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Sleeping Beauty’s Castle
For fifty years, before we arrived at Lambhill, its garden had been going wild. By the time we moved in, the only bit that looked anything like “garden” was its old terraced croquet lawn, on the North side of the house. Joan Sutherland had kept that mowed, while the house had been empty, and while it was rented out. The rest of the garden seemed lost. If any still survived, it was hidden, truly and utterly forgotten, under an extensive and impenetrable tangle. Whole trees had disappeared under networks of vines. Shrubs had suckered and wandered for many metres, claiming uncharted areas of garden as their own; large boughs had collapsed, to be inhabited by all kinds of tiny creatures and fungi; light-starved perennials had stretched and clambered over each other in a race for the sky; anything that could grow, grew! and what couldn’t, died, and succumbed to what still lived; and, over the years of retreating human use, birds and wind had sown in the garden a forest of native colonisers. What Dr Allison had planted, so carefully, in the 1850s, to the admiration and interest of his Scientific friends, was now little more than a dense BeWilderment of Vegetation. It was a wilderness that promised nothing certain – but it electrified me: somewhere underneath, once, there had been a garden. People had worked and thought about the soil there. Had they left traces? What could I find under there? And what could it be, again?
I wish I had taken photos of the tangle we found here when we moved into the house. I wish I had stopped and thought to document it – but the garden was like a Curtain of Mystery, and I was drawn to it immediately. It had been calling me for months, while we waited for Moving Day. With no thought for the camera, I was outside the house the day after we had the key. I had to lift a corner of that green curtain, and explore…
Exploring the tangle was hard work. You had to press through, step over, and clear a footing. You had to break your way through horizontal branches and tug out handfuls of grass and thistles that were taller than your head. Very quickly, you were scratched and dishevelled, with whipped cheeks and scarecrow hair. It took a long time to get anywhere, and there were so many trees that you didn’t know where to start – where to head for – or how to imagine what might once have been underneath.
There were no paths. Luckily I could ask Spin and Joan Sutherland where the paths used to be, because they had known the garden since the 1930s when staying here with their aunts and uncles. Thanks to Spin and Joan, I knew vaguely where a path might have run – although their old landmark trees had now grown out of all recognition, fallen, or been totally engulfed by vines. Over the years, old photos of the Lambhill gardens have been wonderful helps to me: but although some features, landforms, trees and layouts they showed, survived, others didn’t. But they gave me pointers.
For fifteen years I have been working to uncover Dr Allison’s original garden, and to learn how the garden has changed and developed by the Sutherlands – and to trace how, gradually, decade by decade, it has gone wild. Since Dr Allison laid out his Victorian garden on this windy hillside, some of the plants that he imported especially, have died. But it is surprising how many old trees, shrubs and bulbs planted by him and by the Sutherlands after him, have survived. And by 2003, in spite of droughts, salty gales and neglect, underneath the thick canopy of vines and trees, underneath the weeds and mess, underneath the grass and soil, there were treasures waiting for me. After fifteen years, the garden still surprises me with little gifts.
In those initial weeks of clearing near the house, there came a day when I stubbed my fingers on a rough lump of ironstone in the grass at the bottom of the lawn. Then I realised there was a line of rocks lying together not far under the soil. I was light-headed with excitement! Gradually, I realised that the rocks were the silted-up and buried edge of a large circular garden bed. It took me ten months to clear that big circle bed, to drag out the debris and weed it enough to see what still remained alive, rooted in its soil. It was hard work, but tingling curiosity drove me on. In the centre of the bed was a solid mass of huge crinum bulbs (what on earth were they? I’d never met those before), a licheny old rose or two (the white Madam Hardy, and an unnamed single-pink), and a large azalea that had brazened itself into an icon of Art-Nouveau tracery. The remnants of its original low box hedge had grown into a few large undulating blobs. On one side the bed was jam-packed with pushing green nibs just under the soil (what would they turn out to be? how thrilling!)… Come late winter, they erupted into snowflake prettiness: Leucojums galore.
The garden as a whole was full of all kinds of hidden life. During the daytime, at first, it was eerily quiet; it seemed strange, but there really were no birds! Only the night-time owls called, and fed their young, silhouetted against the moon in the ancient cypress. It wasn’t until I had loosened weeds and exposed some soil for them, and cleared some flying-space between trees, that the birds began to return.
And from the beginning, wherever I dug, I’d uncover silk-lined tunnels in the soil, large enough to put a finger down. I never did put my finger down them, because I knew what lived in them. They were the homes of large, docile, velvety trapdoor spiders. The garden was home to an apparently inexhaustible range of strange and exotic insects. Every day for the whole of our first Lambhill Summer, one of us would find a new insect that we had never seen before. Some of them, and a few of the spiders are hard to believe even when you are holding one. One day, I’ll post some pictures! In this blog, I’ll also show you glimpses of how, over fifteen years, I have unpicked, stitched together and re-embroidered this old garden, finding pieces of its past, relearning its spirit, and in places, reimagining it – at every step.
