of latest hybrids ‘across the road’, as we say

A fair number of readers will know Our Mark. He has never let the changing market deter him and he has continued to potter away breeding rhododendrons, albeit without the sense of urgency because we don’t see any immediate commercial potential in them. He does it very quietly so when he asked me if I had seen the rhododendrons across the road (we have another block of land that is more Mark’s domain than mine), I knew he must be pleased. These were the latest lot of crosses that had hung about the nursery for a while and were finally planted out – a ragtag collection that had not received any tender, loving care and were put out into full sun in the field a year ago. They have never been sprayed or had added fertiliser so it is a regime which separates the good performers from the strugglers.

Just a few of the promising seedlings

I was impressed. I admit that I am not a huge fan of the full trusses. They are not my personal preference. But I could see the commercial appeal of these, were they presented in their pots in the garden centre, tidy little mounds in full bud and bloom. What impressed me most was the foliage. We are too well acquainted with grungy rhododendron foliage and, as our winters have become milder, the issue with thrip infestation is getting ever worse. I photographed a fine specimen at the cemetery last week – so badly thrip damaged that it was silver all over. Not a green leaf in sight. But it wasn’t a good enough photo to use.

We know plenty about grungy foliage

Look past the flower – that foliage! Grown in hard conditions and never sprayed. That foliage is a breakthrough.

To see plants growing in what are not coddled and managed conditions with perfect foliage is a joy to a gardener’s eyes. For readers with a technical interest, these are highly complex hybrids. Mark started many years ago with the red R. arboreum, ‘Sir Charles Lemon’ (for its indumentum), ‘Pink Delight’ and ‘Helene Schiffner’ and he introduced other genes from good coloured rhododendrons that did not thrive in our conditions. Because he has kept breeding with each generation of seedlings, the finer details of the genetic make-up of this latest lot is largely a mystery, even to him.

We have no plans to release any of these. Mark will no doubt carry out some propagation trials to narrow the selections down to those that root easily from cutting. Over time, we will replace some of the under-performing rhododendrons in the garden with better selections. The hybrids may just be a little legacy that he leaves to whichever child of ours eventually comes home – a collection of market-ready, high health, proven performers with commercial potential. By that stage, the rhododendron may have returned to popularity in good gardens again.  And who knows? His next generation of seedlings may be better yet.

The gorgeous nuttalliis are a favourite of mine though not a commercial viability

The big full trusses are not so much to my taste, even when it is R. macabeanum to the left. The giant pink ‘College Pink’.