Sunday, 22 October 2017

Beetroot ~ raw in salad with ginger, orange and mint ~ and cooked by itself

A reminder about the nutritional value of beetroot prompted me to think back about a recipe for a salad that I hadn't made for years.  I decided to unearth it and try it again.  It was even tastier than I recollected and I wondered why I'd forgotten about it all those years.  No matter, I have it back in use now!

Before I set out the recipe take a look at the delicious ingredients: grated raw beetroot, chopped orange, chopped crystallised ginger, chopped dates and fresh mint - yum!!!  You'd think that the raw beetroot would be crunchy, but it isn't particularly.  This salad is easy to eat as well as being very tasty. 

Beetroot salad
Main ingredients:
  • Beetroot, raw - 150 grams, which is about half of a medium sized beetroot - peel and grate
  • Orange - about 50 grams, which is half of one - peel and chop coarsely.  Reserve the other half for juice to add in the dressing.
  • Ginger, crystallised - 25 grams - chop finely
  • Dates, dried - three - chop
  • Mint, fresh - one generously sized sprig - refer to the photograph for an approximate quantity - chop finely
  • Orange, about a tablespoon of fresh juice from the other half of the orange used above
  • Salt - about a third of a teaspoon
  • Oil - about half a teaspoon.  I don't know why I add this really, probably completely irrelevant!
Combine these and then pour over the other ingredients.

Toss it all and leave to stand for a bit.  All the ingredients immediately turn various shades of  pink and dark red, so you lose the startling colours shown above, but the taste is so worth it!

We had ours with slices of feta and spinach pastry roll, which was a very good combination.  

If you prefer beetroot cooked, steam the beetroot before grating.  It takes about 45 minutes.  Allow it to cool before combining it with the other ingredients.

When I made this today I made two separate salads exactly the same except that for one of them I used steamed beetroot.  I wanted to find out which I preferred.  The two of us enjoyed both but slightly preferred the raw.  I'm often not that keen on raw vegetables as I find they don't always agree with my digestion, but there was absolutely no problem with this salad. 

Cooking beetroot:
Steamed beetroot has a great texture: not crunchy, but distinctive and very nice.  As stated above, steaming takes about 45 minutes.  The recommendation I've come across is to wash the root and cook it whole, and peel and chop it afterwards.  The reason given is that it 'bleeds' more if cut first.  I've done both, and can't see that it makes all that much difference, and the colour of the cooked root is still dark red.  Whether you do or not it's easy to handle.  Either way you get a lot of red moisture to wipe away, so it's best to wear an apron and to use wiping and drying cloths that you're not going to fuss about afterwards.

The tinned stuff is dismal in comparison: I find it unappealing both in texture and flavour, so if that's all you've had you may be in for a pleasant surprise if you cook your own.   

The most common way that beetroot is served is in a brine which is almost entirely vinegar combined with a lot of sugar.  As I understand it this makes it a pickle.

My mother used to make something of this sort which was good, but in looking for an equivalent recipe I found only those with all that vinegar and sugar, which is how you make the aforementioned brine, and I don't want that, so what I'm after isn't pickled beetroot.   

Beetroot has plenty of its own sugar so why add more?   What I want is to do is enhance its flavour so that it's nice with a meal or in a sandwich.

It's worth experimenting.  To do a consistent set of tests I first tried it with the vinegar but without the sugar.  It was, quite predictably you may say, inedible!  Even when I added sufficient water to equal the amount of vinegar the vinegar was still overwhelming, and taking a mouthful of that sample sent me into a fit of coughing - impossible!  After a few hopeless efforts I found it was much simpler than that: I steam it just like any other vegetable and then add a bare minimum of seasoning as outlined here:

The simple solution I have arrived at is to peel, slice and then steam my medium-sized beetroot in a wire basket steamer over water.  Steaming it when sliced is much quicker than if whole and unpeeled.  The water below still becomes bright red, but perhaps there is less bleeding than if simply boiled directly in water.
Once cooked I added to the water:
  • Salt - 1 teaspoon
  • Cider vinegar - 1 teaspoon 
  • Kikommen sauce - 1 teaspoon 
I then give it a good stir, decant it into a medium-sized glass casserole dish, add the cooked sliced beetroot, ensuring that there was enough liquid to just cover it, or thereabouts, place the glass lid on the casserole dish and let it cool before storing it in the fridge.  It keeps fine there for three or four days during which I enjoy beetroot, mint and feta cheese sandwiches!  

Here is a photograph of my effort.  It is decorative!  The colour does continue to leak though, so if I'm using beetroot in a salad sandwich I don't use my customary cloth napkin to wrap it up in.

In its raw state it's such a non-descript vegetable and a complete contrast to its peeled state!  This one came from the supermarket so is devoid of its leaves.  The leaves are also edible, but I haven't seen roots with leaves attached in the shops, so growing ones own would be an advantage.  Those shopping at a farmers market may have more luck.  

Nutritional and health benefits:
Beetroot is a good food in so many ways: it's a good source of fibre, iron, manganese, potassium, vitamin B9, vitamin C, is advantageous to heart and gut health, and much more.  The links below are to articles which give more comprehensive detailsThere are plenty of recipe suggestions included in the first of these two articles:

My other articles about food and recipes can be found here:

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Salad in my sandwich ~ and my favourite no-fuss salad oil and wrappers

A well made salad sandwich can be a meal in itself, a great way to pack in all those good fresh veggies and make them really tasty.  This needn't involve costly or pre-made ingredients.  In this salad shown below, I've chopped and mixed rocket greens and tomato with my oh-so-easy salad oil.  There's cheese underneath the salad veggies.  I've lately cut down on dairy products, and found that chopped walnuts (very nutritious) are delicious in place of cheese, or even with it, for that matter, although rather rich!

Simply-the-easiest salad oil:
I make the salad oil up freshly each time and when I say easy I mean really easy: for one serving, for a sandwich filling, or to go on the side with other food, I put half a teaspoon each of cider vinegar and vegetable oil, and a pinch of salt.  That's it, no sugar, no preservatives, no special ingredients, no equipment required other than a bowl, fork and spoon.  I put the salad oil into a small bowl, add the chopped tomato, turn it over to coat it nicely, then add the chopped salad greens and any other ingredients and it's ready.  That simple salad oil is just enough to coat the veggies and make them really tasty.  It also holds everything together ever so slightly. 

