Ewen's garden

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

Monday, October 23, 2006

Labour weekend labour

Labour weekend is traditionally the weekend we get our vegetable garden planted. In this climate we are lucky, in that we can, if prudent, get started before this. I have already got small tomatoes forming on the bottom trusses of my plants. The next thing they desperately need is to be trained up stakes (a task for later today) and the laterals plucked out. This allows the plant to put all the energy into the main stem and the trusses of fruit on it. The reason is to allow for ease of management, training the plant up one pole means the bottom trusses are kept off the ground. When the trusses have their fruit set, the leaves from that truss and below can be removed; this allows the sun to get to the fruit. Once the fruit is harvested, the whole vine can be untied and the bare stem wound around the base of your stake, thus allowing the top to keep growing.
As I have pea straw spread all through my vegetable garden, a constant watch must kept for slugs and snails, they will decimate a whole crop of seedlings in a night! I find they are particularly fond of my pea seedlings. I use a slug bait, but organic methods include using beer dished up, to the unsuspecting foragers, in a saucer, into which they gleefully plunge to their unknowing death.
I have beans coming up, saved from last year, they are like French beans but have red flecks on the pods and the beans are red skinned. I don’t remember what they are called, but I am not too worried, as I am fond of this bean, maybe I will just call it freckles! Other seeds waiting to go in are carrot, spring onion, beetroot (for the root and the young leaves for salad) and radish (in short rows sown every two weeks to keep a supply going)
A new crop for me this year will be kumara. I have sprouted some kumara which I left in the sun on the kitchen window sill. These tubers I will split length wise and plant, cut side down, in mounds with the sprouts just protruding above the soil. I will need to mulch well as we may not have enough water for these thirsty plants. It will be interesting to see how they go. Certainly potatoes do not do well for me on account of the blight they constantly get.
Other chores to be on top of at the moment are spraying against such pests as aphids. These sap sucking insects are spread through my garden by the Argentinean ants, the results are curled and distorted leaves on the citrus and malformed flowers on the roses. I use an organic oil and an organic insecticide (pyrethrum) sprayed liberally. This needs to be done every two or so weeks, whether or not I achieve this regime or not is debatable! Other pests to look out for are the lace wings or fluffy bums (passion vine hoppers). These wee insects can quickly do much damage to crops and not only the passion vine. The best time to combat them is just after they have hatched, so be on the look out!
The flower I am most admiring this week is a large bearded iris from my uncle’s garden. The buds are a velvet jet black, opening out to the deepest black purple colour, lovely. Just one final note, not to forget all those gardeners out there getting ready for the Jassy Dean Garden Safari, 11-12 November and also the Art Out There (exhibits in the gardens). Tickets are available from: Retravision (Oneroa), Design Denmark (cnr. Sturdee st. & Pakenham st. City), Waiheke Visitor Information Centre (Matiatia) and Waiheke Art Gallery (Artworks)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

On the Garden Safari

Once again all over the Island, garden owners are gearing up for the Retravision Garden Safari, in association with Art Out There, and supported by Sealink. I have taken the opportunity to have a sneak preview of a few gardens, as a tempter.
I started my trek in Oneroa at Le Chalet, 14 Tawa Street, the property of John and Vicki McLennan. As you enter this garden through an arch way, the first thing to strike the visitor is the vista across Oneroa bay. In the foreground stands a group of citrus trees below which floats a canopy of silver ferns, Cyathea dealbata. These have been released from the clutches of vigorous weeds such as Japanese honeysuckle Lonicera japonica, and the flotsam and jetsam of years of neglect. This transformation has only taken a few years and the results speak for themselves. The bright green fronds of the silver fern are a perfect foil for the ocean view beyond. Beneath the ferns a couple of pathways run and a habitat for a number of woodland plants has been established. One to catch my eye was the native, common rasp fern, pukupuku, Doodia media, with bright coppery red new foliage. This fern spreads into a clump by means of underground stolons. Further along the pathway is an area of mass planted cyclamen, and having just finished flowering the remaining foliage creates interest with the strikingly marked leaves. Next up beneath the ferns is a group of polyanthus throwing a splash of colour in the understory. Back to the house and a row of red clivias Clivia miniata adds another line of colour. I departed the garden past the vegetable patch and back into the entry courtyard.

Next garden up was in Surfdale, the property of Eleanor and Graham Ashby, 39 Ocean Road. This garden is a rich mixture of herbaceous perennials and small shrubs, including many roses. Colour is the name of the game here and, as with many properties, Eleanor and Graham have battled in a very short two years to create a wonderful collection of unusual plants on this steep site. Eleanor is keen on growing her plants from cuttings and seed, as was evidenced by her shade house, packed with dozens of new plants, growing on ready for planting out into the garden. The day I visited was rainy but despite this a couple of roses looked particularly good. One was called ‘Scentaisia’ a double cream flower, grown for blind people, unfortunately due to the damp weather the perfume was a little allusive. The other rose was ‘Golden Fortune’, a double yellow bloom, also with an allusive perfume.
A clematis of deep purple called ‘Earnest Markham’ is being grown to cover a ponga archway that leads to a small orchard at the bottom of the garden.
The number and profusion of different plant in this garden are too numerous to mention here, and is what makes this garden one to spend a little time in finding and admiring all the variety. Again there is also a small vegetable patch for the household.

