Saturday, 30 September 2017

Fertile Gardening

Yesterday's Permie workshop was informative and practical. We all visited Ranui Community Garden and Buffie showed us what we can do with soil. Ron also showed us different tools we can use. We can double dig, broadfork, or try lasagna gardening. I'm choosing lasagna gardening because digging up clay is not fun. I also want to save my back.

Ingredients for lasagna gardening - suggested layering -

food scraps
coffee fluff
coffee grounds
green clippings
chicken manure
coffee sacks
potting mix
rock dust
green manure

Make sure you layer each with green (nitrogen) and brown (carbon) and it will break down if you have worm workers mixing the layers.

We also learned about intercropping, companion plants, guilds, planting by the moon, crop rotation, pollination insectaries, green manures, seed saving and other fascinating garden stuff. We then designed for the community garden according to a specific brief.

Some gardening tips to share for those new and not so new.

* If you making garden beds, make them only so wide so you can reach with your hands from both sides. You don't want to a garden that you need to step into compacting the soil to reach plants in the middle. If making raised beds, there's no maximum depth but 35 cm at least can be deep enough for a decent crop. I've seen beds waist high at other gardens but that's for elderly who can't bend down. If you can afford a truckload of soil fine but you can fill the bottom  with firewood or other organic material or have a false bottom.
* Plant fruit trees with wide enough spacing between, say 5 metres between each tree when fully grown, so  you can plant in between. They are small when you first plant them but you can plant a fast growing nitrogen fixer in between, then cull the nitrogen fixer once the fruit trees become established.
* Nitrogen fixers are those of the legume family - peas, beans, clover, kowhai, acacia, even gorse. Their roots have nitrogen fixing nodules that are beneficial to the soil and plants around them.
* Don't plant from the same family in beds year after year, practice crop rotation to prevent build up of pests and diseases.
* Mix flowers and herbs with your veges, the flowers and herbs will attract beneficial insects and repel pest ones.
* Orient your beds to north to get the most sun, grow taller plants, trees and shelterbelts to the south.
* Top soil will naturally accumulate down a slope or bank where you will find the deepest and richest soil. It will also retain the most water and be the most optimum at the keyline - which is the point where the soil is moist but not so damp it's a bog.
* You can make your own seed raising mix, using one part compost, one part top soil and one part river sand, mix it through a sieve to get a fine tilth. It's important to mix in a bit of your own garden soil so newly sown seedlings you may transplant  can adjust to the conditions of your garden, they may get a shock if they are coddled at a warm nursery and then transplanted to a totally foreign environment with cold clay soil!

My other tip is, try and stay awake after lunch when learning at an all-day workshop because I may have missed something.

On the Dream Garden front, I have now redesigned the deck area to extend the space out to the garden. I wonder if I present this idea to my dad, whether he will accept or reject it. All it needs is the railing to come down and a side ramp with two landings to be built on the side, so it can also be wheelchair/bicycle/wheelbarrow friendly and have planting beds and seating with space for my bbq or firepit. Never know, it might happen one day, as the house just got painted. Dad paid the neighbour to do it when my brother just said he would get a round tuit last December. He never got this round tuit. While he did clip the hedges he also left a bit of a mess in one of the garden beds full of buxus clippings. If he was working for my company he would be audited and failed! Nevermind, how can you fire someone who just did it for free?

Friday, 29 September 2017

Permie Workshop #10 and Dream Gardens

I'm off to another Permaculture Workshop today. This time it's Fertile Gardening down at Ranui with Ron and Buffie. I could just walk there, but then I need to bring a lot of tools, food and other gear  so it will just be a 5 minute drive in the FunCargo. Buffie was the one who got me onto FunCargo and if I were to recommend any car to a gardener who doesn't want to drive a ute that would be it. I've transported christmas trees, freezers, shelves, plants, sacks of compost and horse manure, straw bales, firewood, sacks of weeds, tools, you name it anything that can fit. Its compact enough to drive over grass without leaving huge tire ruts but large enough to fit almost anything that you want to transport. And if you need anything bigger if it doesn't fit then maybe you are just being greedy.

