Ewen's garden

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Two weeks ago, my garden looked like a true wilderness, hardly a garden worthy of showing off to others. Now, exhausted, after a frenetic effort to try and whip the place into something people might be interested in. The rain is lashing at the windows and the garden safari has yet again passed off with great success. How lucky we were with the weather, both days as if by command the rain held off until 4.30, just as the last guests were leaving and now today there are regularly passing squalls. I like the way these things go sometimes, these showers have meant I didn’t have to bother with the watering routine, not an unpleasant task, but a task none-the-less.

During the course of events I discovered the opportunity to get my clutches into some pea straw! This will be a timely addition to the vegetable plot which from now on suffers an almost daily water deficit. Nothing is more gratifying to me than knowing I may be able to capture some of this rain by the addition of this pea straw as a mulch. But wait, there’s more!! Not only does it help retain moisture, it keeps the soil temperature from reaching degrees seemingly high enough to slow cook the vegetables and that’s not all! As the mulch rots away it adds to the soil structure and provides extra nutrients particularly nitrogen. Who needs a money back guarantee? Not me, I know have a good investment.

Pea straw was just one example of the good things to come out of having people through the garden. It is always a pleasure for me to chat away about plants and gardens, ideas and experiences. A garden should be more than just a vegetable patch, it should be a place for rest, contemplation and ideas, a place to invigorate the mind, an escape. The Garden Safari is good opportunity to see gardeners’ responses not only to their physical environment but also their cultural needs. No two gardens, obviously, will ever be the same and to all those other gardeners in this year’s safari I congratulate them on their efforts. There is no avoiding the fact there is a lot of hard graft goes into creating these places. To all the organisers and sponsors I say thank you and also congratulations on a brilliant event, lastly to the visitors for their generosity and support. I have to admit to great trepidations about having a bunch of strangers tramping around my garden (tramp being the operative word in our case as we have a very steep site). I needn’t have worried everyone was most accommodating and free with compliments, thank you.

I believe this year’s safari has raised more money for the very good cause of the Jassy Dean trust, raising money to support those families with ill children. So I now look forward to next year’s event with relish!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Yesterday my parents arrived from Masterton, naturally enough when I went to meet them at the wharf, Mum was lumbering along with yet another bag of plants for my garden. As you will already know, this is not the first consignment of plants to arrive from down south. Currently unfurling itself is a particularly beautiful bearded iris originally from Mum’s brother Uncle Robert’s garden. It is a stunning almost black velvety colour. I am so pleased it has produced a flower since it was only planted a couple of months ago and is now showing off to all, including Mum. It is this side of gardening I think is very important, the links and associations we can make with individuals friends and family. Another plant with a connection similar to this is the Queen Anne’s Lace, which used to grow at the back of the rose garden on the farm and often wrested into floral decoration by Mum for occasions at church or district functions in the local hall. Many of these plants I don’t have the name for, example Queen Anne’s Lace, for the life of me this morning I could not find the correct botanical name for it!! Other plants remind me of people I have known along the way, some of which have been grown in pots or pieces taken when we have shifted house, so continuing the link.

Now as I write good ole Mum is out there pulling weeds for me, so I think it only fit I should allow her a few words of her own here, especially as she has a world more experience than I do in this arena of husbandry. So over to Beth….

Having just come in from kneeling on the path and in the garden it is quite good to have a brief rest. I actually quite enjoy weeding. When you remove a big dove’s foot, Geranium molle for instance, there is a lovely clear space left, or, more importantly, another plant can breathe and continue to grow and flower. It is fun finding purple plantains that came from my garden, and cat mint, Nepeta faasenii, lambs ears, Stachys lanata, iris, Iris sp,. day lily, Hemoerocallis cv. and others. There are places waiting for more of my succulents and a lily with buds that will be a complete surprise to both of us.
At home, I have a Cecil Brunner rose that my sister Joan grew for me when I began my first garden at Pirinoa, near Palliser Bay. Joan died when she was 35 years old, so this rose is a real treasure to me and I must grow a cutting for Ewen too, now that he is developing this garden. When I was a girl, there was a lovely old climbing red rose and a butter-yellow coloured one; I now have both on my trellis. The butter-yellow rose has a true old appearance in that it looks like crinkled tissue paper. My Father had planted both of these in the early 20’s and became part of my girlhood days. It has just come to mind, our current Masterton garden’s origins were from my Mother. We live in the house that my brother-in-law Trevor (an architect) designed for her when she moved to town from the farm. We altered and enlarged the plantings, although only 1/8 acre, but a few stay the same. So the ties with friends and family carry on.

Thanks Mum it’s cuppa tea time now, time to plan!