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.




Hope is on the Horizon for Kākahi and other Freshwater Dwellers


Pukeko and ducks have been feasting in the shallows of the streambed, leaving dozens of empty Kākahi shells, tops bitten off, scattered on the coarse silty sediment. I counted. And I know this has not always been so. I also tried to count the outer rings on one of the larger mussel shells to get a possible indication of age. I am no expert, but I think nine or more rings means a possible age of nine or more years.  The stream is a favourite and tranquil place to stroll. It has become second-nature to look out for eels and other freshwater life. Freshwater habitats in New Zealand have been under threat for a range of reasons. The outlook in my rural backyard is promising.


Empty freshwater mussel shells in the water on the stream-bed. Left there by the Pukeko.

Imagine if you will, Kākahi, a teeny-weeny freshwater mussel larva, latching onto Kōaro, a host native fish, for the migratory swim of its life. The journey may take a few weeks. Destination. Upstream to clear, shallow freshwater that flows unimpeded, shaded by overhanging Totara trees. The young hitchhiker will hop off the bus to make itself comfortable in its new digs. For this is where it will settle to live an independent life and to grow for decades if the watery conditions stay favourable. I may not see it for some time until it is bigger. Nine years is a long time to wait. 


Kākahi Freshly opened mussel grown to about 90mm. Possibly nine years of age.

It has been hard work for more than ten years to clear dumped, inorganic materials, fallen trees and pest plants. I am delighted to think that the increase in the mussel shell numbers might, just might, be in a small way, a result of us having committed to cleaning up the stream when we first came here.  I am proud of the way native ferns are regenerating  along the stream bank. The water now flows more freely.  We  put water troughs in each paddock for animals to drink from. Electric fencing is our way of keeping animals off the streambank. We have not built a permanent fence because of bad experiences with damaged fences during storm-related flooding.


Cleared area. Upstream water spills over a rocky ledge.

I hope the Kākahi and their Kōaro will have an extended stay in the shallow water and the coarse silty sediment under the ferns and the streambank overhangs. I am hopeful we will be able to think beyond a nine-year lifespan No more declining species. The freshwater creatures have support from afar. Change is happening. There is political support for campaigns to clean up New Zealand’s waterways.  Stream protection means

“if you have water supplied by a stream, you have an obligation to safeguard the quality of the water leaving your property – for downstream users and for other stream life.”

Hope for our rivers, lakes and streams is on the horizon.


Bunnies and Bridge Aren’t a Fit

My brain has turned to rabbit mush. It has been 22 days since they were born. Newborns in any household bring on that ‘brain mush’ effect. My senses are tuned to responding to the demands and needs of these small creatures.  

It is now routine at 6 a.m. for me to forage under the totara trees along the stream bank for fresh dewy puha, dandelions and thistles. By 7.30 a.m. the rabbit hutch has been cleaned, the kits have a frolic while Oreo, their mother, has her breakfast. Rabbit housekeeping  is repeated for Paws’, the father rabbit, cage. He is let out for a thirty-minute run in the orchard before he too is fed back in his cage.


Foraging for puha, dandelions and grass along the stream bank

There was the initial burst of enthusiasm for the novelty of rabbit care before school Agricultural Day in October. Paws showed off his moves and earned Grandson an Agricultural Day Certificate. Grandson considers job done. And apparently, 6 a.m. is not a civilised hour to be up and getting wet by the morning dew on the long grass in the paddock. The boys are not impressed that Nana at their age had to herd the cows, no quad bike, from their night paddock to the shed and help her Dad with milking and feed the calves. So last century.  Grandsons of the  household are getting ready for school – so they say with a device in one hand. But they are out the door at 8 a.m.

Hen care is next, the Brown Shavers indignant they have been usurped and made to wait because of these furry intruders. Squawking loudly, they stand and poo in their water dish, peck at and clamber over each other and crowd the opening of the chicken cage run.  I remember to smell the Sweet Peas that scramble over the bean frame in the vegetable garden. The flowers are just glorious at this time of the year. I do a few household chores and get myself ready to rush out the door.

One morning a week, I attend formal lessons for beginning players at the Bridge Club , a fifteen-minute drive into town. It is more like a mad dash through the door just after the lesson has started. We were learning about Responder’s Rebids and having a choice of bidding No Trumps if my hand had no fit with my partner’s suit. So what do I do? Bid like it was a game of 500. I called 6 No Trumps. As the complexity of these lessons increases, I am convinced I will never get the hang of Bridge. Two other players are in a similar situation grandparenting two young dogs and empathise with the challenge to get a fit between small young animal care and learning bridge. Breathe, we tell ourselves. We laugh. Our Bridge instructor is wonderfully patient. 

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Plums ~ under threat from possum pests

It is that time of the year again when the branches of the Luisa plum tree hang low, heavily loaded with large, luscious, blushing yellow-fleshed fruit, best eaten fresh from the tree. Kids love to pick and snack on the juicy sweet fruit. And so do possums. These pest animals are picky eaters of the ripest part of the fruit.

In previous posts I mentioned how possums are a pest animal in New Zealand. They roam  and forage during the night ravage a range of native forest species as well as bird eggs and chicks. Home gardens and orchards are not immune.

Possum control is ongoing. For safety reasons, we neither lay poison nor night shoot with a spotlight. We set Timms traps which kill a single possum at a time. Before I bait a trap with cinnamon-dusted apple, I put the cats inside and shut the hens in their coop while the traps are set. Doggy neighbours have an friendly woofy role in our life. Dog ownership has expenses and responsibilities that we choose not to take up even though we know the presence of a dog acts as a pest deterrent.

Our older son had a flourishing orchard until his dog Rosy became ill early in 2015. She hated possums and took her guard duty seriously at night and was quite the goofy family pet by day. Unimpeded after Rosy’s death, possums stripped many mature fruit trees bare of leaves and fruit buds. A heritage peach tree later died. Since late last year, son’s new two-year old dog, Chief, has been  quick to pick up Rosy’s mantle of Pest Control Officer and is guarding ‘his’ orchard with success. Most of the fruit trees are showing signs of recovery. 

Picking and preserving under-ripe plums is at the top of my To Do list.



My Garden ~ away from it for a bit

Happy New Year folks. Himself and I shut the gate and left the garden (and the cat and cattle) in the capable care of our friend Trish. So many things would happen in our absence. I knew the possums would ravage the ripening peaches, that the climber beans would grow like triffids, that the courgettes would mature into marrows. We left rapidly growing grass that would be knee-high when returned and need mowing. C’est la vie! I’d just have to get over it.   

We drove south to the Waikato to join Mum and my family who live near Matamata (Peter Jackson constructed the Hobbiton movie set on a local farm when he produced Lord of the Rings). Tourists still visit the site.  We had a big gathering on my younger brother’s farm (where I grew up) on Christmas Day. Lots of talk and laughs. Different people gathered 02 January to celebrate my other brother’s significant birthday at his newly built home. It was nice for Mum to have her four ‘baby-boomer’ children in one place for a change. For each occasion, both sisters-in-law excelled themselves. Baked hot ham, new potatoes (my steamed heritage potatoes went down well and were subject of interest and conversation), salads, new beans, fresh strawberries, traditional Christmas pudding and custard, pavlova and trifle. The weather was so warm, we sat outside in the shade – cold drinks in hand. In this rural community, the talk inevitably turns to dairy farming.

 Wearing off the Christmas excess is easier in the saying and harder in the doing. Himself and I did some day trips and walked at local tourist spots. If you ever come to New Zealand, Rotorua is a neat place to visit. We used to spend a lot of time there as kids and then later for weekend escapes. When we lived in the Waikato, himself and I used to do quite a bit a trout fishing in this region. Always we soaked in the mineral pools.  The sulphur smells from the boiling mud pools and springs is always there. Below are a few photos snapped during our latest getaway.

historic-government-house.jpg This historic building is a museum.

lakeside-walkway.jpg Lakeside walkway – stay on the path. Great views across the lake of course, boiling sulphur springs and muddy pools. The foliage is Manuka or Tea-tree as it’s sometimes called.

mineral-pools.jpg My favourite place. The spa baths both public and private – different temperatures and minerals. We booked a private lakeside rocky pool (see last three photos) and soaked up the minerals and the view across Rotorua lake and watched the adult birds feed their chicks. It’s a noisy colony. A cold shower, drink lots of water and back in. Bliss. Who wants to garden?

Something really nice when we returned home hot and tired after six hours driving. Someone had mowed all our lawns! I just love my neighbour. What a nice thing to do. It more than made up for the loss of the peaches to the possums.


My Garden ~ Crimson Christmas Cheer


Hi! My special season’s greetings to you and the people who are special to you and best wishes to you all for a happy and peaceful New Year. 


I’m celebrating that the Pohutukawa trees I planted earlier this year are in bloom in time for Christmas. The drifts of white in the collage are the carrot weed flowers (wild carrot) which proliferate in the paddocks at this time of the year.  The cattle love the flower heads and the pukeko gouge and gorge on the roots.

The grandkids and their school-mates sang a neat New Zealand Christmas carol at their end-of-year playcentre and school prize-giving ceremonies – A Pukeko in a Ponga Tree which is sung  to the tune of The Twelve Days of Christmas.  Enjoy our Kiwi down-under spirit.


My Garden ~ planting and preparing garden beds

My back tells me I’ve shovelled too much compost.  

mesculun-2.JPG chives-and-lettuce.JPG For the last three days, I’ve laboured, clearing garden beds and getting  plants into the soil as well as preparing for later sowings of other vegies . I’m encouraged by the sight of all those wriggly worms, large and small, burrowing and digging for all their worth. I’ve delegated them the task of doing the serious work.  

italian-herbs.JPG strawberry-3.JPG The old strawberry bed has had an overdue tidy-up and the runners now have nice sunny raised beds to grow in. Visions of lots of juicy red strawberries in time for Xmas, and jam-making …..  Still on my To Do List is a make-over of my Italian herbs in the pots.

kowinin-kowiniwini-potato-plot.JPG I’ve mentioned in previous posts I can’t imagine not growing potatoes. I planted Swift as the Xmas new potato. This season, I’m trying Kowiniwini and Maori  potatoes as additions to my small collection of heritage seeds. According to the information I got from the nursery about Kowiniwini is that it’s a good all rounder and keeper, crops well, is purple with white eyes. The Maori is round and large, with no inset eyes,has white flesh and a purple skin. I’ve been trying to get hold of King Edward seed potatoes. My Dad grew these when I was a kid. I’ll also plant Red Rascal later on.

I love to traipse around garden centres to see what’s new, read the labels and so on. Yesterday, I happened on a delightful floribunda rose Betty Boop. It struck a chord because of my mother’s given name and because I recalled her telling us once about similar sounding childhood nickname she was called by her brothers. I searched the history of this rose and found Betty Boop to have been a delightful Paramount pictures cartoon character in the 1930s – the time of Mum’s girlhood in England. I’ll buy this rose for Mum – she needs cheer in her life because of her declining health, and she does love her roses.