Delphiniums, family and fun

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Creme Brulee

Janice wants to get me back into blogging again so she has posted details of a dinner we had tonight with our friends and said that I cooked desert and would tell you about it.
Well, Janice's dinner was delicious and you will have to see her blog for the details.

For my bit I had great fun making my first creme brulee. The fun actually began yesterday when I bought a chef's torch. There's nothing like a blow torch for adding fun to cooking!

The recipe was simple and started with separating the yolks from eight eggs. The first one was tentative but by the time I'd done four or so it was fun and fast. Nothing beats blow-torching your desert in front of guests though.
The practice run yesterday went like clockwork but I decided I wanted a thicker brulee so added more castor sugar - not a good move as the top burned before the sugar caramalised right through. Undetered I simply tipped off the excess sugar on the others and all was well - there was a beautiful, real custard (no custard powder, just eggs, sugar and cream) capped with crispy caramelised sugar, plus plenty of drama!

The recipe can be found here:

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Motorway to the washing line

So, we have the line up and an explanation of why it is where it is but you haven't been told how we'll get to where it is from where we are. After much thought we decided on a path. No, don't scoff, we ruled out the flying fox on the grounds that Occupational Safety and Health would probably object to having it fly over a rose bush - far too dangerous - a helicopter would cost too much and a lift was just too darned impractical. Yes, a path, or rather a motorway, it would be.
This job was going to take an afternoon but CIS (Creeping Improvement Syndrome) reared it's ugly head and so far it's taken three days, on and off. There's still a good day's worth of work to finish it off but hey, it's operational. If you look closely at the lower image you can see a seat at the end of the lower wall on the left, which just happens to be right beneath a tree house in the cherry tree to the right. The tree house was a project of a couple or three years ago and was built for our grandchildren who love to climb up and have Janice and I sit below while they tell us stories, made up on the spur of the moment. The seat will facilitate easy listening. Don't forget to call back for the next exciting installment in the saga of the washing line.....washing actually hanging on it!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Brrrrrrrrrrr !!!

Wanganui doesn’t get too many cold winter days but this is sure one of them. We woke up to hail and went to bed to the sound of hail too. I have yet to see snow settle on the ground here but this may well be the year.

Cold and rain notwithstanding, it’s been a good week. At the nursery we’re right into tidying up for the next season and at home I’m enjoying having more spare time to get into the garden. The clothes line that I made while Janice was in Wellington a couple of weeks ago was a real hit (all we need now is some fine weather) and right now I’m building a pathway (more like a motorway really) from the back door to the said line. Janice is really over the moon and I’m loving adding to the garden.

Ok, ok, ok so you think a line is a line is a line. Not so. This one is a four strand line, about twelve metres long (48m of line in total) and will take over three large loads of washing. There is still plenty of space for the air to circulate between strands as they are about 400mm apart.

The next bit is geography, climate and engineering type stuff. Just warning you that’s all.

The land is sloping such that the distance from the ground to the outside line on the upside (where small items are hung) is over half a metre less than the distance to the outside line on the downside (where sheets are hung). What makes it work so very well however, is the actual positioning of the line, the general garden area and indeed the house too, on the side of a deep valley some 10 metres or so below the general lie of the land. Thereafter the valley continues downwards beneath the house and line at an angle of about 45 degrees (and steeper) for another 40 metres.

Ok, more geography. The valley and line are orientated roughly north/south. We have an almost constant prevailing wind from the west. This wind creates a vortex in the valley such that we almost always have a breeze rising from the valley floor (just a gentle breeze) up past the washing line. In fact, no matter what the general wind direction may be we invariably have breeze blowing up the valley towards and through the line, so that on any given day there is always at least a little wind to move the washing and tadah! dry it. Even in winter.... Except when it is raining..... Which is what it’s been doing for the past two weeks, since Janice returned from Wellington..... Except for yesterday, when we dried a whole two week’s worth of washing. This was really useful as we were both getting down to our last few pairs of underpants/knickers and the sheets were getting stiff. Only kidding.

Just in case you can’t visualise all this I’ve inserted a Google shot of our place taken a couple of years ago and indicated where the house and line are. The lower image is of the valley floor.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Storm in a tea cup.

All the shortest day activity overshadowed the fact that we have a new dog. Friday afternoon was spent preparing the garden to receive a 6 month old Alsatian cross (mongrel) puppy. Well, it's a bit late to for taking outdoor shots now but some of the NANSQ (New Zealand quilting body of which Janice is the newsletter editor) committee members who are also in Wellington for the meeting want to see images of the dog. I'd better get some!

Why have I titled this blog "Storm in a Tea Cup"?

Because the puppy was called Storm but I think it is far too gentle for that name so have instead called it "Tea Cup". It has already been shortened to "T" when training

The Shortest Day

Today is the 21st June - Winter solstice in New Zealand and Summer Solstice in Canada when Anne Cook carries on her tradition of working all day (about 19 daylight hours) in the garden.

A few years ago Janice and visited Anne on the longest day and helped her with this feat.

Today I'm going to work in sympathy with her, only for me it is the shortest day and only from 7.45am until about 5.15 pm.

Janice is away in Wellington for the week end and I've decided to build a new clothes line. The images are of progress throughout the day. By lunch time I had the posts laid out and ready to place in the hole and ram tight with soil. After lunch I took a trip into Wanganui to buy clothes line chord and hardware.

The posts were then stayed for soil ramming. I'd earlier in the day trimmed a few large branches off the cherry tree to make room for one of the posts

Interruption!! Nick Churton, our neighbour's grandson, has come to dig a pond in our paddock. This will be able to be seen form our dining room. I have to break off from the washing line to supervise.

Ok, too busy to take photos until near dark. Posts are rammed in and lines up.

And that was that. 5:50pm and too dark to continue. Just the tidying up bits and pieces to do in the morning. That's hopeful as there is some heavy rain forecast. With luck it wont arrive until morning tea and I can get some pathways started.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


At this time of year, when northern hemisphere gardens have delphiniums either blooming or heading that way gardeners often write with questions about how well, or not, their delphiniums are growing.

Usually they have been growing well but as the flower spikes reach, say a metre tall, we begin to get reports of lower leaves dying, or a paleness of colour in the leaves or maybe short, thin stems. What is causing all this? Is the question, and how do I fix it?

I thought it may be a good idea to run through a few common problems and their cures, for the benefit of any reading this blog who may like to know.

It will help to list those conditions that delphiniums like and to also tell you that they are gross feeders. Not gross feeders as in gluttonous individuals eating a hundred and forty four giantburgers in the minimum time possible and slopping tomato sauce over a “once white” tee shirt t-shirt; no, not at all. There’s a big difference. Delphiniums don’t like hamburgers, or tomato sauce for that matter. What they do like however is plenty of food, particularly when they first begin new growth. They like plenty of NPK. Go more heavily on the nitrogen at the start, gradually easing off and putting more emphasis on the potash as the stems grow tall and the buds begin to form. If you have access to animal manure you probably won’t be able to give them too much no matter how hard you try. If you are relying mainly on chemical fertilisers then using a 12-10-10 fertiliser at rates just as much as you dare will give great results. As a rule of thumb feed delphiniums about 1 ½ times what you would feed your roses.

Be sure your soil ph is above 6 and preferably closer to 7. If not add lime, lots of it.

Delphiniums also like that ideal type of soil that most growing books and planting instructions demand ......well drained, holds lots of moisture, doesn’t dry out too quickly, doesn’t go puggy and get too wet, not too fine, not too course and obviously after all this, it should be covered in at least 2 inches of good, rich, brown, friable organic mulch. If your soil is like this then I’ll send a truck right over. If not then just be sure that the ph is high, the plants don’t get waterlogged and they have plenty of tucker, plenty of tucker, plenty of tucker.

If mulching, make it thick. If mulching with wood products then be sure to add more nitrogen.

Delphiniums like lots of sun so give them plenty of room in a sunny spot.

Delphiniums do not like lots of heat so if your summer temperatures regularly exceed 25 degC then plant them in a position that gets afternoon shade.

Keep them damp, but not wet.

Place slug pellets (or sharp sand or something similar) on the crowns to deter slugs and snails.

Remember, feed them often and well, water them often and well, sing to them often and well and to enjoy them. If you can’t sing well – practice.

Beware of the wind. Delphiniums are a bit like you, they enjoy a good steak and remember, if your delphiniums don't look like these you need to give them more fertiliser. If they still don't perform, buy some of our seed. You will really see the difference.

Take care. Have a great time in the garden.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Falling into Winter

Hi again,

A whole month has passed in a couple of days again. Where does it go?

Part of it went with a trip to Auckland to see my mum and dad and I was able to be with mum for her birthday and as a bonus see our daughter Emma in Hamilton on the return joureney. Emma works as a software tester for the largest dairy company in the world (Fonterra). As you can see from the foyer of their head office, they have a thing about cows!

The drive was a good one with typical autumn weather – heavy showers and fine spells – and the trees were beginning to put on a great show. All in all it was a good three day break, leaving Wanganui on Wednesday morning and returning by 5pm in time for “Fries on Friday”.

On the nursery we have been finishing off the last of the season’s pollinating, taking a few cuttings and starting to close the delphiniums down for their winter rest. The most exciting and stressful part of this was having the trees trimmed. We’d left it for over three years so there was quite a lot of growth to cut away and I was anxious that no trimmings flew off and punctured the plastic growing houses, especially the new one. However, the contractor, Ron King, knows his job and is a careful dude so there was no damage. All that remains now is for his mate to arrive with a rather fierce mulching machine and drive over the trimmings, reducing them to a fine mulch, we hope.

All the wood is now cut up and either in the wood shed or stacked outside to dry. Of course I was late doing this again so we’ll have to buy some really dry stuff in and save most of ours until late winter or for next year. Now that would save a job!

The garden is a mess so I’ll not show images of that until I’ve tidied it up a little.

I really enjoy the seasons changing and wherever you are, outside the tropics, the seasons will be changing for you too right now so I hope you’re enjoying it too.



Monday, April 7, 2008

The tree fell

Daylight saving came off yesterday so, naturally I’m up at 5am this morning and what better else to do than catch up on the blog.

The delphiniums continue to display their enjoyment of the cooler conditions (below 24DegC highs and cooler nights) by producing, dark green foliage and strong, new flower spikes. The summer heat seems to have delayed the autumn flowering a little but it looks like the quality will be excellent. This is good news as seed for some of our lines is scarce and we need more to fill orders.

I’m not sure where I left the saga of the new growing house. The situation now is that since being “fixed” it has sprung leaks in both the roof vents, where rain water is somehow seeping between the two layers of the “twin skin” plastic, and in the central gutter from where it pours inside. I’m told that it will be fixed. We await developments in this on-going saga. In the mean time the delphiniums are growing well inside.

The automation of the roof vents is still about two weeks away and that means I have to keep a close eye on weather conditions (wouldn’t want the vents blowing off would I?). To help with this I bought a weather station. The monitoring of this was going to need the cooperation of our computer in the work shed, the LAN cables from the shed to the house and a friendly computer programme to allow me to “see” the station from the pc in the house. Well, this time we have a bonus as the weather station can communicate directly with the house, 140 metres away via radio that is advertised at being good for 100 metres only. This goes to prove that in life there are swings and roundabouts – but sometimes we get to go on the slide!

This last week end was populated by other fortunate events too. I felled the last pine tree destined for late winter firewood. This was fraught with possible calamities as the 25 to 30 metre tree had to fall in exactly the right place in order to avoid ...the garage; the large, decorative oak tree; the young feijoa (really nice fruit); the “Black Boy” peach and the ginkgo. Of course the garage was the most important target for avoidance. Well, the feijoa is mid distance between the oak and the peach, there being about 5 or 6 metres between each one. I figured I couldn’t possible fell the pine with that sort of accuracy so decided to aim straight for the feijoa. Bingo! It landed mid distance between the feijoa and the peach as you can see – what a cunning plot!. I was extremely happy and relieved.

If your week end was half as successful you will have had a great one.



Monday, March 31, 2008

Challenges in the heat

Rain. First we had drizzle and now we have a light, steady rain, the first in about 3 weeks. It’s still warm however and even with the rain there is a feeling of this long, hot summer continuing.

Growing delphiniums in the plastic house this year been interesting. Summer started with an unusually warm, dry, calm November and has continued, unabated, until now. It will be one of those summers that young people today will remember as the summers that we used to have. It’s one of those summers that I will remember as a challenge.

Wanganui is generally a very temperate place with almost constant, prevailing westerly winds and our greenhouses are designed with that in mind. Long, hot, calm sunny days have therefore taken their toll. Temperatures have often exceeded 35degC in the growing houses. Now delphiniums can handle days like these providing they get some cool weather interludes – we’ve had none; well maybe a week’s worth in 5 months. This has meant we’ve had to battle to keep our plants alive - so we can fill our seed orders. Fortunately we have done that. Fortunately also, the heat is coming off now and there’s a new flush of flowers ready to pollinate.

Of course a difficult year has its advantages and you tend to learn a lot. We’ve learned to modify our growing medium and are also looking at methods of cooling the growing houses. We always knew a hot year would find us struggling and this has certainly been a wake-up call. One real bonus has been the results from a trial of plants grown in straight pumice (see images). This has been an outstanding success and something that will be of use to gardeners trying to grow delphiniums in climates normally too warm for them to survive well. Essentially the lesson is to keep the roots cool by growing them in an airy, white, inert media and supplying a total nutrient (hydroponic) feed at regular intervals. We’ll be doing more work with this to find a system that can be recommended for the home garden.

One problem with the hot weather is that delphiniums become susceptible to Schlrotinia rolfsii (see images below). This is a nasty disease which can fell a plant within days by dehydrating it. There is no cure so it is essential to remove the plant and all, but all, the surrounding soil that may contain fungal growth ... very white filaments). Treating the remaining soil with “Jeys Fluid” may help but solarisation (covering the moist soil with black plastic and leaving it over summer) should sterilise it out. This disease does not affect many plant genera (onions are susceptible also I think) so don’t worry about the rest of your garden plants. Guess why we grow our precious breeding stock in bags?

I’m going outside now to stand in the rain.



Friday, March 14, 2008

Fries on Friday

About this time of year we start wondering how the delphiniums in the northern hemisphere are coming along. It’s not so difficult to know as many people write from time to time. Right now I can tell you that they are flowering in Los Angeles (as they are in New Zealand), still under the snow in Dawson Creek, (Northern BC) and starting to shoot in Washington State, just as they are in England. Most of you will be looking forward to displays like this one, in a neighbours garden.

For many of you it’s time to make sure the tender shoots aren’t being ravaged by slugs and snails. Keep them off –either by using bait or transferring them to some sacrificial hostas! It’s a good idea to place slug pellets on your delphinium clumps before they even start to shoot, so, for those of you who are waiting for the snow to clear, make sure you’re right there when it’s gone. For those who don’t have to bother with snow (or it’s gone already), get those pellets down now.

It may be spring in the northern hemisphere but it’s Friday in Wanganui. Friday means wrapping up the week’s work and driving on down to the local family type pub for FOF (Fries on Friday) at the end of the day. This Friday it also means packing up camping gear (me only) ready for our Rotary Club’s annual trip into Hipango Park. This is a small, council owned area, set in native bush about two hours ride up the Whanganui River on a nineteenth century river boat. This year we’ll be painting a hut, some barbecue tables and tidying the track a little. We’ll have fine weather too.



Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Fresh Seed

The extraordinary summer continues. Although we’re into autumn now the dry weather is with us again, as is the wind. But that’s ok, as one of the main reasons we shifted to Wanganui 8 years ago was for more wind. The almost constant breeze keeps the climate temperate and makes cooling greenhouses easier. Even so, another summer like the one just past and we’ll have to think seriously about fogging in the greenhouses.

We have at least some new season’s seed ready for almost all our seed lines now so this week, or early next, we’ll be sending out our annual email to past clients. If you want fresh seed – now is the time to order it! Of course, we have to have a new image gallery to support this and to add interest and I’ve included some of the images in this blog. If you want to see the rest you will need to visit our photo galleries - in about a week.

Work for the rest of the day today consists of installing the weed matting in the last half of the new growing house. We put black matting down first and that forms a barrier between the hard and slightly rough compressed shell rock floor and the white weed matting that goes on top. Once this is complete I can concentrate on installing the corrugated iron sheets that will bear the plants and drain the excess water into a gutter. This can be seen in the images of the first half of the house in this blog.

The grapes are ripe, tomatoes in full flight, “Black Boy” peaches are just perfect and the two courgette plants are continuing to provide more than we need. The silver cover in the image on the left is to protect the grapes from the birds



Sunday, March 9, 2008

New Greenhouse nearing completion

The trouble shooter from Harfords Greenhouses has come to view his team’s handiwork and try to settle some of the problems we have. Many of these problems resulted from an amazing lack of communication from the construction team. That much has been acknowledged.

What’s gone wrong? Remember, this is a 900 square metre (around 10,000 sq ft) greenhouse.

The whole house was built sloping the wrong way, so that the gutters took water to the wrong end of the house – away from the down pipes. They fixed this when it was pointed out, but only to “level”. That’s ok but....

The central gutter, when full, leaks water inside the house.

One ratchet arm that’s involved in opening the vents is badly aligned and bangs into a truss.

The internal insect screens weren’t finished, so insects (including bees) can pass freely between sections of the house. This should not happen. We don’t want stray pollen.

The doors don’t have stoppers to prevent them blowing in, in a strong wind.

The insect screens attached to the roof vents were cut down (without consultation) when they were installed, preventing the vents from opening to their full extent, which they need to do in still, hot weather.

That’s about the lot. We’ve discussed the problems and he has agreed to fix them at their cost. It has, however, cost us most of the seed crop we hoped to harvest from the new house this summer.

It’s Sunday. The sun’s shining, the birds are singing and lunch will soon be ready.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Useful Links

Almost every day we receive requests from people or companies asking us to link to them from our web site. We almost invariable decline the request as the sites in question are usually out and out commercial, offering little, or no useful information. However, we occasionally will exchange links.

We recently received a request from David Grist, who is responsible for the online content of the Gardener’s Supply Company. David wrote to make us aware of an article he’d written about delphiniums on their blog site “Gardener’s Journal”. Well, I’ve had a look around the Garden Supply site, and the blog, and think they do a great job of offering both commercial service and free information. .The employee owner structure of the business seems to result in a friendly approach. Their mission statement also adds to this..

"Gardener's Supply is in business to spread the joys and rewards of gardening, because gardening nourishes the body, elevates the spirit, builds community and makes the world a better place.”

We think the Gardener’s Supply Company and the Gardener’s Journal are well worth linking to and that you will enjoy what they have to offer.

