Elderflower Foraging

For years I’ve looked at the elderflowers coming into bloom over the fence and thought, “I could do something with those…” – but I haven’t…until this year. I’m retired, no excuses!

There was an elderflower cordial recipe in the newspaper one morning. It looked as easy as the lemonade I’ve been making, so out came the ladder.

Twelve flower heads were required, which was easy enough. The recipe had a choice of honey or raw sugar to sweeten, and I opted for the honey. The result was quite watery rather than syrupy and a little disappointing. It needed lemonade to add body to it. I bottled it and made labels. Family enjoyed it.

There were still many elderflower heads temptingly left on the trees. I searched the internet for other recipes and settled on a Jamie Oliver one, having had success with his mulled wine. I needed a longer ladder this time.

This recipe required me to steep the sugar and honey mix, lemon and elderflower for 24 hours. It filled the house with its summery aroma and I was filled with the good feeling of having used a foraged main ingredient and lemons from my garden.

The result was much more acceptable than the first batch. I gave three bottles of straight cordial to my card-playing friends and made an elderflower gin cocktail mix to take to my book group.

This is the quintessential summer drink, and it was appropriate that the book we discussed was Ali Smith’s Summer.

Be kind to insects

Our relationship with nature is completely dysfunctionalShaun Tan

I read somewhere that insect ecosystems are threatened with global collapse, and I’ve had more respect for the insects around the house and in the garden since then. I’ve also become aware that the house doesn’t fill with insects anymore if I leave a window open and the light on. Where have they all gone? There are fewer daddy long legs insects in the corners of the ceiling and I don’t vacuum them away any more.

I don’t spray the garden at all and wince when I see insecticide advertised by garden centres. I figure that things balance themselves out and who am I to interfere with what nature can manage for itself? Planting alyssum and marigolds can attract away the insects which cause sooty mould if a dousing with soapy water doesn’t do the trick. Wax-eyes and other little birds make a meal of aphids on the roses and columbine. Ladybirds used to do this job, but who has seen a ladybird lately? Where have they gone? Flown away home?

I’ve seen more bumblebees than honey bees this year – except when the rosemary and cabbage tree were flowering. They aren’t the only pollinators, though. Even flies do that.

Speaking of flies, when I lived in the country with sheep paddocks all around there were always flies in warmer weather. The solution seemed to be to leave doors and windows open so that if they flew in they could fly out again. Windmilling your arms occasionally helped too. Better than unpleasant fly spray.

Water butts attract interesting insects. I sometimes put a little bleach in to discourage them, but they aren’t of such numbers that an outbreak of malaria is imminent.

Spiders’ webs make garden sculptures on dewy mornings. They make their webs on garden sculptures too.

The hens fossick for insects all day long and peck at things I can barely see. There’s clearly a lot going on that we’re unaware of. Sometimes on summer evenings you can come inside from the garden feeling itchy around the ankles from the bites of invisible insects. One night a couple of weeks ago I went out to check the hen run, and spotted an albino slug suspended from a long thread of some kind of web – or slug slime, perhaps. It looks enormous in the photo, but was 5cm long.

If the chooks hear me moving a garden pot or bricks, or lifting the lid of the compost, they rush to see what comes to light. The wood pile, garden shed and pea straw attract their attention. I can barely discern what they are eating. They don’t seem keen on slugs, however, turning their beaks away when one is offered, but I have seen them pecking at snail shells. Maggots from around the chicken-poo bucket are an acceptable snack.

We are told to watch out for wasps and stink bugs. I guess I wouldn’t leave those to sort things out for themselves if they became a nuisance in the garden. White tail spiders are not a favourite, being known for eating our native spiders and for their nasty bite. But the little hopping spiders which occasionally live on my windowsills and on my desk are very cute. Here’s one that hopped out of my printer.

I decided as a child that I would not be afraid of spiders and that I would resist the scream-and-kill response which is the default, it seems, for many human-insect encounters. Insects need our respect now more than ever.


It’s heart-breaking to think our future on earth is threatened by our foolishness when nature continues to be amazing and new life is emerging in the garden. Blackcurrants, strawberries, globe artichokes, blueberries, tomatoes, beans, apples and grapes are beginning to develop, fresh and green.

Each morning is full of promise when a garden is full of flowers.

With plenty to spare for a vase inside.

And in the nearby park, huge trees spread a canopy of new green against a blue sky.


