August 2017

Writings from Normandy
Hello Everyone

August 2017

Whilst we are having another warm week with temperatures going to 31 and 33 degrees, I was reading an email sent to me last month by Marilyn McRae, our Recipe Queen. Written during the bleak July weather, her descriptions are worth sharing with you.

“Thank goodness for the season’s gifts; the lambs next door with their little ears sticking straight out like handlebars; birds creating territories and singing their socks off; the garden stirring with small treasures budding and blooming. Yesterday I sat at the outdoor table for coffee and listened to hundreds of bees in the Prunus… wonderful!”

The highlight for me this year in Normandy was the visit to the garden of Mien Ruys in Dedemsvaart, eastern Holland. We were staying in the delightful village of Eefde, where nearly every garden was beautifully planted with artistic pruning and shaping of a wide variety of plants and displaying attractive plant combinations. Gardens were quite small by New Zealand standards.

On my agenda was Piet Oudolf’s garden at Hummelo, but we happened to go to Mien Ruys’ garden first, and that was it for me. So absorbed was I in the plant collections, arrangement of plants, design, structure and ambience of these gardens that I decided to visit the Oudolf garden next year, with a revisit of course to Mien Ruys’ gardens. I just wanted to savour the experience for a long time, with no other messages cloud pruning the thoughts in my head.
Mien was born in 1904 and passed away in 1999. Daily, for almost seventy years, she designed gardens. The daughter of Engelina Fedderus and Bonne Ruys, Mien was one of eight children.
Her father established what was to become the very famous nursery, Moorheim, in Dedemsvaart. Moorheim means “the house on the peat” and was named after his childhood home.

Many of you will recognise the name ‘Moorheim’ as there are several plants in cultivation today which originated at this nursery. At Frensham we have grown Helenium ‘Moorheim Beauty’and Delphinium ruysii ‘Pink Sensation’ for many years.
With the nursery next door to the land which Mien would develop over the years, she had an excellent larder for provisions. As there was very little written about garden design in Dutch, she developed her own skills.
Setting up her Garden Design offices in Amsterdam, Mien commuted between Dedemsvaart and Amsterdam all of her adult life. Today her gardens consist of thirty small gardens and are run by the Mien Ruys Foundation with the help of volunteers.
Being a Socialist thinker, Mien wanted to create gardens that the average person could learn from and possible achieve. She of course desgined many private gardens as well as her own display gardens Thus there is only modest ornamentation using natural products, with plants being the key players.

Mien and her husband started a garden quarterly journal which continues to this day, but unfortunately is unavailable in English. I bought the book “Proeven in de Tuinen Mien Ruys”, published in 2015 with an English translation and I highly recommend this book. The photography does much to illustrate her messages.

Mien of course had a close collaboration with Piet Oudolf whose garden is very close by. Along with the modest Monet who said of himself that he was only good at gardening and painting, Mien often said “I can only make gardens and tea”; the latter she did only on special occasions.

There is a good documentary on You Tube, called “Mien Ruys Gardens” which runs for 26 minutes. If you’re not familiar with You Tube, Google the words “Documentary Mien Ruys Gardens You Tube” and you will find it.
A huge “Thank You” to Marilyn again for introducing me to Mien’s work.

The garden visiting season is warming up in Christchurch, and as we have done for the past 22 years, we are holding a Charity Fundraising event at Frensham, along with other gardens in our part of the city. I strongly urge you to support this cause, which the Wigram Lions Club are planning to hold annually, visiting different parts of the city each year. I hold brochures at our garden and they can be collected when visiting our garden. Care has been taken to ensure that a variety of types of gardens is provided.

Charity Garden Tour of Christchurch.
A Wigram Lions Club Project

Raising funds for The Westpac Rescue Helicopter and Child Cancer Foundation A Charity Garden Tour of Christchurch Including 11 gardens will be held on 25th and 26th Nov 10am to 4pm. Tickets at $35 pp may be purchased at any Oderings, Tera Viva, or Portstone Nursery outlet, or on line at at $37pp plus free information brochure. One ticket gives access on both days.

Chocolate Baklava: Marilyn McRae

I set out to write a recipe for something warm and sustaining…a slow casserole or a winter vegetable dish. But it’s late afternoon, the rain comes down outside and I felt much more like writing about something sweet and comforting!

  • 6 sheets filo pastry
  • 50g melted butter (or you can use a light oil…rice bran perhaps)
  • 3/4 c pistachio kernels
  • 1 c walnuts
  • 100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped (or good quality choc ‘bits’)
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar (I reduce this to 1 tbsp)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (or more to taste)
  • 1 tbsp finely grated orange rind

Heat the oven to 190 degrees, put the nuts on a tray and bake for about 5 minutes until just lightly browned.
Make the filling by cooling the nuts completely, then processing all the ingredients until reasonably well chopped… you don’t want it too fine as some texture gives ‘bite’
Use 3 sheets of pastry at a time, keeping the other sheets covered with a damp, clean tea towel.
Layer the sheets, brushing each with melted butter before stacking.
Spread half of the filling over the fillo leaving about a 2.5 cm border along both long sides.
Starting at a long side, roll pastry up into a log and cut in half.
Place seam down on a baking-paper lined tray and repeat with the remaining 3 sheets of pastry.
Bake for 20 minutes or until nicely golden and crisp.

Meanwhile make a syrup

  • 1/2 c caster sugar
  • 3/4 c water
  • 1/4 c honey (or extra sugar)
  • 2 tbsp orange juice * rind of the orange shredded into strips (using a zester is the easiest way of doing this)

Stir the sugar, water and honey if using in a small pot over medium heat. Do not boil, but stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the rind and simmer for 10 minutes until slightly sticky. Stir in the juice.

When the baklava are cooked, transfer to a dish with sides (a roasting dish or slice tin) and pour over the hot syrup. Stand the dish for about 3 hours until the syrup is mostly absorbed. To serve, cut each log into pieces on the diagonal.

What has been happening in Normandy this year? We have had friends and family staying, shared meals with local friends, and find ourselves settling in quite nicely here. There is such a wide choice of good foods available, and I now have my favourites, although it is possible for example to have several favourite butchers here.
As there have been three heatwaves, and a new idea has come to me, no progress has been made in the garden. The new idea is that we delete the lawn, which makes sense when we are away for at least eight months of the year. Although small, someone has to come and mow it.

Next year will be timely for planting as I am going to the International Specialist Nursery Days at Bingerden in eastern Holland.
There are nurseries in Normandy of course, but I am rather drawn to the Belgian and Dutch gardens.

I hope that you are all enjoying the early Spring treasures either in your own garden, someone else’s garden, or public gardens. At Frensham the three Acer negundo ‘Violaceums’ will be showing their shrimpy pink tassles.



About Frensham

Our relaxed country garden started twenty nine years ago. In the early days I had very little gardening experience and no vision for the site, but an interest in plants was quickly developing. Over the years, with much trial and error, a garden has emerged which we and our visitors do enjoy.

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139 Old Tai Tapu Rd, Christchurch 8025, New Zealand
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