My Favourite Window

January 29, 2011

Garage Sale

A step forward: moving beyond the dirt and clutter, releasing 
some of my mother's household effects back into the big wide world to be enjoyed by others. Today we held a Garage Sale, but looking to future possiblities I set up shop in the front room of the Skudder house. As well as show-casing some of the special items this was also a way of opening up the house to the public after so many years of seclusion. 
The day turned into a village event with other families setting up jumble tables or coming out for a stroll, and a cup of tea at the Ashley Church refreshments table. Children bought Bryony's homemade lemonade and ran off to play with Kitty in the Secret Garden.
Garage Sale we called it and here was what was in the garage. Lemonade at $1 a cup and a 1934 Morris Minor at ... well, that would be telling. *

* Postscript 13/2/12. The car is now sold.

January 27, 2011


Mushrooms! Little velvet secrets pushing through the grass.
After all that rain and all this sun.  And damp dewy mornings.
After many years, of not many at a time, I find enough to pile onto a slice of breakfast toast. With a scattering of flat-leaved parsley. Mmmm.

January 24, 2011


It's amazing what a little sunshine can do: It has sweetened the doubtful plums and seeped around the foundations of the Skudder House to reveal long forgotten cyclamen.

January 23, 2011

A Stage of Grief

I began this Blog to record a new venture in Life: the purchase of my family home, the restoration of that house, the observation of a garden. I did not expect that so much would unsettle my dreams... our plans so soon.  Is it foolish of me to imagine I can soldier blithely on, without feeling some grief in the business of moving forward?  It has been hard to return to work in the Skudder House. I was working in an upstairs room - the one with the big crack  (Cracked 4 Nov 2010)  - when Elwin died outside.  Since then, although I have been able to be in the house; show friends around and feel inspired by their interest, I have not been able to bring myself to return to work in there. Until this weekend. But today has taken its toll and I write about it now because it is part of the Story, whether I want it to be or not.  One more room to empty: Easy, I have thought every time I glanced in there, room to move, not packed tightly to shoulder level as the room below had been.  I put aside this evening to work, but had forgotten how draining it is to inch through boxes of memoribilia mixed with mouse and rat nests.  And because this was my room in early adulthood, some of the memoribilia is mine.  After twenty minutes I realised I was sighing - just as I did for days after Elwin died.  Stress; but I'd not experienced this involuntary sighing before then.  Tearfulness too at the overwhelming task, and the realisation that Elwin is no longer around to have a little moan to.  He always had some words of support or praise for the progress I was making, when I appeared wrapped against the dust in my father's kaffiyeh and needing a cup of tea.  So today for me, a little indication that the road ahead, quite apart from engineer's reports and earthquake strengthening, will continue to be emotionally rocky, maybe forever.

January 22, 2011

Lady Mondegreen's Doubt

"Mm," she muses, feeling the flesh in her mouth, tasting the bitterness behind juicy sweetness. "No ordinary cherry plum," concludes Lady Mondegreen.  We found the sapling today amongst the grove shown in my 2 Sept 2010 posting (A Good Wall).  In truth I found it years ago, and as it is close to the Skudder house, have meant to clip it out, but my mother, like Lady Mondegreen would give every sprouting seed a chance to grow.  Eventually I have stopped seeing this sapling as others have grown around it, but today it stopped me in my tracks with its first ever fruit pendant against the day.  The only similarity to the neighbouring cherry plum fruit is size. The shape is conical with a deep cleft: I cannot help comparing it to a chicken heart!  The ripe skin is almost black with deep red clingstone flesh textured like a dessert plum. And as Lady Mondegreen noted there is the bitterness. Too much for my liking and not enough plum flavour, but I am prepared to give it time to prove itself. Another year may balance flavour differently.

Prunus x 'Lady Mondegreen's Doubt'

January 21, 2011

Washing Day

But not today. This has been a day of rain - another one, but not a bad thing in this part of the country, as it tempers the drying heat of the frequent Nor' West wind. However, on a sunny day, earlier this week, in a still moment between gale-force gusts, I noticed that the first apples were ripening along the veranda cordon. Ripening as red as Elwin's shirt, which our daughters have claimed between them. Bryony snaps up anything worn and shredded to re-construct and wear with panache (my favourite look of hers combines my old school PE rompers worn with a black waistcoat and a threadbare tee shirt depicting traction engines and steam trains).
I can remember the day Elwin bought this red shirt: I watched him walk along Worcester Street between Christchurch Cathedral and Canterbury Museum, bright as a Discovery apple, dressed as the new musician for Amanita Muscaria, a ladies' Morris dancing side. And because those days were also our first courting days, I realise that this shirt has out-lasted all our years together, just a little thin at collar and cuffs.

Early ripening apple  Malus domesticus 'Discovery'

January 17, 2011

January 11, 2011

Memory Lane

What to do on a rainy day in the Secret Garden?  Time to ramble through some of the furnishing fabrics I've been rescuing from the Old House.

These designs all please me for different reasons. The leaves on an orange background were our living room curtains through my late childhood and the Japanese inspired bamboo hung at the laundry window!  I have no memory of the ballet dancers but I think they are enchanting, and the softly coloured chintz? Well I just like chintz unreservedly.

January 10, 2011

Morning Glory

A morning to sit out on the veranda with my breakfast.
A morning to coax our new kitten out into the sun. Aelfwise is a Manx kitten and dispenses with any idea of making the Secret Garden predator-free. He was born in the village on the day of Elwin's funeral, but Lady Mondegreen is not pleased. He is so sweet and full of adamance that I'm sure she will be won over. 

