A progress report

Sweet little snowdrops

I’ve had a marvellous weekend of minor triumphs. First, my snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) started flowering. Given that I only got the bulbs into the ground six weeks ago (and when I say “I”, I really mean my husband’s cousin’s wife Nicki, who has been helping me catch up on all the gardening chores I missed in the weeks before, and the weeks after, Lucas was born). But I can’t really skite as they’re the saddest little snowdrops you could ever see. Each bulb has each sent up two chive-sized leaves and a wee flower on a 10cm high stalk. I picked a few to take a photo of but I couldn’t find a vase small enough to do them justice. Ah well, next winter they’ll be fabulous – and fully sized too, I hope. 

This weekend also marked a major milestone in Lucas’ life. We discovered that, if we push him in his stroller to the end of the driveway and back, and then along the gravel path through the paddock and around the old equestrian arena and then up the hill past the chickens and around the horse chestnut tree to the end of the lawn and back (repeat as necessary), he’ll happily sleep for a couple of hours, parked up on the lawn, while his parents dig, sow and plant like crazy. Consequently, we made a fair bit of progress, in between feeding, changing, burping and, our current favourite pastime, behaving like a couple of middle-aged dorks to get a gummy grin (or 20) from our little man.

Seeds sown this weekend: Angelica pachycarpa (this glossy-leafed species isn’t edible but is very pretty in the garden), a packet of ‘Romanesco’ Florence fennel, giant red mustard, sorghum (I found a packet from Koanga Seeds that must be at least three years old so I’m not sure if the seeds are still viable, but what have I got to lose?), Nasturtium ‘Empress of India’ (I’ve sown the seeds direct, between my ‘Bright Lights’ silverbeet seedlings), a row of ‘Onward’ climbing peas, a packet of old-fashioned fragrant sweet peas, Chinese broccoli (kailaan), honeywort, Salvia ‘Turkistan White’ and Orlaya ‘White Lace.

Flower seedlings transplanted: 1 row of Oriental poppies, 1 row of ‘Strawberry Parfait’ dianthus, 1 row of the dwarf double Sweet William ‘Pinocchio’ (available in garden centres in punnets).

Anything else to report? I also planted two more rows of dahlias, 2 x 1.5kg bags of ‘Cliff’s Kidney’ seed potatoes and 50 cloves of garlic. Oh, and in exciting news from my mini plastic propagating house on the deck… I now have 3 parsnip seedlings! Gosh they take a long time to germinate. The swedes in the same tray are already ready to transplant. (And yes, I know you’re not supposed to raise root crops in trays, but rules are made to be broken.)

5 mornings, 5 frosts

Jack Frost does the business again

It’s becoming a habit to wake up to white dusted paddocks, crystallised cabbages and celery in the vege patch, and a front deck patterned with the dogs’ thawing paw prints. It has been so cold here this week that the frost is usually settling in before we’ve even gone to bed. The payoff, of course, is that a clear, still, cold night is usually followed by a clear, still, sunny day. Bring on the weekend! I have lots of work lined up for my husband…

10 reasons to love winter

This morning's icy sights

1. Even weeds look like works of art when they’re dusted with ice
2. Frost kills aphids in the rose garden and fungal spores in the orchard (sadly it also eviscerates the early almond blossoms)
3. It’s impossible not to chuckle at a perplexed dog licking a frozen puddle
4. The cats are always cuddlier on a cold morning
5. A frozen lawn sounds like a bowl of Rice Bubbles underfoot
6. I remember why I bought woollen gloves and Ugg boots: to stop my fingers and toes freezing when I whip outside at daybreak with the camera
7. Frozen dew drops look like Swarovski crystals
8. The forlorn hung heads of last summer’s sunflowers (the sparrows nicked all the seeds) look exquisite in their sparkling state of decay
9. It’s a pleasure to see the paddocks slowly thaw as the sun comes up
10. I can justify an extra spoonful of brown sugar on my porridge (and I’d have cream too, if only I had a house cow)

Snowflakes a’falling

The weather forecasters got it right. Snow, not just on the Hunua Ranges, but on our front lawn! The dogs had no idea what to make of it. Take that, aphids, and any other summer greeblies still hanging out in my garden!

Saturday slog

The vege garden starts to take shape. The bamboo stakes are for the purple peas.

If I was writing this in my garden diary, here’s what I’d have to say about today:

Weather: picture perfect, once the fog burnt off

Distractions: minimal (Lucas slept all morning and my lovely mother-in-law, Maureen, kept him entertained all afternoon… in between doing all our laundry, cleaning the bathroom, dusting the glassware and vaccuming the house. Grandparents are a godsend!)

Seedlings transplanted out of the trays in the mini plastic house on the deck: 52 purple podded Dutch peas and 24 ‘Dwarf Massey’ peas

Seedlings still in the plastic house: 4 trays of Russell lupins (I’m excited to report that they’ve just unfurled their first true leaves), 1 tray of beetroot, 1 tray of rocket and 1/2 tray of swedes (I sowed parsnips in the other half of the tray, but none have germinated)

Flower seedlings planted: 3 punnets of purple stock, 4 punnets of ‘Artist’s Glory’ Iceland poppies and 4 punnets of white annual chrysanthemums (I’m not entirely sure if these are frost tender, but I guess I’m about to find out)

Dahlias planted: two rows of pink varieties, including ‘Hamari Rose’, ‘Stolze of Berlin’, ‘Rose Jupiter’, ‘Sharon Anne’ and my favourite from our wedding, ‘Ruthie G’

Potatoes planted: 4 x 1.5kg bags of ‘Jersey Benne’ and 2 bags of  ‘Purple Heart’ (a variety bred in New Zealand that combines the violet skin and flesh of a Maori spud like ‘Urenika’ with the smooth skin and large size of a standard spud). I still have 4 bags of ‘Cliff’s Kidney’ and one of ‘Ilam Hardy’ left to plant. I should also have half a bag of ‘Agria’ to plant too, except the dog chewed them overnight

Anything else?: 1 punnet of broccoflowers, 1 punnet of ‘Savoy’ cabbages and a row of Elephant garlic (I saved 2 dozen giant cloves from my crop last year)

Verdict: a 10/10 sort of day, mostly because of my 10/10 husband, who dug all the holes and planting trenches for me, then lugged compost and seedraising mix in by the barrowload to fill up the trenches he’d just dug. If I hadn’t already married him, I’d marry him!

Passionfruit in winter

Homegrown passionfruit

This might sound like I’m skiting (because I am), but today I picked two ripe passionfruit off the vine scrambling along the front of our stables. Passionfruit! In August! That surely warrants a bit of a skite, even though I can’t really take the credit for it. We’re just lucky to have had such a mild winter.

Passionfruit has always been one of my nemesis plants. Over the years I’ve killed more passionfruit vines than I care to count. But then I bought a grafted plant from Oratia nurseryman Chris Davidson, who grafts passionfruit vines onto vigorous sweet granadilla rootstock, so they grow like triffids. The plants aren’t cheap, at $40 a pop, but I can’t recommend them highly enough. I had my best crop ever this year, and I’d be prepared to bet that next year’s haul will be the stuff of legend. That’s if I can persuade the passionfruit vine to play nicely with the hops I’m also training over the stables…

Click here to read my Good Life column on passionfruit, from the February 2011 issue of NZ Gardener.

Jumping the gun

My new vege patch

It’s not spring yet but I just can’t wait any longer. I’ve put in my first row of spuds for the season. (And there are 10 more bags of seed potatoes sprouting in trays in our stables. I’m aiming to sell new spuds for Christmas at the local farmers’ market, along with, all going to plan, my first crop of purple asparagus.)

This rocky raised bed wraps around a cherry blossom tree right beside our house. I’m not sure how successful it will be as a vege patch, given that I’ve had to chase the dogs out of it twice already today, but it’s as close as you can get to our kitchen. So far it’s home to lettuce, carrots, garlic, onions, spuds, rocket, celery, globe artichokes and mint.

I’m ditching the designer potager look this season. My garden’s too big to plant flowers, herbs and vegetables all together in a happy jumble, the way you can in cute raised beds in the city. It will just end up looking like a big mess.

Instead, I’m going back to the future. I’m planting my vege patch in perfectly straight rows (I laid down the rake to make the trenches) that any grandfather would be proud of. And my next job? We’re going to rotary hoe up the 35m long borders along each side of the lawn, where we sowed wildflowers last summer for our wedding, then fill them up with neat rows of food crops and flowers for picking. It’s going to look fantastic. Which is just as well, because it couldn’t look any worse than it does now. It’s just as well the lawn is still picture perfect.