Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Surprise Gift Provides Needed Inspiration

A good friend of mine named Tovio rang me one day last summer to ask if he could drop something off at my place. I had no idea what it was or what I had done to prompt him to do this, but I was delighted when he arrived with a planter box he’d made and wanted to give it to me.

I absolutely love it and I found the perfect spot for it in front of my home office. I was so pleased with it I wanted to find an appropriate plant to put in it as soon as possible. I eventually decided to buy a new hibiscus which is another tropical plant that seems to do quite well in Auckland and I was sure it would do well in this spot which is very hot and sunny in the afternoons.

I was very interested in how Tovio made this planter, which he had put together using some surplus materials from a job he had done where he installs imitation stone as cladding on houses, fireplace surrounds and other garden features, including letterboxes. The more I looked at this planter box the more I realised how well this material compliments the style of my house which has a kind of colonial character to it but also the material would lend itself nicely to the tropical garden I’ve created out the back. So I started thinking about how I could incorporate this concept into my garden.

One area that has been bothering me for some time is a little garden space at the back of the house where the back garden begins. I put this in years ago using ‘half round tanalised timber edging’ which despite being tanalised has slowly rotted because of an overflow pipe from a hot water cylinder which constantly drips water into this garden. So I decided to ask Tovio if he could install some of his imitation stone into this space, which he was more than happy to do for me.

After installing some tanalised plywood into the space (on both sides) it was ready to have the stone attached to it. If you look carefully in the picture (above left) you may notice how I also added an extra timber rail above the space as the thickness of the stone material would protrude beyond what was there originally by about 50mm. I thought it would look better if the top edge of the stones were concealed.

At this point Tovio set about installing the stones, which are actually made of solid concrete, using a special waterproof adhesive. After that he pointed all the gaps with a cement mix to which he’d added a charcoal colour. If you live in Auckland and you'd like something similar done at your place, why not get in touch with Tovio. Learn more about Tovio's Stone Cladding Service here.


After the stone work was completed, I made a custom fit box which I lined with black polythene to sit in the garden where the pipe was dripping and planted it out with a Maiden-hair fern, which had previously been growing in this part of the garden. There should now be no issues with rotting substrate and I know the maiden-hair will thrive in this position. I also added some mother-in-laws tongue which I felt also worked well in this space. (Picture above right shows the plants thriving after just a few months.)

To complete the effect I laid a couple of flat stones in the garden on which I would sit a couple of pot plants, the large bright blue one creating a feature in this area with a Plectranthus ‘Velvet Elvis’ to compliment the colour of the pot.

Although it appears to obscure the stonework, you get glimpses of it as you walk past, in between the pots. I added some white pebbles to finish it off. I’m very pleased with the stonework and I’m keen to use more of it around the garden. I’m already cooking up a few ideas on that — watch this space.

Monday, July 17, 2017

More Retaining Walls

One of the most challenging aspects of my property is the hilly contour of the land. The property rises steeply off the road, flattens out where the house sits and then descends into a deep gully before rising steeply again to my garden which in turn, sits on the edge of a cliff! All of this has required a tremendous amount of time, energy and expense building retaining wall after retaining wall. I’m pleased to say that most of the work has now been done except for one last area which is in the gully itself, where I built the sleepout a few years ago.

Over the years since I have been at this property I have acquired a number of palm trees and other tropical plants which have now outgrown their pots and need to be planted in the ground. However, while the gully seemed to be the most appropriate place to plant them, the bank where I had the most space was simply too steep, hence the need for more retaining walls.

The space I refer to is in the lower right corner of this picture (left). If you look carefully, you may be able to see 2 big tree stumps which I would need to work around.

If you want to see what this area used to look like a few years ago when the trees were still there click here


I opted to build with timber as all the tree roots in the way made any other option seem too difficult and also rather impractical. Timber is also a cheaper option. Having said that, getting up and down to the actual worksite with ANY material was always going to be difficult. After climbing up and down with what seemed like dozens of buckets of concrete, the job seemed to take forever.


It seems I may have underestimated just how steep this bank was, because even after building the wall to 1.5m high (the maximum allowable without a permit), the slope was still too steep to create the effect I wanted, so I decided to carve a flat footing into the bank and create another small retaining wall using keystones, all the while trying to work around the huge tree stump that was in the way.

After finishing off the keystone wall and back-filling with garden mix that part of the garden was ready for planting...

