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- March 2017 -

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Tree Talk

It’s been a summer of false starts and roundabouts in the garden this year and I’m barely ready to think about another season creeping into sight. To be honest I’m really only just getting used to the summer heat. But I know it will all start to fade away before we know it. I can see the colours changing already. The gardens are starting to look tired and dry and the ground is splitting apart as the water table sinks lower. I’ve noticed too the night slowly creeping closer to the day.

When I started gardening more than twenty years ago, I, like most young things could simply not imagine how tall a tree would grow in a lifetime. I was impatient to see what might happen in a year and eager for instant gratification. Now I look at trees differently. As the pressure for housing, views and sun increases more and more, trees are disappearing from the Auckland city skyline. I think a lot more carefully about the trees I plant and also the plan of how they should be looked after.

A Size That Fits

Where possible in a suburban setting, select smaller trees that are more likely to stand the test of time. Native tree ferns and nikaus are great because they are slender and fit into tight spaces. Puka also fit well in the suburban garden. If you are after fruit, there is such a wonderful selection of varieties these days that can fit into almost any sized gap you can imagine. For instance, the ballerina apples grow on slender poles flowering and fruiting all around the main stem. This is both beautiful and space efficient. If sun is a challenge, consider deciduous trees such as forest pansy or Japanese maples. While people complain about leaf drop, I always like to remind them that evergreen trees tend to drop leaves slowly all year round while deciduous trees make it a once a year job. We all want privacy and shade in the summer but in the winter, more light is most desirable and deciduous trees are very obliging in this way!

Prune Hard

Kiwis are not very good at pruning trees. We tend to fall into two categories; those that like to cut them all down right to the ground, and those who like to hug them, even when it means living in a shadow. I think especially in a suburban environment where most of us live, we need to get into more of a routine of keeping our trees in good shape so they last the distance. Most trees, if kept well and are pruned from a young age, are able to be manipulated to a height that suits the garden. It’s only when they are left to grow unhindered that they become big problems. My own garden is no exception and I’m ready to give my trees a hard Autumn prune this year. Remember pruning is like a haircut, there are lots of ways to do it. The best approach is to decide what you want your tree to end up looking like, and then work out whether an all-over trim will work best or whether you need to thin out the branches to keep the height for privacy, but let light through.

Throughout my travels around the world I’ve come across all sorts of different techniques. Cloud trees in Japan look like works of art, but they are designed to be mini landscapes creating views between houses. They can be shaped to create a green form where ever you like. I think its time we all started getting a bit more creative with the shapes we make trees in to! Keep in mind though a balanced tree is more stable in a storm so don't get too carried away.

Wood is Precious

Just like all of us, sometimes a tree just has to go, but be open minded about what use it can be put to. I have seen some beautiful trees put to good use at the timber mill and used to create furniture or cabinetry. If you have a nice tree, do consider milling the wood as its often very valuable timber if you have a cause to put it to.

The season has just turned but you have a few more months to get the work done so take some time to think about what works best for you and then chop wisely!

Xanthe

 

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- December 2016 -

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Summer Gardening

Summer in the garden is really the time when we reap the rewards of the work we did in autumn and spring. Like the lovely long summer holidays, it’s when the garden gives back to us what we’ve put in, the return on an investment. With the backbreaking work out of the way, our garden though still needs some careful attendance to keep it bountiful through the months and years to come.

One of the best old timer tips for the vegetable is to plant a new punnet a week. At this time of year normally most gardeners have filled the beds to the brim but even so there is always something about to finish. Broad beans are the first to leave a gap in the garden and salads greens will often come to the end as well. As these gaps appear, by planting little and often you will help to stem the binge then glut we gardeners are often faced with at the end of summer’s season. When re planting it always pays to add compost to your beds. It doesn't take an experienced gardener to see the growth that is happening at this time of year is turning the organic matter in your soil into fresh organic food and this needs replacing as you cycle through the crops. Make sure you mulch new plantings too as soil left exposed to the hot summer sun will lessen in goodness in and have reduced water content.