We are also going to check out the Korero Cafe which is part of the Ranui Community House, having expanded since the library moved across the road. It used to be Tea Tree Cafe but there are no tea trees there so perhaps Korero is a better name for it. Buffie works there as a cafe manager and uses a lot of fresh produce from the community garden in the menu.

I have been watching 'Dream Gardens' an Australian DVD about ten different garden makeovers. I've seen about five and it's very interesting to see what different people do with the land they are fortunate enough to own, and spend bucket loads of money on. The last one I saw was about a husband who lost his wife to cancer yet she had a dream for their slopey site and he and his teenage children decide to put in a garden as a memorial. It ends up costing half a million dollars. It looks pretty spectacular with stone steps, a water feature, a firepit and a wifi enabled garden room.

Another one is where a couple lose their home to a bushfire so they go and buy a neighbouring property, which already has a cottage style garden, to me looks fine just needs TLC, but instead they rip it out and put a lawn in. They also spend hundreds of thousands getting rid of a power pole because it destroys their view of the surrounding countryside.

Some of the dream gardens are not what I would call gardens just outdoor spaces with plants as decoration, where people aren't so interested in gardens but the view beyond to the sea or the space around a swimming pool. These end up costing twice as much as people budget for. It seems the MORE money spent on the garden the less people want to actually garden it.

My favourite so far is the kitchen garden installed  out in the bare outback for a mum recovering from an illness so her son and his dad volunteers to make her this garden which they designed themselves with raised beds and a water feature fountain where they can sit watering cans and a shadehouse. The end result is a fantastic garden in which the mum already starts growing plants even before it's finished so she can have fresh veges and herbs. This one is the least expensive garden of the lot!

In other news I now have a garden arch which was delivered yesterday, Mum saw it and then immediately complained I was not to put it up until I 'get my own house'. I just said it wasn't for her. I'm going to give it to the church  as I have now fixed up my hardenbergia arch with a few cast off broom handles and cable ties. How do you just 'get your own house' anyway. I am not going to 'get my own house'. Not this side of heaven. What's wrong with the one we are already living in?

Saturday, 23 September 2017

A vision for St Giles' church garden

I have now sketched up a bit of ideas and planting plan for St Giles church - got there this morning to see the scraggly mexican orange blossom and waist high kikuyu had been removed...and seeded with fresh grass.

My planting plan is to have a south- facing woodland garden and avenue of magnolia by the bus stop, with seats and by the church wall hydrangeas and snowball trees, fuchsia and bulbs. There will be climbers perhaps be jasmine or clematis covering the church, and a little rill or river ditch to take the wet, lined with primulas, violets and fuchsia procumbens.

Another corner will have a chinese toon, virginia creeper for foliage, and hydrangea. I'm going for big flowers for floral displays.

The church entrance corner which is shady and cool might have cabbage tree, nikau, clivia and hen and chicken's ferns. Tecomanthe will climb by the entrance and there will be either daphne or gardenia for perfume.

The north facing corner is already planted up but will add canna with the ginger lilies, sweet william or armerias with carnations, lambs ears and aeoniums, with possibly sedum or echium that will attract butterflies.

The north facing area will have a herbal tea garden and raised beds filled with seasonal veges strawberries and sweet pea obelisks in a flower bed. Dianthus will line the path, which will lead to an arch/gazebo area for outdoor services/wedding photos. Hardenbergia will grow over the arch/gazebo. On the sheltered side I am thinking of having banana palms, hibiscus and more cannas or vireyas for a tropical/pasifika feel.

The tree that looks like on it's last legs may still be ok if we plant a climbing rata over it, which will eventually cover it, so as to match the pohutukawa near the entrance.

