In a way it is good that I didn’t touch the “Send” button in June as I can now say that one of my favourite crocuses, Crocus chrysanthus ‘zwanenburg bronze’, is flowering and will continue for several weeks. I have been growing this for nearly twenty years and now have nice clumps scattered amongst the other spring bulbs. As you can see from this photo the outside of the outer petals are a deep bronze, the name ‘zwanenburg bronze deriving from the Zwanenburg Nursery in Haarlem, the Netherlands, where this cultivar was bred.
Photo 1: M. Long
So much is to be enjoyed in the garden at this time of the year. Not only the winter flowering plants such as hellebores, Daphne bholua and its cultivars, camellias, but also the many berries. One of my favourites are the red berries of Ilex altaclerensis ‘hendersonii’; one of the hollies. We have four standardised and planted at the four centre points of the potager garden. I have replicated the idea from medieval times of the monks tending the gardens (in the form of the standard hollies). The brilliant red berries set the potager off so well in the winter months.
Another red-berried plant which is giving great warmth and colour is the sarcococca, or the Christmas box as it is known in the northern hemisphere, as it is covered in red (or black) berries depending on the variety, at Christmastime. I may have mentioned this plant before as being ideal to grow in dry and difficult places where the choice of plants is limited, such as under a large tree.
Stems of many plants colour superbly in the winter months. Cornuses or dogwoods are one example. Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ (formerly Cornus alba ‘Westonbirt’) from the Westonbirt Arboretum in England, is one of the more well known ones and I planted a group of these many years ago. They form a great scene as we look out of the living room window. There are some great images on Google, and my photo 2 shows our planting of this dogwood after a snowfall last winter.
Photo 2: M. Long
Through the winter months we have a planting of winter roses (hellebores) under this cornus planting, and each late autumn the leaves of the hellebores are cut off so that the flowers can be seen clearly. This makes a very attractive garden with the dark red stems of the Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ growing towards the winter sky, set off by the mass of winter rose flowers.
Another of my winter favourites for stem/branch colour is the tree Tilia rubra, the red twigged lime tree. There is a great specimen set against the dark green macrocarpa shelter hedge and a couple of years ago we planted some small groups down the driveway. About ten years ago when I was planting a longer avenue of lime trees in the drive (our drive is about 600 metres long) I couldn’t find Tilia rubra anywhere in the country. There may have been the odd one but not the number that I wanted and nurserymen told me that they weren’t growing them as there wasn’t the demand for them. It was good news to hear that they were available again. The branches of this tree turn dark red in the winter; a similar colour to the Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’.
Speaking of warm winter colours, the Grevillea ‘Victoriae’ has produced brick orange flowers for some weeks. These are planted in the rock garden, giving structure as well as colour. Native to NSW and Victoria, it is a plant which I think should be used more in gardens here.
Meanwhile trilliums and snowdrops, hyacinths and other crocus varieties are pushing their promising leaves through the ground and are NOT to be scrunched by anyone’s foot; fat buds sit on the branches of the magnolias, amelanchiers, and Acer Negundo “Violaceum’. To write about all that is happening would mean a book, and as this is a newsletter with other items yet to talk about I will stop here.
After writing in last month’s newsletter about experiences with garden visitors, I have received a number of stories from readers, which at the time would have been teeth gritting material, but are so funny to read when the time has passed. It leaves me thinking there would be enough material for a good book, which then reminds me of one book which I have read several times over the years, “Pass the Port.” Included in this book of contributions of After-Dinner speeches, is one that I must include here.From the late Sir Robert Barlow, Industrialist:
Scene: Supermarket in USA.
Salesman: Offering green peas in the pod.
Customer: “Gee! I’ve had them dried, frozen, packaged in cartons and canned. Whatever will they think up next?”
Which doesn’t sound so strange to some non gardeners in today’s world, I am sure. Talking of pea pods, did you know that dried pea pods were used by poor people in the Middle Ages?
Continuing the discussion on Tips for Garden Visiting:
Admission Fees: These should be respected and paid with no requests for discounts. To my knowledge, and I know of many gardens in New Zealand and what their admission fees are, no NZ garden is asking too high a fee for admission. I have not had any trouble myself with the admission fee, but I am aware that some garden owners do. This tends to happen more in the smaller towns, and I have been told that some visitors expect to have free entry and will not visit a garden which charges a fee. I am writing this, not from the point of view of visiting our garden, but in the hope that this thinking will change. With a few exceptions, no garden owner makes money from garden visitors; in fact many would be running at a loss if they did the REAL calculations. It is an honour and privilege to step onto someone else’s property, not a right.
Guided Tours: For the past two seasons I have been charging $60.00 for a one and a half hour guided tour. This tour is programmed to the size of the group so that everyone hears the information that I am giving, and contains botanical/common names of plants, their stories, my experiences with them, and a heap of other info which I have acquired from my gardening experiences and extensive reading over the past 25 years.
This tour is not to be confused with accompanying a group around the garden and chatting as we go about this and that.
My fee for the Guided Tour is over and above the admission fee. Many people, whether a group of four or a group of 40, request this tour. They enjoy it and I am exhausted at the end! But happy.
For a winter meal, how about Chicken Tagine
Chicken Tagine: Margaret Long
The recipe for this month is for a chicken dish that is delicious served simply with rice or potato mash, or some crusty bread to mop up the juices. It uses some of the lovely pumpkins that are plentiful now, and also coriander…a cool weather crop that can be planted out now for winter harvesting (Terra Viva in Christchurch have some lovely plants in their veg. range…6 plants to a punnet). Let the coriander flower (it has very pretty small white flowers) and set seed and you will have it for next year too! The garlic that’s in the recipe comes with a reminder that now is the time to prepare an area for planting garlic at Winter Solstice for harvest at the Summer Solstice. It likes a rich bed, fortified with well-rotted manure. There are some lovely warming spices in this dish too.
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 2 x 1.4kg chickens, jointed, or the equivalent in chicken pieces
- Heat the oil in a large pan and brown chicken pieces; place them in a tagine or casserole dish that has a lid.
- 2 onions, finely chopped, 1 carrot, diced, 500g pumpkin, diced 4 small red chillies, finely sliced (optional), 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 4 tbsp finely chopped coriander stalks (use leaves for garnishing finished dish)
- 2 tbsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp saffron threads *
- 1 tsp salt & 1 tsp sugar
- Gently fry to soften the vegetables and ‘toast’ spices.
- 500ml chicken stock
- ½ cup water
Bring to the boil, pour over chicken, cover and bake for 45 minutes at 180 Celsius
Garnish with coriander leaves to serve.
*To prepare the saffron, either toast separately in a small dry pan until it becomes fragrant; or place in a small cup and pour a little boiling water over. Leave to soak a few minutes and then add, with water, to the pan.
At this time of the year, one of the treats is to catch up on some reading. I suggest “The Winter Garden” written in 2006 by my dear friend Jane Sterndale-Bennett just before her untimely death. Jane’s book is well illustrated and contains much useful information from her hands-on experiences. In the opening chapter, Jane who gardened in Hampshire, UK for 25 years, says “ … a visit to one of the growing number of gardens open to the public in winter will provide fresh ideas for planting schemes.”
While many gardens will be officially closed during the winter months, it is worth contacting the owner to see if you can visit. Which leads to my next thought: why don’t we visit gardens in winter as much as any other season?
Photo 3: (M. Long) is a winter arrangement on our kitchen bench, comprising Elegia capensis, dried lily seed pods, Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘goshiki’ and one of the Corsican hellebores.
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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
+64 3 3228 061