Ewen's garden

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

Saturday, March 26, 2005


It is that time of year when one of the first things people will comment about is the situation with their water supply. It is a sad thing to see the garden shrivel in the intense heat of summer, plants wilting cracks gaping and bugs taking advantage. It's enough to make anyone feel blue! I have taken a new approach to my garden, saving the water from my shower and kitchen, I am now watering my precious plants from this supply, not only are the plants looking good, but the bugs are getting a fright from the soap suds and the soil is getting an extra boost of organic matter!

Even with the drought I still find late summer and early autumn to be the most pleasant time of year, the ground is warm and dry, the days not too hot and the evenings cool, sounds like paradise to me. Next year I am going to try and get myself a load of pea straw one way or another to use as mulch. The pea straw not only adds nitrogen but keeps in the precious moisture and adds organic matter improving the soil. This will be just perfect and now is the time to be on the look out for pea straw. It is a pity no peas are grown here on the island, but must be imported to the island; did I say I had the blues?

Recently I was asked about blue flowered plants and what would I recommend. Blue flowered plants aren’t all that common, although there are some exceptionally beautiful examples, delphiniums Delphinium sp., iris Iris sp., lobelia Lobelia erinus and gentians Gentiana sp. The first time I really took notice of gentians was in the botanical gardens of Edinburgh. Here the low growing bulbs, native to the alpine region of the Alps of Europe, spread in sweeping carpets of the most striking sky blue, a real treat in the dull cold of December. As is often the case these plants are not suited to our climate, preferring the cold of the South Island to our warm winters. A former employer of mine, of English extraction, was so determine to flower his precious gentians in Oratia, he actually resorted to putting ice around them! Not for me the obsession of growing plants from an inappropriate climate.

Still there are a number of plants that succeed here with not too much trouble. Without simply making a list I shall just mention a few. A small ground covering plant with small blue flowers is ground morning glory convolvulus mauretanicus don’t be put off by the generic name of convolvulus this native of North Africa only spreads a metre or so and makes a wonderful ground cover.

The Morning glory vine we all know and curse as a rampant climbing weed is Ipomoea leari, from a genus of over 300 species from the warmer parts of the world. I. leari is native to tropical America and gains its common name from the fact its blooms open in the early morning with the most intense blue colour fading to magenta as the day wears on. There is a species indigenous to the northern regions of the Northland, Ipomoea palmata with pale purple flowers and certainly not a weed. There were some examples of this vine growing in the rear car park in Oneroa, but I see it has been weeded out!

More on the blues next time.


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