Ewen's garden

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

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Before the Spring

As happens in winter, I have harboured and nurtured an idea and now I can see how I can utilise yet another part of the garden. At the end of a long, narrow gravel path is a stand of bamboo, before which lies a pile of clay left over from recent landscaping. A recent trim, to counter its nature to over run the place, has left the stems exposed, Japanese in effect. Couple this with my poor neglected dwarf Norwegian spruce Picea aibes cv., suffering from the vagaries of the summer drought. Idea, a Japanese garden! Focus, one bonsai tree. Require, Appropriate container, rocks and some ground cover. The ground cover I imagine being the native Scleranthus uniflorus and Raoulia australis. The first plant forms mats of moss like hummocky greens swards, the R. australis forming similar mats of grey blue. The R.australis may struggle in the semi shade of this site, but worth a shot I think. Add in one or two grasses and that’s it.

My water feature adjacent to this spot has struck a wee problem, the liner has a leak! I mention this with a wry smile; it was all going too easily. Still I now have a bicycle repair kit and soon all will be on target again, always optimism!

Speaking of which, my first seedling are bursting forth from their wee tubs, sunflowers racing towards the prospect of sunny days. Amongst others, are seeds unearthed in envelopes from a box stored under the spare bed. These included lily seeds from Mother and seeds I have collected over the years, of which I am hopeful the Rhodochiton sp. is still viable. This is a small vine carrying delicate flowers of almost black tubular petals suspended beneath a purple umbrella of sepals. After the flowers finish the sepals remain for quite some time, a twiner to be grown in close proximity for ease of frequent admiration.

In the garden finally flowering is the shell ginger, Alpinia zerumbet a subtropical of wonderful impact. Mine has seen fit to bloom after years of what would seem ideal conditions, but now in light of being transplanted to a relatively dry location has conceded to drop its guard and produced a seductive, pendant spray of flowers. It always seems to happen when you least expect it in the garden and this I think is keeping me going. May be the warm dry days of late have helped too.

Thursday, July 14, 2005


Is everyone tiered of the rain yet? Our tank is finally full, not that I need it for the garden at the moment, but it is nice to have a bath and not worry about there being enough water for anything else. With an average soil temperature in the garden of between 12 and 13 degrees, everything is growing quickly, unlike during the summer when the soil temperature was around 28 and there wasn’t enough water to keep things going. I even have some strawberries with fledgling fruit already, whether these become ripe or not I don’t know. Still part of the fun is imagining having strawberries in August!

The Dutch irises are up and away now, about 20cm high and the tulips in the pots by the front door now poking their first leaves up through the soil, all is anticipation. I have sown seed of two different types of zinnia and sunflowers, also soldier poppies, a little late I know for the poppies but never mind. I do have three young plants of the Oriental poppy, Papaver orientale which will have red blooms, amongst which I have transplanted some self sown borage, Borago officinalis, the red and blue hopefully will look good together.

Other self perpetuators in the garden are the pot marigolds Calendula officinalis, a rather common herb but welcome at this time for its bright yellow, orange and russet flowers. These easy plants have been grown in kitchen gardens for centuries, being used in many and varied ways for medicinal and culinary purposes. I just like the way they appear by themselves wherever their seed finds itself, if in the wrong place it is easily removed. The flower petals can be used in salad or soup, adding a touch of colour. One other plant striking a note of colour in the garden at the moment is the rainbow chard or silver beet, Beta vulgaris var. cicla, the stems are all shades from cerise through orange to yellow and white, the latter being the most commonly grown. All perfectly good cooked, especially stir fried, the stems being chopped finely and added to pasta with mushrooms and walnuts and a basil pesto sauce, this I top with some grated parmesan. This plant originates around the Mediterranean and is the forerunner of the beetroot, being of the same genus. One of the beetroot family I have is Beta vulgaris cv. ‘Chioggia’, seed of which came from Koanga gardens, only one plant grew, so I have left this one to go to seed this season. The beet has a root of concentric circles coloured red and white, a different look for a salad.

Some other seeds I need to get in the ground, although some what late are lily seeds, Lilium sp. This seed I collected from my flowers during the summer and from my mother, still better late than never! I am going to find a wee space somewhere in the vegetable garden for them, or possibly in my over grown herb patch by the back door, the latter space may be better for I will more likely look after them there. The way I am going, I will soon have no room for vegetables in my garden!

Friday, July 01, 2005


Last Saturday served to remind us exactly what season we are now in, winter, heralded by thunder and lightning. It was certainly a spectacular display, if only for a short spell. Though there was ample rain on Friday to help quench the still rather dry soil. It is times like this I enjoy most watching for buds on plants and seeing them swell.

At the moment the buds on my kowhai, Sophora microphylla are swelling with the anticipation of fat golden blooms. For me these are the best parts of gardening, as the anticipation of a long awaited trip is sometimes more potent than the actual event. These buds will have been formed months ago, complete with all their petals and component parts. All that happens as the buds fatten is the cells fill with water, being pumped up, the pressure unfurling the flower.

I have recently acquired seed of a plant I had years ago, moonflower, Calonyction aculeatum a small vine with the most spectacular blooms. The buds, during the course of a few days grow quite large, and then at dusk they finally make their final push, bursting open before your very eyes! These blooms are white and about 15cm across and highly scented, by morning the show is over and they collapse as if exhausted by the effort. What a show though, the perfect one-night stand, I can’t wait to have them in containers around my deck.

Another plant to perform this act is the evening primrose, Oenothera fruticosa Fat buds swelling and then bursting open literally as the sun goes down and the air cools. These were one of my favourite summer plants, entertainment for me as a boy, while we waited for the BBQ to be ready.

Whilst I am thinking of seeds and possible summer scenarios, a small idea is starting to germinate, a small area set aside for those plants that perform their best in the evening, whether they be showy cactus blooms of luminous white or flowers with a perfume only apparent after the sun has set. Warm summer evenings, beautiful perfume on the air, pale blooms luminescent in the moonlight and the gentle croak of the frogs in the bog garden.

Yes I promised more about my bog garden, but the fact is I have stalled; I need to buy a bag of sand to add to the soil before I start collecting the plants. I have in mind particularly insectivorous plants, if anyone has access to these I would love to here from you!

So it is off into the watery winter to sun to fatten more ideas like the buds on the kowhai and plot for the summer.