September 2013

Hello Everyone

September 2013

As I was a little late getting my August newsletter out, the time has come around very quickly for me to write again. Because of the warm winter and spring that we have had, so much is happening in the garden that I have to ask myself where do I start? What shall I write about?

My attention was drawn to an error in the February newsletter, when a reader asked me how the Clematis ‘Kiri te Kanawa’ is tied to the tree. In fact that clematis is ‘Perle d’Azur’ and ‘Kiri’ just weaves herself through the garden.

Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’ is a plant that I would like to talk about. I have been growing two of these in the far corner of the woodland area for about fifteen years, and I really must prune and shape them this week, late Spring being the time to do this. O.h. ’Goshiki’, known as the false holly, grows up to one metre, and has yellow and green mottled leaves, with the young leaves having a bronze tone as does Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Purpureus’. In autumn the tiny fragrant flowers are rather hidden but well worth a visit. Native to Japan, this O.h. “Goshiki’ is great for hedging, or shaping. How about large balls in a foliage only garden?

The rose ‘Mutabilis’ garden: Formerly known as Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’ this rose has been planted in a group of about fourteen in the garden on the front corner of the house. Rose “Mutabilis’ was introduced to cultivation in 1932 by the Swedish botanist Henri Correvon. The flowers, which have very little fragrance, produce from Spring until the first frost in my garden. Plants that pick up any of the colours of the ‘Mutabilis’ rose from bud until fading are underplanted here, thus providing a riot of pale and cerise pinks, soft apricots and creams.

I was working in the ‘Mutabilis’ garden last week, weeding and cutting back the salvias and penstemons. If you are new to gardening, note that salvias and penstemons should be cut back now, and not in the autumn, so that their crowns have protection from winter frosts. Two salvias that I grow in this garden are Salvia involucrata ‘Bethellii’ and Salvia ‘La Siesta’. S. i. ‘Bethellii’ has mauvish crimson flowers which stay from midsummer until late autumn. Along with the purplish crimson veins in the heavily textured leaf and the dark wine stems, it is a stunning plant. Penstemon ‘Hidcote’ grows in this garden along with alstroemerias, pink echinaceas and pink and soft apricot diaschias. Two more recent additions to this garden have been Heuchera ‘Paris’ and Fragaria ‘Lipstick’. H. ‘Paris’ flowers all year, clumps quickly and is easily divided. F. ‘Lipstick’ has cerise pink strawberry flowers followed by tiny sweet, edible strawberries.

It is difficult to keep up with name changes, but I guess we should. Note that the well known
Dicentra spectabilis or ‘bleeding heart’ – has been renamed by botanists to Lamprocapnos.

So often gardeners are looking for plants that will grow in dry shady places. Equally as important is to ask what will grow in places where the water “sits”. Suggestions are pulmonarias, astrantias, Japanese blood grass (Imperata ‘Red Baron’) and Geums. There are many more of course but that is a start, providing a range of colours. One of the most difficult places that I found in my garden was an area where the water sat for a long time. It is now abundant with pulmonarias.

Cardiocrinum yunnanense: Many of you will know the giant Himalayan lily, Cardiocrinum giganteum, which is the largest species of any of the lily plants. Less well known is Cardiocrinum yunnanense which is shorter in height and has flowers that grow more horizontal than the hanging flowers of C.giganteum. I bought mine from Pat Stuart in Wanaka about two years ago. Last year it didn’t do anything but this year it is showing very healthy leaf growth. I don’t often put plant photos in my newsletters as excellent photos can be found on Google, and the newsletter would take months to download, but I can’t resist including two photos of C. yunnanense taken in a friend’s garden last Spring. Photos 1 & 2 by M.Long

Recently I had a question from a reader which I have decided to include with the answers given by generous, experienced gardeners, as I thought a number of readers might benefit from this.

Question from Barbara:

“Firstly, my chives, especially my garlic chives, are a martyr to black aphid at times, and yet we are told to grow them among roses to repel aphid!

Secondly I find rose rust to be a problem way beyond black spot. It can ruin and kill a rose, yet you cannot spray anything effectively once blooming has commenced that does not hurt the bees. I faithfully do my clean up spraying in the winter, clean my tools, remove the affected leaves, etc all to no avail. Graham Thomas and Just Joey are stricken this year and are growing in ideal, sunny, aerated spots. Do you have any tips? Little is written about it in gardening books and articles and I am unsure why. It is a problem.”