“If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”
This is the 3rd of July, 2019 – deep winter. And yet the paperwhite jonquils have been flowering – pristinely white, delicate, and with an uplifting scent – for over a month. The daphnes are opening up – and the new hybrids, “Perfume Princess,” have been flowering for a couple of weeks. And now, the young Chimonanthus (wintersweet) are blooming for their first seasons… Isn’t our temperate Wanganui winter glorious for scent?
And now, the sparrows are “behavin’ rawther Common.” Don’t they know this is Winter? Already, they are flying up under the corner of the north verandah roof with long grass stalks, and stuffing them untidily into their nest hole. The other day, Joan was filling in potholes in the drive with ground shellrock, and saw a cock sparrow in furious pursuit of a large Kereru (native wood-pigeon)! The sparrow was just a feather’s-end behind, and belting after it. There is still a hefty dollop of cold to come, and eight or more weeks of Winter left, but our frosty days have temporarily melted away, while we wait for wet Northerlies to hit, and today feels like Spring. I haven’t lit the fire in the Sitting Room, where I am writing today. Millie, the fluff-hound, is asleep on a Victorian chair, and Skipper, the little parrot, is dozing in his cage, close by, where he can see her – and dote. As I type this, I see blackbirds and fantails dipping and splashing outside, in one of the birdbaths. They look very funny, seen through the old wobbly glass of the french windows. Dried grass plumes from the tall Miscanthus sinensis are waving in the Circle bed beside the birdbath, which is tucked in beside the big overgrown buxus – remains of Dr Allison’s low box border. And the pretty native shield fern beside it is holding discreet ferny fans over the magnolia’s legs.
I love magnolias. There is a very tall, windshaped Magnolia grandiflora on the western side of the main lawn at Lambhill, and after our boys left home, they let me sell some possum fur they had collected, which paid for a lot of interesting magnolias from a fabulous nursery-sale! So now, around the garden, there are quite a few adolescent magnolia trees, and all with fattening lambswool buds on bare branches. Very pretty, in an elegant, understated way. My favourite magnolias are the small stellata ones – the white is just perfect and lovely, but “Leonard Messel,” the pink stellata type, is very romantic in a Paris-teashop-and-sugar kind of way. It may be winter in the garden, but I am enjoying every minute!
The Birds in Winter
Nowadays, the Lambhill garden is full of native birds and their introduced second-cousins from England and Australia. We are not worried about looking after the introduced birds: after all, there are so many of them here that they are obviously able to fend for themselves! The native and endemic birds, however, need help.
All Winter we put out apples, as above, on the nail hammered into the old fencepost. Sometimes we put out oranges with a bit sliced off to get the birds started. They also love bananas, kiwifruit, and any other sweet fruit.
Winter Nectar Recipe for Birds
If you have nectar-drinking birds in your garden, you can feed them over Winter. We bought a wood and china nectar feeder from a local craftsman at the Whanganui River Traders Market (which is open year-round, every Saturday morning by the Whanganui Riverbank, in town). It uses recycled wine bottles. This recipe fills two wine bottles, but if the birds invite their friends, and it’s a cold winter, you might go through 6 wine-bottles of nectar a day – as we do.
Put 1 cup of white sugar and 1/2 a cup of brown sugar in a large jug, cover well with boiling water and stir to dissolve. Pour it into the two wine bottles, through a funnel, sharing it evenly between bottles. Top up the bottles with cold water, and put out in your feeder.
We get native tui, native bellbirds, and endemic waxeyes flocking to the feeder and the nearby fruit that we put out for them. It is lovely, on cold days, to stand at a window and watch them – so put it all where you can see! We also have bird baths nearby, and it always amazes us to see the mighty splashings going on in the baths even on the coldest days. Fantails and sparrows love pool-parties, but native woodpigeon (kereru), blackbirds, thrushes, goldfinches, chaffinches, dunnocks and all the rest, though less inclined to swim in Wintertime, still use the bird baths every day as drinking fountains.
These pictures are of kereru, or native wood-pigeons, in the garden at Lambhill. They are completely protected by law, and raise one youngster per pair every year. Their nests are hilariously unstable sparse platforms of twigs. The picture below is a native Tui, which is larger than a blackbird, and shines green or blue in the light, and has two voiceboxes, and a really interesting, melodious song. Sometimes our tui go over and over the same falling three-note phrase (we can all whistle or sing it in our sleep).
Winter Flowers from the Garden
Apart from the restfulness of Winter in the garden – not much plant growth to keep pruned or weeded – I love the joyous scented flowers that brighten up the cold weeks. Here are a few pictures of flowers I’ve brought inside lately…
The Meadow at Lambhill
For years after we arrived at Lambhill homestead, our meadow, on the open west side of the house, was just rough grass, grazed by Spin and Joan’s sheep, and fenced off by metal battens and wirenetting. I longed to open it up again, and grow an English flower-meadow, with long grass laced with pretty wildflowers, and mowed twice a year. I tried that, but realised by hard experience, that mowing and clearing up a large meadow of long grass is too hard for one woman. And so now we keep it mown like a lawn, and simply mow around the gently spreading patches of bulbs, while they are above ground.