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Going Potty

I recently discovered 2 of the largest Garden Centres in Auckland. They each carry an unbelievable amount of stock that if combined would fill several football fields. They're on the northern and southern fringes of Auckland and as far as I could tell when I visited, had only one person running each store. Needless to say,  the presentation at their stores was a very low key affair – a kind of second hand junk shop/wreckers yard style of Garden Centre.
But what they lacked in presentation they more than make up for in unique items for sale including plants, statuary and pots. And when I say pots, I mean a GIZILLIAN pots in every colour, shape and style you can imagine. I was like a kid in a candy shop.

At first it was a little overwhelming. With so many choices, I had to think really carefully about what I wanted to achieve. I've already got a nice collection of pots around the garden which I've collected over many years but none of them are particularly big, mainly because the bigger they are the more expensive they get.
But there's something special about pots in the garden that you just can't capture any other way, so it was time to splash out and get a few big pots.

Lately I’ve been getting all inspired and thinking about Babylon. I saw the movie Alexander recently too and was intrigued by the depiction of ancient Babylon with its infamous hanging gardens. It’s not the first time I’ve thought about that with reference to my garden but I was reminded of it and I reckon that would be a fitting theme to try and create when selecting my pots, especially for the gully in the middle of my property.
So when I saw this set of 3 pots with this dimpled relief pattern, for some reason it made me think of Nebuchadnezzar’s beard and the ornate surroundings of his throne. So that was that... I had to have them!

At this stage I’ve got a vague plan of how I want to use them in the garden and where I want to put them. But it wasn't until I got them home that I realised there’s a bit of preparatory work I need to do to achieve the effect I’m after... like levelling the ground where I want them to sit, because they won’t look right if they’re not level and for that I may need to mix some concrete. They're pretty big and heavy especially once they’ve got a big plant in them, so they'll need a solid base to sit on.

Anyway, the picture above left shows what I did with the smaller one. A large buxus topiary or spherical hedge that I got on a subsequent visit to the same store creates quite a feature in front of the house. As you can see the plant is in a plastic pot inside the ceramic pot, so that if I ever decide to change things around I won't have to upend this heavy pot and break my back (or the pot!) getting it out later.

I managed to find a couple of bigger plastic pots to use as ‘liners’ for the larger ceramic pots too. Into one of them I’ve repotted one of my Bungalow palms, which will eventually get quite big. I’m thinking of having a pair of these, one on either side of the entrance to the garden at the top of the wooden steps, which will create a kind of palm grove in this part of the garden.

I’ll post more on the pots later...

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Garden's calling me...

I haven't written anything on here for almost a year!

It's been just over a year now since Izumi died and I haven't lived in my house for several months. Needless to say the Garden has been the last thing on my mind for quite a while so it's still looking rather neglected. I have many fond memories of the garden and I often find myself thinking about it. I miss it. Especially do I enjoy the pleasantness of a nice cold beer in the garden over the summer months.

With the arrival of Spring and a brief visit to the garden recently I am starting to feel like the garden's calling me, not only because there's so much work that needs doing, but there's a few encouraging signs  of growth that have recaptured my interest.

About this time last year I planted a miniature climbing rose and have been gradually training it to grow over my galvanised iron archway. I've tried growing several things over the archway in the past but this is the first time I've tried growing a plant whose sole purpose is to produce flowers.

It's just starting to flower for the first time and will be part of an interesting new direction I intend to take for the garden, with more attention given to flowering plants than previously.

As you can see in the background, the garden is still a jungle of weeds. By the way, that's a Feijoa tree I've planted on the back boundary by the fence, which I planted in about March/April earlier this year. I'm still keen to have lots of fruit growing in the garden.

So you can imagine my delight when I discovered I've got a new peach tree growing, which self-seeded next to the compost bin without me noticing and is now taller than me and currently in blossom.

It's a completely different variety from my other peach tree with large pink blossoms so I'll be interested to see what (if any) fruit grows on it this year. It's not growing where I would've thought to grow it as it's not in full light, but it seems to like it there so I'm just going to leave it. At least it won't be in the way as it's right on the edge of the bush.

I'm planning to return to the house at the end of the year. Hopefully by then I'll be ready to roll up my sleeves and get stuck in.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Garden Neglect...the explanation.

I’ve been known to make excuses in the past for why my garden’s looking a bit untidy or unkempt. But lately my garden has been looking the worst it ever has. In addition to the damage caused by a couple of mid winter storms this year the situation has been compounded by months of neglect. 

Observant readers of this blog may have heard me make subtle comments about the various distractions that were keeping me from the garden at various times, and more so probably in the last year or so. Up until now I’ve refrained from going into that on here, but now it's time to break my silence. 

Sadly, the reason is because my wife Izumi who I sometimes mention on here, has been battling cancer since Nov 2011 and despite the efforts of many good people to help her, she finally lost the battle on August 27th (about a month ago) and has now gone to rest.

Izumi loved the Garden, visiting it every day to seek out something for dinner or in more recent times to gather whatever was available for juicing, in an effort to keep her immunity strong. Believe it or not there are still some vegetables growing in amongst all those weeds...somewhere.

But I couldn’t possibly allow myself to do another blog post on here without first acknowledging her passing and crediting her for much of what I was motivated to do. In many ways she was the inspiration for building the garden in the first place, a huge project which took years of painstaking effort.

I got a great deal of satisfaction out of her reaction to everything I did. Without her encouragement it probably never would have happened the way it did. She took a great deal of interest in this blog too although she was adamant that she didn’t want her picture shown on here — at least not her face, probably because most of the photos taken of her in the garden didn’t show her at her best. But also because she preferred her privacy and was more comfortable staying in the background.

Many of the ideas we incorporated into the garden came from our visits to various parts of the country usually during summer holidays. Like the time we visited Russell in the far North of New Zealand which is where we got the inspiration to grow a Bougainvillea vine over a pergola.

Or there was the time we joined the Great Greenhithe Garden tour where we got lots of inspiration from the private gardens we visited. On that tour I also got this poignant shot of Izumi walking down a long tree-lined driveway into the distance. I never imagined at the time how seeing this less than a year later would bring home the deep sense of loss I feel now that she’s gone.

Goodbye Izumi — you'll be missed!

Now spring has arrived... closely followed by daylight savings, so it’s time to get back out into the garden and start tidying up — if only the weather would let me.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Another Storm Hits Auckland

We’ve been expecting a few days of rain which came as forecast. However one thing forecasters didn’t mention was the Gale force winds that arrived last night which almost turned our place upside down and were the strongest winds I’ve ever experienced in my 50 years living on the north shore.

It wasn’t until I awoke after a sleepless night that I saw the extent of the damage.

Here are a few pictures...

A tall Acmena tree on the front of our neighbours property got blown over onto our driveway which took out telephone lines on the way down.

We lost a piece of plastic roofing after it came loose and was flapping around in the wind. It kept me awake most of the night as it’s right outside by bedroom window. It finally shattered into dozens of pieces that were strewn around the property along with many other bits of vegetation including  branches off trees.

Part of our trellis fence got completely blown apart.

The door on our emergency bathroom out the back got it’s door completely blown off its hinges...


This tall willow tree on our neighbours property got blown over. Thankfully it didn't blow over in the direction of my sleepout otherwise it would have crushed it. It came to rest on another large tree. It’s going to take a bit of work to untangle that, I reckon.

Besides this there was a bit of damage done to a few other trees around my garden. It’ll probably see us right for firewood for the next 12 months or so.

The 2 bed bases I had my broad beans growing on fell over ruining the crop. Power was cut to half the north shore until around midday.

So there’s going to be a bit of work to do tidying this all up.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Dealing with Aphids

Aphids are a real problem in my garden, as you can see by this infestation on my Kaffir Lime bush.

There are a number of different plants around my garden that seem to get infested every year with Aphids, especially when they’re putting forth tender new growth. It seems to get worse when the weather’s damp. The problem is compounded by the fact that we also seem to have many ants around our place, which is not uncommon in Auckland’s volcanic soil. Apparently the ants 'farm' the Aphids, using them the suck nutrition from the plants, which the ants then harvest.

It’s quite hard staying on top of this, especially as I don’t like using chemical sprays. I spoke to a garden advisor about this who recommended spraying soapy water on the plants. In particular he recommended Sunlight soap which is a common brand used in the typical New Zealand home laundry — so it's not a bathroom soap. It’s very SOAPY soap! You don't need much of this stuff to get a lather going.

So I thought I’d try it. All I needed was a spray bottle. I just filled the bottom of the laundry tub with warm water and washed my hands with the soap, just enough to make the water soapy then filled up my bottle with the soapy water.

I gave everything a good spray with it, then repeated the process again 2 or 3 days later. It seemed to do the trick. I’ll be sure to do it again next time if I see the aphids come back.