Before I started using this salad oil I often used tomato relish to add flavour, but have found that I no longer want it, so that's another simplification in my pantry and shopping. 

Sandwich wrapping - cloth napkins:
I like my sandwiches absolutely bursting with goodies with the predictable result that eating them readily results in bits of filling going in all directions, so the sensible thing to do is to wrap them so that everything is contained while I'm munching them up.  For a while I used paper lunch wrap; then it occured to me that a cloth wrap would be nicer to hold and way more elegant.  I thought of a set of table napkins I've hardly ever used which would be about the right size and style, and that I could make them like that.  Then it occured to me that actually those would do just as they were, and decided to try them out.  If they got a bit stained, never mind, they were for wrapping food after all! I've done this for a while now and found these napkin sandwich wraps a great success:

They do get a bit marked, but not enough to matter.  I tried not even rinsing them after use to see how well and found it made work soaping marks out prior to machine washing and that even then marks tended to linger, even though they were not all that noticable.  The best way to care for them is to rinse them in cold water in the kitchen sink after using, and then toss them in a bucket to go through with the ordinary washing.  This is much more effective and no bother.  

But what about wrapping for picnic lunches, or taken sandwiches to school or work?  There is absolutely no need to use plastic wrap.  Since this is a hobby horse of mine I'll repeat that: There Is Absolutely No Need To Use Plastic Wrap!  Waxed paper is just fine.

Paper wrap for sandwiches:
Fabric wraps are fine when eating at home, but when going out I use waxed paper by Mono:

There you go, neat and tidy and no fuss at all.  Don't be deterred by the prospect of the bread drying out: I've never found this a problem, and if it is for you where you live, read on below about damp muslin cloths.

Continuing on about the paper wrapping: once finished with it it's not wasted: toss it into the sink, pull it apart and put it in the compost bucket.  It's already decomposing and has its place in the food chain.  At my place that compost will go into nourishing the garden.  That's how it should be!  The cycle of goodness and nourishment continues.

Keeping sandwiches fresh, from the days before plastic wrap: damp muslin cloths!  
I remember my mother and other women using these to cover plates of sandwiches prepared before guests arrived - easy, effective and once you have them, no cost other than ordinary laundering.  The value of muslin for this purpose is that when damp or wet it adapts its shape and clings in a way that other cotton fabrics and polyester don't.   (Note to self: I must make some!)

If using a lunch box and wanting to ensure that sandwiches don't dry out, you might like to try one of these in that.  Away from home a chilly bag or ice brick would ensure coolness. 

There is no one right way to do things.  
It's well worth experimenting with different ways of doing things that suit us and our difference lives.  For me an important guiding principle is to keep an open mind and continue experiementing to find what is wholesome and practical for myself.  That makes ordinary everyday things satisfying.
My other articles about food and recipes here:

My articles about housekeeping and shopping are here:
My gardening articles are here:

Monday, 2 October 2017

Drifts of daffodils ~ yellow, cream, orange and white ~ so many lovely variations ~

I've always loved daffodils.  Some years back we lived in a place which had a field of daffodils just over the fence.  To my mixed bafflement and tantalisation it was clear that cultivation had been abandoned long ago and the whole area overtaken by long grass.  For most of each year sheep grazed there, but each spring they were excluded while a multitude of deeply buried bulbs sent forth their tender growth; these worked their way through layers of matted roots and overgrown grass in an annual pilgrimage to the light and sun, then burst forth in golden glory.

I'd grown up near market gardens of flowers so knew what I was looking at, and it seemed a crying shame that this great show took place in such an inaccessible spot.  They deserved to be seen and shared!  I was much inclined to hop over the fence and help myself, not only to bunches of flowers, but also to buckets of bulbs; no one else seemed to want them, but I did, or at least a selection of them.  Each spring I looked at them with both disappointment and envy but as I had no idea who the field belonged to and it seemed wrong to help myself without permission I did nothing. 

One spring, after we had been there a few years, I finally got my act together and decided that it was now or never - that if I didn't make an effort to track down the owners and get some while they were still flowering the opportunity might not come again.

Finding the owners took determination: I had to beat back ingrained shyness and summon up a degree of persistence but it wasn't actually hard, and when we met it was a pleasure.  Kathleen was happy for me to dig up my choice of bulbs, and said she had been meaning to dig up some for her daughter as well; she suggested we do it together.  What could be better!  To ensure goodwill I offered to pay for them, and we agreed that a suitable donation to the SPCA in her name would be a satisfactory arrangement.  I also offered her some of my irises, which she was happy to accept.  Just as she had a surfeit of daffodils, so did I have a multitude of irises!  It's great to share the good stuff! 

A week or so later we met in the paddock and spent a contented afternoon digging around those overgrown beds.  From our side of the fence you couldn't tell that the daffies were laid out in rows and beds, but once I started walking around the paddock it became obvious: I could see from the flowers that each bed was of different sort.  There were at least a dozen varieties.

Climbing around the paddock brought back happy childhood memories of the market garden nearest our home, where daffodils nodded in long rows on steep terraces.

It was hard work but great fun prospecting around the hillside, picking out different clumps, and then, depending on what worked best, carefully inserting my large spade or gardening fork to lever those bulbs out.  It took care and patience as most of them were buried deeply under thick mats of grassroots but I managed to get a lovely big haul.  With the daffodils still in flower I was able to put each clump into a separate bag so as not to muddle them up.  I got a full set of all that I could see, which was at least a dozen different sorts.

It rained for a bit but it didn't matter, and after we had been thus busily at work for well over an hour my sister came up with cups of tea and cake - food for the gods!  There is nowhere else in the world that a cup of tea and a picnic tastes as good as the garden in which one is at work!  (It is the best restaurant on earth, but you have to have been working in it and be still in your gardening clothes.) 

Kathleen got a good haul too.  After we had got as many as we could possibly want I helped Kathleen carry hers to the top of the paddock and thanked her.  She generously said I could hop over the fence to pick flowers whenever I liked.  The care I took in being courteous with my enquiry and request seemed richly rewarded.  We were both happy and took home stacks of golden treasure.   