I’ll look to like, if looking liking move…

I am learning to look. I’m trying to take my time, look and engage with my immediate world more than I have been used to doing when working. Walking gives me time to observe and enjoy, and when I’m on my bike I have to watch where I’m going!

Gap Filler has put frames around the city to encourage us to look. On my way for an eye test, appropriately, I came across this frame in New Regent Street. I took a photo looking down the street to an approaching tram, and another looking out of the street across Gloucester Street to Cathedral Junction.

The first photo shows us the street pretty much as we’ve always known it, even though it has been restored and renovated. It looks deserted – but it is mid-morning, mid-week and a rather dull day. The second photo shows – well, you can see for yourself. I’ve peered at the intriguing stickers on the frame, but am none the wiser about their origin or meaning. I enjoy the enigma.

The questions below the frame ask the viewer to look closely at what has changed and to imagine what it could look like in the future. Will the car park in the second photo be developed into something…another building? A park or art space? The questions inspire the inner eye; the imagination, the vision.

Inside a temporary pedestrian walkway beside a construction site, these posters demand attention.

I’d read a newspaper article that morning about some members of Extinction Rebellion who were proud of their convictions for trespassing on an oil rig. This global organisation is an interesting one to watch, or even join. Their poster art is powerful.

On the way home my eye was caught by these brilliant orange tulips foregrounding established trees in their fresh spring green. I like to consider the messages about how we see our collective selves in this varied mix: the design on the lawn edging on the left, the Mana Motuhake waka in the centre, the two fountains and the red telephone box.

Victoria Square

I had been worried that my vision was blurry, but the eye test revealed there is little change in either distance or close vision and that my left eye has even improved, so new lenses are not required. I’ll clean my glasses more often and enjoy the view.

PS Feast your eyes on these!

Too much!

A while ago, during the quiet and meditative time of the high covid alert levels, I found myself in the FreshChoice supermarket at Merivale, a ‘desirable’, ‘chic‘ suburb. I was amazed at the variety and the seductiveness of the lovely things on the shelves and decided I would return to get a ‘fix’ when I felt I needed it. Not to buy – why would I want all that stuff? Just to stand amongst it and marvel. Like a therapy session of cow-cuddling or goat yoga or sound-bathing.

The supermarket around the corner from my house has recently rebranded as FreshChoice – the same company as the old SuperValue, but a more upmarket look. The FreshChoice at Merivale, however, is at least 10 times bigger.

When I returned, my feeling for the place changed from comfort to discomfort. This time, because I was taking photographs, I looked more closely. The deception became clear. And I had a flash of insight into our ability to allow ourselves to be deceived and in denial (explaining, to some extent, why we’re in trouble in terms of our survival on the planet). Working hard to satisfy the expectations of the neighbourhood, the designers have created a high-spec farmers’ market vibe, reminiscent of indoor markets overseas (and now here too). The word ‘market’ is used and ‘grocer’ and ‘butcher’ in the signage above the various sections. The place has the feel of a theme park. Attempting to appease the shopper’s conscience about plastic, vegetables and fruit are artfully displayed in wicker baskets, yet nearby there are plastic punnets of tomatoes and strawberries. Mirrors are used to make the produce seem more abundant. And the quantity and variety is overwhelming. Do people stuff their walk-in pantries, only to throw things out when they pass the use-by date?

Confession: I did buy a couple of things, justified as gifts for a niece’s birthday.

Outside in the mall, there was a school holiday activity: cup cake decorating. I’m struggling to think of a more wasteful, tasteless item of food than a cup cake. Emphasis on appearance not substance. And so I feel I must check how I’m dressed before I venture to this part of town, even though it’s barely 15 minutes walk away. I don’t have to worry about appearances when I do my regular shop at Pak’nSave (economical on spelling and on cost). The Merivale supermarket is all about appearance. I was astounded to discover there is such a thing as collagen coffee and I felt an unexpected pang for people driven to such desperate measures.

Yet I think of the free food fridge and the pantry in the suburbs I drive through on my way to the beach.

I looked more closely at my local FreshChoice. I’ve been in hundreds of times, but just to look for the odd thing I need, not to admire the decor. Does it have a similar design to the Merivale one? It does: wicker baskets, black and white tiles and an exposed-brick wall. I couldn’t remember there being a brick wall before the supermarket was upgraded and asked the check-out operator about it. “It’s not real,” she said and pointed to a corner where a large flap of the wallpaper was peeling away.