It’s raining, it’s pouring…..

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Wild and free Sunflower Vanilla Ice

But I’m certainly not snoring! I’m celebrating because it’s been a very dry summer and we need some water on our thirsty gardens. I can almost hear the slurp, slurp as the green and plant like amongst us suck up the moisture. Autumn is probably my favourite time of year (although I know I say that about Spring when she comes flouncing along in all her finery) because I like the Back To School feeling (I grew up in England remember where the school year starts in September) which was a promise of Fresh Starts. Now, in New Zealand it still heralds a start of sorts for me because it’s a time to reflect on the last growing season, learn from it and start planning for the new season. However, before the planning I still have a small matter of 500 fig trees to harvest!

 

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Black Genoa Figs ripening nicely in the sunshine

It’s full swing in the Figgery at the moment. My two ancient Brown Turkey trees are dripping with fruit although they are a whole month late this year due to the cold Spring. I’m finding that the majority of the fruit are classed as seconds or processing grade which means they’ll end up in Te Mata Fig’s chutneys, salamis and pastes. Normally when I begin picking the majority of the fruit will be 1st grade. I think it’s a combination of the fact that the figs have spent an extra month hanging around on the tree and they’re also pretty old and have been quite neglected on the pruning front.

 

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Beautiful Black Genoa figs

The main Fig Orchard is just two years old. I thought we may get a few figs this year but every variety is showing some fig action particularly the Black Genoa which is very exciting! It’s an easy fig to spot because when it’s ripe it’s purple coat glistens. The Black Genoa is a purple skinned, pear shaped fruit that contains a luscious red flesh that is very sweet. Great eaten straight from the tree or for use in jams. Or for a real treat try this Fig Muffin recipe.

200g self raising flour
Pinch of salt
2tsp cinnamon
125g caster sugar
100g brown sugar
1 orange or 2 satsumas
200g fresh Black Genoa figs (or other variety), chopped
250ml Greek Yoghurt
50g softened butter
1 egg, lightly beaten

Add all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Grate the zest of the orange (or satsumas) into another bowl with the yoghurt, butter and egg and beat together gently. Add to dry ingredients and fold together gently. Peel and chop orange (or satsumas) and add to mixture with the figs. You want small pieces of fruit so take your time. You should have a lumpy old mixture to spoon into muffin cases. Bake at 180c for 30-35 mins.

Delish! If only I had a photo to show you but sadly we scoffed the lot….. It’s quite hard to find baking recipes that call for fresh figs (lots using dried figs) so if you know of any please do let me know.

 

Flowers, flowers everywhere……

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Well just look at that….February already! No blog action during January at all I’m afraid. Spent many a day sniffing the salty air, cooling off in the sea and making sandcastles. Other lazy days were spent trying to keep cool during one of the hottest summers I’ve experienced to date in New Zealand. And, of course, I spent a lot of time wondering through the WildFlower Meadow observing all the new varieties blooming away and snipping happily in the Cut Flower Garden. I was lucky enough to be asked to sell some flower posies at our local Farmer’s Market to help out my Florist Friend. It was such an interesting and  fun morning. Interesting as a flower seller to see which flowers were the ones that sold first and fun because I met some really interesting and lovely people – many of whom just loved talking about flowers!

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Here’s my little stall complete with a huge bucket of Sunflower ‘Vanilla Ice’.

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I used a huge variety of my flowers and herbs and the scent was just delightful. In the posies above you can see Zinnia, alstromeria, echinecea buttons, apple mint, bergamont Bee balm, scabiosa, feverfew and ageratum. 

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In the posies above I used sedum, dahlia ‘Embrace’, mignonette, orange cosmos and amaranthus. the vase of dahlias are ‘Cafe au Lait’. These were really for show as they only have a few days vase life. It’s best to pick them slightly immature as the bud is half to two thirds open. They are probably one of the showiest flowers I know. A real Fleeting Beauty.

So aside from having fun at the market I have started to make a list of Things That I’ve Learnt from the last two seasons as a Cut Flower Grower.

Successional Sowing : as every good vege gardener knows, successional sowing is essential to avoid the ‘hungry gaps’. I made just two sowings (!) However, theis second sowing really came into it’s own for the flower stall. I had sown salvia tricolour and salvia Turkistan white, clary sage and antirrhinums. Perfect to pad out the posies. I was also glad to have my scented herbs to fall back on. The applemint, scented geraniums and Bergamont Bee Balm in particular.

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AWOL plants ; I had a few mysteriously disappearing plants namely asters, sweet williams, echinops ritro, aquilegia ‘Nora Barlow’ and Geum Mrs Bradshaw. One minute they were there, the next….vanished. I think some may have been swamped by their stronger green leaved neighbours. Must leave more space inbetween plantings.

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Keep the same varieties of a flower separate : Why? Well, I planted 4 types of zinnia and apart from Giant Lime I wasn’t sure which was which. Same with the sunflowers apart from Vanilla Ice. On the plus side I had the best crop of zinnia and sunflowers ever.

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Remove finished varieties and replace with new : This follows on from the successional sowing point but I did tend to leave finished varieties to run amok willy nilly with the weeds which is not something I’d care to repeat!

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Slow burners : Some of the varieties I chose to sow took AGES to flower including buplerum and ammi majus and ammi visnaga. I will be planting these well away form the Cutting Garden because they take up valuable space.

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Stake and support : An obvious one but my sunflowers and dahlias should have been staked sooner…. I did toy with th eidea of using pea netting horizontally for the taller plants to grow through as many flower farmers do. I think this would have been over kill for my space though. Perhaps just larkspur and corncockle.

Grow More! : When I started my Cutting garden it was purely for me. However, now I’m selling the flowers I need a better more oganised strategy and most of all I need to Grow Heaps More. The varieties that were snipped up the fastest included sweetpeas and sunflowers. Paeonies are the other popular flower here in Hawke’s Bay. The other flowers essential for filling and adding interest include sage clary, nigella, poppy seed heads, scented herbs, hydrangeas (especially white) to name a few.

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Plant bienniels : I was too late last autumn but this year I’m prepared. I’ll be sowing sweet williams, stocks, larkspur…..

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Next time…an update on the Wildflower Meadow.

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Goodbye 2014…..what a year!

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I had to get a final post in for 2014 especially as I managed to spectacularly fail to deliver any festive posts! The run up to Christmas was a flurry of planting out seedlings, cutting sweetpeas for the market, making up wreaths and table decorations and dancing up and down with glee at the first sighting of a flower in the Wildflower Meadow! Yes, that’s right, we had flowers in the meadow for Christmas Day.

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I need to go back to my seed supplier to identify them properly but it looks like a type of poppy, phacelia and borage and a couple of unidentified beauties so far (any ideas let me know!). Can’t wait to see the other varieties as they come into bloom.

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Th photo at the beginning of my post shows the table runner decoration I created for Christmas Day Lunch. There’s something very satisfying about spending a bit of time spearing oasis with buxus, rosemary and ivy…..

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…..then gradually building up interest with gum nuts, baby quince….

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…..hypericum berries,

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….fejoa buds and seed heads and scabiosa starball………

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….and crowning it all off with three rather sculptural artichokes. A few days after Christmas the artichokes flowered with a purple spiky crew cut! That’s one of the things I love about using freshly cut flowers from my garden; they carry on growing and developing because they haven’t been treated with chemicals. I love the wildness of this.

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I also made a Christmas vase of flowers to go on the drinks table next to the BBQ. It was quite a different vase of flowers compared to last year. The Tiger’s Tail I used last year wasn’t in flower (not even close in fact)…..

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so I went for another tall and spiky favourite – the lupin.

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Teamed with immature hydrangeas, soft greenery…..

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…dreamy larkspur and the surprise element of a shocking pinky orange snapdragon I felt that they added a very festive feel to the day.

 

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We had some vibrant salads to go with the bbq-ed pork and oven cooked turkey and stuffing……

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I made some mincemeat although didn’t quite manage to get them into mince pies (!) and some reindeer biscuits for the children (who am I kidding!) and up went the festive bunting. I did lose a saucepan after a huge Chutney Making Disaster. I make Nigella’s Christmas Chutney every year – why it burnt this year? Who knows. To Mr Fig’s credit he didn’t even mention the blackened saucepan smouldering away malevolently in the carport. The dog didn’t go near it either :-)

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I can’t write my final post for the year without a mention of the sweetpea love that has been blooming away for the past month or so. When I think how sick they looked when I transplanted them after months of over wintering in the greenhouse I can’t quite believe how well they’ve performed. They have been used in a wedding bouquet, a Golden Wedding Anniversary and a birthday and have graced the homes of numerous Farmers Market shoppers. I like to think I’ve spread a little joy through these scented lovelies!

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My home has resembled that of a florist recently as I’ve picked buckets of flowers from the Cut Flower Garden. I’ve been making up all sorts of flower arrangements.

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I’ve learnt quite a bit along the way about the need to condition flowers well before arranging for maximum vase life and also the importance of foliage and fillers as well as the flowers. Still loads more to learn….

I always make a point of NOT making New Year’s Resoultions but I do like to Make A List of Things I’d Like To Achieve or at least Aim For. In 2015 I’d like to:

  • carry on with the Cut Flower Garden Dream and perhaps turn it into a small but perfectly formed business venture
  • develop the herb garden and make some lovely herbal tea blends
  • develop the underplanting in the Nuttery

I’ll stop there before it turns into a list of Resolutions! I’d just like to say Thank You to everyone who has happened upon my blog and for taking the time to read my posts. To friends and family (for whom I started the blog so they could see what I was getting up to out here in NZ) I hope you like what you’re reading and that you still feel part of my life even though I’m So Far Away! To my friends in NZ who read this blog Thanks for your lovely comments and encouragement. We’ll be seeing New Year in on my friend Mrs Egg’s Farm so Happy New Year Everyone! See you in 2015!

 

Bloomin’ marvellous

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Lots of busy goings on happening at the moment at the Fig Tree. The blooms are abundant in the Cutting Garden right now and I need to start recording what flowers and when to help me out next year. It’s been interesting to watch the tiny seedlings start to bulk up and in some cases produce colour and scent. The absolute star of the show has to be the humble sweet pea. I started growing these last autumn and over wintered them in the greenhouse. Once planted outside in the Spring they sulked like a moody teenager but I forgave them because look at the transformation!

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I’ve been cutting sweet peas since November (sixty odd bunches of twenty stems so far). Their scent is exquisite and I’m thrilled with the array of colours and the two mottled varieties; one pink and one purple. Just gorgeous. These have been selling out at my friend’s market stall. It seems that they are irresistible.

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Other scented loveliness can be found amongst my stocks. These old fashioned flowers have a spicy note which I adore. I grew these in the spring so I’m quite pleased that they’ve got this far. I’ll be sowing them as a biennial next Autumn and will be looking to see if they are taller and stronger than their Spring sown cousins.

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While not scented the larkspur are coming along nicely. I couldn’t find any pea netting for them to grow through so they’re a bit on the kinky side :-) Perfect for mixed posies though.

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I have a huge soft spot for this little family of scabious. They romp away all summer and into Autumn. The architectural scabious starball is the first to grace us with it’s presence in early Spring.

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The white flowers are fleeting and replaced with this papery sphere.

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This chocolate scabious is great at all stages of development;bud, flower and seed head. A real trouper!

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Another favourite of mine is the wispy, ethereal Love-in-a-mist. I have the white one and I adore it in every stage from bud to alien like seed pod.

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And from the delicate to the more robust Dahlia. This one is called Embrace and has a lovely peachy tone and a fairly small flowerhead so not too droopy when cut.

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This is Dahlia cafe au lait in the early stages of blooming. It’s the first time I’ve grown this variety and I’ll be interested to see if the colour fades to a milky coffee hue.

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More peachy brown here with Calendular bronze beauty. It’s another great flower that looks good in the bud stage as well as in bloom. It’s sticky just like it’s cousin calendula officinalis too.

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Ah the perky, opulant Snap Dragon. A flower sure to bring a smile to your face.

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This is honesty Sissinghurst White and it really doesn’t look much at all does it? This is a plant that requires a bit of patience being a bienniel. When it does bloom the flowers aren’t too much to look at but the seed pods are spectacular.

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Aren’t they amazing? When fully ripe the seed casing will turn brown and fall off leaving behind a silvery, translucent disc; perfect for using in dried arrangements.

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What about greenery? A bouquet or a posy needs backbone foliage and I’ve been concentrating on growing this as much as flowers. I have several Alchemilla Mollis plants maturing nicely along with bupleurum, euphorbia, eucalyptus, hostas and the tactile, silvery Lamb’s Ear.

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Eventually the Herb Garden will produce lots of scented foliage too; scented geraniums, feverfew, mints and rosemary.

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There will soon be a blast of yellow colour from the sunflowers. I specifically chose vanilla ice for it’s smaller flower heads and I think the other one is Terracotta (will need to check my dirt smeared and very dog eared notebook!)

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Hydrangas aplenty! I like to pick when they’re at the tiny bud stage as well as in bloom. I inherited all of my hydrangas so I’m not sure of their varieties. I’m particularly fond of a variety that has a black stem – very striking.

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The roses have just been divine this year and my Cecil Brunner just keeps on flowering….

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This is Clary Sage and has been growing in my garden for two years. This year it decided to bloom! Again, a very interesting and unusual flower. As it matures it becomes very upright and has pinky bells like an overgrown delphinium.

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And finally the berries that make me think of Christmas. I used this in my Christmas bouquet last year and I’m sure I’ll be using these glossy jewels again – perhaps in a christmas wreath this year. They last forever and just add an extra texture to a posy.

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A pretty good start to the Cutting Garden in it’s first year all in all! I still have quite a few seedlings to plant out (getting a bit behind as usual). The likes of gypsophila, eucalyptus silverdrops, asters, more zinnea, candytuft to name a few will soon be joining their fellow flowery friends. So far I’ve filled up 2 of the main beds and have started on a third. The fourth will be used for bienniels. One thing I’ve learnt is that you can plant out cutting flowers far more densly than you normally would plant. You live and learn!

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Here’s todays pick all ready for the lovely Kerin to collect and turn into gorgeous posies at the Farmer’s Market!

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Right someone stop me! I’ve posted more than enough flowery gorgeous-ness for one post! I need to go and have a lie down :-)

Scented Geranium Tea

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I’ve got herbs on my mind at the moment as it’s all go in the new Herb Garden. The last few months have been mainly all about Project Cut Flower but last weekend Mr Fig surprised me by striding out through the Cut Flowers into the “Herb Garden To Be” wielding weed matting, pins and muttering about string and straight lines. Looks like my hints at cultivating another bit of the paddock had worked. I was Chief Tape Measure Holder…….and look at what we achieved!

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Not very pretty yet but at least it’s now a properly marked out area so I can hone my design a bit. I find that plans that look good in my head look totally different when I actually stand in the space I’m working on.  I have re-jigged my design again and again; each time making it more simple. The centre will be a small circular Chamomile Lawn and the hard landscaping will be pavers and gravel with little herbs tucked here and there in between. The L shaped beds round the sides will be packed with a mix of herbs – not many culinary ones though as I keep these nearer the house. There will also be 4 small square beds in symetrical pattern around the lawn. Not much to do then……!

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One of my more exciting new leafy additions will be scented geraniums (pelargoniums). I’ve been accumulating quite a collection. I have to admit that the flower isn’t anything special but the leaves are quite extra ordinary. Gently rub the leaf and sniff…..

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……..chocolate? Really? Try another and you might smell mint. I’ve also got orange, rose and anise.

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I find geraniums really easy to grow.  You don’t need to fuss too much about watering but apparently they do need a bit of shade and, being a tender annual, they are frost tender. It’s a good idea to take little cuttings and pot them up in the greenhouse or sunny windowsill over winter just in case the frost gets to your prized plants outside in the cold. Geraniums are very obliging plants and are obviously geneticlly engineered to multiply so taking cuttings is a cinch. Just snip off a stem and pop it into a pot of compost. It’ll happily put down roots and, with a bit of warmth in Spring, it will grow surprisingly quickly into an established plant.

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So why the new obsession with scented geraniums? Well, I’m quite partial to  scented geranium tea. It’s so easy to make and you can choose from a huge array of flavours or even go mad and combine a few for the ultimate Scented Geranium Tea Experience! I like mixing Perky Peppermint with Chocolate. This is what I do…..

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Pick a handful of your chosen geranium leaves. I pick the whole stalk to keep the plant looking tidy. Harvesting leaves for tea is a great way of controlling growth and pruning into shape. Wash the leaves and remove stalk. If the leaves are large tear them up a bit and you can chop up the stalks and add them in too if you like.

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Pop them into a teapot and pour on not-quite-boiled water. Leave to infuse for about 10 minutes.

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There you go it really is as simple as that.  My other favourite is rose scented geranium tea – just like my fav chocolate bar Turkish Delight but healthier :-) Of course these teas are great chilled with some ice – especially the lemon flavoured one. Or you can even pick a small posy, tie it together and hang over the bath tap. As the water runs through the leaves it will infuse the water with yummy geranium scented loveliness. What a plant!

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