Here is a bunch I took in for the house.  What a lovely variety there was.  I love seeing them all together:

As soon as I could I planted those carefully defined clumps of daffies in a row arranged so that I could keep track of which was which.  I decided that this was the best way to build up my collection.  Although I like them combined once picked, when they are in the garden they have much greater visual impact when planted with others of the same sort.

It was just as well to have been particular about how and where I planted them as when it came time to move house it was winter and all those bulbs were invisibly below ground.  This meant that although I had little idea which clump was which I did know exactly where they were, so was able to get them all out.  Once they flowered again it took me a while to figure out which was which, but the main thing is that I had managed to keep them all in their original clumps and to take them all with me.

Identifying them:
For my own reference and for the pleasure of others I have photographed them and shown them here.  I've numbered rather than named them.  I don't know their names, and even if I did, the identifying tags are more easily numbered than named, as you will see from the descriptions below.  Where I've had a range of good photos of one sort I've included them to improve the chance of accurate identification.

I have observed that they don't all flower at the same time, and that colour faded somewhat as blooms aged, which can lead to confusion: for example, is a large one with the cream outer petals and an orange centre (number 9) the same as the one with yellow outer petals and a bright orange centre (number 2), but just faded a bit?  And is the timing of their flowering innately different or due to some other factor.  I've commented as accurately as my recent observations allows, but can't say for sure; next year I will be able to compare notes and take a better informed look.  It has taken time and attention to detail to establish these probable answers, and as a result I've become a lot more observant!  Now when I'm out and about and glancing at other daffodils I can see right away if they are like mine, or different, or if I've never seen that sort before!  I've found this with other things I've taken the time to observe and learn about: the more I look and learn, the more I see, which is a particular form of wealth. 

Here is my collection:

Number 1:
This is a favourite.  They are large, with golden bowl-shaped centres and rounded pale yellow outer petals.  This year it was one of the first to flower.  Flowers lasted for ages.

Here is one close up:

Here they are fading.  They flowered vigorously and lasted a long time.  We had a lot of wind which was ageing for all the daffies.  They stood up to it well, however.

Number 2:
These are large, with pale orange bowl-shaped centres and yellow outer petals. 

Number 3:
These are large.  The centres are perhaps more cone-shaped than bowl-like and a very dark orange.  The outer petals are almost white.  They flowered vigorously and rather later than some of the others.

Here is a close-up:

Number 4: 
I'm much inclined to call this one "Miss Frilly" as it's sumptuous!  The blooms are large, and the centre is a combination of cream and yellow, with these rather like layers of petticoats.  As you can see in this image the centres are in distinct layers: each centre is yellow, then a layer of cream, then a yellow outer petticoat, and then the outer petals are cream.  They flowered later than the others. 

Here it is again:

Number 5:
These blooms are medium-sized, with two blooms on each long stalk: they have a small neat central cone which is orange, and the outer petals are white.

Looking at blooms close up gives no clue to size:

Number 6:
The classic large yellow trumpets.  Glorious!  These seemed to flower longer than all the rest, but I might have imagined that. 

Number 7:
These are medium-sized and starry looking, with smallish lemon-coloured cones in the centre and fairly narrow and pointed outer petals which are more cream than white.  In my previous garden this clump grew up through a clump of catnip, which my little cat Louisa enjoyed, so I think of them as hers.  Daffodils can be particularly effective when planted in ground cover plants which 'don't mind' their post-flowering dying back. 

Number 8:
These blooms are small but on full-sized stems.  There are five or six blooms on each stem.  Flowers have a lemon yellow cone in the centre and the outer petals are creamy white. 

... and here they are again...

Here they are close up...

Number 9: 
A large bloom, with a bright orange cone and yellow outer petals.  It is very like number 2, but the central cone is a much darker orange.  I don't think this is due number 2 fading with age.  The time of their flowering was quite a distance apart:

Number 10:
This may be a miniature, or maybe the small flower is due to a small and young bulb?  I'll be able to observe it again next spring.  It has a large yellow trumpet and cream outer petals.

Number 11:
This is like number 10 but full sized.  The large trumpet is lemon yellow and the outer petals white or cream.

Number 11 again and faded?  I don't know.  I took the photos some time apart and by the time I took the second one I'd had a go at sorting out the numbering and had lost track!

Number 12:
Blooms are medium to full-sized: the centre is an extended yellow cone rather than a trumpet, and the outer petals are white/cream.  

Numbers 13 to 15 I'm not sure enough to describe.

Number 16:
The bloom is large with an orange centre and the outer petals are cream, which is somewhat similar to numbers 2 and 9, but quite distinct (I think?!).

I've looked for information on the internet about possible names of these varieties but found nothing conclusive.  

Classification is based on detailed analysis of petals and their colour and the number of blooms per stem, etc.  I couldn't be sure that any mine are shown on any of the pages I've looked at. 

At present all my daffies are in tubs where they will remain until I find a more permanent home.  Some of them need re-potting, which I will do once the flowers have fully died back, but they are doing okay and don't seem to mind being in tubs.  In fact they have done very well.  I wonder about the paddock of  daffodils we left behind.  Maybe I should go back there for a visit...

For your interest here is the link to:
And two nice pages by the Mercervale Nursery, the first one about classification:
... and this one about the planting and care of daffodils:
To find my other gardening articles click the link below:
The story about my previous garden which was next the field of daffodils is here:

Thursday, 7 September 2017

My hillside garden ~ what I did with it ~ and what happened afterwards

This is the story of a garden where I lived, that I landscaped and established almost from scratch, of the time I spent in it and what it meant to me.  Creative work in any garden is always going to involve a lot of change, and at that time there was a lot of change occuring in other parts of my life as well so its place in my life had to change too.  Ultimately I had to let it go, but throughout the five years I lived there it provided, for the most part anyway, a sense of continuity and calm. 

The hillside property was pretty much bare when we took up the tenancy, the garden neglected and almost entirely in lawn.  Rather relishing the size and challenge of it my creative instincts came into full swing and, perhaps like a painter with a blank canvas or a sculptor with a block of stone, I immediately began reflecting on what creation might be coaxed out of it.  These reflections continued throughout the tenancy and even after I left; I had always believed there was much more that could be achieved with it, but the transient nature of the tenancy imposed its own limits and I had to be realistic.  Within those limits I did establish a pleasant garden which was very much my own.  I relate the story of its further untapped potential in a companion article, which you can find via this link:
I share these two stories to encourage others as well as to complete the circle of my thoughts about it. 

