I have been informed this afternoon that as of April 19 there will no longer be a local garden feature in the Bay of Plenty Times.

As you might imagine I have been left shocked and upset by this decision, based entirely on “budget”, the editor told me. The garden content that is shared by all APN regional newspapers in New Zealand (and written from Kerikeri) will continue to be used, and the third section in the Saturday broadsheet will become a tabloid insert with a focus on “activities”. But not local garden events or activities! Apparently, garden events in the Tauranga area will have to take their chances finding space on the news pages.

At no stage in the process to develop this new section did anyone in the “project team” ask for my opinion or input, or even let me know it was happening (a third party kindly gave me the heads up).

I have had a little cry, because this is a job I have loved dearly – I’ve met interesting and kind people and seen some wonderful gardens over the past 6 years – and I have learned so much along the way.

I’m hoping that “another door” that people talk about will open soon but in the meantime I shall keep posting here and am today, more than ever, thankful that I started this project.

– Sandra

Swan plant sagas

Seen at work in my garden this week …

Ladybirds attack a patch of oleander aphids. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Here’s what you need to know about these yellow aphids and yes, that is a swan plant they’re on. I had been using digital control until I saw a ladybird or two about and reckoned I needed to back off to let my spotty helpers take charge.

This article has some ideas about how to control aphids on milkweeds (which a swan plant is) and not upset eggs or caterpillars.

Unfortunately, ladybirds will also eat butterfly eggs and young caterpillars … aargh. The poor butterflies can’t win, although in better news last evening I saw two FAT caterpillars munching away on the swan plant so some eggs are surviving.

Here’s a great few photos of a monarch’s life cycle by George Novak, a Bay of Plenty Times/freelance photographer who loves photographing the natural world. George was responsible for some of the brilliant native orchid photos in NZ Geographic (November-December 2013).

I’ve also found yellow aphids on the growing tips of two hoya plants, but they are easily controlled by squashing.


I’ve been dipping in and out of My Simple Life in New Zealand by Adela Stewart, originally published in 1908 and about her pioneering life at Athenree Homestead, north of Katikati, in the hope of stumbling across a reference to the planting of a fig tree.

No luck so far, but did find this in an entry for 1896:

Having plenty of loquats I made a pie of them – not nice.

Here are some ideas of what to do with loquats that are, presumably, nice; and here’s some growing information from incredible edibles.

The garden I grew up in had a loquat tree and then loquat trees – they seem to grow readily from seed. We sometimes ate them fresh but mostly they were left for the birds and possums.

Photo fun

Spent half the day doing a photography workshop with Kim Westerskov, a Tauranga photographer renowned for his work in Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic islands, particularly his seascapes and wildlife. Here’s a YouTube link to Kim talking about his work (1 hour and 7 minutes) at Auckland Museum in 2013.

The workshop was a good refresher and I’ve already discovered how to do something new with my basic editing software, pushed there by Kim’s demonstration of photo editing. Nothing flash, but something that may help me get subtle improvements now and again.

Kim Westerskov at work in the tropical display house.

As part of the workshop we went for a short walk in Robbins Park to hear Kim talk through his approach to taking a shot (including taking a plant mister along to add “raindrops” to flowers or having a hanky to clean a dirty bit of glass), what he looks for and how he might try radically different angles searching for that photo that makes people go “ooh”.

Also interesting to hear him talk about the “artistic eye” which some people have naturally, while others (such as this mere mortal) have to work at it.

A bee visits a bloom of Absolutely Fabulous.

Big thanks to Nyree Sherlock and Waikato University for making the workshop free!

Photos copyright Sandra Simpson; may not be reused without permission.

Sustainable backyard

March is Sustainable Backyards Month in the Western Bay of Plenty – see the Events listing for local happenings.

David Harricks first read about permaculture – a production system that can be applied to plots large and small – in 1978 “and I’ve been trying bits and pieces of it ever since”.

He’s had his Greerton garden for 10 years so has some permaculture systems in place, although they may not be apparent to the casual observer.

