Upside-down gardening: August in Central Otago
Spring is here
Officially, Spring does not arrive in New Zealand until September, but with the willows by the river showing green and the snowdrops already past their best, it feels like now is the right time to celebrate new growth and the promise of more lovely things to come.
A spring procession
In August, we see other flowers joining the spring parade: snowflakes, narcissi and the first of the succulents.
This cerise variety reminds me of a child’s drawing of a flower. It is thriving underneath an acer. Last year, I bought a white one and a blue one. There are buds on one of them and I can’t wait to see the flowers.
A sea of blue
The first few muscari (grape hyacinths) opened in late August. I have a larger variety in another part of the garden, and they usually open a bit later than the smaller ones. There are also white, pale blue, pink and even yellow varieties of muscari. Since the blue ones grow so well here, I’d like to establish a few clumps of other members of the same family.
Taller than snowdrops and from a completely different family, snowflakes (Leucojum) start to flower just as the snowdrops are beginning to fade. I have clumps of these forming a row along a fence.
Treasures to come
The soil is beautifully soft after the winter rain, especially where we mulched, so spring is a great time for hand weeding. One pleasure to be had while weeding is to see the plants that are emerging from their winter dormancy. Fascinating trilliums and aquilegias, with their delicately coloured shoots, are showing promise already.
Even in the driest corners of the garden, tiny succulents are in flower.
A gift from my neighbour
My neighbour has several well-established clumps of hellebores and she promised me some seedlings. I was really pleased to see this washing-up bowl outside the kitchen window. Using kitchen towels, she had carefully wrapped and labelled the seedlings according to which parent plant they had come from. Hellebores cross-pollinate readily and can produce all sorts of interesting variations. All you need is a little patience, as they can take up to three years to flower from germination.
Specialist nurseries can supply freckled, picotee and double varieties and all shades from black to white, red, pink and yellow.
This red seedling is from a batch she planted out last year. We are hoping we will have a range of different coloured hellebores across our two properties for years to come.
I have a pink, freckled one, but I note that it did not flower until September last year.
The vegetable garden
We have set up the irrigation again, now that it is unlikely to freeze. We don’t need the timed system yet, but it’s great to be able to water the garden as the weather becomes drier.
In preparation for the tomatoes that I will be sowing in October, we have already positioned a compost bin in the vegetable bed and filled it with horse manure. We’re lucky to live in a rural area, so we were able to buy the manure in sacks from the side of the road for a few dollars placed in an honesty box. The manure is rotting down nicely, feeding and gently warming the vegetable bed. It rots incredibly quickly, so don’t worry, there’ll soon be space in the compost bin for spent vegetable plants, soft prunings, leaves and, to add carbon or brown waste, cardboard and newspaper.
Jobs to do in August
Carry on weeding. You will have begun to blitz the weeds in July, and you should continue to concentrate on small patches, an hour or so at a time. As you weed, check the borders: it’s good to take the soil from the front of the borders and throw it to the back, so that you retain a gentle slope.
If you have hellebore seedlings, pot them up, or distribute them through the garden, so that you can keep any that turn out to be interesting.
Set the timers on the irrigation.
Keep sowing seeds
If you didn’t sow broad beans before winter, you can still sow them outside now. You can also sow shallot seeds, cabbage and swedes, and New Zealand and English spinach in plugs on the windowsill. Peas (all types, including snow peas, garden peas and mangetouts) can be sown where they are to grow, but protect them from mice and birds. You can use a metal grid supported by stones but take it away when the first shoots look likely to try to climb on the grid.
About the writer
My name’s Pamela and a few years ago, at the age of 55, I made the decision to start a new adventure. I left the northwest of England, where I had lived all my life, and moved to New Zealand. I’m excited to be a guest blogger on Gardenize, and I love writing about my garden in beautiful, sunny Alexandra in Central Otago. My garden here is about as different as it could get from the damp, shady garden I left behind. Central Otago is the hottest, driest, coldest area in New Zealand, as we have hot summers and cold winters, along with a semi-arid climate. The area is famous for its orchards and vineyards. It has many quaint little rural townships with pretty cottage gardens featuring peonies, bearded irises, hollyhocks, lilies, roses, and lavender that grow so well here. The landscape is spectacular, with dry, rocky mountains and impossibly blue lakes and rivers. The dry mountains look barren, but they’ve actually covered in tough little thyme plants: a great clue to what might grow well in the garden.
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