The five years I was there was long enough to get the garden well established and to see shrubs filling out well.  It was hard work but it was good and cost next to nothing.  

I was fortunate that I had permission to do whatever I liked, which was just as well as I had a great many treasured plants from my previous garden that needed to get their feet back into the ground and the sooner the better, so although it was winter I set to work right away, not all at once, but getting things organised a bit at a time.

The property was long, narrow, fairly steep, and divided into levels, so to show how I worked with it I'll go over it one part at a time.

The main part of the garden was behind the house and sloped uphill.  As the position of the house precluded much development of the frontage and none at all along the sides of the house most of my work was focused around the back.  There a previous owner had created two terraced areas for no obvious purpose.

In my opinion terracing often looks artificially imposed and awkard, which was certainly the case with these ones.  I would much prefer to have pulled them out and contoured the garden differently, but there they were, fairly solid, and as a tenant I had to regard them as immovable and duly incorporated them into my scheme. 

Below is an early photograph taken from the back of the house looking up the hillside.  The fenceline behind the large tree marks the boundary, and the yellow beyond it is of daffodils in a market garden. 

The lawn in the foreground was large and unusued, and remained so.  Its size and slope made it neither use nor ornament and it was a burden to mow.  To have made better used of the area would have required major earthworks which were beyond the scope of the tenancy, so I contented myself with modifying parts of its edges.  The two terraced areas above it were more manageable and I did a lot with them:

This is the first terrace above the main lawn looking across its width:

I decided to make this terrace into a vegetable garden.  The white stuff on the ground is layers of newspaper on which I stacked loose bricks and tubs of plants in the hope of making the digging easier.  The idea was to discourage growth by covering areas that I would later dig up.  Digging into etablished lawn is heavy work.

This next view is taken from that same terrace and shows part of the top of the garden. 

And here is the other end of the top terrace.  Note the position of the garden furniture behind the shrubs at the right.

This top terrace, which was so bare, become one of my favourite places. 

Although my main focus was the area behind the house, the approach to the front door, which was at the side of the house, needed work.  Entrances should always be given careful consideration and made as attractive and accessible as possible, and as soon as possible.  A pleasant entrance gives a welcome home.  This early photo shows that one to be wanting in every respect: the concrete pathway needed to be relaid, and the garden, if it could be called such, was a mess.

Further to this, the turn in the pathway at the foot of the steps meant that when we moved in every single one of us carrying anything sizable into the house ended up stepping into the garden, often while holding our end of heavy pieces of furniture, which was not a pleasant experience.  An overturned barbecue stand left in the border, along with charcoal cinders did not help matters and I narrowly prevented cinders from being trekked into the house by helpers.  I couldn't undertake relaying the path but that border had to go!  

Around the corner along the back of the house the narrow border was also  a mess.  This was one of the first things I tackled, weeding it out and considerably enlarging that narrow bed:

That looks more like it!  I created curves in the edging to accommodate my two rose bushes.

I wasn't sure what I would put in the near curve, but it looked right and was big enough to allow for things to come.  Good basic layout and contours make a garden both easy on the eye and able to be used flexibly.  I didn't like the harsh corner of the house and planned to place a shrub in front of it at some later stage to conceal it.  

Enlarging the bed along the back of the house gave me plenty of turf which I used to fill in the border adjacent to the front steps:

With the careful placing of those wedges of turf that old border disappeared:

It wasn't long at all before the border behind the house looked nicely established.  It was a great spot for my irises. 

The tree in the tub was only there temporarily. 

Some time later I put in this hebe in that corner and it did well.  In time it grew to a good six feet or so in height, concealing that hard corner of the house just as I had wished.

As that border settled in the house looked much more settled in too, and looked as if it belonged to the garden.  The irises loved it and soon became overcrowded:

At the upper edge of that main lawn in front of that high right hand end of the terrace the ground was rough and uneven:

The long grass concealed an unfinished field drain which supposedly took run-off water from above.  Digging around a bit I found that it had not been joined up with an upper field drain which emptied out about midway along the terrace wall.  As a result, during rainy weather excess water fanned out over the back lawn making it slippery, and in any weather at all anyone going anywhere near that untidy corner had a tendency to step into the uneven hollow turning their ankle.  It had to go.

To deter us from absent-mindedly stepping in it I put my tubs of day lilies there while I got on with more pressing tasks:

Later I dug a channel between the two field drains, lined it with shingle and small rocks...

... and filled in the channel with mussel shells.  Rewi greatly enjoyed feasting on these local molluscs, so there were plenty of them!  I needed the channel to continue to be the most natural course for any excess water, and the combination of rocks, shingle and mussel shells would prevent the area from becoming clogged with soil.  In the years that followed it seemed to do the job well.  Here is the channel partially filled in:

I wanted to plant something substantial in front of that tall end of the terrace that would take attention from it and which wouldn't mind the wetness of that patch.  This properly defined small garden was a good start: no one was going to walk into it by mistake, and it looked good. 

From time to time I covered the whole garden with mulch, which you can see here.  The mulch was rough shavings of untreated wood from a local timber mill and cost next to nothing.  In the centre of that small bed a small amount of reedy growth shows the beginning of what would become a large clump of reedy grass.  I decided it was a good spot to leave the day lilies:

That little garden did well.  When photographed here it was a bit overgrown but the scale is right and it looks graceful and part of the place.  The terrace wall behind it is much less dominating. 

Those day lilies were a favourite. 

Winding the clock back once more, here is the pathway just to the right of that little garden.  The pathway ran quite steeply uphill at the side of the two terraces.  Note the ugly fenceline.  There was nothing I could do about that.  The partially bricked steps weren't great but they provided a bit of stability in wet weather when it was slippery, and for anyone lugging a lawn mower up the slope. 

In those early days, this view downhill at the house from the first terrace shows how the house looks more as if it had been dropped on the section rather than belonging to it.  The border of irises and roses greatly improved that.  Any decent garden greatly improves the look of a place. 

