Sunday, 24 February 2019

Garden Planet 104.6 FM

Hooray! Herb lady Karyn joins me in our totally professionally amateur radio broadcast on Planet FM this week broadcasting Wednesdays @2:45pm and potentially being archived forever online where we make gardening blunders alongside with you.

Please don't call me expert...because my mum doesn't think so and asks if I am really a gardener. If one plant dies it's all my fault. I can always call in the experts though, but the experts obviously don't really have the time to make radio...or garden with the rest of us hoi pilloi so you may be stuck with me for the time being.

What to do about grapefruit bugs?? I don't know I don't have a grapefruit in my own garden but if you don't eat the grapefruits it may be the bugs will get to them first.  Tip harvest the grapefruits don't just leave them there to get eaten. I had been thinking about this. Since I'm not an ambassador for Yates or Monsanto or any evil agricultural corporation, I don't have to endorse any branded weedkiller or pesticide that can potentially kill Kauri trees.  I can just say well you know what, you totally are lacking a balanced ecosystem in your garden if everything's being devastated by bugs. You need to grow beneficial companion plants that will attract bugs away from your grapefruits and set up hotels for your predatory bugs that will eat the bad bugs, like spiders or wasps. Not many people are aware that spiders eat flies as do wasps bad bugs as everyones concentrating on killing every insect that ever lived. No wonder you overrun with plagues of bugs. Or maybe you don't have enough birds in your garden that eat the bugs. Grow some more trees and give them homes so that they can eat the bugs.  Perhaps you've totally neglected to add a chicken to your garden. No wonder you spending a fortune on fertiliser and store brought eggs when for one chicken you may get these for free, as well as less the cost of an insinkerator to eat all your kitchen scraps.

Ah the wisdom of the ages. When did I become such a garden sage. Well its like when people ask me how do I stay so thin. I mean, apparently people ask me this silly question and think its because I starve myself, am on a diet, or have some strange high metabolism. And I don't really want to tell them that huh I was born this way its not like I deliberately made myself this way. Possibly common sense may tell them that I eat a lot of chinese food which is delicious and never worry about getting fat in the way that people that don't eat chinese food seem to.  In fact, within my chinese world I have a dozen aunties that tell me to eat MORE although it does seem I just eat the same amounts as everyone else. A constant source of frustration to my mother. I can only conclude I must have been born in the unlucky barren period where the moonlight and sunlight did not reach me and thus grew up skinny and spindly from lack of vitamin D while my bones were being formed.  The miracle is that I'm still alive!

And perhaps this is why I'm outside gardening all the time and even mowed lawns for 18 months in an attempt to get fat,  building muscles and eating three meat pies a week. Yes.  Instead of wasting away in a windowless building putting files and books in order.

Anyway for all your gardening questions answered, even if they are completely silly (they will get a silly answer) email us at

Look forward to hearing from you.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Gardening by the moon

 It was a 'super moon' full moon last night, according to Dale Harvey who came to speak at the Te Atatu Floral Circle last night, the moon is at it's apogee and the gravitational pull is at balance, so we all feel heavy and water retentive. Which is good for plants right?

For the moon is reflected sunlight, and plants grow by sunlight AND moonlight. But when the moon is waning, they get less light and thus for us gardeners its that's when its time to plant root vegetables and bulbs, and when it goes into the last quarter its the time to  cultivate the soil and kill all your weeds.  For the gravitational pull of water is below ground But if you wait till the moon waxes after the new moon, above ground growth is all happening again, and thats the time to plant and prune for leafy growth.

I hope I got that in a nutshell and resolve to now garden by the moon or by instinct because when I'd been doing it all wrong, plants failed to grow or died when I wanted them to grow.  All this is garden wisdom handed down by the ancients who followed the seasons and the moon its only in our modern, crazy, mixed up computer generated round the clock gas guzzling 24/7 instant gratification society where one can turn lights on at the flick of a switch and grow plants under glass and plastic and in chemicals out of season that we are surfeited with an abundance of junk gardeners just didn't settle for buying plants then forgetting about them from the shop  and employing others we attempt to grow our garden ourselves.

So much food for thought so am closely following my lunar calendar although I have often wondered whether at certain times of the month I should be feeding plants with my own blood but that's not talked about in garden circles and possibly a taboo topic. Wiccans and Rudolf Steinerites can mix up cow horns and chant and dance around the oak trees in the nude but I don't think I will go that far.

