Monday, 31 October 2011

Springtime ~ life and death in the balance

Everywhere spring has brought a celebration of blossom, flowers, burgeoning growth and an almost palpable hum of new life bursting forth.

Clematis flanked by ceanothus

Yet death hovers in the shadows even at this time of year: in a single day the cat caught and killed a young rabbit, a bumble bee lay on the lawn its brief life over, and an elderly neighbour lay in Intensive Care in a coma, hesitating at the gateway between the worlds. 

In that one short day I buried the still, small, unmarked body of the young rabbit, gently placing it into a shroud of freshly pulled grass in a sandy grave; dropped the deceased, yet still perfectly formed, bumble bee into the long grasses of the field where it will not be trodden on...

...and our neighbour awoke from his unprecedented fortnight of sleep, rather confused but full of life.  It was quite a day. 

Pandorea pandorana - Wonga Wonga vine

Spring marches on undeterred: at the last count early this afternoon, sixty nine potatoes were vigorously putting on height in the vege patch, and thirty one stems of iris buds had elegantly emerged from within their leafy fans. 

Miniature iris

Everywhere I look the gardens are full of glory:



Pandorea pandorana 'Ruby Bells' - Wonga Wonga vine

And here's one lady who will not take back answers, unless she agrees with you in advance, so mind your manners everyone! 

Chook in charge!

Spring will not be denied...

Monday, 10 October 2011

Creating the garden you want ~ it's springtime!

Springtime is an ideal time to re-model a garden: the earth is warming up and drying out a little, the days are longer and the upsurge of energy which comes in this season is worth a great deal more to growing plants than at any other time of the year.  Get plants in now and you'll have a garden full of flowers and produce within a few short months - that's nature for you - bountiful!

I love gardening, and landscaping in particular, but there's no escaping that it is hard work - good work though and amazingly rewarding.  I don't believe at all in the one day make-overs that have been popularised on television - the best and most loved gardens evolve gradually over time and with personal involvement.  How can you love a garden that others have made for you in a day?  And how can you be bothered to look after it?  That's a different thing entirely.

Hoping to share the concepts and know-how I've worked so hard to learn I've outlined these in a series of articles published last November.

Here is what I've been up to in my new garden in recent weeks:
We moved here in the midst of winter and my multitude of plants from the old place had to wait patiently in pots during the cold months.  That suited me fine as I had much to do settling into the house and getting things there the way that suited me.  There had never been a garden here as such - just lawn and a few tiny borders around the house itself.  The big section at the back had been terraced, but never developed.  I have carte blanche to do with it as I wish.  No money to do anything with it either, but that need not be too much of a constraint.  Gradually my idea of how it could be made fruitful and beautiful has clarified. 

The middle terrace has been designated as the vegetable garden.  The potatoes have been planted and the silver beet is thriving, but much still remains to be done.  Here is how it looked in the early stages:

I had laid newspapers on two parts and placed my potted plants on top to anchor them.  These were a big help with the lawn grass which died back considerably - much less work than digging it out!  

I had a big job removing a patch of montbretia which had established itself in the front left hand corner:

Montbretia's pretty flowers are deceptive:

If left to their own devices they create no end of bulbs which then have to be got rid of.  Here are some of them.  If you must have this plant grow it in a tub!

Finally I finished clearing that corner, and in their place I planted rhubarb surrounded by rocket which you can see in the front left hand corner of this image.  The rhubarb was still a set of knobs in the ground at that stage.

Up on the top terrace I became dissatisfied with an existing brick pad on which the garden seat was tethered.  

I decided either to re-lay the brickwork or move the seat.  Disappointingly I found that all but two of the bricks had bits of cement attached - relaying them was not an option and they duly found a new home neatly stacked under the house!  After we had removed all the bricks a metal peg remained sticking up out of the ground at just the spot to trip anyone up, or ruin the lawn mower.  I decided it had to go.  It was rather harder to get out of the ground than I expected!  On the way down I found, among other things, an empty feed sack... and more and more of that metal post...

It took me three days to get that problem sorted out!