In the foreground the mass of weedy growth was a dense clump of Montbretia.  It had to go.

Here is the flower of Montbretia.  It's pretty and colourful, and does well in a vase.  If you like it take my advice and plant it in a tub.  Do not let it out in the garden At All, because... gets away, and in the space of the few years in which you are enjoying those pretty flowers underground it is forming great clumps of densely packed bulbs, many of which are tiny.  They are hard to get out, and until you get out the very last one they will continue to multiply and resurface. 

They had done exceedingly well in that corner of lovely deep topsoil...

What a heap!  I filled bag after bag which had to be taken to the dump.  I think I got up to about ten.

Having cleared that corner I chugged my way around the rest of the middle terrace bit by bit, creating the shapes of vegetable beds. 

Some months later it started to come alive: 

That's rhubarb in the foreground, in place of the Montbretia, and beyond it rows of silverbeet and potatoes.  I have little experience in vegetable gardening and rather to my surprise they did well.  

Later on, carrots and parsnips in the middle bed also did well. 

I planted brassicas on the right, but didn't have the same success with them.  My little cat Louisa was a constant companion and fellow gardener.  Note the position of the clothesline, which was at one side of the main lawn.  At the far end of that terrace you can see the compost heap:

That compost heap grew constantly as it accrued more weeds and food scraps.  From time to time I'd add bags of horse manure to it.

My favourite source of manure was from stables, which included a lot of straw.  This gave it an ideal texture and crumbliness:

In the fullness of time the compost heap became an excellent source of good rich earth.  Periodically I'd dig it all out, spading the unrotted bits from the top onto a ground sheet, and barrowing the remainder onto the garden wherever it needed building up.

A lot of it went onto the ground around the tree in the top terrace, where a network of its roots were exposed in the lawn.  I hated mowing over them, which led to the early conclusion that the slight amount of lawn beneath the tree should be stripped away and the area built up with lots of nourishing earth, but that was quite a way down the track.

One of the first things I did with that top terrace was move the garden furniture.  There was a pleasant view from its first position but...

... one always felt rather as if at the top of a ski jump, which was not restful.  The wooden seat was tied to the fence, a sure sign that it was in a vulnerable position. 

A far better place for it was along at the other end of the same terrace:

Meantime, I began to put plants straight into the lawn where I would later create borders around them.  This rather bedraggled rengarenga perked up and did well.  I brought a number of clumps of rengarenga from my previous garden, and they didn't seem to mind being dug and moved.

Below you can see it in the background.  Under the lemonwood I had begun to dump earth and place stones for my birdbath. 

Things gradually took shape:

Hard against that far fence the soil was difficult to get into, being very wet at the right, and the whole area packed solid with grass roots.  Through the fence the same grass grew untended.  It wasn't what I wanted in my garden but doubtless provided a home for many little creatures...

... including spiders like this one, which I came across next to the large ladder fern in the corner.  I named her Cleopatra:

Most if not all creatures are territorial so after I discovered her there I always kept a careful eye out for her when weeding that spot.  I usually saw her.  Although I was fairly sure she was harmless I didn't want her jumping on me unexpectedly, and I'm sure she felt the same way about me. 

There's the downhill end of the same border.  That heap of heavy grass on the lawn was typical of what recurred in that bed if given half a chance!  That's another rengarenga there at the right.  They make beautiful sculptural additions to borders. 

By the time I took this next photograph I had planted ladder ferns along the paddock fenceline and defined the garden area under the lemonwood.  The place was starting to look and feel like mine. 

This is the view down from the top terrace early that first summer.  The row of greenery across the middle is my crop of potatoes. 

In the photo below you can see the side border of the top terrace, which was growing well.  I'd mulched everything, and the bush on the left showing touches of red is a fuchsia.  In years to come that shrub took over the whole corner, and as it was always covered with flowers except in the depths of winter it was much beloved by a multitude of bees, which was great for pollination. 

Back in the corner where the garden furniture had been originally I gathered up and removed the bricks, weeded the area thoroughly, and took out the metal pegs that had held in the edging wood.  Like many such projects there was an unexpected hitch: one of the metal pegs, which looked as if it should come out fairly easily, resisted every effort to remove it - for several days.  It turned out to be a fence post well over a metre long.  In the photograph below you can see the offending and by then rather bent metal post lying between the sledge hammer and the post hole digger.  What an enormous hole!

I get extremely annoyed with this sort of lazy approach to problem-solving.  Why would anyone think that sinking a metre-long post directly into the ground was the right way to secure the edging of such an insubstantial and rubbishy bit of brickwork?  If it had not been removed it would have forever been an object of nuisance and injury to people and their mowing gear.  Grrr!!!!

After that aggravating episode work on that corner of the garden was easy.  In the photograph it looks fairly bare as the shrubs were still very small.  It was just the beginning.  Later they filled that corner well.

There it is a couple of years later: 

That tussock of anemanthele lessoniana, was by then looking rather old and dry, but my little cat Louisa loved bouncing into it and hiding there.  It was her garden too, so I left it as it was.  There she is underneath it no doubt enjoying privacy and sunny warmth:

That fence gradually became less dominating...

... and the lemonwood looked much more comfortable with the earth underneath it. 

Next to the garden seat a clump of Higo irises, which love water, did very well in that wet spot:

There is the fuchsia getting big, and the rengarenga on the corner likewise.  The contrast in foliage was pleasing. 

On the other side of the lemonwood the border looked good. 

The pelargonium was one I'd moved from next to the front door when I took out the border there.  It seemed happy in its new position:

There's the top terrace from the one below.  As my life became busier the vegetable theme was gradually abandoned in favour or flowers and various things I wasn't sure what to do with.  Those are peonies at the right of the steps:

The position of the compost heap needed reconsideration as it kept growing, as did the neighbouring shrubs:

I decided to move the main heap to a different part of the terrace and to place a closed compost bin in that corner.  The bokashi bucket system is good in that it speeds the rotting process and excludes rodents but the contents still have to be put somewhere, and putting them directly into a closed compost system was a good solution.  I added layers of horse manure and garden weeds to get a good mix of texture and nutrients:

As time passed I altered and improved aspects of the garden relating to access and pathways.

