Ewen's garden

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

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Hedging and other things

A recent discussion I had with a friend revolved around the topic of hedges, what were good plants for the job and how far apart to plant them. Many people plant hedges not only to mark a boundary but also to provide privacy and shelter. Once you know what will be demanded from your hedge you can begin to narrow down the plant choices available. So many times I have heard, I want something for the boundary that will grow quickly, this is usually in an effort to gain privacy. The one problem I have with this idea is the quicker something grows, more often than not the more maintenance will be required to keep it in proportion, trimming a hedge two to t here times a year amounts to being a pain to me, but maybe not to others! In Europe slow growing species such as box and yew are frequently used for hedging and while they take time to reach maturity they require only an annual trim to keep them looking sharp. A species often used instead of box is Lonciera nitida, a small leafed shrub of the same genus as honeysuckle, but not a climber, makes a swift growing hedge, but will need to be trimmed at least twice per year. It also makes a good topiary specimen, easily being formed into whatever folly takes your fancy. English box and yew are also used often for topiary of various shapes and forms. On the farm Mum had used English box to create a small hedge, up to about 40cm in height, around the driveway, forming a border between the garden and the drive. Her argument was, while creating a neat edge to the drive, it also would disguise any weeds errantly charging ahead in the garden beds beyond! I think it worked well.
Of other European species used as hedges is the beech, Fagus sylvatica, a deciduous tree, that in the wild grows to immense proportions. I did see them in the New Forest in the UK where many had fallen in the ’87 hurricane. When juvenile, these trees maintain their brown leaves through the winter until the new ones push the old ones off in spring. When trimmed as a hedge, the juvenile state is kept and so the hedge through winter will brown and maintains a visual barrier. At the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens, there is fine example of this tree used as a hedge. It is mighty thing, towering some four to five metres high and only bout one and half metres wide! Naturally specialised equipment is required for such a tour de force in hedging! A hedge of this size would make great shelter but there are many other plants probably less needy in the trimming department. On the farm the larger part of our garden was sheltered from the ‘Old Man Southerlies’ by a huge macrocarpa hedge, trimmed only irregularly by mechanical devices attached to a tractor. This hedge though provided a wonderful place to play as children, not only in the spaces beneath the trees but also tumbling along the tops, leaping from tree top to tree top. This hedge though providing shelter did rob the soil in adjacent gardens of not just valuable water but also nutrients, as they are hungry feeders robbing the soil of available food.
Next time I will write more of spacings and native species appropriate to hedging.

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Prickly cactus with pink noses

This last week has seen some warm weather and sunshine, made me imagine it might be nice to be sitting on a beach, letting the warm rays wash across my winter weary body. But naturally work meant this thought stayed firmly planted in the imagination. In the plant kingdom though things are already on the move, large weeping willows, only very recently rid of the last of their leaves, have burst forth their season’s foliage, the same goes for some varieties of grape.
A quick turn about the garden this morning, in a sou’west gale, has hinted winter may not yet be over. To my surprise I noticed a tall prickly cactus, with a strange hirsute appearance, planted earlier in the year from a branch from someone else’s garden, has flower buds all the way up, like small pink noses. I am interested to see what these flowers are like. I have never seen it in bloom, so am pleased and looking forward to finally seeing them. This cactus was left standing in some bark before being planting into a sandy/gritty soil mix. In this way the base of the stem had time to dry and not rot, which may have happened had I planted it immediately into the garden. I recall during my apprenticeship as a gardener, we used to use flowers of sulphur to help prevent the bases of cuttings of succulents from rotting.
Other things I noticed on my tour were my roses, now in need of pruning, not a major job, as I only have two, both ‘Margaret Merrill’. This a beautiful pure white rose with a deep rose scent. It is a hybrid tea rose and as such needs pruning at this time of year. The other rose I have is an old fashioned rose, ‘Tuscany Surprise’, this rose only flowers once in November, with very dark red double blooms also with that wonderful rose scent. This rose is therefore pruned after it has flowered in order to promote new seasons growth, for it is on the wood produced this summer that next spring’s flowers will be borne. I also noticed one of my roses is not in very good condition, having scale insect up its stems, caused by the over rampant heliotrope growing adjacent to it, smothered the lower parts of the rose. I suspect the Argentinean ants will have helped to make things worse. These little, over zealous beasts, spread the insects from plant to plant. They are farmers, manipulating the insects to encourage them to produce honey dew which they collect and take back to their nest. The ants will farm most sap sucking insects, (sap sucking really is a misnomer, as the insects really just plug into the sap and the natural force of the plant sap pushes more sap than the insect needs into them, the excess passes through them to emerge as honey dew) including aphids. So be ware the trail of ants marching up and down the stems and trunks of your plants, they are more than likely to be off to harvest their honey dew bounty. I use and insecticide and oil spray, not something a like to do, but at least I have an organic spray which seems to work. Another sign of the insects being about is black sooty mould, a black powdery coating on leaves. This is a fungus which grows on honey dew dripped down from the insects above. Generally this will not harm your plants too much; however it will inhibit photosynthesis so is best to be avoided if possible.
So with some outdoor chores still to do and a cold wind blowing, I am blithely sitting inside writing! Just a couple of messages; The Waste Resource Trust, is holding a free workshop on composting at the Morra Hall, Saturday 18 August, 10:30 to 12:30. In the afternoon is a working bee at the Waiheke Primary School gardens, 1:00 to 4:00 to help with compost, digging holes for fruit trees and other jobs.

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