The broken break

When you live somewhere as extreme as we do, here on the wild west coast, there is nothing like experience to teach you what you need to know.  More often than not, it comes after you complete a project with the best intentions and what you believe to be the best approach, after thorough research and planning.  Just as you stand back proudly to admire your handiwork, nature comes along and laughs at your efforts.

fixing the windbreak

The first step was getting the fabric back up, ready to slow the wind.

Sometimes, you need to make adjustments and improvements several times in order to get it right, but time is the real test to see if you have succeeded and it isn’t measured in months or seasons, but years.  In the grand scheme of things, we haven’t been here that long so I’m just hoping the constant tweaking will result in long term success.

Box of plants

There is nothing more exciting than receiving a box of plants!

One of the biggest challenges I face is going up against the wind.  So, it makes sense to create a windbreak.  And the wisest advice is to always put up a windbreak before you start anything in a windy spot.   Easier said than done.  Firstly, the initial excitement of a new project means the wisest advice is often ignored in favour of the more interesting heart of the project.  It just takes a storm or two, for nature to undo all your hard work and remind you the wise advice is wise for a reason.

windbreak plants

The final indignity for these plants before going into the ground was to be sorted into groups so they provided an even but random spread across the hill. There were also a few leftovers from another job in there too!

To be honest, the windbreak to the front side of the house, intended to slow the wind off the ocean was a bit of an afterthought.  There was quite the wind tunnel racing up the hill and into the garden.   The eventual plan was to grow native plants to create a beautiful stand of hardy trees that would slow the wind and protect our privacy from the property across the driveway.

Coprosma repens taupata

The Coprosma repens taupata was a surprise survivor found in among the weeds. There were a few of them so with proper care this time they may well thrive!

It seemed simple enough.  I did my research and found a load of plants suited to the area and popped them inside a couple of fabric windbreak walls.  Our first mistake was our choice of wooden stakes for the fabric windbreak was woefully inadequate and had snapped within a week of installation!  So more sturdy metal warratahs were used that have stood up well to the elements.   The fabric not so much.  Held in place with just cable ties, they coped for a while but after a couple of wild winters become tattered and ragged, flapping in the breeze like a defeated pirate flag.

Whau - Entelea arborescens

I also planted some Whau – Entelea arborescens – NZ Cork Tree plants I’d grown from seed. They are supposed to do well here too.

The plants also suffered and there were deaths – many deaths.  Some of this was down to the failure of the fabric, exposing the young plants to more weather than they could handle.   But a lot of it, much to my shame was my fault.   I had come from a swamp situation where you just planted things and you could pretty much leave them to their own devices in a do or die attitude.  A few died but most did really well.   But here is completely different and while the plants I chose for the wind break were hardy, they still needed care, a lot of care – especially in the summer.  It wasn’t until last summer that I began intensive watering in the windbreak – once a week, turning on the sprinkler – even when our water levels were precariously low.  But for some plants, it was too little too late, after suffering from the effects of a failed windbreak.

Corokia x virgata –Geentys Ghost

The Corokia x virgata – Geentys Ghost are the smallest plants from the delivery but everything I planted got a bamboo stake – so I could see where everyone is for regular maintenance weed clearing.

Not discouraged, I have renewed my efforts and have just completed my latest attempt to establish a beautiful native windbreak on the front side of the house.  Lessons have been learnt.  I upgraded the plastic-coated washing line wire for the fabric frame to actual wire – a good thick gauge to give the frame strength.  Then instead of cable ties to hold the fabric in place I have used proper windbreak fabric clips, and loads of them, to spread the wear and tear weak points.  I did use cable ties to secure the ends to the waratahs, to stop that feathering of the fabric at the edges.

Olearia dartonii – Twiggy Tree Daisy

The Olearia dartonii – Twiggy Tree Daisy is supposed to be fast growing and should fill out into a great windbreak plant soon enough.

The plants came from an impulse bargain buy on the internet I saw when I wasn’t even looking for them.  But with the heading ‘Tough as nails combo’ I couldn’t really turn it down and was sold by the description “A mix of tough natives that will thrive in almost any conditions, will look great with minimal care and will withstand a battering from the elements.”    These were the plants for me!  I placed my order and received five of each of:  Hoheria populnea – Lacebark, Corokia x virgata – Geentys Ghost, Olearia avicennieafolia – Mountain Ake Ake, Dodonea viscosa – Purple Ake Ake, Olearia dartonii – Twiggy Tree Daisy.

Olearia avicennieafolia – Mountain Ake Ake

I have high hopes for the Olearia avicennieafolia – Mountain Ake Ake, it is supposed to have fragrant flowers in the late summer!

They were tall plants, but only in 7cm pots with roots poking out the bottom.  Wisdom would suggest dropping everything and planting them, but I wasn’t ready, or at the very least repotting them into something bigger.  But I knew if they were in bigger pots the urgency to get them in the ground would dissolve and there would be every chance they would die at a ripe old age in their pots.  So, I heeled them into to a large container with some compost around the base of their tiny pots and they filled me with guilt every time I walked past.

Jasper the Dog and Fennel the Cat

I had good company with Jasper the Dog and Fennel the Cat while working on this project. I wonder if this means they are becoming more tolerant of each other! Maybe one day they will be friends.

Finally, the fabric wind break was repaired the grateful plants were freed from their constricted pots and this latest attempt is underway.   Let’s hope this time we meet with nature’s seal of approval.

