Harvest season

We’re enjoying the last of the season’s vegetables from my garden.

The autumn raspberries are beginning now, however, and are best eaten straight from the canes. Bees are still all over the raspberry flowers, so there is plenty more fruit to come.

The roses are still producing their second flush of flowers – less enthusiastically than the first, but charming nevertheless. The shasta daisies are all but finished, but the Japanese anemones are at their best.

The days are often warm and calm. The evening sun stretches in through the front door.

I’ve replenished some hanging baskets to add some colour and interest – and to use up scraps of coir lining.

I splashed out on a water feature – the least kitschy one I could find!

Also on my shopping list were new gumboots and a garden hose. I spotted this sign on a door at The Portstone garden centre:

The Grow Festival is on this weekend in the Botanic Gardens. The school gardens are delightful. Each garden had helpful students ready to answer your questions and explain how each part of the garden showed what they had learnt.

Adults had been creative too, with garden designs and accessories.

There were workshops on subjects such as tree pruning, and Ruud Kleinpaste (“the bug man”) gave an impassioned talk about how each part of our environment interacts and how we can help. This reminded me of aspects of the BBC programme featuring Judy Dench and her love of trees.

The nearby cafe was offering seasonal food – barbecued corn with spicy toppings and fresh watermelon.

This is a truly delectable time of year.


The sky was red at sunrise, and I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn…chicken in her preening (apologies to G.M. Hopkins).

More sheer plod than the hurl and gliding of a falcon in the sky, but there is a touch of gold-vermilion here.

Surely, we can sing the praises of chickens too.

My heart in hiding/Stirred for a bird

A refreshing break

It’s hard to believe that I managed to travel overseas for eight weeks with a tiny suitcase. The boot of the car and the back seat were full of all the stuff we “needed” to pack for a week!

Family conspired to give us a break at our favourite holiday spot: Lake Wanaka. It’s a long 5-hour drive, plus an hour for lunch in Geraldine, but it’s an interesting journey through farmland with snow-capped mountains to the west, past beautiful turquoise lakes and over a mountain pass. The long drive also puts distance between home and destination to make the arrival a worthwhile achievement.

We did the usual things: a walk along the lakefront to the spring and marina, pizza at The Cow, the Sunday market, a healthy juice at Soul Food, and lunch at Florence’s.

There were new experiences too. We stayed at a different place which was spacious, with a giant redwood, a stream with trout, and lovely people – some of whom we knew.

There were new discoveries as well, such as a precinct of shops and cafes, including Revology Concept Store (experience it yourself by clicking on the hyperlink) which is all about recycling and up-cycling and repurposing.

On our last day I couldn’t believe my luck when I found a new independent bookshop in front of the Paradiso cinema. It seemed to be a discovery made possible by going about on foot.

We also tried a new cafe/wine bar, Alchemy, choosing carefully so we could see the Thursday yacht race from our table. As it happened, there was no yacht race due to the wind (cowards!), but there were two intrepid wind surfers out and the wonderful lake and mountains to look at. The food was delicious. I had a summer salad with salmon, crisp slices of fresh fennel and fried capers. Frying the capers makes them open up to reveal the flowers inside. As we were leaving we encountered a cheerful group of knitters at the back of the wine bar. They allowed me to take a photo.

The highlight of the holiday was achieving the biking challenges I had set myself. There is a cycling and walking track around the lake front from Glendhu Bay to the Clutha River Mouth. I cycled to the start of the Glendhu Bay track one morning, and to Beacon Point another morning. The fresh air, the concentration needed to keep the bike on the track, and the views were exhilarating.

I felt fully refreshed; glowing with health and positivity!

Backyard Bounty

The greenhouse is proving its worth. My long tee shirts are useful for collecting tomatoes.

Pockets are okay too for a few tomatoes, but you have to be careful not to forget the collected ones – or accidentally squash them.

In the last few days the number of ripe tomatoes has increased.

Every vase has been called up to accommodate the sweet peas.

Yesterday’s ferocious nor’west wind threatened the second flush of roses, so I rescued this Blueberry Hill. These roses are all on one stem. The abutilon flowers were blown off by the wind.

Popcorn is broody again. She is all fluffed up, giving the impression of an abundance of feathers.

If there was sound with these photos, you would hear her muttering darkly about how cruel I am to shut her out of the nesting box. And she doesn’t let up.

In the wider backyard of our city, people are gathering for the Backyard Buskers’ Festival. Formerly the “World Buskers Festival”, border restrictions mean no international performers this year. A circus trio was entertaining a large crowd in the city today, and another pitch I passed was full of people waiting for the next performance.