From Fran Rawling of Wylde Willow in Dunedin, rose authority and ex President of the National Executive of Heritage Roses New Zealand:

“Can’t comment on the black aphid.

My best solution for rust probably sounds tedious and it leaves the rose bare for a short while.
I strip off every leaf with rust and burn.
I am very meticulous when I do this but it works and doesn’t take that long.
I haven’t had a problem with the new leaves getting rust.
One bush in particular, I have been doing this to for three years but find fewer and fewer leaves affected as time goes on.
No sign of rust as yet this year.
The rust spores don’t get a chance to settle in the soil if action is taken as soon as rust appears.
Good luck

From Marilyn McRae, who has spent her lifetime gardening, including fifteen years at the internationally renowned Ohinetahi garden at Governors Bay.

“Sometimes I am aghast by my brain’s ‘gaps’…it’s rather reassuring to hear it’s not just me!

I agree with Fran about the rust…I used to do the same at Ohinetahi, but given that the roses were growing in a contained area with little breeze, it was an ongoing problem. I also used Wally’s Liquid Sulphur as a spray once I had removed the worst leaves; when looking at the affected leaves a day or two later, any spores were dead. It’s necessary to spray thoroughly and reach the backs of the leaves. Feeding the plants well with sheep pellets or some other animal manure (mindful of the strength of chicken manure..make sure it’s old), blood and bone with a couple of applications of Potash during the season also boosts the health of the plant and their immunity. Chemical fertilizers, especially when applied in Spring, encourage masses of soft growth that is quite vulnerable to diseases and pests I find. And I also noticed that if I watered the roses deeply once a week by soaking the ground and not watering with sprinklers from above, it seemed to keep the fungal diseases to a minimum. Wally Richard’s book is worth a read on natural methods of dealing to garden pests and diseases…he can sound a bit evangelical! but he has a huge amount of experience and his knowledge comes from observation.

The black aphid…all the alliums are susceptible, sadly. The black aphids get right down into the base of the plants and are very difficult to deal with. I found the only way to deal with them was to remove the plant and the soil immediately around it and bin the whole lot. Start with fresh plants in a different position in the garden. Many of the plants that we are advised to plant to ‘deter’ bugs are in fact just decoys. They attract the bugs to the advised plant (garlic amongst the roses, nasturtiums amongst the veg etc) and, hopefully, leave our treasured plants alone. They don’t STOP the bugs, however, just divert them! Neem Oil granules could be applied around the new plants; they are absorbed into the plant through its roots, taken up into the plant and could be a useful deterrent. Also an alternative to the garlic/chives around the roses perhaps. Neem Oil Spray or Pyrethrum could be used but only at dusk when the bees are not about.

Certainly not definitive answers; just my experience, but I hope it’s useful.

From Barbara:

“My thanks for that comprehensive reply. My garden is sited to minimise Canterbury’s Nor easters…too much shelter may be the problem in part. I agree with Marilyn about soft new growth too, and have heard good things about Wally myself. I feel much fortified with useful advice to try, and will report my experience at season’s end in case others also ask.
Thank you very much for your trouble Margaret.


The thought to consider edible flowers as a topic for this month’s seasonal recipe came about from my wish for a tasty, light salad on one of the beautiful sunny days we’ve had during the last month.

The salad ingredients had to come from my small garden if I wanted my preferred lunch without making a trip to the market so I headed out with a colander and kitchen scissors. At first glance there didn’t seem to be a very promising lunch in store! But small leaves of red kale, spinach and parsley went in to the colander and then some tiny sideshoots of sprouting broccoli; little heads of yellow flowers from Mizuna plants that had bolted; some blue borage flowers; white flowers and buds from rocket whose leaves I’ve been grazing over winter, but these having become progressively too pungent and not very enjoyable. The flowers, by contrast, have a delicious slightly peppery, nutty taste. Petals from self-sown Calendula or Pot Marigold, completed the salad options…a bright and summery looking salad from what had looked like a fairly sad-looking garden!

