Ewen's garden

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

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A gardener's view of Hong Kong

The grapes are now all in and it was time to head for the airport. From Waiheke to Hong Kong, both islands but there the similarity ends. In fact Waiheke is larger in area than Hong Kong, however Hong Kong crams in 7 million people into the whole territory and of that, 1.4 million are squashed onto the coastal strip of Hong Kong Island itself! This environment of concrete, glass and steel doesn't lend itself to gardening. there are, though, pockets of green, respite from the pellmell of the city traffic, heavy masses and pollution. These small parks more often than not cater to the pedestrian with paved areas, the 'green' being hemmed in behind fences. Smoking is generally prohibited in these spaces. The content is mostly of tropical and subtropical flora. The temperature has been around 28-30 degrees Celsius with 85% humidity! Palms, the orchid tree (Hong Kong's national emblem) and many small shrubs trimmed into the 'cloud' form, very typical of Asian gardens. Water is also nearly always a feature, creating a diversion from the hubbub of the traffic.
No trip to Hong Kong would be complete without a trip up the Peak tram. An impossibly steep cable car. The route ascends the steep slopes of Victoria Peak, through what appears to be jungle. In reality this is not the original forest, very little of which exists today. Much of the floor is clothed with white ginger and large leaved aroids, taro. The view from the top is magnificent, being just below the clouds, which at times did whip over the ridge.
From what I could make out most domestic gardening happens in containers and pots. The best place to acquire these would have to be the flower market in Kowloon, just around the corner from the raucous bird market. Amongst the many potted plants were also vast arrays of cut flowers, no doubt destined to small flats, bringing a small amount of natural beauty to life lived amongst teeming humanity. It would be very easy to feel small and insignificant here. Give me the beaches, open spaces and fresh air of Waiheke any day!
My next column will be from Denmark, including a ten day stay in Belgium.


Monday, April 09, 2007

Of magical places

Today I finally dispensed with my dwarf kowhai, Sophora microphyla ‘Dragon’s Gold’. It has, for the last two years, been plagued with kowhai moth and after last year’s attack, survived, but didn’t flower. A second attack this year has led me to believe it is time for change. I am not much fond of spraying, so in its stead goes a cactus. I fine spiky specimen with a green trunk and evil spines. I have, naturally enough, planted it away from the proximity of prying hands! This is sum-what how my garden philosophy runs, plant it if it works with vigour and no extra effort on my part then it stays.
Thinking about this, brought to mind the way Mum planted ‘The Gully’ next to our house on the farm. Our driveway run up a deep gully, at the head of which was an iron stone cliff. Here at the head of the gully were two waterfalls, an enchanting place for a child, the cliff clothed with bright green moss, native maiden hair ferns and liverworts. On the scree below the falls was large old whitey-wood, mahoe, Melicytus ramniflorus and all around were tree fuchsia, kotukutuku, Fuchsia excorticate. There was an old titoki tree, Alectryon excelsus, a victim of a wind storm, forming a magical archway to the bottom of the falls. Further down the gully were less natives, apart from cutty-grass, a native sedge, in the floor of the valley. To enhance the existing trees and shrubs Mum planted trees, often transplants from elsewhere, seedlings that could be spared and shifted from within the same environment. Every now-and-then we would go and pull the weeds away and then watch as the plants overcame the battle with grasses and other opponents to their establishment. Slowly the area became filled with trees and shrubs, surviving with little help from us. This is how I work in my garden, survival of the fittest, if it fits it stays if not, out it goes. This naturally allows a more genteel approach and the added bonus of enjoying your garden. Less work and more pleasure in my spare time, not a bad thing to aim for!
I would have to admit though I am now trying to catch up with a lot of weeding I should have done over the summer. Not least of all are the young seedlings of the moth plant! So in underlining this, please go and visit. Here you can register and receive a free pack of information on what funding is available to assist in weed eradication, weed identification and methods of weed elimination and disposal. This months target weed is moth plant, see the website for pictures of this weed.
Having said all that now is the time I will see seedlings, coming up from desirable plants, left to go to seed. It would also be good time to start spreading seeds of those biennials, such as the Flanders poppy, for flowers in the spring.
I am thinking of these pure red flowers with their dark centres, as I will be in the fields of Flanders on ANZAC day, and will attend the commemorations at Messines/Mesen (French and Flemish spelling). My Grandfather fought here and wrote very graphic reports back to my Grandmother. It is ninety years since the big battle here at Messines/Mesen, and so another plant to go with the wreath will be rosemary for remembrance.
With this in mind my next column will be from Hong Kong on our journey to Europe.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Replenishing rains

At last the drought is broken, and things are looking fresh and green again. It doesn’t take long for the effects of a little moisture in the soil to start helping the plants. Now is a great time to be getting into the vegetable garden and preparing for the winter garden. Compost and organic matter can be added, including the likes of blood and bone. If you are adding lime to your soil, it is best to do this first and then a week or so later add the blood and bone.
If you are keen you can start seedlings off of the likes of cabbages, cauliflower and broccoli. But for the not so keen seedlings can always be bought for not much cost. Other seeds to be sown include the salads, spring onions, leeks and spinach.
Adjacent to my vegetable I have a Pittosporum Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Mountain Green’ hedge. Growing rampantly through this hedge is the nasty weed, Moth plant or vine, Araujia sericofera. This plant produces large pods filled with masses of downy seeds which naturally sail off and germinate everywhere. Recently I was chatting with a friend who is a member of Weed Busters. This is an organisation of volunteers who promote the identification of and elimination of weeds from our environment. This month’s target is the moth plant. People can register to join this group and gain any extra information on weeds in their area. Registration is free and the website has lots of useful information, so to register, go to here. I will write more of this weed next time including pictures.

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