My Garden ~ a Kiwi's take on life

Life is a lot like a garden


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Waiting is All We Can Do at Present

Present

Today is the calm before the storm.  At 8.30 a.m. it was a still, sunny humid morning in my garden and the best time to take a few before photos.

The oregano and thyme thrive in this summer heat. The crushed herbal leaves in my hand smell divine. All the energy soaked up from the sun to produce the wonderful aroma bursts so evocative of many Greek and Italian dishes we all love.

Oregano sprawling along a garden border.

First thing this morning, I stopped to watch a Monarch caterpillar attach itself to a Lemon Grass leaf as it prepares for its spectacular life change.

Caterpillar attaching itself at 8.30 a.m. to a Lemon Grass leaf.

It is now just after midday. We are home from having sweated in the gym. Outside in the garden, the temperature has risen and the sweat trickles down my face in this humidity. The gym was cooler than this. Mobile in hand ready to take photos, I brave the heat to have another look at the caterpillar. Four hours and we have a chrysalis. Nature has worked its magic.

Transformation about four hours later at 12.30.

Cloud is building to the west of our place. A light breeze can be felt. I do hope the caterpillars and chrysalises will survive whatever nature and the weather gods are about to unleash on us.

For now, the dahlias are blooming and upright. I am enjoying their rich colours and shapes while I can. At this moment, these flowers are doing what they do best in this heat. With their faces turned to the summer sun, they simply show off.

My fruit wars against the Pukeko continue. Earlier this year, they stripped the fruit trees of the ripening apples, peaches and plums. This week, I discovered something. They do not like quinces.  Great news for this quince lover. The tree is a prolific bearer and the branches hang heavily with ripening fruit. I am thinking of recipes for jelly and paste, my Mother-in-law’s quince shortcake, baked and stewed quince preserves, savoury quince with lamb.  Years ago at quince time, M-i-L always came to stay in March when it was time to preserve and bake the fruit. She would commandeer the kitchen to make her shortcake recipe and quince filling. It was the quintessential quince fest. A bit more time spent ripening in the sun is called for. I do hope the quinces can hang on to the branches if the stormy weather hits our area.

Quince

Tree is loaded with ripening fruit

Cyclone Gita, having wreaked havoc on Tonga, is well on its way down the Tasman Sea west of New Zealand. This is one unwelcome visitor that will not be late. Its presence, we are lead to believe, will be particularly felt in the southerly regions of the North Island and the northerly and western regions of the South Island. The Met. Service tells Kiwis to get prepared now. The Northland region might, or might not, feel the lash of Gita’s fury.  Waiting is all we can do at present.

 

 


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Caterpillar Chrysalises in My Garden

Each morning when I feed scraps to the hens before letting them out into the paddock for the day, I hang around to deter the wild ducks from flying in for a free feed. I use this time to check out what is happening my vegetable garden. The To Do list gets longer.

Bumblebees are busy workers. Busier than me in this humidity. The garden looks neglected, shabby and straggly. The Hyssop stems were flattened in the recent stormy weather. Oregano and weeds jostle for dominance under the Scarlet Runner beans. Higher than usual summer temperatures and storm damage wreaked havoc a few days ago. My sister swears she can hear the invasive kikuyu grass following behind her as she pulls weeds. She has a point. Grass growth and garden weeds are rampant in this humidity.

Earlier crops of kale , turnips, tomatoes, cucumber and green beans have self-seeded and the hope is no-effort vegetables. That is a good garden story. Strawberry runners are growing like triffids. The blackbirds make a mess as they scratch up young plants. They flee the crime scene leaving half-eaten tomatoes on the vines. These were not the birds I had in mind when I planted flaxes and native plants to feed native birds and beneficial insects. Such is life in this rural lifestyle neighbourhood. Nature rules.

On a positive note and still on the subject of nature, the Monarch butterflies have been active in the garden. They made a pretty picture in January. Butterflies flitted about and laid their eggs on the Swan plant. The growing caterpillars have since eaten every leaf and are now devouring the seed pods. Food for these colourfully striped creatures is a priority. Today, I went on a rescue mission and transferred caterpillars to seedling Swan plants. I found predatory wasps had made a nest on the plant.  That had to be destroyed manually as spray is harmful to the Monarch caterpillars.

Delicate green and gold trimmed chrysalises also hang in the clump of lemon grass growing nearby. There is a certain delight in being able to observe the natural cycle of caterpillars metamorphosing into butterflies. There is a certain satisfaction knowing beneficial insects are thriving in my garden.

 

 


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Trees for Every Living Creature

Creature

Trees worldwide deserve our utmost care and attention. Planting a tree, be it in our garden or in a forest, is an action that breathes life the environment. Destroying a tree is an action that disrupts the cycle of life. We are part of a dimension of life that is greater than ourselves. 

Ancient trees are our links to life lived before our time. A tree revered by Maori and of national importance  in New Zealand is Tane Mahuta Lord of the Forest, a 2000-year old Kauri tree in the Waipoua Forest. It was a seedling tree well before people arrived in this country. It is a parent tree that has seeded a forest, creating living habitats for countless lifeforms. It is a taonga, so precious that it, and other Kauri trees, now requires protection from human interaction. Imagine if the father of this forest could speak. What might it tell of New Zealand’s extinct flightless birds that once roamed the forest? What secrets lie beneath centuries of tree litter?

Kauri Tree in Waipoua Forest

Trees give protection from the wind and sun. They soak up carbon from polluted air. They provide food and fuel. Their visual amenity softens harsh urban development.

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Magnolia ‘Star Wars’ is about to flower in February! Tree is a visual delight in my garden when in full bloom.

Boundary Shelter Belt Tree

Boundary shelter belt tree Cypress Leylandii being felled because it was overgrown and dying off.

On my lifestyle block, we have had to cull storm felled or old, diseased, overgrown shelter belt trees that crowded our driveway and boundaries. Branches can be hazardous when left as they rot and break off. When we fell such trees, we mulch their branches and make compost for my garden. 

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Tree mulch in the compost bin. Another truckload of mulch was added after this photo was taken. Pure garden gold.

My replanting focus has been to choose low growing trees as food sources for beneficial insects and birds. For my garden, I selected fruit trees grafted onto dwarf root stocks which makes them easier to manage. I am protective of the many native Totara trees on our land, several of which are about 80 to 100 years,. They protect the water in our stream.

Vibrant trees provide safe habitats for every living creature.

 

 

 


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Profuse Choice of Flowers

Profuse
Publicly voiced apologetic effusions are two-a-penny. Verbiage does not feel like real remorse, just more like empty, noisy chatter. 

A hand-picked, hand-delivered floral profusion is gold. Floriography is a quiet expression of words with flowers.

Imagine how noisy the world would be if all the flowers could could talk. Arrangements, be it bouquets or bunches, of colours and perfumes, of flowers and foliage, have long held symbolic associations. Herbage has a floral messaging power. The choice of flowers is profuse.

Dtuch Irises
Brighten up a dreary drain area. Plan to plant more next season.


Birds Warble and Whistle and Trill

Trill

Birds in one way or another, grab our attention. I often stop what I am doing when gardening and I will just stand and listen.  Perhaps that is why my garden is still a work in progress. I listen to the bird sounds around me.

I hear the distinctive warbles and whistles I associate with New Zealand’s well-known and common small native birds that dwell high in our Totara trees. Staccato squawks are heard from the birds that nest in the paddocks or on the streambank. The thrushes sing melodiously from their perches on branches and fences and their songs are delightful to hear. The birdsong is prolific early in the morning, the sounds combining to produce a rousing chorus. Their day has begun. There is bird work to do.     

Back inside the house away from the midday heat, a Fantail joined us, flitting through the house, cheeping and peeping as it hunted flies. 

Day-old chicks inside the nest

Pukeko nest in the paddock

We hear strident screeches from the paddocks and the streambank as Pukeko and Spur-winged Plovers engage in aerial combat with a circling, predatory hawk silently intent on finding a fledgling in a grassy nest. A flock of five magpies added their cacophony of a harsh discord to the sound mix. 

The hens clucked quietly as they pecked at  their night grain feed before roosting. Some birds were still twittering in the nearby trees. Later when it is dark, Pukeko will continue to sound out with occasional noisy outbursts. The iconic moooorpoooork call will echo through the night as Morepork, the New Zealand owl, flies through the trees and the hills.

After dinner, at the end of another very hot summer day, Himself and strolled up our rural road. No traffic. No streetlights. House-lights dot the countryside. Hilly ridge-lines are silhouetted against the glow of distant urban lights. It is a still evening. There is not a sound, not even a bird trill.


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Speckles, Dominant Henpecker in the Henhouse

Dominant

It all began with a cute, tiny ball of fluff, day-old Strawberry the chicken. She was Grandson’s pet project for the school Agricultural Day. Her 24-hour care, and that of her five Brown Shaver sisters, assumed overriding importance. The whole family was involved. Himself built the A-frame outdoor coop. Grandson’s Dad paid the bills. Grandson and his brothers did the cuddling. I did the cleaning, feeding and reminding Grandson of his project obligations.

Outdoors Chicken Run

Strawberry the chicken

Fast forward a few months, and I was not a happy gardener after the chickens’ sneak attacks on the green vegetables growing in my garden.

Hen-pecked Kale Jan 2016

Henpecked kale

I declared the growing chickens were no longer officially cute. Grandson, having earned his school Agricultural Day ribbon, was by this stage, enraptured with his X-Box. The garden was going to the birds. Only after chicken proof fencing was erected, did I feel I had wrested back control of my garden.

Chickens in Disgrace Jan 2016

In disgrace, Banned from my garden.

As the Brown Shaver pullets graduated to the big birds’ cage, they found out, the hen-house was not theirs to rule. Two senior hens had seen it all before. Gertrude, Vice-Henpecker-in-Chief was amiable as long as she got first peck at the grain feed. Speckles, Henpecker-in-Chief was not to be messed with at anytime. It was an avian offence for a young hen to stray into her field of vision. Many a Brown Shaver feather went flying as Speckles showed who was dominant

Hens

Hens-in-Chief: Gertrude and Speckles


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Broken Branch a Shock to the Tree

Shock

Whenever a tree breaks or falls, I feel a sense of pain. I think about the loss of the ecological habitats and homes to generations of birds and insects. Trees are part of nature’s cycle of life. Cattle rest in the cool shade. The animals stretch their necks to munch the edible foliage and nutritious autumn seed pods.  The tree roots stabilise the soil. Leaves colour with the seasons before falling to be raked into my garden mulch and compost. Ornamental, mature ‘Sunburst’ Gleditsia Triacanthos – Golden Honey Locust and ‘Sweet Gum’ Liquidambar Styraciflua trees, planted before our time here, line the eastern side of our long driveway. 

This week, a humid weather front with north-easterly winds gusting strongly at times, caused a big Liquidambar branch to snap but not sever its attachment to the tree trunk. There it rests, beyond our reach, in a precarious position, weighing heavily across the lacy foliage of a Gleditsia branch now hanging low over our entrance. Our driveway gate is shut for now and a sign, ‘Beware Broken Branch’, hangs on the gatepost.

When a tree is damaged, Himself nips into his workshop to check and fuel his chainsaw in readiness to deliver the cruel and final cut. There is firewood to saw and stack ahead of winter. There is pruning to be done to remove potential hazards. There are some jobs he can do and there are jobs beyond the scope of his chainsaw. The wisdom is to know the difference. Safety is paramount.

Shelterbelt trees

Some of the felled Leyland Cypress shelter belt trees. Lots of firewood.

Leyland Cypress trees once lined the other side of our driveway. Planted close together as a shelter belt before our time here, they were never pruned. They grow fast to a height of thirty metres and become wide-branching. Bark had grown over the fence wires and signs of dieback and wood rot meant the trees were at risk of being felled by high winds. We had professionals do the dangerous work of felling this row of 120 trees. For days, chainsaws, screeched and snarled in loud protest above the low base undertones of the heavy rumblings of the industrial grinding and mulching machine.

Thirteen years later, the tree stumps are rotting into the ground. We had firewood forever it seemed.  Truckloads of  shredded foliage and small branches were dumped to form a large mound of organic matter near my garden area. The resulting compost has since been added to my raised vegetable beds. 

Every tree matters to the world. Their limbs reach to the sun and bring goodness back to the earth for our health. Trees are a litmus test of the state of the health of the earth. I am protective of my trees. I know the trees will have to be pruned. An arborist is coming to inspect the tree damage and other work to be done. I will put my trust in the arborist to prune the overhanging branches with skill and care.

Lorax

I want healthy trees. I want the trees to heal well after their limbs are amputated. I do not want the trees to succumb to post-surgical shock.   

 

I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.  

Dr. Suess. The Lorax.