Belladonna Bess

An edible garden in Wellington, NZ

An optimist’s garden July 31, 2009

Filed under: Garden,Photos — belladonnabess @ 11:19 pm

Eating: silverbeet, celery (with peanut butter, yum. When I first heard of that combination I was dubious, but it’s just so good, especially with my rather strongly-flavoured celery rather than the watery stuff you can buy)

Flowering: Muscari (grape hyacinth). A childhood favourite, my grandmother always had lots of them.

Finishing: the edge of the garden against my south fence.

Moving: my Miho mandarin. I planted it 7 months ago but it never looked happy. It’s now in the back corner of the garden, nice winter sun, no frost and also one of the most sheltered areas. Hopefully it won’t be too annoyed at being dug up and moved.

Planting: a Silverhill mandarin. I’ve planted it next to Miho in the warm corner. Both varieties are cold-tolerant satsuma types, but I think I need to give them every chance, as Wellington isn’t what you would call a natural citrus-growing area.

Also planting: the Passiflora antioquiensis that I’ve had in a pot for 2 1/2 years. I’m not entirely sure it is still alive, as it is really frost sensitive and has died back completely. But anyone who tries to grow citrus and passionfruit in Wellington must be an eternal optimist, so I’ve planted it between the mandarins and am hoping for the best. I also planted a couple of forget-me-nots that sprouted in a pot, and some swan plants that got completely munched but looked like they might be hanging in there.

Bagging: lots of weeds. I’m not quite sure what to do with the weeds like buttercup that I am digging up. I know that mulching for months won’t kill it. If I put it in the compost I’m sure it will just keep growing. So I’m experimenting with solarisation. I’m putting it in old compost bags and hoping that a few months in the sun will kill it. I know it is an effective technique, but most of those recommending it come from Australia. It might not work in Wellington.

I’ve got dark-coloured bags – I don’t like buying bagged compost much, but I have little choice due to not having enough homemade and not having the access to buy a trailerload easily. But there is one brand that comes in a dark green bag, and dark bags should heat up more. So the plastic bags will get a second life as weed control.

If it actually works.

Acquiring: I got given some more raspberries – another variety so I can continue my collection (and it is getting to be a collection now) – and a hazelnut, which looks to be in need of a prune. Not sure what to do with it as the spot isn’t ready and probably won’t be for another 6 months or more, but you know – free plants.

Flaming: the skies to the west.

I think that’s about it really. I pinned down the old cocoa sacks on the bank near where I planted the mandarins. Hopefully they will supress the weeds a bit. I did a little tidying. The weather was reasonably good, with a northerly not strong enough to cause any problems, and the occasional moment of sun. I was working in the garden until 5.45pm.


Hanging out for spring July 29, 2009

Filed under: Garden — belladonnabess @ 9:28 pm

Eating: purple broccoli. I don’t have a lot, but I got home in daylight and managed to find enough for dinner.

Gloating: I’ve got a daffodil! I know it isn’t spring yet, but that single bloom still makes me feel a whole lot better.

Dreading: of course spring brings northwesterly gales, and that is what they are predicting for the weekend.


A day better spent inside July 25, 2009

Filed under: Garden — belladonnabess @ 10:02 pm

Despite the sun, today was horribly cold. There was a freezing northerly wind and my garden was not a very pleasant place to be. Of course, I was gardening most of the day anyway, but I think I would have enjoyed the day more if I had windows and walls between me and the weather.

Planting: dwarf nectarine (Garden Delight), in the middle of my herb garden. Apple Polka, in front of one of the ugly concrete posts. I had some really nice apples I bought at the market earlier this year, so I went back and asked the stallholder what the variety was. I was really surprised to find that it was the columnar apple Polka. Also planting more spring bulbs, Centaurea montana and Geranium phaeum around the two apple trees. None of them are edible, but they are nicer things to have around apple trees than either grass or bare soil.

Staking: my apple trees.

Mulching: my apple trees in a weird mix of alpaca fibre, cocoa husks, stones and coffee grounds. It all makes sense really.

Extending: the garden against the south fence (mostly so I could plant my apple in it).

Weeding: the area around the catnip cage.

Tidying: the very weedy bank in the corner of the garden. I’m not quite sure what to do with it, as the drop is a bit too much for me to terrace using the plastic edging. I’ve tried pinning one of the old cocoa husk sacks to it, and I may plant it in something that can creep over the bank. Strawberries might be possible, although it isn’t the sunniest area in summer.

Waiting: I’m not sure I will be able to start the pear espaliers this year, all the ones for sale seem to be too big. I may end up growing lots of peas and beans there in the meantime.

This is what it looked like today. Fortunately the camera doesn’t convey the temperature. It actually looks rather warm, although my still-frozen feet beg to differ.


Wellington weather is like this all the time…

Filed under: Garden — belladonnabess @ 12:10 am

Yeah, right.

Wiring: the first two rows of wires for espaliers and vines.

Planting: grapes (Albany Surprise, Candice), apple (Initial).

