‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’

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Nine weeks ago, I pruned all my repeat-flowering roses back so they’d flower on cue next weekend for our wedding. Then I had a panic attack about all the preparations… so we decided to change the date to give ourselves an extra fortnight to get everything done. I forgot to tell the roses not to rush though – and even then, some of them have shown up early. ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ is looking glorious today. She’s smothered in beautiful crimson-pink blooms that are dripping petals all over the rock wall at the end of the stables. My photo just doesn’t do the colour justice – it’s bright, but in no way garish, and the foliage (which hasn’t been sprayed at all) is perfect too. ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ is a fragrant David Austin English rose that can either be grown as a tall shrub or a short climber, though mine seems to be trying to be both. It has a compact shape at the front with a big spiky mohawk of tall canes at the back.

DIY lemonade stand

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What’s the definition of a marriage made in heaven? When you’re a gardener, I think it’s having a partner who not only doesn’t mind your endless mad schemes – a new bed here, a rock wall there, a bonfire-sized brazier over there – but can jolly well build them too. So when I proposed we knock together a village fair-style drinks stand to serve the punch and homemade lemonade from at our wedding, the Hunk immediately drove off to the timber yard, bought some ply and posts… and, with help from his dad and my brother-in-law Alan, whipped up the cutest darn lemonade stand I’ve ever seen.

It took half a day to build (we used a recycled plastic plant pot as a template for the jigsaw-cut awning roof) and a week to paint (the colours are white, ‘Japanese Laurel’ (bright green) and ‘Feijoa’ (pale green) from Resene, which I’ve also used to paint everything from the chicken coop to wine barrel planters and obelisks for the big day).

The drinks stand is supposed to sit on the deck in front of our house, but I begged the boys to lift it out onto the formal lawn so I could snap a photo of it today. Bad move… because it looked so sweet sitting on the grass that now it seems a shame not to leave it there.

Which brings me back to that whole (impending) marriage made in heaven definition. “The lemonade stand looks so good on the lawn,” I sighed. “Why don’t we just build another one then?” replied the Hunk. He wasn’t even joking.

The only downside to a marriage made in heaven? It works both ways. This afternoon when I got home, the blokes were ripping around the old equestrian arena on motorbikes, having spent the day scraping it clean with a bulldozer. It’s the only flat spot on the farm for parking, but after the wedding my long term goal is to transform it into a posh, parterre-themed, pick-your-own berry and flower farm modelled on the famous potager at Villandry in France.

Or at least that’s what I was planning. “I’ve had a better idea,” said the Hunk this afternoon. “The boys and I have decided it would make a perfect go kart racing track…”

Bouquets & bumps

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Some brides go for traditional bouquets of perfect white roses and frilly, feminine lisianthus and silken phalaenopsis orchids. I love those bouquets. They’re so elegant and classic and sophisticated and, well, manicured. But these are not adjectives that really apply to me. I’m a gumboots and dirt-under-the-nails sort of gal. So I’ve decided to give my bridesmaids graceful bouquets of green hydrangeas and white flowers, while I go for a crazy, colourful, convivial bouquet of dramatic dahlias. (This might help explain why my blog is suddenly dahlia-obsessed at the moment.)

Yesterday, for a bit of a practice run, I took three buckets of blooms from Dahlia Haven into the lovely Davina at Vida Flores to see what she could whip them up into. All I can say is: ooooooooh!  (And ahhh… I wish my arms were as thin and toned as Davina’s colleague in these photos).

Dahlias are just so darn gorgeous that they really don’t need too much fiddling about with. But just for fun, Davina’s also going to pimp up my bouquet with a swishy tail of flax or asparagus fern. And, as I’ve got a baby bump that’s getting bigger by the day, I figure the bigger my bouquet, the better. It will help me keep my balance as I waddle off down the lawn. Though I am a little concerned I might end up giving one of my single mates a serious case of concussion when I throw that bouquet in their direction on the big day…

Summer lovin’

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Love is in the air. And in our paddocks too. I’m not the only one up the duff this summer: the bull has just had his wicked way with the yearlings.

Our ewes will be next, just as soon as I decide whether to run them with a black-faced Dorper or a spotty Arapawa ram. Or perhaps I’ll try to get my hands on a Middle Eastern Karakul – its high grade pelts were traditionally used to make Persian carpets – or a Dorset Horn. Described by the Rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand (www.rarebreeds.co.nz/) as “an excellent doer”, the Dorset Horn boasts a “capacious stomach, fine fleece, hoofs of mother-of-pearl and a nose like a fresh raspberry”. Which all sounds fairly delicious.

And rather auspicious. After all, we are hosting a wedding next month. What could be more fitting than a rare breeds gift register? Instead of fronting up with Briscoes vouchers, sheet sets and half a dozen toasters, our friends and family could all chip in for a couple of kunekune pigs, shaggy highland cattle, Anglo-Nubian goats and a pair of miniature Mediterranean donkeys. (Donkeys, especially, make marvellous wedding gifts. They outlast the average modern marriage by a decade or three.)

But I digress. Before we get any more animals, we need a family planning strategy for the ones we’ve already got. Our border collie puppy has come of age. He’s taken to humping anything that moves, and quite a few things that don’t. I had hoped his teenage hormones might distract him from digging up my flower beds, but sadly no. So he’s booked in for the snip. 

Some holiday romances take you by surprise, but none more than the curious coupling of my purebred Silkie hens, Sage and Onion. Sometime between Christmas and New Year, Sage started stuffing Onion. She’d hop on, squawk like a strangled cat, then hop off again. Girls just want to have fun, I figured. But closer inspection revealed the suspicious beginnings of a wobbly comb and wattle under her coiffured top knot.

Sage must simply have been a late developer, for he’s now the silliest looking rooster I’ve ever seen. Think Liberace in a blow-dried feather boa. 

Onion, however, is smitten. She’s now sitting on a clutch of 11 wee eggs, each no bigger than a Cadbury Creme Egg. If they hatch in time, I’ll sack the flowergirls and have a cortege of fluffy white baby chicks trailing me up the aisle instead.

Self Sufficiently Lynda is published each week in Sunday magazine, in the Sunday Star-Times.

Potato pride

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Every year I put in a main crop of ‘Agria’ spuds – they’re by far the best for winter roasts and hot chips – as well as an early crop of ‘Jersey Benne’ or ‘Cliff’s Kidney’ for Christmas Day, but this year my vege patch planning was thrown out of kilter by morning sickness. I put in a bag of ‘Agria’ seed spuds the week I found out I was pregnant in September, but I never quite got around to getting any ‘Cliff’s Kidneys’ in the ground. Not to worry, on Christmas Day we dug up half the ‘Agrias’ and ate them instead.

We dug the rest of my spuds early this week, as I need more space at the end of the asparagus bed to plant lettuces (we’re serving gourmet hamburgers at our wedding). We filled a 40-litre plastic trug with mighty fine tubers, which weighed in at 17.4kg. I’m proud as punch. That means my total yield was probably in the vicinity of 30kg. What a difference decent soil (and three bags of sheep pellets and two bags of blood and bone) makes.

The dog posing with the spuds is our Beagle/Jack Russell cross, Gypsy. (I kid you not: that’s what she was advertised as when the Hunk rescued her from a backyard in one of the meaner streets of South Auckland a few years back. I suspect her previous owners may have been stretching the truth somewhat…)

Gypsy is my favourite dog today, while Mr Puppy Doo-Hawg (our 11 month old border collie) is in my bad books. He digs holes when he’s bored, and he must have been very bored yesterday because the little sod uprooted half the white garden underneath our lounge window. Just when the impatiens had finally linked limbs and were looking lovely (especially in the moonlight), he destroyed about a dozen of them. And he also dug up (and appears to have actually eaten) one of my ‘Bridal Bouquet’ hydrangeas. We’d just mulched the bed with fresh compost so his blackened dirty paws were a dead giveaway.

It was a dark and stormy night

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I came home tonight to find that, well, I couldn’t get home. One of the liquidambars halfway up our driveway has been dismembered by gale force winds. I did my best to drag it to the side of the driveway (wasn’t much point trying to get the Hunk to push it out of the way with his crutches) but in the end I had to just give up, reverse up… and then drive right over the top of it.

I got home just before dark but it wasn’t dark enough to hide the fact that my dahlias, despite being tied to sturdy wooden stakes, have been completely flattened today. ‘Raspberry Ripple’, especially, is now more like a can of crushed raspberries. Bugger. (The dog also dug up a dozen impatiens and a couple of hydrangeas while I was at work today, but that’s another story.)

The sunflowers are still standing, just, but the huge old plane tree at the far end of the lawn – which lost its middle in the last big storm – looks worringly as if it’s going to be blown apart tonight. Here’s hoping its branches don’t land on my broody chicken. I’ve rigged up an emergency black plastic garbage bag tent, weighed down with blocks of wood, over an old barbecue table chair, to keep her safe and dry.

In hindsight, my decision to rip out the ugly conifer shelterbelt along the side of the lawn, to open up the lovely view of the Hunua ranges, may not have been my smartest move.

On the plus side, what are the chance of another cyclone blowing through in exactly one month’s time? Nil, surely? Surely? Gulp…

Get Growing, 7pm tonight

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We’re back on air tonight at 7pm on Prime TV for the second half of the series. In episode 6, I teach Chris and Lee-anne how to pretty up their vege patch with a few flowers (some edible, some beneficial, and some just for their good looks). Plus Heather cooks up a storm with chef Peter Chaplin – they make a vegetarian tofu and cashew nut salad with loads of edible flowers – and Fiona is up to her eyeballs in roses.

Bird brain

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If a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, how much is a bird in a bush worth? In my garden, the answer’s 11.

Sometime between Christmas and New Year, one of my two featherball Silkie hens (nicknamed Sage and Onion) went broody and made a nest for herself under, appropriately, the silk tree (Albizia julibrissin) at the far end of our lawn. She’s now sitting on 11 eggs.

At first I thought Onion was just a bit dopey. She’d never even met a rooster, so there was no hope that any of the eggs would hatch.

Or so I thought. But Sage (pictured) has now started crowing. A lot. I suspect he/she has a lot to crow about, having deviously avoided detection by pretending to be a girl for the past six months. But the wattle and comb are a dead giveaway now.

I couldn’t be a prouder parent. I love the idea of a whole flock of fluffy-headed Silkies running around on my wedding day. But what an unexpected dilemma it has caused. The far corner of my previously perfect lawn is starting to die off. Why? Because we’ve had to shift the irrigation sprinkler nozzle to stop it spraying the blimmin’ broody chicken.

Slightly confused sunflowers

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The hundreds of the sunflowers I sowed at the far end of our new lawn are now cheerfully blooming on cue. Unfortunately, they’ve also turned their backs on me. When you sow sunflowers, it’s important to keep in mind that they follow the sun from east to west (plant them along your eastern boundary and they’ll spend the whole day perving on your neighbours instead of grinning at you). But here’s something else I’ve learned: if you have a huge old oak tree near your sunflowers that blocks the midday sun for an hour, then your sunflowers will turn their heads half-way, then stop, and stay facing east all day. So I’m going to try a classic Kiwi No. 8 wire sort of solution. I’m going to twist their necks and wire their heads so they can’t help but face west. Here’s hoping it works.

Nipped in the bud

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It’s a weird thing, trying to time a garden to look spiffing just for one day. I’m starting to feel like the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, muttering “off with their heads” every time I find a flower bud that has deigned to show its face early.

I’ve taken to daily patrols of the flower border in front of the stables, armed with a pair of secateurs, to snip off any open blooms. It feels like sabotage. But deadheading is hardly a chore when the spin off is an endless supply of free fresh flowers to fill up the vases.

All my dahlias, especially the delicious ‘Raspberry Ripple’ (pictured above), with its burgundy-splashed petals,  are going great guns. I’m a little nervous that they’ve peaked too soon. Here’s hoping the half bag of Nitrophoska Blue I dumped at their feet today will keep them in good spirits for another six weeks.