For Professional Advice

Ellerslie Flower Show

After a number of failed attempts I finally made it to the Ellerslie Flower Show in Christchurch. This was also my first visit to the show as a spectator and not as an exhibitor, so it was a different experience altogether. Armed with a list of must-sees, my old Christchurch mate and I ooh-ed, ahh-ed and oh dear-ed our way through Hagley Park.

First up were the emerging designer’s exhibits. While good design principles were evident, there was also a growing concern that these young people were not being taught the importance of the right plant for the purpose. Slender native rushes found their way into raised planter boxes where they’d have soon struggled in an environment so much drier than their natural marginal habitat. Interestingly, many promoted a sustainability theme without considering the additional water required to maintain their plant choices. Perhaps they live on the West Coast.

And so on to Big Guns. We liked the use of walnut shells to mulch small areas and also the large outdoor mirror cunningly used to extend a small urban garden by reflecting the path and trees leading up to it. My old trick of using large transportable carpets of native ground covers was in evidence, a reminder of the many months of preparation needed to create an ‘instant’ garden.

Xanthe White’s walled garden was (for me) the star of the show. Featuring simple lines of construction and a central path bordered with well chosen planting combinations, it was a garden for all seasons and locations and one of the few that promised to look just as stunning well into the future. After all, isn’t that what good garden design is all about?



My Water Dragon Year began under stormy Southern Wairarapa skies while steady rain cleansed sordid evidence of the previous nights Birthday Party. Son Connor, entered his 21st year armed with a Family Recipe Book, the old favourites hand written by his mother and grandmother; his own album of precious family photos; loyal friends; loving family and (sigh)…a yard glass.

What does this have to do with gardening? Rain possums, and in The Humble Plot’s case, insufficient thereof during my absence. Celery and spinach had bolted, although the grape vine managed a burst of growth sufficient to smother the greenhouse. Spent Phacelia and Borage plants lounged about like hung-over party goers, looking all too familiar.

It’s not too late to replace the celery and the spinach/silver beet can go in now too. In fact it’s now or never to get most winter crops in. Pump up beds with compost and sheep pellets, and don’t allow seedlings to dry out or they’ll bolt. Plants’ survival reflex is to produce seed if it feels threatened. Mulch is your friend.

Remembering that summer pruning restricts growth, hedges and topiaries like a trim now. New growth will have time to harden off for winter. The potted Lace Lady has had her annual styling treatment with sharpened secateurs too.

Wisteria side growths should be removed back to 3 buds from the leader, to promote flower power. I save mine to be used as ‘threads’ when making garden hurdles and willow structures in winter. Waste not, want not.

The blue fescue grasses are looking tired so they’re next for the shears. They’ll come away in March and look fab over winter. Broader leafed Blue Oat grass needs only a rake through with gloved fingers.

Oh! And treat the lawn for Grrass Grrub just before the next rain fall!

True cost of the Food Bill

A carton arrived from the Wairarapa just before Xmas. The Parkvale Mushrooms label gave little away, but since youngest son works for the Carterton business, I half expected that he’d chucked a bucket of mushrooms into a box and that’s exactly what he’d done, more or less. There was the bucket filled with fungus-y straw, a bag of peat and instructions to turn it into mushrooms. Brilliant!

This innocent and novel gift could have me raided by the Food Police if our government votes to accept the Food Bill, being pushed through parliament over the holidays. While there are good and necessary reasons for regulating the world’s food suppliers and providers, there are also some very worrying aspects of this Bill that will affect small producers, including farmers markets, roadside stalls and seed growers. Imagine having just 2 local providers of fresh food – the supermarket and your own home garden (no sharing, mind).

What is different and particularly worrying about this legislation is that it comes under an international rule called Codex Alimentarius.  If we accept Codex, NZ can’t change the legislation in future without withdrawing from the World Trade Organization. This is not common law but was developed by pharmacy, agribusiness and chemical mega-corporation lawyers, including Monsanto, which is good reason to be cautious.

I believe that our government needs more time to develop a Food Bill that works for us, rather than pushing through legislation at a time when we’re distracted by the festive season and holidays. 50,000 signatures are needed, so if you feel as strongly as I then add your name to the petition on the link below. Sadly it may already be too late.

Sin du Jour – Temptation

Phacelia is for the Bees

In this first scribbling of 2012 it’s tempting to dash off a list of updated Resolutions and get back to work… And since Temptation has been the sin du jour these past few weeks, that’s exactly what I’ll do. Some people just don’t know when to stop.

  1. Keep banging on about the Bees – they need us as now as desperately as we have always relied on them.
  2. Remember to use my Garden Diary – note to self: BUY DIARY
  3. Learn all the doohickeys in the Irrigation Department – may require brain transplant.
  4. Try not to crow that 2012 is a Water Dragon Year and I’m a Water Dragon. Nobody gives two hoots, even if it does come round just once in a life time. Okay, one more…This is my year. Woohooo!
  5. Attend Ellerslie on Avon – Christchurch needs all the support she can get.
  6. Think Gold – celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Gold Discovery in Cromwell by planting more locally sourced Kowhais (Sophora microphylla) from the Polytech or Nook Road Nursery.
  7. Trim garden edges more often – they looked so satisfying over Xmas.
  8. Cut the spent lavender, Hebe, thyme, sage back today.
  9. Remember to drink Sage Tea – it’s good for the memory.  Sprig of culinary sage steeped in boiling water 5 mins, remove and stir in a small teaspoon of manuka honey to taste. Surprisingly pleasant.
  10. Appreciate the small things, together they make a whole.

I wish you a contented and bountiful year to come.

Pass the Fat Hen


Abundance may be measured in many ways.

Mine comes from family, friends, community and the Humble Plot. I find it amongst my fellow artists at Hullabaloo Art Space, customers at Cromwell Gardenland and its there in a loved garden created by my own hand. Abundance is given and received with a caring and generous spirit, humour shared, and each time I lift my eyes to the horizon.
It can also arrive with a bag of sheep manure in the guise of ‘Fat Hen’; and if these were Neolithic times I’d be in clover (pardon the inaccurate pun). This annual weed was once grown as a vegetable, before spinach and cabbage were introduced into our diet around the 1600s. The soft leaves are highly nutritious and the taste is, well…green, but nestle Fat Hen leaves amongst fresh herbs and lettuce and you’ve got yourself a mean, green salad.
The Daylilies are about to pop so their peppery-melon flavoured petals will be added to the Boxing Day Salad – my contribution to the annual clan gathering and this year being held at my place. Over the years the family have grown to accept its unusual and vaguely familiar contents. “Isn’t that chickweed?”… yes. “Didn’t I see this growing down the drive?”… er, maybe. They have grown to trust the cook and are still standing.
Further ingredients will come from young beetroot leaves, broad beans (minus pods) planted too late in autumn, marigold petals, young peas (pods and all), nasturtium leaves, and those of immature celery. Young borage leaves for their hint of cucumber, and their flowers too. I’ll save some to tart up the ice cubes. Abundance abounds.
I share this favourite quote with you all – Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. Amen and Merry Christmas.

Grrrass Grrrub Grrr

Grass Grub may not strike fear and loathing into the hearts of non-gardeners, but anyone who has sown and tended a new lawn with visions of a rich green swathe, only to find it mottled with patches of bare earth in autumn will know the frustration wrought by the larval Brown Beetle. It’s enough to rip one’s knickers.

Lawn Prills are ineffective until the next generation hatch as grubs later in summer, but the beetle emerging from deep underground over the next month is partial to plants above ground too so it’s worth considering some action. A bucket or 3 of soapy water placed under an outdoor light works rather well.

Herbs fall into 4 categories – annuals, biennials, true perennials and shrubby perennials.  True perennials die back in winter and include lovage, chives, mint, fennel, marjoram, horseradish and tarragon while the shrubby, usually hot climate types include rosemary, bay, lavender, culinary sage and thyme. All types require slightly different conditions and herein lies the challenge when planting an herb garden.

The annuals – large leaf basil, coriander, dill, borage – are best grown in the veggie garden as they have the same water and soil requirements as other annual edibles. Biennial parsley and Florence fennel are better suited to a spot that won’t be disturbed by cultivation between seasons, perhaps along the edge of the veggie plot. Like-wise the true perennials, although be warned, some of them can be grow very tall or wide. In my garden the shrubby types are in the dry beds, along with sedums, achillea, verbena bonariensis and other like-minded ornamentals, where they add form and texture over winter while their neighbours all but disappear.

Potted herbs are useful (and in fact necessary for the mint family) but will need constant watering and feeding to achieve the same lushness.

Why, hello again Dolly

Dolly Parton is about to pop her corset. Dolly, you may remember, is the unnamed American bred Iris germanica given to me 2 years ago by the Cromwell Iris Society. Naming her was easy since the singer and the bloom share much in common with both possessing large soft apricot bosoms, shapely violet skirts and a tough survival streak. To my knowledge Dolly P is not blessed with the bristly, dark orange beard common to Iris G, but who really knows?

My Dolly is planted in full sun in the Dry Garden amongst plump cushions of purple sage and thyme, euphorbia and lavender, miscanthus and blue grasses. She’s doing so well that she’s soon to be joined by some of her many relatives, for Iris are a large whanau of many different hues, heights and temperaments. The Beardeds are particularly suited to our hot, dry summers and free draining soil. They like their rhizomes exposed to the sun and soil not too rich, just a scattering of compost around the outer root zone in spring or autumn is enough. Oh, and rabbits seem to leave them alone…convinced yet?

Speaking of show offs, Clematis are centre stage right now. Like roses, clematis varieties number in the hundreds with colour and bloom size to suit most situations but that’s where any comparisons end. Most Climbers like their roots in the cool shade; after all, they developed their tendencies in order to reach the light. An exception is Wisteria, who seems not to mind either way. An arresting sight for travellers over the once gorse covered Rimutakas between Wellington and the Wairarapa, is Clematis paniculata. Native bush has regenerated over the past 30 years and with the return of the tree canopy, so too have the native climbers.

Clematis paniculata link: