My Garden ~ a Kiwi's take on life

Life is a lot like a garden


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.



Birds Warble and Whistle and 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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Insects are Good Garden Workers

Going for a walk round the garden has a two-fold benefit. It is a physical activity. I get to take note of what is happening. I observe. I think how I might make changes in the cooler months ahead. The plants are looking straggly these hot days. However, they do keep the soil covered. Various insects are enjoying the colours, scents and nectar of herbs and flowers.

Monarch Butterfly.jpg

Monarch Butterflies have been laying eggs.

It is my hope that my garden has a diversity of sources of food for bees and bumble bees, butterflies and their caterpillars, dragonflies and worms to flourish. Propagation of plants and soil health is dependent on the hidden work done by these good guys. The latest arrivals, the monarch caterpillars, are busy munching their way through the swan plant leaf matter. Each will soon be cocooned inside their chrysalis. preparing to metamorphose into a beautiful butterfly.

Monarch Caterpillars.jpg

Swan plant has proliferated with food source for the monarch caterpillars.

We do the best we can for the good guys. One way we look out for the bees is to set the mower blade at a level above the nectar-rich clover and dandelion flower heads before we cut the grass. These pasture plants are known for their nutritional value.

Clover and Dandelion.jpg

Grass is not mowed below flower head level.

In terms of food supply, insect pollinators play a vital role. The colour of the scarlet runner bean flowers attracts insects like bumble bees to propagate vegetables like beans. The beans are ready to be harvested thanks to these garden workers.

Fresh beans are a favourite vegetable and we need the bumblebees to pollinate the flowers.

The colour is a vivid splotch against the blue summer sky. Always loved by the bumble bees.


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Summer Heat and the Insects are at Work

A certain languor is essential to cool living in this summer heat. We stay indoors away from the midday sun. The cats lie comatosed. We check our 18-year old cat is even alive. He is fading and infirm and sadly, his days are numbered.

The most energetic lifeforms at work are the insects. Dragonflies dip and dive over water. They have a useful purpose. According to Himself, more dragonflies means that more mosquitoes are chomped.

Mozzies have a personal vendetta against Himself, so he says, slapping on insect repellent and squirting aerosol spray in the direction of yet another whining black dot.  I seem to be immune from these night-invaders. My good fortune neither helps nor amuses Himself under siege. Chemical warfare against the mozzies continues.


Bumblebees pollinate pumpkin plants

Greater numbers of bumblebees are visiting and working in the garden. I like to think this is because plantings of different herbs and plants have provided sources of nectar and pollen for much of the year. Overtime, I have tried to plant for diversity to attract beneficial insects. It seems to be happening.

Years ago, Himself and I cleared an overgrown Buddleia B.davidii from our boundary fenceline. It an invasive weed and a noxious pest plant. We disturbed a colony of hundreds of bumblebees nesting hidden deep in a large hole below ground level inside the rotting trunk.  Obviously the buddleia flowers were a great source of food.

The bumblebees did not seek to sting us – unlike wasps we have encountered. Since that time, I have learned more about these beneficial insects. Bumblebees are great garden pollinators.

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Winsome Boys

It’s not easy to be crafty and winsome at the same time, and few accomplish it after the age of six.  John W. Gardner

The next generation has gone camping – somewhere. No texts. No messages. X-Box is still at home. Son and Grandsons have not come home. Himself and I like to think they have inherited our hardy genetic predisposition to tough things out. This is a great summer holiday adventure for the Dad and his three lads. The two younger boys are delightful and winsome in their childlike excitement about the adventure.

In a few weeks, 12-year old Geeky Grandson will enter male adolescence. The Boys’ High School claims to prepare boys to become fine young men. Fine men who care, who are respectful, who take responsibility for their actions and their words, who  serve their communities with honour. This now pre-teen boy-child, fretting for his X-Box, is amusing, charming, intelligent and  pleasant. This soon-to-be teenager will follow in his two adolescent cousins’ footsteps at Boys’ High. There, he will engage with new adults and peers. His winsome ways will smooth his path through and beyond his schooldays.

His eldest cousin, 19-year old Grandson, home from his first year at university, is showing the way of having perfected the craft of crashing onto the couch, asleep after a hard night out. Another charming teenager  in the here-and-now cruise control mode. Family matters. Mates matter more. Social scene matters very much. His academic break job is a necessity to keep his car fuelled and as in the way of living life to the fullest. For now, his Dad, Number 1 Son, and Daughter-in-law are accommodating their young man-boy with the echoes of childlike charm and his engaging winsome ways.    



Summer Storm

The massive, severe, subtropical weather system that battered much of New Zealand has abated.

All through Thursday night and during Friday the wind howled and whipped our trees into frenzied motion, flinging small branch debris into the air. We got wet, but the sweeping rain did not fall as heavily in our inland area as we expected. The stream filled to its usual level and the rainwater tanks filled. Personally, we dodged the stormy weather bullet.

Any concern must focus on the plight of people affected elsewhere. The destructive forces of the high-tide sea surges and the storm-driven pounding waves combined to inundate east coast communities and to flood homes and roads. Emergency services media posts, callouts and travel cancellations highlighted the dangerous nature of the storm. Holidaymakers, advised to pack up and go home early, did so. Many people became stranded on the Coromandel Peninsula when the Thames coastal road was destroyed.

Meanwhile, back home, Number 2 Son  anxiously and constantly scrolled social media for storm-damage reports and weather forecasts for the coming days. He and his friend have planned to take their four kids camping next week – on the Coromandel Peninsula.

Many years ago, Himself and I with our two sons, used to camp at Stoney Bay and at Fletchers Bay camps both at Department of Conservation Farm parks. My sister, her husband and their sons joined us. We experienced summer storms. No social media alerts back then. We always prepared for such eventuality. Maybe we were lucky.

Anyway, the next generation is packed and ready. Geeky Grandson cannot believe there is no cellphone coverage where they will camp. He ‘refuses’ to accept the usefulness of packing a notebook and pencil as a basic messaging tool. He looked askance at his outdoorsy, practically-minded younger 11-year old brother who is ecstatic at the prospect of learning how to use his hand-held compass we gave him for Christmas. He is aghast at the prospect of no X-Box, of having to either read the book or play games of cards that his Dad made him pack for entertainment. Even worse, it is cold showers only at the camp. He cannot believe we actually used to enjoy such a camping holiday lifestyle. Undoubtedly there will be more revelations. Oh, how I wish I could be a fly on the tent wall to watch Geeky Grandson adapt from his device driven life to that of simple living and spartan but essential amenities. 

On Sunday, Son and his mate will review the camping situation.  

Always have a Plan B.`And C.




January is the month when New Zealanders enjoy summer days. It is a time when people leave their real world lives to relax, to holiday at beaches, lakes and rivers and to enjoy outdoor activities. It is a time when we are busy in our gardens and enjoy the fruits of our labours. However, nature is having an impact on our environment.


Ripples caused by raindrops ahead of heavy rain forecast

But, I can be forgiven for taking childish delight, for now, in watching raindrops splat and ripple onto puddles. It is the promise of the rain needed to fill our watertanks and to raise the stream level back to its regular level. Rain is forecast to keep falling. Heavily. And with high winds for a couple of days. Water will fall and flow everywhere and not as we would wish it. So we are warned. It has been a very dry and unusually warm December. Did I miss spring? Is this climate change at play? Nature is leaving a trail of evidence.


Even though heavily mulched, my garden is wilting. Lettuces have bolted and gone to seed. They were tasty while they lasted. Dahlias are showing their hot colours. Yellow butter and other beans are producing well. Defiant heat loving plants remain true to label. Leaves on the liquidamber trees are displaying signs of early autumn colours.

Pukeko Under the Fruit Trees

Pukeko eat the ripening fruit and damage the branches.

Pukeko and rosellas are unrelenting in their assaults on the ripening Captain Kidd heritage apples that should ripen in March. My early Peach Haven is history. It drives me crazy to see a pukeko, apple clamped in its beak, sprint from under the fruit trees across the paddock to its stream-side habitat The birds jump into the trees and damage the branches. The stream level is very low, the soil is rock hard, the plant habitats are parched and I am sure the birds are desperate for food. Earlier this morning, a family of four fruit thieves raided the orchard undercover of a downpour. No summer holiday in my world. It is garden guerilla-warfare.


Grass is greener on the other side of the fence

We have our cattle on a sheltered hill paddock which is prone to dryness. They are grizzling because the grass quality is not as good as that on the other side of the gate. The trouble is that the better grass is in a flat paddock that is prone to flash flooding when our stream spills over. Years ago, in our early experiences of coping with bad storms, the cattle either stood in the shallows or huddled under trees. We gave up trying to move them. Wading in fast-moving, waist-high water that sweeps all manner of debris, including fences from neighbouring properties, in its path is not safe. Those animals all survived. Mindful of forecasts, we are now better prepared.  So, these cattle can stay on the hill for two days until the storm blows over.   

Meanwhile, weather forecasters continue to track the sub-tropical storm as it unleashes over New Zealand, to warn of the dangers of heavy rain, king tides, large waves and strong winds and to advise holidaymakers to evacuate.  No doubt the raindrops and the ripples will cease to be delightful as the puddles  flood and reform to flow as a small stream down my driveway.