My Favourite Window

October 28, 2010

St Simon and St Jude's Day

A project realised today: to celebrate the laying of the foundation stone for the Church of St Simon and St Jude, on this, its Saints' day, 140 years ago. I am home now satisfied with the Anniversary Thanksgiving service, many months in the planning. The Right Reverend Victoria Matthews, Bishop of Christchurch took the service: She has a magical touch with children  - inviting young Kitty to be her chaplain and carry her crozier - as well as an easy manner, conducting the service with a light hand and a sense of humour but ultimately commanding our attention with an astute and thoughtful reflection on founding institutions in new societies.  

A village woman  prepared the lovely floral arrangement setting it in the sunny window for the light to filter through vivid irises.

The Church of St Simon and St Jude at Ashley. Originally consecrated as an Anglican church , it now operates as an inter-denomonational church and is known as The Ashley Community Church. Catergory II Historic Place.

October 26, 2010

Illicit Pleasure

May. Hawthorn. Quickthorn. A Restricted Plant Pest here in New Zealand - not to be propagated, distributed or sold. And with good reason! Here in North Canterbury this hedgerow escapee is distributed by birds and resistant to our punishing summer droughts. Around Ashley, and indeed, within the Secret Garden, it is blooming now - a May Queen in October.  I took this photo in the churchyard of St Simon and St Jude, where I have been gardening lately. These specimens are remnants of a double hedgerow that formed a walkway behind railway land. I can remember its overgrown tunnel in my childhood, and even now some of the plants including oak trees that made up the hedge, show signs of old-fashioned hedging techniques.  Lady Mondegreen gives some of the wildings space to grow into shapely trees, arching their garlanded boughs and providing safe nesting places for birds.  But I have planted other members of the family too.  Stinking to high heaven at the moment, and wearing its stunning white flowers in small groups amongst the almost evergreen foliage, is the Mexican hawthorn, and my pink may is just beginning to blush.  I watch eagerly three of its seedlings growing in tubs outside my kitchen window. Undoubtedly the parent has crossed with the wild hawthorn, but the seed is hard-won. One seedling flowered for the first time a couple of years ago - a double white - and another will flower for the first time any day now: a touch of pink showing in its buds.

My mother - an Englishwoman - introduced me to Bread and Cheese.  "You can eat the leaves if you are hungry." And being a child, I would eat them whether I was hungry or not. And if you enjoy making the most of wild harvest here is a way to make a meal of hawthorn leaves!  It is a recipe collected in Dorothy Hartley's fascinating history 'Food in England.' 

Make a good light suet crust, season it well with salt and pepper, and roll it out rather more thinly than for a jam roly-poly, and as long in shape as possible. Cover the surface smoothly with the green buds, patting them down lightly. Now take a rasher of bacon and cut it into very, very fine strip, and lay them over the green. Moisten the edges of the crust, and roll it up tightly, sealing the edges as you go. Tie it in a floured cloth and boil or steam it for at least an hour, longer if very large. Unroll it on to a hot plate and serve it with gravy. Like all very simple dishes, it must be made very nicely, seasoned with care, and the crust fine and light, then I think you will be surprised how good it is.

May, hawthorn  Crataegus monogyna
Pink may  Crataegus laevigata 'Rosea Flore Pleno'
Mexican hawthorn  Crataegus pubescens (correctly mexicana)

October 22, 2010

A Little Chaos...

Following my last post about flowery meads comes a reminder from NZ poet Brian Turner to look after the insects: a healthy and diverse eco-system depends on them. And we depend - though too many of us ignore this truth - on a healthy and diverse eco-system.

This Secret Garden, Lady Mondegreen points out to me, is becoming more and more important as a haven for invertebrates, birds, lizards and frogs as the surrounding land is drained and developed for housing. The hedgerows and meadowy verges of my childhood have disappeared and while older suburban plantings have matured and provide rich nectar sources and shrub cover, the trend is more and more to so-called easy care gardens: paved and fenced and planted with a limited palette of commercially available shrubs.

