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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Lawnmowing

I’ve been mowing lawns my whole life, starting from when I was a teenager back in the 1970’s.

My father had me mowing our rather large lawn which was a chore I shared with my older brother using my Dad’s old Masport mower. It wasn’t long before one of our neighbours (an old lady) agreed to have us mow her lawns for a small fee. Her lawn was even bigger than ours and we used to do it for about $8 which was pretty good pocket money back then. She supplied the petrol and the mower which was a Victor mower. We took turns at first until my brother lost interest, then I did it regularly myself.

I’d far sooner mow the lawn than do housework if it came to a choice between the 2 so needless to say even when I went flatting as a young person it was usually me mowing the lawn in most of the places I  stayed. These days I still get a sense of satisfaction from mowing my lawns at home. For me there’s something familiar and homely about the smell of freshly cut grass.

A couple of years ago a friend of mine who lives in a shared housing complex with a medium sized lawn surrounding it asked me if I’d be interested in caring for their lawns. Although it had been a long time since I mowed lawns for money, I decided to do it to help him out, as my other business interests were not that busy at the time. It turns out that the price I quoted them was less than their previous gardener was charging, so they were very happy for me to do it.

After doing it regularly for a few months I started thinking about perhaps taking on 1 or 2 more lawns in the area and then spending say 1 day a week caring for lawns to help supplement my income. So I decided to place an ad on the CLASSIFIEDPAGES website showing a few pictures from my garden at home.



The key to a nicely mowed lawn in my view is to always use the catcher. Although it usually takes a bit longer and requires more effort on a sloping lawn, there are 3 main benefits. 1. It looks nicer 2. Any children and pets that run around on the lawn afterwards don’t get covered in grass clippings and then walk them into the house creating more work, and 3. Grass clippings are excellent for composting.

So, I kinda feel like I’ve gone full circle, returning to the days of my youth. It’ll be interesting to see how it pans out. Click here to visit my lawn mowing ad.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Winter Gardens at the Auckland Domain

We’re well into spring in November which is a popular time of year for doing Garden Tours. Thankfully, there are plenty of public gardens around Auckland where I live, that can be visited, even for free, and most of them I’m sure will be looking good at this time of year.

The Winter Gardens at the Auckland Domain are a good example. They basically consist of 2 large greenhouses separated by a large courtyard and fernery.



One the greenhouses is filled with subtropical plants while the other one focuses more on perennials and annuals, etc. and although one of them was closed for maintenance when I visited, the other greenhouse did not disappoint.


I was like a kid in a candy shop not sure of where to point my camera first. It was a veritable feast of colours, shapes and textures. Plenty of inspiration for both the gardener in me and the photographer and artist too. The display of Foxgloves looked amazing.


The fernery was stunning too and while there wasn’t much in the way of colour, there was more than enough textures and shades of green to make up for it. 


So if you ever get the chance to visit Auckland, be sure to visit the Domain and Winter Gardens. I’m sure you’ll be glad you did.



Monday, November 18, 2013

The Great Greenhithe Garden Tour – Overview

When I decided to do a blog post about the Greenhithe Garden Tour I should’ve known that doing a single post about it was not going to be easy or concise. With 15 private gardens being opened to the public one of my biggest concerns was how to write about it without offending any of the exhibitors or hosts that don’t even get a mention should they be gracious enough to even visit my blog, let alone read it, should they happen to stumble across it somehow.

In deciding what to feature, I was conscious that like any creative form of expression, tastes in gardening styles can also be very subjective, so I decided to just concentrate on what appealed to me personally. Realistically I knew that of the 100 or more photos that I took I would probably only use a dozen or so, and just try to give an overview of what I saw.






It was immediately apparent that a lot of time and effort had been put in to each garden on show. Roses featured prominently in many of the gardens and while I’m not really a big fan of roses, some beautiful examples of them got me thinking about changing my view. Like the stunning red roses in garden No.4 which were being trained to grow up some trellis on the side of the house. They provided a beautiful accent to this garden which complimented the house nicely.







Many of the gardens had some kind of water feature in them and I particularly liked the stone work in Garden No.1 which was fenced off to create a private little haven with a tropical theme.

Visiting this Garden was a real treat as the hosts had a live band playing jazz music right there in the garden.

As we meandered through their large sloping section dotted with vegie patches and tropical palms the music wafted through the trees as we went, creating a rather festive atmosphere.



















