My Garden ~ a Kiwi's take on life

Life is a lot like a garden


A New Year, a fresh start to blogging … and of new trees

Retirement I’ve discovered is just a word. Life got busier in the two years since we returned to New Zealand in 2011.

In this time Himself and I have    pulled out the old swimming pool, planted 100 gum trees for coppicing firewood, felled and cleared a shelter-belt trees,  demolished the polyhouse  that was storm-damaged during our absence, redecorated our lounge (still more rooms to do), daily care for three grandsons, attacked weeds,  tended animals and so it the list goes on, In our tired moments we dream to be our physical 30-year old selves again. Then we wake up. 

In 2014 autumn, I want to develop the area we filled in after removing the pool. So far I’ve cleared old plants. It’s quite a large rectangular,  sheltered, sunny space bordered by the house and a shed leading to the driveway. I’m dreaming of and researching ways to freshen this area and yet  keep it simple. For the first time I’m developing a gardening plan. Much of my approach to gardening over the years has been casual  and has evolved to suit whims, soil and available materials. I’ve made lots of mistakes. One thing I know – think first about soil and environment.

And thinking about soil and environment, we planted 100 eucalypts for five reasons. We need shade and shelter for animals, Swamp gums should improve the drainage of the boggy paddock. Provide a carbon soak. Food source for bees and birds. Sustainable firewood. In May, I bought and planted two-year root stocks. Months later these trees are all healthy and shooting up fast.  


My Garden ~ handing over the garden trowel to Number 2 Son

Thanks Anymont for reminding me about my blog. As I mentioned back in October, My Garden blog is going on the backburner for a couple of years because Himself and I will live offshore on account of my work. Number 2 Son and his family will look over our place. Today he was out restoring order in the jungle that was once my reasonably orderly vegetable garden. He’s head-gardener now. He’ll make this his patch and do his thing. Don’t expect him to write a blog. Unbelievably for someone who’s stared at a screen for years as an IT web developer, he now prefers such physical pursuits. I have been thinking how best to stay in touch with different groups of people at different levels.  It’s easy enough to set up another blog for the travel aspect. There’s a plethora of web-based communication tools (that I’ve not used) to choose from. I guess I’ll get organised eventually. 

It’s been so dry lately – but, it is summer after all. Things have grown since I last wrote and I have been harvesting the produce. But, we’ve enjoyed the purple cabbages – it should be obligatory for every gardener to have these show-off vegetables in their gardens. The pure richness of the purple and the graceful spread of the large ribbed leaves have been a visual delight. The scarlet-splotched Borlotti Beans and Purple Beans are just as amazing. I love colour in the garden as much as I love colour on the plate. And my new potatoes planted a few months ago – what can I say? Just steam and add freshly picked chopped mint. Savour the taste sensation.

Mindful I won’t see my brothers and sister for a while, we spent a few days on the road before New Year. We stayed a couple of nights with my sister and her husband at Coromandel. We  typically have a barbeque (always others are invited to this) when we stay there. As they live on the coast, B-in-law and my nephews had dredged fresh scallops and gathered rock oysters.  No restaurant anywhere could compete for the freshness and flavour of this food.  The scallops were lightly seared in a touch olive oil with a hint of lemon juice and pepper. The oysters were simply steamed. 

They had also hunted wild pig on the mountain range – the boundary at the back of their hill country farm. We’re used to eating wild pork and prefer the lean meat and its gamey flavour to farmed pork.  The wild pigs come out of the dense bush at dawn to dig for the rhizomous fern roots that grow freely at the margin of the farmed land. These pigs really do make a mess of farm pastures. They are considered to be pests. Other than fresh rosemary or thyme, pepper and olive oil, we do little else when cooking this game meat on a BBQ. B-in-law had also proudly dug the first of his Urenika (blue potaotes) crop from seeds I’d given him a couple of years ago. These Maori potatoes are the perfect accompaniment – oh, and the NZ Pinot we were drinking.

Next on the itinerary was a stop with each of  my brothers in the the Waikato. More food. More wine. Lots of chat. It was the first occasion we’d got together since Mum’s funeral in May. My sister, and Uncle (Mum’s brother) and Aunt, joined us for a special lunch at the farm we grew up on (now owned by my youngest brother) before we scattered Mum’s ashes over the paddock where Dad’s ashes are. No ceremony. No fuss.  This was a happy spot for them. They’re together eternally in a place that also has special memories and meaning for us their four children. Now, that chapter of our lives is over. The closure was as it should be. The important thing is we honour Mum’s wish we stay in touch with each other. For the moment, we must move on.