My salad got me thinking about the choices and uses of flowers in the kitchen. The Calendula petals, for example, are equally good scattered over a bowl of simple cheese-y pasta. Radishes that have bolted provide flowers that are as delicious as Rocket flowers and the same applies to the flowers of bolting Chinese cabbages…Bok Choy etc. These are also nice tossed into a stir fry at the last minute. Nasturtium flowers make a fabulous garnish for salads and platters but are also yummy to eat, with a sweetish spiciness (the young leaves sandwiched between fresh bread and good butter are scrumptious!) and the seeds can be pickled. Dandelions too are tasty when the petals are scattered through a salad and they’re sweeter for knowing that it’s one less dandelion that will progress to seeding!

It’s a little early in the season for chive flowers but both ordinary chives (Allium schoenoprasum) and garlic chives (A. tuberosum) have a lightly oniony/garlicky taste and are good in salads, sandwiches and as garnish on many savoury dishes..single flowers of the bigger garlic chive and snipped flowerheads of the pink chive. Society Garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) flowers can also be eaten and are similar to garlic chive flowers. Try any of these on soup or on a good crusty bread with good butter/feta/soft goat’s cheese and freshly ground black pepper. If, like me, you get far more Scarlet Runner beans setting than you can manage, then snip some of the flowers to add to your summer meals…sweet and ‘beanish’. For a touch of blue in a summer salad and a sweet, spicy taste, try cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus).

Of the herbs, basil, mint and thyme flowers taste similar to the type of plant they come from eg. lemon thyme has a more lemony flavour. The flowers of Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans) have a honeyish taste. The taste of rosemary flowers is a lighter version of the leaves, slightly sweet. All these herb flowers can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes as can the Calendula petals. Rosemary flowers are a nice garnish on milk-based desserts or infused in the milk or cream before making a rice pudding for example, to provide a gentle flavour. Try the rosemary flowers in Creme Brulee and the Pineapple Sage in fruit salads.

Other sweet options….at the moment, violets, violas and pansies are about; violets can be brushed with lightly beaten egg white, sprinkled with castor sugar and dried to use as a garnish on cakes and cupcakes. Viola tricolor aka Johnny-jump-ups can be eaten in moderation and make a pretty decoration if brushed with a small amount of beaten egg and placed on shortbread biscuits 3 or 4 minutes before the end of baking. Pansies are apparently sweet, but I’ve never tried these.

Looking ahead, lavender blossoms (Lavendula angustifolia) separated from the stems, make a lovely addition to a buttery shortbread or a madeira-type cake, or infused in the milk used to mix cupcake batter. Heads of elderberry blossoms can be used to make cordial or ‘champagne’ or can be dipped in a light tempura-type batter and deep fried and have a taste that reminds me of the Creaming Soda we were treated to at Christmas time as children. Buds of day lilies (Hemerocalis) can be eaten fresh, when they are crisp and slightly lettuce-y flavoured or dipped in a light batter and fried in a similar way to zucchini flowers. A caution for the daylily buds…too many can have a slightly laxative effect.

Rose petals, particularly of Rosa rugosa or R. gallica, but any of the roses that have a good perfume have many uses; just make sure to clip the white base of the petal away as this has a bitter taste. The petals can be dried in the microwave or brushed with beaten egg white, dusted with sugar, dried and then used as an edible garnish on cakes and desserts. The petals can be used to make jellies and cordials too. And another sweet-revenge flower to harvest is the yellow flower from gorse! These have a sweet, coconut-y flavour and can be used to infuse milk as for some of the herb flowers, used to garnish a fruit salad or made into a cordial or wine if you have the tenacity to pick more than a few from those prickly bushes!

In all cases, pick the flowers ONLY when you know they haven’t been sprayed. Pick just before needing, shake gently to dislodge any critters that have made their home amongst the petals and then leave on a paper towel on the bench for a while to dry, if necessary, and to allow for any further exiting of insects. Most flowers won’t need washing and some petals could be damaged by doing so, but if the flowers are dusty then swish through a bowl of clean, cold water and lay them to dry on a paper towel.

A very good website, Edible Flowers, gives good advice on flowers NOT to eat and gives precautions for some others. All the flowers I have written about are flowers I have eaten safely and with pleasure, so have some fun with these and then, with care, explore the other options if you wish… after doing your homework. I thought it would be good to finish with a photo of an English bluebell scene, taken at the Coton Manor gardens in England.



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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