While it’s important to keep planting in the vegetable garden, for trees and shrubs it’s best to wait until the temperatures drop and the rains return in autumn months. My rule is; the deeper the root the best left till autumn. The exception is bare earth. After a new renovation or other disruptions, there are advantages to having plants you want in the ground rather than leaving weeds to take hold. In this case or in any gardens that were planted in spring month, watering needs extra attention.

While watering is super important in any garden, too much can do as much harm as too little. Plants do best when their roots are encouraged to get deep down into the soil close to the natural water table and where the earth is cooler. This means long deep watering’s once a week will make stronger plants that frequent quick doses of water.

While irrigation systems can be a great way of making sure water is directed to the areas it is most needed you still need to keep an eye on them. So often an undetected spade through a pipe results in a puddle of water in one part of a garden and none at all in another. Weekly checks should avoid too much damage being done. You also need to keep an eye on summer storms and adjust the timings to our tempestuous weather. While inland gardens might be able to have more certainty about the weather that lies around the corner, for most of New Zealand we can never be too sure what the seas might send in, so it is worth keeping an eye on the horizon and adjusting our taps to the incoming tide!

In late summer too, as temperatures begin to peak across the country it is tempting to lay more water on the garden in response, but really we should not be forcing extra growth at this late stage of the season. Most plants are used to the seasonal shifts in water supply and as temperatures rise, a drop in the speed of growth means less water is needed. Continuing to load water into the garden at this stage can in fact increase the stress on plants especially on soil born issues. Like children, spoilt plants don't always end up with the most consistent temperaments so give your water bill a break!

Most importantly take the time to enjoy your garden at this time of year. A garden is a relationship and the state of it is a reflection of what you've invested so take the time to reflect and take on what changes you need to make, but also to celebrate what you've achieved since you started. Take some photos to so you can watch the changes still to come!

Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year.

Xanthe

 

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- September 2016 -

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Opportunities

Gardeners are opportunists. We are always seeking a new plot of land where we might be able to play, be it for food, forest or flowers. It’s often the paddock. There are many great gardening stories of shifting fence lines as gardens slowly creep across borders. In cities, as we are faced with ever decreasing plots of land, true gardeners do not give in. Containers are always an option and make for great gardens, especially for those renting. It’s important though when growing in pots, to think about the quality of your soil. In a vegetable patch every gardener knows to compost and mulch, but in pots it’s hard to understand what the difference is between the mixes, especially when the price can vary so much.

Even the cheaper mixes are generally better than the soil in your garden. They've been developed with years of experience from gardeners that know one of the most important things about pots, as with all gardening, is water. Potting mixes help retain water for dry periods but also make sure that the mix will drain. We all know what happens to stagnant water left sitting in a garden. This is the last thing you want around the roots of your plants. So what makes better mixes better? It’s the quality of the ingredients, but also importantly how long the mix will provide food for your plants. If you are putting trees or shrubs into a mix, making sure they have a long period of food makes all the difference. What you will save on using a cheaper mix in the short term, you are likely to end up spending on plant foods over time.

As well as planters, many gardeners are starting to look at their lawns quite differently. I love a good lawn. In fact it doesn't even have to be that good a lawn to create a beautiful soft green space for counting clouds, throwing a ball or having a picnic. I’ll never be sad to see the daisies. But there is a lot of lawn that only ever gets walked on when it’s being mowed. If you have the space that's fine, it's a luxury to be enjoyed, but when you’re looking for new spots for plants, a lawn is another sort of opportunity.

I have a front and back lawn that both need some care. My plan this spring is to get that back lawn looking how it should, but the front lawn is history. I’ve had my eye on it for a few years now but my garden is not just my garden. I share it with a family so I needed to do some conversations. Thankfully my almost 9 year old has been in total gardening emersion from a young age. He was quick to come over to my way of thinking and started to extend the garden borders himself with potato plots and lizard enclosures. My almost 8 year old daughter was next in the line. Her imagination was on my side. “Less boring,” she said. “We are not really boring sort of people, let’s go crazy.” My beloved, well he is a “Yes” man. The sort of person who stands by other people’s good ideas and gets excited by them. So now we are all in, and it is spring. Our reputation in the neighbourhood may be set to tip over a little. The tidy lawns and neat edges of gardens make our house already look like a forgotten wilderness. But we are gardeners. We are opportunists ready to experiment and fail and try again. The weather is on our side so dirt here we come. Let’s get growing!