We agreed we’re all facing significant life changes. My nephews are at various stages of their young adult journeys with girlfriends entering the scene. My brothers and their wives are in a state of flux as they are acutely feeling the redundancy of their parental roles.  My sister and I told them that their ‘boys’ will be back! If not for money and food! But, they’ll be back – for babysitting services. My older five grandchildren are involved with their friends, sports and schoolwork. It chokes me to know I’ll miss the growth of the four-month, one and two year olds though. However, it’s time for their grandfather and I to do our thing.

Mum, before she died, was most interested that I was considering an overseas teaching contract. I accepted the offer and anticipate leaving NZ at the end of this month. There’s been so much to do and to think about.  The qualities and attributes I’ve developed as a gardener in caring for the soil, the plant life and microorganisms, will stand me in good stead in my new work. I’ll need to be curious, flexible, observant, patient,  reflective, resilient, resourceful, receptive to new ideas. It’s a privilege through blogging to have been able to glimpse over others’ backyard fences into their lives. Take a glimpse into  Te Parapara Maori Garden in Hamiton City in the Waikato – my backyard so to speak. Te Ara Whakatauki, the Path of Proverbs, reminds us that as the plants that we eat nourish our bodies, so the words that we hear nourish our souls. In New Zealand, Maori have many sayings that  beautifully illustrate  the range of human experience and knowledge.

Nā tō rourou, nā taku rourou ka ora ai te iwi

With your food basket and my food basket the people will thrive




My Garden ~ Birds’ Nests, Lazy Cats and Granddaughter’s First Post

When she was a toddler, Granddaughter and I made up scrapbooks about anything and everything when she and her twin brother stayed with us. We’d do drawings, paste in leaves and flowers, and pictures and the like. I’d scribe the dictated little stories about what we’d been doing that day. These battered books are now tomorrow’s treasures. It’s the school holidays and today, blogging is the new scrapbook.  We had fun choosing a new photo of our countryside for the header. This is her first post. 

Nana and I thought how clever birds are when they make their nests. The thrush used the grasses to make a warm nest. Her nest looked like part of the clump of the same grass on the driveway bank. Pukeko is nesting in the long grass near the electric fence in front of the house. We took some photos and I wrote about them.


Sometimes the cats come for a walk with us. We didn’t want to stay near the birds’ nests for too long, otherwise the cats might sniff out an easy meal.


My Garden ~ it must be spring

Things are looking up. The daylight hours are longer, the sun has been seen to shine, and wonders of wonders, the slush and the mud is drying out. I actually got into the garden and sowed evergreen Broad Beans directly into the soil. The soil felt warm on my hand. So that’s a good sign. This season, I’m trying out a Dwarf Broad Bean variety. Back indoors, I sowed cherry tomato seeds into a seed raising mix: Baxters Early Bush Cherry Tomato and Black Cherry Tomato. My plan is to pot up and grow these tomato plants in the warmth of the polyhouse. I also sowed cauliflower seeds. I chose a mini variety because it will take less space in the garden and will mature in about 80 days from sowing before the hotter months happen in our part of the world at the end of the year. Pumpkin ‘Triamble’ is my favourite and seeds are being started in the warmth of the polyhouse. Still lots more to do – but it’s a start. 
Even better, I was able to weed the raised strawberry beds. Their dormancy is definitely over. Fresh green leaves and a few white blossoms are happy signs. I gave the plants a good feed of organic sheep pellet fertiliser and a layer of mulch. A great few hours in the garden is an antidote to soggy seasonal affective disorder.        
After work, it’s good to pull the gumboots on and get out in the fresh air. The bird song is uplifting at this time of the day. Three-year old and his little toddler brother love visiting our neighbour and feeding food scraps to the farmyard menagerie. It’s a good opportunity to tire out little legs before the dinner, bath and bed routine. The walk was not without its heart-stopping moments particularly when Turbo-toddler tore towards the stream-bank to throw a stick or stone into the water. Older brother inspected every stick for its potential to be wielded as a light sabre sword. But we did get to our destination as the photos show.         


My Garden ~ it’s a boy

Number 8 grandchild, born in the eighth month of 2008, weighed in at 7lb 11oz. He arrived into our world at 7.12 this morning. There’s some lucky association with the number 8  linked to this birthday – I haven’t made sense of it yet. It’s very special to have been invited by son and D-in-Law to be present at the birth as well as the other grandmother. At present, Himself and I are babysitting the older two boys – twenty-one month old Turbo-toddler and Three-year old. Three-year old, when told that Mummy and Daddy had a nice surprise for him, thought it’d be a Benten or at least a new Spiderman toy.      

At least the weather cooperated  as we drove into town early this morning. It is pleasantly cool and conditions are drying out. I was able to get into the garden to pick a few flowers (freesias, daffodils, calendula, borage) to make a litte posy for each boy to give to their Mummy. Before we entered the maternity annexe, we had a ‘serious’ discussion about using quiet voices, walk only, how to hold a bunch of flowers and hold onto Nana and Poppas’ hands. The cute factor lasted about five pre-schooler nano-seconds after we entered Mummy’s room. Turbo-toddler patted new-born brother on the head and was then ready to be off to ‘explore’ the interesting new surroundings. Needless to say, it was a relatively short first visit.

Given that the magnolias are making a great show and that the Kowhai have started to bloom, I think I’ll probably choose one of these as the baby’s special tree. Last year, I wrote about tree-planting as a living remembrance or celebration of life.  The sound of Tui has been heard recently – a harbinger of spring. Tui love the Kowhai nectar and it enjoys a special bird status in the hearts of New Zealanders.


My Garden ~ it’s been the wettest winter and a birth is imminent

Mud. Lots of it. Squelchy and squishy.  Officially, we’re told it’s been the wettest winter. The grey rain clouds can go away now. We are no longer lulled by the nightly patter of rain on the roof. In our area, the soil ‘floats’ atop the hardpan pipe-clay. Unsealed local roads and private driveways currently make driving interesting as we dodge the potholes. Once things dry out in the warmer months, we’ll need to re-metal our driveway.

I can only stand and admire nature’s cheerful face of drifts of daffodils. No outdoor gardening is happening at present. This weekend, I want to get some time to sow some seeds to germinate them under cover. And yes, the early potatoes seem to still be growing. Anyway, there’s another reason for no gardening and no blogging. For the last few weeks, I’ve been busy cleaning spare bedrooms, laundering baby clothes, fetching grandkids from daycare and preparing meals. I feel stuffed just looking at this list and I go out to work during the week. The efforts we make to support our families.     

Tomorrow is the due date for a very important little person. Grandchild Number 8. The lucky number and it’s the 8th month of 2008. We’ve got a full house. Son and D-in-law and their two sons are staying with us before they shift into their next house. D-in-law’s Mum flew in from Australia and is also staying with us. Tonight, the newborn baby clothes are sorted and the basinet is made up and aired. Mummy’s finally stopped working and is now on maternity leave. She’s packed her bag at last. Daddy’s reading a story to three-year old son. Three grandparents are under the same roof and on hand to baby-sit the older boys. Wow! Each time, the imminent birth of a grandchild is such a special time. The event draws people together. A little of each of us is embodied in the promise of this precious new life bringing cheer like the daffodils. Now, we wait for nature to take its course.

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My Garden ~ baking with toddler grandson

Another wet weather forecast for yesterday meant another Sunday indoors. Time to cook some comfort food. Toddler grandson bustled about and pushed the step-stool against the bench and climbed up just like he’s seen older brother do. ‘Me’ in toddler-speak translated means it’s my turn to have fun at the kitchen sink. Older brother, now three, was happily ensconced in front of the computer (I’m amazed how easily he uses the mouse and function keys). So, it was Toddler’s time to have the kitchen bench to himself and learn some kitchen skills.

ANZAC Biscuits

A Kiwi icon biscuit recipe that is easy to make. Kids like to add dried fruit – whatever’s to hand, usually raisins.  The basic recipe is found in another Kiwi icon, the Edmonds Recipe Book.  

Mix 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 cup coconut, 1 cup rolled oats,  1/2 cup raisins into a mixing bowl. Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda in 2 tablespoons of boiling water and add  to 125 grams butter that has been melted with 1 tablespoon Golden Syrup. Pour liquid into dry ingredients and stir in. Place spoonfuls onto a greased or lined baking tray. Flatten slightly with a fork. Bake about 12 minutes at 180 C.

Tonight, while half asleep in front of the fire, Himself mentioned the ‘frost’ word. Oh! Early potatoes – should I risk it? Should I stir myself from my comfort zone? It’s dark, cold and soggy outside. Should I trust the forecasted 5C overnight temperature not to fall any further? Cat was snuggled on Himself’s lap and is a mean critter when disturbed. Himself wasn’t moving. So it was pull on the dampish socks and gumboots and don a jacket. Grab a torch and then slosh down to the shed to grab the frost covering. Clear sky tonight – lots of stars and a new moon – could get frosty. Who knows? Since the first frosty encounter, the early potato plants seem to have recovered and have grown to about 12cm high. They are now snuggly wrapped for the night. A dark shadow darted towards me as I shone the torch-light over the garden. It was the cat. Chasing shadows like a kitten he’s not. Remind me – why do I garden?