Levers, a post hole digger, an out-sized sledge hammer, as well as my trusty spade were involved.  The post was revealed to be a full-sized fence post which came up to my arm-pit!  There it is lying among the tools, a bit rusted and bent, but very much intact:

Minus it's fence post that corner of the garden felt ruptured, as indeed it might!  The next day I dug it over as fully as I could and re-contoured it:

I've put in a couple of shrubs and some ferns which I'm sure will do well and make a nice display of colour and foliage, a great improvement to a corner which is always going to have an ugly fence. 

The garden seat has moved to the other end of the terrace where it is much more comfortably placed.  I've cleared the back boundary and planted a solid row of ferns at the back of it where they will look good and keep the paddock grass at bay.  The rest of the top terrace is still a work in progress.

Over the fence in the paddock the daffodils have been glorious:

Having tackled those two top priorities my next most pressing task was to get my irises planted: they had been struggling in shallow crates.  If I got my act together soon enough they just might flower this season.  I decided that the border immediately at the back of the house would be the best place - nice and sheltered.  When we first came here that area was particularly overgrown and neglected:

At the far corner the border goes around to the main entrance.  It didn't look much better there.  Entrance ways are so important and this one let the whole place down:

I set to work along the back:

Then around the corner:

I wanted to have more depth to the back border which meant I had to dig up quite a bit of lawn.  I cut it out more or less in diamond shapes which I could use again:

This gave me plenty of turf to fill in the expanse of garden by the front door which had been such a trap when we were moving in: we had all had to step in and out of it to carry large items into the house - hopeless!

Gradually I reached my goal and fitted the last pieces of turf into a pleasing curve:

And planted the irises in with my roses:

What a difference!  The neighbours leant on the fence and said I was giving the place a bit of class, which was nice!  I had so much else I wanted to do, but I'd made my hands sore.  I had to take a day off at least to rest them.  I put my gardening clothes in the wash and my gardening shoes in the basement where I'd have to make an effort to get them out.

Coming back from lunch I eyed the step in the back path with disfavour.  Perhaps if I just levered those poorly placed concrete blocks out with the grubber it would be easier to get on with that little problem the next day...

Nature makes such an effort to fill in and beautify every dull and neglected spot.  I couldn't bring myself to pull these out even though they are 'weeds':

I tugged and slid the heavy brick down the path and parked it tidily in the border where it can continue its existence uninterrupted.  

It was a small step from there to lever up a dozen or so well chosen bricks from another path I intend to re-do (sometime) and put them ready for laying.  Oh well, I wasn't getting exactly dirty, so I got to work with the spade and worked out the layout and gradient of the finished top where a compromise had to be made with the sloping path next to it.  But I couldn't get very far without mixing up a sort of mud pie to fill in the back to settle things properly.  I enjoyed that!  Then it was no trouble at all to settle the bricks into place one by one: three lengthwise across the step's width, then the remainder on their sides going the other way.  Fantastic - I was really pleased!  

It was then the most minor of tasks to back-fill it so that the lawn was more level.  Then it only needed hosing off and I was done!  I was so pleased!  I put away the tools, and went inside for a wash!  So much for having a day free of gardening!  I hadn't put on my gardening clothes or shoes, which rather defeated the purpose of not putting them on, but never mind.

The back entrance looks so much better now.  It may not be smart in other respects, but at least it's cared for and as good as I can make it.

Last week I made a herb garden out of a disused corner by the clothesline - after I had dug out another sackful of montbretia!  It's always handy to have herbs next to a paved area where they're easy to reach whatever the weather.  My herbs look delighted to be out of their pots and we are delighted to be picking them - fresh from the garden.  The empty space is for new seedlings yet to come:

These are some of the projects I've been busy with in the garden here.  None of it was difficult, but it has taken thought, care and a lot of work, and how rewarding it is!  As I complete each project the ground feels newly free and harmonious, and the plants can really get their feet down and get going.  That's good energy to have around our home.  The place is beginning to look loved and lovely. 

So that's what I've been up to here.  And none of it has cost me a cent - except the seed potatoes!