So, a new responsiblity is dawning here: to retain some chaos and make changes thoughtfully.

The spirea hedge is flowering now. Hedge? Once it was, and how I enjoyed the clipping of it as a child - the controlling gardener in the making. Look at it now spreading wide and rampant, taunting me as I wonder at its botany. Is it Spirea x vanhouttei, or is it Spirea cantoniensis? Whatever its name, it is a deep tangle for nesting birds and a rich food plant for pollinating insects as well as being heart-lifting to look at.

Brian Turner's distinctive love of language, his reverence for the places of his heart and his expression of the human condition can be found in his latest collection of poems, Just This, from the Victoria University Press, Winner of the 2010 New Zealand Post Book Award for Poetry.

October 20, 2010


At this time of year - late spring - in wild and unkempt places, look for these bejewelled mixtures of wild flowers. In this part of the world they are considered unsightly by many, examples of lazy husbandry, to be sprayed or mown down. Certainly they seed profically, and in arable land some cause more than a nuisance, but for me they are always a pleasure. Their flowering is brief and I find most of them easy enough to weed out of garden borders or from under hedges once they grow rank. In the Secret Garden they are a prized asset. Common associations include red henbit or dead nettle, speedwell, shepherd's purse and chickweed, which is the tiny white flower in the photo. Flowering amongst it is oxalis and common wintercress. Other leafy textures are provided by cleavers, yarrow and puha.

Chickweed  Stellaria media
Common wintercress  Barbarea vulgaris
Oxalis latifolia

October 19, 2010

On Shaky Ground

Out of 2000 earthquakes since the 4th September I have not felt any while I was outside on open ground - though they have certainly happened around me. Until this morning: I was planting trees with Project Iva in Charlesworth Reserve and the salt marsh quaked like a bog as a 5M aftershock shook the area, rattled the city and set Cathedral bells ringing. I had planned to have a photo or two of the tree planting but what with the distractions of the morning, including a medical emergency, there are none.

Charlesworth Reserve near the Heathcote-Avon Estuary is reclaimed farmland and landfill and an important feeding ground for migrating birds. From Alaska, godwits fly here for summer feeding before returning to breed near the Bering Strait.  Our group was planting locally sourced coastal shrubs to offset our carbon footprint incurred during air travel to and from Samoa in August.

Project Iva was, and still is, an exciting project which came out of a journalism class at  Unlimited Secondary School in Christchurch. The students aged from 12 to 17, raised funds, collected school equipment and delivered it personally to the children of Iva Primary School on the island of Savaii. It was a privilege to watch my daughter and her friends finding new strengths in themselves and to eventually be hosted by the warm and hospitable people of Iva.

Some salt marsh plantings

Coprosma propinqua
Dodonea viscosa purpurea
Astelia fragrans
Phormium tenax

October 17, 2010


How I love the quince blossom. In this garden, so full of spring blossom, it is always the quince that speaks most deeply to me. This year I realised how tantalising its buds are: plump cones of pink tipped promise. And now - the blossom. What is it that appeals to me so much?  Is it the restraint of the cupped flowers compared to the thickly clustered blooms of plum and apple and pear? Is it the way the flowers open against fully formed foliage while all the other trees leaf-up after petal fall? Whatever the reason, from a distance the tree presents a silvery arabesque, and makes me think I should plant more.

Many years ago my father planted a quince tree on this spot, and 14 summers ago his quince tree survived the disasterous wild fire that swept this land. Months later when the fire-damaged pines, which hedged the garden, were being felled, one of them fell across the little tree: I watched in dismay the falling pine and the quince tree, bounce into the air and shatter. That was the first year that the tree had produced a worthwhile crop and they were ripening nicely.

So Elwin planted another and we enjoy its blossom and its scented fruit every year.