By the road and framing the sea views will be and olive grove with low pruned figs, and a grapevine over the new fence rail, with perhaps a climbing rose at each end. The area by the intersection with the existing Indian bean tree and retaining wall will have postrate rosemary, and lavender, on Flanshaw Road the entrance will be framed by pink manuka or breath of heaven. Will have some agapanthus edging by the drive and low growing lambs ears. We will have solar lights by the car parks.

That's all I can think of for now there is still space by the Kimberly day centre perhaps left as lawn but could have a maze or a children's garden with lots of swan plants and sunflowers, with  a compost heap and worm farm, and maybe a few sheep to eat the grass and give us manure. (Have to check with the pastor).

What do you think? Am open to any suggestions.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Election day...

It's election day and I'm tired.

I thought about the issues - housing, of which someone is making a pretty penny on and it isn't me. I know because I garden for people that can afford a house. But mostly they are older people who've worked many years and so can afford more than one, and then they don't hand it to their children really they just tell them to get their own. I think that's a bit rich. And there aren't enough homes for young people because the oldies just rent them out and collect that rent to pay for their luxurious lifestyles. I don't believe we can blame foreign buyers but we make it dead easy for them and even promote houses as investments, I've seen ads from Australia wanting wealthy NZers to invest in properties on the Gold Coast so I think people are being hypocritical. Also selling  the land off to people who bid the highest - well thing is if you have land YOU DO NOT HAVE TO SELL YOUR LAND.  Tell the buyers to take their billion dollars and get lost. Gift your land to your children and grandchildren. If you look after it, they will know the value of having a home.

Transport - this is a big issue as I'm doing about nine different properties all over Auckland and we need to get from A to B. The fact is it would be better if I just did one well than nine here and there or even better if I could do my own but then I can't afford to do my own so I need to work for other people, and get there on crowded, congested roads. Try and solve that one.

Environment - I am tired of cleaning up other people's mess and people putting up more and more carparks where that land could be garden. And then expecting gardeners to garden the carpark. I was nearly hit by a car the other day.

Health - Nobody seems to acknowledge that to lessen the affects of pollution we need to plant more trees. Politicians are constantly pouring money into pharmaceuticals when that research is not needed - a healthy lifestyle is.

I think that's enough politics for one day. People might peg me as a Green Party supporter, but I am a bit dubious about them too. So I don't know. I would like to think that whoever ends up running the country has our children's best interests at heart and not their own pocket.

I'm off for a walk now, it's a beautiful day. Happy voting.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Spring is here...

The sky is's equinox, also my sister's birthday and friends are getting married, flowers are out..must be spring.

Just thought I would announce it officially with the first peach blossom in case y'all have been living in a cave these past few weeks, staring at the computer waiting for the internet to work and wasting away in windowless bunkers. (My former life).

Went to the Flower Circle meeting on Tuesday and learned some new flowers. Out now are, in no particular order...

Chinese Lantern
Grape Hyacinth
Poor Knight's Lily
Jacob's Ladder
Arum lily
Dutch Iris
Red Clover

Note..not all these are in my garden...

Work continues...planted aggies, and scleranthus. My arch is about to fall over as it seems to have rusted through so have my eye on a more solid one on trademe. Seems a shame but I may have to cut down my hardenbergia and start again!

Also, am suffering from terrible hayfever. Thankfully I learned the Sneeze Song in Bible in Schools so I know God still loves me no matter how I sneeze.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Jacob's ladder and other Biblical plants

I was planting a new bed today with roses, violets and one of my favourite plants, named Jacob's ladder. There were angels ascending and descending this ladder in the Bible but did you know it's also a perennial plant with purple flowers and greeny bronze leaves. There is also a delightful pink and cream version called in latin polemonium. It made me think of other plants mentioned in the Bible that can grow here and there are quite a few.

There's an actual smoke bush that is rarely seen in gardens nowadays  but its pretty spectacular and it does look like it's on fire and could it have been one Moses saw in the desert one night?