Another try at trees in the Meadow.
Over the years, I have tried planting all kinds of trees in the meadow, which is on an exposed hill looking out to sea (which is about 8km away). Trees have to stand up to strong wind, salt coating, and deer damage (by the red and fallow deer that live wild in our forest). I built strong fenced cages around some of my planting attempts, but the deer have very long necks and like to ringbark trees. Now, I’ve moved two of the three damaged puriri that the stags battered last autumn, while rubbing at their itchy antlers, and have planted a fir (Picea abies)… Let’s see whether that fares any better. It would be nice to frame our enormous views between a few trees, and let them filter some of our gales a little.
Wild Winter Garden…
From modest to monumental, the multifarious incarnations of Magnolias prompt me to find room in the garden for more and more of them. For decades, there has been a tall, tough old Magnolia grandiflora in a border off the main lawn. That is the white one which flowers in summer, and has big leathery leaves with brown-velvet undersides. It copes with drought, salty gales, and wet winters.
Encouraged by that old Magnolia’s success at Lambhill, I have tried other varieties. Once they are established – with a lot of summer watering – they have all flourished. And so here are some photos of the ones in flower today, the 22nd of August, 2019. But I warn you, looking at Magnolias can be a mystic experience, provoking strings of words in the mind, and hinting towards poetry: maelstroms, madrigals, mandolins, mirages, and millinery… It’s marvellous, but be prepared for a desire to collect and grow magnolias… a desire of unexpected magnitude.
I do not grow trees for their names, so can’t be exact if you want to know which magnolias these are, but I know that one of them is “Star Wars;” one (the really dark one, I think) is “Vulcan;” and the small flowering ones with long petals are M. stellata (white) and the little pink one is “Leonard Messel.” Also, the tall tree with pure-white tulip flowers in the background of one photo is M. yunnanensis. Magnolias exhibit a huge range of habits and personalities! And I love the woolly buds before the flowers open – and the gorgeously grotesque seed pods that come afterwards.
Equinoxial Gales and Ethereal Flowers
In late August and September, Winter and Spring have been dancing an old-fashioned minuet together: Winter advances, Spring retreats; Spring advances, Winter retreats; then they join hands and take some stately peregrinations; Repeat.
Flowers inside, late Winter
Pardon me for the dim lighting! Lambhill is a dark house sometimes.
The little handpainted Japanese vase in the first of these three photos, is full of sweet-scented Viburnum carlesii. And the irises in the porch were grown by our friend and neighbour, Spin Sutherland, who drove up specially to give me this bunch.
These pictures, above, show the Abutilon walk, with the clivias I have transplanted from other parts of the garden. This was dense jungle with tradescantia taller than your knees, until Millie (the dog) and I cleared and planted here – and cut back the rambling, fallen abutilons.
The four photos above show the (wild) sunken garden, with shrubs cut back hard over winter, ready to fill out again this summer. Also, a closer picture of one of my favourite combinations: rock, “soap roses” (that’s what I always think of them as – they are echeveria elegans in public), and wild New Zealand ferns, which i encourage.
Work! …always in progress.
Some of my projects in the garden at the moment are intended to simplify some of my gardening in future. One of the main things I need to do is to get a ride-on mower, and for a ride-on to fit down the Lambhill garden paths, I have to widen them! This has been a major effort of digging out some shrubs and small trees (some of which we’ve moved to the forest edge). I’ve bought a load of crusher-dust and after finishing weeding all the paths, I’ll spread that out. It is like small pea-gravel, easy to walk on, and easy to the eye.
These three pictures show the terracing and paths I’ve been putting in down the slope for vegetables amongst the flowers – and a picture showing what still has to be dug out and reworked. This is on one side of the Cutting Garden (as was) – which is on the northern, sheltered slope of our hill. Here, I have been growing fruits, vegetables, and flowers for vases in a glorious jumble. This new landscaping might make it easier to grow vegetables.
These last two pictures show the work I have been putting in, beginning to turn the single windbreak bed in the meadow, into two. I am spreading out the evergreens and interspersing them with deciduous trees, as well as simplifying the under-planting to ultra-tough manukas, hebes, grevilleas and anemanthele grasses which will (I hope) take the salty gales with a pinch of salt! And I hope the wild deer will leave this all alone until it is well established. We have so much wind that filtering the wind is a priority – both for the house and for the garden behind.
