May 2013

Hello Everyone

May 2013

As the days shorten, the remaining leaves on trees fall, outdoor furniture is put away for the winter months and days of many garden visitors seems such a long time ago, it is time to start thinking about the next Spring when people start coming back to see the garden. I have bought a piece of oilcloth in a taupe shade which will cover the umbrella table when people are having morning and afternoon teas and lunches. Oilcloth is resistant to any staining except from tomato sauce. Many years ago I used oilcloth from Scandinavia on our dining table when the children were younger, and also when they were working with paints, glues and felt pens. It is great to have such a wide variety of colours and patterns of oilcloths to choose from now, and of course it can be used for many things. Femme de Brocante at Rangiora, has a great selection.

There is a very impressive list of things to do during the winter months.

People often say to me that it must be good to have a rest from the garden over winter, before the very busy spring approaches. Actually, winter is one of our busiest seasons, and much of what can be enjoyed in the warmer months is there because of what was done on the cold, often miserable days.

Tree, shrub and rose pruning takes a lot of time (although most of the shrub pruning is done throughout the year), trenching the inside of the numerous box hedges, and making over a garden are some of the work that is done now. When we make over a garden, we lift all of the plants, divide and replant them, replenishing the soil with homemade compost or well rotted horse manure. This applies more to the perennial gardens and should be done about every third year.

In flower for the past month at both sides of the front door is Daphne bholua from the Himalayan regions. An upright shrub, it flowers for months and is highly fragrant.

Two weeks ago as I was walking around the garden I enjoyed the last of the summer roses: the noisette ‘Celine Forestier’, the floribunda ‘Gruss an Aachen’ and the patio rose ‘Little White Pet’ were producing exquisitely intense perfume.

One of the plants that I enjoy picking for a winter arrangement in the house is Elegia capensis. A member of the restio group and often thought to be a bamboo, this native to South Africa has spectacular foliage and looks great in a vase over the winter months, either on its own or with other plants. Try it with Pieris japonica.

Our Elegia capensis grows beside the pond, a position it particularly likes. There are excellent images on Google.

Another plant which I highly recommend if you are planning for summer flowering is Holodiscus discolour. It is one of the original shrubs that I planted in the garden nearly twenty years ago. Native to North America, this somewhat straggly-when-not-flowering shrub, is brilliant when in flower midsummer. The frothy creamy-white bunches of flowers resemble an aruncus from a distance. Very few people know what it is and I have not seen it very much in other gardens. Many years ago when I was visiting Rosemary Verey’s garden in Gloucestershire, I wrote the name down as one of my “must buy if possible to get” plants, and discovered the following summer that I already had it in my own garden. Easily grown from cuttings taken in summer, Holodiscus discolour grows to about 2m in height and width, and is best planted away from the front of a garden as it is not so attractive when not in flower. With its greyish white leaves, felty underneath, Holodiscus discolour is planted at Frensham with Carpentaria californica and lilacs.

I had a most interesting letter from friends in Normandy about a catalpa tree which is in the grounds of the Chateau Bizy in Vernon, Normandy. So if you are visiting Monet’s garden in Vernon, it is possible to see this tree. The catalpa is purported to be at least two hundred years old, which is a grand age for a catalpa tree.
Photos 1, 2 and 3 are of the catalpa.
Photo 4 is a general view of Chateau Bizy and some of its park.
Photos 5 & 6 show two rooms in the chateau. All photos were taken by Eliane and Michel Philippe.

This year the Christchurch Botanic Gardens and The Dunedin Botanic Gardens are celebrating their 150th anniversary. The DBG claims to be the oldest Botanic Garden in New Zealand and three days older than the CBG. Information on events to celebrate these anniversaries can be found on the websites.

I am going to write about “Tips on Garden Visiting” in the next few newsletters. These tips are mine, based on years of experience in receiving visitors to the garden, taking groups of people to visit other gardens both in New Zealand and many countries overseas, and comments from the visitors themselves. The Tips apply to visiting any garden in New Zealand or throughout the world. Therefore they apply to garden owners or visitors, including me.

