Monday, July 26, 2010

Setting the Scene - Part Two

So here we are on the outskirts of Wanganui. The house is on the side of a hill, sorry, valley and the nursery on the flat at the top of the valley, sorry, hill. You'll see why the confusion when you look at this first plan:

Our house and land is at centre right (east). Note the flat land to the west and the deep valleys. So why did we buy a property here? The answer lies in that good friend of all gardeners, the weather and more particularly, the wind. Wanganui has a cool (real cool man!) temperate maritime climate. During winter it is cool and relatively calm. In spring it is cool and usually very windy, from the west. This continues until roughly December 20th at 4pm when the wind drops and then remains fairly light, certainly no more than 20 mph - mostly. Temperatures remain cool (20 to 23 DegC)  in summer due to an on-shore breeze which blows once the land warms at about 10am. Autumn is, you guessed it, cool. Delphiniums like? You've got it. Cool.

The nursery is built on the level (high) land and protected from (but still cooled by) the westerly wind by pine trees now maybe 8 metres tall. It remains cool. Our house is about 12 metres below the nursery and completely protected from the wind. it is warm. It can be blowing a gale "up top" and just a gentle zephyr at the house. It is in short, idyllic, the best of both worlds - and there's always just enough wind to dry the washing.

The garden straddles these two micro-climates.Not only that but because the valley side is eroded there are many different soil types over just a small area, from pure sand to sticky clay to exquisitely well drained, rich loam that holds moisture like a sponge. We don't have rocks however - but life's seldom that perfect.

The first two images are from Google Earth and are 5 years old. The last image is predates even those but was chosen so that you can see the house which is now hidden by the pines.

So that's where we are and why we are there. In the next post I'll lead you up the garden path and show you around the garden, probably both at the same time.

Setting the Scene - Part One

Of course it has to be set, otherwise you'll have no context in which to place this blog, my garden and what happens in it.
The Upside-Down Garden is of course situated on an upside-down hill. These are commonly called valleys. Ours is not common at all. You need some history here. The land to the NE of the city of Wanganui was originally sea-bed and an extremely level one at that, like a billiard table in fact but on a much larger scale and without legs. Time happened and the sea-bed rose up gradually forming a plain of some 4-600ft elevation. It also rained - quite a bit by the look of it.
Now, the composition of the land (not sea-bed now) was varied with much sand and loose material interspersed with harder clay and soft rock and as heavy rains fell (probably round about the time of Noah I'm guessing - or a tad before) the loose material was scoured out. This left perfectly flat tabletop land dissected with many steep and deep valleys. Looking down the valleys, so scoured and sharp, it seems they are like steep hills somehow turned upside-down.This of course proves my point. We live on an upside-down hill and our garden must therefore be an upside-down one too.
Once the sea bed was land it began to grow stuff, and very well too.  This is because that even before it was land there was a deep base of sediment washed down from the higher country. It was rich in organic matter too. Ok, some of you may think this is a load of rot - you'd be right, because rot it did and in doing so became one of the best soils in the country. Things grew. The above-ground growth dragged gasses and nutrients from the air and combined them with nutrients that rooty bits below had brought to the surface.  There was an explosion of plant life. Animals and birds got in on the act too. Then man came and set fire to it all!
More time passed, the fired land was settled and farmed and then houses were built on small "Lifestyle" blocks of land just outside Wanganui. In 1999 Janice and I found just the right block for us to move our nursery business to -  ten minutes from the city centre - Ok, twelve - to fifteen. We came to break away from growing cut flowers and plants and see if we could make a living from breeding delphinium plants and selling delphinium seeds which had been an expanding side of the business. We're still here. I guess it worked.
Since 1999 we've slowly developed a garden and this year I'm determined to tidy it up a little, introduce some order and have a lot of fun in the process. Through this blog I hope to share that fun with you.



Monday, July 19, 2010

Delphinium - Fast Track Flowering

To the house from the clothes-line
As a breeder of delphiniums and producer of seed I often receive mail either directly or via mail lists, groups etc; from people wanting advice on aspects of growing these wonderful flowers. By way of adding interest, perhaps helping a few folk out and (no doubt at all) causing a little controversy from time to time, I will be posting some of the advice given into this blog. If you disagree I invite you to post a comment about it. Disagreement promotes discovery!

And yes, I do grow delphiniums in my garden. And no, you can't see any right now.

There have been a couple of questions in the past few days about how to get delphiniums to flower a second time in the season. I referred to this briefly on our Dowdeswell's Delphiniums Facebook page and am posting a fuller comment below:

Diamonds Forever 
The Question
ok so now that my delphiniums are done blooming and have seedpods on them should i cut  them down to a couple inches above soil level to let them regrow and bloom again in the fall should I fertilize them with dried cow poop also to get them growing again
any advice would be helpful.

The Answer

The most reliable way to get a second flowering from you delphiniums, provided your are not bothered about saving seed, is to cut them back early, say just after the best of the flowering is passed. The key is to get more light into the base of the plant and to remove the older stalks and leaves which are taking energy from new growth (rather than sustaining it). This is fully understood by delphinium cut flower growers who cut the stems right back to the ground as they harvest the half open flower spikes. It really works.
Just a lonely little Mammilaria in an Alyssum patch
Another good thing you can do is to commence feeding again as the flowers pass their best. This also promotes new growth. The combination of extra feed and more light boosts the growth of new stems tremendously. I strongly suggest feeding well and cutting right down to the ground asap.

Naturally, where you are in the world also influences how many flushes of flower spikes your beautiful delphiniums will produce for you. Here, in upside-down New Zealand, I can confidently expect three flushes if I use the method outline above.

You will find much more information on growing delphiniums here

Why not become a follower of our Facebook page about delphiniums?

Yes, Alcea in mid-winter

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The First Post

This is a blog about a garden in Wanganui, New Zealand. It is called "The Upside-Down Garden" because New Zealand is one of those places referred to by northern hemisphere folk as "Down Under" as in "At the Bottom of the World". It follows that any garden "Down Under" must therefore be upside-down.

No, it will not fall off.

Fortunately gravity works just as well Down Under as it does "Up Top" - God Bless Sir Isaac Newton - so there is no need to anchor the plants by any other means than their natural roots. As you can imagine this is very useful and a big time saver. Gravity also stops mulch flying skyward, fruit falling to the heavens and is heavily implicated in assisting rain in its downward path towards the garden. I have to admit that it would be useful to have slugs and snails drift off into space but on balance I think I'll stick to gravity - no option really!

The purpose of this blog is to provide a diary of significant happenings  in my garden. I say "my garden" because in this household gardening is the province of the one who doesn't do a great deal of cooking (although he loves it), washing, office management and computer maintenance. Those things are the province of the one who doesn't do any gardening, plant breeding or nursery work. That one is Janice, my extremely lovely wife, friend, counsellor and lifetime partner who I love most dearly.

The other purpose of this blog is to separate out the gardening and nursery aspects of my other blog (although they will still be there too) "Delphiniums Down Under", so that they can be viewed more widely in the gardening community without the said garden community personages being distracted by the day to day family life of a family they have no interest in at all. Anyone who wishes to be so personally voyeuristic should follow Delphiniums Down Under. They should also seek prompt  psychiatric help.

So that's about it. Let's see if it works.