Writings...

[Maple Glen]

NB. These articles reflect the views and experiences of the author (Rob Davison). The intention is to inform and entertain.
Due to variations of climate, growing conditions and other factors beyond our control what works for us may not work for you.

Straight out opinion pieces are denoted by italics.
You may wish to skip these if you are politically correct (or easily offended).

Your mileage may vary

General comments, caveat emptor
About us, the people behind Maple Glen
Tricks and cutting corners, Three people gardening 30 acres
The Native issue
Plant profile: Aruncus
Plant profile: Astilbes
Plant profile: Cardiocrinum
Plant profile: Colchicum
Plant profile: Galanthus. Snowflakes are NOT Snowdrops.

General comments, caveat emptor

Plant names are given with the botanical name first and a common name following in brackets.

Our climate here in Southland, New Zealand is maritime, USDA zone approximately 8b. Rainfall is reliable and distributed fairly evenly throughout the year. Soil is loam varying in depth from a couple of inches to several feet over heavy yellow clay. Soil is acid (only blue hydrangeas!)

Summer highs rarely exceed 30 degrees centigrade. Winter ground frosts typically are around -7 centigrade. We usually see snow once or twice in a winter but it rarely lies for any length of time.

All in all then, a good climate for growing and overseas visitors are often amazed at the range of things that will survive here but there are still plants that take exception to us.


About us, the people behind Maple Glen

This site is about the garden but, very briefly...

[muriel] Muriel.

Muriel created Maple Glen from a bare paddock and is still the main inspiration behind the place. A plant collecting nut, gardening nut and bird nut ever since.

[bob]
Bob.
Born Co.Antrim, Northern Ireland 1929.
Bob emigrated to New Zealand in 1951 and was a herd tester before marrying Muriel in 1965.
He once complained about shifting the same fence three years in a row. But not much.
[rob] Rob.
Rob likes nothing more than something that involves the digger, water and lots of mud.
To relax he wanders around in the 'golden hour' with a camera and pretends he knows how to take photographs.

Rob is an incurable idealist and a confirmed bachelor. The two seem congruent, alas.


Tricks and cutting corners

garden

We have developed and maintain the garden ourselves with no outside help. Fortunately the three of us (at the time of writing) are fit and healthy but there are times when it still threatens to overwhelm us. Lawn mowing is required weekly in the growing season and takes approximately 10-12 hours with two rideon mowers (one of which has a 72inch cut).

Our garden is never weed free but we strive to keep it reasonably tidy. Choosing "plants for places", that is, plants that like where they are planted and thrive helps enormously. Weeding then mostly becomes the job of keeping the competition in check while new plantings become established.

Spraying. For many people this is a contentious issue. We have never used insecticides, preferring instead to let nature find a balance. The ladybird population fluctuates in step with the aphid population and the starlings and magpies do well when the grass grubs do. It sorts itself out.

[spraying]
To help control weeds along with manual weeding and the use of a petrol powered 'weedeater' we also employ a considerable quantity of Roundup, this being a herbicide that is reasonably safe and one we are familiar with.

Roundup is particularly useful around trees and shrubs while they are becoming established. Well grown rhododendrons require little upkeep beyond a yearly wander through with a spade to find and remove the self-sown elderberry, blackberry and mulenbeckia vine seedlings that sometimes take root there.

Roundup translocates. You only have to touch a leaf on a plant that is susceptable to it and the whole plant can die. This is an advantage, but only when the plant you touch with it is a weed! If we inadvertently touch a valuable plant with spray the easiest thing to do is immediately break off the leaf or twig that has been affected. Alternatively, grab a handful of clay and rub the spray off. If water is handy then the spray can also be washed off.

[removing shrub] Mass plantings of things with a completely dormant period are also amenable to spraying around and in some cases, over.
Done once a year, over time this has virtually eliminated weeds from the daffodil, bluebell, astilbe, colchicum and snowdrop patches.

When planting this sort of garden though it is important not to mix plants with conflicting dormant periods. It can be tempting to try and combine things like this to extend the season of an area but it does not work! For example, Astilbes and Daffodils (as in a bed of astilbes with a daffodil border) do not combine well because the daffs are through the ground at just about the time the Astilbes completely die off.

Of necessity then we do a lot of spraying in late autumn and winter. Winter is not the best time to be using herbicides as the manufacturers recommend application to actively growing plants but because of winter dormancy that is when we have to use it. It also helps give us a window of 'breathing space' in spring when we are busy with farming and nursery duties. The weeds that germinate in autumn and winter have been sprayed and are dying off and the new spring crop of weeds is slow to get started when the ground is cold. Meanwhile the established winter dormant plants are beginning to grow and will in many cases starve the weed seedlings of sunlight before they get a proper foothold.

Edges and lawns.
[removing shrub] Edges are kept with a combination of herbicide spray (Roundup), the petrol weedeater and a sharp spade. Used in late winter, the spade redefines curves and cleans out 'catching ditches' full of dead leaves. It also keeps the user warm on a cold, frosty morning!