Moving from Surfdale to Palm Beach I next visited the garden of Stu Farquhar, 31 Matapana Road, Palm Beach. Coming into this garden from the street the first area is planted with succulents, including Aloe bainsii, which, at a height of 1.5m tall, is already making its mark. Beyond a lavender hedge the rest of the garden comes into view. Pohuehue Meuhlenbeckia complexa, grown over a stone wall of the local stone helps to delineate the space behind which is covered with river washed greywacke rocks. Turning left is a view down the garden past the rose garden into the vegetable patch. One rose looking at its best when I visited was Rosa chinensis mutabilis, an old rose with origins prior to 1896, sporting large single flowers opening buff yellow, then changing to a hazy pink and finishing bronzy crimson. Stu makes the most of the property by taking pathways right to the very margins of the land. At the bottom of the garden is a shady mostly native area, where a pathway leads back to the entrance. In the shade are swathes of the tiny New Zealand fuchsia, Fuchsia procumbens. Scrambling over the ground, it presents carpets of almost lime green tiny foliage. Amongst other natives here were the New Zealand iris (not a true iris) Labertia ixioides, with clusters of small white flowers that appear to float above the strap-like leaves. Into the darkest part of this walk, Clivia miniata in orange and red forms throw colour and interest.

My last garden on my trek was that of Ken and Stephanie Sanders, 6 Te Makiri Road, Onetangi. All lawns have been eliminated here and replaced with stretches of local gravel. This makes a practical solution to creating useable areas in the winter. Steps of been made with sleepers and this all helps to create a sense of unity in the garden. A flight of steps leading to a sleep-out at the top of the property are flanked by olive trees and strawberries. Around a corner and behind a fence the chook house and the vegetable garden stand. Below this is an outdoor entertaining area complete with whale. Stephanie calls the spot Fiji, planted as it is with bananas and an enormous staghorn fern. Everywhere are vegetables planted amongst other ornamentals and fruit trees, including a custard apple or cherimoya Annona cherimola with some large fruit. To the bottom of the garden the water tank has been cleverly and skilfully disguised with local stone work Ken has built over the years. It is topped with castellations and will provide a platform from which to enjoy a drink while taking in the view of the neighbouring vineyard.

One thing all gardeners have said was how hard the winter has been, including the recent hail and strong winds. Despite all these adversities, the variety of gardens and interest in each is great. I am looking forward to seeing more of what’s on offer during the Safari, Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 of November, 10am to 4.30pm both days. Also don’t forget there will be art and refreshments in some of the gardens. The Garden Safari is a charitable event raising money for the Jassy Dean Trust to support sick or injured Waiheke children and their families.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Being inspired

Having had a warm dry September, things really started into growth. This ‘big push’ in spring is the ideal time to feed plants and also to ensure the soil water is maintained by adding mulch to the top of the garden. I know this because from my window where I write, I have a view up into my garden and I can see my citrus trees smothered in new flower buds and fresh shoots. It is all this growth that needs support, to fortify the plants through the rest of the season.
To the right of the terrace with the citrus trees and across some steps is the magnificent spire of the Pride of Teneriffe Echium pininiana. The flower spike is over 2.5m tall and smothered in tiny purple to blue flowers creating and almost, in some light iridescent beacon to bees. The foliage forms rosettes of grey green, which matches the rest of the specimens in this area planted for their drought tolerant grey foliage. Another species of Echium is the Pride of Madeira Echium fastuosum a smaller growing species with a more spreading habit and flowers spikes of only up to 60cm. Some of the Echiums produce pink or near white flowers. Often these plants will outgrow themselves, becoming rather woody and unattractive, the good thing is they readily set seeds and so new plants can be encouraged to replace the old ones. The plants will not bloom in their first year, but in the second season they come into their own as mine has done, well worth the wait.
Other stalwarts in this area that must survive my abject neglect include bearded iris, one of which is bravely putting forth flower buds. This particular one comes via my mother from her brother! That being said it opens almost black and fades to the richest deep purple black colour, I can’t wait. Other plants in this ensemble number Lychnis with white flowers, Stachys with small purple flower spikes, both with silver foliage. Two more with silver leaves are santolina and senecio both these have yellow flowers. The senecio is primarily grown for its silver leaves though. Another plant in here with yellow flowers is the yarrow or milfoil, Achelia filipendulina the flowers held in flat umbles of creamy yellow. These came from my mother’s garden as did the verbascums. I have two of types of verbascum, both from Mum, one with spires of yellow flowers and the other with white. There is a species of verbascum that grows wild in waste areas, such as riverbeds. I recall them in the riverbed at home, one clue to this species tolerance of drought.
Hopefully drought is not going to be the major topic of Island conversations this season! Speaking of this season, the Retravision Jassy Dean Trust Garden Safari in association with Art Out There, supported by sealink, is rapidly approaching, 11-12 Nov. I am looking forward to indulging in this rather voyeuristic tour of other people’s gardens. It is always inspiring to see other’s efforts in the realm of the garden. I will write more of these gardens next week.