Ewen's garden

A collection of columns, paintings and photographs about gardening on an offshore island in New Zealand.

Monday, October 18, 2004

The 6 kg cauli Posted by Hello


I can’t help myself, I just have to brag, last Sunday I picked an enormous cauliflower, weighing some six kilos!! I was so impressed, I had to have my picture taken with it. We have been able to provide seven different lots of people with a feed from it. This has to be one of the greatest pleasures of having a productive garden, being able to give away food and flowers. I must confess to now being a little over cauliflower, cauliflower and cheese, cauliflower bake, cauliflower and mustard sauce, cauliflower sauce with fish soufflé and cauliflower stir fry. I find though, this is how it goes with the vegetable garden, you all at once have a fresh vegetable, not available for some time and then you eat it almost every day. Next to take the place of the cauliflower are the sugarsnap peas and broad beans, and so goes the vegetable year.
One vegetable I have not yet grown is asparagus, a perennial and a crop you must be patient for, because it really takes up to three years before a decent crop can be harvested. Each season enough shoots must be left to support the growth the plant for the crop the following season. But then, you have a time where nearly every meal will include some form of asparagus, I just live it.

This time of year in the garden is most definitely without doubt the most prolific both in vegetable bounty and also in flourishing weeds. It is also good time to get fertiliser on to the garden while plants are in flush growth. Glancing outside now, with the first sunshine in what seems like ages I can see my citrus trees, or rather somewhat stunted shrubs, needling me to throw some fertiliser at them, I will I promise! Fertiliser not only helps the plant maintain its growth but also by being healthy helps to keep pest and other diseases at bay.

Another task urgently required to be done, is the placement of bird nets over the strawberries. Having been given a chocolate fondue set for my birthday, it would be rude to loose my strawberry crop to the birds! Naturally birds are not our only enemy at this time of year, but also the weather, how sick are we of the wind and blustery showers of the equinox? I have seedling runner beans running all across my covered clothesline area waiting for the moment I prepare a spot for them, with a sturdy climbing support for them, unlike my feeble attempt to keep my sugarsnap peas and broad beans within their bounds. My sugarsnap peas have totally pulled down the support I so dutifully provided for them and now cascade down out of the garden bed and over the pathway! I just console myself with the thought that ‘all is fair in love and war’ in my backyard and the battle is never over but ongoing. I think on reflection though, the successes far outweigh the failures.

Sunday, October 17, 2004


Once again the Garden Safari is just around the corner and it is great to see the increased number of gardens that have been included, 17 in total! I have been lucky enough to have a sneak preview and can say we are in for a wonderful spectacle full of inspiration and ideas.

A garden safari not only provides us with the opportunity to see into the private realms of others but also to gain ideas that may be transposed upon our own plots of land. I know after going around and viewing what others have achieved, I am always inspired to get on and work on my own plot.

My short tour starts in Church Bay at the property of Frank and Helen Magee, Church Bay Lodge. Frank and Helen first came to the property by chance, having come out to Church Bay to view the sunset, they noticed the for sale sign and within seven to eight weeks they were living there! Their property has commanding vistas across Motuihe Island to the city beyond, which form the focus for the garden around the house. Further a field lies an olive grove, planted before they arrived, from here a track leads into an area of regenerating bush and finally into a remnant of mature native trees around the bend in a stream, providing a wonderful habitat for native birds. Other points of interest are the small vegetable and herb gardens and a rose garden. After five and half years of work, Frank jokingly commented that it is not “a lifestyle block, rather a workstyle block” I suspect he would have it no other way.

Moving on over to Nick Johnston drive I visited the garden of Brian and Sally McKibbin at Tangaroa Lodge.
What struck me the moment I arrived here was the consideration of the landscape the house and garden are located within. They have used not only local materials where possible, but als o local labour and knowledge. The paving stones, for example, have been cut to reveal a flat surface, a labour of some 365 hours of love! The resulting paved areas are really something unique and blend perfectly the areas between house and the rest of the garden. Before starting the garden the McKibbins waited to see what natural elements they were going to have to deal with or in fact benefit from. The positive aspects are, of course without doubt, the brilliant views from this location and the ever changing hues of blues and greys. To this end, Sally has planted plants to reflect and enhance these colours using tones of blues and greys. One element of this garden, and common to many on the island, is the eternal battle with wind.
At the front of the house, great use of low to medium sized natives have been used to bring the wind up and over the house, sheltering the front verandahs. To the rear of the house is a wonderfully sheltered courtyard containing a pottager backed by high local stone walls. This garden is only four years old and I look forward to seeing it in the years to come as I am sure there are going to be many more surprises in

Now on to Givernay Inn, above Sandy Bay, home of Gabrielle Young and Bruce McLelland. Gabrielle and Bruce have only been here for two years, but in this time they have been very busy in their garden. This garden is another with panoramas across bays and sea. Working within the existing plantings of fruit trees and Mediterranean plants they have established new pathways and steps, including a petanque court. Gabrielle has been concentrating on creating a few new intmate areas working on colour schemes within a limited plant range. An example is to be found around the new spa pool area where she is using daylilies on shades of sunset colours, a wonderful metaphor for a dip with the sun disappearing below the western horizon.