In the verges all along my street there's a Olive trees, famous for the leaves being brought back to the ark as a sign the waters have abated by Noah's dove. In Jerusalem there's a mount of Olives and it was under olive trees Jesus went to pray in the garden of Gethsemane.

I am banned from Nikau palms, but palms are often mentioned in the Bible when the 'trees clap their hands' for joy. Palm branches were waved when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey.

Speaking of trees, when the Israelites were freed from being held captive by the Babylonians, God said to them let everyone sit under the own vine and under their own fig tree. This was after they wept by the rivers of Babylon when they sat down, and hung their harps on willows. And of course back in the garden of Eden, there were two significant trees, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. I can't quite imagine what the tree of life really looks like, it could be a cedar of Lebanon perhaps...or a fruit tree or even a coconut palm (the Cook Islanders their revere their coconut palms as a tree of life) but the tree of knowledge of good and evil I would say the evil part could be privet. (Very evil!)

Hyssop is a herb that was used to cleanse, and was also used to wipe the blood of the lamb on the doorposts so that the angel of death could pass over the Israelites. When the Israelites had to leave Egypt they left their bread unleavened in haste, and bitter herbs like horseradish or romaine lettuce or maybe even...brussel sprouts are eaten each passover to represent the bitterness of slavery under the Egyptians. But while their manna fell from Heaven and did taste like coriander...unfortunately they still complained in the wilderness...and pined after the onions, leeks, cucumbers and melons they feasted on in Egypt.

Jonah found shelter under a gourd after watching the hoped for destruction of the city of Ninevah. He was a moaner too! It didn't end up happening, for they repented, but God pitied Jonah enough to give him some shade. Was he sitting under an arch? Gourds are not trees but vines.

While out west our vineyards are rapidly disappearing...I work at a former vineyard estate that no longer has any grapevines except for an ornamental one for show - we ought to remember that Jesus said I am the vine, you are the branches, without me you can do nothing, so to be fruitful and keep abiding in the vine..we must continue to prune and cultivate our gardens.

We've got our trees, shrubs, herbs, fruits and vegetables, what about our flowers...the lilies of the field, they toil not neither do they spin...could God have in mind indestructible African lily agapanthus, our unofficial flower of Auckland? (Sorry NZ Christmas tree, pohutakawa, you look too much like a bottlebrush and your name does not mean 'love flower' agape + anthus...I really think our Auckland City Council logo should be more agapanthus looking.)

If you are visiting Sydney in Palm Beach they have a Bible Garden! I am thinking maybe having some of these plants at St Giles...must start planning it soon.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Three funerals and a wedding

The past week I have been whipping plants into shape, literally, using mowers, blowers, hedge trimmers and weedeaters. This is turbo charged gardening and I'm not sure I'm a fan of it myself  as it's very noisy and labour intensive. People say organic gardening is labour intensive but have they tried to maintain ten different lawns? Talk about labour intensive.

 I still have three more to do, thank you Auckland City Council for giving up on your verges. I am thinking of just letting them naturalise to onion weed.

This weeks permaculture workshop was about People's economics. No, we aren't all turning into communists but we did have a sharing table in which I came away with mexican sunflowers, dahlias, amaranth and renga seeds. And some hebes and a clary sage..and also a ginger of some sort (possibly a banned weed?). I contributed gardening books and chokos of which I am banned from growing. I need to get these plants in the ground today because it looks like I won't have time during my turbo charged week.

I also need to do a recce of St Giles to decide on my design plan. It's going to be flowers, flowers, flowers, but there needs to be certain types of flowers in certain areas. The only thing is, there is waist high kikuyu, and many shrubs that have had it, and how on earth will we create a garden when nobody has any time or money, and nobody wants to work on Sunday.  Spring will soon be upon us, and if we don't have any plants in the ground this season, will have to wait for next year...kikuyu does NOT make good floral arrangements. I have tried convincing the elders that just having grass is not going to cut it. I have have heard that some members are getting married, but they are choosing another church in town to be married at, possibly it has better flowers?

