September 2020

Hello Everyone

September 2020

Having been at home this year, I have caught up on lots of projects around the place. As I said to a  friend recently. “My house is almost in alphabetical order”.  Now we are completing projects outside, which is most rewarding.

At least twenty five years ago, I planted a large growing rhododendron, Rhododendron macabeanum, near the willow shelter belt on the northern side of the garden. It has never flowered. A month ago we had that shelter belt removed and within a few days the first flowers started opening on R. macabeanum. I imagined the conversation twenty five yearsago going something like this:

Rhododendron: “If you plant me here, I won’t flower for you.”

Me: “Of course you will, but not for at least five years.

R: “I don’t want to be here near the willow shelter belt. Remove it and I will flower for you.”

And it has.

Many visitors comment on the clematis at Frensham and ask questions about the care of these exquisite plants. So I thought it would be a good idea to write some detailed information.

The word ‘clematis’ comes from the Greek word ‘Klema’, meaning a vine branch. Clematis come as a climber or herbaceous perennial and belong to the Ranunculacea family.  They like having their roots in a cool place and out of direct sunlight and don’t like root disturbance.

When planting, dig a hole approximately three times the size of the root ball and mix in plenty of compost. The compost will help to hold moisture around the root system as well as feeding the plant. Thus the clematis is being planted deeper than the average plant which prevents its root system being exposed to the sun’s warmth.  Add some more compost or mulch to the surface and that will help to keep the root system cool. Water well.

Another reason for planting a clematis at a deeper level is that, should the plant succumb to wilt disease, it is more likely that you can save your plant, which may die within 24 hours. The wilt fungus attacks at the surface level but not under the surface. Cut the plant hard to the ground and new shoots will form beneath the surface.

When deciding where to plant your clematis, keep in mind that they like the company of other plants. Ideal places for clematis are through shrubs and roses, against a wall or a  tree where the tree trunk gives natural support, or through a herbaceous garden bed. The latter we’ve been doing for many years.

For pruning, clematis can be divided into three categories.

The first group is the small flowering varieties that flower in October and November. Immediately after flowering, cut back the shoots that have flowered. Some examples of  this group include Clematis montanaC.armandii, C. alpina and C. macropetala.

The second group is the large flowering hybrids which start flowering in early summer. Prune these in August – September by cutting out the deadwood and cut the remaining stems back to the first pair of strong buds. Some examples are C. ‘Nellie Moser’, C. ‘Belle of Woking’, C. Ville de Lyon and C. H.F.Young.

The third group includes all of the clematis that start flowering after mid – December. In August – early September cut all of the shoots hard back to a strong pair of buds one metre or less above the ground.  Examples are Clematis flammulaC. tangutica and C. ‘Jackmanii’.

As the majority of people like to see a flower when buying a plant, buying a clematis is a little more difficult because it is hard for the nurseryman to maintain the long twining habit of the clematis for the period required until it flowers. Write down names of clematis that you like when you are visiting gardens. This is the best way to decide as you will see the true colour.

We grow many clematis at Frensham and they have been in the garden for at least twenty years. Perhaps it’s time to add some more! One clematis which I would like to mention is the small Clematis marmoraria, a New Zealand native. I grow it in a trough where it sits low to the surface. The heavily divided evergreen foliage forms a beautiful backdrop to the creamy white flowers which have a greenish tinge. This clematis is available from Hokonui Alpines. One of the most admired clematis in our garden would be Clematis viticella  ‘AlbaLuxurians’. Its unusual flower forms can be mistaken for leaves. This clematis needs shade for part of the day. The green and white flowers will bleach to all white if it is in sun all day. Ours has morning sun only. I mentioned this clematis in my very first newsletter, February 2013, so if you go to the website where the newsletters are archived, you’ll see another good photo of the flower.

A message from Geoff Genge at Marshwood Gardens and Nursery in Invercargill:

“The rush on plants started when we came out of Level 4 into Level 3 a couple of months back,  just thought I should clarify that.” It is excellent news that our nursery people are so busy.

Photo 1: The Priory Saint Michel in Normandy, France, where we stayed for two nights last year. ML. You can see more beautiful photos on

Photo 2: At the priory. ML

Photo 3: The vegetable and herb gardens at the priory. ML.

Photo 4: Inviting seats in the Jardin de François, Normandy. For further photos of this beautiful garden see

Photo 5: Clematis viticella ‘Alba Luxurians’. ML. A hazy shot but it gives a good idea of what the flower looks like as it opens.

Cheese Sables: Marilyn McRae

These sables are delicious as a little something to munch if you feel peckish and don’t want anything sweet; they go well with a cider on a warm spring evening or with a red wine on those cooler evening; they’re tasty with a bowl of soup on a chilly day or as part of a platter for a light lunch; and they make a great gift for Father’s Day!

Put 150g of flour into a bowl and grate in 150g of cold butter. While you’ve got the grater in your hand, grate 150g of Parmesan onto a board or plate and have to hand.

Add 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp smoked paprika** to the flour/butter bowl and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until you have a coarse crumb. Add the cheese and keep rubbing together until the dough will squeeze into a ball. Don’t give up and be tempted to add a little cold water to the mix! The warmth of your hands will work magic all of a sudden and the sables will be that much lighter for not having water added!

Shape the dough into two logs about 3.5cm across, wrap in greaseproof and chill for at least two hours. They can be chilled overnight.

Heat oven to 160 degrees and line a tray with baking paper. Slice the sable dough into .5cm slices, place on the tray and brush with a little beaten egg (for a glossy golden finish…not necessary if you don’t wish) and bake until lightly golden and firmish to the touch, about 10-15 minutes depending on  your oven.

Cool on the tray as they will be fragile until cooled. They will keep airtight for 3 or 4 days and can be freshened up by a brief stint in a warm oven.

** You could use the same amount of chilli powder or dry mustard or try a tsp of freshly chopped herbs such as rosemary or thyme or 1/2 tsp cumin seeds perhaps.

The Gardener’s Journal: Subscription rates and full information are now available for my publication, The Gardener’s Journal. If you haven’t already registered interest, please contact me if you would like further info including some of the titles in the first issue which is due out in February.



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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