My Garden ~ a Kiwi's take on life

Life is a lot like a garden

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Trees for Every Living 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.


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. 


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.





The Ages of our Inscrutable Cat


Ignoring the wet and windy weather, a tiny tabby kitten chased the leaves blowing around the enclosed courtyard next to the staffroom. No-one knew how he got there. He was not telling.

I found an old cloth and dried his fur. Next, some cold milk from the staff fridge poured into a saucer, was lapped up with gusto. A box emptied of  five reams of A4 copier paper became his shelter to sleep. There was talk of taking him to the SPCA. After work,  SPCA forgotten and during the 30-minute drive home, this kitten sat on the back seat, never moving, facing forward between the front seats. How was I going to tell Himself that just we had just become parents to another fur baby? After a lifetime of now departed cats, Himself had declared it was time to call it quits. Nestled under my jacket, the kitten peeked out as Himself gave me a hug. Eighteen years later, Himself and Pushy the cat remain constant companions.

T. S. Eliot considered naming a cat to be “a difficult matter” because a cat “must have three different names”. Eldest Grandson was learning to talk at the time the kitten arrived and his word for cat, ‘Pushy’, stuck as the “everyday name” we use. Pushy responded to this name. Whether he cared or not, he was not telling.

Living as we do on a lifestyle block, there are jobs to do. When Himself mixed milk powder to feed four-day old calves, Pushy got the first drink of warm milk. Hay was wheeled to the cattle in the paddock with Pushy in the driver’s seat. Rats have to be kept in check. When electric fences are checked, Pushy never walks never beyond the third tree down the driveway. He will sit and wait for Himself to come back. And someone needs to be Sleeper-in-Chief.

In keeping with Eliot’s rhyme,  

…, a cat needs a name that’s particular,

A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,

Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,

Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?

Pushy the Cat

Sleeper-in-Chief annoyed at being disturbed

Over the years, his naming has included Pushy the Farm Cat, Rodent Officer, Pushy the Lazy Tabby Cat. I like to think of him as one of Eliot’s Practical Cats”. I have different  thoughts though when his tigerish tendencies came to the fore if we offend his sensibilities and he digs his claws in.  This is the same cat that protected Binky, the baby rabbit when it escaped from its hutch. This is the same cat that lifted his head when we returned after an absence of almost three years, and wanted to be fed. Cats can be quite difficult to read. We are not always sure of what Pushy is feeling or thinking. He is not telling.

And we will never know. Pushy is about eighty-eight in human years. Grandson’s  old sleeping bag is now his to sleep away his days. His deepest cat dreams and thoughts are beyond words. What is his cat name that he calls himself? He is not telling. Pushy, our old moggy, remains inscrutable.

Old Cat

Constant companions

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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Speckles, Dominant Henpecker in the Henhouse


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-in-Chief: Gertrude and Speckles

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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.



Plums and Pohutukawa ~ it must be Christmas

Nothing says, ‘it must be Christmas’, to me more than the seasonal appearance of red  Christmas plums in my home orchard and of the full glory of New Zealand’s iconic crimson blooms on pohutukawa trees.

In the current high temperatures, green plums reddened overnight. This morning, waxeyes, pukeko and possums all left signs of having tasted-tested the ripest part of the fruit, the side facing the morning sun. Half-eaten plums lay on the grass and broken twigs dangled from branches. Much as I love to pick sun-ripened fruit, the reality is that I must pick the near-ripened fruit if we are to enjoy any of the crop at all. I will put the ripest plums in the fruit bowl, free-flow freeze some for later use and stew some to be served as a dessert.


Christmas plums picked at half-ripened state

Possums also wreaked destruction on my heritage Strawberry apple tree. It is a delightful small early apple that ripens just before Christmas.  We trapped several possums this week. We expect to trap more in the weeks to come. In other posts, I have described how possums are pests in New Zealand. They roam at night and also ravage native foliage,  such as pohutukawa trees, and eat native bird eggs and chicks.

Putting possums and plums behind us for a while, Himself and I enjoyed coffee at a waterfront cafe overlooking the local marina. It is a happy place where people walk or socialise.

Crimson pohutukawa blooms feature in New Zealand Christmas images. With Christmas on my mind, I wish for peace and harmony, happiness and joy, and good health in your lives everywhere.


Pohutukawa trees in full bloom at the Town Basin Marina





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Herbal Offerings from My Garden


Comfrey flowering under our Captain Kidd New Zealand heritage apple tree

Comfrey, sage, chives, wormwood and borage are flourishing companions under my fruit trees. The daffodils have died down in readiness for their next spring show. Kitchen herbs are also grown in raised beds in my vegetable garden. 

Wormwood under Heritage Red Delicious Apple Tree
Wormwood about to flower under our heritage Red Delicious apple tree. Borage is also establishing.

Shakespeare enriched expressions of feelings in his writings with the language of herbs adding depth of meaning to garden lore that has passed on through the ages. I like that sense of Shakesperian connection when we say the perfume and colours of the flowers are a joy.

At my fingertips are the natural healthy ingredients for well-being. For years, I have not added salt to my cooking, relying instead on freshly picked herbs to add flavour to meals. Growing plants for the benefit of people and now, small animal life, is a positive gardening outcome.

It particularly pleases me to see the bees busy at work among the different herbal flowers. This is another reason I like to grow as many herbs a s possible. Every morning, the hens peck at the oregano and comfrey that grows near their hen-house run. Silverbeet is their big treat. To keep the chooks out, I erected a fence to enclose the vegetable garden beds. Fortunately they prefer to forage freely in the paddocks and the among the herbal growth under the fruit trees. They have their foraging routine which by the end of the day now finishes in the orchard near the rabbit hutches. The hens stand and squawk noisily, protesting as I give yummy green feed to these furry intruders to their world. They will not be bribed by an early feed of night grain in their cage. They prefer to cluck and line up by the hutch. They are such bird-brains.

Rabbits are herbivores and wild rabbits self-select from a variety of pasture plants. I do not want any rabbits eating directly out of my garden. I put together a herbal bouquet for the domestic mother rabbit and her two kits. A woody twig with leaves from one of my heritage apple trees, a leafy stem of borage with bright blue flowers, long-stemmed large strawberry leaves, parsley, sprigs of oregano, a small stalk of young comfrey leaves and flowers. The addition of herbs to their green feed makes for variety in their diet. So far, they seem to like my garden herb offerings.


Brown Shaver hen and Paws forage near the comfrey plant under the Captain Kidd apple tree.