Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Little Victories

As any keen gardener would know, every season has its share of disappointments. Things don't always go as you'd like. Often the weather plays a big part in that.

The last few years my grapevine has been a source of disappointment and while the fruit has given the appearance each year of forming as it should, being all full of promise and hope, nothing comes to fruition properly and this year was no different.

Even my Golden Queen peach tree which is always abundant in fruit, was abundant again this year but the size of the fruit was very small due to there being very little rain and any fruit that fell on the ground was found to have a worm in it, which was rather disappointing as we often bottle-preserve what falls on the ground.

Both my plum trees were infected with worms as I mentioned in a previous post.

So, after looking around the garden for any signs of success, you can imagine my delight when I discovered my wife's efforts at watering the feijoa tree, throughout the long dry period we've had, is literally bearing fruit.

I love Feijoas and I'm so glad I managed to find a space to squeeze in one of these trees. This is only the 3rd or 4th year this tree has been in the ground so the tree is still quite small. However, I was able to enjoy a few fruit off this tree in the 2nd year I planted it which was surprising considering how young the tree was, and it was beautiful – it tasted amazing.

In the past most kiwi gardens had a feijoa tree, so when I was growing up they were the most common of fruit. Now things have changed and people don't have big back yards with fruit trees anymore – at least not as many. So, these days some people can only get these from the supermarket, or from friends who have a tree in their back yard.

Unfortunately if you're from outside New Zealand and are wondering what these taste like, I can't help you much as their flavour is quite hard to describe. When I was a kid I used to sometimes eat them skin and all – the skin is quite tart. The flesh is sweet and soft, even a bit jelly-like. Most people eat them by scooping them out with a spoon.

So I'll take whatever victories I can in the garden. Even if it's the humble feijoa.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Auckland facing a Heatwave

New Zealand and Australia have been experiencing a heatwave over the last several weeks with average temperatures at least 5 degrees above normal for this time of year. Just before the heatwave hit Auckland my wife and I were booked to fly to Sydney, Australia for a wedding, where they were experiencing record high temperatures as high as 45°C.

Thankfully, things cooled down to a balmy 35°C in time for the wedding but it was still uncomfortably hot compared to what I'm used to. Not surprisingly, when we returned to NZ after 10 days away, we found most of our garden had completely wilted in the heat, especially the hydrangeas which need constant watering at the best of times!

Not so with the Frangipani! It loves the heat and is Thriving! You see them growing everywhere in Sydney, even growing into huge trees.

Makes me wonder what other plant selection choices I need to make in the future now that climate change is taking effect. The decision I made years ago to create a more tropical themed garden was definitely the right choice I reckon.Learn more about growing Frangipanis here 

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Sleepout #11 – The Shade Garden

After I got the decking around the sleepout finished it was time to focus on the garden. I was really looking forward to this as I'd been wanting to do something about this part of the garden for a long, long time. It’s the landscaping and the planting that really finishes things off nicely.

Here’s a couple of 'before' pics to show how it was before I started the decking...

and during...

I really wanted to keep the mature pungas (ferns) that were growing in this area, which meant this would always be a shaded garden. So it's a lovely cool place during the summer. As you can see, I built 2 low retaining walls out of keystone blocks to try flattening out the steepness of the bank.

I'm still in the process of finishing off the block work. I now need a concrete cutting machine to cut the mitre on the corner before it’ll be properly finished. I've started planting it out with a triple Bangalow palm in the middle and a few bromileads for now. I also decided it could be a good place for a couple of the large pots I got a couple years ago. 

When the blockwork is finished, I’ll be able to back fill and continue planting. As usual, I'll post more pictures when it's completed.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Summer, Glorious Summer!

My garden looks its best in the Summer. A lot of the plants I’ve selected for colour seem to be the ones that flower in summer, which is great because that’s when the garden gets the most use. The most obvious of these flowering plants would have to be the Bougainvillea Vine which I’ve trained to grow over a pergola. It’s a really nice place to sit as it provides a bit of shade from the harsh New Zealand sun. (See my blog post about how I started training a Bougainvillea Vine here.)