Xanthe

 

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- June 2016 -

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Landscaping in London

I’m finding it hard to accept its winter this year, despite my friend’s frosty Facebook photos. I’ve just arrived back from a late spring in London where I was helping the French designer James Basson create his Chelsea garden for L’Occtaine.

I have to say an English spring is crisper than an Auckland autumn but there were still enough strawberries and poppies in flower to make my brain reset. Chelsea really is a show like no other for horticulture. There are not many places where Monty Don passes by, only for Piet Oudulf to stop in for a chat. While the show gardens get most of the attention it’s in the marquee where the real horticulture happens. In one giant tent are the most amazing displays of horticulture. One of my favourites was the potato growers.

The stand was about five metres long and two metres deep and showed named varieties of potatoes from all around the world, and these guys really knew their potatoes. They were very disappointed in me when I mentioned boiling them though. Apparently a potato should never be boiled only steamed, not to mention keeping the skin on. To these gentlemen a peeled potato was akin to streaking the queen. Even mashed potatoes are not an excuse to peel a potato! For those of you enjoying this year’s harvest take heed, the rest of you will need to wait till spring to get a new crop into the ground.

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The other display that won my heart over was the Cacti. There were no tall cartoon-like varieties. Instead the tiers of cacti looked more like a fine French cake shop. The blooms were pretty and iridescent. For those gardeners who don't step outside at this time of year but find their green fingers twitching for warmer times, an indoor cacti collection could be the thing for you. I’m already considering where we might be able to squeeze a conservatory on to host such a collection. (Although I’m not ready to pitch this to my husband yet!)

The show gardens are where they say the trends are set. Naturalism is the new way to go. I spent several days planting gully weeds next to a drain to help get our gold! I can’t help but feel that here in New Zealand though, we’re miles ahead with a natural love of our wild and a great understanding of how to bring ecology into a garden, but we’ll be patient and give our friends abroad a chance to catch up. The rock work was exceptional both in terms of traditional craftsmanship in Basson’s garden and Cleve West’s creative use of stone that was simply sublime. I think using our local reserves of rock is something we are only just starting to explore and we’ll see more skill develop in this area in the years to come. We have such a wonderful range of rock throughout New Zealand and it is my favourite landscape material.

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It is though, time for me to face reality and return to the winter ahead. I’m behind on the pruning. My fruit trees are young but it’s still important to take out any deadwood and to thin the branches to let light through the tree to encourage fruiting. You should also think about where your fruit grow. Keeping your fruit trees at a reasonable size means you won’t get stuck with an old tree with all the fruit out of reach. Pruning older trees back into harder wood can reduce the fruiting in the season that follows, which is a good argument for less more often.

It’s also okay at this time of year to put your feet up and think about what worked in the season that passed and what you want to do in the spring to come. Learning from your successes and failures is what makes a great gardener. Putting a plan in place in response to this is what makes an abundant gardener.

Soon it will be spring and the list of chores will be falling off the edge of the page, so I’ll be back then, but now I’m going to enjoy a well earned rest!

Xanthe

 

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- March 2016 -

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Pruning in Autumn

Some years by the end of February, I’m pleased to see summer pass by. During those years, the whirl of the holidays is replaced by an unrelenting heat and mosquito broken sleep. But this year I’m not quite ready to say goodbye to the lazy days of summer and nor is my garden. The expected dry has been broken by the perfect amount of rain spaced evenly through the season. I’ve barely brought out the garden hose and my lawn is still green - apart form the scorch marks still remaining from the New Year's garden party fire.

I know that autumn is on its way but I’m not yet ready pack up and move on. Still though, I know that at some point it’ll become time to clear up the summer’s growth.

