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…



24 thoughts on “The flax of life

  1. Those dried stalks and flowers make wonderful kindling: the outer ‘skin’ dries totally and catches alight immediately, while the inside remains pithy and burns for ages, like a fire starter without the chemicals, allowing the other wood to catch.

    But I’ll be using mine in the garden too now – then for fire starters the following winter 🙂

    • Hi Cally,
      Good plan! There’s plenty more flax where that came from down on our hill, but the stalks are shorter on the other clumps. We could use them to light the brazier from a safe distance!

  2. Your teepee looks so cool! I did something similar last year for my beans. Word of warning: just one good gale and it’s all over – or at the very least, very wonky!

    • Hi Nadine – I had that happen in my Western Springs garden one year. All my runner beans were blown out of the ground when all five woven willow tepees lifted off in the same storm. Oh how I cursed!

  3. How do you keep all your critters off it? My vege patch is like fort knox (though I have found the chooks don’t like coffee grinds)

    • I growl at the dogs, pretend I can’t see the cats, keep the chooks behind a mesh fence, hope the pukekos stay down in the swamp, squash the snails and ignore the fact that our two remaining Pekin ducks have suddenly started hanging out in the vege garden. I’m hoping their intentions are honourable or, at the very least, that their beaks are too flat to do much damage!

  4. The teepee is so very clever, but Oh wow…. That lush, beautiful lawn is quite simply “to die for.” I’m green with envy! (as our lawn is even more patchy and sick-looking. Our latest “professional” tells me he’s sure it’s “red thread” and has now sprayed accordingly. I live in hope that One day my Dad’s lawn will look just like yours!! Well done you!

    • Hi Estelle, I think I would have declared defeat on your Dad’s lawn and turned it into a vege patch by now! Our lawn was our (not cheap) wedding present to ourselves. I think it will turn out to be the best thing we ever did. I hope you get rid of that red thread.

  5. Hi Lynda – my flax are not tall enough to make this kind of wigwam, but last year I used the offcuts from our moptops and that worked a treat for sweetpeas, peas but not runner beans as again too short for such rampant growth!! The rest we shredded and used in the compost…………..from another Lynda

    • There’s definitely a sense of satisfaction to be had from “foraging” for free stakes from prunings etc. In my city garden there’s a shocking clump of bamboo that is on my husband’s “to do” list to rip out (with his digger). I’ll chop all that into stakes, once I’m sure it’s dead.

  6. Love it!!!

    I’ll be poking my nose over the boundary this weekend to hack a few stems off the neighbours flax so I can make my own. I’m sure they won’t mind : )

  7. Hey…the idea sounds great….BUT…what happens when the million darling seeds in those ‘cutsie heads’ all drop and sprout???????there’s another job to deal to…..mmmm I don’t know ladies…I’m not convinced….

    Sandy, Waikato gardener

  8. I agree with Sandy. I had some flax flower stalks lying around, waiting for me to find something constructive to do with them. And before I knew it, there were about 500 flax seedlings growing everywhere. Good luck finding the sweat peas amongst the flax seedlings.

  9. Hi Lynda,
    Just saw the comment re your environmental sins and disposable nappies. If you can’t face cloth nappies, you could try the German made biodegradable disposable nappies that can be ordered through I am a cloth nappy user myself but have found it handy – for those times you don’t have a washing machine around – to have a pack or two of them. There is either the Moltex brand or the Alana brand (bit cheaper). Both good and biodegradable in your compost – I’ve tried it!

  10. Hi Lynda

    I haven’t tried flax stalks for a teepee, but have used the long straight ‘water shoots?’ from my hazelnut tree successfully.


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