Come again soon – loads of things are being crossed off the ‘to do’ list.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Wishy washy

I can really feel the hint of spring, and if I am to be honest, along with the rising sap there a rising panic.  Will I get all my winter things done before I need to switch over to spring things?   I feel confident that, thanks to the help of my handy helper the garden is in a good place and this week we finished up all the restoration weeding.  So, from now on it will be maintenance first and then outstanding winter projects.

Pot washing

First batch of pots in the soapy water, ready to be scrubbed.

Some of the winter projects are on the large side and while still looming large on the weekly ‘to do’ list, many are in their final throws and should be crossed off the list sooner rather than later.  Having said that, some haven’t even been started and while I’m determined to somehow squeeze them in I think some will just have to wait until next winter, which will be a shame.

Pot washing

It was so wonderful to have hot water in the greenhouse. I should leave it in there to make cups of tea.

My philosophy this winter has been to chip away at all the projects each week instead of focusing on just one at a time and so while it feels a little chaotic right now, it has certainly been a productive way to spend the winter.  The key is having a good blend of things that can be done of cold wet nasty days and things for those rare blue sky sunny winter days, and the rest you can manage whatever the weather.

Pot washing

It is important to get into all the nooks and crannies, but these large seed trays have a lot of nooks and crannies!

But with spring imminent, I have begun to ask myself, what can I do now to make the spring easier?  Yesterday was really windy and I was at a point with my computer gardening where I could take a small breather and I wanted to make a bit of progress in the garden, so I gathered up all my seed starting and young seedling pots and brought them into the greenhouse to give them a good wash.

Pot washing

There is nothing more satisfying than bubbly water dripping off clean pots.

I set myself up in there with a large container, some disinfectant and dragged the hose in there too.  Now it was really cold yesterday, and I’m not that hardy, so I fished out the camp stove and the whistling kettle so I could wash everything in hot water, which will also help sort out the bugs.  And to deal with the mind-numbing boringness of it all I popped on some gardening videos and podcasts and before I knew it I had done them all.

Pot washing

The first batch of clean pots drying on the bench.

Well, most of them.  I notice there are still a few about the place that I left abandoned where they lay after planting seedlings.  So, in the spirit of being organised this season, I will get them picked up and cleaned up too before the greenhouse becomes full of seedlings.  That will happen before we know it!

Jasper the Dog and Fennel the Cat

I wasn’t lonely in the greenhouse. Jasper the Dog and Fennel the Cat kept me company.

It was such a satisfying job to cross off the list and future me will be so grateful to have nice clean pots to use at a busy time.   For the next pre-spring prep job, I noticed the first mustard cover crop is beginning to flower so that will need taking care of sooner rather than later, I doubt there will be much slowing down of chores and tasks from now on, no matter how many things I cross off the list!

Come again soon – there will always be something to do.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

An Irrigation Intervention

NB:  This is a sponsored post with the good people from GARDENA NZ, who have generously made this project possible.  

Over the winter I have had a few side hustles going on beyond the realm of my garden that have occupied huge swathes of my time.  This has left me with very little to say about my garden.  Aside from ticking over with the restoration weeding with my handy helper, not a lot else has been going on.  But at the same time, I have been extraordinarily busy, and I feel like I can say with confidence that it has been my most productive winter ever – just not in the main garden, aside from the weeding.

Mums irrigation

The lavender will soon fill in and you won’t even notice the pipe.

Today I took a big fat marker pen and drew a satisfying line through a winter project that has taken an enormous amount of time.  There is nothing like crossing something big off a ‘to do’ list, especially if it has been waiting in the wings for months and months.

Irrigation top tip

Irrigation top tip: Soften the end of the pipe in hot water to make it easier to attach the connector.

This project was done in conjunction with the good people at Gardena and as always is a joy and a pleasure to do projects with them.  We used Neta irrigation supplies and a GARDENA water timer and water distributor.  But this time was even more special as I had the opportunity to set up an irrigation system in my Mum’s garden.   My mum is not only a fantastic, passionate gardener, she is an amazing artist who paints and draws beautiful images of our native NZ bush with environmental messages woven through.  She has a gallery at the front of her home which is the cutest turn of the century cottage with a backyard exploding with beautiful plants.   To free up some of the time she spends watering the garden in the growing season, so she can create more stunning art, it made sense to set up some irrigation.

Irrigation top tip

Irrigation top tip: Ratchet clips help to prevent the connector being blown off with high water pressure. To get a good tight fit use a pair of pliers.

But long before I could set up the irrigation, I needed to make a plan.  This wasn’t the easiest thing to do long distance as I had to work out where all the garden beds were and find out how big they were.  I sent Mum out into the garden with my rough plan sent across the internet and asked her to make a few measurements, and then a couple more and just a few last ones until I had enough information to make an accurate plan of the layout of her garden.

Irrigation top tip

Irrigation top tip: Pipe stakes hold the pipes in place and stop them from being moved about.

I also needed to get her to do the bucket test.  I explained to her she needed to time how long it took to fill a 9L bucket, so I could work out her flow rate.  It took 22 seconds and using the handy chart on the Neta website, her flow rate was 1325L per hour.  This is important to know when planning irrigation because it helps determine how many sprinklers or drippers can be used in a line of irrigation.

Mums irrigation

Connecting all the bits and bobs together is super easy and you don’t need fancy tools.

The next step was to decide what kind of sprinklers she needed in her garden.  I decided across the flower borders, jet sprayers would work best as it would fling the water across the garden, beyond any obstacle to cover more ground.  However, some parts of the garden were deeper than others.

Mums irrigation

Using the hose to force water under the path to make a tunnel for the irrigation pipe was cold, wet and very messy, but by the end I was up to my elbows in the cold muddy water!