Other than that I don't have any wedding plans and my boss went to yet another funeral last week. He ignored my plea, so I told him his family needs to start having more babies. At the rate he is going, we will finish planting up the retirement villages and then start on cemeteries next. I predict they will become very popular over the next decade.

Friday, 8 September 2017


I've heard of people swearing like truck drivers, or sailors, but one thing I've noticed in this gardening gig is, gardeners swear an awful lot too.

Mostly cursing b#$%!y roses, which scratch and can scar you for life, the b(*^%! weather, that doesn't cooperate, and f*&^%g idiots who don't know any better (usually sworn at because their way of gardening is just wrong).  My delicate ears get a bashing whenever I go to work because everyone is grumpy at everyone else, but it's ok, because I just pull my beanie over them. I've suggested a swear jar, but, mostly I just say you owe me a pie, and if you need to swear there's probably more creative ways of doing it than using the same dirty words over and over again.

If you need to get mad at anything, curse the weeds! Jesus cursed a fig tree and it never grew again. It beats Roundup. I'd love to have that power over certain plants...goodbye privet! Sayonara kikuyu. Good riddance creeping buttercup. And meet your maker onion weed!

Although I have met some ladies at the retirement village that say they talk to their plants and sing them songs. Which is probably more positive, but I'm not really sure how to go about it as plants don't talk back. It's kind of difficult to hold a conversation with them. Xanthe White talks to plants every month in NZ Gardener and they seem to reveal to her all sorts of stuff about their private life, but I get met with no response. For example, mother-in-law tongue just sits there and I think it says I don't even need water thank you very much. Just ignore me.

I have been watching a dvd British Gardens in Time. There are four gardens featured - Great Dixter, Stowe, Biddulph Grange and Nymans. They are all way out grand gardens in England that I have come to get to know that were gardened by eccentric English people. (With pots of money). There could not be a similar dvd in New Zealand because our gardening history only goes back 100 years or so. When people came here they cut down all the kauri trees and then planted an orchard, then the land got subdvided into sections, grassed over and voila suburbia. My dad planted a low maintenance nightmare of a garden which included conifers that grew rapidly and snuffed out all light and air around the house, so eventually they all came out, my brothers put in buxus (which some I still need to take out, cos one is blocking my worm farm) and horrible carpet roses that I finally got rid of, and now I have decided I will create a shrub border but I just have to make sure I select plants that won't die on me. Because if you spending $20 a plant it soon adds up.

Here are some plants that I bought (or were given) that didn't make it, so please don't make the same mistake. Its not that I'm a terrible gardener, I blame the s(*^%y clay soil.

metrosideros tahiti
poor knight's lily

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Show (off) and tell

Dad always gets annoyed when people pronounce it's Spring on the 1st of September. It's not, it's still winter until the equinox but you can't correct someone on TV because they can't hear you. I would suggest not watching TV and being subjected to listen to other peoples opinions and bad news that they say is fact just because they are sitting behind a newsdesk, but old habits seem to die hard.  If I were charge of the house, I would dump the TV and have some plants in that corner of the living room. It would be perfect for a peace lily. I could even put books there. And at 6'clock I would have peace and quiet instead of hearing how many people killed each other today or, when nobody has died and they are desperate for more bad news -  so they report on the anniversary of so and so's death.

Anyway on the subject of spring, of which it will soon be - I  have been adding new plants to my perk up my sad borders. I snagged a whole lot of silver speared astelias from a massive one that pupped and they have gone in, I have cleared out the creeping buttercup and old pots and made a French lavender hedge, I have moved the budding snowball tree to a damper spot, and I have coralled the lime green bromeliads into the shady border.

I was a bit done in yesterday by being roped into contributing to a community show garden for the NZ Flower & Garden show held at the Trust Stadium this November.  Apparently it has to look all nice and have a theme and a concept and what-not while including breast cancer pink colours of which I am not that keen on, since I've just had a molemap done and one mole looked kind of abnormal to the molemapper so wouldn't it be better to promote  shady gardens so I don't die of melanoma one day. I mean not saying that breast cancer research isn't a worthy cause but it only affects half the population and it's not directly related to gardening is it. I don't know if I will have time to create a show garden given that, community gardens are not for show they are for people and the best time to really exhibit them is in autumn when we are harvesting all the produce and can give people free chokos (of which I am now banned from growing).

So I might just say well, I'm too busy for that, if people want to see a garden for free they can just come found my place and then walk to Woodside. I don't know, the whole idea of doing a garden to transport and show for 7 days in a crowded marquee on top of all the gardens I am already doing is not really appealing to me. It's kind of like American Idol or Top Model or Top Chef or any of those high intensity 'reality' programs that judge people all the time and I'm thinking I don't need the recognition. Am I gardening for a judge I don't know from squat and looking to please men or am I looking for a higher reward?

The bad-tempered gardener

Is it ok to despair online?
Well I have a few things to get off my chest.
1) Yes I'm a qualified gardener! But that doesn't mean you can be rude to me simply because I have taken the time out to study plants.
2) Going off site for morning tea does NOT mean I have finished for the day.
3) If something is planted in the wrong place I will move it, but gardens are not made in one day.
4) If they are, made in one day it is likely to be an artificial garden. Buy a fake christmas tree instead.
5) I don't live in England, so British gardening books and magazines are of no practical use to me.

And this leads me to another pet peeve. Landscape architects really don't know anything about plants.  I am forever trying to undo all their mistakes. A lancewood may look fashionable and 'architectural' right next to a building, but it will loose it's form and grow into a huge tree and block drains. Cabbage trees drop leaves that suffocate lawn mowers. Dandelions and puha are architectural too but it seems like landscape architects favour stingy, thorny agaves that are a beast to pull out when they get old and ugly. Phoenix palms have vicious spikes. Willows are planted near water for a reason. Lavender will not flower year round and look like a dead mess the rest of the time as it struggles on clay. You cannot have a decent lawn in the shade. Cutting back a plant will only make it grow again.  When pruning you don't just shave off the outside of a plant, so it looks like a lollipop, you thin the dead branches and twigs. Not all plants appreciate being grown in straight lines. Please don't keep a mealy bug infested indoor plant and hope spraying will help it recover. I would chuck it out, and buy a new one but...some people would rather waste their money on expensive sprays than a new and different disease resistant plant which is probably a cheaper option. You cannot plant anything decent through weedmat. Woe betide you if you decide to change your garden, because plants don't stay the same forever.

What looks good on paper looks terrible in real life. Don't slavishly follow a paint by numbers planting plan. The church tried to follow a council planting plan and all the plants died within three years. So now it's just lawn, a butchered tree, one magnolia managed to survive, and knee high kikuyu. Oh and mexican orange blossom, which hides all the cigarette butts and beer bottles from passing motorists. Please don't plant too many day lilies, and say no to dietes. Spare a thought for the gardener who has to maintain them. If you let them go, for too long we may need to resort to the slash and burn. Don't bury your roses under a mound of soil. Leave the onion weed alone for someone who will eat it.

 Note to elderly folk - younger people don't appreciate the excuse that just because you are old and infirm or on a garden committee means you are entitled to boss us around and get us to do everything for you, especially when we have to buy our own lunch while you seemingly have all the time in the world, sometimes the luxury of spending hard earned lunch money sitting in a ute while demolishing a potato top pie from the 7 day bakery is really not worth all the abuse.

Other than that the only other thing is when I see elderly folk go the wrong way round the roundabout to snag a park. Nooo!