Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A magical garden in Central Otago.

Shona and Colin Wallace
 Some gardens speak for themselves...the garden of these two wonderful Kiwis is such a garden. They hosted Jan and me in mid November for an evening (when I spoke to the Alexandra garden club). We had such a delightful time talking to them about everything under the sun. From the comfortable and spacious quarters of their garden level guest rooms we could look down into the deep valley below, and see their garden beckoning: alas, the picture I took at that window was too blurry to include (although I did include a few blurry "impressionistic" pictures from my malfunctioning camera towards the end which still convey something meaningful)...

It's worth lingering a moment on their portrait picture: I end this blog with another taken a moment later. They are a wonderfully photogenic and charismatic couple. I wish the world had more Wallaces!

Take a moment as you scroll through these pictures and see what wonderful glimpses you catch of the Clutha valley below and the many vignettes: it's hard to believe it's all one garden (albeit a very big one!)'s worth mentioning that when they bought the property, the garden was rank with weeds and required an enormous amount of earth-moving and rock placement which they've done entirely themselves!

They don't purchase everything at garden centers, obviously!

And they grow lots of veggies! Aren't these different levels delightful in a garden? I thought the 20' drop on our property was's nothing compared to the Wallace's hanging gardens!

I believe this is a dwarf culinary sage (Salvia officinalis 'Nana') a terribly underused plant.

I love the terraces..

And yes, tomatoes: the weather was still a bit cool--so they're giving them a little shelter....

I love this hillside!

The hillside opposite shows that the Alexandra area is still borderline steppe--although nowhere nearly as extreme as Denver. They do have some warmer weather to contend with in summer, and somewhat colder temps than on the coast, of course. As a consequence, this is the prime area for orchards in New Zealand: a major destination for domestic tourism--like the Western Slope of Colorado for us in Denver (people driving to see the orchards blooming in September, and for fruit at Christmas and beyond). Alas, the land values are skyrocketing: I hope New Zealanders don't allow the area to become overpopulated and the extraordinary charm compromised...Unlike my country, which has shown some dreadful lack of judgement in the last two months, Kiwis seem to have their priorities straight!

One of my blurry pix, but you had to see their pond! Hang in there...the next few are a tad "impressionistic"--just pretend you mislaid your glasses, okay?

My Jan and Colin enjoying the view--a few of my pix sorta turned out. Fortunately, the ones I took of the couple themselves turned out perfect!

Another portrait of our hosts. Although we spent barely a day with them, we felt so welcome (as we did all over New Zealand). The Kiwis have perfected the art of being hosts. Jan and I have commented repeatedly that this trip has struck a chord as no others have. Of course, it helps to have an island of such stunning and dramatic beauty, filled with unique biodiversity and extraordinary gardens. Here, as few places on earth, the people themselves seem to embody and reflect the magnificence of this planet earth which elsewhere is at such risk. Especially in my sad land.

(P.S.: all the pictures above except the blurry ones (the last twelve) were taken by Jan Fahs.)

Friday, December 2, 2016

Guilty pleasures (the up-side of invasives)...

("Invasive" wildflower display between Cromwell and Alexandra, New Zealand) [All photos by Jan Fahs]

Like all good conservationists, I like my nature pure. I would just as soon only see native plants in most landscapes (with the minor exception of city gardens and of course vegetable and cereal producing areas to feed us--and I suppose some pastoralism in there's getting more complicated). But what happens when the invasives create gardenesque sweeps worthy of a painter? Can we make exceptions for these?

Proof I was in New Zealand last month (is it last month already? feels like yesterday still the impressions are so bright) and here Jan (whose pictures I'm using throughout this post--mine weren't as good)  has caught me in the act: we both took way too many pictures.

Of course, its mostly red valerian (a.k.a. Jupiter's beard: Centranthus ruber) which has naturalized many places on the planet. I have admired this blooming wild in Greece, where it seems to almost always be a chalky pink: here every shade from pure white to deep crimson can be found. Along with California poppies (Eschscholtzia californica) and a goodly number of other Mediterranean introductions. All of them exotics and all of them planted with such cunning and care you'd swear it was a garden.

The environmentalist angel on one shoulder is fuming with anger and indignation: how could such horrible invasives be tolerated? There is another fallen angel, on my other shoulder whispering ("Aaaah, isn't it pretty?"). I have some friends who have only one angel, who can look at this and not suffer some qualms and indecision: if I were given a magic wand, would I "whoosh" away all the invasives and restore exactly what was there prior to European settlement? Or should we go back before the Maoris as well (they must have had an impact too, don't you think?)...and would that restored landscape persist with rabbits, hares, possums and so many other plants that are probably responsible for the success of what you see more than humans by ourselves.

Have I mentioned the lavender you've been seeing is Thymus vulgaris?  This was much the commonest weed, growing so thickly that it's harvested by the ton for herbal extracts. There is a minor industry of herbalists who rely on the plant itself, and legions of beekeepers who bring their hives here: how does the thyme on this hill differ from alfalfa in a pasture (or paddock as they say in New Zealand?)...

I believe this is Salvia verbenacea. And there were legions of Mignonette (Reseda luteola, I believe, although only R. alba is listed on the Department of Conservation's weed list) and other fellow travelers here and elsewhere...

Excuse me while I admire this unholy landscape. I guess we may all share a little of the sublime hypocrisy of those pious evangelistic preachers who bellow fiercely on the pulpit, but wallow in sin when parishioners aren't around. A stretch of a comparison, I know!

A last few lingering looks...

Our salvia again...such tracery!

Just a little more red and pink, please!

I'm incorrigible, but you're still looking at it too aren't you?

We wind down with some thymes...

Scotch broom by the acre (abetted by agricultural practice and logging)

Everything you see in this picture is exotic: the Eurasian grasses, the broom and the distanct plantation of Monterrey pines: in fact there is barely a stitch of native vegetation anywhere on the eastern quadrant of New Zealand below, say 1000 feet (more or less)... That said, there are a few remarkable reserves throughout the country (even at lower elevations) and a high level of awareness among every New Zealander I met about the ecological issues and challenges they face. I believe the horticulturists especially are extremely self-conscious and have borne the brunt of the pain of the draconian laws meant to prohibit new weeds: any new plant to cultivation in N.Z. must be submitted to a Government process costing tens of thousands of dollars--a very regressive and self defeating example of colossal myopia and ineffectiveness in my opinion. Makes me root for the weeds, frankly!

It may be an ecological menace, but it's beautiful!

New Zealand plantspeople can't obtain the latest Podophyllums from China legally (plants that are never posing a threat to anything but pocketbooks of plantsmen)...but they are free to pave their lawns (and countryside) with invasive Eurasian grasses, and topiaries. I rather liked these in the Southlands!

I shall quit while I'm sorta ahead...
The issue of weeds is a sticky one at best: I have gained enormous new insights thanks to this island country. New Zealand delighted me no end with her fantastic beauty, the rugged (and often weed free) high country and unbelievable alpine cushion plants and wildflowers...the astonishing (and largely weed free) temperate rain forests I sampled all too briefly ih the far south and west coast. The amazing private gardens where exotics and native plants were grown to perfection, and two of the best public gardens I've ever visited (Christchurch and Dunedin Botanic Gardens)...I hope I might have a chance to go back again--hopefully leading a tour in January 2018 for the American Horticultural Society! Meanwhile I shall savor every moment of one of the most magical trips I've ever taken in my life (weeds and all!).