Ewen's garden

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

Monday, April 17, 2006


Since the recent rains, many plants have roared into life. Not least of these are the dahlias, one in particular a red one in the corner of the vegetable garden has started to flower suddenly. From what were rather withered and sad looking leaves has sprouted forth new growth and flowers! This seems to happen with many plants at this time of year, the basil finally looks healthy and flush, even the sad old tomatoes are putting in a winning effort at the tail end of the season. Even so their time is limited, the basil soon to made into pesto for winter dishes and the tomatoes and runner beans into the compost.

The strawberries are down for lifting, dividing and new runners planting out into soil refreshed with compost. For the rest of the vegetable garden goes a new round of brassicas and other plants for the kitchen.

Else where in a pot on the deck the Lachenalia aloides, a small spring flowering bulb, has pushed up its new leaves. These South African bulbs have striking green sword shaped leaves splotched with purple spots, followed by small spires of largely yellow and red tubular flowers. I enjoy these small bulbs, given to me by a friend, they require no attention from me, being dormant over the summer, they reappear every autumn when I bring them out from hiding. Now placed prominently on the deck we can enjoy their progress.

Another plant I received from a friend up north, a great ground cover, I recently discovered the name of. Initially the name I found was “Aptenia coridifloia, but on cross referencing I discovered this to a synonym of Mesmbryanthemum cordifolia! There’s a mouthful for you! The botanical name comes from; mesos, middle, embryon, fruit, anthemum flower. This great plant comes from the Cape Province of South Africa and is very easily propagated by cuttings planted in situ, that is, right into their final position. It forms a bright green sward of small green fleshy leaves; this is punctuated by small crimson flowers at all times of the year. I have noticed it is much slower growing where the soil is harder clay, but this would only seem understandable. More of this plant will be destined to take place of kikuyu grass around the garden I hope!

Monday, April 03, 2006


I know for those in the wine industry, rain at this time of year is not the most welcome weather event, especially when accompanied by wind. For the rest of us the garden suddenly comes to life, looking less like a desert and more like what we want in a garden.

It is now a good time to start thinking about what new plants we wish to introduce to our schemes. I have just got some daffodils to go in pots at the front door, this year abandoning any hopes of successfully growing tulips. Daffodils are an easier subject in this climate and are more inclined to survive from season to season than tulips. In the past I have sent off my spent tulip bulbs to my mother in Masterton where the climate better suits them. These poor bulbs are usually split and will not be inclined to produce flowers the second season around but in the cooler climate down south they will by next season hopefully once again flower. Another crop of flowers I can’t resist are Anemone, or wind flower. Mum used to grow these in the southern Wairarapa for sale in the Wellington Market, being slightly earlier to flower than those grown on the west coast. Anemone grow from a small corm, planting at a depth of about 10cm, I plant them in rows in the vegetable garden or along the edges of the garden. While these plants will grow from season to season it is usually best to start with fresh corms each season.

Now is a good time also for sowing seeds both in trays and directly in the ground since the soil is still warm from the summer and now has a little moisture in it. A general rule of thumb for sowing seeds is to sow them to a depth of twice the thickness of the seed. For very fine seed sown in a tray, you can simply sow them directly on the surface, gently tamp sown and cover with glass and paper. The paper is to keep light off the seeds and is left on until the seeds have just started to germinate. The glass and paper are then both removed. Try to avoid watering the seedlings from above, I have a large shallow tray in which I soak the seed trays, this helps to prevent fungal disease. Once the seedlings are large enough to handle they can be pricked out into another tray giving them more space until they are ready to be planted out into the garden. This can be a cheap method of filling up the garden, putting in annual colour into those gaps that inevitably appear.

Now would be also a good time to revive the soil, digging the compost we have all diligently made over the summer with the excess foliage from the vegetable patch! Also a little bit of general fertiliser around trees and shrubs wouldn’t go amiss now either.

Well I see out the window my Pride of Bolivia tree is still in need of some pruning, so while the sun is shining I best get out there!