Friday, December 14, 2012

Caring for Frangipanis

My frangipani (otherwise known as Plumeria) is one of my favourite plants. I got it from the nursery about 8 or 9 years ago when it was only about half its current height. Back then it was only a trunk with 2 branches. We put it in a dark coloured pot right outside our front door which is north facing, which in our case is very sunny and sheltered from the wind, so it’s in a very warm position.

Vistors to our place at this time of the year always marvel at how well it’s doing and how much they love it. This is probably because so many have tried growing them but have been unsuccessful. The flowers give off a lovely sweet fragrance at night in the summer producing a real tropical atmosphere on those warm summer nights.

A couple of years ago we noticed it had stopped flowering and didn’t seem to be doing so well so I concluded it must be root-bound and needed re-potting. The leaves also seemed to be under attack by some kind of parasite. So after hunting everywhere for a bigger version of the same style of pot I undertook the difficult task of getting it out of it’s existing pot and into the new one without damaging it.

It’s deciduous, so I waited until it lost all it’s leaves and then at the first sign of new growth I repotted it making sure I used a good quality potting mix. It didn't flower much the first year after doing this but this year it’s getting ready to bloom all over.

One thing we’ve learned is that the plant will not branch off and produce new limbs unless it flowers first. And it won’t flower unless it’s happy in it’s position and getting enough nutrition. So we feed it with slow release 'plant food spikes' which we just poke into the soil. Each new limb has the potential for growing a flower head. The picture at the top shows one flower head which can produce as many as 40 individual flowers. They only produce a maximum of one flower head per limb, per year.

So my objective has been to encourage as much flowering as possible. My frangipani is now a 12 pointer and 8 of those 12 limb ends have produced flower heads this year, which I think is the best it’s ever done, so re-potting it has certainly helped.

What this means is that next year it will grow 8 new limbs meaning that next year it will be a 20 pointer, each with the potential to produce a flower head.

This photo (left) shows how after the flower head has formed, the limb that has flowered then branches off in 2 directions. You can see 2 new limbs beginning to form at the base of the flower head. Next year each of these limbs which might grow several inches long, in turn has the potential to flower.

Some of our female friends, particularly the pacific islanders like to pluck off one or two flowers and wear them in their hair.

It really is a beautiful plant — if you can get it to grow right.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Home grown vegetables helping to save a life

Speak to anyone who grows their own vegetables and they’ll usually talk about the satisfaction they get from growing their own vegies, the convenience of being able to pick it fresh whenever they want to, and some of the cost benefits they may have experienced.

But this past week and a half I have come to appreciate more than ever before the amazing health benefits of growing your own fresh vegies, particularly silver beet and beetroot which are both high in iron.

A friend of mine “Joe” has been in hospital fighting for his life after a virus which had attacked his heart left one of his heart valves practically destroyed and needing replacement. He’d been told by the doctors if they didn’t operate within the next 2 weeks he could die.

Unfortunately his haemoglobin level had dropped significantly and as he’s one of Jehovah’s Witnesses he couldn’t accept a blood transfusion which is what they normally give in that situation. And they can’t operate until they get his red blood cell count up to around 100. So suddenly my garden with a good crop of iron-producing fresh vegetables came to the rescue.

We filled a flask of freshly squeezed silver beet and beetroot juice (using the root and the leaves), mixed with 2 green apples, a whole lemon (without the zest) 2 carrots, a leaf of cabbage and a handful of parsley, then rushed it over to the hospital.

His wife and family got their own juicer and started giving him regular doses of freshly squeezed juice, high in iron, which has been steadily building up his red blood cell count.

We wish him well and are hoping for the best. 

Hang in there Joe!

UPDATE (as at Jan 21, 2013)

After a rigorous routine of freshly squeezed juices, Joe's Haemoglobin level was built up from 56 to 113. It was a slow process but Joe was finally able to get the heart surgery he needed and is now on the road to recovery. He’s convinced the juices helped and is now a fresh juice convert.

Thank you to all for your thoughts and prayers.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Apple Tree

I’m not one for ‘flogging a dead horse’ when it comes to growing things in the garden. So the time finally arrived for me to admit defeat regarding my Black Doris Plum tree. I’ve been waiting about 7 or 8 years now and still no fruit – that’s long enough in my book.

So I decided it’s finally time to pull it out and try something else. I decided to try a Fuji apple.

My wife wasn’t so convinced that I should give up on the Black Doris so I compromised and told her I’d try it in a different spot – down in the bottom garden.

Most fruit trees like well drained soil so when I tested the hole with a bucket of water I could see that the clay in the bottom was going to be a problem. This is a typical problem with Auckland’s soil.

So I dug a drainage trench in a downhill direction from the hole and put a couple of inches of free draining pebbles in the bottom.

Finally the hole was ready to fill in again and to plant the new tree. I used a good quality garden mix with a bit of compost added to it to give it the best possible start, then I staked it firmly.

One of our neighbours has 2 apple trees growing on his property. They’re both different varieties and very hard to identify so I’m hoping they’ll work OK as pollinators for my new Fuji variety. Only time will tell.


(Update: Jan 2, 2018)

This year my Apple tree has several fruit on, which is not that many so it’s a little disappointing.

I have noticed that when the tree starts putting forth it’s leaves and blossoming in the late spring the branches get this white fluffy stuff growing on them. When you rub it between your fingers it turns a red/brown colour so obviously some kind of very tiny insect infestation. The result of this is a 
dis-figurement of the surface of the branch. 

So far I have not sprayed the tree with any chemicals as I prefer not to if I can help it. The most I ever do is give it a squirt with a high pressure hose to get rid of the insects but they soon come back. So I'm thinking I may have no choice but to start spraying it, which I’ll probably do this year after it’s finished fruiting.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Baba’s Garden

One particular highlight of our trip to Japan was returning to my in-laws place after being away for 18 years. I’ve always found their place to be absolutely fascinating. The family home has been owned and lived in for several generations.

They live in the countryside so they have quite a large garden. My mother-in-law who we call Baba has always been a keen gardener but now that she’s in her 80’s she has not been able to care for her garden the way she used to. It was sad to see her garden looking so overgrown and uncared for.

So what better job to occupy myself with than to get stuck in and tidy up her garden. The challenge was: What could I do in the short time I was there?




Some interesting aspects of the project were, finding all the tools I needed...

...helping my daughter to appreciate some of the joys of gardening...

...and finding ways of overcoming the language barrier...

This is me pictured with my brother-in-law Kazuharu, who was very grateful for my help tidying up his parents garden. He knew it needed doing but just didn’t know where to start. I was glad to be able to help.

Plus it seemed I even provided some entertainment to some of the locals – 
including the postman and a few nosey neighbours.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Rice Harvest

Ishikawa Prefecture in Japan (where my wife’s family lives) is a rice growing region that has recently been designated as an Agricultural Heritage area because of its traditional methods of growing and harvesting rice, much of which is still done by hand. Most of it is grown on the valley plains but sometimes you can see rice paddys carved into hillsides, none so famous as this site known as 'Sen Maida' which translates as 'a thousand paddys' which we visited in Wajima.

I found my first visit to a genuine rice paddy 18 years ago to be a fascinating experience. On this recent visit I witnessed for the first time, the rice actually being harvested...

...and then hung out to dry on huge drying frames.

Those who truly appreciate quality rice believe these old natural methods are the best for preserving the natural flavour and goodness of the rice.

That probably explains why some of Japan’s best Sake (rice wine) is produced in the Ishikawa region. There are some 36 Sake-making companies in Ishikawa, most of which have been handed down through several generations, the oldest of which dates back to 1716.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Visit to Kenrokuen Garden

We spent the last couple of weeks in Japan visiting my wife’s family. While we were there we went to visit one of the 3 most famous gardens in Japan known as Kenrokuen. It is situated in Kanazawa, which is the largest city in Ishikawa prefecture where my wife’s parents live, which is on the west coast of Japan’s main Island of Honshu (north of Osaka).

From what I understand the garden was first established in the 1600’s. It was a private garden belonging to a Japanese Lord and was first opened to the public in 1874. However the garden was only designated as a National Site of Scenic Beauty as recently as 1922, and a National Site of Special Scenic Beauty as recently as 1985 which put it in the top 3 in Japan, and deservedly so. 

I’ve been inspired in many ways by the Japanese approach to gardening which I first came to appreciate when I visited Japan for the first time back in 1990. The first thing you notice is that the Japanese are meticulous in their attention to detail and no effort is spared when it comes to maintaining things of beauty, even sweeping moss off the pebbles on the floor of a meandering stream (as pictured below).

I’ve tried to incorporate into my own garden the various ideas I’ve gleaned from my observations in Japan.

These are a few of the fundamental observations I’ve made of Japanese gardens:

1. They pay special attention to detail when trimming hedges and pruning trees. They’re not afraid of severe pruning where necessary. Even towering pine trees do not escape the attention of the meticulous Japanese gardener.
2. They make sure that all the gardens features are clearly defined including trees, shrubs, pathways, and other landscaping features, including water features and garden ornaments.
3. They make good use of a variety of materials including stone, brick, and timber - even bamboo and ceramic tiles.
4. They keep the design of any landscaping elements as simple as possible.
5. They make the best possible use of every last inch of space.

This is the second time I’ve visited the Kenrokuen garden. Last time I visited was springtime 18 years ago so there was a lot more colour and flowers to be seen compared to this Autumn visit. But even without the blooms and the colours there was beauty to be found in the rich tapestry of form, texture and the majestic vistas they produce, even if only in various shades of green.

Last time we came here my daughter was only 5 years old. She doesn’t remember our visit all those years ago so it was a completely new experience for her this time, which she thoroughly enjoyed. I’ve been hoping my love of gardening will rub off on her eventually.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Spring Has Sprung

Spring arrived early this year. 

These photos were taken August 24th. The plum blossoms usually signal the beginning of spring which arrived about a week earlier than normal. It was especially heartening to see the plum tree blossoms being visited by all sorts of insects including bees, bumblebees and butterflies. 