Quince Cydonia oblonga 'Giant of Gascogny'

October 15, 2010

New Tools

"A rubber shod pony would be less intrusive," remarks Lady Mondegreen in consternation at our new purchase. "With a gently clacking mower hitched behind. But I suppose this makes mowing the grass easy for Elwin, doesn't it."
Yes! But he will have to reign in his enthusiasm for creating a racing green ...

Husqvarna Rider 16 C
(and a nifty little garden trailer - ah joy).

October 13, 2010

Growing Up

My infant dresses: "We'll save these for your children," my mother would say, so I rediscovered them a couple of weeks ago, neatly stored in a polypropylene wool sack, my daughters well and truly grown beyond them.

We grow through childhood to a point where we can dream of the future - make plans even. It takes a bit of ageing to realise though, that we can't direct every detail of our dreams, but it takes ageing too, to realise that some of our dreams have come true without even noticing.

As a horticulture student, before I owned a home of my own, I decided that one day I would have an old wooden villa, with a wisteria-draped veranda. Well, I'm onto my second villa and the wisteria I planted here nine years ago has grown up. It's worth reminding ourselve of the small or easy advances we have already made in our lives, when cracks appear in our bigger dreams.

Wisteria sinensis 'Caroline'

October 11, 2010

Of Steam Trains and Cowslips and other Dainty Things

"Your web log yesterday was tasteless and unnecessary," Lady Mondegreen rebukes me. "People don't visit my secret garden for helpings of gore and self-pity." But she glances at the dressing on my lip and softens. "What about the plates Marilyn gave you yesterday? Surely they are worthy of mention.?"
Mmm. I knew nothing about Mason's Ironstone until Marilyn piled a stack of it into my arms.
"For your old house," she smiled, and I thought once again of the crack in its Being.  So here is one of the little saucers, adrift on the ephemeral stream. A feature of Mason's Ironstone is that international retailers applied to have their own stamp added to the back, and this one bears the mark: John Bates and Co Ltd, Christchurch.N.Z. John Bates had a well-regarded china shop in Cashel Street and is buried in the Waimate Cemetry.

"And you haven't shown them the cowslips that you mentioned on 27 September," Lady Mondegreen reminds me. So here they are. I had imagined them to be woodland creatures but remember seeing them flowering on a steep and sunny bank, densely massed and mingled with forget-me-nots, somewhere in Northumbria (England).  Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix in Perennials-Volume I point out that they are meadow plants. And maybe I'm wrong...  and they are oxslips not cowslips after all. These are nestled at the foot of the walnut tree, thriving with a mixture of woodland plants in open sunlight till now, when the walnut begins to open its leaves.

So this day draws to a close - a day that began dynamically, with a view from my bed, of snow on Mt Grey, a passing steam train and rainbows threading the stormy sky.
Cowslip Primula veris

October 10, 2010

Take Care

It has been bitterly cold and very wet today, though Elwin managed to mow thoroughly before the rain came. So this evening as the ephemeral stream rises, its dark flow is clear to see as it runs through its closely mown channel. Right now I'm nursing a split lip - and gum - a result of over-eager pruning! This morning while I was trimming some low branches ahead of the ride-on mower, I used my body to brace the loppers against, while cutting a face-level stem: and my mouth took the full force of the steel arm when the branch gave way. I carried on working with a mouthful of blood and the wound has continued to ooze all day. I've done this sort of thing before, using my body as a brace for a face-level cut. As a council gardener perched in a street tree - a vigourous London plane - with my arm wrapped around an upright branch and drawing my pruning saw through it towards me, it was my cheek that caught the saw teeth as the blade finally sliced through the wood. I bore a string of tooth marks up my bruised cheek for a few days. So I ought to have learned my lesson by now - must make sure I don't do the same thing with a chainsaw...

October 8, 2010

Spring Flowers

I am so tired: too tired to write much after a day of weeding a shady border, so here are some pictures to speak a thousand words while I savour my aching limbs and retire very satisfied with progress in the garden.

The red tulips and the white came from a fundraising catalogue in the autumn. Because they weren't what I'd ordered, I carelessly mislaid the varietal names, but I am pleased to see them in flower, and I especially like the delicacy and shape of the white ones.