Often my creative impulses are fuelled by dissatisfaction, and this was certainly the case with my creation of steps from the main lawn to the first terrace.  Early on it became obvious than the steep pathway at the right was not the best access to the upper levels of the garden and that steps through the other end of terrace next to the clothes line could easily be devised.  There was already a concrete path from the back door to the clothesline, which made a set of steps there an obvious choice.  Having made the decision to get on with it the rest was entirely straightforward: I applied my pruning saw vigorously to the terrace timberwork, and got my spade into earth of the terrace itself, and all it took after that was the judicious placing of the timber I'd cut out into the face of each step and which I secured with a small number of wooden pegs.  In this photograph my faithful little supervisor, Louisa, looks on:

Hey presto, those steps are ready for use.  I could have created one more step from the terrace timber of the bottom step but on weighing up the odds decided not to.  Access was now possible and easily navigable. 

Once lawn grass had covered the steps they looked as if they had been there as long as the terrace itself.  Part of my gardening philosophy is that work I've done should have a natural look - as if it's meant to be there.  Those steps fitted right in.    

At the top of the pathway next to the clothesline there was a wretchedly awkward piece of concrete which stuck up from the pathway in a ridge perhaps six to eight inches high.  It was a nasty hazard, and all of us fell over it at one time or another.  It had to go.  With the loan of a sledge hammer and wrecking bar it was demolished.  I derive a certain satisfaction from smashing up this sort of concrete: unlike rocks, which I often dearly love, concrete has no character of its own at all, so is no loss.  It isn't easy to dump however, so disposal is an important consideration.  Anyway, we got rid of this lot and were heartily glad of it.  It even had reinforcing rods in it!  Why on earth...???

Near the back door a concrete block was right next to the pathway and another sore point.  All the pathways around the property were, to put it frankly, rubbishy and inadequate.  There was nothing I could do about the concrete pathways, but...

... I could and did replace that concrete block with some tidy bricks that were lying around.  The bare end of that strip of lawn rapidly regrassed itself.

The frontage was partially fenced.  The other part of that fence and a gate were lying discarded under the house.  I decided the place would look much more welcoming with the addition of some clumps of Shasta daisies and pretty native tussocks of the Anemanthele variety already featured above.  There they are coming away well:

... and some more on the other side of the driveway filled in the gap of the missing piece of fence:

Once those Shasta daisies got their roots well down they got tall and clumpy.  What a nice welcome next to the driveway!

On the other side of the frontage these ones provided continuity:

The boundaries on either side of the house presented different issues.  When we first moved in the boundary adjacent to the front door was adorned by this beautiful climber, Pandorea, an Australian vine also known as Wonga wonga.  It provided not only privacy but also beauty.  However, although I loved it I do realise that its very vigour can make it a pest in the New Zealand environment and that it can do serious damage once established in the wild. 

Here it is up close:

It had been put in by the neighbour though the fence who later on decided, quite reasonably in view of its potential pest status, to remove it.  With it we lost privacy, and although other plants grew over that wire and trellis fence it sadly coincided with a downhill trend in neighbourly relations.  Tensions seemed to spring out of trifles and, having previously been a keen strong proponent of living hedges I came to see the value of the good old six foot high wooden fence.  Adding to our woes this neighbour, like others before and since, relentlessly used a weedkiller spray, probably the ubiquitous RoundUp, which resulted in over-spray onto our garden.  Drawing his attention to this only fuelled his resentment. 

On the other boundary we had another ugly fenceline along which that neighbour also regularly used weedkiller.  Here again this routinely resulted in over-spraying through the fence, an area I weeded by hand.  It was so unnecessary, only ever taking me a short time on hands and knees to lift out the few weeds; it could have been dealt with harmlessly in moments with a line trimmer

Any garden belongs not only to human occupants but also to the animals and other creatures that live there.  There were gaps underneath that fence which were regularly used as pathways by my little cat, Louisa, and as I was never told when spraying was carried out I could not protect her from it.  Even the manufacturer, confident of its general safety, provides a warning to allow a couple of hours drying time before exposure.  While we lived there Louisa developed thyroid cancer, and later inflammation throughout her intestine which led to her untimely death.  While there may have been no direct link I have been left wondering.  And when does a poison cease to be a poison?  If people are going to use these sorts of sprays they should take responsibility for informing those likely to be affected before they are applied.  My efforts to achieve this have always been fruitless. 

On that same fenceline this self-sown coprosma was completely impractical in its choice of home as it was right next to the narrow path which led to the back door, but I loved its glossiness and simply trimmed it back when it got too much in the way.  It provided some relief from that ugly fence:

All kinds of things spring up where ever they have the chance.  Here a marigold of the calendula variety made itself at home inside the fenceline:

This hebe is just next to it.  Before planting I talked to the neighbour and we agreed that it could easily be trimmed by either of us at any time and suffer no detriment, so it was a safe choice of position.  The rather mist-like grass immediately adjacent to it is another anemanthele. The misty look is from its seed heads.

As the garden became more established my use of it changed.  It had to.  After my mother Ellen moved into a rest home my life changed considerably and the time and energy I had for the garden diminished almost to vanishing point, and at best revolved around the most basic maintenance.

At such a time a garden doesn't lose its value just because it becomes untidy.  Indeed, if it is well-established and loved its value can increase - as a place of rest and respite, a place to smell the earth, to listen to the plants growing, and to let our cares melt away for a while.  We are commonly encouraged to enjoy natural wildernesses, but these aren't greatly appreciated in private gardens.  They can be, but that is a whole other story.  In this instance I kept a mild check on growth and was grateful that someone else was mowing the lawns! 

At back of the top terrace grass on the slight embankment grew rapidly:

I found the softness of the long grass waving in the breeze restful, and trimmed it back with regret and only after hesitation:

Letting go of minding about the weeds and overgrowth and resting back in its semi-wildness was soothing.  For the most part I continued to enjoy and appreciate it as a place to be at rest. 

It did raise some discomfort though, which I dismissed as best I could.  Over the years I've often pondered on who exactly we do the gardening for: is it for our own satisfaction or are there others lurking unacknowledged in the backs of our minds?  