We arrived a little late at Garden No.13 so missed hearing someone talking about bee biology and beekeeping. But we couldn’t miss the distinctive hum of buzzing bees as we made our way along the board walk which circled around their property past a gathering of several beehives. The water feature here was a completely natural one as this property backs onto the upper harbour entry to Lucas Creek.

Although the gardens on show were the main attractions of the day, it seemed the whole community was in the gardening spirit. We could hear lawnmowers going as we walked from place to place and there were many other gardens besides those open to the public that caught my attention along the way, like this mediterranean inspired house. The white roses and bright green clipped hedges stood out beautifully against the terracotta masonry. This part of Greenhithe got me thinking about how beautiful a place it must be to live... if only you could afford it!



I’ve been thinking for some time about introducing bromeliads to the tropical area of my garden and a stunning specimen I saw by the pool in Garden No.15 was enough to persuade me that I should just go ahead and do it.

As you can see, every garden we visited had it’s own unique character and there were plenty of ideas to take away and think about. Even the most mundane areas of a property can be beautified like this area surrounding the clothesline in Garden No.9. At the time I didn’t even notice the clothesline was there – it was only when I looked at the pictures afterwards.


It’s kind of hard to believe that the last 3 pictures were all taken on the same property at Garden No.9. And as is true with all the other Gardens shown here, the pictures I’ve posted show only a glimpse of what we actually saw on the tour. One thing that all the gardens have in common though is the tremendous amount of work that’s obviously gone into creating them. This particular property apparently has a team of gardeners...

By this point in the tour, after walking what seemed like several kilometres, up and down driveways and between all the houses, Izumi and I both reached the point of exhaustion and decided to go home. We’d had enough garden-hopping for one day. 

There was so much to see that we didn’t get to see them all which is kinda what I expected. But we saw 10 out of 15, so not a bad effort in view of the limited time we had available, as we both had appointments scheduled for the afternoon.


The truth is I am humbled by the whole experience and for a fleeting moment questioned whether I had any right to call myself a gardener. But gardening is something anybody can do no matter how large or small their property might be. Everybody has a different approach and that’s what makes it so interesting. 





Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Great Greenhithe Garden Tour

After many years of procrastinating I have finally decided to take The Great Greenhithe Garden Tour. This is an annual event held in the nearby suburb of Greenhithe. It’s held each spring to raise funds for their local kindergarden and is now into it’s 20th year. So I finally got around to getting 2 tickets and my wife Izumi and I will be attending it this Sunday. 

It only lasts for one day from 10am ‘til 4pm and there are 15 private gardens that will be opened to the public, all within a 1 or 2 kilometre radius in Greenhithe. I remember Greenhithe as a youngster when it was considered to be semi-rural. I have some family members who moved there in the mid 1970’s and are still there today, so it has a familiar feeling about it for me. 

These days it has become a sought-after place to live and has a quaint community atmosphere. It is almost completely surrounded by water like an island and in recent times it has really filled up with housing. The gardens themselves are in the more well established parts of Greenhithe.


I’m really looking forward to it but I hope the weather will be fine as I’d like to get some interesting photos and thoughts together to share with you here on my blog. For more information visit their website here: The Great Greenhithe Garden Tour.

Read my review of the tour here

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Rebuilding the Rockery

About 2 years ago after I’d finished building the sleepout the rockery at the entrance to the garden was looking a real mess. It had already been falling apart slowly over the years since I first built it, but when I ran underground cabling to the sleepout, which went under the rockery, it fell apart even more. So I decided to get stuck in and fix it.
(See my post about how I originally created this area of the garden here).




I started with the rockery on the right hand side. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to fall apart again so easily so I used a good amount of concrete plaster to make it nice and strong, something I didn't do so well last time.


Once I got the right hand rockery finished off I filled it with garden mix ready to plant out.






Before I fixed the one on the left I decided to fix up the paving between the rockery and the steps going down to the sleep out. I’d been wanting to do this for some time and had in mind a way of tying it in with the overall design.


I filled the main area of the path with concrete and exposed the aggregate on the surface to create a non-slip finish. Into the concrete I set 3 slabs of blue stone rock. I was really pleased with how this little piece of path turned out. In the mean time I was getting a bit impatient and decided to plant out the right hand rockery. As you can see, I decided to go for a tropical theme.

This all took place around the same time I transplanted a medium sized Bangalow palm in the small garden next to the lower steps (see my post about that here)




So, it was now time to focus on the left hand rockery. By now the job had taken several months as I was just fitting it in around other tasks. I only worked on it when I had extra time and was in a patient mood.







Once I got all the stones in place and the pointing between them was done it was time to fill it with garden mix and to think about what I was going to plant.


In keeping with the tropical theme, I had another bungalow palm which I had temporarily put in a large pot. I also had a few Clivias growing in various places around my garden which I decided to transplant. Using these would save me spending any more money. Clivias are very easy to divide up and produce a wonderful display of colour in the spring. They grow really well, even in the shade.



So finally, after several months I got it to a point where it’s all repaired and planted out and it’s now quite pleasant walking through this area...


The tropical theme seems to be working pretty well through this part of the garden now...


Shame about the weeds growing between the pavers, which is an ongoing issue as I prefer not to spray them.

Eventually I’d like to replace the pavers with solid concrete the same way as I exposed the aggregate on the little path at the bottom. But that probably won’t happen any time soon. In the mean time I'll probably just keep using the weed eater to control them.



Thursday, October 3, 2013

Garden Mix, Potting Mix & Soil Rejuvenation

A visit to the local landscape supplies yard has become like an annual pilgrimage for me at this time of year. Spring has finally arrived and when the sun finally comes out I’m usually always itching to get outside and get a few jobs done.



I often buy compost in 40litre bags to supplement my home-made efforts which costs about $5 a bag, but buying in bulk is much better value especially if you’ve got a few bigger jobs in mind to do. So in case you’re wondering why I have to buy it when I talk so much about making my own, the point is, I find my efforts at making compost are still not producing as much as I need for those bigger jobs.



So I got a half metre each of compost and garden mix which cost $114. They both look much the same because the garden mix has a certain amount of compost already in it, but you can plant directly into it. The compost on the other hand, is a much stronger mix and shouldn’t be planted into directly, but it’s great for rejuvenating the soil.


In addition to the 2 trailer loads of ‘soil’ I stopped in at Bunnings and got an 8kg bag of coarse pumice ($14) which can be added to the garden mix to make it more suitable for potting. The pumice helps to improve drainage and it also helps to aerate the soil.



While I was about it I couldn’t resist this bright pink Azalea which reminded me of one I had some time ago but which died on me. This was in an 8cm pot and cost about $9. So this was my first little potting job using this new mix.


I’ve got a few other jobs planned too, but more about that later.

*****

From an economics point of view the photo below shows 4 x 40litre bags of compost next to my bulk compost which cost $57 — half of the $114 I paid in total. The bags cost $5 each so if you can imagine a pile 2.8 times this size, that would cost the equivalent of $57 the same as what I paid for the bulk mix. Based on this estimate the bulk mix works out about half the price or a little bit more. 


This isn’t as good a value as I recall from 20 odd years ago but it still works out cheaper than the bagged stuff and well worth buying it this way if you’ve got a few bigger jobs to do. 

A 40 litre bag of potting mix costs between $10-20/bag depending on the quality, so buying it by the bag can be expensive, especially if you need several bags. That’s why I buy a load of bulk mix every year. 



Saturday, September 14, 2013

Farming Worms

About a year ago a good friend of mine who’s a keen gardener living nearby, decided to move away from Auckland. He had a worm farm that he didn’t want to take with him, so he asked me if I wanted it. I had no hesitation in accepting it.

I’d heard quite a bit about worm farming over the years but never been that bothered about pursuing it, so I didn’t really know much about it, other than how the juice collected from the worms can be diluted and used to water the garden, with terrific results.

This particular worm farm is made out of black plastic. It has three levels and is raised up on legs with a tap attached to the bottom level, through which the juice drains into a bucket.

After determining a suitable spot for it under some trees in the shade I levelled out an area laying down some paving tiles for it to sit on. It’s best for it to be located in a place that’s in permanent shade. The worms themselves prefer to be in complete darkness much like their normal home under the ground. Apparently, they’re quite fussy eaters — they don’t like citrus scraps or onions or anything else that’s too acidic. We mainly feed them all our kitchen scraps but the worms especially seem to love the pulp that comes out of the vegetable juicer (my wife is juicing daily). They probably like it so much because it’s very easy for them to get stuck into, having already been minced up.
Before long the worms were producing huge quantities of juice. The bucket was filling up every 2 or 3 weeks. So we just transfer it into 3 litre milk bottles until we need it. Then I mix it about 10:1 in a watering can and pour it on the garden.
Things were going really well with the worm farm until one day we noticed something wasn’t right. When we opened the lid to feed them all the worms were massed together around the outside perimeter of the farm and appeared to be rather slimy and the sound they gave off was a sticky-gurgling-bubbling noise. We also noticed that quite a few worms had escaped (as pictured below) into the lower chambers which is not normal.
After doing a little bit of research we came to understand that this was a sign that their environment had become too acidic. We also learned that an essential part of their diet is carbon roughage usually in the form of paper or cardboard. 

At this point we decided to give the whole worm farm a complete clean out as the lower chambers were full of worm castings anyhow. This would be great for putting on the compost*. 

The picture above is of the bottom chamber. The picture below is of the top and middle sections. You can probably see there’s quite a marked difference in the consistency of the castings between the bottom and middle sections – the middle section is quite dry in comparison to the bottom compartment which is quite sloppy. The middle section was full to the brim with castings, so much so that the top compartment was sitting directly on the castings, so it was definitely time for a clean out.

So we  are conscious now of always adding a bit of corrugated cardboard cut up into strips and layered in with the food we give them because they also like their environment to be kept aerated. Since we did this they seem to be doing fine.

*As mentioned above. I put the castings and the sludge from the bottom compartment into the compost. As part of my normal compost routine I usually try to mix up the wet and dry ingredients that I have on hand. Eventually it will all even out into a nice crumbly consistency. I’m looking forward to seeing what difference the worm castings make to my compost when it’s ready to be used in the garden. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Visit to Auckland’s Botanic Gardens

As I mentioned in my previous post, one thing I’ve been thinking about doing is visiting other gardens besides my own, whether public or private and sharing some of my observations.

When it comes to inspiration you can’t beat a visit to a public botanic garden. For one thing they have a much bigger budget than any private gardens I know of so they are usually always well kept and there’s something of interest to see all year round — and they’re usually free to visit which is always a bonus. 




I happened to be in the vicinity of the Auckland’s botanic gardens at around midday recently so I decided to go there to eat my lunch. I had my camera with me so I thought I would take a look around and if possible get a few nice shots.

Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t the best. It had been raining all morning and had been blowing a gale too, so I wasn’t too hopeful about getting anything particularly outstanding. Being the first week of spring you never know what surprises await you when you visit any garden. Not that I was looking for garden inspiration particularly but I was looking for some interesting subject matter for my renewed interest in photography, so what better place to go for a keen gardener like myself?

Sadly the wind ruined many of my shots, so I’m keen to go back again on a nice still day. However, the Cactus Gardens were seemingly unnaffected by the wind so I managed to get this stunning shot. The clouds may help you to appreciate what was happening in the atmosphere on that day. The sun even came out momentarily between the clouds.

The overall effect is rather interesting, so I think this will work quite well as a stretched canvas print. If you’d like one follow this link.

The particular area I was interested in seeing was the section dedicated to Magnolias. I’ve noticed around Auckland all the magnolias coming out in bloom this time of year. They really are quite a spectacular plant but grow far too big for my garden. So here’s a few pics I got...




The rhododendrons were also blooming. They seemed to be a magnet for the Tuis with several of them in one tree feeding on the nectar.


Botanic gardens are well worth a visit. Why not take a visit to a botanic garden near you if you have one in your area.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Blog Marks 3 Years

I’m rather proud to announce that my Garden Blog has now been running for almost 3 years. I had no idea when I first started how long I would continue with it or how successful it would be. Anyway, I thought I would show how it’s been performing and take the opportunity to thank YOU, the audience, without whom my efforts at blogging would’ve been a complete waste of time.

As you can see from the stats shown below the readership has been steadily growing over that time and currently it’s on track to reach 2,000 page views a month within the next month or so.



It has been interesting to see what posts have caught people’s attention and the wide variety of countries represented in the audience stats. The stand out performer of all my blog posts has been the one about Myoga Ginger. I had no idea it would generate so much interest, but I was helped to see why when I received some of the feedback, comments and questions about this rather unique plant.

I have a few ideas about what I’d like to do with the content over the next year or so to keep it interesting. One thing I’d like to do is talk a bit more about other gardens besides mine, whether public or private, so we’ll see how that goes. I’m also thinking of inviting other keen gardeners to do a guest post about their garden or maybe an interview. If you have any ideas or suggestions, please feel free to let me know.

I had thought of marking this auspicious milestone with something more interesting than a simple post about it. Perhaps a little prize or gift for one of you readers but I kind of ran out of time to organise anything properly and I didn’t want to do a half job, so I might save that for later.

Anyway, thanks again for stopping by.