October 7, 2010

Another Garden

This morning I visited Breedenbroek Gardens, nestled low on the Ashley Downs and owned by Kay MacLachan and Rudi Steyn. The Ben McMaster design provides the English inspired structure, with it's avenues and axes, its hornbeam hedges and perennial borders, but Kay and Rudi actively develop and cultivate this lovely space. It pleases me as a gardeners' garden, but within its discipline there is room for friends, and children, and their animals. I was surprised that the details that pleased me most were not the little clump of wood anemones flowering amongst a mound of bugle weed, nor the eager drifts of creamy-flowered comfrey, nor even the large clump of Astelia 'Silver Queen' under the swamp cypresses in the middle of the pond (which pleased me very much) but the thoughtfulness and evidence of habitation threading through the grand design. I liked to find, at a point where a garden path nudged the farm fence, that a little gate stood open - as if by chance - inviting the visitor to walk beyond the garden across a bridge and back in from the farm by another gate. I liked to find a lamb's feeding bottle on a seat in the transept of Rudi's magnificent hand built pavilion. I liked to find a hen run that was not worn to dust, but planted with fowl-proof tussocks, star jasmine and a crepuscule rose scrambling over the chicken wire.
I liked to come across my children and theirs laughing together in the formal spaces.
Visit: at least the website for more details and good photographs.
Wood anemone Anemone nemerosa
Bugleweed Ajuga reptans
Ground cover comfrey Symphytum tuberosum
Swamp cypress Taxodium distichum
Fowl-proof tussock Festuca glauca
Star jasmine Trachelospermum jasminoides

I'm writing about yesterday this morning, because yesterday - well yesterday was a day for lazing in the sun, and eating ice-creams and admittedly making a few observations. One of them a view from inside - looking out of that little window that I showed you on 2nd September. I have recently cleared the space at the bottom of the Skudder House's stairwell (it was crammed with carpet offcuts, ancient NZ Listeners and cardboard boxes) and now that it is clear, I am enjoying looking through to this space and beyond: it is both a step towards the unknown and a portal to the Secret Garden.

October 5, 2010

Home and Away

Lady Mondegreen had the Secret Garden to herself today: the roaming dandelions and the drifting daisies, the winging kingfisher and the nesting starlings - all these delights were hers to enjoy undisturbed.
And me? I escaped with school holiday Spirits, to Hanmer Springs, to bask taskless in the sun around the hot pools or wander with Elwin in the cool forest on Conical Hill. I was intrigued to hear the bellbirds chortling in the Douglas firs high overhead, these nectar feeders thriving, it seems in exotic gymnosperms.
I don't usually enjoy watching children chase birds, but today I couldn't help admiring the tolerance of a chaffinch being chased by a little girl: round and round an oak tree at a toddle she chased it, while the bird kept his distance without lifting a wing. Later while picnicking I noticed the chaffinches scavenging tourist leavings, so no wonder they can deal with a little human interaction.
In these higher altitudes the wild plums are flowering in pastoral groves and the ornamental cherries - spent in Christchurch now - are still lovely in the alpine village.
So I return refreshed - and delighted that one of my attendant holiday Spirits has helped me find my way back to posting photos!
Douglas fir Pseudotsuga menziesii
Wild plums and ornamental cherries Prunus spp

October 2, 2010


Another glorious day, which I must convey in words only. The strong Equinoctal winds have abated and the last few days have hung perfectly in blue skies or a moist haze. I have been weeding, planting (delphiniums today) listening to a blackbird opening a walnut on the veranda; I am entranced by the cascade of apple blossom showing through the green veil of the weeping willow. and I am dazzled by the late flowering of the kowhai.  At least one bellbird has been attracted to its nectar bearing blooms. Their bright yellow is bold against the blue sky, and harmonious beside the coppery leaves of the big plum tree.

Kowhai Sophora tetraptera
also S. microphylla