Woman v Wild
Some of my favourite plants are the plants that keep on giving: the self seeders. Early on in my gardening "career" I sowed copious numbers of alyssum plants, after reading a book by well known Australian gardening queen Jackie French.
She raved about the virtues of alyssum as a plant that attracts bees and will grow in the poorest of soils. I've planted it in awkwards spots around the raised beds in my main edible garden plot, where the soil is hard as a rock.
The alyssum has just self seeded and although it's a bit of a pain when the seeds spread to the vege bed, I like that I will never have to sow it again.
Another plant that I love for this reason is calendula. I chucked seeds at another awkward patch and it has flourished.
It flowers all year round, brings the bees, and looks glorious. I wouldn't be without it.
Raspberries are my favourite fruit, but because they are so expensive, growing my own seemed the only way I could ensure I got my fill over the season without needing a second mortgage. I would love to frivolously drizzle them over my icecream, or my breakfast, or whack them in a smoothie when the feeling took me.
Nature, it seems, has other ideas. I have two plants that I've bought from garden centres; one ivory and one aspiring, both from Incredible Edibles. I built them their own bed last March; a raised no-dig bed made of seaweed, compost, autumn leaves, horse poo, and other organic goodies. My knowledge of what raspberries like is pretty patchy, but I do know that they fruit on year-old canes that come from a central crown, and the ivory berries fruit in autumn on the new spring growth.
So in spring when new canes came up like crazy, I got pretty excited. Raspberries put out suckers, or new sprouts that came up from under the soil. These can be cut out and rooted to become new plants. Both the ivory and the aspiring put out suckers all over the bed, crowding out the two blueberry bushes they share the bed with. I made a hopeless attempt to build wire supports for the canes as they got bigger, but by the time I had got around to it, the canes were coming up from suckers and it was getting a little chaotic in there.
Both plants fruited miserably. Most fruit had little grey bits in them, and when I squished them open, found little worms - the larvae of raspberry beetles - inside wreaking havoc. Other canes that had fruited wizened up. I wish I had taken pictures of them, but these images I've found resemble the problems my raspberries faced. And then the ultimate insult - rust on the canes. Rust is a fungal disease that you can spray for, but with limited success. The only real way to get rid of it is to cut the leaves back and burn the waste.
So that's what I've done - and cut away all the more-than-a-year-old canes in my autumn clean-up, and dug up all the suckers to pot on and either give away or add to my bed in an organised fashion. My frivolous raspberry consumption will have to wait another year, at least. By then they might be the most long-awaited raspberries in the world. But that is the great thing about gardening - there's always next year.
The garden is falling into rack and ruin. I can't keep up. I've been so focused lately on finishing up my job at the Dominion Post and fighting off various illnesses that I can hardly make out the leeks for the weeds. The raspberries, which have been attacked by the evil duo of some sort of disease and some sort of bug, wizen up on the cane before I can attend to them. I haven't sown my carrots because I really just can't be bothered. I'm suffering from a disease far worse than the tummy bug that had me in bed for two days this week; Autumn Malaise.
I had made the decision not to plant too many things this winter, to just plant stuff that was low maintenance and forget about it in order to ease the load of chores I have to do around here. How on earth I managed last year with chickens, a partner who was studying and working fulltime, and everything else is beyond me, because this year it all seems just far too hard. I would show you a photo of the garden with its increasingly jungle-like tendencies, but going out and taking one is also far too much effort. Instead, here is a photo from before the autumn malaise struck; my Trusty Assistant with a pair of once brand new and never worn jandals that we found during the great Old Man's Beard clearout.
The days of popping out to the garden for something for dinner are over - apart from the ever present bucket of green/ripening tomatoes, herbs and leafy greens, there is nothing much to eat. The herbs all need a haircut now that they've flowered and set seed, and the empty beds look pretty ugly with plastic trellis laid on to keep cats out, weeds sticking out of the little squares. I would usually be out there tidying up, scavenging for leaves and seaweed, and starting new projects, but I have this urge right now to only work on what I've started, to introduce no more plants into this garden until I can maintain what I already have. In fact, I'm embracing this new philosophy - no new plants until the paths in Shirley's garden are done, the strawberry patch has been fed and mulched and runners planted, the garlic bed prepared for June's planting, and the raspberries pruned.
I'll start ... next week.
Does your garden sometimes overwhelm you? How do you deal with it?
I grew up in the south Waikato town of Tokoroa, in a weatherboard house on a quarter-acre section. The section was relatively flat, with full sun all year round. When the lawn got a bit out of control I used to imagine I was in an episode of Little House on the Prairie skipping amongst the wildflowers. We had a large edible garden with peas, pumpkins, the endless stringy beans, silverbeet, raspberries and compost heaps piled with detritus. And the rhubarb. Oh, the rhubarb, stewed, with custard and ice cream.
I have finally found a spot for rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) in my own garden. My mother gave me a piece of hers which looked at first like a chunk of wood cut from the crown of the plant, the woody piece connecting the roots to the stems. My sister brought it up from Christchurch in a plastic bag, and it sat, neglected, on my patio through most of the summer. It has survived though, and I chopped it into two pieces before planting it with lashings of sheep poo and compost in a spot by a wall. Tiny leaves emerging from the crown have become large leaves and I've just recently mulched it with leaf mould.
Here ares a few things I found out about rhubarb as I prepared to plant it out:
- Though it will tolerate some frosts, it will not tolerate wet feet. If growing in sandy soil, add lots of organic material. If planting in clay soil, gypsum, organic material and compost should help drainage. Or consider planting in a raised bed.
In the last couple of years I've taken up running, and to stop myself from slowly going mad listening to the sound of my own ragged breathing while I'm out there, I think about gardening. That's hardly surprising, considering I garden and write a gardening blog, now is it?
I think about the gardens I am running past, and the ways people use the plants and space that they have.
I think about the weeds growing on the verges. I scan them for plants I might use in my magic fertiliser potions like stinging nettles, yarrow, nasturtiums and comfrey.
I think about mulch in council plantings, and whether they work to stop weeds coming through. I think about the litter that collects in these plantings.
I think about lawns and how so many of them would make great spaces to grow food.
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