The good thing about following the lunar calendar is, you can say, I won't be doing any work today because its the barren period so no, am not going to clip or mow or anything or I will kill the plants. Perfect excuse to just laze around and finish catching up with all my garden magazines. I have ones from 1999 so I don't suppose it ever gets old. That's the thing with wisdom you have to dig deep for it.  Also when it's full moon perfect excuse to have garden parties by moonlight, and also that's the time to go on your honeymoon.

I had someone wish me Happy Valentines on February 14th which is weird because I only celebrate SAD - Singles Appreciation Day. They then said don't be sad, eat chocolates. Thing is I didn't receive any chocolates from anyone so how can I eat them when I don't have any. I thought the whole purpose of the holiday was so that people would buy you chocolate, but I have actually never had anyone give me any. Maybe they give chocolate to the sad people, and flowers to the happy ones? I don't know but I looked in my letterbox and didn't see any chocolates. However I always have flowers year round so I guess it didn''t make any difference!

Friday, 15 February 2019

Heroic Aucklanders

Louise and I went on our annual garden tiki tour of Auckland Heroic Garden Festival this Saturday and saw some fine gardens. We went to three, one the Fox's garden in Point Chev, two the Partridge family garden on Hillside Crescent Mt Eden, and three an amazing tropical balinese style garden in Ellerslie.

Chris and Kath Fox's garden in Point Chevalier is a very contemporary kiwi garden, completely flat section as typical of Pt Chev and thus rather sleek and simple to go with their expanded villa. Large stone slabs led to their house, with the guest house facing a native pond area with kowhai, flaxes, oioi, native groundcovers, nikaus and ferns. Then around the back was more open plan living with a small lawn, fire pit, outdoor living area, a bromeliad corner, with succulent in pots decorating the walls. Three forest pansies provided a canopy, coprosmas and mulenbeckias were used as hedges, and it all looked easy care and weed free, with composting and raised vege garden to the side of the house. One idea I am going to borrow is a birdbath planted up with succulents.

Roger and Lyndsey Partridge's garden is one a very sloping site right next to Mt Eden of course, their large villa built 1870 abutting the hill, so one has to walk many steps leading up to the house and even more steps to their backyard, which is terraced. Such a site would be completely daunting to anyone considering eking out a garden, but these owners weren't put was just challenging, but where there's a will, there's a way. Wavy teucrium hedges surround the house, there's banks of jasmine and tree ferns,  feijoas, renga lilies and hens and chicken ferns, there's various steps and paths leading to a flattish lawn space, they've even incorporated a terraced vege garden and chickens penned in behind a netted golf driving range/cricket wicket. While now established with planting with not much more to do but clip, clip and clip.  And the view out over Auckland is simply amazing.

Finally over past the Ellerslie racecourse there's a quiet cul-de sac where a somewhat obsessed Polish landscape gardener Tadeusz Siankowski has devoted his life to a subtropical paradise of palms and glossy gardenias are plants you might ordinarily find indoors or in the wintergarden greenhouse such as  tropical climbers, zebra plants, peace lilies, all jostling for space beneath the palm fronds amongst water features, wavy mondo grass and crazy paving. He says he's watering from 7 in the morning and sometimes doesn't finish until 10 at night. That's dedication. And when winter rolls around, all the tender plants are brought indoors in their pots.  Quietly of all the gardens I've seen this one is the maddest but most endearing.

I think it's so easy for people in Auckland to buy a property and just keep it tidy by employing property managers who subcontract mowing the lawn around a tree or two. One can be like all the other suburbanites who aspire to do nothing with their land, other than rent it out to someone else so they can pay the mortgage while said Auckland absentee landowner lives somewhere cheaper, like Taupo for half the year. Then once they've got that mortgage paid off they can sell it on for a cool million or two, by that time the existing slum house can be bulldozed to make room for an apartment block and even more rent can be charged.  Or turned into revenue gathering carpark. But not so with these Heroic Gardeners. They are not your run of the mill Aucklanders.  They are our gardening heroes who saved a piece of Auckland from becoming carpark and turned it into paradise. I take my gardening hat off to you. Well done  good and faithful gardeners may you live long and prosper.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Garden Ramblers or Rambling Gardeners?

 I previously blogged about my concern that I was rambling on about gardens...but not in a good way. It wasn't until I tried to read 'The Diary of a Bookseller' my sister had given me for a Christmas gift that I thought hmm maybe gardening isn't as riveting as I think it is. Because being the owner of a bookshop (secondhand) sure does not make great diarist. It could be the problem of the author though, as he would diary each and every single working day and count up the number of books he looked for and ones he sold, and then bitch and moan about Amazon stealing business and his dwindling customers.

Egads. What if I'm like that. Although some people give him five stars, I couldn't even finish the book, and I'm meant to be mad on books apparently.  All librarians/readers love books right? Its not till you've worked in a library for too long that they become just stock to be sorted just like cattle that it kind of wears off.

But to be mad on plants...that doesn't wear off because unlike books plants are always growing. So far, I am careful not to brag on how many plants are in my garden and their latin names. That's in the realm of botanists and I did not major in science, but arts/humanities. However it could be I am boring you right now just like when my Dad excitedly barges in my room while I'm waking up and announces that he's just seen the change  of typography in a record label.  Say what? Me no comprende.

Anyway to cut a long story short I will do my best to present gardening in such a way that everyone can understand what it's really all about.  The thrill of growing a plant that you've not grown before, especially one that is edible could be one of them. Finding plants for free as well, that's something not to be dismissed, especially when you've got next to no income.  Looking out your window, to see flowers, birds and bees, and leafy greenness that you had a hand in establishing, well nothing beats that. Walking around your garden, away from pushy parents, breathing in oxygenated air, can't help but lift  and free ones spirits  rather that be stuck in a house under what could be a suffocating bell jar.
So gardening as therapy? Well it's always a miracle that something dares to live when so much of life is being destroyed. When you see plants fruit and set seed, die and then come back to life again, it gives one hope. Variety is the spice of life which is why I suppose the more plants the better. Why grow just one plant when you could be growing hundreds of different plants?

Today I went down to Woodside and cut back the lemon balm and divided up the clumps of garlic chives. Nobody had been eating them so I offered to take them away. You will always find your niche in a community garden if you're willing to eat what nobody else will.  So now those garlic chives are chopped up in the fridge for tomorrows dinner and the ends planted under the olive. I always find that a plant will find a home, either I'm clearing a patch and then somehow a plant will come along to fill it from somewhere else.  The fennel was setting seed and catching all the swan plant fluffy seedheads so I put that in Socks bed which now is filling up with plants, like sunflowers and mexican sage, shifted from elsewhere. I cut the seedheads and leaves off and used the fennel stalks as a retaining wall for my raised bed by the garage. All the spider plants babies are finding home in my flaming canna bed. Sheep dags are being used as mulch. To stop Martha from digging up plants, I surround new transplants with twigs from the maple tree. The pineapple sage has been cut down to create a mulch for the tomato plants.  Fading creeping violet  has been cleared away for lambs ears. And rue cuttings are in Snowy's bed.

Perhaps to you its just sounds just like I'm rearranging the front and backyard to suit myself but you see thats the thing, the garden's not right until its been feng shuied and everything is growing in harmony.  And it's not just my own house in the suburbs backyard.  I'd like everyone to be involved.  That's why the new garden show is not going to be called Rambling Gardeners. Or even Garden Ramblers. Or Gardeners on Air. I'm out for gardening to all four corners of the globe going out north, east, west and south. Listen out for... Garden Planet on Planet FM 104.6.  February 27th @2:45pm.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Year of the Banana

 Kung Hei Fat Choi! Happy Chinese New Year to you!
I got into a New Years mood with some red petunias I've planted next to the garage. The garden centres have lucky bamboos for sale and other auspicious plants for the burgeoning market - the Chinese gardener.

It's no secret that Chinese have been gardening for centuries, and kind of cornered the market on fresh fruit and veg here in New Zealand.  After all most fruit and vege shops are owned by Chinese or supplied by Chinese market gardens.  My grandparents owned a fruit shop on Dominion Road (don't know why it was specifically a fruit shop, rather than a fruit and vege shop) and my granddad's occupation was listed as 'Fruiterer'. I don't recall ever seeing this fruit shop as they had long retired by the time I was born, but Dad was actually born in said fruit shop, and apparently ran away to go flatting because he didn't want to be roped into the family business.

To this day I have not seen my Dad ever voluntarily eat fruit and I wonder what trauma he could have had at the family fruit shop to ruin his appetite forever. Instead, he seems to subsist on a diet of sausages, chips, and cups of tea. Nowadays he gets all his groceries from the big Pak n' Save which does have a large fruit and vege section, but he strolls right past and goes for the catfood. I would want to linger a while and look at all the enticing colourful displays of fruit and veges which are shipped from all corners of the globe, oranges from Australia, grapes from California, bananas from Ecuador, juicy pears from Korea, snow peas from Zambia, garlic from China, etc. I look at the mirrored mountains of produce all picked and ready to put in those annoying plastic bags you can never open (what, they still have them...? I thought single-use ones were meant to be banned??). Mum would test them each to see which ones were good and fresh and ripe. We would weigh up the watermelons, and gently squeeze the avocadoes, trying to pick the right ones. Who wants a dud avocado? We left our thumbprints on many an avocado that wasn't yet ready.

