Tuesday, 27 April 2010

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Thursday, 4 March 2010

Operation Crimson

An unexpected reward for our long journey to the south island has been to catch the southern Rata in flower.

Ever since I saw the crimson flowered Pohutekawa on our first trip to New Zealand I have admired their stunning beauty but also their tenacity to survive in very unforgiving conditions. The Pohutekawa are commonly found along coasts. Oh, to have such a tough flowering beauty capable of surviving our nothern temperatures! At that time I read about Operation Crimson, which was a planting programme to introduce these trees all along the NZ coastline. What an inspired idea. In Raglan, my favourite coastal town in the North Island, all the mature trees lining the river banks have a plaque on them noting their significance.

At first I did not realise the difference between the Pohutekawa (Metrosideros excelsa) and the Rata ( Metrosideros robusta and M. umbellata) as they both have the common name of 'New Zealand Christmas Tree'. But simply the Southern Island Rata is the 'South Island' Xmas tree and unlike the Pohutekawa I have now learnt that it flowers over a longer period than its northern namesake. In fact it flowers in a seasonal wave, starting on the lower slopes in late November finishing at the higher altitudes on the upper slopes in February.

At the Franz Josef Glacier I further learnt that the retreating glacier creates ideal conditions for the Southern Rata to spread in the mineral soil, which is rocky thin and warm. It grows from seed in the ground whereas the Rata begins life as an epiphyte perched on a host tree.

What was even more awe-inspiring was the density of the vegetated mountainsides, following the ancient folds of the crags in wave after wave of softly tinged coral autumnal colours drawing the eye skywards. In fact, Barney at first commented, "Look Chris, the trees are beginning to turn."

No wonder the Kiwis adore it and use it's flower as a national symbol, second only to the silver fern leaf. It does seem to represent their spirit.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Stopping by Woods

As gardeners we can learn so much from the natural rythms all around us.

My cycle route takes me along the river Yar, where a ribbon of deciduous woods flanks the river on one side and the farmland on the other. To the sound of the curlew and sandpiper piping through the woods my attention was caught by the repeated patterns of vegetation mile upon mile.

Young hazels, willow and oaks formed the structure, with just a glimpse of catkin and tight coppery bud waiting to emerge. Ground ivy covered most of the marshy earth and in places reached for the sky, growing up into fallen branches and the taller trees, twining amongst liguana -like honeysuckles. Brackish pools appear randomly amongst the fallen leaves with escaping streams leaching out their precious gift of water into the surrounding vegetation. Whispering rushes guard these, forming an inpenetrable edge to the river. The early morning light washes over their feathery tops, changing tone with the seasons. Endlessly fascinating, wave upon wave as the wind brushes over them.

Clearings with fallen logs invite me to stop and stare - or play like many families do, so that their children can explore the wonder of the quiet glades. What can be more magical in a young child's eyes than tiny woven paths through vegatation, with logs to scramble over and hidden plant treasures peeping out from dark corners?

Stands of the glossy leafed evergreen fern, Asplenium scolopendrium punctuate this with their bold foliage. Strap-like leaves of iris foetidissima form further aysmmetric groupings in the clearings. In design terms we would talk of 'ground cover' and 'architectural specimens'!

The simplicity of this woodland planting can be echoed in our own garden plantings, especially in those wild boundary areas. Why, the endless formal hedge or cuprinol stained fence? A natural planting like this will not only please the eye, but provide home to much wildlife as well. Shade loving ornamentals and bulbs can be added to create further interest if desired.

My joy at this scene is yet to be heightened as I know that concealed and sheltering among the leaves are mile upon mile of primroses and my favourite, the celandines. Come spring they will highlight the path just like cats eyes in a road.

This truly is a lesson in 'less means more'.

© Chris Barnes

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Sunday, 17 January 2010

Sweet brown crumbly soil...

After the snow, then the rain and mist - at last a dry day, tempting me out into the garden. With a real chance for some hands on digging!

I am blessed with a light free draining soil ( better not brag too much!) which means that even after the wettest conditions I can get on the soil without doing too much damage. As we are off to New Zealand in two weeks I am keen to get in as much time as possible this month. Mad March will be upon us with all its joys and endless 'to do lists' so I have learnt to get ahead where I can.

Alternating between cutting back top growth or frost damaged leaves with some serious weeding in the vege patch is a good way of protecting aches and strains on the back. Having had two 'frozen shoulders' I now make sure I never over-fill my wheelbarrow and make small and often trips to the compost heap. This is very good advice and I recommend it to anyone, particularly if you are suffering from postural problems.

I am a bit concerned that my municipal compost may also be harbouring a new aggressive annual weed that I have to wage war on. Make a mental note, to identify and track the source of it. Everything else is relatively easy, particularly the self sown marigolds with which I feed my compost heap, knowing more will germinate in time for spring companion planting. I would not be without calendula officinalis in the garden. I love sprinkling its bright orange petals amongst salads which adds a real zing to the presentation.

Cleared a decent amount, whilst zoning in to the other chores that must be done before I leave. Chief among them, getting the last of the bulbs potted up, then getting the new potatoes in egg boxes ready to be chitted while we are away. This year I am going to grow them in large black pots as I have used all my space in the garden.

All I need is 2 hours a day, and I'll be sorted .....

© Chris Barnes

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Snow Wight

Snow across the countryside has brought many pleasures to those fortunate enough to play in it but spare a thought for the wildlife!

More than ever, we are grateful for our various bird feeding stations around the garden and are topping them up daily as large flocks of tits and finches are giving them a bashing. Bird watching has never been easier, watching robins and blackbirds bickering under the bird feeders, taking on any random newcomers like the fieldfares and redstarts that are now sheltering in domestic gardens whilst they can find nourishment. I make a mental note to include more stations and encourage all my clients to do likewise....

As the snow begins to melt and we slip into the grey sludge days after the brilliant blue I am beginning to take stock of some gardening losses. Trying not to get too depressed I notice that my echium has succumbed and that a specimen Echevera 'Schwarzkop' is looking decidedly frost damaged. It is under cover of the porch but the air temperature and wind chill factor have clearly contributed to the problem.

Here on the southerly Isle of Wight I tend to take a gung-ho attitude to frost protection, testing the limits of hardiness of some plants and sticking to my plant choices. But my mother earth voice is whispering, perhaps I should have used some horticultural fleece!

Retreating to the warmth of the office I have instead decided to update my website and create some new pages and a gallery. This is a much more heartening activity. Scanning last years projects I have surprised myself with the changes that occur between the 'before' and 'after' pictures. Definitely good for the soul!

© Chris Barnes