Asparagus tips

The start of things to come...

The 1st of September is the official start of spring, however I think the first asparagus spear is the real date to celebrate. But a watched pot never boils… and I was starting to think all those daily surveillance patrols of my asparagus patch were never going to pay off. (I’d even tried to “bandicoot” about with a hand trowel, poking it around under the soil for any signs of action from those subterranean crowns, just as we do with our early spuds each year). And then, boom! Up came the first ‘Pacific Purple’ spear. It looks a bit like an amputated finger, which isn’t very appetising as a concept, but I can’t wait to eat it. (Mental note to self: buy an asparagus knife, ASAP.)

I’ve got grand plans for my asparagus patch this year. I want to pick albino asparagus – the fancy white stuff that’s prized in parts of Europe. Last year I interviewed local asparagus growers to find out how to do it (I wrote about it for Lifestyle Block magazine; click here to read the story), so this weekend’s top task is to convince my husband to build a blacked-out temporary tunnelhouse over the top of a few of our rows. How hard can that be?

More work in progress

Four more rows of seed potatoes go in

I’m getting quite a kick out of my decision to grow everything in rows this season. For some reason it’s ridiculously satisfying to look back at a perfect line of transplanted seedlings, or seed potatoes in a straight trench, and think… job well done! I might come to regret it later on, when there’s a neat row of weeds between every row of veges and flowers, but for now I’m feeling very industrious. And let’s face it, it’s much more fun having a tidy garden than a tidy house (which, for the record, I don’t).

The weather was a game of two halves this weekend: picture perfect on Saturday and wild, wet and windy today. On Saturday I was a bit late opening the flaps on my seed raising house. It felt like a furnace when I unzipped it; I’d fried my honeywort seedlings, the rocket had collapsed and the pot of crocus bulbs I’d popped in there earlier in the week to speed up their growth had sped up so much that all the flowers had opened up and promptly shrivelled up. Oops.

Vege seedlings transplanted: 1 tray of swedes (Lucas better like mashed swedes because I’ve sown dozens of them), 4 parsnip seedlings (not a great germination success), 24 ‘Buttercrunch’ lettuces, 18 ‘Cheddar’ cauliflowers (impulse shopping), 18 red cabbages (I’ll end up giving most of them away, but I just love the look of big purple cabbages in vege gardens) and 2 rows of ‘Pearl Drop’ onions (never again: separating and spacing out the little seedlings is such a boring job that next time I’ll just sow them direct)

Flower seedlings planted: 3 punnets of delphiniums, 2 punnets of dwarf marigolds, 2 bundles of pink honesty, 2 bundles of red stock, 2 bundles of bupleurum (I don’t even know what this is, apart from the fact that it looks like a euphorbia and is apparently good for picking, but Awapuni Nurseries now does home delivery so I went a bit mad ordering from their website), 1 bundle of giant pansies (I hate pansies but they came free with my order and I didn’t have the heart not to plant them!)

Seeds sown: 2 packets of ‘Dwarf Early Green’ broad beans and 1 packet of ‘Dwarf Massey’ peas (frozen peas are the only frozen veges I buy, so I’ve set myself the challenge of growing all my own this year); plus 2 packets of Made for Shade wildflowers

Seed potatoes planted: 2 bags of ‘Cliff’s Kidney’, 1 bag of ‘Ilam Hardy’ and 1 bag of Tui’s new ‘Summer Delight’

Bulbs planted: 15 dark purple ‘Flevo Waris’ and 15 white ‘Flevo Dancer’ gladioli

Mystery disappearances: 1 x row of dwarf marigolds and at least 30 of the Russell lupin seedlings I finished transplanting last week. They’ve been eaten by something. My bet is slugs and snails. Rotten sods! (Although our two Pekin ducks appear to be taking a suspicious interest in my new garden too. Does anyone know if they wrap their sticky beaks around vege seedlings?)

Good things in small packages

Saxifraga 'Star Blush'

Here’s a wee plant that I just adore: Saxifraga ‘Star Blush’. It’s a little cold-hardy perennial that forms a charming mound of succulent green foliage. It has that same cushion shape and form as our native scleranthus, but it’s topped with beautiful, star-like pink flowers that start out as hot pink buds and, once open, fade to pale pink. It’s absolutely gorgeous in a hypertufa pot, or between rocks in a rockery, or snuggling up to the edge of a stone wall.

In my city garden, I planted it in little groups in the gravel path at the front of my section. I thought it would look cute – like something out of an Enid Blyton storybook – and it did. Until I opened my garden the public. Turns out that garden visitors tend to look up instead of at their feet: my plants all got stood on and squashed. So this time around, I’ve planted them at the edges of the low stone walls at the end of our lawn. The dog might bound over the top of them, but they’ll soon bounce back.

Saxifraga ‘Star Blush’ is available from garden centres, though you might need them to order it for you. (My plants came from the Waikato wholesale nursery Growing Spectrum).

The flax of life

Grow, sweetpeas, grow!

Here’s a pic for my NZ Gardener colleague in the deep south, Robert Guyton. Robert’s one of those clever and crafty gardeners who can turn anything into something else, like using last year’s flax flowers to make this year’s bean frame.

Inspired by the flax flower tepees in Robert’s Riverton plot, I took my loppers for a stroll in our flax patch this afternoon and made my own eco-friendly, plastic-free climbing frame, strung together with natural twine. (I’m trying to make up for confessing my environmental sins… namely using disposable nappies… in a recent Sunday magazine column.)

It looks cool, even if I do say so myself. (My husband’s response was, “Are you turning all Sally-Ridge-crafty on me?” He must be reading the NZ Woman’s Weekly somewhere on the sly!)

The ring of dark soil around the base of the tepee is seed-raising mix. I sowed most of a packet of ‘Patricia Ann‘ sweet peas around it today. This mix, bred by Dr Keith Hammett, has old-fashioned, streaky patterned petals in shades of pink, purple, cream and apricot. According to the seed packet I should have sown them in autumn (oh well, better late than never). And here’s something else I learned by reading the packet: when you’re sowing sweet peas, “select seeds of all sizes, as seeds of darker coloured flowers are often small and shrivelled”. And there I was, only picking out the big seeds to sow…



The start of spring

The first taste of spring

We’re not eating much out of our vege garden yet, because there’s not much in there that’s ready to harvest. But last night we celebrated the start of spring – and the end of another good day in the garden – with homemade fish cakes, boiled eggs from the chooks, most of a bottle of French champagne (it was a wedding gift)… and the first salad of the season.

The fish cakes were a bit of a disaster. I’ve never made them before and we didn’t have any breadcrumbs, so they all fell apart in the frying pan. We ended up with a pile of what can only be described as fishy mashed ‘Agria’ spuds, topped with parmesan and heaps of fresh chives. The salad wasn’t exactly exciting either, just baby spinach, shredded mint, more chives, a mini ‘Buttercrunch’ lettuce, perennial rocket and spring onions. But it tasted like the start of something good: the new season.

Another first for the week: I took Lucas for his first trip to a garden centre on Friday afternoon. We got there five minutes before closing. (I have calculated the effect of having a baby on my ability to get anywhere on time as T+1 hour and 20 minutes.) But that was just long enough for me to cram the car boot with perennials and a big bag of seed-raising mix.

So yesterday we cleared the weeds and scrappy alyssum out of the two beds at the end of the lawn, staked the six ‘Awapuni’ cherry blossom trees, dug in some compost and planted Orlaya grandiflora, a few pale pink cineraria, babianas, violets, hellebores, night-scented stock, poppies, Brachyscome ‘Strawberry Mousse’, pink gnautias and the potentilla ‘Miss Willmott’. I’ve tucked the potentillas between some orange and red-stemmed silverbeet. Should be a cute colour combination.

We* finally planted our bareroot plum, plumcot and stonefruit trees yesterday too, and just in the nick of time. The ‘Tomcot’ apricots have got their first blossoms already. I don’t have high hopes that they’ll ever fruit well, as apricots are the holy grail in Auckland’s humidity, but they will get a decent winter chill so you never know. We also put in some ‘Blackboy’ and ‘Golden Queen’ peaches; ‘Mabel’, ‘Goldmine’ and ‘Queen Giant’ nectarines; and five ‘Smyrna’ quinces.

When I met Jason, he’d already planted two plum trees on the hill between the house and the arena. I have no idea what varieties they are (one’s a yellow plum, the other red), but we’ve given them some mates: ‘Santa Rosa’, ‘Elephant Heart’, and the apricot-plum hybrid, plumcot ‘Spring Satin’.

Which just leaves five ‘Bramley’s Seedling’ and ‘Peasgood Nonsuch’ apples to plant today and the new orchard area will be finished, aside from sowing wildflowers around the trees. (Plus I still have 10 ‘Seckel’ pears to espalier, but they’re going into our new formal garden and that hasn’t been excavated yet.
*When I say we, I mean that I laid out the trees and then went back up to the house to mind Lucas and make a chocolate cake while my husband dug all the holes. Heh.