By the front steps, self-seeded Morning Glories are scrambling up anything handy: a delphinium seedhead, the rose bushes, an old potplant stand. . .  I am pleased that the camera has captured the purple well, and suggests the red throat.  The photo doesn't quite provoke an intake of breath, as real contact does, at the deep receding glory of this variety - Grandpa Ott - but it does convey the rich colouring. The flowers are so fleeting. This evening when I checked these particular blooms they were withering away with day's end. But new ones will open tomorrow.

Morning Glory  Ipomea purpurea 'Grandpa Ott'

January 6, 2011

Twelfth Night

Time to take down Christmas decorations - if you haven't already, and if you follow the tradition of taking down your decorations on Twelfth Night. Some consider that to be 5th January, while others believe it to be 6th January. This afternoon I undressed the Christmas tree in the Church of St Simon and St Jude. During the Christmas Eve Carol Service, members of the congregation wrote loved ones' names on yellow stars and hung them on the tree.  Today I carefully retrieved my family's offerings, two for Daddy, one for my Darling Man,  and amongst all the other stars for absent family, and the Pike River miners, I came across one for our whole family. Elwin it said and I smiled that someone else had wanted to remember him that evening: then I turned the star over and read three more names.  How I have missed our names together as a family. First on the sympathy cards, Elwin's name, though the subject, noticeably missing from the greeting, and then the Christmas cards that followed so soon after, were just addressed to three of us. So there in the warm afternoon amongst the tinsel and fir with our whole family in my hand, I shed a few rare tears.

After I had un-dressed the tree, I very reluctantly carried it outside, and stood it up amongst the oaks at the back of the churchyard.  This Douglas fir, harvested 15 days ago is still pert and green, and I couldn't bring myself to dump it in the compost heap or cut it up for firewood just yet.

Douglas fir  Pseudotsuga menziesii

January 5, 2011


Fruiting wildly now are the cherry plums: three big old garden specimens, and many bird-sown opportunists. The colours and flavours vary and to my taste few have a flavour to return for. One that did, sweetly plummy at the first tasting, has lost all its fruit in the gales. I do enjoy roaming amongst them all the same and eating for the sake of eating their bounty, knowing that fresh from the tree they are full of Vitamin C and bioflavinoids. Lady Mondegreen is all set to make jam and chutney, and regrets that the coal range in the old cottage has not yet been declared safe to use.

Cherry plum  Prunus cerasifera

January 1, 2011

Happy New Camera

I'm still a film photographer at heart, but digital has its advantages... especially in the world of Blogging.  And for a garden blog a macro lens is a must, so my Christmas present to myself is a Canon PowerShot SX30IS. The macro facility is automatic, and I love the mobile screen for viewing low subjects from a comfortable position, while photographing them.  What a fantastic accessory for the arthritic gardener!  But the truth is that I have hardly had a look-in, as eleven-year old Kitty is far more digital savvy than me and has been shooting nature movies and stop-frame animations without pause.  She took the current title photo, that close-up of a rose, which I could only dream about with my previous pocket digital camera.   It has taken until today to transfer the photos we've been taking, to the computer, and I needed teenaged Bryony to help me with that! 

High summer: the time of year when so many of New Zealand's indigenous plants are flowering.  The showy pohutukawa makes its way around the world on Christmas cards at this time of the year,  but as a South Islander I have always felt a bit distant from this  symbol, touted as the New Zealand Christmas Tree.  The pohutukawa can be found in street plantings in some coastal towns of the upper South Island, but the southern rata is more truly this Island's Christmas flower. More subtle, but no less beautiful than the pohutukawa, it is harder to find in garden settings.  But also flowering in time for Christmas are many beautiful shrubs and trees, and if their blossom needs close scrutiny to see their beauty, the reward is surely well earned.  Above is a native broom growing in the churchyard here in Ashley.  It's been hard finding a definitive name for this shy beauty. It comes from Marlborough and inland North Canterbury, where it grows along shady stream banks. In the grounds of St Simon and St Jude it grows lushly in the dry shade under the English oaks, and the dense racemes of purple and white flowers, find their way into the Christmas service posies.

Ake ake is flowering now; both the green and the purple.  The flower is easy to pass by, but once noticed it is almost voluptuous in its display.  The green form can have creamy white blossom or pink as this one does.  I wonder if this is a selected form. Many of the gardens in Ashley were planted during a suburban surge in the 70s and early 80s and the fashionable plantings of Australian and New Zealand plants have matured now.

Lophomyrtus varieties planted then are now healthy shrubbery specimens, providing more myrtle-stamened blossom for those Christmas posies.  The variety 'Kathryn' has rich dark bubbly leaves which set the masses of white flowers off to stunning effect.
Two other Christmas stars worthy of mention are the marbleleaf with its mottled, holly-shaped leaves, and the narrow-leaved lacebark. Both of these small forest trees are smothered in tiny white flowers at this time of year.

New Zealand broom (one of many species),  Maukoro  Carmichaelia odorata
Ake ake, Hop bush  Dodonea viscosa
Ramarama  Lophomyrtus x ralphii 'Kathryn"
Putaputaweta, Marbleleaf  Carpodetus serratus
Narrow-leaved lacebark, Houhi puruhi  Hoheria angustifolia