Last year most of the blossoms got turned to mush when a heavy downpour of rain came before they’d been pollenated, which resulted in a very small crop. This year I reckon every single flower got pollenated as the weather and insect visitation was almost perfect for an entire week.

I was so delighted at this first sign of spring I felt a video would be the best way to capture it, as the still photos just didn’t do it justice. They couldn’t possibly capture the sound of bees buzzing or the birds chirping in the surrounding trees. 

I found this video is best enjoyed at night with the volume turned up.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Pergola Doubles as Winter Greenhouse

When I first built the pergola I intentionally chose the sunniest spot in the garden, so it would be a nice place to sit over the summer, in the shade of the grape vine. However the paved area never gets used for outdoor living over the cooler months and it seemed a pity to let all that sunshine go to waste. So one thing I decided to try this year was to turn the pergola into a makeshift greenhouse. I didn’t want to spend too much money and I wanted to keep it as simple as possible as it would only be temporary until the grapes come on again later in the spring.

So using a couple of garden boxes I knocked together a couple of years ago, I got them all planted out with garden mix and seedlings. Then I got a 10 metre roll of clear polythene and a few lengths of timber to make up the greenhouse.

Using the timber in pairs I sandwiched the polythene in between and nailed the pair of them together whilst laid out on the ground. This would serve as a weight and a means of attaching it to something solid. I did this on one end first then draped the polythene over top of the pergola.

Then pulling it tight I was able to establish the correct length and then attached a couple more bits of timber with the polythene sandwiched between them and nailed together. Then using the same method I covered up the southern end (that’s the cold end for us here in NZ) as shown below.

I decided to grow Pak choy and Brocolli. Pak Choy are frost tender. Brocolli is a bit more hardy but it would be an interesting experiment to see the difference between these and some that I just planted in the ground as normal.
A few weeks later and the Pak Choy were all finished and the brocolli were coming on beautifully with little flower heads beginning to form. The brocolli inside the greenhouse were about 3 times the size of the ones growing in the garden. So you can imagine my distress when my wife reported that something disastrous had happened in the garden...

We suddenly had some gale force winds which whipped through the garden and half of the brocollis got completely snapped off in the wind.

I hate it when that happens!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Autumn colours

There’s not that much about winter that I look forward to each year. But every new season does have something to offer in the way of colours and other little surprises that pop up in the garden.

Even simple things like how the light dances on the leaves of the trees and creates a whole different ambience is something you learn to appreciate.

Even after the trees have shed all their leaves there’s still some beauty to found...

...sometimes in the most surprising of places.


A couple of years ago a friend of mine was clearing a corner of his garden and he asked me if I wanted some of the Taro plants he’d dug up. I thought they’d do OK under the bridge by the sleepout where there’s a little stream. I just like them as foliage looking down on them as you walk over the bridge. 

This year, to my surprise one of them actually flowered. That was a bonus I wasn’t counting on. There aren’t many plants that flower in the dark wet environment that winter brings in that part of the garden. 

It made my day when I saw that.

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Bougainvillea

I’m satisfied with the various areas I’ve created for growing vegetables and they seem to be producing reasonably well, so this year I’ve been thinking about different ways to beautify my garden.

One feature in the garden that lends itself well to being beautified is the pergola. So I decided to grow a bougainvillea vine over one half of it.
The plant I chose was a bright magenta variety that’s pretty common in NZ. I've seen these growing in various places in both public and private gardens and they’re great for adding a stunning display of colour in the summer. But they look their best when grown over some kind of structure like a fence, trellis or pergola.
As usual I like to show a BEFORE shot:

I planted the vine in a small triangle space between the pergola and the BBQ (October 2010). Then as it grew I started training it toward the back right post cutting off any lateral shoots to encourage a single stem to grow in that direction.

As it grew nearer to the post I allowed one of the laterals to grow so that it forked off in two directions. Then I just started winding it around the post in two different directions to try and create a plaited effect.

I’m reasonably happy with how it’s grown so far over it’s first full season. It’s reached the top and started flowering. I’ve discovered how easy they are to grow. In fact if you weren’t paying attention they'd quickly get out of control and grow every which way, so they need to be pruned regularly especially when training them to grow a certain way.

I have made a point of not winding the stems too tightly around the post as these will gradually thicken and therefore tighten as the plant matures. I'm pleased with the plaited effect so far but I’ve had to keep trimming any lateral shoots to maintain the effect, (it’s also a good idea for safety reasons as the Bougainvillea produces hundreds of sharp barbs – pretty lethal if you stand too close or brush up against it). I'll probably let the laterals go wild on the top of the pergola next season which I’m hoping will create a nice display of colour.

One thing I’ve learned about the Bougainvillea is that the bright magenta part of the plant is not actually the petal of the flower. The petals are white as can be seen in the above photo.

I'll be sure to add a few pics later to show the final effect.


Update: photos taken 28 December 2012

It makes a nice place to sit in the summer...


Update: photos taken 12-14 Dec 2013

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------photo taken Jan 2018
I love the dramatic splash of Magenta on the approach to the garden now that the Bougainvillea is properly established. It seems to thrive best in hot, dry conditions. It’s become a real focal point of the garden.