Fresh almonds

I’ve just harvested my first crop of homegrown almonds. Well, it’s probably stretching it a little to describe 13 almonds as a “crop”, but given that my trees have only been in the ground for 18 months, I figure I’m lucky to get any at all.

I’ve put in 40 almond trees here – 10 each of four different varieties: ‘403’, ‘CY750’, ‘Fabrin’ and ‘Monovale’. (They have such romantic names!) Most of them are in our windswept orchard, but I planted the ‘Monovale’ trees on the sheltered bank below our house. It has proved to be a wise decision (which, to be honest, was actually born of laziness; I just couldn’t be bothered lugging the last bundle of bare-root trees down to the paddock) because the ‘Monovale’ trees are now at least twice as tall and twice as healthy as their compatriots. Plus, in early spring, all I can see from the downstairs bedroom window is a cloud of pink blossom. Almond blossoms leave cherries for dead. Unfortunately, that early blossom is both a blessing and a curse, as the flowers are frost-tender. Six severe frosts in a row last year wiped out any chance of a crop from our other varieties out in the open.

Fresh almonds, as you can see from the photo, look like small unripe peaches. Some varieties split open when they’re ripe to reveal the brown shell around the kernel inside, but ‘Monovale’ doesn’t seem to do that. So, a couple of weeks back, I picked a trial nut and left it on the kitchen windowsill to dry. The fleshy outer part of the fruit slowly shrank and shrivelled until I could peel it off the hard-shelled nut. I took to that with a sledgehammer (mental note to self: buy a nutcracker) today and – wow – out popped a perfectly formed almond. And – double wow! – the flavour was incredible. It was as sweet as marzipan and as marzipan-y as, well, marzipan Christmas cake icing. Which, incidentally, is one of my all-time favourite flavours. Here’s hoping that by this time next year, I’ll be able to make my own.

You can order almond trees from garden centres for winter planting. Waimea Nurseries supplies two recommended varieties for home gardens – the dwarf ‘Garden Prince’ and ‘All-in-One’. Find out more at their website.

Daffodils & bluebells

What a week of highs and lows. From the joy of last weekend, when Jason and I shared our wedding day with all of our friends and family members – including several aunts, uncles, cousins and gardening industry colleagues who had flown up from Christchurch – to the utter, utter devastation of Tuesday’s quake.

My heart just goes out to everyone in Canterbury in the wake of this tragedy. My thoughts are with you all, now and in the dark days ahead.

Sometimes the only things that bring comfort at times like these, especially for those of us observing from a distance, are the little things. Things like sowing seeds – a symbol of hope and optimism for the future – or pulling weeds or planting trees.

Whenever I think of Christchurch, that fine, proud, beautiful garden city, I think of the swathes of English bluebells along the banks of the Avon River, and the cheerful daffs that sprout beneath those mighty old deciduous trees around Hagley Park. Daffodils and bluebells that, despite this week’s horror, will resolutely bloom again come spring. I’m going to plant some under the oak trees here in my garden. It’s the only thing I can think of to do today, even in such a small way, to pay tribute to those lost.

The Bride & Groom… and a photogenic puppy

Mr & Mrs Hinton and Mr Puppy Doo-hawg. Photo: Sally Tagg

What a magic day. They say your wedding day is one of those days you’ll never forget, and they’re right. It was perfect from start to finish (though as the only sober one at the party, I was definitely ready for bed by the time the last guests hit the tequila at 3am!) 

I think we all scrubbed up rather nicely! Jason (aka the Hunk, now the Hubby) was looking super spiffy in his new suit (civil engineering contractors don’t generally have much call for for fancy-pants menswear), I wore a simple (and stretchy) frock to accommodate the baby bump and even Mr Puppy Doo-hawg agreed to a shampoo and blow wave (well, a wash and a dry roll in the dusty gravel on the driveway at least). We had wonderful weather, the garden looked gorgeous, the guests ate, drank and were merry, and it all went off without a hitch.

I adored my big bouquet of colourful mixed dahlias from Davina at Vida Flores. Davina added a funky off-centre trail of asparagus fern studded with wee Bells of Ireland (Molucella laevis). I’ve always loved their stately lime green spires but have never managed to grow them successfully, so that’s on my to-do list to master next season. I’ll order seeds to sow from Kings Seeds and, green fingers crossed, they’ll be in bloom by this time next year.

The Sunday Star Times also snapped a nice pic of the pair of us standing in the middle of the wildflower border. You can read their story here.

The Big Day: Photos of the Garden 3

Looking down the hill to the arena/carpark/eventual berry farm.
The dahlia bowls were super simple and effective, and Mum made green spotty table runners for the huge 5m long tables the boys built from planks of 6' x 2' roughsawn timber.
Looking through the tent from the side.
When the sun went down, we fired up our snazzy new super-sized brazier (it's 1.5m wide)... built by the Hunk. Cue jokes about him setting my world on fire...

The Big Day: Photos of the Garden 2

We used the leftover pickets from the chicken coop fence as stakes to hold up the bunting flags around the garden.
Minnie checking out the oval bowls of dahlias from Dahlia Haven for one of the tables. They were all just gorgeous.
The lemonade stand, where we served the wedding punch (made from an 1861 recipe)
We kept the mozzies at bay at night with these divine green citronella candles in cut crystal sundae dishes. They were such a lovely gift from the girls at Mapua Country Trading Company.

The Big Day: Photos of the garden 1

The lawn was just perfect. Anyone willing to take bets as to how long it stays this way?
Looking across the wildflower border to the lawn. The sun umbrellas in the wine barrels cost $20 each on sale at Briscoes last week; we pimped them up with a strip of fabric bunting, sewn by Mum.
The driveway
It's amazing what a truckload of fresh gravel can do to tart up a driveway!
We hired two 6m x 10m Raj Tents and kept our fingers crossed that it wouldn't rain as there was no backup venue plan!
I rather like the idea of installing a tent at the end of the lawn permanently. Wonder if Mum can sew canvas... just kidding Mum.
The weather gods smiled, even if most of the roses in the flower bed in front of the stables jumped the gun and flowered prematurely.

See you soon, Southland

I keep forgetting to mention (what with wedding planning, baby planning and garden planning…) that I’m heading to the deep south on Saturday March 5 for the Southland Herb Society’s 30th birthday bash. They’ve got a fun afternoon of herby adventures planned, including stalls, raffles and speakers, at the Invercargill Workingmen’s Club in Esk Street from 1-4.30pm.

I’ll be speaking about my move from city to country and all the fun I’m having in my new garden (should I confess at this point that the only herb I’ve planted here so far is a huge patch of marvellous mint?) and Robert Guyton, NZ Gardener’s Deep South and Glasshouse columnist (and knower of all things self-sufficient) will also take to the stage.

I’m looking forward to poking about Robert’s Riverton garden again while I’m down in Southland, and heading to Marshwood Gardens on a perennial hunting mission. I want more salvias, and there’s only one place to go when you want fascinating salvias… and that’s Marshwood.

If you’re in the south of the south, it would be great to meet you! Tickets cost $25, including afternoon tea (and those Southern ladies sure know how to put on a spread, if the slap-up lunch I enjoyed at the Southland Heritage Rose Society shindig last year was anything to go by!). There are no door sales so make sure you give Lyn a call on 03 215 7716 or email Anne: for tickets.

Barrels of fun

It’s a little ironic, given that I can’t actually drink wine at the moment, that I spent most of this weekend eyeing up wine barrels. Painting them, planting them, tying ribbons on the jolly things… they’re my new favourite garden accessory.

In my city garden, I had four big box balls in red painted wine barrels, with a fringe of mondo grass, parked just inside the front gate. Now those clipped buxus balls have had a green and white makeover. They’re in dark green wine barrels, underplanted with white annual petunias and white scaevolas with pale pink ‘Bubblegum Blush’ petunias around them. I plonked them along the edge of the wildflowers, where one day (but not this week) we’ll have a rock wall. (The rocks are all in a big pile in the paddock, waiting for the Hunk to get his leg out of plaster and his Achilles tendon back in action. A job for 2012, perhaps.)

I like the effect of big chunky wine barrels dotted about the garden, so I went a little silly and bought another eight whole barrels and five half barrels off Trade Me. The eight whole barrels are the perfect height to double as outdoor bar leaners with a big sun umbrella from Briscoes in each. They look pretty swanky, even if I do say so myself. Mind you, it took me about an hour to sew the strip of bunting around the base of the plain green canvas umbrella. (That was half an hour to sew most of it on, then another half an hour on the phone to Mum so she could explain how to rethread the bobbin in her sewing machine when the cotton ran out. Mental note to self: I must learn to sew. I haven’t sat at a sewing machine since high school home economics classes!)

In the half wine barrels, I’ve planted trailing annual petunias and small-flowered perennial petunias (also known as calibrachoas), ‘Polly’ daisies and impatiens. And, for the entrance to the marquee (and to stop the kids tripping over the guy ropes – small feet are somehow magnetically attracted to guy ropes), I’ve got a pair of half wine barrels with green painted metal obelisks clothed in climbing subtropical Mandevilla ‘White Fantasy’ flanked with the heavenly scented Gardenia ‘Fragrant Star’. That’s if they’re still flowering. My six potted Murraya paniculata – you ain’t smelled nothing until you’ve sniffed this shrub’s gorgeous citrusy scent – finished flowering this week. Ah well, you can’t win ’em all.

Oh, to be five years old again…

I’ve been channelling my inner Martha Stewart this afternoon, pimping out plain white shoes for the flowergirls (my wee nieces). The shoes cost $10 a pair on sale at Pumpkin Patch, the ribbon was $1.50 a metre from Spotlight and the greeny-white faux flowers cost the princely sum of $2 from the $2 shop. Aww, so cute – and so cheap!

Looking to the cosmos

In hindsight, I could have sowed half the amount of white cosmos as I did. I sprinkled 10 packets of the stuff around the lawn. It’s such a great gap filler, but I’ll be out there dead-heading for hours this weekend (nipping off the old flowers makes all the difference if you want your plants to keep producing new buds).

The other problem that’s just starting to show its head is mildew: because I’ve sown it so thick, and because I foolishly fed it at Christmas with Nitrophoska Blue to speed up its growth (it was so puny back then that I panicked), it’s now getting the floral equivalent of athlete’s foot. I’ll give it a blast with Yates Fungus Gun tonight and then just keep my fingers crossed that it hangs on for another week without all dying out in the middle. It’s rather lovely, even so.

(I especially like the contrast of the ferny foliage and delicate daisies in front of this barbed wire ball sculpture from Wire Art. I bought this as a gift for the Hunk back when we first met and it was sitting outside our garage, still wrapped in black plastic, when the garage burnt down last May. The plastic melted and stuck to the wire, so every time I walk past it I pick a few more bits off it. It’s quite a novel form of stress relief.)