A graduate in horticulture from Massey College in the 1960s, Catherine (Kate) Ballard has been involved in horticulture, including writing, all her life. In 2006 David Ling published Oswald Blumhardt New Zealand Plant Pioneer, her biography of the internationally recognised plant collector and hybridizer.In 2010 she self-published Stone Wall Country – The Dry Stone Walls of the Whangarei District. In 2015 she published Country Cop 24/7 – The Life and Times of a Rural Cop. She has lived in Northland most of her life, farming and growing plants.
I love visiting other gardens. You get so many ideas and, as in this case, see a completely different range of plants from those you can grow in your own garden. I set off with friends to visit the Taranaki and Kimbolton area in mid- October. It was just before the Taranaki Garden Festival and just after very cold weather had swept up the country dumping snow in many places which would normally not expect to receive snow, especially so late in the season. Despite this we saw good displays of rhododendrons at Pukeiti and Hollards.
We then moved onto Cross Hills and Heritage Park in Kimbolton, both with diverse planting but mainly specialising in rhodos.
There were many tree peonies out in flower.
On the way we visited Clive and Nicki Higgie’s Paloma Gardens at Fordell, with its huge diversity of plants.
Here is an orchid, Dendrobium speciosum, at Paloma.
The realisation that we have probably spent $500 in the last 12 months on pindone bait for rabbit control is quite shocking. Rabbits have caused a big loss of plants and it’s not only the bait that has cost us. Protective devices such as netting and plastic sleeves have had to be erected around every tree we have planted. Some plants are just not practicable to protect like this. We started off shooting but combined with small area in which it is safe to shoot here and the numbers of rabbits that was never going to be a long term solution. The poisoning does work but is expensive. No sooner do we get on top of the rabbits than more come in from the surrounding areas.
The wire cover over the bait stations is to stop the pukekos stealing all the bait. It doesn’t seem to have any effect on them.
Pukekos themselves are very destructive. Here I have added some netting to this pipe to stop the Pukekos standing top of the freshly planted succulent. Pulling out new plantings is Pukekos favourite occupation. They pull them out and leave them to bake in the sun. Infuriating!
This Telopea “Bridal Gown” was planted three and half years ago. It has flowered every year, sometimes twice. The flowers keep well in a vase and I have harvested them quite hard to keep the bush more compact. It’s getting out of reach now!
The yellow Leucospernum in front of the waratah is “High Gold” and it has performed just as well. The blue/mauve flowers are Heliotropium commonly called “Cherry Pie”. It flowers non–stop and has been cut back several times already. It has a haunting perfume.
A month ago I visited Gordon and Rosie Speedy’s fabulous garden Rock Hoppers with a gardening group. It is so full of interesting and different plants and ideas it is impossible to give more than a fleeting glimpse here.
At 4 ha there is plenty of room for diverse plantings. The land is volcanic with an abundance of stone. Originally farm land it was stone walled in the early 1900s. The drier areas in the garden are very suitable for growing proteas, aloes and other species often difficult to grow well in Northland’s copious rainfall. The maintenance of this large garden is a credit to this energetic and creative couple.
There are many quirky structures and sculptures around the garden including this effective use of old blue bottles.
This rustic hut hides amongst some colourful planting.
Unusual use of barbed wire!
The plentiful water from local springs near the garden is used to form large, naturalistic ponds adding a liveliness to the landscape. This garden is open to viewing and also available for wedding venues. There is a small informal cafe in the garden.
These steps have been planned for a while. This week they happened. The main reason for replacing the narrow, steep grass path here was to install a drainage system underneath them. The storm water from our neighbour above rushed down the slope, scouring out the garden and killing off several plants that couldn’t cope with the boggy conditions.
Jason designed these steps and Ryan built them. We have already had heavy rain and can see the water rushing, as planned, out at the base of the steps and over the lawn, down to the pond.
Walking up the steps is pleasure compared to the slippery grass path which was difficult to mow.
As you walk up our drive a strong, sweet scent wafts by. It is quite surprising to find it comes from this ground covering Leucospernum. I have always called it L. prostratum but this particular plant was sold as L.heterophyllum. I have no idea which is correct. The flowers change colour as they age from yellow to orange so that the plant is always covered in multi coloured flowers. I’ve found it a bit temperamental but this one is looking happy.
The Paradise duck has returned with her brood again this year after quite an adventure. She had obviously nested in the forest, behind the dog proof fence. Ok for her who could fly out, but her ducklings became trapped. We found her running up and down the fence with her 9 ducklings. We spent some time wondering how we could help the situation but it seemed impossible unless she worked out that she and her brood could use the culvert pipes under the walkway beside the fence to escape. This went on for at least a day and half with both parents coming together regularly on our lawn making loud, anxious noises. Suddenly late afternoon yesterday there were more loud noises and we saw the whole family swimming happily in the dam. We will never know how she managed to extricate her babies from behind the fence but they are here now and very happily gorging themselves on whatever ducks eat in ponds and from pasture.
I was in Christchurch recently for a family event and saw this plant – well I smelled it first. It is Skimmia japonica, a very attractive shrub with these fragrant flowers and handsome foliage. Sounds as though it might grow in the north so I will try some cuttings. I have never seen it for sale up here. This plant might have bright red berries in the autumn. Although some skimmias are hermaphrodite others are dioecious – separate male and female – and need both present to set berries.
When does spring begin? It is very hard to tell in Northland where the seasonal changes are not abrupt. Is it when the first daffodils open? Definitely not because some have been out for weeks. Perhaps it is when the hydrangeas start into life again after pruning but that’s not precise. The subtropicals don’t give a good guide—many look their very worst at this time of year. Some have a brief deciduous period after holding onto their increasingly tatty looking foliage all winter. Time to prune the hibiscus. I think I’ll give the honour of the Herald of Spring to the Pleione. A few flowers opened on the 1st September. I suppose that’s at least three weeks before the meteorologists say Spring begins on the solstice –21st September
Our arborists paid us a visit last week. They were here for 1.5 hours and achieved a huge amount.
We had three trees blow down in the gale the previous week and I had been on the verge of getting the guys in to prune some of the fast growing evergreens we had planted for screening, especially the ash (Fraxinus griffithii) which were very dense at the base and crowding out the shrubs, bulbs and perennials I had planted nearby.
The best thing is getting all that chip left behind. The initial bark mulch we put on the beds when we first planted about three years ago has become quite thin in places and we have new plantings which have never been mulched so this pile will be used up quickly. It needs to stand for a few weeks to compost but anyway it is too wet to drive the tractor around on the grass at the moment.