I do encourage you to think creatively about your own garden.  Get help if you need it.  Whatever you do I hope it brings you pleasure, which is the whole point - to get out in the fresh air and weather and to enjoy the growing things.  It's a good feeling.  
Happy gardening!

Monday, 3 October 2011

Mussel gathering ~ and the joys of the local beach

A certain rock at the nearby beach has unexpectedly yielded up an astonishing number of extra-large  mussels.  Rewi is an enthusiastic gatherer of such things, whereas I am an on-looker, being too tender-hearted to wrench the little creatures from their natural homes.  Each of us makes our personal choices in such matters.  

So, off we went to the beach: he armed with a handy onion bag and sea-worthy shoes, and me with my camera. 

There's always a lot to take my attention through the lens of my camera, while Rewi casts about along the rock faces amidst the surf and kelp.  

Near to where I stood at the water's edge hundreds of little mussels awaited the returning high tide:

These ones reminded me of my crystal gem clusters, all attached to their rock home in a seemingly random pattern - which somehow isn't so random:

The nearby rock face presented a complex range of colours and patterns:

I had quite a long time to potter about while Rewi attended to his harvesting, but eventually we set off back along the beach.  Old bits of shell were caught in pockets of rocks:

...As were huge ropes of old kelp:

When we got home Rewi set about the task of preparing his meal with enthusiasm.  Mussels don't come fresher than this!  Look at the lovely growth on the shells:

After the mussels were shelled we had a whole bucket of shells to dispose of.  The correct thing to do is to return them to the sea, where the little creatures and the waves re-cycle them, so we set off to the beach a second time:

Included with the discarded shells was a tiny crab.  He had been inside one of the mussels!  He had lost a couple of legs but seemed okay!  At least back on the beach he had a chance...

I was fascinated by the range of growth of weed and other sea creatures which had made their homes on the shells, and spent a long time photographing them on the rocks.  This time it was Rewi who waited!

I found a shallow rock pool and put some of them in it to see the weed re-vivify in the water:

Of course there were lots of tiny creatures in the water, and a wide range of fabulous colours:

I spent a lot of time peering at these before deciding it was time to tip them out into the tide.  Having one last look through the contents of the bucket I found this bearded old grandfather of a mussel that Rewi had overlooked.  I placed him in the rock pool.  The water clouded with all the particles carried in his beard!

I walked a few steps further and tipped the remaining shells down to the level of the tide:

And watched the water come in:

The water sucked back out again:

I love the gentle rhythm of waves washing in and out.  I stood and watched it for some time...

Rewi had waited for ages.  I really had to get back.  I clambered back across the rocks.  We stood on the beach and chatted a while before setting off home:

The sun was high overhead and the bright sunshine threw everything into high contrast:

As we climbed back up to the road I gazed with satisfaction at these reeds from which I have taken two tiny knobs of root to grow in wet spots in my garden:

It had been lovely on the beach but I was pleased to get in out of the glare.  Cleaning up after lunch I found a tiny mussel amongst the beach things.  It was smaller than my little fingernail and still shut tight.  Oh dear: better take him back to the beach!  See what a softy I am - which is why I'm a vegetarian!  Just as well the beach is close by.  I was back in time for a second cup of tea.  

We were both satisfied that we had done our bit to put back what we could of what had been taken.  We were participating in the rhythm of the sea.  Taking, then putting back.  Rewi will not take more from that rock, leaving plenty so that the colony can continue to thrive, and I am happy to take only photos - and a few little rootlets for the garden! 
Later note: when mussels have been collected we now always bring back a bucket of sea water for the hitch-hiking crabs and other little creatures that are to be put back.

Still later note:
Those who are squeamish can look away now!  For those who are wondering what is inside mussel shells that so many people are eager to eat I have add two images - this is the reality.  And in case you are wondering, the mussels die when their shells are forced open.  It's common practice to steam them open which kills and then cooks them, but that also kills the life forms that live on the shells as well as the few crabs that are found inside them, all of which we put back into the nearby sea within a day.

This is what a whole bowlful of raw mussel meat looks like:

You can find my other articles about exploring the beach and its rock pools via the link below: