Today is the last day of Labour Weekend, a long weekend in New Zealand which falls towards the end of October. It is significant for gardeners as it marks the time of the year when people start planting their summer garden. The seasons have shifted due to climate change, so I’m a bit cautious about planting my seedlings outdoors just yet. But there is plenty to do outside and I have been very busy harvesting our remaining winter veggies in order to create space for our summer garden.
Reflecting on Anita’s Garden
Put it down to middle age, but I have been feeling quite nostalgic about the past. I have been gardening for a decade now. It is hard to believe that our sprawling garden on a suburban section in South Auckland grew from the simple act of planting an oriental lily called Hot Spot in my father’s memory after he passed away in June 2012.
It is even harder to believe that once upon a time, I was very academic and not at all inclined towards practical activities like gardening. I also spent most of my time indoors. I just can’t believe that I spent five years at uni studying to become a lawyer and worked overseas for a further five years. It really does feel like that all took place in a former life. I’m very content with my outdoorsy life now. Working outside is excellent therapy for my mental health, which you can read more about here.
In the early part of the long weekend, I created this container garden in our patio.
The two rows on the right contain herbs (chives, Italian parsley, curly parsley, thyme, oregano, sage, rosemary and coriander). To the left of that are lavender plants that I grew from cuttings I took last spring, which I repotted into larger pots. To the left of the lavender are a number of special petunias I managed to purchase on special from Kings Plant Barn and that were heavily discounted at Mitre10 MEGA Manukau. I used small terracotta pots that I managed to get on clearance at Bunnings last year for $5 each. Finally on the left-hand side are the 14 tropical impatien plants which I grew from seed last spring and looked after in our greenhouse over winter. They all survived and I repotted them into larger pots.
I also planted ten cherry tomatoes I purchased from the garden centre a few weeks ago into containers. Cherry tomatoes can be grown in the ground too, but these ones are varieties that are suitable for growing in containers which is great if you’re short on ground space like me, or don’t want to create a garden bed. They are also ideal for people that live in a town house or apartment.
Yesterday, mum harvested these veggies from our brassica patch. I didn’t raise these plants from seed as I normally do. They were planted as seedlings which came from Awapuni, a mail order plant supplier in New Zealand. Awapuni very kindly and generously gave me a voucher to spend online as part of our on-going collaboration. We go back a long way and have been working together for six years now, since I started my small business Anita’s Garden in 2017.
A year ago, I wanted to give up veggie gardening and start a flower farm on our front lawn. I blame dahlia mania. I got a bit carried away by all of the beautiful and interesting dahlia varieties that became available in New Zealand in recent years thanks to the hard work on the part of the large mail order bulbs suppliers in the country, as well as a few dedicated dahlia suppliers who were prepared to brave the red tape associated with importing plant material into NZ, not to mention it being a very costly and time consuming process. But ironically it was actually an established flower farmer in Otago that I became very close to after purchasing some dahlia tubers from her a few years ago that discouraged me from giving up edible gardening altogether. Even long before veggies reached extortionately high prices this year due to our terrible summer last season, Jenny firmly felt that being self-sufficient was something that was worth striving for and wanted to head in that direction herself. She was very interested in my focus on homesteading and self-sufficiency, which is what I was doing before I became interested in growing cut flowers. I’m so glad I listened to Jenny as dahlias have proven more trouble than they’re worth, which you can read about in my previous post if you wish. A couple of months ago, I sent her an assortment of veggie seeds to help her get started with her own potager.
Harvesting more Liseta potatoes
I harvested the last of our Liseta early potatoes in order to make room for my dahlias. Some of them are ready to be planted in the ground so the timing was perfect.
So far I have planted a row and a half of the famous variety Café au Lait (CAL). I purchased quite a few tubers from Garden Post last year as my plan at that time was to have a flower farm and they had them heavily discounted at the end of the season for just $6 each. I’m really glad I purchased 9 tubers as this year the price was $23 each. They were also XXL tubers which I have never seen before. When you purchase dahlias, usually the tuber they send you is very small. When my order arrived, I was shocked that the tubers were large enough to be divided into several plants, which I didn’t do as I’m quite cautious. It was the right thing to do though as we had a very wet summer in Auckland, with floods and cyclones. I lost a lot of small tubers to rot, but CAL performed very well and I had large clumps at the end of the season when I lifted my tubers. Had I divided the tubers into small pieces when they arrived, I might have lost the lot to rot.
Dahlia breeding programme
Since purchasing dahlias has become so difficult and expensive, I have decided not to add any more varieties to our garden and focus on edible gardening again. However, I am very keen to continue my dahlia breeding programme, which I started last year and you can read about here. Again, I owe a huge thank you to Jenny, the florist-flower farmer in Otago who I referred to above, for encouraging me to do this, as she has been doing the same thing over the past few years. She has even started selling varieties she has bred and given them a name. Jenny’s business is called Studio 24 Botanicals. She focuses on growing and arranging flowers for weddings. She lives in Wanaka, which is a very touristy part of the country and a popular location for weddings in summer. In winter, Jenny divides her dahlia tubers and sells the excess on her website, which is how I got to know her as I purchased some a few years ago. I was very impressed not only with the quality of her tubers but also her hard work ethic. Normally, a person would be either a florist or a flower farmer and just one of those alone involves a lot of work. But Jenny didn’t mind putting in the extra effort and wanted to be both! I have always admired people that are very driven and determined to go the extra mile to try and achieve something in life. There is nothing that I love more than an interesting conversation (except maybe a joke) and we have had plenty of them. I think we can all learn from each other. I have learnt a lot about growing flowers from Jenny, which I was not so knowledgeable about before and in turn, Jenny became inspired to start an edible garden and work towards becoming self-sufficient. Jenny featured in a podcast series called Dish the Dirt on Spotify. Here is the link if you are interested in learning more about what she does.