Ewen's garden

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

Sunday, July 29, 2007


Recently I had a discussion around the use of ‘crystal rain’. This product is often used when putting in new plants. The tiny crystals swell with water and it is this water that becomes available to the plants. For establishing plants in situations where perhaps there will be no one to look after them it is a good idea. I was arguing for the case in my garden where I have never used this product. My reasoning is if the plants need the crystal rain then perhaps they shouldn’t be there. My real point was though, my citrus trees, for example, have had little watering particularly last summer. The summer before I did give them the benefit of the occasional deep watering, last summer they got very little, yet they look better than they ever have. What I think has happened is the small trees have now been forced to put their roots down deeper t than they might otherwise have and so in this way have become more tolerant of drought. Had I used crystal rain with these plants, the roots would not have travelled so far down into the soil in search of moisture. Other shrubs to get the same treatment include hibiscus and gardenia all looking fine now. I have to say though they have taken a while to establish, but once they have I think they will stand a far better chance of survival than if I had fussed over them.
I do have another occasion where it has now occurred to me in which the use of the crystal rain would be handy and this in the bog garden, where in summer the moisture levels are often not enough to sustain the plants which revel with their feet in the wet.
Certainly after Sunday’s downpour wet feet might present a rather different problem for many! Good drainage is important for most plants to grow and do well, Citrus and Hibiscus not least of all. Both require ample water, at least good long deep soaking every now and then while establishing them. But more importantly they need for the excess water to drain away. Growing In a steep slope as I and many of us do, drainage is not such and issue. As I said my citrus are now looking great. They will get a bit of food in about a month when the temperatures have warmed up some. I prefer to wait until the weather is a little warmer as the roots are more likely to take up the minerals they require when the soil temperature is higher.
The other thing the citrus will be benefiting from now is increased light as a friend and I pruned the pride of Bolivia tree, Tipuana tipu. This tree gets an annual prune, on account of the fact that each year it sends of three metre long water shoots. All of these come off and the canopy is kept in check. Not only do the citrus trees benefit from more light but the rest of the garden in the vicinity does as well.


Saturday, July 14, 2007

A concept germinates

On Saturday I attended a meeting of the new group ‘Growing Healthy Communities’. Present at the meeting were about 12 people bringing together a wide range of expertise, knowledge and skills across a range of related areas. The objectives of the group are to enable a healthy active community through the development of individual, school and community gardens, providing a sustainable food source. In achieving this knowledge and skills can be passed on, active exercise, less waste from supermarket packaging, reduced supermarket costs, less reliance on food imported to the country or the island and supporting the idea of families working together.
Other topics covered were the idea of using older people who have knowledge of gardening but not the physical fitness to maintain their gardens. If they could be involved as mentors for younger people and help by passing on their expertise while having their gardens maintained and also providing social interaction for the older people while providing access to existing gardens. Excess produce could be put into a food exchange; a stall of this type is already being run by the people of the community garden at
A survey of existing gardens and fruit trees was discussed. This was thought best approached by surveying families via schools. This information could then be used for a larger scale food exchange. So work is going to commence on tree mapping, no small task! As a result some amount of assistance in this will be required.
Another topic discussed included the two primary school’s gardens. Both are establishing vegetable gardens and orchards. To this end a working bee is going to be organised for the Waiheke Primary School.
For further information on meetings and how you may be able to be involved please contact either; Zack McCracken (Health Promotion Co-ordinator) 372 1067 or Denise Rouche 372 2915.
With the storms of last week now passed, many will be assessing the damage and shoring up loosened plants and trees. But for many it is the end of the line, nothing for but the chainsaw! If you are replacing fallen trees or shrubs, it makes good sense to ensure they are well secured. Most important is to keep the root balls from moving in the soil, allowing the roots to take hold and establish themselves. If using bamboo stakes with small ties it is important to keep an eye on these ties as over time they may come to rub or constrict the growth of the trunk or stem.
The other thing about the storm I felt was the poignant reminder to us all that we are prone to the ravages of nature and we would be prudent to review our emergency supplies. I was surprised to hear the number of people who were totally without water on account of the fact they had no gravity fed tap. Our household has the benefit of gas for cooking and of course a small vegetable garden. Nothing beats fresh greens for dinner by candle light! It may not be a storm next time, imagine a great earthquake knocking out the power supply from the South Island, that would no doubt see us having to live for much longer periods without power or other necessities, but at least with our own fruit and vegetables we won’t be too bad off.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Winter gardening

Winter can be a frustrating time, not being able to get out into the garden as much as we would like, but it is a good time to reassess what is successful in the garden, just as it is important in the height of summer. Take a look at where the sun is during the day; are there any places where the sun really doesn’t strike? I have such a spot at the back of the house, while during the summer it gets plenty of sun, during the winter it is largely shaded by the house. As a result I have aimed for plants that will not suffer during the winter for lack of sun. Surprisingly, this is where my roses do the best, as they are supposed to be dormant during the winter I figure lack of sun should encourage their dormancy. I think I have partial success but the ‘Margaret Merrill’ rose has three blooms on it at the moment, these will soon be gone and the shrub will get its annual prune. Accompanying the roses are plants with largely purple mauve to red flowers. In the centre is a salvia with enormous silvery grey woolly leaves, it hasn’t flowered yet, but I am hopeful it will this season. Never mind, I enjoy the foliage even if it never flowers.
As I have also said before, now is a god time to get on with planting. With a rainy weekend like we just had, it is perfect for sorting out exactly what you want to go where. Take time to do a bit of study, look at what is doing well in your area, look through garden books for ideas, the library has plenty. If you are new to the Island, ask people who have been here for some time, there is no point in persisting to grow gentians if you have to go out and put ice around them in the hot weather. I have seen gentians, a beautiful European alpine plant, growing in the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens. There they were like sheets of the blue sky thrown down on the ground, a truly remarkable sight, but one to cherish in the memory. The same goes for fruit and vegetables, the best brussel sprouts come from the South Island, where they get good chilling. Same goes for fruit, we should be glad we can grow bananas and other subtropical fruits. Having said that, my self sown peach, I presume it is ‘Golden Queen’ is doing fine, the fruit isn’t as succulent as it might be on account of the fact I don’t afford it any water during the summer, but they are great cooked.
The peach, like t he rose will be for the pruning shears this month, mostly just to shape and train the tree and encourage as much new growth as possible as this will be the source of next years fruit. Some of the other trees getting a bit of a trim are the Illawara flame tree, and the Pride of Bolivia. The latter I have started, but it is a major job and has to be done piece meal. I have started and hopefully the citrus trees at the back are now getting a bit of winter sun! This tree without pruning grows to quite large proportions, sending out long water shoots in the early summer. It is these I prune off each winter, a bit in the fashion of pollarded street trees, so commonly seen in Europe.
I now going to go and get warm and if next weekend is sunny plan for at least one day in the garden!