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.
Then by December, I sigh sadly as I watch roses drop their petals in summer heat. Now in January when rose bushes have become colourless and lack-lustre, I wonder if I can muster up the enthusiasm to dead-head, feed and water them in the hopes that they will come to life again before the summer is over.
THE LAST ROSE ..........
Flowers, flowers, flowers - of all sorts and colours. From elegant lilies to the bluest of blue Delphiniums. Bright magenta Lychnis, to bright orange Nasturtiums, purple Verbena boniarensis and virginal white Queen Anne's Lace. Kniphofia or Red Hot Pokers (although mine are orange), bronze/orange Helenium, to the weed Orach, and the weed - bronze Fennel. I've included the weeds but haven't even mentioned Dahlias yet!
Dahlias are coming back into fashion they say! And yes - I do believe that's true, but only because in recent years some hard work has been done by breeders to simplify the flower and introduce more interesting foliage. Amongst the forefront of this exciting new breeding programme has been New Zealander, Dr. Keith Hammett. See below examples of Hammett Dahlias which I grow in my garden.
While the images of these two Dahlia varieties below may look similar they are in reality quite different.
I find it pays to be selective when choosing Dahlias for your garden as you can so easily end up with a mish-mash of different forms and colours, so I choose the colours and forms which blend with my garden. For instance I like just the 2 varieties pictured above for my front garden as oranges and scarlets are dominant in the front garden and I like the single forms in this situation as they suit the mini-prairie style which I have planted with grasses and simple flowers. While in my back garden the prevailing colours are crimson, magenta and Burgundy, so the 2 Dahlias there are also in those colours.
Grasses are really a whole other story which I should keep for another time, another place, however I will just say that I would not be without them in my garden, as they add a dimension to my plantings which I find most satisfying, and which I hope the images below show. More about these later.
Amongst the grasses in the back garden there is a Dahlia in a completely different form - the cactus dahlia - and this was chosen for it's dark velvety crimson, and is called appropriately 'Nuits d'Etes'. There is also another dahlia in this garden not pictured here and it is pale pink and single with bronze foliage and definitely bred by Dr. Keith Hammett - ''Mystic Dreamer''.
As with other Community Gardens we work with volunteer support, and there is plenty of camaraderie and friendship amongst our helpers as we work towards our common goal - to create something uplifting and beautiful for the wider community.
There are at least 3 Community Gardens in the Linwood area including Smith Street Community Garden, Fitzgerald Avenue Community Garden, and the Linwood Avenue Community Garden, and perhaps others I haven't heard about. But as well as our Community Gardens we have something extra and very important in our area - The Linwood Village Clean-up Day. This is held in September every year where volunteers and residents from the community hold a çlean-up day in and around the village - tidying up, weeding, and clearing away accumulated rubbish from some of the empty sites where buildings have been demolished post-earthquake. The Clean-up Day is initiated by the people in our community as even though Linwood is seen as a low socio-economic area and has it's problems, it is rich in community spirit. It is here that the people themselves have the will to do what they can to improve a sad part of Christchurch which has been neglected and forgotten about by the authorities.
The most imaginative and creative of projects was initiated by the Inner City East group on a vacant site where buildings had been demolished. With the help of Greening the Rubble they, built this idiosyncratic and picturesque little streetscape on a shoestring, consisting of quaint little buildings, planter boxes and little picket fences painted orange, purple and yellow dotted amongst gardens and gravel pathways. These funky little buildings are the Tiny Shops which house a bookshop, a secondhand clothes shop, a bike repair shop and a cafe where you can sit outside, at tables and chairs surrounded by the garden and enjoy a great coffee when the sun shines. A gathering place for the whole community, it was here that people also gathered on Clean-up Day to weed the garden, do running repairs, weed the gravel pathways and plant shrubs flowers, and veggie plants which had been donated to the project.