Late November in the Garden
I have been horribly remiss in adding anything to this blog lately, because the garden is growing so fast! Everything was shaggy: grass long, and long again four days after mowing; paths weedy; tendrils groping; shrubs reaching out to embrace each other and shut out the light; borders filling with weeds; everything needing a good haircut and restyle! So I have been gardening: tidying, digging, weeding, chopping, burning, composting, feeding, watering, and tittifying. It has been hard work, but rewarding, since November is Lambhill’s most beautiful garden month. The philadelphus has been spectacular again, scenting the whole air – even throughout the house, when I put vases of it in every room…. The old delicate roses have been blooming sweetly, on lichened old trees…. The flowering apples and plums, weigelas, lilacs, and everything else, have been overflowing bubble-baths of blossom! And so I have worked hard. Here are a few pictures of the glade, during a few days’ sessions:
In the paddocks all around our hill, farmers have been ploughing and sowing their Summer crops. And when I mowed our meadow, the buttercups were too beautiful to cut them all off, so I left a circle of them as a temporary artform, with a path mown through it. Jonathan saw it out an upper window and referred to it as my “tennis ball.” The Spring winds blew – and the clouds have been active and interesting. The old hedgerows have been full of holly and hawthorn blossom. And the pheasants have been saying things loudly from hidden places, and walking the bounds…
Late November Images from the Lambhill Garden
Victorian garden advice for today
One of Dr Allison’s garden influences was, I am almost certain, John Claudius Loudon, who assessed, revived, and popularised the art and science of gardening in his magazine, just as James Allison was growing up. I have a lovely edition of Loudon’s work: “In Search of English Gardens; The Travels of John Claudius Loudon and His Wife Jane,” edited by Priscilla Boniface (Lennard, 1987). Loudon’s observations and advice are still excellent, and I thought you might find some of it as interesting as I do:
Of a visit to a very well kept large estate: “The grand secret of the plan of all this is the division of duties; and the secret of the execution, the ABUNDANCE OF HANDS to perform them. Let this principle be borne in mind by every master. Nine tenths of the slovenliness about gentlemen’s [estates] arises from a want of sufficient hands; from attempting more than there is means adequate to perform.” —- Don’t you find this to be true!? Do you take on more in your garden than you can easily maintain? Do you plan features in your garden that you cannot afford the energy or money to keep up???
Of the necessity for the gardener to learn and observe from other gardens: “We will… repeat our approbation of Mr Parks’ mode of travelling through the country on foot, and procuring information in his profession; and recommend to all gardeners,… to call and see other gardens as frequently and extensively as they possibly can. We can assure them …that they will, if they are men of any observation, learn more in a week spent in this way, than in a year of close attention, and even reading at home.” I adore the next bit: “We would lend our head gardener a horse, perhaps a velocipede might do, and allow him so much a day, say 20 shillings, for a certain number of days in every year, and oblige him to make tours, and write in a journal, to be kept in the garden library, where he had been, and what he had seen.” —-A velocipede, in case you haven’t met one of these creatures in your garden, was the forerunner to a bicycle – that had no pedals, you scooted it along with your feet on the ground. How very charming to imagine gardeners earnestly scooting along on wheeled, clumsy, steeds, and skidding to a halt to study gardens, ask questions of whoever was working there, and carefully make pencil notes and watercolour sketches in a pocket notebook……… Also, Loudon’s suggestion of a private garden library is a sound and useful notion. I have one myself.
Of Loudon’s visit to a garden of which he approved: “The gardener here, Arthur Morrey, is a most industrious and valuable man, and every thing under his charge does him great credit. He also has two boys and four girls, healthy children, to each of whom we have sent a school-book, and, to the father, a pair of French sabots (wooden shoes) for putting over his shoes in the pruning season. We would most strongly recommend these sabots to all …gardeners, as most valuable for keeping their feet dry and warm while standing on wet ground pruning trees in the winter or spring season. They may be had through any London or Edinburgh nurseryman, who may easily procure them from any sea-port on the Continent, and they are very cheap and durable. Indeed, we are of the opinion that every head-gardener ought to keep a stock of them for the use of men under his care, in the same way as he keeps spades, rakes, and other tools. Nurserymen and gentlemen’s gardeners find that it pays to warm, by a flue or a steam-pipe, the back sheds in which their men work in the winter time. Why should it not, also, pay to keep their workmen’s feet dry and warm when they are working in the open air at that season?” Loudon felt so strongly about keeping gardeners’ feet cosy, that he said, “To begin the thing, we hereby offer a copy of our ‘Hortus Britannicus’ to the first head-gardener in England who shall, with the consent of his employer, procure 20 pairs of sabots …for the use of his men; the like stimulus in Scotland… and the like for Ireland… We are desirous that the sabots should be secured from nurserymen, in order that these may get into the way of keeping a stock of them; and we shall be glad to know the nurserymen’s names, that we may publish them for the benefit of gardeners generally.” Phew! I go through gumboots every year or so, and they are neither cheap nor terribly environmentally sound. If wooden overshoes really were comfortable, warm, and dry, I’d like some myself. And I bet they would last a very, very long time. Anyone know a sabot-maker????
This has been a windy summer. It is not yet very hot, nor very dry. And we have a constant supply of water, since we joined up to the Fordell water scheme. A trickle of water pipes into our large concrete water tank at all times, and, because it is an undersubscribed water scheme for a large farming district, we have no lack, during the worst droughts. In town, Wanganui people can be reduced to watering by hand on alternative days, while we can carry on hosing for hours every day. Watering by hose has been an enormous job for several summers past. In spite of my long hours soaking the soil, every year several large and well-established shrubs or prized trees die at Lambhill, when the days are hot and long, the wind keeps blowing, and no rain falls for month after month. It is tiring work, but in these hotter summers, I don’t think the garden could survive without it. So I am grateful – very grateful – for the unrestricted tank-water we have. It is far, far more than many other gardeners have.
Last summer, Spin saw how tired I was after long days on my feet with the hose, and bought me an oscillating sprinkler. How practical!!! What a great work-saver! Now I can set it up in one area, go off for ten or twenty minutes, and do something else, before shifting the sprinkler to another section of garden. At the moment I have two hoses joined together, and we have another hose to add, if we need to stretch it even further afield. It is fabulous for refreshing gale-battered dahlias, and perking up the whole garden. The birds love it – fantails in particular – and the moving, gently splashing water is restful to watch. I even put Skipper, the cockatiel, out under the farthest drips in his cage, to have a shower. He loves it, and spreads out his wings and has a good preen, trying to twist over so that the droplets reach every bit of his skin and feathers. “A sprinkler is a lovesome thing, God wot!”
So often, when I purposely take cuttings of shrubs or trees and try to root them, either in sand or water, and with or without rooting hormone, they remain obstinate and inert, and end up with brown stem-ends, in the compost bucket – without roots. On the other hand, I do a lot of flower arrangements for the house, and sometimes I find, when I check the vase-water, that the arrangment stems have sent out roots!!! A case in point was the rich-red fuchsias I had cut a fortnight ago, for the little amber coffee-jar, to set on the wooden pedestal in the dark kitchen desk-corner. Now, on the tenth of January, I have two extra fuchsia rootlets shyly pleased with themselves amongst the rest of the arrangement’s inert stubs.
How clever of them: their “parent” fuchsia plant has been growing for many years in Dr Allison’s Lambhill Fernery area. I am hoping to rebuilt the Fernery’s trellis walls and door when I have saved enough… but meantime, I’ve planted cuttings of Brugmansia/Angels’ Trumpets to try and give the Fernery a bit of shade. So I think these new fuchsias will grow alright, as long as they get enough watering. Isn’t it thrilling when you get new plants for free, and quite unintentionally!?!
Other shrubs that root easily in vases of water (i.e., in flower arrangements!), are Rosemary and Blackcurrants, buxus (Box) and some Roses. Sometimes I just put cuttings in rows of glass water-jars in a window, hoping they will root – but enjoying their liveliness even if they don’t root. It’s worth trying all kinds of cuttings. Lots of people steal cuttings, but I don’t. I am working on beating down my conscience enough to do that, but don’t hold out much hope of it…… Now THAT’s an unusual New Year’s Resolution! (The Gardener’s Vespers: “Lord, let me be less scrupulous… Don’t you think it would Really Be a Good Thing (and Excellent Conservation Practice) if I appropriated and propagated some of those rare Whatsitmacalliensis hanging over the fence in that ONE, SOLitary garden? Shouldn’t I help it to ‘Go Forth and Multiply?'”)
A Rueful Note on Growing Veges
Other people have their own specialties and affinities for rooting plants: my youngest sister Beth seems to be able to grow anything, but especially food plants, and she has created a productive and much-admired potager and food garden for her boyfriend, on his small suburban section. (An advantage of vegetable-growing in town is the lack of wild rabbits there! Last week, the charming but rampageous Lambhill rabbits ate the whole bean section out of my vegetable orchestra- a whole packet’s-worth of promising dwarf bean plants – that I had forgotten to cover….) (One of those same rabbits was spotted two days ago, sitting on the gravel path down from the kitchen, nibbling and nibbling and eating up loquat seeds as if they were the finest French dessert pastries. All very pretty and genteel, with whiffling whiskers and evident enjoyment. I wish they would stick to the loquat seeds and leave the beans alone. But you can’t reason with a rabbit.
Tea on the North-West Verandah, late December 2019
One hot December day, just before the Christmas break, I took time out on the North-West Verandah, between the sitting room, the porch/conservatory, and the meadow. Here are some photos:
Summer Garden Pictures, 2019-2020
Summer Flowers, Lambhill!
Dr Allison’s Oaks
Recently, I had a cold, and Joan came up to the back door with pieces she had snapped off two of the old oak trees probably planted by Dr Allison in the old days. She knew I would be interested in their differences, and enjoy them.
The oak on the left, with the half-grown green acorns, is Quercus robur, the English oak. The one on the right is Quercus cerris, the Turkey oak. In the second photo, you can see its half-grown acorn cups, which are mossy and tentacled all over! The acorns of the Turkey oak are long and larger than the “ordinary” but beautiful English kind. Every autumn I fill my pockets with fallen acorns and fling them in likely places: “Guerilla Gardeners of the World, Unite!!!” I think we should try to grow a wider range of species than we find easily available and “popular” in the garden shops. This is one of Wanganui’s charms: Dr Allison’s sons, and James McGregor (the brother of Kitty Sutherland, one of the second family at Lambhill), set up the Wanganui Beautifying Society, which planted many exotic and interesting trees around the town, and in its many lovely parks. The Victorians appreciated botany. If you go looking, in the old parks, of old New Zealand towns, you will come across all kinds of unusual trees.