There is nothing that improves the look of the garden more than a run around with the mower. Blowing twigs and stray leaves off the lawns enhances the shapes of the edges and draws the eye away from any weeds that may be present!

[garden curves] [garden curves]

[garden curves]

[removing shrub] Plants, sometimes even large trees die or are damaged in storms. It is inevitable, ongoing and entirely natural. As a result each year we remove many cubic metres of branches and timber from the garden.

We also often decide to remove or cut back quite large trees and shrubs to improve views or provide more space for other plantings. The firewood is split, dried and used to heat our house in winter. Removing a golden pine

In the late 1990s we bought an old secondhand Hitachi hydraulic excavator. As well as helping landscape new areas of the garden the 'digger' has also been used to create seven new large curving paths through established parts of the garden. This has opened out areas that had become overgrown, helped rejuvenate rhododendrons that had almost ceased flowering due to the shade of other trees and created dramatic 'long views' over areas of garden. The original paths were usually less than six feet wide and often had extreme sideways slopes as they had been dug solely with a spade.


[digger] [digger]

[digger] [digger]

Gardens are made of living things. Living things grow and change. That's the point, that's a good part of the fascination and interest in gardening. We get so frustrated with visitors who want a plant that will always be covered in flowers, never be more than a metre high and never need pruning or watering...if that's what you want buy an artificial plant, or just paint a concrete wall!

In a similar vein are the people who want to 'have' a garden. As if it was a project you could begin, bring to completion and then forget about. It doesn't work that way.


The Native issue

Warning! Politically incorrect views lie ahead!

[astelia by pond] We are occasionally asked "why don't you have native plants?" or "where is your native garden?"

Well, we do grow and value many New Zealand native plants in our garden. Among them are a very nice Agathis (Kauri) and many Arthropodium (Rock Lily), Astelia 'Silver Spear', Cordyline (Cabbage Tree), Celmisia (Mountain Daisy), Carex secta (Swamp Tussock), Chionchloa (Snow Grass), Clematis forsteri, Clianthus (Kaka beak), Dacrydium (Red Pine), Libertia, Myosotidium (Chatham Island Forget-me-not), Nothofagus (Native Beech), Pittosporum, Podocarpus (Totara) and Sophora (Kowhai).

However, we grow these plants not because they are New Zealand natives, but because we like them. Because they grow well in our climate and location and have interesting habit, foliage or flowers. The same criteria by which we choose all of the plants we grow.

To value one plant over another because of its country of origin seems to us about as sensible as valuing one person over another because of their country of origin, or to put it even more bluntly, to value a person over another because of the colour of their skin.

Over the top? Perhaps, but there is definitely an element of xenophobia in the labeling of plants which have been declared pests in this country. Lythrum salarica (Loosestrife) is "The Purple Peril" for example. Not too different from "The Yellow Peril", is it?

Just what is a 'native' anyway? Plants such as that Myosotidium are from the Chatham Islands, 700 kilometres to the east of New Zealand and are aclaimed as 'native'. If there was an island the same distance off our west coast that had been claimed by Australia 150 years ago would the plants and animals from there be 'exotic'?

The waxeye is a common small New Zealand native bird. Except for the fact that an almost identical bird lives in Australia and the Maori name for a waxeye is a dead giveaway - 'little stranger'. That bird got here under its own steam and in the relatively recent past.

Birds and animals are sensible in a way that some humans aren't of course. A native Tui will happily and successfully nest in a hedge of Cupressus Leylandii (Leyland Cypress) and feed his chicks on the nectar of a South African Kniphofia (Red Hot Poker) or a Tropaeolum (Chilean flame creeper). As will the native Bellbird.

Want to provide winter nectar for Tuis and Bellbirds in Southland? Plant an Australian tree. Eucalyptus cordata produces flowers even in the depths of winter and the hungry native birds flock to it. It will also grow faster than most natives and thrive in exposed, challenging sites.
[tui] [tui]
[fantail] [wood pigeon]

New Zealand consists of some pretty remote islands but we are still (to the consternation of some pseudo-conservationists) on the same planet as the rest of you. The air in my lungs was over Australia the day before yesterday and will be over South America next week. We are all on the one world and we should be working to look after all of it rather than trying to wall ourselves off in our own tiny little corners.

I call these people pseudo-conservationists because as far as I can tell, that is what they are. They restrict their interests and endeavours to one tiny fraction of the worlds biota (and at times to the detriment of the rest of it). Why not take an interest in all living things? Why not care about the future of all endangered species wherever they are living and wherever they evolved?

Then, maybe, you can call yourself a conservationist.


Plant profile: Aruncus

Aruncus sylvestris (syn. A. dioicus) has a rather unfortunate common name: 'Goats Beard'.
A shame, because it is a spectacular, hardy perennial for pond-side planting. Resembling a giant astilbe in flower the flowering spike is attractive at all stages, lemon green in bud, creamy-white in full flower and even after flowering as dead flower heads are much sought after by florists.

In common with most pond-side plants, Aruncus dies completely away in winter to a woody underground clump. Division of the plant is best done then. Breaking one up however is an exercise in brute strength. A chainsaw would come in handy at times.
[aruncus] [aruncus]


Plant profile: Astilbe

[astilbe] Astilbes are grown (and known) mainly for their spectacular summer flowers. However their place in the garden would be earned by their spring foliage alone.

In nature Astilbes evolved to cope with a yearly dumping of silt from winter floods by always growing upwards. The new growing points each year form on top of their dead ancestors. In a garden setting and over the course of a number of years Astilbe clumps will literally grow themselves right out of the ground. This leads to the plant suffering severely from drought in summer and flowering very poorly.

Therefore, every four or five years Astilbe clumps should be dug in winter while dormant, divided if necessary and the bottom 1/3rd of the clump (which will likely consist of nothing but dead and rotting roots) needs to be cut off with a sharp spade. The clump can then be re-planted deeper, with 5-10cm of loose soil over the top of it. Astilbe also benefit from a little fertilizer at this time, thus mimicing the effects of a layer of fertile silt left by a flood.

Left, Astilbes in flower. [astilbe] Right, new spring foliage of Astilbe 'Fanal'. [astilbe]


Plant profile: Cardiocrinum

Cardiocrinum (Himalayan lily).

What to say about this largest and most spectacular member of the lily family?
Cardiocrinums take seven year to reach flowering size from seed. Each year the glossy, heart shaped leaf gets larger until in its seventh spring the plant goes from a winter-dormant surface bulb to a flower stem up to 3.5 metres high in less than four months. The largest stems can have 20-30 tubular, highly scented lily flowers. Each flower gives way to a large seed-pod that slowly forms over the remaining summer months. After the first real frost of winter the pods begin to open and the lightest breeze or disturbance of the stem causes the large seeds to disperse. There is quite a lot of it, we once counted the contents of one pod and got to 1000 seeds.
Not all Cardiocrinum seed germinates and many of the seedlings do fall by the wayside. Seed germinates best on bare, freshly disturbed soil. When planting under trees clear away the leaf-litter before scattering the seed on or just under the surface.

Near flowering size bulbs should not disturbed or transplanted. Cardiocrinum need time to develop the extensive root system necessary to hold that huge flowering stem up in a strong wind. Flowering size plants that have been recently planted out will need staking if they are not to blow over.

In our climate Cardiocrinum will grow just about anywhere, though the leaf is prone to sunburn later in summer if the plant is growing in full sun.

[Maple Glen] [Maple Glen]

[Maple Glen]

[Maple Glen]

[Maple Glen] [Maple Glen]


Plant profile: Colchicum

[Maple Glen] Colchicum speciosum has the common name 'Autumn Crocus' but in fact they aren't closely related to true crocuses at all. Even more confusingly, there are true autumn flowering crocuses!
Colchicum are really closely related to lilies - but whatever they are related to, they make a spectacular autumn show in our garden. As well as the large pink and white forms of C. speciosum 'The Giant' we also grow the double Colchicum "Water Lily", and an interesting variety with veined flowers, Colchicum aggripinum.

Colchicums like the same growing conditions as Daffodils and indeed make good companion plants for them. They prefer heavy, moist soil they do not like shade - even fairly high shade causes the flowers to all lean towards the sun.

Colchicums spend more than half the year below ground and their growing cycle is most odd. The plant flowers on bare ground, showing no leaves in the autumn, these flowers die away and then late in winter the large shiny leaves begin to appear. Colchicum patches are solid with tightly packed leaves (with no room for weeds!) all through spring before dying away again in early summer.

[Maple Glen] [Maple Glen]
[Maple Glen] [Maple Glen]


Plant profile: Galanthus

[Maple Glen] Snowdrops aren't Snowflakes

True Galanthus (Snowdrops) are sometimes confused with Leucojum (Snowflakes) but they're very easy to tell apart when you know how.

For starters, Snowdrops flower in July and August here and are truly winter flowers. Snowflakes flower at the same time as Daffodils, in late September. Snowdrops have a larger, showier flower on a much shorter stem than Snowflakes.

Snowdrops do require a colder climate than Snowflakes, perhaps that is why the latter are so often sold in their place.
A Snowflake: [Maple Glen]
A Snowdrop: [Maple Glen]
[Maple Glen] We now have many thousands of Snowdrops at Maple Glen, they form large drifts under deciduous trees and delineate curving borders throughout the garden. However, all of these bulbs originally came from just five bulbs imported by Muriel 40 years ago. One bulb each of five varieties.

[Maple Glen] Muriel has worked every July to propogate and spread them with great success. Snowdrops are unusual bulbs in that they can be safely dug up and transplanted while in full flower. Doing this to a Daffodil (for example) would severely weaken it and perhaps even stop it flowering for a year or two but Snowdrops never seem to miss a beat.

[Maple Glen] [Maple Glen]



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Last modified on 26 August, 2008