It has been such a long time since I have corresponded with you all, and there is so much that I could write about; I just don’t know where to start. Perhaps I’ll give a pedestrian report of what I have been doing over the past four months; horticultural things only.
It all began over a year ago when my husband and I were staying with good friends in Normandy. We bought a house in a traditional French village. This had not been on our “to do” list, but just happened as some things do in life. For many years, but a considerable time ago, I had wanted to have a house in France, where I could spend time in the place that feels like home. Now things fell into place and the property was bought, with the considerable moral help from our good friends who live about 25 minutes drive away in a very beautiful village. A few of you will know the latter property as I have taken people there when on tour in France.
One of my important considerations when buying the house, was the garden. I liked the superficial appearance and felt that I could manage this garden myself as there appeared to be little maintenance necessary except the pruning of existing shrubs. However, when we moved into the house this year, things started to change. Whilst I was creating a home inside, I kept a watchful eye on the garden. On closer inspection, the shrubs had obviously been “held in place” for some years, and were dead and woody inside. The soil was practically nonexistent and the outer gardens which sit inside a three metre high stone wall, had black polythene placed about ten centimetres below the surface.
I want to say at this point that the people from whom we bought the house were very nice, the transaction was professional and friendly, and they left several “kind thoughts” inside the home. We’ll move from the garden at this point and return to it early next year when I return to France. But before we do have a look at Photo No 1. Taken when a friend and I were having a light meal one evening.
While in Herefordshire, England for a few days, we visited three gardens certainly worth the recommendation to visit. The first is Abbey Dore, created and still maintained by Mrs Charis Ward. The development of the garden began nearly forty years ago. One of the shrubs that I particularly admired in this garden was Ptelea trifoliata, shown in Photo No 2. Charming and relaxed, this garden offers a wide variety of trees, shrubs and perennials. Mrs Ward is there every day to greet visitors and her daughter Sarah runs the Stables Tearooms where you can have homemade refreshments.
We visited Stockton Bury Gardens which are well worth a visit and the food in the tearooms is delicious. What a refreshing combination of stone and wood construction and plantings this was, maintained to a very high standard. By going on to Google you can access all of the information about this garden. Photo No.3 is an iris that caught my eye at Stocktonbury.
Many readers will have read about, if not visited John Massey’s Ashwood Nurseries. An excellent website gives full information about all of the facilities available. As most of us won’t be buying plants there, the Gift Shop with its wide range of high quality products, and its Tearoom are highly recommended. A recent addition to the website this year is the quote:
“The Tea Room at Ashwood, still basking in the glow of its first Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor, has scooped yet another award. The Finest Tea Rooms Award has been bestowed upon us by This England magazine in recognition of our ‘warm welcome, excellent service’ and for ‘upholding the typically English tradition of afternoon tea’.”
John Massey, VMH, opens his private garden on certain days of the year. If you are able to co-ordinate a visit on one of these particular dates, and especially if you are a plantsperson, this is a must. We enjoyed a private tour with John and no photos were taken as I was so busy writing down names of plants.
For anyone not familiar with the honour VMH, it is the Victoria Medal of Honour, awarded by the Royal Horticultural Society to people who have shown horticultural excellence. In keeping with the 63 years that Queen Victoria reigned, only 63 recipients can hold the VMH award at any one time.
Spring is most people’s favourite time of the year. At Frensham trilliums are flowering, a wide variety of daffodils are opening both under the birch trees and in the long grass gardens, hostas are nudging their way through the ground, peonies are growing rapidly, and Spirea prunifolia flora plena, which we planted last year, has been in flower. It is worth having a look at the photos on Google as I spent quite a bit of time admiring it and I don’t remember seeing it grown a lot. I bought this plant from Blue Skin Nurseries north of Dunedin. My favourite times of the garden year is autumn and I guess that is because there is promise of slumber time ahead. But then again I slumber in Summer, Autumn and Spring these days.
It is very tempting for us to cut back our penstemons now. For readers who don’t know, it is better to do this in September after the majority of hard frosts is over. This year, as the weather is behaving a little oddly, we are leaving ours until October, along with Caryopteris. If you haven’t got the latter I recommend it as an attractive small shrub, flowering mauve-blue in late summer through until early winter.
I am always happy to promote horticultural events and in a separate email I am forwarding you information about a most inspiring evening to be held in Dunedin next month. I say “inspiring” with qualification as I know four of the speakers, and their talks are always inspiring. If you live out of Dunedin, there are so many other things to do, which would make the visit most worthwhile.
Visit the Dunedin Botanic Gardens, the gardens at Larnach Castle, and the private garden of Fran and Mike Rawling at Wyldewood, (phone 488 3988).
Moist Carrot Ginger Cake: Marilyn McRae
I have this recipe, hand-written in my father’s distinctive script which he learnt as a morse-code operator in the 1930’s. The recipe is more modern! If, like me, you don’t have spring carrots in your garden yet, but you do have some rather large over-wintered carrots, then this is a good recipe to use up a couple of the larger ones. The ginger adds a nice note…good for those colder spring days when there’s time for a cuppa between the gardening jobs!
Heat oven to 160 degrees and line a 14×25 cm loaf tin or 20 cm cake tin. Sift into a large bowl
- 1 cup SR flour (or 1 c plain flour and a rounded tsp of baking powder),
- 1 tsp baking soda,
- 1/2 tsp each of ground cinnamon and ground cloves (or substitute mixed spice)
- Add 1 1/2 cups grated carrot and lightly fork through the dry ingredients with
- 1/2 c chopped crystallised ginger,
- 1/2 c chopped walnuts
- and 1/2 c sultanas (I prefer to use extra nuts and ginger in place of the sultanas)
Break 2 eggs into a smaller bowl and whisk to blend. Add 1 cup soft brown sugar and 2/3 cup neutral oil (eg rice bran or sunflower) and 1 tsp vanilla and whisk again to combine well.
Add to dry ingredients and mix lightly.
Pour mix into prepared tin and bake for about 1 hour, checking after 45 minutes. Cake should ‘bounce’ back when pressed lightly on top or should show moisture on a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake, but not stickiness. Remove from oven and allow to stand in the tin for 5 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool.
Cream Cheese Frosting
- Beat 60 g of softened cream cheese with 30 g soft butter.
- Add 1 tsp of grated lemon rind
- and 1 1/2 cups icing sugar.
Beat well to make a light, fluffy frosting. Swirl onto cake and decorate with walnuts, halved or chopped and maybe some extra crystallised ginger or, for decadence, use some syrup from a jar of preserved ginger drizzled over just before serving.
Happy Gardening and Garden Visiting.
Best wishes to you all
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