To get a good even coverage, adjustable sprayers made perfect sense, so they could be opened up to reach up to 1.8m and closed down for the narrow parts so it didn’t waste water on the fence or the path.  In the deepest curves I allowed for two sprayers, so the front and the back of the border received an even coverage when fully open.

Mums irrigation

The jet spray in the flower gardens will fling the water into the far corners.

For her small vegetable patch, drippers made more sense as for many vegetable crops it isn’t desirable to wet the leaves, or you could invite fungal diseases.  Here, drippers made sense.   As a vegetable patch is often being worked with the addition of fresh compost or digging up potatoes etc, it is handy to have irrigation that can be easily lifted out of the way, and then replaced when the job is done so I included in-line drippers in the plan.

Mums irrigation

The vegetable patch is irrigated with drippers.

Across the front of her place, beside the public footpath she had a lovely row of lavender and I thought it best to use drippers here to hydrate the soil as a jet spray could end up spraying unwitting pedestrians.

Mums irrigation

Beside the back deck I used 180° sprayers so only the garden gets watered.

Once I had the plan and the flow rate, I worked out she had four zones and so four lines with up to 22 drippers or sprayers would have enough pressure to have them all working well.  From there I worked out the rest of the supplies, the 13mm poly pipe and the 4mm tubing, the end stops, elbow and T joints, not to mention the all essential rachet clips to secure the connectors and the rigid pipe stakes to keep the pipes in place.  Once I had everything I needed I set off to do the job.

Mums irrigation

I love that the name of the bit you use to plug a hole in the wrong place of the pipe is called a ‘goof.’

My mum lives 6 hours south of me so it was a bit of a road trip, timed perfectly between two forecasted storms which turned out to be stunning weather although a little chilly.   Over three days, I toiled away in the garden, following the plan.  For the most part it came together perfectly.  Although she had a lot more concrete about the place than I remembered, and I had to make a couple of tunnels beneath two paths by using a hose to force water to carve out the soil.  It was a cold, wet job but so satisfying to break through to the other side of the path.

Mums irrigation

The middle of winter is the best time to set up irrigation, while there is plenty of bare soil to set everything up and causing the least amount of harm.

Once all the irrigation supplies found their place into the garden, I brought the four lines together to meet at the water distributor and the water controller and programmed it so come the warmer months her garden will be watered regularly, before she even gets out of bed!

Mums summer garden

Mum’s garden in the height of summer is full and lush and to attempt to set up irrigation at this point would be quite damaging.

After checking everything worked properly, I cleared up my mess, packed up my gear and headed home, to get on the other projects on my winter list, satisfied with a job well done.

Come again soon – spring is beginning to breath down my neck.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

NB:  If you want to find out more about anything mentioned here check out:

Mum’s art:

GARDENA NZ for all the cool things they have to help out in the garden:

The irrigation supplies:

And for a great irrigation planner:  select the download tab and click on the  ‘Neta DIY Irrigation Planner’

I’ve been too busy to chat.

I’ve missed you all and I don’t know how I managed to leave it so long before getting in touch.  I haven’t stopped or anything.  In fact, quite the opposite.  I’ve had my most productive June ever.     I think the expression – ‘if you want anything done, ask a busy person to do it’ sums up my days recently.   I had a large computer gardening project on, and I knew it was coming so I organised myself so I could absorb it into my schedule without missing a beat and I ended up being super-efficient.  I managed to get it done in a timely manner, along with many other things on my ‘to do’ list.

rainbow on the beach

We have also made plenty of time for family and walks on the beach in winter are amazing!

Historically I would put the project first and let everything else fall by the wayside and then emerge at the end in a bit of a flap at all the things I hadn’t done that were becoming increasingly urgent, and as a result I’d end up in a perpetual panic.  But this time I applied the gardening philosophy of ‘do a little and often’ to everything and so as I worked on the project I also set aside time for all of the other things as well and managed to achieve so much more, that now that it is finished I’m looking about for things to do on a rainy day when I can’t be outside that are things I’d scheduled to do in August.  It feels good, but I need to keep the momentum up as my trip away in November where I play host to a bus load of garden tourists visiting the best gardens New Zealand has to offer, will roll around before we know it.

Colourful winter harvest

You have to love a pink and green harvest – mostly brassica but also the last of the eggplant!

So, some of the things that I have achieved along the way have been to plan the new season garden and organise for the seeds I need.   I was quite ruthless with my planning as we are one set of hollow legs down, with only one teen lad left at home so don’t need so many pumpkins and other things.

problematic onion seedlings

Hmm something is not right with these onion roots. When I try to grow a years worth of onions then it isn’t worth taking the risk.

Then following the plan, I set about planting my onions out, but ran into problems.  The ones I grew from seed had a weird thickening on their roots.  I blame myself – I was too lazy to wash the pots I used, and I think they may have contaminated my seedlings with some kind of disease.  I didn’t trust them, so I discarded them and bought new healthy ones from the garden centre.   I see a big pot washing session coming up soon to get ready for the new season – it is only 8 weeks until spring and I start some of my early stuff in August so not far away at all.

Planting onion seedlings

There is no shame in buying seedlings – espcially if that is the only way you will get a harvest. These have been planted 7 seedlings across the 1m row in rows 20 cm apart. I still need to count up to see how many rows there are to anticipate the harvest.

My helper and I have made amazing progress on restoring order to the garden.  I still don’t know how I managed to let it slip so badly…  but with an extra pair of hands, we are about 1 or 2 sessions away from having the whole garden back into ship shape condition and then we can focus on projects and fun things, with a quick little and often approach to the weeding so it never gets out of control again!