In my own mind there are a number of critical on-lookers: two of them are my grandfathers, both long gone and I'm sure never wishing to be at all judgemental.  It was just that they had had such neat and tidy gardens, with every plant and blade of grass as neat as a pin, which was how gardening was done in their day, and not my style at all.  Also, and quite prominently, there are the various landlords, who have basically preferred not to exert themselves in my gardens in the slightest but who have required that their properties be kept presentable and in line with their own unimaginative standards.  

But however much the ghosts of these people seem to nag at my conscience I find I am my own harshest critic, feeling somewhat ashamed if I let things go, as if I am letting myself down, and concerned that it looks as if my interest in gardening is some kind of sham.  Nothing could be further from the truth: my relationship with the land where I live is central to my life.  When I'm relating well to that land it provides a sense of deep-rooted belonging which nothing else can provide.  So even when I let the garden run wild it's still vital to me. 

In order to better feel the quiet energy of the land and the peacefulness of the garden I had to let go of this undermining self-criticism and my concern about what others might think.

My father is absent from this panel of judges, his love of large mature trees, dramatic rocks, and a tumble of both native and exotic plants being close to my own.  My mother seemed to accept it all as it came, and it wasn't until she was very elderly and frail that I even realised how important the natural world was to her. 

Increasingly, my garden was for my mother who, once living in a rest home, lost much of what had been her everyday contact with nature.  I discovered rather to my surprise that she hungered for the beauty of flowers.  Bringing her out presented great difficulties, so I took the garden to her.  It is a pleasure to be able to say that almost every time I visited her, which was three or four times a week, I managed to get a bucket of flowers and leafy greenery of some sort from what had become a very untidy garden.  I'd never even grown flowers particularly, just a mix of things I happened to like, many of them shrubs, grasses and various scuptural plants.  Each time I visited I laboriously refreshed the vases on her chest of drawers with sprigs, twigs and sprays of anything that was mildly presentable.  They were a source of deep pleasure to her.  Each time she looked into a new bucketful her face would light up and she would say joyfully "Aren't they beautiful".  I often worked on her flowers while she was down in the dining room having her meal, and when she returned to her room her face would light up again when she saw them.  That made us both very happy.  It was a lot of work but such a simple thing to do.

Later, after she died, I picked more flowers to fill vases which were placed on her coffin.  But that time was not yet.

Back in the garden: as it matured some areas worked well, such as this end of the middle terrace.  There are those nice steps again:

The rest of that terrace never really settled down.  It became a place to put things which I wanted to keep but didn't have the time or energy to do anything in particular with them:

In the central bed where I had successfully grown the carrots and parsnips I planted a row of daffodils, which you can see lying in bags ready to be put in.  Each bag contained a different sort so they were all carefully labelled, and once planted clumps were marked with stakes so I knew exactly where they were:

They had come from over the fence.  I had finally plucked up courage to locate the owner of the long abandoned market garden which lay beyond our top boundary, and asked for permission to select some daffodil bulbs for my own garden.  I offered to pay for them, and we agreed that a suitable donation to the SPCA in her name would represent a good exchange.  In addition I gave her some of my irises.  I was richly rewarded: we spent a happy afternoon together busily digging away.  It was heavy work as the whole area was deep in long grass, but we enjoyed ourselves and each took home a great load of daffy treasure.  Here are some I picked for indoors:

The top terrace did settle down and needed little maintenance.  It became a place of quiet refuge:

In that near corner there was a clump of catnip, which made it a favourate place for the cats, especially little Louisa, whose garden it was:

There is the fuchsia bush, covered with flowers as usual, and providing privacy and sense of comfort:

The lovely Higo irises, happy with their wet feet, grew into large clumps.  That terrace was a gentle and restoring place just to quietly be. 

Even in winter the small garden at the other end of the terrace looked comfortable.  The shrub in the middle of that bed is a small-leaved coprosma: 

Here it is close up.  I think it's coprosma repens 'Black cloud'.  Like so many of my plants I had found a seedling somewhere and saved it.  If you look carefully you can see its tiny dark blue berries.  I love the glossy leaves of coprosmas. 

Everything in the garden was going well enough in its way, but it was a long drive to and from Ellen's rest home and we had thought about the possibility of moving.  It seemed far too hard an undertaking though, at a time when I was already over-committed and uncomfortably stretched. 

In the depths of that last winter the level of difficulty abruptly increased exponentially: out of the blue we were informed that the house was to be sold, and "as soon as possible".  Not only did we have to move, but we had to find another place to live in, one which we could afford and where I could put in a large selection of my treasured plants.  'Daunting' is hardly the word for it.  We asked for more time, but no, the owner and real estate agent planned to hold 'open home' sessions while we were still there, and "as soon as possible", quite disregarding that it was still our home and that packing to move would inevitably plunge the entire house into complete chaos.  We checked our rights as tenants and dug our heels in: we had the right to refuse open homes as well as the taking of photographs that included our belongings; most particularly we did not plan to continue our tenancy in the faint hope that new owners might happen to want to have tenants in the place.  Probably they wouldn't.  We felt we had no option but to move, and "as soon as possible".  The real estate agent, annoyed at being baulked by our lawful and perfectly reasonable refusals, said that our landlords had been thinking about selling for quite some time.  We did not miss the daggers glance directed at him by our landlady, who had never breathed a word of it.  Suffice to say that this stand-off resulted in the owners deciding to defer putting the house up for sale until after we had moved out and duly gave us statutory notice to vacate.  Even so it was one hell of a bind.  If only we had had more warning, more time to prepare.

This abrupt decision to sell had a major impact on what I then had to do in the garden. 

I had to consider what plants were most valuable to me and must be taken.  I went through an agonisingly arduous process of removing, potting and lugging this surprisingly extensive collection to safety!  I did not strip the garden by any means, leaving plenty there for newcomers.  However, there was still masses to do.  The pressure of doing this at speed in the middle of winter when subject to multiple other demands nearly broke me. 

Here is the centre of the top garden after I'd taken out the plants I felt I couldn't leave behind.  As you can see there are still plenty there.  What a different place it was then from when we moved in.

Leaving all the creatures of the garden was part of my farewell.  I took this photograph after I'd taken apart the little cairn I'd made for my birdbath.  When I got to this point I stopped: I knew there was a large resident spider there, and didn't like to disturb her. 

