Upside-down gardening: January in Central Otago
The height of summer
The garden is beginning to get that parched look, in spite of careful irrigation. Keep watering, including regular garden inspections with hose in hand to make sure all the plants are getting the water they need. This is not the season for transplanting, but if you must, puddle the plant in. This means you should water the hole before planting, pop the plant in the puddle you have made, backfill and water again to settle the plant in.
Planting in groups
I love plants and would collect a huge variety if left to my own devices, but this does not always make for harmonious design. It’s often better to have a group of the same variety of plant than to have individuals scattered around. Photographers are told that the best compositions are groups of odd numbers: threes or fives, and this works for plants too. A couple of years ago, I planted this thalictrum (meadow rue), hoping that it would clump up and I could split it to make a group. It’s a fascinating plant, but it towers above everything else nearby and looks a little odd, as it has remained a single tall stem, with no sign of spreading at the base. I’d hate to get rid of it, so I need to look out for a couple more or try raising some from seed. This is not to say that you should always buy more than one of a plant. If you know a plant can be easily propagated, it is more economical to plant a single specimen, so that you can be sure it will survive in the conditions you are giving it.
Lavender is easy to grow from cuttings, so I am happy to have a few different varieties in different places in the garden. After they flower, you should cut them back to make a rounded bush, as low as you can without cutting into old wood. This stops them becoming woody and leggy and keeps them flowering well. When you do this, simply strip off the lower leaves from a few of your prunings and push them straight into the ground where you would like a new plant to grow. I’ve tried raising lavender cuttings in pots with good potting mix but had a much better success rate with the least effort in the open ground. Lavender grosso looks great as a hedge, but some of the other varieties make good focal points in a colour-coordinated border.
Exotic calla lilies
There’s nothing exotic about calla lilies in Auckland, where you can see the white variety clogging water races and drainage ditches everywhere you go and where they are outlawed as a noxious weed. Here in Central Otago, they are not a pest at all, and to an incomer like me, they seem like a rare treat. I bought five bulbs by mail order and was excited to see the first flower in late December. It is very possible that they won’t survive our winters, though. I’m not sure it’s worth the trouble of lifting them, so they’re going to have to take their chance. I also bought another tender plant that will have to take its chances: a gloriosa lily, sometimes called a spider lily or climbing lily. It seems to be thriving and I’m looking forward to seeing the flowers.
Caring for the soil
I have several comfrey plants under a little feijoa tree. Comfrey is useful in a number of ways. In the North of England, it is known as knit-bone, because it can be used as a poultice on sprain injuries. It has a very deep root, and it pulls up useful minerals from below the soil. As soon as it starts to look untidy, chop it back and use it as a chop and drop mulch or add it to the compost bin or worm farm as an accelerator. Use gloves, because its hairy leaves and stems can irritate some people’s skin. It is also said to be a good defence against weeds. In autumn, I plan to split up some of my comfrey plants and plant them against the fence, where my neighbour’s wandering periwinkles often creep into my garden.
The vegetable garden
The yellow podded mangetout peas that I threw down under the support are cropping now. I’ll definitely take this casual approach again next year. It’s best to pick peas regularly, as this keeps them producing more.
I planted some yams where I could find a space in December. They seem to be doing well. You can tell from the leaves that they are related to Oxalis.
It could be argued swedes (or rutabaga as the Americans call them) are not worth growing at home, since they are so cheap and plentiful, they are fed to cattle. However, I tried growing them this year and was very pleased at how easy they are. I think this one’s ready to pull out and use in potato hash (a stew of minced beef or venison, potatoes, onions, carrots and swede with rosemary from the garden). I’ll make enough hash so that I have some left over to put in pasties like my mother did.
Keep sowing seeds
January is the time to sow beans, beetroot, carrots, chives, kale, leeks, parsley, potatoes, swede and sweet corn. Keep sowing a few indoors, so that you can plant them out as soon as there is space, but be careful where you place them. North-facing windows, which were great for seedlings earlier in the year, are likely to suddenly get very hot at certain times of day.
Plant out seedlings
You can plant out aubergines, basil, broccoli, celery, chillies, courgettes, leeks and squash now. It’s not too late for a few last-minute tomatoes.
Harvest garlic when the leaves turn yellow. The general rule is to plant on the shortest day and harvest on the longest day. Tomatoes will be ripening, especially if you have a greenhouse or sheltered spot. Keep picking peas and beans as soon as they are ready, to keep the plants producing. It’s also best to keep picking basil; take out anything above the second pair of leaves on each stem. It will make two branches where it has been nipped out, so you get more leaves and a nice, bushy plant.
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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