April 2010

Well things are coming along nicely at Newlands Manor. The beautifully still weather was the perfect opportunity to get out into the yard and tidy up a few things that have been nagging me.

But first! A small success. Our first crop.

Grass. Rye grass to be specific. The intention is to let this grow until it’s time to put in the garlic crop, at which time I’ll turn this all under, add a boatload more compost, and put in the bulbs. This was an idea followed up specifically for the beginner’s garden. The upper garden will be sewn with mustard seed and lupin. Am looking forward to it.

I also decided to do something with these.

Cthulu monsters, not so scarey after all.

These spuds were more or less sitting around in a bag in the cupboard and had gone to seed. So, I thought that there was nothing to lose putting them under the ground. The first thing to do was to leave them out in the soil for a week to toughen up, then I dug them under at about 5cm, and only about 50cm apart. Way too close, but I’m sceptical these will do anything. There’s a small chance they’ll have some kind of virus (not so good…), and a much larger chance they’ll just rot under the ground, which is actually not really a problem.

But I tried it just because we don’t really get frosts up here (too windy), and, because of this little success:

The old potato in a bucket trick. These will definitely be ready in a couple of months, as long as the wind or cold doesn’t get them first. Awesome – and happy to explain how to if need be.

And that’s pretty much all that I had planned. Look at the grass, put the spuds under, complete my Statistics assignment, hang out with the family. But… at the Riverside markets yesterday this guy was selling cheap pittosporums and I thought, well, there is a hole in the hedge between us and the neighbour. So, I bought this little feller:

The hope was that he’d grow into something like this guy:

a medium-sized pittosporum that really needs pruning and some TLC

The trouble is that the neighbour from the other side dropped by and says, “I’ve got a chainsaw you know…”, and so the wee bit of pruning and planting I intended turned into this:

not as much pruning as these poor macrocarpa tho...

And, this:

That’s a hell of a lot of matter to try and mulch down. In fact, too much. But it was worth it to clear out this heap of dead wood (most of which was strangled by a very lovely clematis), some some trees that had been pruned back once or twice too many times. The fact of the matter was that they needed to be taken out, and with prejudice.

And besides! Now those neighbours can see this:

A very beautiful sunset taken with a very average camera.

Not too bad a weekend really.


They say that to end a tale you need start from the beginning, but it was never going to be like that with me. And so it is that we’ve wandered to and fro, meandering through the many years of lives that have flowed together to make up the foundations of mine. But they say to know a man you must walk a mile in his shoes, no?

That said, this story was never truly about me, only mine for the retelling. Many many nights spent sitting up embracing the past, unpicking its fibrous strands and laying them open to the sunlight, waiting for the new growth to fill out and refresh a torrid history. In truth this tale was always hers, and needing explication it has sat festering indoors for all too long.

It’s just a pity that I couldn’t have explained it in detail, from start to finish. Or perhaps that I was just a better writer…

And so we have a woman alone with three children. One partner is deceased, another too violent and long since fled to Australia where he will hide in the desert for 40 years, and a third trapped in his home country.

That is the final chapter of this long winding stream of thought. My stepfather didn’t return with us from Greece after we had travelled there to settle in ’78, and so it was that we were in effect stranded between two places, my mother wanting to be there but unable to return. The specific details of this are stranded behind 30 years of retelling and hence difficult to know exactly. But, as I should have said many times before, this tale belongs to others, but is intermediated by its effect on a small boy.

In essence, we had taken a family friend with us to Greece. A friend who was, to all intents and purposes, a thief. I remember clearly  my middle brother encouraged by him and to climb into the trees of a local peasant and steal her citrus. He stood by the roadside behind a stone fence and kept watch, while my brother and I scampered up into the branches to take oranges.  I remember the arid landscape and the deepest blue of the Aegean skies. The white chalk cliffs and whitewashed buildings.

