26 January 2015

Flowers and flops in the garden

It's the height of summer, and we're feeling pretty smart about some of our garden produce. Certain other attempts, however, have been distinctly shady.

Last year I got excited about growing flowers with the vegetables to encourage beneficial insects. Yet I forgot about the importance of sun, and the ability of flowers to grow tall and shade the very plants that were meant to be growing our food! In some patches the flowers grew so tall and healthy that the vegetable and berry plants were shaded, with a corresponding drop in production.

Sweet peas shading the blueberries.
Pest problems? We have none, probably because of those carefully selected flower species, alyssum, phacelia and buckwheat (the sweet peas are just there because they're pretty and fragrant). But actual capsicums or strawberries? None of them either. Well, there were just a few strawberries.

Phacelia shading the strawberries.
My reading and scheming has paid off in other areas. For the first time we grew great big, strongly flavoured garlic bulbs, and lots of them. We did it by the book, supplying plenty of compost, spacing the cloves a hand's width apart just before the shortest day, mulching them and keeping them weed-free. It's been a fantastic success.

I've also been delighted with the Tomaccio tomatoes from Egmont seeds. Five bucks for two seeds? Worth it! They are the sweetest and most productive cherry tomatoes we've grown.

We're also picking beans (loving the sweet cobra runners from King's Seeds), cucumbers, spring onions galore (always too many spring onions), zucchini (we like slabs of it cooked on the barbeque) and soft buttery lettuce grown in the shade of the cucumber plants. Egmont's gourmet lettuce salad blend is delicious, and very affordable at $2 a packet. In the consistent heat we're having (it's 28 degrees C as I write), lettuce lasts about three weeks in the shade before bolting, so you need to sow new seed about that often.

And the poppies... Anna and I have fallen in love with them this year and have grown plenty. None have been shade culprits. My favourite is Kings Seeds' Icelandic poppy, and their peony poppy (which I'm told is an opium poppy) is stunning too. Happy days.

Icelandic poppy
Icelandic poppy
Peony poppy
What the photos above don't show are my ever-present gardening companions. They join me each evening in the garden, which is the only time it's cool enough to be out there (I have another project filling the cool mornings).

These ladies are always keen for snails and greens.
My friendly and patient pal who decorates wherever
he is so beautifully.
Oh, and the sandflies and mosquitoes. They're there too, wanting a taste of my sweet tomaccio-red blood, and deterred only by clothing or insect repellent.

19 January 2015

The most beautiful island

Over the summer break we were lucky enough to go to a stunning island. It is one of my favourite places in the world, because it is so wildly beautiful and there are no roads or cars. If you want to go somewhere, it's walk, paddle, or stay put.

Although it was peak holiday season, there were very few other people there, and they were great company. It made it such an easy place to be.

The only entertainment devices we took with us were books and a kayak. No screens, and yet the children were happy and content, as in love with the place as us, clambering over rocks, swinging on the rope swings and skimming stones. They could hardly believe that this wonderful place was their backyard for a few days, and they could roam free. (They were on the ipad within minutes of returning home.)

One of the best parts was cooking great food over a fire, all the while listening to the song of native birds (this is a predator-free island). My favourite was the parroty screech of kaka. I also loved my encounters with an old friend of mine, the North Island robin. Another one appeared every twenty or thirty metres when we went walking.

We also roved to New Plymouth - a lovely town of beaches, bush and rivers - and Auckland, where we went up the Sky Tower and to the Auckland Art Gallery. At the art gallery was a collection of intricate, inspiring lego buildings, which anyone and everyone could add to and modify. And add to and modify they did - it was a happy, absorbing hive of activity. (Alert to creative and frugal families: I think it's free to get into this part, but it might pay to phone ahead and check.)

The art gallery was full of things that people had created to be beautiful and interesting. It struck me that no matter how hard we try, we cannot compete with what nature provides, slowly and blindly.

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