Here is the link to the journal/blog

And to the Gardener’s Supply Co David Grist>



Thursday, March 6, 2008

Autumn Down Under

We’ve had a very warm, sunny, dry summer here in Wanganui and the delphiniums are now enjoying some welcome cooler days. Actually, it’s the cooler nights that really do the job and temperatures are now getting down to 15degC or so. Couple that with a few cloudy, cool days and some rain and the delphiniums love it. Yellowing leaves green up, new growth races away and the plants shout out a thank you audible for miles (if you’re in tune to the plant frequencies).

If anyone reading this has trouble with their delphiniums in the hotter months, take heart. If your summers are hot then enjoy the early summer flush and, as soon as this is finished, try cutting them down, mulch them and keeping them quite dry. You shouldn’t overdo this but keeping them checked for a few weeks while they have little top growth seems to help them through the hottest weather. Just watch out for powdery mildew though.

The summer here is now almost over and we’re hopeful of a good autumn flush of flowers for late pollination. We need it. Local farmers are almost happy too and that’s about as good as it gets for a farmer it seems. Most have harvested all their grain and the new grass growth is going to flush the dried off dairy cows for early calving.

We’ve just about cleaned all the first seed crop and will be sending out notification of fresh seed to our customers next week. We have a new line of seeds that produce mottled purple/pink florets with picotee edges we think will be a hit. We’ll see.

Judging by the infrequency of these blogs, despite my resolutions to do better, it’s something that clearly needs a higher priority. Does anyone have any higher priority to spare?



Tuesday, January 22, 2008

In Limbo

Today has been hot. By world standards maybe not so hot but by Wanganui standards, very hot, especially when the humidity must have been in the 90%s range. For one of the most temperate climates in the world, 30DegC is out of the ordinary. It is bloody hot!

But now it is evening. The 5:30am start, to get work done before we wilted, has paid off. We did of course continue working all day and achieved a lot. They thermometer is falling, not because it was knocked off the wall by the near gale blowing through the open windows, but because the temperature is actually dropping. Life is good again.

At times like this it is difficult to keep plants watered well enough. Something has to go and that something is usually the garden, and it is this time too. I’ve kept the vege garden wet and even watered the horizontal elm, which has suffered from attacks by leaf minor in the past and needs mollycoddling ,but the flower gardens are looking a little dehydrated. The hot, windy weather is the result of a tropical cyclone heading south from Fiji. It was expected to bring much needed rain but instead just gave a little drizzle and dried the landscape further. With no, or little rain in sight for at least a week and strong, warm winds forecast it looks like we’ll be watering like crazy to keep the delph alive. Farmers will start to feel the pinch soon too.

You may recall that we’re in the throes of having a new plastic growing house constructed. One of the lesser endearing quirks of the New Zealand way of life is that just about the whole country closes down over the Christmas/New year period. For some it extends to an enormously long holiday – and bugger the client. I am of course referring to the builders who left on Dec 18th and are still yet to return. This is truly 3rd world status mentality and possibly one of the reasons why we have extremely unaffordable housing too. With delphiniums waiting to occupy the plastic house and contribute to the seed harvest I’m a tad frustrated...make that two tads...ok THREE!

On a more positive note things generally are growing well, Janice and I are extremely happy and although we work fairly hard we also have lots of time off, when we want it – mostly – like last weekend. Every year a group of nutcases go canoeing down the Whanganui River. This is a river of the movies, featured in “The River Queen” and “Lord of the Rings” (not that you’d recognise it). The Whanganui River is quite narrow but has good fall and much water – so there are plenty of rapids and gorges.

The canoe trip is from Taumaranui to Pipiriki, (look it up on a map, or, even better, Google Earth) encompasses the very best of the river and takes a week. I’ve only done this once but last weekend assisted with the transport of canoes, the pre trip conviviality, and the “sending off”. There are a few images of this annual pilgrimage (some have logged up over 30 annual trips – yeah, they truly are nutters!) scattered throughout this blog.

Next week I hope to report on progress on the growing house, the installation of a new irrigation system – and the return of the Whanganui River Rats.