The garden has changed quite a bit as it’s matured over the last few years, so I realised it was time to update the header on my Blog. I’ve been waiting for the Bougainvillea to be in full bloom so I could get a few nice photos. The header photo I decided to use was a panorama shot I took from the roof of the sleepout. This year the pergola was a great place to take a few family photos too.

One of the plants I’ve really enjoyed this year would have to be the Hydrangeas. I’ve tried propagating a few over the last couple of years from cuttings and was pleased to see them flowering nicely this year (year 2). The most interesting aspect of this for me was seeing how the colours varied from the original plants I took the cuttings from, as the variations in soil acidity resulted in different coloured blooms. And what blooms they were after giving them a good feed in spring. They make terrific cut flowers too.

We’ve been spoilt this year with the number of cut flowers we’ve been able to take in the house.
Like these red beauties (which I forget the name of), plus a few others which I forgot to take photos of...

The big disappointment this summer was that despite my 2 plum trees fruiting super-abundantly, beyond expectations, the fruit was mostly spoiled by an infestation of worms and several days of torrential rain just as the fruit was ripening which caused them to split. I can see I’m going to have to be super vigilant next year and may need to relent as regards my organic, ‘no-spray’ policy.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Introduction to Bromileads

Back in 2015, I met a guy called Andreas who’s a keen gardener like me and we quickly became good friends. Shortly after I met him I found out he was planning to shift house and he was doing it all on his own so Marie and I took pity on him and offered to give him a hand, which he greatly appreciated.

We quickly found out just how much he loved his garden when we saw his amazing collection of plants, many of which he was storing in an empty in-ground swimming pool. He had all kinds of palms, cycads, not to mention a huge variety of other rare tropical plants including a huge collection of Bromileads. When he started rattling off all their botanical names we soon realised the depth of his obsession. He’s a collector at heart and he has an impressive ability to retain information about the things he collects.

It turns out he had way too many plants to take with him so out of appreciation for our help he kindly gave us a whole bunch of plants, including a few palms and a number of bromileads. I’d never ventured into the world of Bromileads until then, but I have always liked the effect they create in tropical gardens.

One thing I’ve discovered about them is that they multiply over time, occasionally 'throwing pups' as Andreas calls it, before the parent (or host plant) dies off. So in the few short years since he first gave us some, we now have quite a number of them dotted around our property, wherever there’s space.

I recently established a new garden by our front gate and decided that that would be a good place to put some of them. As it happens, all the ones I selected for this garden all love the full sun which is exactly what they get in this particular spot (pictured below). But not all of them like full sun. Some prefer the shade, like the 2 pictured above named “Grace’s Avalanche” & “Dark Knight” — don't ask me to repeat the botannical name he told us as I’ve completely forgotten that. The green one on the right in the pic below will apparently grow to a massive size, so I’ve left a bit of space around it in anticipation.

Some of them have a serrated edge on the leaves and are quite sharp and prickly, others are quite smooth and safe to handle. The one pictured below is my favourite. It has a red tip on the end of each leaf and before the host dies off it sends up an impressive red snake-like flower stem that adds a interesting focal point to this part of the garden.

This particular plant will need attention soon as there are about four host plants in the one pot that are all about to die and each one will have thrown a few pups which will need to be split up and re-potted.

As I’ve discovered, there are so many different kinds of Bromileads each with their own characteristics and habits. I’ll discuss more about bromeliads in another post later including the ones I’ve earmarked for the tropical shade garden next to the sleepout.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Fantail Cottage – Bathroom Facilities DIY

Despite the fact that this is supposed to be a blog that’s all about Gardening, there have been quite a few DIY projects that have been dominating my time lately. But it’s DIY in the garden I've been busy with, so I’m sure my gardening readers will forgive me. Most avid gardeners will know and acknowledge that there is always a need for a certain amount of DIY, whether it’s making up tomato stakes out of a few bits of old decking or building a garden shed... basically, doing whatever’s needed.

Following on from my last post about “Fantail Cottage” and our plans to make it available to paying guests, we realised for it to work properly I had to do something about the bathroom facilities.