This year my autumn job is pruning. Over the summer the garden has risen several meters further up the mountain. While I hesitate to prune back the trees that keep us up to date with Tui politics and other feathered affairs, I’m looking forward to opening up our views again. In New Zealand we are not good tree pruners. We tend to let them become too big and then they get the chop instead of a little bit off pruning every year. We plant trees for a reason; to frame views and screen our neighbours kitchen windows. Then when they get too large we curse them. I often meet with clients who have acquired a new garden and quickly removed a tree only to find that once it’s down they are then faced with an ugly view they’d not realised was hidden, or a strong wind they’d never noticed before. The problem is sometimes poor planning or random gardening, but more often than not it’s more about maintenance of trees from a young age to make sure they grow as intended.

Pruning trees should be done ideally in autumn so we get more winter sun, and they grow better for the summer to give us shelter from the deep summer’s heat. It is also less stressful on the plant as the temperatures cool, growth naturally slows and many trees are heading for a period of dormancy. Pruning should always start with removing any dead or diseased limbs that the tree will probably drop in winter storms anyway. Put aside now, they can be used for kindling later. Then you need to think about the desired shape of the tree. Sometimes the best approach is to open a tree to let light through the branches. This is normally the case when privacy or shelter is needed or with larger trees that have not been pruned prior and would look unusual if topped. Thinning out the branches is also good practise for fruit trees as they mature, to get light and sun into the centre of the tree and encourage fruiting.

The other approach is to remove the top and side growth and shape the tree. If doing this, decide if you want a formal effect, in which case you should prune it evenly all over. This will give you a solid form like a hedge. Alternatively if you want keep the tree loose and natural; prune the branches at slightly different lengths similar in shape to the natural form of the tree. As a rule taking up to a third out of a tree each season is not going to cause stress to a plant. You may sometimes need to take more if the job as been left undone for a few seasons, but in this case check the variety with an expert.

There’s plenty of good advice about pruning online, but the best advice I can offer is take some time once a year to keep trees healthy and doing the job they were to planted to do so you can enjoy them for years to come.

Till next time, Xanthe xx

 

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- December 2015 -

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Summer garden survival tips from Xanthe White

Spring started dry this year and then in one large sweeping storm it refilled its cups again, proving that for all the technology and advances in science we still have away to go when it comes to predicting the weather. But it is a good reminder that being prepared ahead of time for a dry season before it creeps up upon us is water in the bank. Like most things in life being prepared in advance will leave you in a good position even in more extreme summers.

Tips for water retention:

Get rid of weeds. Weeds waste water by using it for unwanted growth and remember the best way to avoid them coming back is to replace them with something better so the water is serving a purpose.

Avoid bare earth by planting close together. Having a full garden reduces water loss as the surface soil retains more water when covered with plant material. If you are worried about things becoming overgrown over time, you can fill the gaps with short lived plants such as parsley and lettuce or annual flowers

Plant with lots of organic matter in the soil. A well balanced compost, sheep pellets or even sphagnum moss will help to retain water around the roots. Not only does organic matter create a healthy environment for your plants root systems it also acts like a sponge that holds water in the soil for longer. Soils low in organic matter can suffer two issues. Either the water doesn’t even make it into the soil and runs straight off, or the soil runs quickly through (this is especially so in sandy soils). Organic matter also helps distribute water evenly.

Mulching is the process of covering the soil that reduces water loss and also helps with weed control. What we mulch with depends on the type of garden we have. For fast growing plants such as vegetables use softer mulch such as pea straw that will break down into the soil quickly and double as a soil conditioner. For trees and shrubs and borders, bark mulch will last longer and yet will still assist soil quality as it does decompose. Wherever you have bare soil you should mulch. Even if you are the most hands off gardener this is the most important task to do at least once, although ideally twice a year. Soil left bare becomes hot and dries out quickly. It is also not as healthy, as exposed soil does not have the same levels of microbial activity as soil with a covering, be it bark, newspaper, leaf litter or pea straw.

Trees planted in autumn months should be watered as little as possible, and when they are watered they should be given long deep waters that encourage their roots to search for nutrients. This will encourage the tree to get its roots deep down into the water table and will give you a better, healthier tree in the long term. Trees planted in the early spring will need to be watered more frequently as they have not developed their deep roots yet. They also are better to be watered less often and more deeply. There are various opinions about when to water and when to not, but the consensus is that at the start of the day and in the evening reduces the amount of water loss from transpiration and evaporation. This said, it is better to water a plant that is stressed or wilting when you notice it.

Watering to the roots is most effective but after long periods of heat I do give my garden an occasional wash down and I swear it loves it. Plants can absorb water directly through their leaves and I suspect it helps them cool off too. You might also notice though that your garden looks extra green and lush after a lightning storm. This is because the lightening actually releases nitrogen in the air which combined with rain acts as a foliage feed straight to the plants leaves.

Till next time, Xanthe xx

 

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- September 2015 -

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Spring Fever

I’ve always been a strong advocate for keeping Spring fever under control. But this year...?

It’s well known by gardeners that the weather doesn’t really stabilise until Labour Weekend. From then we can do as we please in the garden and plant somewhat at whim, but before then we need to be cautious of cold snaps and Spring storms. But this year I feel like an unseasoned gardener. The edge of Winter with the first blossoms, the daffodils, and the last of the magnolias has set me off on a dizzy spin. I know what I shouldn't be doing but just as the bulbs push up with the lengthening days and warming temperature, Spring turns on a switch inside of me that says 'go garden crazy'. It‘s a bit like puppy love that comes once a year.

So I’m going to offer sensible advice, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be following it at home!

1. Read the back of your seed packets and sow according to instructions.

2. Do not plant your tomatoes until labour weekend unless you have a proper green house.

3. Plant in sequence. Do not fill every gap of the garden right now because you can see lambs and daffodils. Think about what you want to plant later and plan your spaces.

4. If you want new potatoes on your table for Christmas start sprouting them now and plant them mid September.

5. Love your soil. This is advice I always follow. Freshen up compost, plant then mulch.

And while you follow the rules I’ll enjoy carrying on trying to break them.

We have some exciting projects coming up in Taranaki this year which will be open to the public. Still under wraps but hopefully all will be revealed soon! We are also really happy to be working with Eastwoodhill, our national arboretum, on developing the gardens beneath their amazing collection of trees.

And my favourite garden of all, Daltons Plantation, is looking for a wonderful launch into Spring this year. Our aim this year is to expand the productive gardens so we have even more beautiful produce for the café. The chooks' new rotating runs are built and well worth checking out. In the kid's productive garden, the Buzzy Bee, is blooming and is hoping to have some real bees joining him soon. There are insect towers and a new greenhouse which is urgently needed after the cold winter that has snapped everything back. On the ornamental side the Vista now has a beautiful thick grove of Senkaki Maples from Tamata to finish it off. Both Judith and I are enjoying polishing the details as the gardens mature. A do recommend a visit.

But in the meantime, do as I say, not as I do!

Best wishes, Xanthe xx

 

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The Natural Garden
by Xanthe White
A sumptuous and inspirational landscape design book that looks at how award-winning landscape designer Xanthe White’s signature style, which she calls the ‘natural’ or ‘wild’
garden can be applied to flower, native, rural, dry, inner city, productive, subtropical, coastal, and small city wall and roof gardens.

Warmly and expertly written and lavishly illustrated with photos and Xanthe’s own hand-drawn plans, the book also contains best-plant guides for each garden type as well as growing and composting advice. It’s almost as good as having Xanthe call round for a consultation!


Organic Vegetable
Gardening
by Xanthe White
Organic vegetable gardening
is big again. Here’s a book that
takes readers by the hand and shows them how
to go from backyard bombsite to organic Garden of Eden in one year.

Author Xanthe White, New Zealand landscape-design star, documents a year in the garden she built from scratch in a rundown inner-city backyard, inspiring readers to realise that they can do it too. Xanthe’s monthly diary inspires and confides, and her guides to sowing, planting, pests and diseases, making compost, mulching and more make it easy for beginners to follow - and get fabulous results. There’s plenty for experienced gardeners here, too. Xanthe’s tips, techniques and infectious enthusiasm will get even the most seasoned gardeners wanting to try something new. Most of all, she demystifies organics and makes it easy to agree that the only way to garden is organically.

Studded with great informational photographs, this book carves out new and unique territory that sets it apart from other gardening books. It is an inspirational and practical guide.