My last ports of call on this preview were two gardens next door to each other in Potai street, both very different from each other. The first, the garden of Aaron Putt and Myke van Irsel, is on a corner site, and is a response in part to creating privacy from two roads. This has been achieved by the mass plantings of native trees, shrubs and native grasses. The grasses are largely propagated from seed in the glass house at the rear of the property, and when planted out have provided a wonderful weed suppressant. Also grown from seed in the glass house are vegetables for the organic vegetable garden formed in raised beds. Here you will find a bewildering array of delectable plants for the dinner table! Another favourite corner is the sheltered deck covered from the elements and adorned with palms and other subtropicals, the perfect spot to enjoy your labours of the vegetable patch.

Just across the boundary is another relatively small garden, the home of Liz Cleaver and the creation of her son Geoff Willsher. Here is a place where the person who is interested in not only seeing a wonderful garden but also many rare and unusual plants. At the front of the property visitors are greeted with a cottage style garden, in keeping with the wee house. Everywhere is gravel, no grass anywhere but this is an interesting and practical change to lawns which become too muddy during the winter months to make passing around the garden impossible. The gravel used is all local and provides a great foil to the plantings. To the back of the property is an abundant subtropical haven filled with many unusual plants and includes a large water feature. Finally tucked right in the back corner is a small but perfectly formed vegetable garden. I am pleased to see most gardens seem to have a place for the vegetables! Although this garden has only been under construction for 18 months, I am sure you will be amazed at what can be achieved in such a short time.

As with most of gardens, they are still works in progress and I am keen to see them again in November, let alone in the years to come. I have only given a hint of what is in store for this year’s garden safari having only visited five of the seventeen open to the public on November 14. Many of the properties will have refreshments available and in some cases local coffee and olives products available for sale. In all a wonderful day out and a good way to experience parts of this beautiful island that you would otherwise not see and an opportunity to support the Jassy Dean Trust, providing support for Waiheke families whose children suffer illness or injury.

Monday, October 04, 2004

The black tulips Posted by Hello


So, at my front door, I have a pot of tulips in flower, Tulipa x ‘Queen of the night’. Nearly every year I can’t help myself, I buy a bag of tulips – I know they are only as good as annuals here – but there they are, in the pot at the front door? Tulips as with the rose (why do we consider tulips as a plural, where as the rose is considered singular?) have a long and very considered heritage. I am not the first to have thought of the tulip as almost irresistible, it is amongst the oldest of cultivated flowers. Tulipa is a genus of some 100 species, bulbs from Europe, west and central Asia, and North Africa. The name Tulipa, is from Turkish, the word for turban, which if we think about it, the flowers do resemble. The bulb we grow in our gardens or are familiar with in municipal settings, are thought to have been introduced to Europe during the 16th century by Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, ambassador of the Holy Roman Empire to Suleiman the Magnificent. He first sighted it in Adrianople, on his way to Constantiople in 1554. The tulip was introduced to Europe in 1572 and reported as seen growing in Ausberg in 1559! During the early 18th century, the tulip gained as much notoriety in Turkey, as it later did in Holland at the height of ‘tulip mania’ in 1634-7. The tulip is even now to be seen growing in vast fields and still of great importance to the economy of Holland. The colour most prised was that which was as close to black as possible, ‘Queen of the Night’ is one of these attempts. I like her because of the fact that in attempting to accomplish black, very interesting shades of purple to red also come through. My painting simply can’t catch the beauty of the real thing.

On a more practical note, these bulbs will have to be tossed at the end of the season, as it is too warm here for the bulbs to maintain their strength, the bulbs will split and no longer flower. Despite all this, I still will have them in a pot at the front door, purchased every year at not too much cost, given the pleasure I get from them.

Now from fantasia to food, my French beans are hoving into rows and my sugar snaps are falling over themselves in an effort to produce wee peas. The corn as already ten centimetres tall and the first crop of beetroot nearly all down the palate! Spring is a time of such rapid growth; it is almost impossible to keep up. I am in dread of summer in my new garden, with such full on sun, a deep rich soil and limited water, certain peril for thirsty vegetables. Hopefully I can cope with careful mulching and interplanting to keep exposed soil to a minimum and keep as much moisture in as possible. Good luck in what seems to be already a dry season!