We are not unaware of how fortunate we are to be able to live like this now. On Saturday, at a Christchurch Symphony Orchestra performance in Victoria Square, I noticed a person on a balcony of the nearby Managed Isolation hotel. A poignant reminder of how lucky we are – for now.

House plants forever

I’m not a big fan of house plants. In the seventies it was ‘the thing’ and I became overwhelmed by monsteras and spider plants which I lugged from flat to flat and which threatened to take over like triffids. The only two which I still have are kept in the garage. One is an aspidistra and the other a hoya. I water them sparingly, feed them rarely and may have repotted them once in forty-odd years.

Today, the hoya scent drew my attention to the flowers it still produces. Grudgingly, I have to admit they are rather lovely, dripping with nectar.

Now house plants are fashionable again and I have seen articles about house plant competitions, prices for desirable plants going stratospheric on the internet and people stealing rare plants from the botanic gardens’ hothouse.

I do enjoy the two indoor plants a former colleague gave me. They sit on my desk and are kind of cheerful and quirky.

One of my nieces has a collection of succulents on her window sill, but I’ve never really warmed to those sorts of plants – until I bought some on impulse to put in a difficult-to-pot outdoor hanging container my brother had given me. They look rather fetching – like a living picture, perhaps.

Trouble is, they are multiplying and really need dividing and replanting. I wouldn’t bring them inside, but I’ve considered making a small rockery for them – if I can find a space.

I picture them multiplying and taking over the garden forty years from now.

Birthday Treat

It’s Mum’s 92nd birthday today. We went to Mona Vale for high tea. Today is hot and sunny, so it was nice to be inside, but with a view of the beautiful gardens and the river and people lunching on the terrace.

Mum’s lovely outfit is complemented by gold shoes!

We both donned our pearls for the occasion. My pearl necklace and bracelet are made from a double string of pearls which were my great-aunt Lil’s.

Speaking of greats…Mum is, as of 3.40pm today, a great-grandmother and I am a great-aunt! An amazing birthday present. That really is a treat.

Yesterday we went shopping in Kaiapoi and I was pleased to buy Mum a skirt for her birthday. It is the closest we’ve found to her beloved skirt bought for $25 from Hays many years ago. She bought two of them then, and one finally parted company with its hem the other day. The trouble has been finding a skirt with pockets. It was great to find this one, and even better that it is designed by a local company.

I took this photo to send to my sister holidaying on the West Coast, to get her approval, which speedily arrived. Isn’t technology wonderful?

After our high tea, I thought a birthday portrait of Mum might be appropriate. There are two blue velvet wing chairs in the foyer at Mona Vale.

See the little green bunnies?

We were stuffed after our generous high tea. And, from the photo at the top, I can see it must be half-rations for me now that Christmas is behind us. Clearly I’ve inherited my father’s genes.

Happy Birthday, Mum, and to your new great-grandson. There are now two of you to treat on this special day.

Worth the wait

My first new year surprise was to discover a large, fully-formed cauliflower emerging from a mess of leaves. I’d forgotten that this is what cauliflower do: show no promise whatsoever then boom! appear like overnight mushrooms.

I planted cauliflower and savoy cabbage plants in July. I worried that they were too close together as they had to be protected under a chicken-proof dome.

As the plants grew bigger, they outgrew the dome. I improvised a barricade with bamboo stakes and sturdy bags which had held bark mulch. This proved to work, even though the chooks would jump up to peck at the leaves.

It looked as if all that would come of these plants would be leaves for the chooks to eat. The plants grew above the barricade and had long, leggy stems. Even the chooks might turn up their beaks at these disastrous leaves which were not only pecked full of holes, but spattered with poop from the birds in the nearby trees.

One cabbage was making some effort to form a heart, but the cauliflower was a delightful surprise – six months after planting.

We have now almost finished eating the first cauliflower – yes, the first. When I picked it, I discovered another one forming beside it.

Even without chickens, vegetable gardening is a challenge. We’ll never achieve self-sufficiency, but there’s something special about providing for yourself.

Positive finish, positive start

This title might seem back-to-front. It’s about finishing the year by planting – and looking forward to the results in the new year.

On Christmas Day my sister and brother-in-law gave me an intriguing present.

I spent a while trying to guess what it could be. It turned out to be this:

It was a thoughtful gift to allow me to grow things in the hope of keeping them safe from the hens. Before they went on holiday, the family dropped around to put it up for me.

