Thursday, December 31, 2009

The last PCI of 2009

Each year we get a few seedlings that try to flower about ten months early.  Their first flowering should be (in this case) September/October 2010 but they want to flower near Christmas, so this year we had this seedling from Pacific Frost on the Christmas table.  Cool eh?

The last walk of 2009

It has been a rather peculiar summer season so far, with alternating warm and cool spells. The Christmas break has been a good example with very warm days (over 26C on both Christmas and Boxing days) but then cloud and a front for the following days.

I have been itching to get up Mount Holdsworth, the 5280 foot mountain that looks over our valley. This morning I got up early and was on the road at about 6.30. I was astonished to see the tops were sprinkled with snow, and had to go back to the house and get extra clothing.

It was a great walk!

It was cool all the way up, and once I was above the tree line, after about two hours, I met up with some snow and a cold wind. I made it to the summit, then slowly came down, photographing as I went, including this view from the trig looking north.

This Pterostylis species that lives just below the bushline was nearing the end of its flowering, as evidenced by the reddish hue at the top. This is a cute little terrestrial orchid, perhaps 20 cm high and about 3 cm across.

Just below the summit I found some Bulbinella in flower in the snow.  They looked fabulous.

Further down I found some more Bulbinella, growing in the snow grass.

There was also plenty of Eeidelweiss in flower, the North Island species, Leucogenes leontopodium...

and the very pretty eyebright, Euphrasia cuneata.

Once I was on my way down past the bushline I put the camera away until crossing the Pig Flats bog when I noticed a solitary flower on a Caladenia.  These orchid flowers are tiny - only about 40 mm across - but they are great.

When I got home I showered and then lay in the backyard with my geneticist son, who is home from his PhD studies.  Although Polynesian landsnails are the vehicle he has chosen to investigate his questions about speciation, he is also interested in spiders.  We were amused to find five different species on one large perennial Anemone in the garden.
I made a comment about the hidden insect/beetle/bug life occuring all around us that we know nothing about - a throwaway line - and came inside to process my photographs from the walk. I had taken another photograph of another Bulbinella, as it was flowering through the spikes of an Aciphylla species. I do not take my glasses when climbing so the photography is sometimes a little hit and miss - so you can imagine my delight to find this, with all the weevils and beetles on board! 

Click on any of the photographs for a higher resolution view.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

There can be few better ways to start the day....

....than getting to work in a garden.
The weather has been bad this year, with very strong winds which severely damaged the roses in Queen Elizabeth Park, including the bed of 'Paddy Stevens' we planted in 2006 to in Lavinia's memory.
I knew we would all be going to see the bed tomorrow (Christmas Day) and wanted it looking nice so I brought my secateurs to work, and started the day by pruning out all the damaged wood.
I also managed to grab an opening bloom for my desk, so this is how my workstation looks for Christmas Eve....

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Regal lilies for Christmas

Among the things we all love about Christmas are long-established family rituals. For some families it is midnight mass or a church service in the morning; for others it is silver coins carefully hidden in the Christmas pudding, usually cleverly contrived so each diner receives one; for some it is an orange and a gold foil-covered chocolate coin at the bottom of Santa’s stocking; and a selection of sinful foods!

For many of us the garden plays a part in this ritual, and a crop of potatoes is especially planted in September to be harvested on Christmas Day, or maybe a row or two of peas to be gathered for communal shucking after the presents are opened in the morning.

I like to spend a bit of time gathering some flowers for the Christmas table early in the morning, usually having a variety of different summer flowering types to choose from. One flower, though, is essential as far as my wife’s family is concerned – the Christmas Lily, Lilium regale.

This icon of the Kiwi Christmas was virtually unknown in my own family. My parents gardened on the unforgiving Lansdowne clay, anathema for lilies, and my mother’s interest in these aristocrats of the flower world did not go past the gorgeous Lilium auratum she struggled with for many years.

For my wife and her family, the heavy scent of Lilium regale is as essential a part of Christmas as sherry-laden trifle, chocolate almonds and Boxing Day ham, and once we were married I was instructed to start growing some.

Fortunately they are very easy to grow, and we soon had a nice clump established, derived from bulbs from other members of her family. It required no great skill as Christmas Lilies are very easy to grow - they flourish in any sunny garden with well-drained humus rich soil. If you are working with clay ridden soil, try adding some gravel or sand to improve drainage.

Like most lilies they prefer to have their heads in the sun and feet in the shade so I mulch ours with straw each year. They like a bit of food so it pays to fertilise each year, I but use a slow release kind (Osmocote or similar) or blood and bone, as animal manures will cause some problems.

Christmas Lilies can be found in pots in garden stores at this time of the year and will transplant well enough as long as you keep them moist in the months ahead, but they are probably best planted as bulbs in winter. The bulbs are usually planted about twice size of the bulb, about 6 – 10 cm below the soil.

When the flowers have finished, allow the stems to die back naturally. When they turn brown they are ready for pruning off. Christmas Lilies make good growth and will need to be lifted and replanted every four to five years. When replanting, dig the bulbs up in winter and replant immediately. Do not store the bulbs or allow them to dry out.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Summer plantings

December is a funny month. It is usually a frantic time, as we focus on the upcoming festivities, and perhaps even plan some holidays. But it is also about December the weather starts to settle down into a more predicable pattern, and we can think of those lazy, hazy days of summer. Unfortunately, for those of who garden on the east coast, summer means hot days, often windy, and prolonged spells of rainlessness.

This year has started kindly as far as rain goes. I made a trip up to Hawke’s Bay the other day and it was reasonable green all the way – not Taranaki green, but not east coast summer brown either. The forecasters are hedging their bets a bit this year, not really saying whether or not we will get a stinker drought, but whatever happens as far as rain goes, we will all be under some pressure to keep our water consumption down in the garden.

Fortunately there are a few things we can do to help ameliorate our lack of summer moisture.

Perhaps the most important thing to think about is correct plant selection. We live in dry areas, and cannot grow wet climate plants without a lot of difficulty.

I was really impressed with the street plantings in Hastings the other day. Someone has put a lot of thought into the sorts of plants that will survive a summer baking without too much watering, and have come up with an interesting range of shrubs that seem to be doing very well.

One of the people I was travelling with was enchanted with the use of lavenders as street side plantings, and I agree – they have grown very well, and probably need minimal care. I was also taken with other Mediterranean plants I saw growing in municipal plots, in particular a range of rock roses, Cistus. These sorts of plants, with their silvery leaves and tough textures, will thrive in the heat of summer, and will always look tidy. For native lovers, Hebes were also used extensively and well.

In the garden we can extend the range a little more with some shrubs that would be a bit too untidy to use as street plantings, especially the Australian and South African shrubs that thrive in our climate. Proteas, Leucodrendrons, Regal pelargoniums, Grevillias, and many others, will all do well and will easily cope with the summer dry.

Extra colour can be added by other dry loving bulbs, perennials and annuals, as well as a good dose of the very fashionable succulents, such as Aloes and Agaves.

Many natives wild thrive in these conditions too, especially some of the smaller leaved Coprosmas, the silver-leaved and golden flowered Brachyglottis, and many of the Hebes, which were also a feature in the Hastings gardens.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

A stroll in the hills

I had not been up in the Tararuas this season , and have a plan for later in the summer, so I thought I had better get some miles into my legs.  I went up the Atiwhakatu track this morning, deviating onto the old track to find see whether the red mistletoe was in flower.  It was, and it looked fabulous.  The old track ... not so great .... as it is falling apart in places.  Still, it was a lovely walk up to the newly built hut.   It had a few visitors, and looks very nice - certainly a vast improvement on the old hut.

I came back down to the Hooper Loop track, then made a quick detour up to the Mountain House track and came back down from there.  It looks like the one yellow mistletoe on that track has died.
It is still the night of the tramp rather that the day after, but I do not feel as if there will be any muscle repercussions. 


It seems silly to be talking about winter when summer hardly seems to have started, but for those of us who are keen vegetable gardeners, the seasons tend to blend into each other.
In winter we are starting off the seeds we want to plant in spring, and in early spring we start sowing the early summer vegetables. Now that summer is almost here, it is time to keep planting some of the winter garden staples, in particular Brussels Sprouts and leeks.
Each year I am appalled to see these seedlings for sale in garden centres in April and May. I guess there must be a few people each year who are tricked into buying these vegetables long past the time they could possibly grow effectively, but I am sure they do not come back the following year. Brussels Sprouts and leeks are both slow growing and need to be planted before the year turns over.
That makes for a slight problem as far as the Brussels Sprouts go. If you share my reluctance to spray vegetables you will possibly have come to the same conclusion that I have regarding growing brassicas over summer – it is just not worth it. If you use the less deadly insecticides like Derris Dust, you have to spray or dust so regularly and assiduously to keep the bugs away that you will almost certainly miss a day or two and end up with decimated crops. I have given up on planting broccoli and cauliflower after the start of December, and we eat so little cabbage that it is not worth worrying about.
But I do love Brussels Sprouts and try to grow a row or two of these each year.
They need to same sort of soil as most brassicas – humus-rich, well drained soil with high pH suits them best. I like to dig in some compost a week or two before planting, liming the soil at the same time. It is important to think about applying lime almost every time you add compost to your soil, as most composts are likely to be low in pH. The lime will also help protect against that curse of the brassicas tribe – club root. For further protection, make sure you do not grow brassicas in the same place year after year – even two years in a row is not a good idea. Soil that has been prepared for brassicas will be well suited for growing either a root crop or something like beans the following year, so make sure to rotate your crops, even if your vegetable patch is quite small.
If you are going to grow your own from seed you will have to get a move on as it is already getting late for sowing. If you can find an F1 hybrid variety I think that is the best option to go for. The increased vigour of the new hybrids makes them worth looking for, but do not be surprised at the increased price you will have to pay.
If you are like me and content to just buy a bunch of seedlings from your local nurseryman that will do just fine too. You might not be able to get hybrid plants though, as most prefer to work with open pollinated seed – it is so much cheaper.
However you got your plants, once it is time to plant them, space them about 40-50 cm apart, in rows of a similar distance. Make sure you water them in well, perhaps using a weak liquid fertiliser as well.
I was taught that Brussels Sprouts should always be planted into very firm soil, and should be planted very deeply. Some books insist that you should stamp the ground where you are going to plant your sprouts before planting, and then plant them as deep as the first leaves.
These ideas come from the length of time Sprouts are in the soil. They need to be well anchored and they also need to be regularly fed. I find it pays to stake them as they get larger, as a good blow can topple them as they get mature, especially if they are wet and heavy at the time.