Why is a Writer’s Festival like a box of chocolates? Because there’s something inside for everyone.
Today I saw Tony Murrell, from Radio Live’s garden programme, host a lively session with The Gardener magazine editor Lynda Hallinan and sustainable gardening writer Janet Luke. All three are highly regarded gardening experts. They’re passionate about plants and their enthusiasm was infectious. I’ve never seen the microphone passed to so many people so quickly. It seemed everyone in the audience had a question to ask or a comment to add.
Tony Murrell has noticed a huge resurgence in interest in growing food at home in recent years. He laments the fact that many of today’s gardeners have lost the skills needed to grow veges successfully and have to spend money on re-education, tools, catalogues, fertilisers, etc. This results in expensive crop of perpetual spinach, lettuce and tomatoes which people get bored with and ‘turn back into camellia hedging’.
His panelists disagree. “It’s not all about money, Tony,” said Janet. “You are such an Aucklander!”
Linda said, “Don’t spend anything! Don’t build raised beds, don’t hire a garden designer, don’t buy a tonne of compost. Just buy a spade, dig a hole and plant things.” She believes gardening journalism has made it sound difficult and it’s not. “It’s natural. Plants grow and produce fruit because they are fulfilling their biological function. People think it’s harder than it is.”
Some sustainable gardening tips:
Lasagne your compost heap
Pile fallen leaves into a black polythene bag, tie it off, punch a few holes in it and store behind your garden shed for a year. It makes great compost.
If your plants look great above the soil but have nothing beneath, your garden has too much nitrogen and not enough potassium.
Blue flowers attract bees. Plant rosemary and borage to help pollination.
Chop out the middle of your lemon tree and prune to a vase shape.
Avoid systemetic sprays – they hurt bees.
If you’d like to know more, visit your library and check out Linda Hallinan’s Back to the land and Janet Luke’s Green Urban Living. They’ll give you plenty of helpful advice on how to get your garden doing what comes naturally.
I have a tiny, tiny garden, most of which is devoted to growing food. However, when we bought our small property, I was determined to have some native plantings as well. Now, nearly five years later, home-grown cabbage trees, pittosporum, kowhai and flaxes fill a corner too shady for vege, and we’ve squeezed a line of corokia in alongside the drive, thanks to the advice of Trees for Canterbury. I was struck (sorry for the pun) by how easy it is to grow many native plants, either from seed or from cuttings, and Growing gardens for free by New Zealand author Geoff Bryant is now my propagation bible.
A healthy population of insects now make their undisturbed homes in my microscopic little patch of native bush and last year, for the first time since I moved in, I saw waxeyes and fantails. (At first all I encountered in the initially lawn-filled garden were sparrows and blackbirds.) It’s such a little planting but I was amazed by how quickly even this had a noticeable effect on my garden’s ecology. Imagine if we all just planted a little corner of natives: we could create a green corridor for so many creatures across out garden city. If you’re keen and seeking like minds, there are many individuals and organisations working towards greening Christchurch/Otautahi, and you can find out about them on CINCH, our community information database.
The library has many good books on planting native plants in your garden – why not celebrate New Zealand book month by leafing (sorry again!) through a few?