Buying: lots. Apium prostratum, Lepidium oleraceum, Rorippa divaricata, apple Polka (a columnar apple), two dwarf nectarines (no idea how well they will fruit in Wellington but I do have a very warm sunny spot), grape (Candice).

The three natives were a surprise, not something I expected to see. All are edible, so I suppose that’s why such otherwise obscure plants were in an ordinary garden centre. Apium prostratum is common enough in the wild, but the other two are endangered species that are only recently (this decade, as far as I know) in cultivation. They grow well enough if protected from goats and various brassica pests, so I hope they will do ok in my garden.

Wondering: where I’m going to fit the dwaft nectarines, since they were a bit of an impulse buy. I have enough space, I just have to make sure they get a really good spot.

Scraping: ice off my car window, at 10.30pm in Karori. A frosty night, but I’m not sure whether I will have a frost here, since I’m much warmer.

Flowering: daffodil and crocus. Just opening now. It’s definitely still winter, but some of my bulbs seem determined to hurry spring along. Yay!

Reburying: Jersey Benne, again. Good thing I did, since I’m expecting frost.

Eating: broccoli (still getting the occasional small head), silverbeet, land cress, rocket, miner’s lettuce, chickweed. Mmmm, weeds.


Seven months ago… July 21, 2009

Filed under: Garden,Photos — belladonnabess @ 11:05 pm

Remembering: I’ve made quite a bit of progress. This is how my garden looked early last summer.

The middle picture shows the digger that helped with the construction of my new retaining wall.

The last picture shows my side of the finished wall, with the mostly empty garden. My garden ends at the fence posts.

I’ll have to take some photos to show what it looks like now. It’s a bit stark, since it’s the middle of winter, but there are actually plants in it other than the weedy lawn.


Northwest gales July 20, 2009

Filed under: Garden — belladonnabess @ 10:12 pm

Mulching: large rocks. That says it all really.


What on earth was that? July 18, 2009

Filed under: Garden — belladonnabess @ 10:53 pm

I woke at 2am to the soung of strong winds and flying newspapers. I was expecting rain and so didn’t water down the mulch. Instead of rain I got unexpected strong winds. I still don’t know whether they were northerly or southerly – if they were southerly they must have been really strong since my garden is pretty sheltered from the south.

The cardboard from the heat pump box – a huge piece 1 m wide and about 4 m long – had been blown off the garden and was against the fence. There was a lot of newspaper around my garden and probably half the neighbourhood.

Still, the predicted horrible weekend was actually sunny and if you got a sheltered spot, the sun felt quite warm today.

Learning: ignore the weather forecast. Even if rain is predicted, water down the mulch.

Mulching: more pea straw over the newspaper and cardboard.

Watering: I don’t plan on making the same mistake twice.

Eating: celery, silverbeet, various herbs.

Planting: raspberries (Autumn Bliss and Qualicon). Spring bulbs under the raspberries and other soft fruit – obviously it is a little late, but these were reduced to clear (75% off) and the condition looked ok. A pink-flowered strawberry in the herb garden. Possibly the wrong place but I have several plants now.

Weeding: wall pellitory and veldt grass from around the matipo stump.

Transplanting: feral parsley. It’s so big and rampant that I thought I’d plant some around the matipo stump, in the possibly vain hope that it smothers the weeds.

Noticing: the the NZ spinach I planted in the autumn is doing ok. I hope that it might reach weed-smothering dimensions at some stage, but it has some way to go.

Progressing: I think that the end is in sight for the hard construction and digging work.

Aching: again


Sunny Saturday July 17, 2009

Filed under: Garden — belladonnabess @ 10:13 pm

Disbelieving: the forecast was pretty bad, and I haven’t seen a fine Saturday since June the 5th. So I didn’t expect to get such a lovely afternoon. It was almost warm.

Eating: silverbeet, white alpine strawberries (amazingly I found a couple of ripe fruit on my plants), chickweed, lettuce, miner’s lettuce, land cress, various herbs.

Checking: my food more carefully after I ate a snail. Only a small one. Well it got as far as my mouth and I noticed and spat it out. Still, remember to check food.

Pruning: my vicarious rose. The neighbours have a lovely Francois Juranville that climbs over the fence, and I get to enjoy it without any effort. But I did have to cut back a few bits that were limiting access to my compost bin.

Finishing: I’ve dug as much of the buttercup and couch grass as I could out of the vegetable garden. I feel rather relieved that effort is over. About 7 hours worth of digging I think.

Spreading: sheep manure pellets, blood and bone, and coffee grounds.

Covering: the lot with newspaper and the very large cardboard box that my heat exchanger unit came in, then spreading cocoa husks and pea straw, although it was such a big area that I’ve run out of mulch and need to get some more.

Moving: my redcurrant. I had it in the wrong spot – I kept bumping into it. Now it is in the main berry garden with the rest.

Replacing: the recurrant with my original white alpine strawberry. I’ve now got about 8 of them in the garden, but this was the first tiny one I planted two and a half years ago.

Planting: oregano, marjoram, sage and a couple more of the white alpine strawberries, these strategically placed near spots that I will sit when I’m working in the summer.

