Upside-down gardening: September and October in Central Otago
The spring procession continues
Because I am originally from the United Kingdom, I tend to expect spring flowers to be all dreamy and pastel coloured. Here in New Zealand, spring begins with those gentle hues, but soon, more dazzling colours appear.
As the snowdrop flowers turn into yellow seedpods, bluebells take their place. They remind me of English woods, but I don’t think the ones in our garden are true English bluebells. Bluebells hybridise readily, especially with Spanish squill, but also with other members of the hyacinth family. I once read that English bluebells should have heads that arch elegantly “like sad knights”. Ours is a lighter blue than the true English bluebells and they stand vigorously erect. I split them and spread them around regularly because I would love the area under the trees to be a carpet of blue each September
This solitary beauty emerges each year amongst the grape hyacinths. Fritillaries are another reminder of England, where they like to grow in damp meadows on the edge of woodland. This is the white version of the snakes head fritillary (fritillaria meleagris), but the purple one is also interesting-looking with a chequerboard effect on its petals. Now that I know they will thrive in this area of the garden, I ought to get some more.
Tiny hooped petticoat daffodils
There are lots of these in the garden, but they haven’t flowered particularly well this year. I suspect they have become a little overcrowded, so I will split them up and spread them around. The ordinary daffodils were also a little disappointing. However, proving that they love poor, dry soil, a few that I put into a bed that does not receive any irrigation and where the soil has been depleted of nourishment by a row of “dwarf” conifers flowered beautifully, unlike the clumps in better soil elsewhere. The flowers look like the sort of petticoats worn underneath crinoline dresses.
Tulips are rapidly becoming my favourite spring flower. In some locations, tulips have to be lifted and replaced every year. This is not true here. Central Otago’s cold winters, strong sunshine and sharp drainage seem to be just what they need to thrive without any special care.
Proving that tulips don’t need much effort here, tulips Camargue and Spring Green are in their third year of flowering. They give me just the kind of dreamy look that I want in this bed, which is where I put mainly pastel-coloured flowers. As the original bulbs have divided and spread, the formal planting I originally made has become much more natural-looking.
These lovely doubles are in their second year of flowering in a dry, exposed bed. If I remember rightly, they are Menton Unique.
Before we lived here, this large magnolia near the boundary fence grew back from a stump when the original tree, which was right on the boundary, was cut down. It has grown rather tall and unshapely, so I’m going to persuade my husband to cut the top back. It does not have a strong leader, so we are hoping that we can encourage it to become bushier, rather than growing straight up.
We chose this magnolia because its colour would contrast well with the magnolia it was to be planted near to and because it is bred not to grow too large, making it an ideal small tree for a modestly sized town garden. We planted it three years ago and almost lost it when, in spite of being watered early in the morning, the afternoon sun dried it out completely. This year, it seems strong and healthy, and we have learned to be extra diligent with irrigating young plants.
Trilliums got their name because of their structure, all based on threes. This dark-coloured one has been in the garden since before I moved in. You can also get yellow, white, and pink speckled ones, and many varieties have beautifully marbled leaves. Trilliums come from America, where they are woodland wildflowers. They are best grown in shade, where they make leaves and flowers early in the season, before the tree canopy develops.
Pulsatillas are known as pasque flowers in Europe, because they flower around Easter time. They are also known as wind flowers. I bought two young plants, both with purple flowers, four or five years ago. I planted them in a very exposed part of the garden with poor soil and very sharp drainage. I am delighted that they have seeded themselves around and that some of their offspring are dark pink. You can also get white ones. The flowers develop into very attractive and tactile seedheads.
As the season progresses, the colours in our garden become more vivid. Sparaxis come from South Africa and, because they grow from corms, are well adapted to dry conditions. In our garden, they have spread widely, both under the trees and in very sunny spots. Their bright red makes a great combination with the gazanias, which flower almost all year, and the euphorbia myrsinites, with its greenish-yellow flowers. I like the white markings on the petals of these.
Pleasures to look forward to
Our region is famous for its beautiful paeonies, which need cold winters to do well. Their strong leaves and stems began to push through the soil in September and now they have well-developed flower-buds. The bearded irises are also in bud, so my next blog will be full of images of paeonies and irises.
The vegetable garden
I have always loved asparagus. In the UK, it is quite expensive and has a short season, and UK gardeners who want to grow it are given complicated instructions involving digging trenches and incorporating lots of organic matter. Here, asparagus grows wild out of the rocks. I find it everywhere in our garden, where it has self-seeded and needs no attention at all. I’m happy for it to grow amongst the flowers, but I do try to keep it at the back of the border, where its feathery fronds make a nice background for the flowers. I’m currently picking a few spears every day, which I throw in with a stir-fry or microwave between two plates for thirty seconds and then gobble up with lots of good New Zealand butter. It contains vitamin K, minerals and trace elements, just what you need after winter.
Planting out seedlings
I’m raising and planting out seedlings as fast as I can. I don’t have a greenhouse, so all my seed-raising is done on a windowsill. I am aiming to grow just a few plants, but with a wide variety. When I plant out a seedling, the blackbirds and thrushes (including the very tame blackbird who comes back every year) pull out the little plant and fling it to one side in their search for worms and grass grubs. I have been piling up rocks around them or placing a metal grill over them to try to prevent this, but I think we need to look at a more elegant solution for the vegetable bed, perhaps a set of hinged cages. I planted several carrot seedlings at the end of September and have a number of dwarf and climbing beans germinating on the windowsill.
October is the month for sowing tomato seeds in Central Otago. It is very tempting to start earlier, especially when there are strong seedlings for sale already, but there is no advantage to keeping young tomato plants indoors for longer than necessary. It will be too cold to plant tomatoes outside until night-time temperatures remain above 6o C.
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 north-west 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 the 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’re actually covered in tough little thyme plants: a great clue to what might grow well in the garden.
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