For instance, instead of carting clippings to a central compost heap, he prefers to make smaller piles around the garden and recommends the trenching method of composting for people who don’t have room for, or don’t want, a compost bin.

“Dig a trench in the garden, put in your vege scraps or lawn clippings, and cover it. The next time, dig the trench a vege row’s width from the first one. Plant in between the trenches so the crop’s roots can access the compost.”

David Harricks with one of his manure producers, a guinea pig. Photo: Sandra Simpson

David enjoys building up his soil by recycling what otherwise might go to waste – bags of hair from his barber, coffee grounds from a café and lawn clippings from a mowing contractor.

“Why put it in the bin and pay for fertiliser? These things are all useful soil conditioners as well as fertilisers. I try to do things in a sustainable way and that means being a pragmatist too.”

He grows oats for his wife’s pet guinea pigs and in return they provide fertiliser. David also has chooks for eggs and manure and a friend who supplies donkey manure for the garden.

As well as the summer staples of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, zucchini, lettuce and cucumbers, David last year tried a crop of Austrian oil-seed pumpkins (Cucurbita pepo) which has hulless seeds that are edible both fresh and roasted. In Austria, the seeds are mainly used to make a popular cooking and dressing oil, the flesh being fed to farm animals.

Austrian oil-seed pumpkins. Photo: Sandra Simpson

(Side note 1: The only advice my Austrian friend who brought me a bottle had was “don’t splash it on your clothes or table cloth, it will never come out”.

Side note 2: Gerard Martin, now owner of Kings Seeds, grew a crop for MAF in Levin many years ago but no one could find a use for the gourds.)

David has recently “fallen in love” with globe artichokes, has had Aspiring raspberries cropping from before Christmas (the secret’s in the pruning, he says), has heirloom Otago spotted runner beans growing in a neighbour’s garden and, after tasting kale last year in Australia for the first time, now grows that too.

“Just sprinkle the leaves with olive oil and salt and roast it in the oven and you’ve got kale chippies. Beautiful.”

David doesn’t believe in watering, reckoning that the cost of town-supply water is more than the vegetables are worth so makes no economic sense. He may lose a couple of plants in the height of summer but most of his vege garden survives without problem.

An Isle of Capri tomato – hardly any seeds and acid free. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Find more information on Isle of Capri tomatoes here. Seeds are available in New Zealand from ecoseeds, click on the down arrow at the end of the first product line.

Brought up on a farm in Australia and having had many different jobs – including owning a chook farm and working as a prison officer – David approaches his gardening in an intensely practical manner.

“I’m a hoarder and recycler from way back,” he says. “I came at gardening from a waste reduction angle. Sure, you can have a garden with nice straight rows but people become fixated about it.

“My dog died a couple of years ago so I buried it in the garden and planted a passionfruit over it and I’ve had heaps of fruit – nothing goes to waste.”

This article was originally published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission. It has been updated slightly.

The SwapFest, Lusi and me

A couple of months of planning, lots of phonecalls and emails, a meeting or two and tomorrow’s SwapFest in Sydenham Botanic Park is all set … and along comes tropical cyclone Lusi.

I spent a great deal of last night awake – the Vege Grower and I got up at about 2.30am and moved my small orchids under cover, a task I’d forgotten to do in daylight – and heard the wind building, then a patter or two of rain, and finally got to sleep.

This morning it doesn’t seem nearly as bad as has been forecast. The winds aren’t as strong and we haven’t had torrential downpours. Instead the wind is gusty and reasonably strong but we’ve experienced much worse in this house and the rain is intermittent and light – so far.

The NZ Herald website expects the wind and rain to peak later this afternoon but the rain radar isn’t showing heavy falls, only the light end of moderate, which is actually useful in terms of the dry ground we’ve had, and it seems to be moving away from us to the west. Perhaps we’re far enough south to only cop the extreme edge of it; certainly Waikato’s forecast is worse than ours.

Track Lusi’s progress on this rather neat website which has a real-time animated map of the globe’s winds (move the screen image to your part of the world with your mouse so the green circle is over where you want to view, double clicking the circle zooms in, I haven’t discovered how to zoom out). Apparently the cyclone (now an ex-cyclone, but still) met wind-shear in the Pacific and it pushed Lusi, coming to us from Vanuatu, further west.

We’ll make a decision late morning tomorrow as to whether to carry on with the SwapFest – showers won’t deter us but high winds and heavy rain will. Notice of cancellation will be posted to the website and the park’s Facebook page.

I have packets of seeds and boxes of cuttings to sell to raise funds for the park so I’d like to see my hard work made useful. Come along and say hello – we’re open for trading from 1-4pm and Geoff Brunsden will have a backyard bumblebee hive on display, as well as talking at 2pm about attracting pollinators to your garden.

The afternoon is a chance to raise awareness of the Botanic Park project, as well as offering gardeners a chance to get some free or reasonably priced seeds and plants –  and to talk to one another in that all-important exchange of knowledge.

The idea for the SwapFest, which is a bit of a misleading name because traders can do what they like, whether it be give away, exchange or sell or a mix of any or all, came from something I stumbled across online where a woman in suburban California put a stand (something like a meat safe, I’m guessing) on her verge with books in it, inviting people to take one and, if they wanted, put one back. After a bit she started putting seeds in there too.

There are some good ideas here on starting a community seed library and plenty of ideas on the net for starting a seed exchange, whether online or at a meeting place. Here’s a story about a up Seed Swapping Station project that began in Hawaii and a personal view of getting ready to give it a go.

Apparently there is a seed library running out of the Kumeu Library in the greater Auckland area; the Southern Seed Exchange based in Christchurch is well established; and the Symbiosis Seed Exchange covers Otago and Southland.

Sharing seeds is a great way to ensure that heritage varieties survive. Go on, give it a go!

Newsy bits

First up, some local news.

For people who stop at the shop, Lennard’s Orchard and Nursery, on the corner of Poplar Lane and SH2 between Te Puke and Papamoa, it is the end of an era with the retirement of Marilyn Fraser (nee Lennard) , who started the shop at one end of the Lennard family farm 32 years ago.

She was later joined by her sister Liz Carter and after the shop burned down in 1997, they rebuilt and have run it together until the end of last year when it was sold to Lynn Torr, who had been a customer for many years.

The two other Lennard sisters – Caroll Anderton and Ailsa James – have also retired. Caroll ran the camellia nursery on the farm and propagated plants there with the help of Ailsa.

Their father, Trevor Lennard, was a camellia breeder of note and his daughters all have plants named for them.

Now some national news …

Kay Baxter of Koanga Institute is going on a national speaking tour in May and June, find the details here. The tour is a fundraiser to buy the land on which the institute grows heritage varieties.

A berm garden in Auckland (verge garden anyway else, I think) has been entered in a landscape design award. Passersby are being asked not to take the crops until after judging. Read all about that here.

Meanwhile, Allan Scott in Christchurch is making his liquefaction silt bloom. The story was printed just before the floods that hit the city this week so there’s no way of knowing if the 78-year-old has to start his garden yet again.

And finally, we’re going global.

Some stunning images from the International Garden Photographer of the Year competition. To see the full selection of images in all categories go here.

An interesting article by the always-entertaining Tim Richardson who has asked European designers what they think of British garden design (if you’re planning a visit to Blighty it also throws up some garden recommednations).

People’s Choice Award for Passion

Unsurprisingly, Sally Brown’s pink garden – Passion – wowed visitors to the 2014 Ellerslie International Flower Show and she walked away with the People’s Choice Award.

In the end she reckoned there were 107 plant varieties used and about 3000 plants “but I lost count”. Sally works for her family business, just north of Dunedin, Blueskin Nurseries.

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Apart from spring-flowering bulbs that had been forced for the garden by Fiesta Bulbs, the rest of the plants came from Blueskin Nurseries. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Sally Brown takes a (brief) break in her garden of Passion. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Photo: Sandra Simpson