Room Two of The Palace

I love the way this turned out and I can’t wait to watch it mature and fill the space.

I’ve also been working up in The Palace in Room Two.  It needs a better name.  But I made my design based on native plants that will do well here and then was delighted when I managed to source them all easily and many were found at bargain prices.  And then I planted them out – all 182 of them on a day we had a scheduled power outage, so was the best use of my time that day.  I still have more to do.  I need to hold the sand back with a good thick layer of mulch.  It is a large area, so I need to investigate the best price to get bang for my buck.  But I love the way this garden room is coming together.


The new chickens have settled in nicely without any argy bargy with Turducken, aside from their constant escaping. But they always escape back in to the coop when they’re hungry!

Since we last spoke we lost the last of our elderly chickens, leaving behind Turducken our 4 year old young lady that our ‘still at home teen lad’ raised from a day old chick for a school project.  We couldn’t leave her on her own, so a friendly neighbour came to a rescue with 5 spare ones from his flock.  Gosh I have to say young chickens are rather active compared to sedate old ladies.  The huge fence we have keeping them in is no match for them, so we need to go and clip a few wings before they find all the goodies in the garden!

Soil pH testing

I am finding the pH testing strips that came with my fermenting kit useful in all sorts of other activities.

Especially as I have just planted my brassica that should have gone in ages ago.  I even pH tested the soil, found it was a little too acidic and decided to lime the soil.  But ideally liming the soil should have been done weeks before planting to have time to work and I didn’t have any lime.  But I did have some Compost Maker which has lime and gypsum in it as well as a load of other goodies in it.  It is described as a bio accelerator so hopefully it should be fine…  I’ll let you know how they go!

puddling in brassica seedlings

I tried to do everything right with the planting of the brassica seedlings – aside from being free and easy with the Compost Maker. I did the gardeners shuffle across the bed to gently firm the soil. The only time I let anyone walk on the beds, and even then I’m the only one I let do the gardener shuffle so I know the soil has been firmed just right. Then I dug planting holes and filled them with water – twice, to puddle them in and them firmed the soil in around the seedlings. If I get bad brassica this time round, it won’t because because of the care and attention at the time of planting. But their seedling life was shaky and they still have a way to go before maturity – anything could happen.

And the last big project I’ve been tackling was designing an irrigation plan for my Mum’s garden.  The good people at Gardena are helping me to sort this out for her.  She had an amazing garden but if we can save her some time in the summer by automating her watering then it can free her up to just potter in the garden and do her first love – her art.  She is an amazing artist – you can check her out >here<.  I’ll take you with me on this project so you can see what we are going to do in her garden.

Pruning Chamomile

Pruning Chamomile has to be the most relaxing job. It should be done more frequently than I had been doing, but now it is on a regular routine list.

And today it is raining.  It wasn’t supposed to rain until tomorrow, so I will need to reach deep into my ‘to do’ list and look for a computer gardening project so I can keep up the momentum and tomorrow I will tackle some pruning, there are quite a few things that need chopping down!

Come again soon – did I mention spring is 8 weeks away!

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Power is so overrated

broken wind break

I declared bravely while we had none.   We have a camping stove so the cups of tea can still flow, so really what is there to worry about?!  Other than the fact that the power outage is caused by the wind howling such a hoolie that had cut power somewhere.  The biggest problem with being so rural is you never really know if it is just us or it is the whole street.   It turns out it wasn’t just the street but the whole region!

broken wind break

Ok, this is my own fault. The willow screen works well to contribute to slowing the wind, but I ran out to time / motivation to carry on putting up extra support to secure it in place so it is no surprise it fell apart.

It has been stormy all weekend, but I’d have no problems chalking up today as one of those few days where you get a little concerned living so close to the edge of the wild west coast.   And I need to remind myself we have endured worse without too much harm and for the number of days like this there are as many still calm days that are so amazing you can hardly believe it.  And all the days in between are just ordinary average days that are similar to what you’d find inland and aren’t particularly special.  The kind of days you muddle through getting things done without really noticing what kind of day it is.

stormy seas

I almost got blown away while taking this photo, but why I rushed outside to take it I’m not sure. I have plenty of ‘no horizon, squall coming in over choppy seas’ images in my collection that it should give me peace of mind that everything will be ok.

This morning the rain was coming in sideways and the wind was giving my wee office a bit of a shake.  After the power went out, the sun came out, so it didn’t seem so daunting, but the wind has continued to make itself known.

windswept fennel

Aside from the windswept peas, there isn’t a lot of tall-ish things in the garden at this time of year that would demonstrate the severity of the windiness. Although with the peas it is hard to distinguish what was damaged this time and what was damaged last time. So here is my fennel, bowing over in the wind. It normally defiantly stands straight and tall.

In the garden there hasn’t been than much damage aside from a windbreak I hadn’t finished securing, so completely expected really, and the peas probably won’t make a full recovery from the last storm where they got the bash.  I’m thinking of growing the Yates Novella variety in the winter as it has this madness of tendrils that are almost impenetrable and they should provide a more secure anchor to the netting, keeping the leaves and pods safe from harm, or safer at the very least.  Once the weather returns to normal, I’ll salvage what I can from the pea harvest and start again with the Novella.

New weather station

After we installed my new weather station it sat there in hardly a puff on wind, completely oblivious to the torment it would soon face!

I am pleased I installed my brand new weather station recently as it has been interesting to see what is actually going on in the garden.  The wind speed cups are spinning frantically and although it is the pretty much tallest thing in the middle of the garden, and technically out of the protection of the wind breaks, the garden is behind the house, which seems to offer a degree of protection.   There is an online weather station up the beach from us – about 5km away and it was suggesting that we went over 100km/h last night, but the weather station recorded 60km/h as the windiest.

Power outage map from the Counties Energy App.

It wasn’t until after the power came back on that I could check the nature of the power cut. According to the power outage map from the Counties Energy App it would seem it wasn’t just us!

This certainly gives me piece of mind, but I do need to keep working on windbreaks and improving them because as we are reminded from time to time – it is brutal here.

Come again soon – I hope we can get some gardening done tomorrow.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Knowing when to stop trying


Over the last few days, I’ve done a significant amount of harvesting, which is surprising considering we are at the end of the first week of winter.   The first session was more a case of storm damage.  The peas had been completely bashed to bits, but they were attempting to rally, and I noticed some fat pods that needed picking.  I was surprised how much I was able to harvest, and a good meal sized portion was podded and put into the freezer for another day.  

Hotdog sauce

My hot hotdog sauce. I need to add a warning to say use sparingly.

The storm had also whipped all the leaves off the peppers.  Earlier in the week they were looking great and I was hoping they would go on for ages.  I can overwinter them easily enough, but with the lack of frost here,  I can also easily overwinter pests.  The year I did try to keep them going, their second year was fraught with pests and problems, and I decided it wasn’t worth it and start fresh from seed each season. 


Not a bad haul of peanuts!

I pulled all the remaining peppers and chillies off all of the plants.  The bigger peppers were cut into large chunks and frozen for using in cooking throughout the winter and the smaller ones and chillies were turned into a hot Hotdog sauce.  I suspect the jar and a half I made will last quite some time as it is a little on the spicy side. 


The once lush kumara leaves were quite bashed by the storm so the time had come to dig up.


I’m pleased with this harvest – size wise, but next season I’d like to have a few more than this.

Then this morning, with the help of my Handy Helper, we decided to pull up the peanuts.  It was a good sized haul – about what I would expect based on what I have harvested in the past.  These were taken into the greenhouse to dry out a little before processing.  Then we moved on to the Kumara.  I wasn’t expecting much because the slips weren’t looking the best and they went in late.  But I was pleasantly surprised.  There were enough tubers big enough to get excited as we dug them up – although I did put the fork though the biggest one – which is so typical, and small ones big enough to still be considered worth eating.   Although it would have been nice to have more so next season I need to lift my game.  


At this point there is the possibility and hope of a magnificent harvest.


And then comes the reality check – hmmm…. Maybe we don’t speak of this again.

Ideally they should be cured by leaving them in a warm place to dry out to harden the skins and allow them to be stored for longer.  They also sweeten with curing as the starches convert to sugars.  The main suggestion was to leave on the soil to dry in the sun but unfortunately we are long past those days, so I need to find a warm place with good airflow for about a week.  I wonder how the family feel about having Kumara on the coffee table in the living room?  Then, if we had enough, they would be stored alongside my pumpkins in my shed in a cool dark spot with good airflow and checked often to make sure they aren’t going squishy.  I think once these have been cured they won’t even make it into the shed! 


The asparagus fronds have turned yellow – the perfect sign to cut them back,

Then we emptied out the yams.   I have never really had a great harvest in all the years I’ve been trying to grow them.  However, I have persevered because maybe one day I will get things just right and enjoy a bountiful harvest.  With a negligible harvest in previous years in one of the 1 x 1m beds I decided it was a waste of space.  Especially as the kumara was being grown in large pots because I always forgot to make room in the garden for them.  So, I switched them around and gave the kumara more room in the garden, which could explain the better harvest and now I just need to improve my timings.    And the theory with the yams was if I grew them in a container I could control the conditions a little better and popped some of the biggest, fattest ones I could find into a big pot filled with potting mix and plenty of goodies to keep them happy. 


With sharp secateurs just cut them down at the base.

It turns out there is something they need to keep them happy, and I just can’t provide that for them.  They need a cooler climate than what I have to offer.  It was with much excitement we went digging through the soil to find a dozen or so teeny tiny pink balls that were collectively smaller than just one of the tubers I had originally planted.  I’ll still cook them up – and will enjoy every last morsel – I grew ‘em, I’ll eat ‘em! 


A nice topping of compost and other goodies and the asparagus is tucked up safe and sound for the winter.

But I think I have come to the realisation that after over a decade of trying, it is probably not worth trying again.  I gave it a good go, and if any of the seasons or growing conditions I subjected them to over the years resulted in a slither of hope then it would be worth continuing to try.  But with today’s harvest, even I’m not that optimistic.  I will miss the challenge of trying to grow them, but something else should take their place in the garden.


While clearing the fence line we got a little help from Turducken the Chicken. She’s a bit lonely as her last elderly friend died this weekend. So we will need to find some younger friends to keep her company.

Not wanting to end on a downer – my Handy Helper and I cut down the yellow asparagus fronds and popped some blood and bone and Yates Dynamic Lifter on the bed and tucked it in with a thick layer of compost ready for the new season.  We should see the first of the new season spears popping up in August!

Jerusalem artichokes

These are the only Jerusalem artichokes I could find. Hopefully they will go one to create a bountiful crop for next time.

Then we continued our quest to weed the fence line and in the process uncovered the neglected Jerusalem artichoke bed.  I just didn’t get to it last year, so it was a complete overgrown mess.   Now bearing in mind this is the crop they say plant where you want to have them forever because they are indestructible….  Well, it would seem I achieved the impossible.  The last time they were well managed I ended up selling my excess to the Goodness Grocer for a good price.  This time I found 4 good ones and a few tiddlers.  But the upside is the neglected soil was so soft and lovely and friable, so I just popped them all back in to regenerate my supplies with a promise not to neglect them again.


The view across the garden looks so much more in control now – especially with a clean fence line.

And that was the last harvest of the season – aside from carrots, cabbages, broccoli, Wong Bok, celeriac and a few other… ok, so there is still plenty to harvest from the cool season crops but that was technically the last of last season’s crops.

Come again soon – the weather is keeping us on our toes.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Sorry it was a bit long – I got over excited!   




I’m coming with you

From time to time Hubby the Un-Gardener has meetings with clients away from home and more often than not it is at a café location that roughly halfway between them both.  So, this week when he told me a client suggested meeting at the wonderful café at the Auckland Botanic Garden, I told him he wasn’t going there without me.

Auckland Botanic Gardens

I love the fountain at the entrance to the Auckland Botanic Gardens

The weather this week was forecast to be intermittently dodgy, but that didn’t bother me, I have a raincoat so nothing would stop me going along.  Fortunately, we woke to a strangely warm and sunny day, which was a bit of a shock as it was the last day of autumn and should have been a touch chilly.  I packed a raincoat just in case, because knowing my luck if I didn’t bring one it would have rained.  The weather did turn grey and bleak the moment we got home, so the whole thing seemed like it was meant to be.

Auckland Botanic Gardens

Everywhere you look is a stunning vista.

We arrived early, before the client and Hubby the Un-Gardener bought me a takeaway coffee and a muffin and sent me off before I tarnished his posh business image with my garden visit appearance.  (I was so excited about going out I changed my outfit four times – it was a bit like Goldilocks– too hot, too cold, too posh, and just right.)

Auckland Botanic Gardens

Everything looks so fresh and well protected in the walled section of the edible garden

So, I took my coffee and skipped off into the garden.  The hard bit was knowing where to start – it is enormous and there is so much to see.  Fortunately, I’ve visited several times before, so it didn’t matter if I didn’t get to see it all.    By instinct I gravitated to the vegetable garden.  I always check out what they are growing and compare it to my garden.  Some of their plants look a little better than mine, but theirs haven’t been bashed by the wind.  I found myself admiring the brick wall around one section thinking to myself ‘hmmm… maybe I need a brick walled garden – I could manage this… I’ve done some bricklaying before…’

Auckland Botanic Gardens

Having just wrapped up a mini project with a large amount of rope I am very impressed with the grandeur and scale of this rope display.

Auckland Botanic Gardens

I just love the many fountains around the garden. I am thinking I may need to find a way to incorporate a fountain into my garden.

After all of the work I have been doing on The Palace Garden, I noticed the hard landscaping just as much as the plants, but in the past the plants were the stars, and I barely noticed the solid things holding it all together.  I took plenty of photos to help give inspiration for inklings of ideas.  Although the beauty of being a local government run garden, I looked at some aspects of it and thought how lovely would it be to just have a fraction of the budget to dream grand dreams and make them happen.

Auckland Botanic Gardens

One of the many native plants I have challenged myself to not only remember but be able to recognise it while out and about in the bush.

Auckland Botanic Gardens

Nothing like well labelled plants and information boards to make the penny drop when understanding Ponga. This one is a Wheki Ponga (Dicksonia fibrosa) and you can tell because its fronds are green underneath and are sort of horizontal, it holds its old fronds and is often found in clumps… I learned many things today.

After checking out the edible section, I wandered off to the native area as I have challenged myself to sharpen up my knowledge on the less obvious natives.  The Rimu, Kauri, Totara, Kowhai and Pohutukawa, and others are the super stars of the bush – everyone knows who they are.  But in the midst of the bush there are plenty of mid layer plants with interesting leaves and a story to tell.  That is the great thing about a botanic garden – everything is labelled, so all you have to do is remember them.

Auckland Botanic Gardens

The Pikopiko fern shoots are so beautiful and are supposed to be quite tasty. (Asplenium bulbiferum)

Auckland Botanic Gardens

I have decided I need to get some Manuka plants in my garden asap. The flowers are stunning and look like mini roses. (Leptospermum scoparium ‘Rose Queen’.)

And then I wandered aimlessly, it didn’t matter where I went, it was all good.  I found myself drawn to the rose gardens and in spite of it being winter the very next day, you could smell the wonderful scent of roses long before you could see them.  There weren’t all that many left and most plants were bereft of blooms and leaves, but some were as full and lush as a midsummer’s day.  I made a mental note to myself to come back again in the height of rose season as this would be a sight to behold.  I also made another mental note to get more sweet smelling roses in my life.

Auckland Botanic Gardens

I need to come back in the summer. This arch must look absolutely stunning bedecked with roses.

Auckland Botanic Gardens

I think I have decided the boofy roses are my favourite kinds – so long as they have a lovely strong scent.

By now I had been wandering for a good couple of hours – time that just zapped by and I enjoyed all that I had seen and my own company.  But I thought that I should head back to the start as Hubby the Un-Gardener’s meeting should be coming to an end.  I skipped quite a few garden sections with little more than a backward glance as I cut through the kid’s garden, which would also be a fabulous place to linger and indulge the inner child – they’ve made it so exciting.  But my time was up, and I had a rendezvous with Hubby the Un-Gardener at the starting point.

Auckland Botanic Gardens

I am in love with this gorgeous pebble mosaic I stopped to admire as I hurried through the kids garden.

With a camera full of photos, a head full of ideas and legs a little on the tired side, I babbled away excitedly all the way home.

Come again soon – life is just a bit more ordinary, and another storm is on the way.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Weeding for miles

One of the main reasons I went and found myself a Handy Helper is the garden had got away on me.  I had been managing the garden and my projects, but it was a very fine balance.  It just took me losing my balance and falling down and twisting my ankle to lose my grip on the garden maintenance.  And it went south in so many areas that fixing it is taking a long time – also hindered by the projects that demanded priority and the increasingly dodgy autumn weather.

Weedy Path

If you walked through my garden gate and looked to the right this is what would face you…. a big weedy mess.

With my lovely Handy Helper, the first priority was to sort out the actual beds so that the weeds within them were removed, the lingering crops were tended to, and the cover crops were started for the beds that needed it.  Everything else just had to wait.

self seeded comos

I have to confess that some of the delay in getting to this part of the garden, other than pressing priorities elsewhere, was the cosmos had self seeded and looked so lovely I didn’t have the heart to remove them. But after suffering a couple of storms they looked a mess and it was easy to to rip them out with no recriminations.

However, one of the worst areas, that just got worse by the week, was the paths around the edges, but as a non-productive area it wasn’t a priority in the early stages of the restoring order process…. Until today.  It was driving me nuts.  It was unsightly and the first thing you saw as you walked into the garden and looked around.  It was not only a problem making the garden look more unruly than it was, but the kikuyu grass was creeping in from under the fence and left to its own devices could eventually invade the garden beds.

After weeding

After no time at all the path was cleared exposing the tips of next seasons daffodils. It looks so lovely and clean. And now it will be easy enough to keep it that way with the swipe of a hoe… so long as we don’t fall in love with self seeded flowers.

So today my Handy Helper showed up, although it was touch and go as in the morning the weather was howling a hoolie again.  Although this time it had come from the north.  I don’t mind a Northern storm as the sting is softened by the hills around us and the wind isn’t laden with salt.   But it wasn’t gardening weather.  Not by a long shot.  But we took a chance and the wind graciously dropped, the rain stopped, and the sun came out. We started out bundled up for the worst of the weather and ended up hot and exhausted working in tee-shirts!

After weeding

After making it across the front, with time still on our hands we turned the corner and weed up the side of the garden. We didn’t get to the end and probably have another 5 metres to go, but we’ll have that sorted in no time next week.

The aim was to tackle the perimeter weeds.  We didn’t get all the way around but made a jolly good dent in it.   I have been thinking about how best to use the time my Handy Helper gives me, and there will be times when I will have to point to a task and send her off on her own, but for the most part it makes sense to turn the 3 hours she spends with me into 6 hours of progress by working alongside her.  And it is amazing what we can get done together.  Today we weeded 23 metres of unruliness and we are both a bit stuffed, there is a real sense of achievement in what we managed to do.   I feel so much more confident that the garden will be back to the place I need it to be and then from there it is just easy maintenance and fun projects.

home made sea salt

Home made sea salt is super cool and surprisingly enough it tastes just like salt!

And before I sign off to go and find the Deep Heat for sore muscles, I just have to tell you about what happened on the weekend.  I made the most delish soup with garden produce and popped it into some thermos bottles, and we headed on down to the beach.  The weather was supposed to be wild and with winter knocking on the door it should have been cold – the perfect kind of cold that having soup on the beach would be a welcome treat.  The soup on the beach was great, but the storm was late, and the temperature was mild.  So, we had a pleasant walk in pleasant conditions.  But what we did do is grab some sea water.  Hubby the Un-Gardener waded out quite a way to make sure it was nice and clean.  Once we got home, I popped it in a pot on the stove and boiled it away.   I ended up with about 50g of salt from 1L of sea water, which was really cool.  I think next time we should grab even more water, so we never need to buy salt again!

Come again soon – tomorrow I’m off to visit somewhere else.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Storm schorm

We had another storm… I think I’m getting used to them.  They are quite unavoidable here on the wild west coast.  There was about four days when the wind howled a hooley and freezing cold rain came in sideways.  You could watch the squalls form out at sea and come in across the waves and pound at our window.  The strongest gust was 100 km, which is nothing compared to the worst we’ve faced in the past.  I did attempt to head out into the garden once, but it was just too strong, and I was worried I’d get blown away.

Fennel the Cat looking out over the stormy seas

Fennel the Cat looking out over the stormy seas

When I say I think I’m getting used to them, I think it is more I’m numb to the effects on the garden.  In storms gone by I’ve shed a tear.  But maybe it is the time of year.  Maybe I’m less concerned about a garden on the edge of settling down for the winter and the peppers that had their leaves all blown off were on borrowed time anyway, due to the falling temperatures.   The sandblasted Kumara should have been harvested weeks ago, but their leaves were still a vibrant and lively green rather than the poorly yellow the signals the moment to dig them up and I was giving them a little extra time to fatten up.

70 ml of rain

I can’t complain about a healthy rainfall. The tanks are nice and full for a change.

If there was one crop I grieved a little for, it would be the peas – they really got the bash, even though they are tucked up inside the windbreak.  They were looking so good I wished I had taken a before photo.  But they are just peas and I have a million photos of a healthy looking pea row.  I also have more than my fair share of wind bashed pea photos, so I know they will bounce back, but not without a few losses.

Windswept peas

The peas certainly look like they have been involved in some kind of struggle, but they’ll bounce back.

I am also distracted.  I have been up in Room Two of The Palace Garden putting the final touches to the hard landscaping in time for the next article deadline.   It had been hard work, but not in the sense of it being complicated, but as in hard graft with heavy lifting and a bit of digging.  This has left me feeling a bit stuffed, but with one foot after the other and a lot of help from Hubby the Un-Gardener the work will be easily done on time and then I can move on to the next phase of the project.

Windswept peppers

I guess now I need to do something with the windswept peppers, now that they have no leaves.

My lovely Handy Helper has been back, and I got her to just go back over everything she has already done.  Not because she had done it badly, because she had done a wonderful job.  It is just the weather has been so warm – prior to the storm, and with all the rain the weeds have flourished.  So while I’m up in The Palace, the garden would have raged out of control again, had I not had a willing hand keeping it in control for me.

box of tools and things

My large sieve makes a handy box to gather up some of my supplies after a long day in The Palace Garden,

So, all in all, there hasn’t been anything significant to report from last week, except a whole lot of wind and rain, a whole lot of hard graft and a handy helping of maintenance.

Come again soon – I still get out into the garden every day, weather permitting.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Today is a rain day

I think I’m pleased.  It has been so dry for so long and we’ve been worrying about how much water is left in the tanks for such a long time.  Finally, there is respite and enough water that I may even indulge in a candle lit bubble bath with a good book at some point soon – maybe after a hard day digging something.  Such a rare luxury.

The old cucumber bed

The old cucumber bed looks so lush, but none of it is what should be in there…

But for today it is just too soggy.  At one point there was what appeared to be a braided river running through the garden.  I always thought it was the wildlife pond overflowing, but it was coming from all over the garden and the penny dropped…  the garden is the lowest point of a big valley – of course there will be water flowing during heaving rain.  Duh.

The old cucumber bed after

Almost everything got kicked out of the bed and mustard cover crop sown, but I’m looking forward to a great fennel harvest soon.

The good thing is the ground is a free draining sand and it all drains away quickly, moistening the depths of the soil as it does.  In my old garden on the swamp a rain like this would take a week to ten days to drain away and if it rained again in the meantime, then it would perpetually be soggy.  Which was such a pain for preparing the garden in spring!  As much as the winds straight off the ocean can be brutal, I think I prefer this garden to the old one.

The good thing about this weather delayed gardening week, is a lot has happened since we last spoke, so I see today as a welcome break rather than a major inconvenience to progress.

The old melon bed

The old melon vines looked so scruffy, and the kiwano were just holding things up.

The old melon bed - after

That looks so much better – aside from the peanuts. Once they’re done I’ll give the soil some love.

Driven by the need to create progress before my Handy Helper comes back, I decided to clear out the old cucumber bed so the mustard cover crop could be sown in good time before the weather turned cold.  I found I couldn’t make myself clear it out completely as there were many half mature fennel plants in there and some Bok Choy.  I decided to leave them and let them mature and harvest them – waste not want not and all that, and just scattered the mustard seed around them.


Kiwano – also known as horned melon. Hopefully they ripen soon, I’m really keen to try them.

Then I decided the kiwano had had long enough and were just making the place look scruffy.  I did a quick search on the great big internet to learn that they ripened off the vine and quickly set about clearing up their mess.  The spikey kiwano are now ripening in the safety and warmth of the greenhouse.  But alas no cover crop has been sown in their spot as there are self-seeded peanuts missed from last season and if they have been growing there all that time.  It would be wrong to pull them out just weeks before they are done.


While I was in the swing of things, I popped some extra pea seeds in the row to fill a few gaps.

The clearing continued when my Handy Helper arrived, and we cleared everything out of the flower bed beside the pond… most of it was weeds or prolific self sowers.  I want to find a moment this winter to design a flower border type garden there with beautiful low maintenance perennials that look lovely but won’t spread themselves about the garden.  I’m looking forward to this, but in the meantime the bed is empty, and I’ll just keep hoeing it often, so it stays empty until I’m ready to do something with it.

flower garden

There was really nothing to be done with this garden except clear it out!

flower garden - after

In my head I can see a beautiful garden here, but I need to find the time to extract it and then turn it into a reality.

And then we pulled down the tomatoes – frames and all.  On close inspection, there were problems – there seemed to be a stem rot in some of the plants – probably my old friend Pith Necrosis, but I understand him a little better and am making improvements to avoid his presence.  And there were some Tomato Potato Psyllid.  Not many but enough to cause a problem, but that was it.  There weren’t any fungal diseases which was great.  So, I think I need to keep doing what I’ve been doing and tweak a few things and my tomatoes will crop abundantly for me.  These beds took out all of the tall structures in the garden so not only does it look tidier, but the landscape has dramatically changed.

The old tomato bed

I was tempted to see how long the last of the tomatoes would limp along, but I need to prepare the bed for the onions.

The old tomato bed - after

I just need to give the soil some love in readiness for the onions which should be planted here in late June.

The old tomatoes

I’m going to burn the tomato residue because I don’t trust it not to overwinter something terrible.

I have also been working hard on Room Two of The Palace Garden.  It is now pretty much a clean slate with just the occasional wayward straggler of Kikuyu popping its head up, so by the time the plants go in the ground should be completely weed free.  I’m also working on a staircase – of my own design that will take me up to the sundial time capsule.  I’m not 100% confident it will work at this point but an 100% enthusiastic for it to work so who knows.  But it did mean using my favourite power tool – my drop saw.  It certainly makes short work of chopping.  I can’t believe I used to stubbornly cut all my wood by hand.

Come again soon – I’m loving this pace of progress in the garden and look forward to next week.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

%d bloggers like this: