Ewen's garden

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

Monday, March 20, 2006


Today I prevailed on friends to lend me their pole loppers in an endeavour to do battle with my bamboo. The unfortunate thing is when we bought the property, the boundary between us and the neighbour was planted out with bamboo. This has been a dilemma since we have lived here; the bamboo provides a wonderful screen between us and our immediate neighbours, plus provides great shelter from the westerlies and southwesterlies, on the other hand, it is an invasive pest. The compromise is I try to keep the bamboo within bounds, in one part by the use of some old corrugated iron sunk into the ground to the depth of a metre, this stops the stolons running out into our garden and is only going to last as long as the iron holds out in the soil (not as long as I would like, concrete would have been better). The second thing I try to do in the garden below the decks is to keep the young shoots at bay as soon as they arise, by simply kicking them, as they are easily snapped off. Needless to say I have been less than vigilant with this beast and I am now paying the price! So now it is a case of out with the loppers and a severe chop. This species can easily be kept as a hedge if only kept on top of. Having said this, it would never be a recommended choice for a hedge. There are naturally species of bamboo with a preference for clumping and don’t spread via stolons and without going into these here I would suggest looking up John Isaacson of ‘Oritria Bamboo Nursery’, he is an internationally renowned expert on bamboo and all their idiosyncrasies. Another option is to grow them in containers, just be sure you know the size of the species at maturity! I say this as we had a species at the University of Auckland that grew to the height of a Five floor building, with stems (or trunks) up to 12-15cm in diameter and could grow up to a foot per day! It would have to be added there was a vent from the engineering room where the hot air was expelled out over the base of these giants, was completely surrounded by buildings and I couldn’t help but keep watering it just to see how fast it would grow.

Bamboo will not be the only thing in the garden to come under the chop. One plant at the top of the amputation list is the Illawara flame tree Brachychiton acerifolium. I have mentioned this tree before, on account of its blooms and showy glossy green foliage. The particular specimen in mind grows, largely for its own benefit over our septic field and in consequence grows at one phenomenal rate each year. If I were not to take to it annually for a prune we should soon not be able to see the sun or anything else for that matter from our deck! Fortunately it takes to pruning well and can stand a rather harsh standard of treatment. There are others of its kin on the property but lacking the benefit of the septic field are much more casual in their approach to rampant growth and so have not been subject to the annual lop.

One other tree to be pruned is the pride of Bolivia Tipuana tipu, the long slender water shoots of summer need to be pruned of now and allow new growths to establish before winter, for it will be on these next summers flowers will be bourn.

Happy autumn clean up.

Monday, March 06, 2006


Recently I had an inquiry from Gwen Rutter as to the identity of a plant in her garden. The description and picture indicated immediately the genus Agave, but I was unable again to accurately identify the species. Agaves are a large genus of plants belonging to the
Agaveaceae family all native to the warmer parts of America. Most of which are well suited to life in our climate, the most common seen these days is A.attenuata or fox tail plant due the long fluffy flowers it produces. This species, like all of the genus, produces a large rosette of pointed leaves of a rather glaucuos grey green colour. Some species will, is the case with Gwen’s specimen send up a flower spike metres into the air, an example of which can be seen opposite to the entrance to the supermarket. Once this flower head has set seed, the rosette dies, allowing the off sets produced at the base to grow. Many of the larger species will take up to 40 years before they flower, but worth the wait I would say, if you have the space and time to wait.

Another plant from a large genus is the Sedum containing some 300 odd species. These are all succulents with fleshy leaves and clusters of small white or yellow flowers and more rarely red. One of the more common species Sedum rubrotinctum has leaves resembling jelly beans in shades of red and green. Flowering currently in my garden is Sedum spetabile in shades of white, pink and red. These are welcome in my garden at this time of year when everything else dried and shrivelled. They are growing on a steep bank in the company of lamb’s ears Stachys lanata, used as an edging, bearded iris (of course not in bloom) and some sweet alyssum. These are at the top of a flight of steps leading to my garden shed, hut, studio and hidey-hole. Here on a shelf I have a collection of the Gardener magazine from the past 15 years. Glancing through the issues from the early nineties, it was interesting how garden fads have come and gone. This was the height of the cottage gardening mania. Every other article was either about cottage gardens or cottage garden plants. Thank goodness we have moved on, or have we? Look today in the magazines and the gardens are all highly designed with sub-tropicals everywhere, no more the old fashioned roses falling about the place with lavenders and hollyhocks! There also seems to be a fixation with the small exhibition gardens of the Chelsea and Ellerslie ilk. I would have to confess though to being at times a slave to fashion, striving when I had my first garden in this neck of the woods, to produce a tropical wonder! Tropical no wonder more like! I have to be content to grow what really only sensibly survives in my conditions. The result is less work, and more pleasure, especially so during the summer, when I simply let the vegetable garden grow into an over blown arid wasteland. Better to have vegetables during the winter and spring when there is ample water and the soil temperature isn’t a baking 28 degrees!