Down in the Patch

Every year about now, garden centres have a limited number of peony roses for sale. Peonies in Taranaki can be a challenge unless the right growing conditions are available. They thrive in a well-drained, cool and sheltered position with rich, deeply cultivated organic soil.

From the large fleshy roots, dormant in winter, emerge rapid- growing stems bearing dramatic 15cm blooms. For a truly spectacular conversation piece this spring, give one a go.

In the home orchard, something to consider is the medieval medlar tree. The medlar is a highly ornamental tree that has been grown since ancient times for its edible fruits.

The distinctive rosehip-shaped fruits have a rough skin with a soft creamy-textured flesh when tree-ripened in the winter.

Another sought-after tree is the persimmon, often referred to as the fruit of the gods. It makes a spectacular tree in both the orchard and flower garden. The autumn colour displays from the foliage is breath-taking, especially the gorgeous bright orange fruits on the bare stems.

The popular non-astringent variety 'Fuyu' does well around Taranaki and can be picked firm before being attacked by birds. These can then be left to ripen indoors, ideally with bananas, apples or pears. The ethylene gas emitted by these fruits hastens the ripening of the persimmon and makes for a perfect harvest. These are delicious eaten raw or made into jam or chutney.

On a dull winter's day, why not have a play around and create yourself an ornamental topiary from one of your shrubs.

Otherwise, take a trip out to your local garden centre and select a long, straight-stemmed specimen and start your own masterpiece. Azaleas, camellias, mandarins, michelias, choisya, loropetalums, viburnums and wisterias are a few ideas, so why not let your creative side run wild.

Now the shortest day has passed, although we are still likely to get plenty of wintry weather, at least we know the days will start to lengthen and spring is the next season on the garden calendar.

That makes it the perfect time to start planning your sowing and planting programmes.

What better way to spend a cold, wet winter's afternoon or evening than spreading your catalogues and books out, throwing a log on the fire, cracking a bottle of wine and contemplating spring.

zThese tips have been supplied by Adrian McLeod and his crew at Fairfields Garden Centre on the outskirts of New Plymouth.

Taranaki Daily News