Birds As Gardeners…
We encourage the birds here at Lambhill. And they are real gardeners. Here are a few photos taken of bird-planted delights that I had allowed to stay in situ: I took these pictures while drinking my pot of tea, one summer breakfast-time, on the Kitchen (East) Verandah.
The wildlings are: cow parsley (wild carrot), a pale primrose-yellow nasturtium, coronaria (deep pink flowers on silver plants that have lived in the garden here for many decades), and parsley that I planted but has gone to seed.
Walking Millie Down the Lambhill Drive on a Summer January Afternoon…
View of the old orchard (part of the old farm owned by Spin and Joan Sutherland), and view down the turn-off to the old Wool Shed, with their Land Rover, which, along with the Iseki tractor and the old Massey Ferguson tractor, is one of the farm’s three reliable “workhorses.”
The Fernery – Edging forward!
Although Dr Allison’s original Lambhill Fernery had tall trellis walls, to match the trellis on the North Verandah, the trellis, and the framing to hold it up, and the trellis door in the walls would cost over $2000 (NZ$) to replace. That means that, if I want to edge the Fernery back towards its shady, fern-collecting, Victorian persona, I have to improvise shady screens by planting trees.
Yesterday, when I intended to spend the day writing, I found myself planting out trees and shrubs, re-arranging the Angels’ Trumpets (white brugmansia), and planting in new ferns and fuchsias in the Fernery! It was a hot day then, and it is even hotter today, and so I have put the sprinkler on it for a long time, to keep everything alive, and to help the plants resettle.
I trolled about the garden for something that could be a water feature, and found one of my urns, which is vaguely Victorian, and a chunk of brick-and-concrete that would do for a plinth, with creeping polypody ferns growing about it. The urn leaks – not being meant to hold water – but it leaks slowly, so I can refill it every day….
Now, all it needs is a stone seat at the end of the path. The path edgings are still in place, by the way, made of bricks sunk into the ground on their ends.
I do still hope and intend to have the Fernery properly enclosed by replica walls of trellis. In the meantime, it is beginning to look and feel more as it ought.
The Meadow in Late Summer
It has been so hot, windy and dry for several weeks, that down on the main road, the ‘Fire Danger’ dial is pointing to “Extreme Danger.” All fires are banned around the district, and all fire permits rescinded. There have been a few fires around Wanganui, mostly lit by sparks from mowers, or from sunlight concentrated into flame by broken, discarded glass left on the roadside. Earlier in the summer, we had a lot of smoke in all our gullies, and filling the Wanganui river basin, for day after day, when the Australian bush-fires drifted smoke across the Tasman. Here at Lambhill, we are using our sprinkler every day, to dampen things, and keep the plants green. We are also keeping the meadow mown, to stave off any risk to the house.
A Curiosity from the Arboretum
Jonathan was combing through Dr Allison’s old Arboretum with Joan Sutherland recently. They were looking for a leaking farm-water pipe, because the water-tank up by the Feed Shed had suddenly lost a lot of water, and the pump beside it was working non-stop. As they were walking in the forest, they stopped to admire the old trees. One was a tall native Kauri tree (Agathis australis). At its feet, Jonathan picked up a chunk of kauri gum. It is quite fresh: unlike the polished specimens of kauri gum that you see in museums, it is a little flaky, and brittle enough to cut pieces off, but I am going to label it and put it in a Cabinet of Curiosities somewhere in the house.
Late-Summer Lambhill Flowers, February 2020.
Mid-March Garden, 2020
Late March Garden, 2020
As you might have guessed from the subject matter of my most recent garden photos, I have been sticking quite close to the house for the last few months – with only fleeting visits to its further reaches. I’ve been too busy working on my book to garden very much! I might be photographing the same views, but the seasonal changes bring interest!
The Landscape, Late March 2020
These photos were taken during the covid-19 lockdown, in April 2020.
An Autumn Breakfast At Lambhill
This morning, Easter Saturday, dawned clear, cool, and still. It is the most glorious, sunny day, and I took my breakfast tea upstairs to the window of the tiny Governess’s Room – because it’s cosy – and because it has fabulous views.
April 2020: Autumn pictures of the Lambhill garden.
These pictures show the Fernery corner, with a startling pink Bromeliad flower:
Garden fruit harvest, 21 April 2020
An Autumn Walk down the hill to collect Walnuts from the tree by the Woolshed…
Spin and Joan very kindly tell us to collect walnuts from their tree, once they’ve picked up what they need. Some of the photographs are a little blurred, because I was taking pictures as I walked, while also carrying a willow washing basket and a rake without a handle. I walked through the garden, past the Sunken Garden, past the biggest Holm Oak, out the little iron gate by the woodshed, down under the trees on the hill, past the old Orchard, and out the gate onto the Woolshed-driveway. After collecting the nuts, the basket was heavy, so it seemed easiest to lug it back up the driveway on my hip, and follow the drive up the hill all the way to our door. On the way, I stopped to look at red hawthorn berries in the hedgerows, and into the hayshed… I took three trips for walnuts, and they are drying out at home now.
Did you see the Muscovy duck’s nest in the hay, soft with down? Joan took its eggs for baking because Muscovy ducks are usually neglectful and absentminded mothers, and It’s Better This Way… The final photograph: I do like the mysterious stairs and tunnels in the hay stack! Fresh hay smells wonderful. It is sweet like grassy honey, and always lifts the spirits when you breathe it in. When walking past the hayshed, I often put my head inside, over the gate, and inhale deeply. I sometimes imagine getting a wooden box made, on legs, as a bed, stuffing it full to the brim of fresh hay, and laying thick white cotton sheets over it, with feather quilts over the top. I think hay would make the most heavenly-scented bed, and it might help insomnia.
A Late Cicada
This cicada was sitting in a pot plant during a freezing autumn afternoon. I moved him to a warmer spot.
Bullies, even here…
The other day I saw three magpies ganging up to harrass two female pheasants, driving them off the meadow, and not letting them come out of our forest. The brutes! Here is a magpie in one of their favourite spots – the tops of the elms! (I do like magpie songs. Pity they can be such menaces. Jonathan’s had to shoot them, before, when they ganged up on Joan, and to protect herself, she had to walk about the farm holding a many-branched piece of eucalypt above her head… That magpie wouldn’t show itself to Jonathan until he got Joan out as “bait!” It worked: divebombing Joan was the last thing that bully ever did.)
Can you spot the magpie???
Early May at Lambhill (2020)
I am posting these photos in late August, because by May, the constant headaches I had been having had built up into constant migraines… and I have been slowly recovering ever since, and still suffering. The years of violent gardening have damaged my neck, it turns out….
Back in May, these flowers came from our garden:
By May, the ferns were becoming established in the old fernery, and there was quite a sweet collection.
Birds in Winter
We feed the native birds every winter, with apples, bananas, and fruit syrup. The finches get a scattering of seed daily. There is constant activity, especially on the coldest days, around the food station and also about the birdbaths. Here are a few photos. This year we have been surprised to have new visitors: Eastern Rosellas have been living on the farm and in the orchard, but have only now begun to venture close to the house.
Other May garden denizens:
The Garden gets left to go wild, May 2020:
During May, I was waiting until my morning migraine had let up enough for me to stumble outside, and would then do an hour of painful, dopey-headed work in the garden. It took a week or more to clear away “The Great Wall of Lambhill” – a long, high pile of sticks and weeds – and heave it over the fence to sink into the forest floor. The first photo below shows that space cleared, and is followed by images of the first primroses, sleepy mallows, rosemary, mahonia, and Brugmansias (angels’ trumpets):
Aren’t the lilac-pink tree dahlias great?! They seem so Alice-in-Wonderland, with their enormously tall stems, and delicate blooms hanging miles up in the air. I like the contrast between them and the rust-coloured perennials salvias. And the white camellia is one of my favourites: Setsugekka.
Lambhill garden flowers in June 2020:
This is a picture of the garden in June, in stormlight:
Birds in June 2020:
July 2020 Winter in the Garden
A Walk in our Forest, July 2020
Lambhill birds in July
Daphne, Daphne, Daphne!
Always plant more daphne!!!!!! You will thank yourself in Winter!!!!!
Winter outdoors…. more images:
August 2020 in the Lambhill Garden: Birds and Plants
Magnolias in August….
Photos of Winter walks about the wider farm, August 2020
More Winter walks on the farm in August
Lambhill Garden in September, 2020
In the slideshow above: Slide 1: Clivias in the Totara Walk. Slide 2: The Metal Tree (old horseshoes, rake heads, pots etc, found in the garden. Slide 3: Fallen flower off one of the old Camellias. Slide 4: Native coprosma flowers – this is a very tough coastal plant. Slide 5: The fabulously sculptural trunk of a native Whiteywood, or Mahoe. These are small trees of the forest margins, and great survivors. Birds like their small berries. Slide 6: Narcissus “Thalia,” which I planted for their delicacy. Slide 7: Epimediums. They like dry shade. Hurrah!
Mid-October in the Garden, 2020
Long years of hard toil in the garden have taken their toll: my damaged neck makes gardening almost impossible now. We have diverted some money we had been paying on mortgages towards hiring a part-time gardener. The woman I hired loves the “magical” Lambhill garden, and looks forward to working here once a fortnight. I can only afford to pay her for 4 hours at a time, which is Not Enough!!!! However, it helps, and I am grateful to Karen!
Here are some pictures of the garden as it is now. We are slowly trying to disentangle it a little, while accepting that it can’t be pristine, unless we are Left A Fortune!!
These following pictures show the glade itself, this October…
Here is a hidden wild corner – before Karen began on it!…
Wild as it is, isn’t it Romantic and lovely? I adore wild flowers, and love the intermingling swathes and graceful arches. The primrose-yellow Banksia rose is unscented and the flowers short-lived, but still they are welcome for their structure as well as their trusses of blossom. The small white flowers in the final slide above, are what I call Dwarf Comfrey, but I think they are really a relation, rather than a true comfrey. They like shade, but tend to get ragged and dried out during hot summers. Now, with Spring rains, they are perfectly happy – and look it.
Random shots of the Lambhill garden this October:
The following pictures show the Puriri Walk: the snowball trees are out (Viburnum opulus)! But we start on the main lawn:
More October Garden…. continuing out of the Puriri Walk…
Here is the Sunken Garden this October, having had the minimum of care…
Walking across to the Little Oval Lawn, still in Mid-October 2020…
Late-October at Lambhill:
Come into the garden with me, friend…
The Meadow Growing Long – for a Secret Reason.
Later, when I’m allowed to, I will explain the reason! Meanwhile, I am loving the Botany lurking in that long grass. Only look at these photos if wildflowers fascinate you too! Otherwise, skip to my next postings…
Long Grass at Lambhill: Why? Why? Shh! Tell you Later…… (Early November 2020)
Hurrah for Karen-the-Gardener! A Good Clear-Out of two hidden corners off the Glade:
Karen comes in for only four hours per fortnight, on average, but she does a great job. These two small areas had become grass-infested but Karen cleared them, and I worked at eye-level, pruning back the banksia rose and shrubs. Together, we redefined the structure. Structure is vital, I think, in a wild, informal garden. Even if it is not created by hard landscaping, but only by plants themselves, and shaped spaces…
Other Garden shots from November 2020:
The flowers (above and below) were a fat bunch I took to my poor sister Aydie, sick in hospital…
Here’s what the Sunken Garden looked like in November, after rain filled the dew-pond, and the Lily-of-the-Valley had finished flowering…
(The pink and white striped rose is “Honorine de Brabant,” from memory…. But whatever its name, it would prefer a sunnier spot!) And here are some photos taken in a November evening…
December 2020 – Never Say Never…
When we first lived at Lambhill, Spin and Joan had an old farm manager, who used to come out from Wanganui most days, to potter about doing farm tasks on the blue Iseki tractor, or by hand, with great expertise gained over a lifetime’s experience. He was a good friend to us, and would not scruple to give us forceful advice if he thought we needed it. I was talking to him at the front gate one day, as he was driving out and I was driving in, and he saw me bending down as we spoke, to look carefully at a wild-flower in the long grass by the driveway. “That’s pretty,” I said, “I might go home for a trowel and dig it up…” Our elderly friend bristled: “NEVER TAKE WEEDS HOME!!!!” he trumpeted! So I didn’t. Then…..
But one clump of wild-flowers I did dig up from the side of the road out to Fordell from town (No.2 Line), were some tall Oxeye Daisies (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum, or Leucanthemum vulgare)!!! They look wonderfully romantic in the garden, and don’t spread very quickly.
These two images above remind you of this little area when overgrown, in October, and cleared by Karen and me (pruning) in November. Below, are some pictures after Jonathan strewed mulch on it for me! We need more mulch, but the 12 bags we used here cost $72, and so that might have to wait… But doesn’t this look good? We laid newspaper under the mulch to attempt to deter the weeds.
We love ladybirds: this is a green metallic one on a (ratty) camellia leaf – but the garden harbours deep-blue metallic ladybirds, too – as well as large and small spotted ones of all varieties. The spotted ones live in great numbers inside the house walls – to them, Lambhill is just a giant hollow tree! …The image below shows grass flowering amongst nasturtiums in one of the Lambhill borders…. one of the charming accidents that happen when you can no longer keep up the whole garden in the way to which it Had Been Accustomed!:
What you might discover, these days, down a garden path at Lambhill….
Yes – it is a shy and gentle creature – and you first come upon these evidences of her presence (first photo). Once you have spotted the laden wheelbarrow, tiptoe quietly along the path, stopping to listen for the scrape of a hoe or the thump of a spade…. If you are Very Lucky, you just Might happen upon an elusive denizen of the Lambhill Garden: Karen, the Wonderful Lambhill Gardener. I am horribly afraid that taking these photos used up one of her Nine Lives: in attempting to photograph her in her Native Habitat, I gave her a Huge Fright!!! Please take care not to do this (I’ve learnt my lesson). Good Gardeners are rare, and Endangered Species, and must be taken care of. As these were my first attempts at photographing Karen-in-the-Wild, please excuse the shadows. Karen-the-Gardeners are elusive. Think yourself lucky you have actually glimpsed her! I might have to build a hidden camera platform in a tree if I want to get better footage…
Other Elusive Denizens of the Garden…
The Big Rains…
In November, Joan recorded over 8 1/2 inches of rain in the month – the most that had fallen in any month since January 2018. In December, the rains kept falling – falling falling falling. I loved this image, taken out of the kitchen window – of a blackbird sheltering under the wheelbarrow during a particularly heavy downpour:
In January, the rains began to show results:
Fungus in January (2021):
…and then I didn’t see what happened next, because we moved down to the tent…. But I took one last Impressionistic photo in the garden, before we left: