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Saturday, March 2, 2024
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Masterton

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Things … can only get better

At the end of 2020, we all sat back and said – thankfully, that year is over – 2021 will be better.

We said exactly the same thing at the end of 2021 and 2022, and in neither case did things get all that better!

2023 brought all sorts of headaches. Covid has still not run its course, and has surged a couple of times; the international news is dominated by the terrible events in Israel, and New Zealand has been battered by a seemingly never-ending stream of “weather” events.

Even here in Wairarapa, we have experienced our share of bad weather, with our eastern district experiencing flooding from the tail of Cyclone Gabrielle, and the coldest winter we have had for quite a few years.

It made a big difference in our garden, with some plants taking a lot longer to come into flower than usual. It was particularly noticeable with various peony plants we have scattered through different beds. I had moved some herbaceous peonies from one of our back beds, across to another refurbished one, so I expected there might be some disruption to our normal flowering pattern, but all the varieties seemed to have a delayed flowering response, coming into bloom a week or two later than usual. Our last variety to flower – Sarah Bernhardt – has been later than usual and has not flowered as well.

We grow a number of kalmias – four different varieties in different sites around the garden – and they had a disrupted flowering too. One of the most reliable of them, a lower-growing pink variety, hardly had any flowers at all, and the white variety decided not to flower at all.

The frosts we had over winter, especially the later part of the season, played havoc with my Pacific Coast irises, making the season weeks later than usual, but also meaning the early flowering varieties were mainly “nipped in the bud” – they failed to flower at all.

However, other parts of the garden performed well. The tomatoes that grow in a narrow strip outside my office have done very well, and we had fruit for Christmas Day – a real treat. Unfortunately, one of the varieties growing in containers around the corner was caught in one of the many wind storms we have experienced, and the growing tip was snapped to the point where it was tied to the stake. Fortunately, it has made plenty of growth and has a good crop of fruit, so it was not a disaster.

Our French beans have done well this year too. Last year every crop we sowed seemed to have about a 50 per cent germination, but this year the germination had been nearly 100 per cent. Dwarf beans are such a good crop for the home gardener, seemingly almost bulletproof, and reliable cropping. We usually sow two or three crops of two different varieties.

Lettuces are doing well, too, although the ‘Drunken Lady’ plants are now going to seed, whereas the ‘Frisbee’ that were planted a month or more before them, are still going strong. The ‘Drunken Lady’ leaves are softer and the plant produces more than the ‘Frisbee’, but the latter is super tough and has very crisp leaves.

The onions, zucchini and Buttercup squash all suffered in the recent hailstorm, their leaves heavily spotted in the case of the onions, and slightly shredded on the cucurbits. I am sure they will all recover, but they look a little bedraggled at the moment.

One of the other disappointments of the year has been the theft of plants from Queen Elizabeth Park. I cannot help but reflect that a few years ago, Masterton gardeners clubbed together to donate plants to the new herbaceous border in the park – I know the clump of Solomon’s Seal I donated is larger in the park than it is in my garden – and now people think it is their right to take plants and flowers from the public domain.

At home, it looks like we may say goodbye to two hibiscus this year. A pure white H. syriacus called ‘Princess Diana’ seems to have run out of steam – the branches are still leafless, although there are still green buds. Similarly, an orange garden variety in a pot on the patio appears to have gone to the great Garden in the Sky. It must be at least 20 years old, and we will miss it.

On the other hand, a native hibiscus, H. trionum, has settled in among the tomato plants at the back door and has been popping up flowers each morning. The flowers are somewhat ephemeral, but their creamy bowls with dark centres highlighted by golden stamen are a real delight. It has also been fun to watch visitors try to work out what they are!

Here’s hoping for a fruitful summer, a bounteous autumn, a mild winter, and a wind-free spring in 2024.

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