Remembering: that in the summer I do sit and enjoy my garden, and not just dig and work and exhaust myself in all sorts of weathers. I love gardening, and I’m really enjoying the obvious progress that I’m making, but this is hard work right now. Still, I think I’m getting quite fit.


The faultline says hello July 15, 2009

Filed under: Garden — belladonnabess @ 9:53 pm

Shaking: did anyone else in Wellington feel the earthquake last night? Weird thing, I felt the 6.6 aftershock at 9.40, but not the 7.8 main quake. Maybe I was moving around during the larger quake, or maybe it was because it was deeper. Just a reminder from the earth that it is in charge and not any of us.

Digging: lots and lots. I’ve been removing the top weedy later of the area that will be most of my vegetable garden next summer. I’d normally try and sheet mulch, but for two reasons that’s not going to work. Firstly, I want to grow root vegetables there, and they do best in a dug garden with seed sowed directly into the soil. Secondly, the area is full of buttercup. This is the weed that has caused me the most trouble of all the weeds in my garden. It’s not something that seems to be controlled well with heavy mulches. Still, now it is gone it will be easier to keep the area under control.

Disturbing: lots of earthworms and the occasional green vegetable bug.

Aching: I’ve done about 3/4 of the area that needed to be done. It’s a lot of digging. I’ve done about 5 hours I think.

Planting: a French tarragon that I thought had died, but was just dormant. A swan plant, which is a bit off topic since it’s poisonous, but it will be nice to have some more monarchs next summer.

Moving: the pizza thyme and sage that were buried under feral parsley in my salad garden, so that they are in the area I have now decided should be my herb garden.

Reminding: myself that feral parsley and feral tomatoes do need to be culled. The feral tomatoes seldom germinate early enough to make a decent crop here. And, unlike raspberries, there really is such a thing as too much parsely.

Remembering: a great quote about parsley from one of my neighbours “it’s so easy that you don’t really get a sense of achievement that you have grown it, instead you feel deprived if you haven’t”.

Eating: popcorn. I grew some mini black popcorn last summer. It was dried enough, so I tried popping it. Not brilliantly successful, and I’m not quite sure why. It popped, but the popped corns were still very small and chewy.

Burying: the shoots of an over-keen Jersey Benne potato that had worked its way through the mulch. I think it needs to stay buried for another month.

Potting: a few seedlings of miner’s lettuce to share. I’ve clearly got no shortage.

Planning: my vegetable garden. It’s a bit of a new approach for me. I do put a lot of time into planning the garden, but I’ve never gone so far as to plan what part of the garden will get which vegetables and when.Next I’ll be planting in rows… yeah right.

Discovering: that I can fit not just one but two grapes in the space between the cotoneaster and the matipo stumps. There is plenty of fence, so if I can fit two in the ground, it makes sense.

Flowering: my first jonquil. Spring bulbs may not be edible, but I consider them just as essential as food. To me, they embody hope.


It’s hardly worth mentioning… July 11, 2009

Filed under: Cooking,Garden — belladonnabess @ 6:26 pm

Another gale-force southerly. I sound like a stuck record when I’m describing the weather.

Digging: a hole among the tree roots. I think I’m going to be able to get Albany Surprise in that space after all.

Weeding: buttercup, veldt grass and mint from the same area.

Digging some more: a hole where I’m planning to plant “Initial”.

Planting: the last blueberry, “Petite Blue”. It’s a bit cramped in my blueberry patch but hopefully they’ll do ok.

Putting away: the cucumber seed I was drying last week. It looks good and I have quite a few seeds, so hopefully there’ll be cucumber seed to share.

Acquiring: another 20 litres of lovely coffee grounds/ blackbird repellant.

Spotting: bare-rooted dwarf “Doyenne du Comice” at a local garden centre – apparently it grows to 3 metres. I’d love to know what rootstock it’s on but *rant alert* ask that and you just get blank looks. It’s basically the same at every Wellington garden centre. Rootstocks matter. They are the difference between a shrub and a monster with ambitions for world domination or a tree that you swing from or a tree that nearly falls over when a particularly fat tui lands in it. Why do people act like I’m asking for its entire DNA sequence?

Measuring: I’ve had an offer from a friend who knows both about gardens and graphics (you know who you are) to draw up a plan, so I’ve taken a few measurements.

Freezing: there won’t have been many people gardening in Wellington today. It wasn’t the gardening that was so bad, but standing around measuring. I’ve warmed up with the pumpkin, barley and bacon soup that was cooking on the stove while I gardened.

It was an easy soup, and tastes good, so here it is.

Gently fry one chopped onion, a couple of cloves of smoked garlic and some bacon pieces (soup bacon pieces from the market).

Once the onion is soft, add two litres of water, half a cup of pearl barley and half a medium-sized pumpkin (peeled and chopped). Bring to the boil with the lid on, turn down to low and cook for a couple of hours. Squash the pumpkin pieces a bit, but no need to blend it. Cook about 15 minutes with the lid off to evaporate a little bit of water. Eat until you feel warm again.