I could see at a glance that she was well established there having made the rockery her home.  Here you can see part of her nest.  I would have replaced some of the stones to cover it but didn't want to squash anything vital! 

I'd seen her only once as she had sank down to hide behind a rock, and named her Willamina.  She was a tunnelweb spider, large and black and hairy and may have had a red back which I didn't see.  There were quite a few around the property, which I'd come across as I worked around the garden. They commonly live underground in cavities or in rotting undergrowth.  The most alarming thing about these spiders is their appearance, and although they can give a nasty bite these are no more likely to be troublesome than a bee sting. 

I'm not great about spiders but respect them for their important place in any environment.  Willamina and Cleopatra had been part of that garden and as such had been part of my world.  I had been fond of them in a particular way, and hoped no one would bother them.  New people would not know them as I had done.  They would probably never know they even existed.  So much of the world is hidden. 

Besides these spiders I was aware of a multitude of tiny creatures, each with their own busy lives, some of which I liked and others which were troublesome.  This delicately formed stick insect was a delight:

When working in the garden I'd been as careful of them as I could.  It was their home too, in fact rightfully speaking, more so.  They would probably live and die there, whereas even though I was there for five years I was really just passing through.  My custodianship was transitory. 

I had loved the birds: the big native wood pigeons, the kereru, which loved to eat the fruit of the cabbage trees...

... and the other birds, such as these little waxeyes, known here as tauhou, which came for the food I put out for them:

Back up the garden, those rengarengas had done wonderfully well.  I had plenty of seedlings and left the big ones where they were:

I adore hebes but took only one:

Likewise the pseudopanaxs - I took only one:

I was fortunate to have a small shrub of the fuchsia so beloved by the bees, which had come from the same parent plant:

And all those many irises: I was handicapped with these as it was winter and I no longer knew which was which.  In among the many purple ones there were some other colours which are rare, so the long and short of it was that I had to take the lot!  As they all belonged to me I had every right to do so, but getting them out was a long and arduous job!  Yes, these and more.  This photo was taken at the height of the season a year or so earlier:

Up came all the daffodil bulbs from their neatly marked row.  I wasn't going to leave those behind. Even if I had known where I could get others these ones were special to me, and getting them in the first place had been too much work!  

These and many more plants were carefully dug up and prepared for transport at the same time as I was frantically packing as well as keeping track of Mum's care.  It was nearly impossible, but I finally made it, shattered but alive.

As with the house, I left that garden clean and tidy.

We were very fortunate in finding a place which seemed suitable, much closer to Mum's, and where it seemed that I'd have plenty of scope in the garden.  

Needless to say, I needed a lot of help to move all my treasures from that place to our new home.  I was full of hope and ideas about my new garden.  Even before we moved in I had formulated a substantial plan.  I had good reason to look forward to this: the property, although once again largely in lawn, was big enough, and when our application for tenancy had been accepted we were told that success had been based on us being gardeners (which meant me).  I had talked about it with one of the owners and she had seemed as keen as I was for us to make it our own: "Treat the place like your own home", she said breezily. 

Unfortunately, in my exhausted state I placed too liberal an interpretation on this: once we had moved in and I was in a position to start the work of planting I sensibly double-checked that it was okay to substantially alter and plant into areas that were at present plain old lawn.  The answer was a flat No.  No discussion or apologies for any misunderstanding were forth-coming.  It seemed that their idea of gardening was very different from mine and revolved mainly around keeping the lawns mown and the whole relatively tidy.

I went numb with shock.  Since the existing borders were minuscule there was simply no room for my collection.  The only possible place I could have bedded them in was the site of a former vegetable garden which was infested with the weed twitch.  This made it completely unsuitable for anything of the kind.  As soon as the edge wore off the numbness I resolved to accept the situation as it was and henceforth not to put in a single teaspoons worth more work on the property than our tenancy agreement absolutely required; at the first available opportunity I gave the greater portion of my collection away.  Some I have been able to bed in here, the rest remain in pots awaiting a more permanent home.  I'll be more careful next time. 

Landlords, listen up: you may need to have full discussion with prospective tenants about this, and to set down what you all actually mean in a written agreement.  I am aware that many prospective tenants say they 'like gardening' and then don't do much if any, but there are doubtless many like myself for whom gardening is a way of life, and central to their sense of home.  

I'll say this loud and clear: I had been willing to completely make over this place, even re-contouring part of it, *For Nothing*.  It was a great opportunity for all of us which was lost, and the attitude I encountered made it clear that I would not be staying here longer than necessary - another loss, not to mention expense, all round.  In many ways this place is just fine, but the absence of a garden of my own making emphasises transience.  It's a place to stay rather than belong.

Moving is extremely costly as well as stressful and exhausting.  I would so much rather settle down in one place and get my roots properly down for the long term, but one doesn't always have the choice. 

Gardening is always going to involve compromises of many sorts and for many different reasons.  Any creation arises from whole sets of constraints and limitations, some of them entirely unexpected.  As a gardener I am always adapting and so is any garden, so inevitably gardens are always in a state of change.

Letting the whole thing go and watching plants as well as ideas die back, sometimes unexpectedly, can be difficult but is part of life.  In the hillside garden this winter-flowering cineraria seemed undeterred by frosts.  I took some seeds which I've saved for later.  In my next garden I'll cast them down on freshly dug earth and no doubt they will sprout again in this new and as yet unimagined place.  In the meantime, the waiting.   

That hillside garden was a great challenge.  Although the circumstance of our removal was unfortunate I'm glad I'd been there and done what I did with it.  It was a good experience.  I learnt a lot, and for that time that garden belonged to me, and like all my other gardens still does; it's there in my history and in the pasts of those places.  I hope they are the better for it; I know I am.

I've thought out what I would have done differently there, if I'd had more scope, had more extended time, and perhaps been an owner rather than a tenant.  The ideas I hatched are good and sound and would have made it a much greater and more enduring success.  I share those ideas in a companion article.  If you've enjoyed this article that might be of interest.  

You can read about it via this link:

Earlier articles which feature this garden:

The story of the garden I had before this one in the semi-detached state house is here:

My other articles about gardening are listed on this page: