Summer is about breakfast in the garden
I leave the dressing gown and slippers behind as I leap out of my comfy chair to investigate. From now on it's the long white nightie investigating, as I lift up the invading triffid and hurrah - my treasure is still there, albeit pale and tiny, as though it's been grown under a sack! The invading triffid must be lopped. But where are the secateurs? In the shed. So round to the shed I trundle, long white nightie trailing along the ground, to get the secateurs. While I'm there I grab the loppers too, and the handfork to attack that big thistle which was bugging me, and perhaps the trowel as well, just in case something needs to be moved. Intent on the task in hand and oblivious to the white nightie and the odd passerby, I trail back to the front garden and with great glee, lop a bit off here, and dig out the offending thistle there. And suddenly I'm seeing a mass of other weedy problems which really need to be attended to on the spot! Eventually, I stand back and survey where I have been - the garden's looking much happier for that bit of instant attention. But then I remember I've got things to do - places to go and I look at my watch - 11.30am?? How did that happen so quickly? The front of the long white nightie's s a mess - covered in dirt, twigs, and scrunched up leaves, while the fluffy pink dressing gown is elegantly draped over the empty comfy breakfast chair!
Staring, is actually time well spent, because that's often when the penny drops about what's wrong and what's right with the garden. Are those plants which were moved in the spring doing as well as they should, and do they actually work with the rest of the plants and the garden generally? What plants should I transplant in the autumn and what is allowed to stay? Questions, questions, questions and it's looking for those elusive answers which makes gardening so addicitive.
Then suddenly it IS Autumn! Well it feels like it in the mornings when there is a definite chill in the air. I draw the pink dressing gown tighter around me as the mornings are no longer quite so balmy. And there are seed-heads amongst the Michelmas daisies!
Is there anything that thrills so much in
the garden as the colour - rich dark red?
When red is dark enough to border on black it becomes very mysterious, drawing you in to it's dark depths as into some sort of dark erotic power!
The power of dark - it's the colour of night, the colour of secrets, the colour of magic, the colour of evil, the dark depths of the sea, and I am drawn to it as a moth to a flame. Black Madonna - Black Tulip - drama, drama, drama.
Could the simple cottage garden Hollyhock really be part of this drama you may wonder? Not if it's pink or yellow but when it's a deep intense red, verging on black - that's a different story!
Black Hollyhock (Alcea rosea nigra) Last year I bought a little bunch of plants wrapped in newspaper at the local Linwood Saturday Market for 2 or 3 dollars. There was just a modest little label saying 'Hollyhock plants' tucked in with them, so I planted them against my house in a sunny position, knowing this is what Hollyhocks like and thought no more about it. However by the next spring these small unremarkable seedlings had grown to robust substantial plants with strong stems rising up from their centre. I couldn't believe it when they started to bud up and the colour peeping out from each bud was a rare dark reddish black, and every single plant was the same. How exquisite! Every day I thank my unknown benefactor for such exotic treasure.
The opposite of black is white which is much more popular and noticable in the garden - bland maybe - but it does illuminate the garden with a wholesomeness or even purity which black/dark red is simply not capable of. Black/red tends to skulk away somewhere out of sight, holding on to it's mysterious secret power
The legendary garden hero, Vita Sackville West, was good at white, and in the 1990's we all wanted to be Vita. She liked white because of it's luminosity at night. But she also liked night in the garden with the same velvety blackness as dark flowers - lending mystery and eroticism to the garden, and Vita was nothing if not erotic. She was celebrated for her eroticism!
It's not only the sultriness of dark flowers. Dark foliage has a big part to play in the garden as well. Especially in mid summer when Dahlias which are indispensable at this time of year for colour and interest, are even more striking when they are surrounded by dark or bronze foliage. Whether the flowers are delicate shell pink as in Dahlia ''Mystic Dreamer' or blatant orange/red, as Dahlia 'Mystic Enchantment', they contrast superbly with dark foliage. Not only with their own foliage, but with the plants around them as well, adding much contrast and interest to the garden.
These dark foliaged Dahlias are the result of Dr. Keith Hammett's pioneering work with Dahlias some of which have won top awards at the Royal Horticultural Society's trials and have been featured in the Chelsea Flower show. His Mystic Dahlia series consist of a stylish, more contemporary kind of dahlia, with filigreed deep mahogany to black foliage and brightly coloured single flowers and bred here in New Zealand. Far from an old fashioned look, they can absolutely add a contemporary edge to the garden!
I'm not sure how Red Orach came to be in my garden. It just appeared one day - the most delectable of dark foliaged weeds. It is a prolific seeder I have found out, but it's easy enough to hoe out or clutch handfuls of little seedlings in spring and pull them out. It's knowing which ones to pull and which ones to keep which is the bother. If you leave too many they can grow up and swamp your other plants, but the thing is - they are so attractive as they form their gorgeous pink seed-heads that you want to keep them! I find, I pluck them out intermittently throughout the summer when they grow up too tall with other plants and start to get in the way. Once you've got Red Orach, you're never without it - it always comes back! And it adds such colour and height to the garden when it's forms it's seedheads, that you wouldn't want to be without it!
Is a certain amount of shagginess 'cool' in a garden?
Cool meaning - 'hot' - of course, and 'hot' meaning popular. All I know is that the naturalistic look is 'in'. And naturalistic means a certain amount of shagginess.
Probably not acceptable, if you are a neat and tidy gardener though - it depends on what you value most about your garden.
Clipped edges and hedges or a sense of abundance spilling over ?
I am not such a neat and tidy gardener that I need my garden borders to be regimented in neat rows, or to be sharply trimmed. And yet, even though I do like abundance to the point of chaos, I also like a little bit of shape, so that you can tell that the garden actually is a garden.
Farmers would throw their hands up in horror at the thought of growing Muehlenbeckia complexa as a decorative plant, because even though it is a native, it's all too common in the countryside, as a nasty twiner which invades fences, gates and anything else it can find to smother. It also sends robust runners under the ground which pop up everywhere. As well as being super shaggy above ground!
So like it or not, I simply do have to clip and contain this most invasive of plants
As for Santolina, it's at it's best when unclipped and billowing about. But when not clipped, it becomes woody, leggy and out of shape.
Like it or not, it appears I do have to do a certain amount of clipping even just to keep the abundant tumbling look I prefer! Because if I didn't, I probably wouldn't have a garden at all, but an unruly wilderness. I wouldn't really like to see M. complexa smothering everything, as there would be no colour or shape left in the garden. Or would I like to see soft feathery Santolina growing into a tangled woody mess.
So it seems that gardeners are often pulled in a myriad of different directions - if you clip the garden too much it will become too formal and and rigid and not billow about enough. If you don't clip it enough, it will become out of control and you feel you won't be able to manage it
Isn't this what everyone associates with spring in Christchurch?
The Vision of our Early Settlers
The thing which Christchurch does so well is spring. Daffodils fluttering and dancing in the breeze, the froth of pale pink blossom around Hagley Park, was all a part of the vision of our forefathers.
We have them to thank for their vision and foresight.
Imagine how it must have felt 170 years ago, landing on this vast bare and swampy plain covered with mostly tough flax and tussock. After months of sailing over rough seas to an unknown land on the other side of the world they found nothing like the 'green and pleasant land' they had left behind.
Make any wonder they dreamt of transforming this alien land into something resembling home. A vision which was achieved with much blood sweat and tears - the vision on which we pride ourselves and enjoy today. And perhaps all too often take for granted. The historical significance of this vision of an english woodland makes Hagley Park sacrosanct and therefore most important that it should be kept intact by later generations.
All the more reason to regard it as a political act of vandalism when almost a third of this historic
woodland was ordered to be demolished by insensitive and soulless politicians after the Christchurch earthquakes. In the interests of expediency, part of this historic woodland was demolished, along with much of the rest of our city under special powers brought in after the earthquakes. They cared not for the vision of their forefathers or for the sadness and grief so many of it's citizens who were suffering after the trauma of the earthquakes. They took it upon themselves to violate the woodland thus adding to the grief by cutting down many of the treasured 150 year old oaks, beeches and other deciduous trees, without consulting us - the people of Christchurch and Canterbury to whom this woodland belongs.
To them, it was the cheapest and easiest way to erect much needed hospital buildings, no matter that it encroached on the woodland of sacrosanct Hagley Park. The need for a new hospital building is not disputed - but cutting down part of this historic woodland to accomodate it, when there was other land available certainly is!
It goes to show what little regard and understanding these politicians had for the history of Christchurch, for nature, and for the sadness many citizens would feel by the destruction of such a loved part of their heritage. This is the sort of thing which happens in China under a totalitarian government.
Are we much better here?
Notice the contrast in the 2 images shown above illustrating the hospital building as a real intrusion into the Daffodil Woodland.
It's the work of unscrupulous politicians who took advantage of their special powers while people were still traumatised after the earthquakes. Pulling a swifty over their people, they rushed it through secretly with no consultation when they knew they could get away with it. The first I knew of it was when I happened to be walking in the park on a day that chainsaws were at work and was horrified to see such a huge chunk of woodland being destroyed. None of the workmen wanted to talk about it and I just burst into tears at the wanton vandalism of this beautiful place, in the midst of such trauma and damage from ongoing aftershocks. But this wasn't nature causing the mayhem - it was man!
The result of this wanton destruction is a huge loss of a part of our uninterrupted woodland to be replaced by a truncated view, rudely interrupted by an ugly hospital building which destroys the serenity of the green woodland of Hagley Park. Which other city in New Zealand has a natural haven like this within walking distance - another world where nature dominates, away from the hustle and bustle of the city which is so cherished and valued by it's citizens. It should never have been compromised in this way.
And it was all so indecently rushed!
Soon after the sad day I witnessed the destruction of the woodland, my son was rushed into hospital seriously ill. So I was at the hospital everyday visiting him, at the same time witnessing the excavations for the new hospital where the woodland had been demolished. All day every day 24/7 there was vast amounts of water being pumped out of the excavated site, and gushing into the Avon river. It seemed there was a 'lake' under the site where the woodland had been. How could they build on top of all that water!! Sure enough, 9 years later this new hospital is still not being fully used due to instability of the building!!
It's also about a forest of thorny twigs and bare skeletal branches in mid-winter.
And here at Beverley Park Heritage Rose Garden in winter, it is also about a luxuriant carpet of Hellebores beneath the thorny twiginess.
A forest of thorny twigs and branches does need to be sorted, and mid-winter when the bushes are bare is the best time to do it. Rose pruning time! And the Friends of Beverley Park Heritage Rose Garden are just the team to do that. A loose group of garden lovers formed from our local Englefield community as well as rose lovers from further afield, we make up a formidable team.
From the end of July through till the end of August, it is amazing the way the days brighten. The light changes from winter dimness to brighter and lighter, and there is a sense of hope - that life is returning
After a week of sunny days, the bright blue of Muscari (Grape Hyacinths) and white Snowflakes began to appear beneath the bare roses in the border facing outward to the park. The roses had not yet started to leaf up, but that didn't stop the Grape Hyacinths and Snowflakes making an appearance.
Typically spring - just as everything started to flower responding to spring warmth, the weather plummeted again, and winter returned with snow on the mountains and frosts but - no matter - spring bulbs keep flowering despite the fickle weather.
And by September the Yoshino cherrys at the entrance to the Rose Garden are flowering.
Now we truly know that spring is here!!
Two Yoshino Cherry trees either side of the pathway mark the entrance to garden, and there are also 2 more planted in the lawn at the front of the garden which frame the rose garden.
Soft pink, light and dainty with single flowered blossoms, they are reminiscent of bridal veils, and many think that these are the most beautiful of all the cherry blossoms.
This is the same variety which is planted around Hagley Park, and they are native to Japan - hence the name - Yoshino Cherry.
The botanical name, Prunus yedoensis, is not quite so romantic.
The pruned roses can hardly compete with the delicate beauty of the Yoshino Cherry which surrounds them in spring, however even they are softened by new seasons leaf growth, starting to burst forth.
And still the Hellebores keep giving, looking fresh. They flower nonstop from the end of June through to September. We love them! And even the early Snowflakes, now more green than white, are still persisting.
And here is a photo of the fruits of our labours from last year, in mid-December 2019 - a view of Beverley Park Heritage Rose Garden in full bloom.
A symphony in pink - the reward we were waiting for, and a taste of what we have to look forward to for this year as well in December 2020
'Gertrude Jekyll' - english rose - climbing up through the metal rose supports.
'Ballerina' - hybrid musk - bushy rose with single pink flowers in clusters in the middle ground .
Rosa glauca 'Carmenetta' - species - a great arching bush in the foreground with single pink species blooms nestled amongst it's attractive glaucus foliage
Note - If you would like to become one of our volunteers and learn about heritage roses while helping in the garden, you would be very welcome. We would be pleased to hear from you!!
Robyn Kilty ph. 03 9651281 m. 022 1039802. - email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Henrietta Hall m. 027 4512315 - email - email@example.com
The last vestiges of jewel-like colour in early June, before finally disappearing after days of frosts then rain.
Such is the power of Pasternaks writing, as he equates the coming of winter with the pathos of a child mourning his mothers death. His words touch me, so that when I too, see those last clinging leaves and hear them tapping on my bedroom window at night, I remember Yuri's despair. Even in the southern hemisphere a world away from Russia's cruel winters, I still feel a sense of loss for the season past. Knowing that that particular season is lost in time and will never come back - a death in it's own right.
We in New Zealand can never know the bleak drama of a Russian winter, as our whole land is not blanketed in snow and ice for months on end, as above. We might have frost on the ground and cold damp foggy mornings, but apart from alpine areas, the change from autumn to winter is never so dramatic and cruel here.
Russia's taiga (extensive indigenous forests) covers 45% of it's huge landmass and a big percentage of this is coniferous forest with it's spiky needle foliage . New Zealand is not part of a great continent as is Russia, but small maritime islands in the southern hemisphere and we too have our evergreen indigenous forest, but it couldn't be more different! Instead of spiky green needles, our evergreens can be soft and lush, such as soft and graceful tree-ferns, evergreen beech forest, cordylines and nikaus, so winter here is never such a dramatic picture. With our favourable natural climate and geography, we are also host to many exotic plants which were brought here during 19th century settlement. So even in midwinter some areas can almost look sub-tropical. We don't know how lucky we are!!
Nothing is as magical as the Maple Border of the Christchurch Botanic Gardens in Autumn.
These 2 photos of the Maple Border at the Christchurch Botanic Gardens were taken towards the end of April when the brilliance of autumn colour was at it's best. And before the crimsons, magenta and violet colours of the Hydrangeas faded. Notice how the vertical solid structures of the grey tree trunks and branches contrast so well with the airy crimsons and golden greens of the maple foliage as they turn colour. And how this in turn enhances the green underplanting.
We have enjoyed an especially long and colourful autumn this year, and even now, at the end of May going into June when we are only 3 weeks away from the shortest day, the colour is still there allbeit thinner and more subdued
By the end of May when these photos were taken, we can see how the foliage has thinned out, leaving the shapes and structures of the tree trunks to show up more starkly with wider views of the sky between. The richness of magenta and violet hydrangeas has faded to muted pinks and browns as early frosts have bleached the colour from them. Even though we think the change is a gradual one, we can see here that the turn of the seasons is quite dramatic. In another month it will be even more dramatic when there will be nothing but the greys and browns of bare deciduous trees silhouetted against the pink haze of frosty skies.
The maples in this border are varying cultivars of the Acer palmatum which is native to Japan. It makes one yearn to see the colourful hillsides of Japan in autumn. Although I am perfectly happy with this little slice of japanese woodland we have right here in Christchurch.
When I went out this morning to tidy up my messy garden, I looked hard and thought - it's actually not messy at all! It's simply what happens in May, so instead of cutting back and tidying as I had planned, I grabbed my camera and started taking photos. You can see the results below.
This change of heart was in part, inspired after I had watched the film -
'Five Seasons: the Gardens of Piet Oudolf'.
Piet Oudolf is an influential Dutch garden designer, plant nursery man and author. He is a leading figure of the "New Perennial" movement and designs plant compositions using bold drifts of herbaceous perennials and grasses which are chosen at least as much for their structure as for their flower colour. He designed the planting for the famous High Line Garden in New York as well as many other well known gardens in North America, Northern Europe and Britain. One of his most acclaimed gardens in Britain is the Hauser and Wirth garden in Somerset called Oudolf Fields. He believes in appreciating the long lived beauty of a plant, lasting well beyond its flowering period into its reproductive seedhead phase and beyond into decay.