I err on the side of unripe thinking it's better to take it home to ripen than buy something thats too ripe only to spoil on the way home. Mum is one of those annoying people who thinks bananas are best when they are going spotty and brown, whereas I think they are tastiest with a slight green to the yellow skin. How humiliating at school when my play lunch consisted of a banana lovingly packed by mum that looked rotten when I took it out of my lunch box, half turning to mush because it had been cooking in my school bag. And being teased by the kids at school for daring to eat rotten banana. Oh its still good says Mum. Also she says I peel it wrong, apparently from the wrong end. And I'm not supposed to eat it like a monkey, I'm supposed to peel the entire banana and throw away the skin instead of eating it holding the skin. Funny the stuff you remember as a kid.

I must be going bananas because I'm really keen to grow more after being inspired by Pt Chevalier's community banana plantation (I mean garden) and who knows it could be the next Banana Republic. As we do not have the problem of monkeys in Auckland I can't think of anything that would stop us from establishing a homegrown banana capital, with those cute mini bananas that have a tougher  greenish skin. Aside from competition from Australia of course but who wants their bananas. They pale in comparison to ours, which are fresh and just the right amount of ripeness.

Also we have plenty of banana boats/kayaks should we wish to ship to other parts of the country or even export to the world,  and make everything from banana shampoo, banana chips to banana rose fertiliser, to smoothies and milkshakes combining our other number one export, dairy. Move over pineapple lumps!

I've heard that people like me, instead of being labeled Chinese gooseberries or Kiwifruit, are simply called bananas because we are born in NZ, look yellow on the outside but are white on the inside. I don't know about that.  I've never heard anyone call me a banana to my face. But maybe they do it behind my back in mandarin chinese which I don't understand a word of.  Who knows maybe its a compliment, but if so I can think of worse fruit to call people.

Friday, 1 February 2019

Summer Nights

 No it's not the Grease song but just referring to Summer's optimum gardening time is in the evening till twilight when it's cooler.  That's when I get everything done that I need to, because besides early morning every other time is siesta/nap time.

Margaret has offered me her big silver fern that was growing beside her house blocking the path. We managed to dig it out, or rather, I pulled it loose, it was growing on weedmat and pebbles, so it should be pretty hardy where I've relocated it. Which is now beside my house, in between my small gardenia and fuchsia, giving shade to both. At first I was going to put it down the back of the garden, but then, as inspiration strikes and the plant  kind of tells me where it likes to be planted and this one seemed the right size to fit in a previously dug patch of ground that Martha had excavated. Hooray. Dad praised this specimen looking much better than a few of my other ferns that seemed to have shrivelled up because they no longer like where I'd planted them - the neighbours keep removing their trees so I have to keep moving my plants! I did this with two hydrangeas put them in the corner box bed with the apricot, since they were now facing the full onslaught of the sun with the lack of shade. Those hydrangeas must be tired of moving as I've shifted them about four times.

That left an empty patch of no-man's land in Sock's bed so I emptied the compost bin's content and relocated a struggling kowhai that was being swamped by my applemint. Hopefully it will survive I don't think that bed has seen much compost at all since being over run with bulbs and spider plants, that keep multiplying. I'm still thinking of shifting my lemon tree at some stage to catch more sun but that move may need to wait until winter.

I am hoping to catch the last of the Heroic Gardens this year coming year 16-17 February.  This time many are near Freeman's Bay and out East Auckland. They say it's the last festival under the Heroic Gardens banner because the founder is sadly terminally ill and can't continue any longer.  I'm sure that it will keep going under a different name and maybe for a different charity as surely there's enough gardens in Auckland to go round! Wouldn't it be good if there was a Feijoa Festival or a Permaculture Community Gardens Fest for next year? I always remember my former boss pooh-pooing Permaculture saying they were messy gardeners but I think he just liked to nitpick. Needless to say with that attitude I pretty soon decided I'd had enough of his artifice.  Let's be real, if you going to garden, you going to get dirty, and in Auckland, muddy. Thats why some people are paying you to garden Mister.

Heidi my permaculture classmate invited me to Point Chevalier's Community Garden, it's on a spare bowling green at the bowling club. Karyn and Maximus joined us and I must say am very impressed what they've achieved in only three years.  They'd mulched the entire area and had bountiful grapevines and bananas, and everything seemed green and lush, with nothing to mow! We were scouting for potential radio presenters and some seemed keen so hopefully we are going to be on air by the end of the month. Stay tuned.