Ewen's garden

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

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Harbinger of Spring

A couple of weeks ago, I was happy to hear one of the harbingers of spring, the whistle of the shining cuckoo. I seemed to me this migratory bird with a metallic green back and stripy breast was here early, after over wintering in the Solomon Islands and the Bismark Archipelago. Certainly the weather last week was very spring like with torrential rain, thunder, lightning and worst of all hail. At the vineyard, many of the new shoots bore the scars of this rather brief onslaught. It is unfortunate this sort of thing is largely unavoidable, but shelter from the wind is something we can achieve. Many properties on the Island are in very expose sites with not much soil to speak of. In these cases I think it is best to emulate nature and follow her example. Along the coast, above the high water line, amongst the cracks in the rocks are the hardiest of plants, tolerating wind salt and thin soil in the cracks. In this list of plants I would include pohuehue, Muelenbeckia complexa, a wiry semi climbing plant, rengarenga lily or rock lily, Arthropodium cerratum and many native grasses. These plants act as the first line of defence against the elements, followed closely by New Zealand flax, Phormium tenax and P. cookianum, toetoe Cortaderia sp. In the lee of these plants could then be grown hardy shrubs and small trees. The idea is to lift the wind in a graduated manner allowing for each line of defence to shelter the next, until you have a place largely protected from the worst of the weather. Admittedly if you want a view as well then you may have to sacrifice the shelter. In my opinion the view can be best appreciated of it is ‘framed’ by some planting, allowing for a certain amount of protection from the equinoctial gales.
Certainly if vegetables are to be grown, protection from the wind is a help. Plants will benefit from not being so exposed, coming into growth sooner in the season and producing better crops. Other than this it is much more pleasant to be able to use the outside at this time of year, when are unfamiliar with sunny days. Hopefully too, birds will be attracted to a more sheltered environment and perhaps the shining cuckoo may visit seeking out the nest of the poor wee grey warbler in whose nest it lays its own egg. What a valiant surrogate mother the warbler makes, raising this impostor’s chick. The shining cuckoo is about the size of a thrush but is more often heard than seen. To me a sure sign of spring as the cicadas are the sound of summer when they begin to emerge later this month.

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