It was this friend who was the reason we left Greece and had to leave Yannis behind. Jeff, the thief, had been returning (wasted) from somewhere one evening and attempted to steal the donation box from the front of the local orthodox church. This was of course in plain sight of the local taverna, the patrons of which were sitting outside eating and drinking, and who promptly had him arrested and thrown in jail. You should know of course that “Greek jail” in the 1970s was of course a byword for squalor, the kind of place a country boy from New Zealand shouldn’t really find himself.

And that, as they say, was that. We were despatched home to New Zealand, our brief hiatus in the idyll ended, and Yannis stayed in Greece to help Jeff out of jail. The fool.


The one thing that the suburbs seem to have is an endless fount of hard work. There are Mondays when I’m actually relieved to be heading to the bus because I know I’ll not be putting blisters and/or calluses onto my hands.

So while I was out cropping the grass with a hand mower this afternoon it occured to me. While I was gathering up the grass with a rake I thought about it some more because, as we all know, raking is very relaxing and zen. And it looks a lot like Object Dart will be converted to a gardening blog.

Back when I lived in Auckland I worked for two summers as a gardener, and I grew a large and full garden at a flat I lived in. This means I got to know a little about plants and planting, and it’s something I’d like to build on. Naturally there’s been some reading going on, and I think I’m about ready to really embrace the change of pace that is the suburbs and get up onto the bandwagon that is the middle-class garden.

Besides, I just like gardening.

So! A run-down. The property is 800m2 all up, but at least half of that is house, driveway, etc. None of that half is useful for gardening, except that the house blocks out the worst of the number one problem up here at Newlands Manor, the wind. The site is very very sunny, but also very very exposed. So windbreaking is the number one priority with everything we do. It is also foggy as all get-go a fair amount of time  year-round, so that needs to be accommodated. I had thought that I’d just give up and plant a lot of subalpine grasses and hebes, but then I realised that I’m just not that much of a sook.

And that is why I spent the better part of the Easter weekend putting in a vege patch. When I wasn’t helping with Chef Du Plunge, enjoying the visiting inlaws, or cropping the lawn for clippings to put in the compost that is.

Here’s a photo.

What we have here is the site laid out. This bit of lawn used to be under a shed, so the soil is compacted and a bit awful. Worse, the ground itself is dense clay at best, and hard sandstone at worst – some of which was less than a spade’s depth from the grass.

I’ve dug two trenches, one to the north, and one to the west, and began the process of terracing this bit of lawn into a raised garden bed. This is very important because it will allow the garden itself to drain more effectively than digging trenches or laying fancy piping.

It also fits the natural shape of the site, something you’ll hear me waxing lyrical about a fair bit.

Into the trenches I’ve placed a series of macrocarpa sleepers, levelled them to very near horizontal (they were never going to be *absolutely* level…), and put a second course on top. I’ve also left small drainage holes, and filled the spaces behind them with stones found on site. It will be interesting to see how much earth I lose thru these. I’m anticipating that plant life will fill them preventing too much erosion or slumping in the garden.

The next thing was digging in to at least a spade’s depth, sometimes too, and turning over the clay. This was actually heavy and hard work.

Once that was done I chopped up the sods of earth with a sharpened shovel, added lime, and turned it again. Y0u can also see that I’ve added some warratahs to support the outside of the sleepers. This will become important later when I need to string up windbreaks.

And finally, I was able to add gypsum, a healthy amount of sheep poo, a bunch of dried peat moss, and some compost out of our supply, and hoed the whole lot under.

And that, is the “Beginner’s Garden”, the first of the gardens I will put in. All that nutrient, fertiliser and plant matter (peat) and a load of watering has gone into to start the long process of breaking down the structure of the clay. I reckon a couple of years of breaking up that mass and it should be a fairly decent garden. It gets a fair amount of winter sun (but not too much), so should be good for plants that don’t like too much direct sunlight – the upper garden (still lawn) will be better for full light plants. During the summer the site is exposed to sun all day, while sheltered from the wind by the house.

The final step was to sow the first crop. Rye grass. Lupin was too expensive and we need some plants to kick off the little ecology of this patch, so cheap grass seed it was. It should start to sprout in a week or so, and then we’ll be on our way. By then I should have finished knocking the upper terrace into shape.