Changing your approach to gardening can make a real difference.
So many New Year’s resolutions involve measuring how much matter goes into our bodies or how much energy comes out. My advice is, ditch the mirror. As my father always says, it will only make you depressed or vain. Instead, here are some resolutions that will help you change the world, one garden at a time.
The average gardener is capable of doing far more towards preserving diversity than any town planner can at a scale of 1:1000. Gardeners’ individual tastes and interests make for a complex and detailed urban environment that can preserve heirloom food sources and much of our special native flora.
If you are looking for a native plant that’s worth conserving, consider native brooms (Carmichaelia spp). Closely related to the pea, all but one of the 24 varieties in this family are endemic to New Zealand and almost all are threatened in their natural habitat, making this an important species to propagate in home gardens.
Their size ranges from the tiniest ground-hugging specimens, such as Carmichaelia enysii, which grow only centimetres high, to large weeping trees up to 10m tall, such as Carmichaelia glabrescens. The growing range is also varied, with plants found in parts of both the South and the North islands. Generally, though, these plants grow best in open, free-draining soils with good light and little fuss. A yearly dose of lime and compost will not go unappreciated.
My top pick for most gardens is Carmichaelia odorata, which grows in its Dr Seuss-like form to about 3m over several years. As the name suggests, the lilac and white flowers are softly scented.
Rather than a resolution, this is more of a garden challenge. It wouldn’t be any fun if I told you what shape topiary to attempt – that is for you to discover. Cubism, perhaps, or surrealism? A giant peacock, wildebeest or kakapo? Or perhaps rolling cloud forms above a valley? The challenging part is to start from scratch with a plant not yet clipped by anyone else. In 2012, I started my first topiary with Coprosma “Middlemore”. So far, it is a globe, but perhaps in 2013 it will sprout wings and a tail or corners.
COMMUNAL FRUIT TREES
Self-sufficiency is a wonderful ideal and achievable for many of our needs. But the best results come when there is a community aspect to it, particularly with fruit trees. For those who own land, an orchard may be possible, but with ever-shrinking section sizes and an increasing number of people now renting, it is not an option for most people. Overseas, the trend towards fruit trees in communal areas such as schools, parks and community gardens has been particularly successful, especially in urban and suburban environments. These collective movements are becoming increasingly popular. Consider how you could contribute to the urban forest movement, growing fresh fruit to share in the coming year.
My daughter’s recent birthday was the perfect excuse to claim another couple of feet from the front lawn for some frothy flowers. A flower fairy party demanded lilac verbascum, plum-coloured scabiosa and burgundy-coloured dwarf zantedeschia. The children rushed around eagerly dead-heading (and live-heading) the fresh flowers for flower crowns, petal circles and magic potions. This is the purpose of flowers; they bring us into the garden and they make us gardeners.
For many people the word “compost” conjures up scenes from a horror flick: carpets of rats to contend with and vile smells drifting through the back garden. Modern compost can be as slick as you wish, and a healthy compost should smell better than your other weekly rubbish. Rats can be avoided by using closed bins and bokashi mixes or worm farms. (Bokashi is a Japanese composting method that uses a mix of microorganisms to cover food waste to minimise smell.) Even a compost that’s been mismanaged can be freshened up with a layer of bokashi, which helps rebalance the mixture. But why is it so important? In Auckland alone, half of the 1.2 million tonnes of annual waste that goes into our bins is compostable.
When I say “bees”, I’m really talking about those creepy crawlies we seem only to notice when they are in our way. Bees’ golden honey elixir makes them a good ambassador for all insects, welcome or not. The great thing about sparing a thought for bees is that the first step is just to do less. Before initiating a chemical programme, ridding your garden of anything that threatens rebellion, just take your time to decide whether it matters that much. Is it worth donning a mask and gloves on a beautiful day when you could just lie back, eyes to the sky and enjoy leaving work behind? After all, before too long winter frosts will cut short the lives of those darned passion-vine hoppers.
Remember that “garden” is not just a noun; its most important use is as a verb. The act of gardening is often mistaken as a special gift inherited by a chosen group of people, but those of us with green fingers know we are not this way by some preordained right. Those green stains are the result of hours of bent backs and hard labour. It is for this reason that a New Year’s resolution to garden is the fastest way to shed unwanted kilos and ensure reflections in shop windows mean dealing only with the burden of vanity. And that vice can be left for another year.