If you were lucky enough to have had a great great granny who had the foresight to pop a few Snowdrop bulbs into her luggage when she came in a sailing ship over rough seas from the other side of the world, then you too may now have white carpets of Snowdrops naturalised under trees on your property, as seen here on a remote property miles from Darfield in Canterbury. It was obvious there had been a great great granny at work here.
Or you may be like many other slogging Galanthophiles who have been working at it for years, digging up and dividing clumps of ''snowdrops ín the green'' and spreading them around the garden.
M&G GARDEN designed by ANDY STURGEON
Winner of Best in Show and a Gold Medal
The first of these was the M&G Garden designed by Andy Sturgeon which deservedly won a Gold Medal and Best in Show. M&G stands for M&G Investments which is the main sponsor of Chelsea, and who chose Andy Sturgeon as the designer of their sponsored garden. The aim of the garden was to celebrate the beauty of natures power to regenerate and colonise all kinds of landscapes with new growth. It certainly did that with it's lush and vibrantly green environment featuring plant species from around the world - many of which had never been seen at Chelsea before.
Much of the power of this exhibit was due to it's position where it could use borrowed landscape in the form of existing trees already part of the Chelsea site. Sited against existing mature trees on 2 sides, where the edges of the exhibit and the existing woodland blurred, it created the feeling that the garden went on forever into woodland.
This lush planting was divided by and contrasted against black linear sculptures representing ancient rock formations fashioned from massive charred oak. The regenerative theme was carried through by a series of small pools and streams trickling through the garden. I am in complete accord with the judges in rating this garden the most powerful and strongest design at Chelsea.
THE SAVILLS AND DAVID HARBER GARDEN
designed by ANDREW DUFF
Bronze Medal winner
Rather than strong and powerful as was Andy Sturgeons M&G Garden, I was captivated by the ethereal quality of this garden as light filtered through surrounding woodland into a clearing and a naturalistic pond with the native iris growing in a most natural way in and around the pond blurring the edges. The plants - weeds and all, were native to the UK, and the trees included Alder and Elder.
To my way of thinking this was a superb example of a simple and natural design, which would not have been easy to achieve in a Show context and could have stood alone without the sculptural shard-like installation as a focus - a double focus actually reflecting as it did in the pond. My initial feeling was that this glitzy sculptural element didn't gel with the natural feel of the exhibit. Or was it there as a foil to the wild and natural and meant to contrast rather than gel?
THE TRAILFINDERS ''UNDISCOVERED LATIN AMERICA'' GARDEN
designed by JONATHAN SNOW
Silver Medal Winner
The red walkway may not have been authentically South American, but it certainly added a visual focus to the exhibit.
Jonathan says 'Understanding where a plant grows in the world and the conditions it enjoys, helps us all become better gardeners and designers'.
Ain't that the truth?? And the garden won a silver medal so the judges were impressed too.
THE WELCOME TO YORKSHIRE GARDEN
designed by MARK GREGORY
Gold Medal and Peoples Choice Winner
It was very hard to get a good photo of this garden as there were celebrities around - Joe Swift was interviewing Monty Don in the garden so the crowds were several rows deep hoping to get a glimpse of the celebs. And a glimpse is all I could get with my phone camera, as I was squeezed from all sides. So the photos are less than perfect, however you might just make out Joe and Monty through the willow chatting in front of the Lock-keepers cottage.
THE R.H.S. BACK TO NATURE GARDEN
designed by HRH THE DUCHESS OF CAMBRIDGE
with ANDREE DAVIES and ADAM WHITE
Following the theme of wild and natural, it was a like an authentically natural playground for children. There was no gaudy plastic playground equipment here - oh no - all was created from nature. The tree-huts, the hidey holes, the swings, the little wooden bridges over little rocky streams, the winding trails and paths were all created from pebbles, branches, logs and rocks. The naturalistic planting of woodland and roadside, such as ferns, long grass and wild strawberry, was once again verging on weeds.
The Duchess's vision was to provide inspiration for places for children to be able play, learn and discover about the natural world, and although a charming concept and beautifully crafted, this garden did not convey the sophisticated design principals of many of the Exhibition Gardens. Nevertheless, the queues to view the garden were endless.
THE GREAT PAVILION
To see ''flowers'' and colour ad infinitum, you must head for The Great Pavilion, and there you will see flowers as you have never seen them before. Flowers from every season - winter Hellebores and the diminutive crocus to autumn Chrysanthemums and everything inbetween.
It's a dilemma at Chelsea because you would like to record the names of many of the different new species and cultivars, but there simply isn't time if you want to photograph the exhibit while there is a rare people-free opportunity. You have to be at the ready with your camera/phone the minute there is gap in the crowd and if you are busy writing you might miss that gap. Also there is so much to see that you don't want to spend too much time writing down names, so apologies for lack of names. However I can tell you that the David Austin Roses exhibit won a Gold Medal, and was a special tribute to David Austin himself, who died in December 2018.
The Harkness Roses exhibit, who market their roses as ''easy-to-grow garden roses caught my eye again because of the informality of their exhibit and the roses themselves. They were mostly single or semi single varieties and many had an attractive dark blotch in the centre, in the same way as the very early species rose 'Rosa persica'. The sprawling deeper pink rose in the foreground is called 'This Morning'' and was truly gorgeous.
Hillier Nurseries Ltd
Gold Medal Winner
And we, in New Zealand are delighted about this as so many of us remember with affection, Kate Hillier, part of the famous Hillier Nursery family, when she lived in Auckland and managed the Ellerslie Flower Show.
The Hillier blends together contemporary and traditional themes. The central element, alongside the thousands of beautiful plants, is the striking contemporary water feature that brings a feeling of calm and elegance to the space and is designed to be easily viewed from all angles. I have been blown away by the largesse of the plant material of Hilliers exhibits when I have been to Chelsea before, especially the way they so effortlessly show plants of all seasons together. And here it was again with white spring Cherry Blossom in flower alongside summer roses, late summer Hydrangeas with the striking , variegated white and green Cornus foliage. These were in the white corner of the exhibit where serene white borders transition to vibrant pinks and oranges, moving to hues of purple as you walk around the exhibit.
The planting designer, Lilly Gomm says “Combining both traditional and contemporary can be a fine balance, but we have made sure the two are seamless. The presentation of a wide variety of Hillier hardy perennials, shrubs and trees, including brand new varieties and classics, is, of course, a vital part of this.”
I came away from Chelsea that day filled with wonder and enthusiasm at the Great British Gardening Culture. Horticulture and anything relating to gardens are so much part of their way of life - the impeccable design, the excellence of the plant material and new plant introductions, the enthusiasm, the crowds, and the seriousness with which horticulture is regarded in the UK is impressive. It is in their DNA!
And I couldn't help wishing it was more like this in New Zealand. There is a garden culture here too, and we do have some great gardens and dedicated gardeners but horticulture here is all too often side-lined for something which is percieved as more important. There is not the dedication led from above which you see in Britain.
Some may think of it as a weed, but I bless it every day from the time it's burgundy foliage appears in spring until it grows tall, in midsummer waving it's pink seedheads about, right through till autumn when that delicious burgundy pink suddenly changes to beige and gold when lit by sunlight.
Although - in spring when the seedlings appear, I wonder if it might swamp the whole garden because it seeds in great clumps, all over the place, even coming up in cracks in the paving, but thankfully it's also easy to pull out in big tufts.
You can control the amount of Red Orach in your garden by leaving only the seedlings you want to remain. In strategic places of course, where you know it will look good rearing up as it does between other plants in all it's burgundy splendour, creating a wonderful foil for flowers throughout summer!
Who would have thought that other annual, Queen Anne's Lace - Ammi majus could carry on right through into winter so delicately, it's lacy white flowers turning to gold.
The seedheads of the tall elegant grass Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster' wave about dramatically above everything else through summer and autumn, even the tall lilys. But now in late autumn the seed-heads of those tall lily's are an event in themselves.
Not only has it introduced just the colour fillip that the garden needed, it has introduced tall form and structure in it's unique zig-zagging way. Even more, it does the seedhead thing. Not turning beautifully gold like the previous seedheads described, but more of a blackish mauve, and though it might lose a bit of colour, it sticks to it's tall unique form doggedly all winter, so it doesn't deserve to be cut down. While other seedheads might have broken up, rotted or faded away by spring V. boniarensis stays, until even I get sick of it and inspired by new spring green popping up everywhere else, I finally cut it down. I also like the bronze fennel in this front garden not only because of it's feathery bronze summer foliage but also because of its form and seedheads in the autumn/winter garden. And did I mention Stipa gigantea? Such a tall plant in such a tiny garden? It's golden seedheads reach as high as the roof of my verandah. Just because my garden is small it doesn't mean to say I have to have tiny neat little plants.
It was while climbing up Sabalan mountain, that we discovered tulips which were different to those we had found previously in Armenia. This time a lower growing variety of alpine Tulipa humilis growing in groups tucked in and around the rocky scree slope, flowering in different shades of mauve and deep pink. It's such a delight to find tulips growing in the wild, so once more we photographed and marvelled at them.
Then we drove higher towards the snowmelt, where the slopes became bluer, because they were studded with thousands of the delicate pale blue Puschkinia scillioides, which were sometimes interpsersed with the starry yellow Gagea luteoides.
Even higher still, right amongst the snow melt we found tiny little bronze shoots of Colchicum szovitsii pushing their way impatiently through the snow as quickly as it melted.
A place I didn't ever think I would get to, yet here we were - so near and yet so far. 'Can we please go there Jalil' I asked more than once and Jalil, our long suffering guide, was silent for quite a while, then suddenly he announced 'We will have lunch on the shore of the Caspian Sea today'. I was overjoyed, and almost hugged him. Then I remembered just in time that an Iranian woman would never do such a thing, so I contained myself.
Up we climbed through dry foothills, until we reached the top of a pass which looked East down to the Caspian side. It felt similar to climbing the Canterbury side of the Southern Alps to reach the top of Arthurs Pass where the vegetation changes dramatically to wooded hills on the West Coast side. It is the same in northern Iran where the dry hills become wooded as you descend to the Caspian side. Here the forest is mostly deciduous to the east of the mountain pass, descending to the Caspian Sea, where precipitation from the sea creates a moist climate resulting in lush growth.
After such an exotic lunch stop would there still be time for finding flowers? Yes there was! As we drove back over the high northern plateau we noticed patches of blue along the roadside and a familiar but unexpected aroma of catmint - - Nepeta - the same which grows in our gardens at home, and here it was thriving naturally in dry dusty ditches along the road. And in damper patches further back from the road we discovered some spires of the intense almost navy-blue colour of the elegant Gladiolus atroviolaceus
The original species rose - Rosa persica, which as the name suggests was found in old Persia of which modern Iran is a part.
I had been bothering Jalil ever since arriving in Iran, asking him more than once about finding Rosa persica, and he was typically non-committal, but then one day he announced 'We will visit my village today' We all expressed delight at the idea, but still had no idea what that would entail. When we arrived at his village there were 2 of Jalil's brothers awaiting us with smiles and polite gestures to usher us into 3 cars, so we piled in on top of each other into these rather ancient vehicles and proceeded to bump up and down over farm fields, through rifts and hollows for or mile or two, mystified about what could possibly be happening next. Then suddenly we stopped and all got out still not sure what this was all about and Jalil pointing to the ground simply said 'Rosa persica'!
And sure enough in the rift of wild land between two cultivated fields there it was scrambling and sprawling underwhelmingly along the ground. The attractive colour of each small single golden flower with it's distinctive burgundy brownish blotch in the centre made up for it's scrubby appearance. Jalil and his brothers who had driven us there were probably mystified at our delight in finding this unprepossessing plant, which to them was perhaps not much more than a weed, and rather an invasive one at that! Endemic to Iran, (Persia) this scrappy drought resistant bush, is a very primitive form of rose, but it is a plant which could teach us something of the evolution of the rose.
And Jalil's village and rural environment was rich in roses with plentful supplies of Rosa canina,which we had also seen in Armenia, and which has naturalised in many parts of the world, even in New Zealand where it came in on the boots of 19th century goldminers to Central Otago eventually becoming a noxious weed, spreading throughout dry inland mountainous areas of the South Island.
But Iran was different as it was not only the common Rosa canina or the rare Rosa persica, which we found growing in the wild, but also the unusual single flowered yellow Rosa foetida, absolutely thriving in the wild, as was it's dazzling orange cousin Rosa foetida 'Bicolour'. This orange form is named 'bicolour' because the petals are red inside and yellow on the reverse, and so each single bloom appears as bright orange, especially when contrasted amongst the lush blue tinted foliage as these were.
Native to the Caucusus from Eastern Turkey and across Iran to Afghanistan, here they were growing naturally as hedges alongside the dusty road in this rural setting. I couldn't believe we were seeing such a rare and exotic sight growing so casually and happily. It is from these, that the bright orange and scarlet red tones of our modern roses originate.
While here, as April is beginning and the summer season is fading fast, I must learn to love those autumn seed-heads, the turning colour of deciduous trees and the lush greens and strange forms of our own native evergreen flora. But there are always dreams and memories of far-off exotic lands.
Another precious commodity which travelled from East to West were Tulips. Eastern countrys including old Armenia, Persia and Turkey were the original home of the tulip. It wasn't till the 16th Century that tulip bulbs found their way to Europe in the bags of early explorerers, and by the early 17th Century they had become a highly fashionable flower in European gardens. By 1600, Dutch growers had established nurseries specialising in cultivating tulips and it is around this time that tulipmania began. A brief spectacular time when bulb traders could earn the equivalent of $60,000 for a single bulb!
Knowing the history of the tulip made it all the more exciting when we came across a superb colony of them growing in the wild the day before we were due to cross the border to Iran. At the 11th hour our trusty guides, Chris and Tamar spotted them up a rocky cliff. But we weren't the only ones to discover this abundance of tulips, as the locals knew of this spot too. Like mountain goats, they had climbed up to the top of this rocky cliff-face, to places most of us could never reach, and were coming down with their booty. Bucket loads of wild tulips to be sold! Bulbs and all! We wondered at the desecration of such botanical treasure which seemed to be open slather to all. Was there no protection of such a precious resource? But why should there be, we realised, as Armenia had more important things to think about - such as survival, and even if in our view, it seemed very short-sighted, to many Armenians, tulips from the wild were there for the taking and meant a living. And despite plundering the tulips this year, they know they will be back in abundance next year. In fact they thought nothing of generously giving away in typical Armenian style, bunches of their lucrative tulips to us!
But there were still enough tulips left for a few crazy botanists to clamber up cliff faces to examine and photograph. They were all bright red and yellow tulips, similar to the shapely garden tulip. Botanical names? Red - Tulipa sosnowskyi. Yellow - Tulipa florenskyi
As Chris had predicted the landscape changed almost as soon as we entered Iran. The mountains and hills began to open out into vast plateaus and the high snowy peaks were further back into the distance ringing the plains. The lush forested mountains and gorges of Armenia gave way to drier plains, and a more agricultural landscape. There were many apricot orchards which we had also seen in Armenia, as well as mile upon mile of agricultural land which consisted mainly of crops.
The azure blue of Anchusa was reflected in many different hues in the mosaics of the traditional Islamic buildings when we reached the old northern Iran city of Tabriz.
We stayed here overnight before continuing our botanical adventure the next day climbing (in vehicles) 3000 metres up to the snow of Sabalan Mountain east of Tabriz. Here we were to encounter wonderful snow melt flora, including tulips. But that is another story.
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.