Spring comes to Central Otago

Narcissus and muscari bring cheer to Clachanburn in spring.
Jane Falconer

Narcissus and muscari bring cheer to Clachanburn in spring.

Spring is always special in Central Otago. Following our typically severe winters I think we anticipate and appreciate Spring more so than our northern friends.    

Here it arrives dramatically and although we can and often do get late frosts which can do untold damage, we are a brave lot and march on. Goodbye to frosts that burst pipes, and goodbye to me removing 5 or so inches of ice from the donkey's trough, every day for weeks on end – can you picture me charging out with the sledgehammer? Those days are behind us now, but before I tell you how pretty the spring blossoms and bulbs are at present, let me mention the importance of knowing what and what does not grow well in the Maniototo.  

Last year a newcomer to the district arrived from the temperate Nelson region, built a house and began gardening, full of enthusiasm and vigour. She loved natives and wanted to replicate them down here, so planted flaxes and pittosporums. She lost the lot, poor girl. 

Prunus x subhirtella ‘Flore Pleno’ and Zoe
Jane Falconer

Prunus x subhirtella ‘Flore Pleno’ and Zoe

Lesson number 1 when you move to a different climate, especially the Maniototo: go for a drive. That way, you will see what is growing, then go join the local garden club and talk to gardeners. The natives that flourish on our hills are matagouri, spear grass and good old tussocks. I do have a few grasses at the edges where I let the garden go and flow into the surrounding hills, and I do know of a few natives tucked in here and there in the district. But there aren't many – certainly not en masse – and our sad newcomer experienced a large and expensive loss.  

When I arrived here 40-odd years ago, a keen gardening neighbour told me: "Jane, it is better to have healthy, happy but more ordinary plants than a seven-eighths dead exotic." 

How true. I say, learn to grow and love the plants that thrive – and plant plenty of them. I am no nurse and here in a large garden it is the survival of the fittest. Having said that, once you get the garden established it is surprising what you can sneak in, in special little, sheltered spots.  

The drought last summer in this region was harsh and prolonged. I did lose one or two plants, but only due to the fact that the irrigation didn't get to them due to a blind spot caused by a now mature tree or shrub preventing the water reaching to every single plant. 

I do have a water tank on a trailer which I use to remedy this problem, but of course I missed the odd one, which is only to be expected in a garden of four and a half acres.  

Each year I love the daffodils more and more. In the beginning I had a few clumps here and there, but over time they've multiplied and now I have large swathes in the orchard, flowering under the blossom of the fruit trees, and under silver birches where many other plants find it hard-going. 

Prunus and Malus – which not only have blossom but the added bonus of crab apples – grow very well here. After careful selection of early-, mid- and late-flowering varieties, we enjoy blossoms from early September to well into November. Some of my favourite cherry trees and crabapples are: (early) Prunus x subhirtella 'Autumnalis', Prunus 'Accolade', Malus 'Profusion'; (mid-spring) Prunus x subhirtella 'Flore Pleno', Malus 'Floribunda'; (late) Prunus 'Shirotae Mt Fuji', Prunus 'Kanzan', Prunus 'Shimidsu Sakura', Malus 'Jack Humm', and Malus 'Ioensis Plena'.  

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Bookings for tour groups, clubs and small car loads of people wanting to see my garden have been coming in, which always gets me excited. 

Like many gardeners, I enjoy sharing my garden, which is called Clachanburn, with like-minded folk. I would think I often learn more from them than the other way around. 

Apart from plant care, when preparing for visitors the big picture is important: driveways and paths, lawns and edges, garden beds and mulching, garden furniture in good condition. Replant where plants are past their best – this year some of the lavenders that had become old, woody and open in the middle have been replaced. Like all gardeners a visit to the nursery always finds us coming home with some little treasure to pop in. 

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 - NZ Gardener

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