Ewen's garden

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

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Preparing for the dry season

Another successful Garden Safari is over and all those who worked hard to have everything ready in time can now to take a well earned break from it all and just enjoy. I had t he benefit of an early Christmas present this weekend, it was a new hammock! So it is a pleasure to put my own feet up and take in the view of the garden from a different angle! I think it is important to have different vantage points from which to enjoy your garden. I have seats all over the garden, not expensive ones, mostly just a plank of wood sitting on a couple of concrete bricks. These seats work perfectly well to pop the beer down on while pulling a few weeds or for taking a wee break! It is the time of year though when the weeds are all rushing ahead and need to be kept in their place, so not too much time to pause.

Now would be a good time to be getting a good layer of mulch on the garden. Pea straw is excellent if you can get hold of some. Otherwise sea grass blown onto the westerly beaches after a blow is also good, especially after it has rained; this washes the salt out of it. Salt is not good for the soil and your plants will not appreciate it. Now would also be a good time to be putting a little bit of fertiliser about the trees and shrubs. This is best done around the drip line, where the feeding roots are to be found.

While in the vegetable garden and owing to the fact that I had just had minor surgery, I took the opportunity to instruct Hans on some elementary gardening skills. Firstly the tomatoes need to be pruned and staked. Tomatoes are generally pruned to remove any laterals emerging from the base of the leaves on the main stem. His concentrates the plants energy on the flower trusses that have already formed. Also the plant is much more easily tied to a stake if it has been pruned in such a manner. The other reason is if the laterals grow, the whole plant becomes ungainly and liable to break in the wind, further the energy of the plant is also dispersed across too much vegetable matter. I am delighted to see the first flower trusses emerging on our wee tomato plants, can¬Ęt wait for the first harvest. These vegetables will be requiring some amount of water now to maintain their growth. Time to check the level of water in the tank, I was alarmed to see how much water we have been through recently. It doesn't take much of a dry spell to get through the supply. So we will be full on into using our water wisely from now this summer.

Finally one of the pleasures of our garden is to be able to pick strawberries, how ever our crop is under attack from slaters or wood lice. I am at a complete loss as to how to combat them, they appear to be living in the top layer of mulch and under the leaves. Such a shame to see nice fat berries only to find several slaters beneath have eaten most of the delicacy themselves. Any help on this would be most appreciated.

Labels: ,

Sunday, November 04, 2007

One for the birds

On the weekend we had the sad task of burying our cat. I chose a place where there was nothing in particular growing and planted a kowhai tree. At the base some catnip Nepeta faasenii, a plant addictive to cats, so much so that ours would literally eat the leaves, rolling around with eyes partly closed obviously in some state of bliss! The Kowhai tree will hopefully attract the nectar feeding tuis in the spring and provide some shade in this otherwise rather hot part of the garden.

Whilst thinking about plants that provide a source of food for nectar feeders I thought I would mention a few. Another native with ample nectar is the flax, Phormium tenax, this is just now sending up large flower spikes and will be flowering next month. At the base of each flower is a nectary full of the sweet stuff the tuis love, and bell birds if there were any on the Island. Many of the Australian plants are favourites of the tui, including many of the Banksia sp., the waratah, Telpea speciosissima. These shrubs produce red flowers some what like the Leucospermum of South Africa, both of the same family. The bottle brushes too produce food for these birds, including the little wax eyes. Another tree to provide food and a singing post is the flame tree, Erythrina sp. This is a large tree and partly deciduous, shedding its leaves before the flowers appear in the spring. I would not recommend this tree for a small garden as it grows very large and its branches are brittle and are prone to coming down in a blow. It does take readily from cuttings which in fact will often grow where they fall, forming thickets of the tree.

Other birds such as pigeons prefer the berries of trees and shrubs, such as the karaka, corynocarpus laevigatus, whose orangey yellow fruits are poisonous to us unless treated as the Maori did, but palatable to the birds. Another couple of forest trees are the puriri Vitex lucens and the tarairi Beilschmiedia tariri. Firstly the puriri has small red berries often occurring at the same time as the clusters of wine red flowers, while the tariri has purple blue oval shaped fruit up to about two centimetres long. The pigeons love this fruit and swallow them whole. At our previous house the pigeons sitting in the trees adjacent to the house would, after having feasted on the tariri then purge the stones the ones landing on the roof sounding like gun shots! Once through the digestive tract of the pigeons, they emerge with a substance some what like jelly surrounding them and it would seem this assists in the germination of the seeds. Certainly the pigeons are an important dispersal mechanism for many of the large forest trees. The pigeons will even be tempted into eating the small orange berries on the common karamu, Coprosma robusta, I have witnessed the clumsy antics of a pigeon hanging upside down on a flimsy arching branch, scoffing the small fruit.

Here I have only touched on a few plants that will encourage birds into the garden at the same time as being usually pleasant to have amongst us. For more information I am sure there are books on the subject and a visit to the library may be rewarding in this regard.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,