I have been missing from my garden for too long. But it just couldn’t be helped. The school holidays took us to sunny Fiji for a wonderful week away with the kids. It was completely the wrong time of year for a keen gardener to be separated from the garden, with it being spring and all. But family time is important, and the boys are growing up so fast that it seems important to capture as many memories as we can. And Fiji was fabulous.
I had the garden fully taken care of by a lovely house sitter who sent reassuring photo updates each day. It helped me to relax and enjoy the break knowing things were well looked after. Besides spring is one of those forgiving seasons. It is easy to forget that as we rush to get our seeds sown on the first opportunity, however the first opportunity is not the only one and so waiting a week or two won’t do any harm. And in some situations, the enforced delay will result in plants that will grow quicker in the slightly warmer conditions and flourish better long term. Having oversized seedlings lurking in pots waiting to go out into conditions that aren’t ready yet is less than ideal. And these are the phrases I’m repeating to myself to free myself from the worry of going away on holiday in the middle of spring!
But it wasn’t just Fiji. Our flight home, that should have had us arrive safely at home at 1am was delayed for departure until 1am, meaning we didn’t get home until 6:30am. Ordinarily this wouldn’t have been a problem, and nothing a bit of a sleep in wouldn’t fix. However, I needed to leave for the airport once again the following 3am. I was heading off to Australia to help the lovely people at the Benalla Garden Club celebrate their 65th birthday. It was great to see such a flourishing garden club in a wonderful vibrant community. It was well worth the travel drama to join in the celebrations.
Eventually I found myself back on home soil, but I was too exhausted to even check on the garden, and spent a couple of days resting. It was just as well as there was another stormy cold snap and it blew about the garden in a way I didn’t want to observe. There was nothing to be done until it stopped and in the clear light of a blue sky day the harm done was insignificant which was a huge relief.
With no major activities and events ahead of me for many weeks, I can now focus on the garden. There is still plenty to be done, but it is all the fun stuff. At this point I am happy to call digging and weeding fun; the novelty may wear off by the end of the week.
So, as I set about prioritising my to do list, sit back and watch my latest video, with a before holiday and after holiday tour so you can see just how much things have grown.
Come again soon – it is uninterrupted garden time!
Sarah the Gardener : o)
It is all go in the garden and we approach the summer. Most of my seeds have been sown and there are some that still need to be done. I’ve tried to stick with the plan, so I have all that we need to last the year. With our needs taken care of I can start to think of the needs of others in a more whimsical way.
There is nothing like seeing those lovely orange Monarch Butterflies wafting through the garden, enjoying the flowers in the garden. If these graceful creatures show up in the garden, you really want to encourage them to stay. You can do this in a couple of ways – planting nectar rich flowers the butterflies love to eat. Growing swan plants for them so they can lay their eggs and give their young caterpillar offspring somewhere to grow big and fat, so they can move off onto the chrysalis stage and eventually become as graceful as their parents, floating about the garden.
Now is the perfect time to sow swan plants and this year it is more important than ever as last season there wasn’t enough and so many caterpillars went hungry. Our good friends at Yates are encouraging as many people as they can to sow as many swan plants as they can this October and during National Gardening Week (15 -22 October) they will be giving away butterfly friendly seeds, Which is pretty cool. You can check it out here: Yates National Gardening Week.
They also asked me to make a short swan plant planting guide, so I grabbed the wonderful Joey and we went into the temporarily plastic wrapped dome and made a video. You can check it out here:
Come again soon – we are in interesting times.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Finally – I’m in. There are seedlings in there. It isn’t quite finished as we are still waiting for the glass to arrive, but it is coming on a slow boat from China and I’m ok with that as it is the best option for my back pocket!
Knowing there was a bit of a wait, and my seedlings were beginning to overstay their welcome in the house, I had to do something. I came up with a plan and the good people at Yates kindly supplied me with some pallet wrap. While it seems to be ubiquitous in most warehouses, for the ordinary person, it is a little hard to find – well the good stuff anyway. So, thanks Yates for coming to my rescue.
We took this very large roll and began to wrap the dome, we must have gone around it about 100 times. Thick enough to make it water tight and secure, but thin enough to still let the light in. Gosh, it feels great to get in there with my plants. Not only from a horticultural perspective, but it is warmer in there too! 6 degrees warmer yesterday!
But I can’t hang around here all day yakking – there is work to be done. You can check out the time lapse footage of building the dome here:
Come again soon – the garden is really starting to come to life.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
I wonder if you know how it feels… You make grand plans for something and completely over estimate your capabilities. But through sheer tenacity manage to make some kind of dent what needs to be done.
I feel a little like this now, but I think now we are in the throes of spring and the workload increases on top of the commitments, responsibilities and garden building program, there are now seedlings to care for!
The garden is progressing and is as far as having the beds built and the layout completed, there are two beds left to do. And for filling them up – I am blessed to have been saved by my marvelous builder with a mini digger. It just wouldn’t have happened without him and Hubby the Un-Gardener. The digger filled barrows and Hubby the Un-Gardener wheeled them to where they needed to be and over the course of a long morning the job was done. Such a feeling of relief.
The beds still need enriching with compost, blood and bone, sheep pellets and a great product called Yates Dynamic Lifter to ensure the plants get what they need. The weather today is horrible. Freezing cold and rainy and miserable. A far cry from last week when you could almost feel the full potential of summer. It is a timely reminder to not trust spring with your seedlings – she is emotionally unstable!
But looking for blessings where they can be found, we haven’t had rain in weeks and so it should be filling the tank a little – if the wind allows any of the rain to actually settle on the roof to fall into the gutters! But also after weeks of no rain the soil had become hard and difficult to work with. This rain will return it to a more malleable state and make mixing in the enrichment materials easy.
But my priority today is to transplant seedlings and to be honest there is no way I am working out there in that weather, so I’m going to drag all I need indoors and make a mess here. Oh how I long for my dome to be done. A warm greenhouse on a cold spring day can be such a sanctuary.
Come again soon – I’ll make time in the busy to stop and share.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
It has been a busy week, but unfortunately not out in the garden. I have been hard at work on my computer, working on exciting projects there, or staring out the window at weather that clearly shows my hardiness as a gardener. It would seem I’ve gone a bit soft and freezing winds blasting straight up from the ocean, laced with sand it picked up along the way that could exfoliate my skin just as effectively as a facial in a fancy beauty salon, but for free, aren’t my idea of acceptable gardening conditions. And then when the weather was perfect, and I had a clear day, I headed off on a road trip with a bunch of other garden writers. Although I wouldn’t have missed that day as it was loads of fun. However, doing it on a bleak and rainy day wouldn’t be nice either. And so, when I finally emerged into the garden I noticed there had been some changes in my absence.
Sadly, it isn’t the beds being miraculously being filled. That would make me jump for joy. What it was that I noticed is there are flowers all over the place. And I didn’t put them there. We are in a slice of paradise that has only been occupied by cows in recent history and there certainly hasn’t been anyone planting anything here. Just the whims and wishes of nature.
However, there is beauty everywhere, and not the soft pastel beauty normally attributed to spring in the form of daffodils and blossoms, but strong, bold yellows are the dominant colours and it has taken me by surprise. It isn’t the kind of spring I’m used to, but I’ll take it.
But the question remains – weed or wildflower? Every single one was found listed on a website that documents all of the weeds and ornamental escapees and lurk in our fine country. So, do I enjoy, or do I seek and destroy? Many on the list are things found in garden centres or used to be. This makes for an interesting ethical choice as I go about planning my landscape. Even a common daisy can become a pain elsewhere so what seems like a lovely choice is so much more and comes with responsibility.
But for now, I have some weedy wildflowers to enjoy and then possibly destroy.
The most common has to the Groundsel (Senecio skirrhodon) a cheery little daisy like flower that is everywhere, but as cows were the previous occupiers they tended to avoid eating it because its toxicity. Which I guess is why it is there spreading its cheerful seeds. It is suggested if you are a good neighbour in rural parts you’d get rid of it as it is an aggressive invader of pasture and coastal areas!
The next common I know needs to go, but when you look at the flowers you can see great beauty, but it is like those sea sirens that lure sailors in with their sweet sound and then turn nasty and that is gorse. Those prickles that come with it are certainly not welcome and at the rate it can take over we need to act now. Apparently, the country has spent millions of dollars trying to control it and so personal reasons aside I need to do my bit for my country.
Clover was a nice surprise as it shows the sand is being colonised by plants that can do good and use their nitrogen fixing powers. There is a lot of lupin as well, but that isn’t flowering right now. I have a few patches of the red one (Trifolium pratense) and the white one (Trifolium repens). They only appear to be listed in the weed section as they aren’t desirable in lawns but have a beneficial role in pasture.
Onion weed (Allium triquetrum) has also shown up – but in small numbers. As much as it can be a pain to many gardeners you can’t help loving their cute little white bell shaped flowers. I’m not game enough to try and eat it although from what I understand it is possible.
One that surprised me was the Gazania – at least that is what I think it is. It could be an Osteospermum. They are both on the list of undesirables. The Osteospermum because it is highly toxic specially to cows and the gazania because it is an escapee who just shouldn’t be in our sand dunes. Either way there is a gorgeous apricot daisy-esk flower in the middle of nowhere! I hope it is the gazania as I would love to use them to cover a sandy bank. Not only is it pretty but if it likes the conditions it will help stabilise the bank and if it’s already here and not harmful to the neighbour’s cows…
Finally I was delighted to see Cape Daisies (Arctotheca calendula) as I remember them from my childhood. The leaves grow out in a wide rosette and the flowers grow around the edges and so it looks what you would imagine a fairy ring would look like. I spent a lot of time as a little girl imagining fairies hanging out there. They are also perfect for making daisy chains as the stems are nice and wide and perfect for slipping a thumb nail through to make a hole in the stem for another stem to be threaded through. We made chains by the metre! Fun times.
However now it would seem to be a weed because it isn’t welcome in lawns and isn’t a good thing for cows to eat. But it does seem to like it here beside the sea.
But enough the admiration, the calendar is clear and the day is mild, and I’ve just added invasive weed control to my very long list of things that need to be done in the garden.
Come again soon – things will be done.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
I have to say in this fine country we are completely blessed with people full of passion and added to that exceptional resources, which have come together to make the kiwi gardening experience what it is – something amazing.
Many of our established garden brands are built on such vision and invention and to be honest as a humble gardener I don’t think we fully appreciate the effort these pioneers in New Zealand gardening have made it possible for us to have it so good. For example, the good old Yates garden guide, started in 1895, Arthur Yates saw a need for a book that would answer gardeners’ questions and it is still a go to guide almost a century and a quarter later!
I was fortunate enough to be invited on a tour of the Daltons site down in Matamata this week and while not as old as the Yates Garden Guide, it is steeped with the same kiwi ingenuity and passion that makes us proud to be kiwis. It is a company that began in 1947 and evolved to develop uses for local resources and biproducts and meet the evolving needs of their customers. It was with a tenaciousness that the company worked on becoming what it is today. It is still a proudly run family business.
They have also collaborated with the lovely Xanthe White to create a spectacular 10 acre display garden at the Dalton’s Plantation (just down the road) which is open for group bookings and events, that is oozing with inspiration at every turn. The gardens are stunning and made all the more incredible with it being the most glorious blue sky spring day, making all the features pop. As the season progresses and the plants grow to take their places, the gardens can only become more magnificent. If you get the chance to check out these gardens, you are in for a treat.
Come again soon – it is one thing to swan about in other gardens, but it won’t get mine sorted out!
Sarah the Gardener : o)
I love my dome. It is the coolest thing I think I have ever had built. But I have a bit of a problem with it… It is not ready. The builder has done his amazing bit and created it. He has even put in a concrete floor with a ramp, so I can get Wilbur the Wheelbarrow in easily if I need to. There is also a drain, so I can hose it out if it gets mucky and a pipe, so I can pop a tap in there too. I’m toying with the idea of putting a sink in there as well, so I can wash things. But the initial thoughts for the tap was so I could irrigate the seedlings automatically as Hubby the Un-Gardener is making noises about wanting to go away for family time on his boat from time to time.
This is a bit of a conflict for me as, as much as I love family time and enjoy the boat – the boating season clashes dreadfully with the gardening season. So, I have to find a way to ensure my garden is happy while I’m off on the water being happy. I can’t really begrudge him and the boat. He is as passionate about it as I am about my garden, and like the garden it resulted in a bit of a budget blowout while restoring it, so now I feel justified in having my budget blowout so long as it isn’t more than he spent, and we are still a country mile away from that!
So, all that remains for the dome to be a sanctuary for my seedlings is glass and shelves. The shelves aren’t too much of a problem – I could give it a crack, under the direction of my builder and I can get to use the drop saw I picked up at the op shop for $24. We’ll soon see if it is up to scratch… The glazing on the other hand is a specialist job. And we’ve had folk around to give quotes and wait with bated breath. One suggests a very good price but a terrible time line – I ideally would like it done yesterday, and we are still waiting to hear from others. I have no idea how much it is going to cost, but I’m in too deep to back down now.
Having said that, I am close to just temporarily getting a roll or two of that plastic they use to wrap pallets and go around and around and around until it is water tight. These are desperate times. You see, the season has begun. Seeds have been sown. It has been a long time since I had to grow seedlings on windows. In fact, the last place didn’t have adequate window sills which is why I jumped into the greenhouse journey early on.
Like with the container gardening I have being doing while gardenless I have been humbled by how others garden when there is no other choice. I really take my hat off to container gardeners, you need to hover over your plants like a helicopter parent and take care of their every need because they aren’t in a position to do it for themselves, being stuck in a pot! Unless you grow in containers you really don’t know how needy plants can be.
So now I am window sill seed raising. The first and biggest problem is Fennel the Cat and Turducken the baby chicken who is in the process of being weaned to outdoor living. I solved this problem by popping my seed trays into large clear plastic containers with lids. So, it didn’t bother me too much to see Fennel sleeping on top. It is the sunniest spot in the house after all.
This new house is blessed with fabulous bay windows and my seedlings are currently occupying the better part of the best one that gets east, north and west sun (when it is shining). I thought ‘clever’ me. I’ve sussed it and it will be fine. But then it would seem the clear plastic wasn’t clear enough, and my tomatoes are erring on the side of leggy! Argh. This meant bringing the plants out as they germinate, into the full sun of the bay window and exposing them to the risk of cat or chicken damage. I did have some under a laundry basket, but there are too many now.
I pulled the curtains and leaned things up against them to make it seem like an impenetrable barrier. I think I can convince the chicken, but I still don’t trust the cat. I’m also hoping the white lining of the curtain will bounce light back onto the plants as I’m currently turning the trays regularly to try to get strong stems, not leggy ones reaching off in one direction. If things don’t improve soon I’m considering attaching tin foil to the back of the curtains…. That doesn’t seem too desperate does it?
My hat is now being taken off to all those keen gardeners who start their gardens on windowsills, you work so much harder to get healthy plants than those of us with the luxury of a greenhouse.
And now I need to go and find the hanging basket system I got the boat builder to put a place for on the boat, so I can garden at sea… well you have to have fresh parsley with fresh fish!
Come again soon – the garden is becoming closer to being ready each day.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
I have a confession. I have been holding out on you. But I wanted it to be a surprise. You see after the big storm back in April, when the house was still up on jacks, while the foundations underneath were being built, that brought with it 212km gusts straight off the ocean, I realised I’d have to adjust my vision for the garden a little.
That storm was terrifying, but the house stood strong and now in the midst of winter went a storm rolls in I feel safe and secure in the knowledge, no harm will come to us. However, in years gone by I have spent many a night lying awake and thinking the worst as the wind whipped around my glasshouse, and its predecessors of varying quality. The storm made me realise things out here on the coast need to be built of stronger stuff and the greenhouse I had picked out but not yet purchased, just wouldn’t last long in these conditions. I naively thought the ability to withstand winds of up to 150km would be enough.
A greenhouse is a significant investment for a good one and I was looking at spending around $6K. The conditions of the move with Hubby the Un-Gardener, was I was to have everything I had before, and in time for the new growing season. That required a good budget, because the old garden had come about over the decade with a bit spent here and a bit spent there, and no one noticed how much it really cost. Until we did a quick add up as we were packing to leave…. I had a good budget and thought I could get away with a slight upgrade on the greenhouse… just a touch bigger than the old one. A chance like this wouldn’t come about often.
But had I bought the greenhouse before the storm that would have been money wasted especially as I found out years ago, you can’t ensure a greenhouse on the eve of a storm. The insurance people weren’t very encouraging at all, strangely. So, the storm was a blessing, but one that required a rethink.
Then I remembered my lovely friend Bren, over in Ohio, who I met when I went to the Garden Bloggers Conference back in 2015 in Atlanta, USA, has a Geodesic Biodome and loved it. She could garden in the middle of a snowy winter in there. You should check her out – she is over at Brenhaas.com and has fabulous gardening things going on. I don’t need mine so much to keep the cold out, but aren’t triangles the safest shape? And with it being a dome shape the wind would just sail right over. It seemed perfect.
So, I set the wheels in motion and asked my builder – “do you think you can build me one of these?” and showed him a picture on the internet. He knows me better now and my strange requests that start with “can you build me…” doesn’t faze him anymore. But he embraced the challenge and now I have a fabulous geodesic biodome sitting proudly in my garden! And I love it. It still needs glazing and shelving, but oh my goodness it is awesome. Oh, and don’t ask about the budget – I think I blew that a long time ago.
If you want to see my wonderful dome and have a tour of my garden to see what I’ve been up to lately, check out my latest You Tube video.
Now the dome is up, I really need to press on as spring starts on Saturday and I’ve still got beds to build and loads of digging to get them all filled.
Come again soon – the new growing season in my new garden is about to begin.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Finally, the weather turned to ‘not rainy’ and my schedule cleared up and I could go tree shopping. Only I’ve left it a little late. I knew I had but didn’t realise just how late as all the good stuff was gone. It was my worst fear. Well actually that is an overreaction, but it was rather disappointing. Aside from earlier in the week, I wasn’t ready for the responsibility of becoming an orchard keeper and didn’t have the time to go off in search of trees.
The up side was I was able to get some of what I needed, and I think I will just need to lurk in every nearby nursery and tree seller over the next wee while until I find what I need. There is no real hurry, not really, except for my desire to indulge in fresh peaches and have plums for Christmas (maybe not this one) and sink my teeth into a sweet crispness that is fresh apples straight from the tree. Once you know the pleasure of these things it is difficult to be without.
I was able to cross some things off my list, so progress is being made. I have acquired a Santa Rosa Plum which is a complete must have if you want to grow many plums as it is a pollinator to many. In the old orchard I wasn’t getting a harvest of plums and kept adding more plum trees in the hope they would make good friends and neighbours with no real resolution to the problem until I planted a Santa Rosa and then the plums finally began to put in an appearance. Sadly, that first bumper crop was the in the season we sold up and left. It broke my heart to see the potential harvest after years of waiting. So, this time I am starting well.
These plums are said to be very yum with medium sized fruit with purple skin and yellow flesh and juicy. They should be ready for harvest in mid-summer which will be perfect for grazing on fruit in the lazy, hazy days of summer.
To go with it, I didn’t quite get what I wanted but with the beauty of the great big internet in my hand I did a quick search right there and then to compare the varieties in front of me to see if any remotely matched my list. I found a Wilsons Early would give me my Christmas plums and is great friends with Santa Rosa. I still need a Black Doris for that late season deliciousness and I want a Damson – for the gin! I will keep looking for these.
I also wanted an early, mid and late season apple that stores well. But I didn’t really want anything ordinary and the nursery was awash with granny smiths. I didn’t really know what I wanted for mid and late season options and figured I’d know it when I saw it. Fortunately, they had just one tree left for my early choice – a Cox’s Orange. I vaguely remember my Grandfather growing these. It think they were the ones, I’ll know when I take that first bite. So, the apple search goes on.
I managed to get a couple of Feijoas as while one is good, two are better. They had the Mammoth ones I was after, but not my other choice, but at the end of the day, any feijoa is a good feijoa so I picked up an Apollo which is said to have large fruit and excellent flavour.
They also had my choice of Blueberries, so I have a Blue Dawn (which I had at the last place) and a Blue Magic. These will go into the fruit cage, that still needs building, over beds that still need building and filling. But good things take time and we’ll get there. I also picked up a Black Satin Blackberry for in there too. It is said to have large berries with a unique tart / sweet flavour. This does concern me a little – that ‘unique’ word as the last time I tried a berry like this, I grabbed it on a whim at the garden centre and didn’t actually enjoy the flavour. This is one plant I didn’t mind leaving behind.
And finally, I grabbed an Olive. It was on the list but more as a wish and I hadn’t spent anytime looking into it, but as they didn’t have anything else on my list I kind of impulse bought to feel like I wasn’t so far behind with my tree buying project. Everyone tells me olives will do well here so we well see. If it is the wrong kind, then I can always get a different one – we have the space.
I do feel a little sorry for the humble collection of trees I have just acquired as I have a ‘do or die’ philosophy when it comes to fruit trees. I have tried to select varieties that are suggested to do well here but add the sea element to the mix and I’m really not sure how they will do. But I can only but try. It is better to try and fail than not try at all and never know you have missed out on all that you could have.
Come again soon – the tree search will continue with gusto.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
I have a problem. I want it all and I want it now. But there is an ancient Chinese proverb to support me in my pressing desires. “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The next best time is now.” Added to the sense of urgency is winter is slipping away. Ordinarily I’d be champing at the bit to have this cold and miserable season behind us, so I can get on with the growing season. However not when it comes to trees.
The ideal time to plant trees is now and all the nurseries have all the best trees up for grabs for the quick and the keen. In order to have what I want I need to act now so they don’t run out of all the cool ones and in an ideal world, so I can plant them before they burst into life for the new season.
The problem is, I’m not ready for them yet. Nothing that a hard weekend toiling away won’t fix. The problem with that solution is there are also several other tasks and chores that need doing before the spring that are also nothing a hard weekend toiling away won’t fix. But priority needs to be allocated where priority needs to be and at the end of the day if I don’t buy these trees then they’d just be sitting at the nursery in pots waiting for someone to buy them and so here or there, it shouldn’t make much difference. Although I do prefer the waiting here option.
I miss my old orchard. The oldest trees were 10 years old and the youngest was planted last winter. But my goodness – the fresh peaches in summer were to die for! So sweet and juicy. The quince made amazing jam, the plums were only just starting to come into their own. There were 30 or so trees, not really chosen with care, but each harvest was well received. Most found their way into the orchard on a whim while at a garden centre for something else. The many plums were the result of planting a new one each season in the hope the pollinator combination would finally work and result in a bumper crop. I think we got it right in the end but never got to see that bumper harvest.
This time I want to be more intentional and have spent hours looking into different varieties, what would work well in our climate and conditions. Pollinators needed to match up and flavour and yield was also an influencing factor. And finally, I want a good spread of fruit through out the year. I don’t want all the apples ready at the same time but result in a steady supply across the season with the final harvest being good to store.
You can have too much of a good thing and so the stone fruit will be a bountiful harvest across the summer, not just in January when we are more likely than not away somewhere on holiday. I’ve also gone towards free stone and not cling stone, because if I’m going to preserve these babies, I want to make it easy on myself.
The winter months will be a filled with the yellow sunshine of citrus and the ordinary will be enhanced with tamarillo, feijoa, persimmon, and fig. The last two I planted late in my old orchard and never saw any fruit. In our frost-free position, I have high hopes for the tamarillo as back in the swamp I killed a few trying. I have always wanted to try olives and have been told here would be good for them. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
The old orchard had a do or die philosophy. And some trees died. It comes from my greed of wanting to have it all. I have the space so why not try. Although there are somethings I will do differently. For a start the old orchard was ‘down the far end’ which to be honest wasn’t really that far when you only have 3 acres, but far enough for a lacklustre interest to be the predominate attitude, except when bearing fruit.
The new orchard will be an extension of the garden – just up the back and certainly not out of sight. The hose may even reach most of the trees if I plan it well. It will also require a bit more attention in the area of pest control and wind breaks. There are rabbits and deer here (so I’ve been told. I’ve seen plenty of rabbits, although not in the garden and I have yet to see the deer.) Over the last decade the cost of trees has climbed dramatically and are a significant investment when buying them all in go, rather than in dribs and drabs over the years. So, it is in my best interests to lavish love and care upon them.
So, I have my list and now all I need to do is go shopping. I love this bit.
Come again soon – the garden is still coming along but was momentarily delayed by a rather cold and windy storm.
Sarah the Gardener : o)