Over the last few days I’ve been thinking about what to plant in it. Today I felt ready, but even when driving to the nearest garden centre I changed my mind, went to the supermarket first and then to a different garden outlet. I often surprise myself with a change of plan. While I was there, my sister rang and we discussed what could be planted. I went home with more than could fit in the planter. Once again, more seems possible than is actually the case. That could be a positive trait. In the end, this is what the planter looks like:

There are snow peas at the top (blown sideways by the north easterly), kale and spinach in the middle and rocket at the bottom. The idea is that these are a-leaf(or pod)-at-a-time picking plants. It’s possible I might have to plant them in the garden under a protective dome if they grow too big.

The gourmet lettuce mix and the pepper plant were squeezed into the greenhouse.

The lettuces will probably grow too big for that pot, but I like those ready-planted lettuce bowls they have at the garden centre. I’ve just made my own.

I did more in the garden than I’d planned: tidied one side of the garden shed and replanted two hanging baskets – with new linings.

I love gardening programmes. Often, in the background, you can see little pots on stakes. Why? I wondered. Are they bug traps? Nearly poking my eye out on a stake and inadvertently stabbing myself in the ribs on another were all it took for the penny to drop. Now I have a rather fetching selection of ‘potted stakes’ too.

In this photo you can see several attempts made to protect plants from my free ranging hens. Ever persistent, ever hopeful applies to both me and the chooks! So, a positive end and a positive outlook.

Happy New Year!

Artichoke, anyone?

In the garden there used to be globe artichokes which produced dramatic silver-green leaves and thistle-like flowers. I meant to try eating them before they flowered, but never did. Those plants disappeared, so I planted two more. They have grown huge – nearly two metres – and are tied up and braced to prevent them toppling over. The flowers are gorgeous and they keep coming, so I cut one bud, and gave it a go.

I vaguely remembered how, many years ago (late 70s early 80s) at the Carey’s Bay home of some hippy-style professionals (veterinarians) who were into all manner of exotic plants, we peeled the leaves off globe artichokes and dipped them in garlic butter. It was a novelty and a pleasant appetiser. Since then I’ve occasionally observed artichoke hearts on antipasto platters – those squishy-looking things which are either left till last or left on the plate untouched.

Digby Law’s A Vegetable Cookbook has various ways of presenting them – including with garlic butter – all beginning with boiling, with salt and lemon juice added to the water. I followed these instructions and then was sad to see two small spiders had been boiled as well, and there were black specks in the water – spider babies? Had I killed a whole spider whanau?

The next step is to take off each leaf, dip it in garlic butter and slide the bottom of the leaf over your teeth to remove the soft base. This was quite enjoyable, apart from the discovery of a small cooked slug. There are several layers of leaves, then the choke emerges, which you cut away, and finally the base (often called the heart) which is the delicacy according to Digby Law.

It was an interesting experience and at least I can say I’ve done it. The garlic butter was the better part of it, perhaps. There’s an after-taste best followed up with something to clear the palate.

My conclusion is that I can rest safe in the knowledge that I’m not missing out on anything, and fully enjoy the wondrous spectacle of the plant in the garden.

Clever Christmas Treats

I thought I had done pretty well making Apricot Chocolate Tidbits as Christmas gifts. I added loads of chocolate chips to the recipe. I printed my own labels for the jars with a photo featuring the troll I bought in Finland.

However, Nola (Grandma), still producing her legendary pavlovas at 91, pips me at the post.

Then the competition takes an upward curve. My sister and brother-in-law made these chocolate reindeer with edible eye balls and pretzel antlers. In a jar full of other yummy treats.

But wait! For sheer class, style and variety, my niece – engaging the help of her Mum – wins the prize! This is despite her busy life, not only working but graduating with a law degree last week. The treats bag includes raspberry jam (with homegrown raspberries), beetroot relish, wholegrain mustard, bagel seasoning, festive rocky road, and tiny dinosaur rose gummies. All homemade and beautifully labelled. Wow!

It doesn’t end there. Tiny iced Christmas trees, fruity chocolate clusters, and locally made muesli and panforte were further delights.

The muesli, with hot milk, rhubarb and yoghurt, was delicious for breakfast today. (I would have added a sprinkle of blueberries if I’d thought of it.)

Almost edible are these “smelly” treats. The Lush products are locally made and personalised with the name of the maker. The bath salts are from my sister’s sister-in-law (or my brother-in-law’s brother’s wife) who is a teacher and made homemade gifts with her students. I love the finishing touches: lace cover and antique spoon tied on with string.

I have to include some reference to chickens. My brother and sister-in-law gave Nola this delightful book. It is written by a celebrity NZ chef, who lives in Arrowtown with her family. From this central Otago town, she runs her business and has a large vegetable garden and a flock of chooks. This story is about the hatching of a little chicken whose egg had been abandoned.

There’s something very special and heart-warming about local and homemade treats!