We so often think of colour in autumn, and it's true - the fiery crimsons, golds and oranges of autumn foliage are a sight to behold. But so are the browns and bleached out beige's of dried seedheads and decay. It is in these understated dried plant skeletons that we can now easily see the structures and shape, and as Piet Oudolf says that, too, is to be appreciated.
But we can't have a story about autumn without colour so here goes!
The above colour is in my face, a footstep away in my own small garden, well within my bubble! But beyond is the wider bubble! I can walk to the city if I choose, and what autumn treats there are to discover on the way. And all within my bubble!
Also within my bubble is the Red Zone and the wide open spaces this offers alongside the Avon river and environs. So yesterday for my daily walk, I turned east instead of west into more beautiful tree lined river landscapes flaunting their autumn colours and the further east I went, the more the vistas opened out into ever widening empty landscapes.
Yet within these open landscapes, there are rectangular lines of shrubs and trees delineating the gardens which had once been there and the sadly bare central spaces within these boundaries where peoples homes had been before they were demolished.
It's an eerie sight and an eerie feeling as you can almost hear the ghostly sounds of absent people - the voices of children playing, lawns being mown, cars pulling into driveways and neighbours calling to each other as they went about their daily business.
Where there had been active and thriving communities, there is now nothing except ghostly rectangular outlines of shrubs which once enclosed someones home.
The further east I walked the more the old earthquaked road narrowed and became more rutted, and the wide open spaces of before began to close in again with more mature trees. I realised I was coming to something special and sure enough planter boxes appeared along the track and pots with flowers spilling out of them, and there were signs and steps up to a sheltered garden raised slightly above the road. It was the entrance to the Richmond Community Garden.
I'm fortunate in my bubble, as there are many places within walking distance, and those pictured above are just some of them.
A LOCAL LOCKDOWN WANDER
How to amuse yourself during Covid 19? We get the message loud and clear - STAY AT HOME - So what does home have to offer? Lots - if you have a garden, and even more if you have a park in your neighbourhood! I am lucky enough to have a Heritage Rose Garden in my local park - Beverley Park Heritage Rose Garden. And not only that - I have the Red Zone too, and the recently redesigned Avon Loop walkway, all within walking distance - so I am spoilt by choice.
It's the Beverley Park Heritage Rose Garden which I visit most as it is just around the corner from me and is so beautiful. Another bonus - I always meet walkers or neighbours strolling through the garden and sometimes I arrange to meet a neighbour or friend there for a catchup chat - from a distance you understand.
And why not? It is the most divine sweet smelling place for a catchup tucked away in it's sunny corner of Beverley Park. I have met both Henrietta and Katrina there, both local rose enthusiasts and volunteers who help look after the garden. Katrina was on her daily run, and Henrietta and I chewed the fat, and dreamed up all sorts of ideas for the garden, post lockdown.
The garden is looking surprisingly handsome in spite of so little rain and very little TLC, as of course nobody is allowed to maintain the garden at the moment, so the nettles are looking very luscious right now! Much to the delight of Katrina, who is on the lookout for nettles on her daily run to make soup so she ended up foraging in the garden, which was a great help in eliminating some of the the weeds at the same time!
LOOKING AT A FEW OF THE HERITAGE ROSE VARIETIES AT
These are my treasured weeds!
Bronze Fennel - Foeniculum vulgare purpureum
Red Orach - Atriplex hortensis rubra
Queen Annes Lace - Anthriscus sylvestris
With these 'weeds' in my garden I look forward to late summer when they have grown tall finding their way up to the light between the perennials in the most fetching way. This, when they are at their best either flowering or setting seed.
So it is all a very sensuous business, and isn't that what gardening is all about - the senses? Sight , sound, smell and touch! Today, after a most welcome shower of rain overnight - the first for 2 months - these 'weeds' are leaning even more heavily over the path because they are bowed down with raindrops which means getting down to the shed is a very damp business today. A lovely cooling wet sensation after the dry heat of the last few weeks.
I AM A GARDENER, GARDEN WRITER AND ARTIST. AFTER SEVERAL YEARS WRITING REGULARLY AS A COLUMNIST I HAVE MISSED WRITING ABOUT MY GARDEN, OTHER GARDENS AND GARDENS IN GENERAL FOR THE GARDEN PAGES OF THE PRESS SO HAVE RESOLVED TO SET UP MY OWN BLOG AND WEBSITE.