A pop quiz!


Small (and not so small) plants from Perth

I’m in Perth, admiring Western Australia’s wildflowers, posing beside century-old grass trees (I think the species pictured here is Xanthorrhoea acanthostachys) and saying no to endless offers of free champagne. (It’s a tough life, I tell you, being pregnant on an all-expenses paid media jaunt. How many non-alcoholic cocktails can a girl take?)

I’m here on a tour with Air New Zealand, and yesterday we spent the day trekking through some of the city’s off-the-beaten-track wildflower areas. Now when I think of wildflowers, I usually think of the cheerful annual meadows we sow at home, but Western Australia’s wildflowers are quite different. They have evolved in some of the most inhospitable situations: hot, dry, dusty soils lacking in fertility. I was ready to wilt after a few hours admiring these rugged blooms; how they survive is a miracle, especially when you factor in all those kangaroos waiting to nibble off their tender new foliage.

Our guide yesterday was Eddy Wajon, author of the Colour Guide to Spring Wildflowers of Western Australia. Eddy’s nuts about wildflowers. He can spot a hairy yellow pea or a hidden featherflower at a hundred paces, which made him the perfect chap to have on hand as we explored the urban bush.

I’d like to think of myself as a bit of a botanical boffin, but aside from the ubiquitous kangaroo paw and several banksias, I don’t think I recognised a single species all day.

So, now for a quiz: the first person who can match the names and numbers of the plants pictured (click on the photo to enlarge if need be) win will a copy of my new book, Back to the Land. And to get you started, No 1. is Anigozanthos manglesii, the Mangles kangaroo paw. You can buy a hybrid version of this groovy plant in garden centres as Anigozanthos ‘Bush Dance’.

The other nine are (in jumbled order):
Mouse ears (Calothamnus rupestris)
Pink enamel orchid (Elythranthera emarginata)
Dunsborough donkey orchid (Diuris aff. amplissima)
Grey cottonheads (Conostylis candicans)
Prickly dryandra (Dryandra falcata)
Blue devils (Eryngium pinnatifolium – this one should be a doddle!)
Some tiny fluffy-headed thing (my notes failed me high, which could be because we’d just spotted a snake slithering past)
A native carnivorous sundew (Drosera)
Star of Bethlehem (Calectasia narragara)

Start Googling! I’m off to explore the city of Perth before we fly off here for two nights of pure luxury. As I said, it’s a tough life…

Flowers for Grace


A winter posy of hellebores, ‘Erlicheer’ and pink stock

My five-year-old niece Grace has pneumonia, poor tyke, so today Lucas and I made her a get well card and picked her a bunch of flowers from the garden. There wasn’t much to choose from in bloom at the moment but I think we put together a fairly respectable mix of fragrant ‘Erlicheer’, some straggly scented pink stock and hellebores in shades of pink, cream, lime and burgundy.
Last winter I put in 50 hellebores in a massed planting under a grove of silver birches at the end of our driveway – and they’re just beautiful right now. In my city garden, I planted loads of hellebores under a row of Michelia ‘Mixed Up Miss’ trees, but they struggled for moisture and invariably died. It’s a different story here: not only are they all covered in bloom, while I was stomping around them with my secateurs this morning I noticed dozens and dozens of self-sown seedlings popping up too. And free plants are just the best plants, aren’t they?
(Grace was pretty chuffed with her flowers, and with the wee delivery boy. Lucas is her partner in cousin crime.)

Starting early


Buried treasure: ‘Inca Gold’ yams. We’ll roast them with honey and orange juice.

Looks like we’re in for a couple of wild days of weather – it has been bucketing down for 36 hours and shows no sign of relenting. The stream through our swamp is now a raging torrent, the cats are refusing to put a paw outdoors and I can almost guarantee that our sheep will no doubt choose today to start lambing.
Luckily, we made good use of the fine (albeit grey) day on Saturday. Jason hoed over a good sized chunk of my vege patch and Mum helped me sow and transplant several rows of strawberries, peas and broad beans. Lucas helped too, if you call flinging dirt about and stealing my trowel help.
Last year I had two rows of ‘Camarosa’ strawberries in this particular corner of the garden. Now I have four; we divided up the crowns and replanted them in fresh mounds of soil enriched with a bag of strawberry food.
Then we sowed and transplanted: 2 rows of ‘Novella’ peas; a row of double Shirley poppy seedlings; 2 rows of ‘Exhibition Long Pod’ broad beans; a row of cauliflowers and broccoflowers; 2 rows of ‘Easy Peasy’ peas; a row of orange calendulas; 2 rows of ‘Greenfeast’ peas; a row of celery seedlings; 2 rows of crimson-flowered broad beans (I’m slowly bulking up my seeds of this unusual variety, though I’ll have to cover the plants when they start flowering to avoid cross-pollination); and 2 rows of climbing ‘Sugarsnap’ peas. (You may have guessed that I’m trialling all the different pea varieties, as I did with carrots last spring, to see which ones produce the best yields, the climbers or the dwarves.)
We also harvested a bowl of scrummy ‘Inca Gold’ yams. I planted the seed tubers two seasons ago, but didn’t get around to digging them up last winter (being somewhat preoccupied with a newborn baby). They popped up again last spring so I ignored them, then of course the 22 frosts we’ve had so far this winter dealt to their tender oxalis-like foliage and they died down without trace a few weeks ago. Jason was busy digging the soil over when he unearthed them. “Oh wow,” I said. “We’ve got yams!” “Oh,” replied Jason, “is that what they are? I thought they were Jerusalem artichokes so I was trying to dig them back in before you noticed.”
Bless ‘im. I’ve clearly forced him to eat enough Jerusalem artichokes this winter to last a lifetime.

Ice, ice baby


Boy oh boy: this winter is shaping up to be the stuff of (freezing) legend! We had our 20th winter frost this morning; this time last year we hadn’t even had one. It’s certainly proving useful in determining what’s truly frost-hardy… and what’s not. My silverbeet, kale and Brussels sprouts don’t even flinch but the giant mustard, Nicotiana sylvestris and seedling poppies are all laid flat by frost each time… only to pick their leaves up again when the ice thaws. Earlier this week one of my ‘The Fairy’ roses sent out a few new sprays of tiny pink blooms; the buds were dusted with ice crystals this morning. Jack Frost is also a damn effective composter. I didn’t need to clear out half my summer garden; it has simply turned to mush and slumped to soil level.
On the plus side, all this winter chill means I should get a bumper crop of apricots, almonds, peaches and nectarines come summer!

The sound of silence… and wow!



My apologies for the fact that it has been all quiet on the blog front for a couple of months now, but I’ve been busy finishing my book. It’s a journey through the seasons in my country garden, and as a girl (well this girl at least) can only have so many original thoughts, I’ve been saving them all for the book.

However I thought I’d quickly share these photos of amazing echinaceas that I took while visiting nurseryman Eddie Welsh in Palmerston North this month. Wowee – his nursery beds look like an American designer prairie garden. I’m going to sow packets of echinaceas myself next spring to emulate this look. (I did ask Eddie if he’d sell me the whole lot, but I think he thought I was kidding.)

And now, back to the book! 

Mulch, magical, marvellous, mulch…


Dahlias, colourful 'Rainbow Lights' chard, dwarf beans and 'White Emergo' runner beans on bamboo stakes. I love the sculptural quality of the Swiss chard - those seedy stalks are 2m high!

I’ve been in panic mode this week. I’ve been trying to tackle all the weeds in my garden before the ladies from the Clevedon Garden Circle come to visit on Wednesday. (I’m sure I wouldn’t be worrying half as much if it was just called the Clevedon Garden Club, but somehow ‘circle’ makes it sound so much more official. I’m half expecting the ladies to turn up in floral hats with matching handbags and posh packed lunches of cucumber sandwiches and tiny squares of Louise Cake.)

Anyway, as well as weeding, I’ve been mulching. What a difference it makes! It’s like sweeping all the dust under the carpet. I’ve used a truckload (literally) of Living Earth’s More than Mulch. It’s made from recycled untreated packing pallets, chipped and coloured with a natural black dye, then mixed with 20 per cent compost. It’s very spiffy stuff! Here’s a few more pics:

Cavolo nero (black kale) and a late crop of corn (it's the Indian heritage type). I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we get a late summer to ripen this corn!

Sweetcorn and self-sown white cosmos from last year's wedding garden

This is my favourite corner of the garden (the photo's not crash hot though). All these dahlias and rudbeckias are supposed to be in my new yellow garden at the front gate, but my husband has been too busy to excavate the bed for me... so I bunged them in here as a temporary solution.

If life hands you lemons…


I didn’t think I could grow citrus successfully in Hunua, as when I moved here, there was only one citrus tree in the garden and it was the saddest, most miserable looking ‘Meyer’ lemon you could imagine. I think we got one lemon off it that first winter. Our garden isn’t just frosty, it’s largely south-facing, making those frosts even more frosty, if you get my gist.

When we were carving the hill below our house into terraces, we ummed and ahhed over whether to keep the scungy lemon tree (and a non-fruiting feijoa) or rip them out. I felt a stab of pity for the citrus tree and figured I’d give it another year, with a bit of care, to prove its worth. (As part of the landscaping, we’d also pulled out a shelter belt that was casting quite a bit of shade over it.)

After a good feed and a stern talking to, it has had a Lazarus-like recovery. We got at least 100 lemons off it last winter and there are hundreds more developing this year. Buoyed by its change of heart, I had a change of heart too and planted a whole citrus grove last August. Four days later it snowed and killed the tops off all my trees. Ain’t that always the way? I sense potted trees that can be shifted under the wide porch across the front of our stables may be the best long term solution.

See below for my ‘How to Grow’ citrus video for The Living Channel.

How to make compost


I’ve never been the silent type, so if you’re wondering why I’ve gone a bit quiet on the blogging front lately, it’s because (a) I’m writing a book that’s due at the publishers next month, (b) I’m writing NZ Gardener’s special edition on roses (we’re launching it at the Ellerslie Flower Show), (c) Lucas has mastered the art of crawling and that means I can only write half a sentence before he manages to make his way from his bedroom (on one side of the house) to the cat biscuit bowl (his current fascination) or to the stairs (his other current obsession) and (d) the Clevedon Garden Circle is coming to visit next month and my garden is a shambles. There are more weeds than flowers… which means every spare minute must be spent in the garden.

On the plus side, all those weeds are fabulous free fodder for my triple-bay compost system, which you can check out in the video below. Happy composting!

And now, back to the book!

The Living Garden – Easy Vegetables


I can never quite believe how nice my vege patch looks on tv. Here’s a segment on my favourite easy summer veges from The Living Channel.

And that reminds me, it’s time to save the seeds from my red-flowered broad bean. I also harvested my red mustard seeds today. I’m going to have a crack at making my own corn chips with homegrown mustard and poppy seeds for a bit of extra flavour instead of flaxseeds.

Berried treasures


'Thornless Jewel' boysenberries

The rain this week has made a right mess of my garden. The dahlias are bedraggled, the roses ruined. I figured my berry bushes would be sad and soggy too, but I was wrong. I just picked the first 1kg of sweet ‘Thornless Jewel’ boysenberries from our orchard. I’ll have to pick them daily from now on because my bird netting isn’t all it should be: in fact there must be a border collie sized gap at one end because our dog somehow managed to get stuck under it.