Friday, 26 April 2019

Terri's hillside haven

I didn't know Titirangi used to be farmland. That it was all clear-felled for farms only a century ago, then divided up into housing with the rainforest slowly growing back. Terri's house in on the ridgeline of Pleasant Road and her garden is all the land below it. When she described the difficulty of working it, I couldn't imagine more contrast to my flat, clear treeless expanse to her sloping jungle.

Yesterday Karyn and I took tea and a wander. We were enveloped in a profusion of plants, climbers, bromeliads, natives, camellias, exotics, and a bog garden down below where the rain settles. We were a bit disturbed by her description of her banana tree as a male part of the anatomy, but it really was a giant wonder. It can be back breaking work, and she regularly goes to an acupuncturist, because there's nothing to stop everything from rolling down the hill. Her olives tree is planted outside her kitchen's front door, so when it does drop fruit, they literally roll into her kitchen. She's also got a grapevine trained up the side of her house, to pluck in the summer on the deck.

Some plants are unruly. The puriris need to be clipped back, and the tradescantia pulled up. The puka which drops giant leaves has to go. Dracena is unwanted. On the plus side there is no lawn to mow. But on the downside she needs to bring an aborist in for her trees. Veges don't really stand a chance with the lack of sun, and fruit trees sometimes struggle. But if foliage is your thing, she's got giant taro, gunnera, lacy papyrus. She's got japanase maples and a brilliant tupelo tree that is like a chameleon in all different shades of leaf from crimson to gold.  She rhapsodises about the smell of philedelphus 'mock orange' and brunfelsia 'yesterday, today and tomorrow'.

I marvel at the piece of paradise that Terri has created, rescued out of wild ginger and privet. She bushwhacked a path down to where she's got another little deck with two chairs under the tupelo tree and facing the dinghy pond. It has water lilies in it. Not that she's got much time to the garden there's always stuff to do.

Karyn says she reminds her of her mother who also commands a house and garden in the hills of Matakana,  built an entire retaining wall and can boast of  trekking across the mountains of Spain in her 70s. I suppose you can  call them 'indomitable women' . Terri knows people might think her quite mad, as the garden has her quite in it's grasp. I remark her garden is like the book 'Where the Wild Things Are' where the wild things say 'please don't go, we'll eat you up, we love you so'. I know she wants us to stay longer and be enchanted, but Karyn was getting bitten by bugs and so we left Terri at her garden's mercy.

I went back home and thought well my garden is very tame.  In general the plants don't encroach and everything seems like its orderly and tidy even though Mum and Dad don't think so. (see previous post) I reckon I should mix it up a bit, and plant a kauri tree right in the middle of the lawn. I will make my claim that I am stopping the Kauri trees from dying back. If they protest they will then need to take that up with Department of Conservation.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

The fight for territory

I'm devastated, Dad 'pruned' my kowhai tree its like he doesn't even want it to grow. Another time he smashed my fig tree in a fit of rage. It's still struggling. Anything that gets in the way of his view of the sky he just cuts without any thought.

I wondered if I can educate him but no he's deaf to anything I say. Mum doesn't care either. Its well documented that she's not a fan of trees, unless they are bonsai.

I've considered running away and living in a caravan park with the drunks and addicts and other runaways. I mean where else can I go? I thought I need a plan but nothing presents itself. I can't afford anywhere else. Earthsong is occupied.

I went for a walk around the newest housing area in Hobsonville Point but was rather dismayed that new housing costs at least half a million dollars in homes you wouldn't want to live in. There is one token community garden that consists of some rectangular beds for apartment dwellers.

I once lived with my brother and he was to be honest absolutely horrible to live with. He got mad when I left a book of mine on the coffee table. And my sister has never invited me to stay in the UK - not that I see any appeal of London whatsoever, where there's no bush. And you have to be over 70 to live in the Waitakere Gardens, I wouldn't fit in.

Maybe I'm  just not meant to live anywhere else. I read this book about a woman and her husband who gave up their jobs to just walk around New Zealand and camp. They hunted rabbits and goats and foraged. But the thing is its ok for them, as they have each other, but I have nobody.

I started to think maybe I'm the problem and I'm just not good to live with anyone. The tv is too loud, and I can't stand people who cut down trees, and when I go outside,  Dad yells at me to shut the door cos I'm letting cold air in the house. Some days I escape to the public library, as nobody bothers me there. I just sneak in, and my former colleagues don't accost me, I open up a book and its like I'm in the zone.

I once lived for a time in a mental hospital.  My parents were relieved to lock me in for while, and give me drugs when things got out of hand, like I would be thinking I could save the world or something. You know, like reading out loud too much and having silly ideas like, if I move this out of the way, I can actually have my own space. I tell you, it was kind of nice to have your own room in the hospital all to yourself, and have a proper  breakdown and be locked up. People thought I was mad because I would do stuff like start creating art to decorate the hospital, because they had nothing on the walls and it looked boring. Well I was happy because even in a mental hospital you can just read books. They don't ban books in there. Unfortunately, my reprieve didn't last long and the doctors said I was not mental enough to stay in hospital, so I got released, but I never did give up my reading habit and still quietly read books when nobody's looking.

Good news it does turn out my library degree comes in handy after all, because for the first time in my life I will have my own space. Ranui Primary School here I come.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Chill out

Daylight saving has ended and I'm finding that everything has started growing again, but I'm fearing the frosts will come soon and end all this nice new growth. For example lots of nasturtium seeds have decided to germinate, but, how much chance will they have to flower when the frost will kill them?

I finally got my second compost bin set up. It came in a box with instructions to screw it together with nuts and bolts, but, so far I have only put in the base layer of twigs and dried up muehlenbeckia vines, and a scattering of comfrey leaves, as dad hasn't mowed the lawns yet to put grass clippings in.

My garden seems a bit out of balance as I'm finding I'm always short of something...there isn't enough shade, there isn't enough soil, and there isn't enough material to make compost with. Which means, I have to still go out and buy materials, or scrounge. I am really loathe to buy compost in plastic sacks now. I just don't think they have any life in them. How can it compare with home-made compost? Why should I buy an inferior product when I could make a superior one for free?

I am also trying to put all the rubbish I learned in commercial gardening behind me. I come clean about commercial gardeners - they don't actually care for your garden. They 'care' only so they can make money from you. I am in absolute horror at some of the unsustainable practices they do,  only justified because of their 'bottom line'.

For example. None of the commercial gardeners ever make any compost from the garden 'waste' they remove. In all the gardens I've been to (called 'sites') all the green material is removed, sometimes not  even sorted, and put into the landfill or waste transfer station. It's never returned to the garden as compost. We don't know where it goes after that. Even if it is eventually made into compost, then it's sold to someone else so never actually returned to the land it came from. Top soil is removed too (from building sites) and new, dead top soil brought in. Nothing ever done to grow new soil, and what little soil is left is hoed to death. Bark is used as mulch rich robs a lot of nitrogen from the soil, so more chemical fertilisers need to be added.

Fossil fuels. Commercial gardeners expend a lot of time and energy just getting from site to site. They only spend a few hours on one site, and often not there for the entire day. Why because workers are paid by the hour. So the less they can pay and the faster they work better. But haste makes waste, and shortcuts are taken.

Pesticide use. Many of the commercial gardeners will spray for short term effect and not care that in the long term they are poisoning the land. One company admitted they sprayed roundup 35% of the time because they just couldn't be bothered weeding. Not enough staff. No matter even if there are children running barefoot on the land they are spraying. They even held seminars trying to convince workers that its safe, and call it earning your 'Growsafe' certificate. What rubbish! It's not 'grow safe'! It's bloody poison!

Worse than the 'spray, and walk away' attitude, is the 'wet and forget' mentality. I've seen trees planted in the most inappropriate places. Very expensive specimens languishing in planter boxes. Go up to North Westgate and you'll see what I mean. Dead pohutakawas, that might have looked great at first, but whoever didn't think to plant them IN THE GROUND because they grow into a huge tree, was not obviously thinking like a gardener who cares for plants, but as a designer who wants to play around with living things. Sure it will look good for a season, but then, plants grow. And when plants grow they need looking after. But someone obviously makes a lot of money planting plants in inappropriate places, and then leaving it for someone else to look after.

"Mow, blow, and go". This is not gardening. It's basically the equivalent of a tidy up job. Gardens are not places to be 'tidied'. So really think about whether you want a real gardener or just an outdoor tidy-upper. Because an outdoor tidy-upper will just poison all your plants so nothing will grow, and it will look tidy, but you won't have a garden. The funny thing is, it seems like some so-called garden companies are devolving. When I heard that the one I worked for was helping put in a carpark (instead of a garden) and facilitated this, I though, how suicidal is that. Are they in the business of growing things or killing things?

Before I get a headache from thinking about this stuff that makes me kinda angry, I will just write my rant in this blog and maybe put it out there because its stuff they don't ever tell you about the dirty trade of commercial gardening.

And I'm just going to chill out and put all that behind me, and thank God that I am free of bondage from commercial gardeners.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019


I've finally got round to reading and looking at Flourish, New Zealand Women and Their Extraordinary Gardens, a sumptuously photographed coffee-table book about 26 green fingered women, from all around the country and their unforgettable gardens.

The authors, journalist and photojournalists Juliet Nicholas and Barb Rogers, came up with this clever idea for a book. So they went round visiting these gardens and taking photos and talking to women who's hobby, or was it obsession... resulted in some amazing gardens, some of which are open to the public.

Included are some I've had the opportunity to see, Lynda Hallinan's Foggydale Farm, Bev McConnell's Ayrlies, Margaret Barkers' Larnach Castle, Liz Morrow's Omaio. I'm thinking of adding Penny Wiggins 'The Paddocks' to my bucket list in Warkworth which isn't too far - day trip anyone?

There's a permaculture one and one that's become a community garden, because the lady started gardening the vacant lot next door. There's a few married to wealthy architects. Actually quite a few, although some are widowed and had downsized to smaller plots. Many garden in the English  tradition but a few have gone completely modern and have given up clipped hedges and flowery perennials in favour of year round bromeliads, succulents and natives.

So move over Monty Don going round the world in 80 gardens..this pair went round New Zealand in 26. If they can get a TV series going I'm all eyes. Speaking of TV which I haven't tuned in for ages, on Fridays they are showing Love Your Garden which is a British TV show like Mucking In used to be, about people who go and transform someone else's weed infested bottlestrewn wasteland into paradise.

Ok maybe I'm being dramatic but lets face it that's what some of us have to start with.  Topsoil been scraped away by developers...? They sell it back to you but its completely worthless because they've killed all the worms and beneficial bacteria. The building contractors have left lead and asbestos and mercury from their building materials, and worse, maybe your land was former toxic landfill and been sprayed with DDT and other nasty pesticides. And the remaining soil has been compacted by bulldozers to be as hard as concrete. Great for building a house or apartment block on, not so great for gardening.

So how to flourish when that's been our lot? This book doesn't really address that, as quite a number of woman just decided to retire and make their holiday home their garden. Fair enough but what about the rest of us who don't have extra nest egg holiday homes? And can't just call up our garden landscape designer friends? I'm sure there's a bit more to it than spending a fortune and a lifetime planting loads of plants in cleverly designed layouts. Nothing much is really said about the soil except for a lot of digging and broadforking by willing slave husbands. And maybe some seaweed drenches.

I found another book that I'm going to read called Gardening with Biochar. It promises to 'Supercharge your soil with Bioactivated Charcoal'  to *grow healthier plants *create nutrient-rich soil and *increase your harvest.

If it works I'll let you know, but after I've tried this stuff called CPP - Cowpat Pit. It's well, cow pats but especially biodynamically activated, and promises when swirled around and sprayed in the right moon phase, to make my soil come alive and make all my plants grow healthy and strong.  Yes please!

Thursday, 4 April 2019

What's the plan??

Actually I have no (garden) plan.
It's all in my head and nobody can know it, cos you can't read my thoughts, but, I do have them on paper somewhere, except it doesn't look like a business case or a proposal or anything you can make much sense of. If I had you inside my brain, you'd be wondering where the exit is.

I am quite surprised I even passed my PDC, Permaculture Design Certificate, given that my church project design, wasn't even really designed. It was just a bunch of indecipherable doodles on paper, lists of plants, and there was the church in the middle of it all, only because well, you can't bust down a church. It had certain zones, like, flowers next to the building, flowers along the roadside, and flowering shrubs along another side. Tropical flowers in the warm spot, and native and groundcover flowers on the berm. There was even a proposed raised beds for vegetables and herbs, with even more flowers. Flowers covering an arch, flowers on the fence, and flowers inside the church, flowers in hanging baskets, flowers along the railing.

Actually, I wanted to cover the whole church in flowers, but um...maybe it would have been simpler to just to propose, remove all the kikuyu, and cover the entire land area that was kikuyu with spanish shawl. It doesn't grow above 30 centimetres to satisfy Auckland Transport, and you never need to mow it. It has cerise flowers when it does flower, otherwise it looks just like carpet. We could have church picnics on it, and 'carpet time' would take on a new meaning.

I'm having a bit of trouble because, plans have a funny way of never being approved. I would take my plan to the church board, they'd look at it and make positive noises but never say oh YES GO ON RIGHT AHEAD. They'd just say 'oh that's a nice plan'. And then go on to a different topic, like, sooo do you want to help count the tithes?

Actually I'm really useless at counting tithes, so please don't call me to do it. It's like doing the float in the morning at the library. I hated that job. I think one time I was counting the float and couldn't make the till balance, like we were 3 cents short or something. How do you even find 3 cents. They don't even make 3 cents anymore. Counting the tithes at church is similar, you'd think it would come in multiples of ten (tithe = ten percent) right? Oh no, its all fives and ones and somehow adds up with 3 cents. And they put in these envelopes with numbers on them, and you supposed to put the amount on the envelope so you know how much people gave. But I wonder why don't people put that themselves? So I forgot to do it, and added it all up together, but because we don't know how much people gave individually, they had to go back and call everyone who gave and ask them um how much did you give? Anyway it's all over my head, I don't do the whole envelope thing and never keep a tally of how much, because honestly, ten percent of nothing is really not a lot, especially when you have next to no income.

They don't really accept flowers as tithing. Even though the Pharisees were known to tithe their cumin and mint (ten cumin seeds, ten mint leaves). Actually it's meant to be your harvest for the season, ten percent of your produce, but since my proposed planting fruit trees at church was never approved, I have nothing to give. And the food basket then says 'no perishable food allowed'. So I'm allowed to give some near used by date stale crackers, but not fresh feijoas. I could give easter chocolates, but not hot cross buns.

Of course, this makes no sense to me, but then, not much does in this world.
Terri and I are going to chat about groundcovers on Garden Planet, so I might mention this, or we might play that song 'they paved paradise and put up a parking lot' because that's seems to be what they are planning at church instead of a beautiful garden.