I built an emergency bathroom quite a few years ago with toilet and shower that has been barely adequate – a typical gardeners bathroom that has seen many of my muddy boots over the years so not really suitable for paying guests to use. The bathroom is located about 10 metres (up a few steps) from the sleepout as shown in the above picture. The bathroom is through that door on the right. So the plan is to extend it making it bigger and more comfortable to use.

However, nothing is quite as simple as it sounds.

Before I can do anything about enlarging it, there are a couple of quite big jobs to do first. Like getting rid of that big pile of clay (on the left in the above picture). All that clay got piled there years ago when I excavated the basement of the house. There was nowhere else on the property to put it so it just sat there eventually becoming part of the back lawn, so now getting rid of it was going to be a tricky, time consuming and heavy job.

I made a start months ago and using a wheelbarrow took it down the steps, over the bridge past the sleepout and up the other side of the gully to the very back of the property and then disposing it somewhere out of view — a  total of some 50 odd metres up and down steep slopes, and Auckland clay isn't light. I could only do a half dozen trips before I was completely exhausted, so it was going to be a long, slow job doing it that way. Surprisingly, what I’d done in the above pic represents about 30 odd barrows full as it expands considerably when you break it up. The picture above shows how far I got before I realised I had to come up with a better plan.

As it happens, there’s an access ramp I built years ago that enabled me to get up and down into the gully with wheelbarrows and lawnmowers, etc.

I’d built it out of landscaping grade Macrocarpa and it was beginning to rot so it would need replacing at some stage. So I decided to demolish the ramp and build a retaining wall in its place, then I could fill the cavity created with all the clay.

I hasten to point out that this was Marie’s idea and a rather good one as it turns out.

So thankfully the job of shifting the clay became so much easier, and now I’m already starting to sense a feeling of space having now created a large flat area to work with.

There are still a few jobs to do before I can start on the bathroom. I need to rebuild a keystone retaining wall to hold the remaining bank up plus I need to remove those 2 punga ferns next to the bathroom.

The current problem is the weather as it’s been raining for the last week or so and there’s still several days of rain forecast, meaning I can’t do much more until it stops. So it's going to take another month or more yet before anything resembling a new bathroom will start to emerge.

In the mean time, I've been getting a few supplies together including a second hand steel bath (a really nice one) and a bunch of second hand glass bricks. I want one wall of the bathroom to be all glass so as to catch more natural light. The existing bathroom, which is little more than an outhouse currently, is quite dark and gloomy.

Watch this space.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Fantail Cottage

Rolling out the Welcome Mat...

Many visitors to my garden who discover the sleepout nestled in the midst of a thicket of bush and fruit trees, comment on the lovely setting. They imagine it as a beautifully quiet place to retreat to which it is. There are relatively few houses in the immediate vicinity as it backs onto a reserve on 2 sides. Hence there's a lot of birdsong from native Tuis and Fantails, not to mention the odd Rosella, Wood Pigeon or Pukeko. It really is a lovely place to hang out especially from spring to autumn.

Many express surprise that such a place can be found so close to Auckland city. It’s only a couple of minutes drive from the Auckland harbour bridge and is close to public transport, shops and cafes. You could cycle to the bridge in about 5-10 minutes which will be great when the Skypath (a cycleway across the harbour bridge) finally opens in a couple of years time.

Coupled with my experience over many years of hosting homestay students from all over the world, it seems only natural that we would think about making the sleepout available to paying guests, especially with the growing popularity of AirB&B these days. So that is what we’ve decided to do and we’re calling it “Fantail Cottage Homestay”.

The sleepout itself is only small so it will probably only suit a single person, perhaps an artist, photographer or a writer seeking some solitude for a few days, or simply someone travelling on their own. There is still a bit of work needed to get it ready for guests and when the time comes I’ll add a link to a website where it can be properly viewed and where bookings can be made — watch this space.

In the mean time if you’re planning a visit to Auckland in the near future this may well be an accommodation option for you to think about. If you need an excuse, why not come and watch some of the America’s Cup yacht racing which is due to start next year. We’re only a 5-10 minute bus ride from all the action.

I welcome any expressions of interest, feedback or questions you may have in the comments section below.