I am going to spend some time on this as I believe that the visit is not just about the garden but about the host and hostesses or visitors. Garden owners have their bad experiences as much as visitors. I am talking about 5% of visiting experiences, which over a few months can put a strain on things and in nearly every case can be avoided.

I am not including public gardens in this section.

The difference between the two is that a public garden, in New Zealand at least, is open free of charge, and for a guaranteed number of hours per day. A private garden may be open for a guaranteed number of hours per day, or by appointment, and there is usually an admission charge.

Tip No 1.When you first contact a garden owner or receptionist/secretary, you are making a request, not giving an order.

“We would like to visit your garden…”, or “can you please give me some information…”, or perhaps “Is that Frensham Gardens?” The options are endless with most people following this pattern of request.

“Now we are going to visit your garden…” and statements along these lines are orders. Not the best approach.

Tip No 2.Arrive no more than 15 minutes before the agreed time and no more than 15 minutes after the agreed time.

Several times this season people have arrived more than half an hour before the arranged time; this usually happens when a group is travelling in separate cars. One lady came into my house 40 minutes before an appointment this year, calling out to see if she had the right place.

I always confirm group bookings a few days before the visit, or the group organiser contacts me. About three years ago, the organiser of a group, insisted on arriving one and a half hours earlier than the time of 11.00.a.m I had been given, when I contacted her to confirm arrangements. Somebody else was supposed to have phoned me and given me the “amended” time and didn’t. When I said that it would not be suitable, and that the original time would need to be kept, I was told that that wouldn’t be happening as they couldn’t possibly contact their members two days before the event. I would have thought that five people ringing seven people each would have been possible. On the day some people arrived earlier than 9.30. and the latest arrived at 11.30. so over a period of two hours people shuffled and wandered and I had to be there to help with car parking. We now have adequate car parking for larger numbers of cars.

There are times like this, and I know other garden owners have had similar experiences, when I feel the need to explain what goes on behind the scenes in a private residence before a group booking. On the occasion mentioned above I was to give a fully guided tour, which takes one and a half hours. So four hours of my time spent with this group, whose organisers gave no thought as to what else I might have to do in my day, was a bit much.

If your programme is running a little late for the day, make a phone call to let the garden owner know your new ETA. This should be due to unavoidable things, not something such as a gift shop was spotted on the way and so an extra stop was made.

Tip No 3.If you have arranged a visit the owner has gone to a lot of trouble to prepare for it. Not only have they checked that their garden will meet the approval of the visitors, but they have arranged their own lives to keep the commitment. I know of more than one garden owner who has had a booked group stop outside the house, take a look and drive off! This hasn’t happened to me and is more inclined to happen where some of the garden can be seen from the street.

Please remember that I am writing about 5% of the visits/visitors. Next month’s newsletter will be Tips on Admission Fees.

It is time now for winter puddings. How about this one?

Pear and Raisin Crumble: Marilyn McRae

In a large bowl combine

  • 1.2kg of ripe pears, peeled, cored and cut into small chunks,
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar,
  • 1/2 cup of raisins (if you can’t find the big muscatel-type seeded raisins from Australia that come in a box, leave the raisins out.
  • The little seedless ones are just not the same!),
  • 1 or 2 tbsp chopped crystallised ginger or stem ginger.

Mix together and then sprinkle over 2 tbsp of cornflour and stir.

Sprinkle over 2 tbsp of sherry if desired and then put into baking dish. If not using sherry sprinkle over a little water or dot fruit with a couple of tbsp of butter, cut small.


  • 1 cup of plain flour
  • 1 cup of walnuts, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup of brown sugar
  • 120g of butter, cut into very small pieces

Combine dry ingredients, then rub in the butter or chop in using a pastry blender. Don’t whizz in a food processor as the nuts will be chopped too finely and could become bitter if they’re not really fresh.

When the mix is like breadcrumbs, spoon over the fruit mix and bake for about 30 minutes or until the topping is golden and crispy.

Cool a little before serving with cream, yoghurt or a runny custard.

This can also be made in individual ramekins, making it nice for a dinner dessert with some homemade ginger ice cream or other really good quality ice cream and a drizzle of stem ginger syrup if you have it. Delicious!

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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
+64 3 3228 061

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