Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Festive Cheer

What beautiful weather we had on Christmas Day, which is unusual for Auckland as we usually have rain on 25 December.  We all had to lay down in the afternoon for a rest and try to digest our meals, but manfully rose to the occasion and devoured large portions again at dinner time before trailing off around the park to try to shake down some of the food.  What with a champagne brunch it was a busy day but a fun time was had by all.  We were farewelling our niece who left for England on Boxing Day morning at an ungodly hour, so that made it a poignant occasion.  We were missing our Firstborn who has left for her big OE.  Christmas was slightly strange, but we did manage to talk on the phone.    

Since Christmas Day we have been able to spend some time at Shoestring and catch up with friends.  The starlings have succeeded in hatching out some fledglings and we think we can see three.  They make their presence felt with noisy demands to be fed.  The plum tree is laden with ripening fruit and Mr Shoestring immediately dashed outside to try to salvage some of it before it was taken by the birds, who could not actually get inside the bird netting but managed to peck through it nevertheless.  After wracking my brains as to what to do with the fruit I have cooked it and strained the resulting puree, and am going to experiment with making plum icecream.  (Mr Shoestring adores the Kapiti Black Doris icecream so it may even earn me some points in his good book.)  This week I will consult recipe books and try to find some other things to do with less than perfect plums.    

The first lilies are flowering, but they are nowhere near as spectacular as Mrs Peaceable’s ones.  She gave me a lovely bunch of hers and I fully intend to rival her one day in the Christmas lily stakes.  The perfume is heavenly and fills the whole cottage. 

 My first lilies

A small offering from Mrs Peaceable's garden

A few weeks ago I bought a “Girl With A Pearl Earring” canvaswork picture from the church garage sale for $2.  Somebody had put a lot of time and effort into their work and it seemed a shame for it to be unloved, so I have turned it into a bag to take marketing.  Inside it has two old doyleys for pockets and it will come in handy when we are scouring the local markets for bargains.
Doyley pockets in lining 

Bag - finished and ready for endurance shopping events

This little book was a Christmas present, and what gems of gardening advice it contained.  

Mr Shoestring received this  

As he has recently been preoccupied by all matters sartorial (in fact Lady Raglan now calls him Captain Peacock), he received it eagerly and has scanned it from cover to cover in order to become ever more well groomed and ready for any occasion.

Preparations are in full swing  for the holidays at Shoestring.  What a lot of renovations we need to do, but also friends will visit for a catch up.  

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wild Weather

We couldn’t spend as long at Shoestring as we would have liked this weekend, because of Christmas party plans, but we did make the most of what time we had.  It was obvious that in the last week there had been torrential rain there (as in most of the rest of the country, where some areas had a whole month’s worth of rain within 24 hours).  Some hosta leaves were  found shredded to smithereens on the opposite side of the house to where the hostas were growing.  At least there was no need to water the garden.  I spent some happy time with my Procut 400 (the little hand mower which makes such a cheerful chirping sound) dashing all over the miniscule lawn with it.  I know that it is best to have a plan when mowing, but the lawn is such an irregular shape that it is difficult to mow efficiently and I tend to get distracted and go off course, so it takes longer than necessary to get around the area.  Never mind, I enjoy myself and the lawn is definitely improving despite the constant battle with the birds over the seed they love to devour. 

Speaking of birds, we were worried that the starling had abandoned the nest this week because there were no signs of comings and goings.  After bringing a ladder  and peering in precariously from a safe distance we discovered that the starling was still on the nest and are hopeful that there will be babies soon. 

The plums are ripening quickly on the enormous old plum tree now.

Mr Shoestring is determined not to lose the entire crop to the birds so he hastened along the road to the hardware store and bought himself some bird netting.  I am not sure how effective this will be in keeping the birds from devouring the fruit because it seems to me that it merely wraps up all the fruits in a convenient bundle so that they are all together for easy access.  After he applied the first piece of netting it came undone within a short while and remedial work had to be carried out, so we will just have to await further developments on that front.  The tree does seem to have responded very well to the pruning it had last year though and is laden with fruit even after a lot of it was blown off in the gales last week. 

I was rather alarmed when Mr Shoestring gleefully showed me the left handed weeding tool he found while out Christmas shopping.  I have a conventional right handed one and he has always been envious but didn’t think a left handed version of this tool existed.

He is more of a pruning/slashing/hacking gardener than one who can be let loose when there is precision weeding to be done so I am not sure whether this was a wise acquisition.  I am hoping he will lose interest now that he has finally tracked it down. 

 The first tomato of the season - I am ridiculously proud of it

These hydrangeas were kindly donated by a friend as cuttings during winter time.  They are bravely flowering their little hearts out now - many of the blossoms are actually larger than the plants!

The roses are all finished for the time being but the first lily is blooming and there is lots to see in the rest of the garden. 

Mystery seedlings which popped up in the garden "growing on"

The first passionfruit ever - tiny plant put in during the winter

The latest crockery acquisition is this very beautiful Aynsley plate – bestowed with strict instructions that it was not to end its days out of doors on the side of a tree.  So inside it will remain. 

Plans for the local rail trail are well under way.  It seems unlikely that it will be ready for opening at the beginning of the Christmas holidays as was originally planned, but it should not be long after that so we will be able to whirl off for rides through the farmland.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Ballet Recital

Many moons ago, when we had three little girls, they all attended ballet and jazz dancing classes at the local ballet school.  Towards the end of the year there was always a frenzy of preparation (on my part) and anticipation (on their part) to be ready for the annual Christmas concert.  Well I remember grappling with costumes intended to resemble a cook’s helper, a jam tart or an octopus (my personal bĂȘte noire).  The possibilities were endless and quite challenging. 

I thought those days were over but last weekend Mr Shoestring and I sallied forth and watched the youngest of the Peaceables perform in her annual ballet recital.  How touching it was to see the talented and enthusiastic young dancers giving their all for their families and friends.  The littlest performers were sometimes obviously rather overwhelmed, wearing looks of intense concentration (or was it terror?) throughout their routine.  It was easy to see who would be likely to grow up to be the capable types (they would firmly grip their fellow dancers to prevent them from coming onstage too early or from heading off in the wrong direction) and who would be more dreamy ones (the ones who seemed to forget the fact that they were on stage and go into a trancelike state).  But the whole event was very well staged and some of the older dancers displayed great skill and obviously had worked very hard all year.  The most amusing part for me was the parallel concert being put on by three small girls who were members of the audience, and with great enthusiasm danced in the aisle throughout nearly the whole production.  They had no need of lessons, being naturally gifted dancers.  From the distance of a few years I could enjoy the entire spectacle without any anxiety and it was a very nostalgic evening.  Needless to say Miss Peaceable was fabulous and acquitted herself admirably. 

The other excitement this weekend was that we discovered Mr Starling has indeed built a nest in the starling box and there are two (or possibly three) eggs inside.  We didn’t want to get too close in case the parents abandoned the nest, but were able to see the eggs and this has spurred Mr Shoestring on to bigger plans.  I think he will agree to build me some more starling boxes and let me paint and decorate them so we have a lovely starling village along the back wall in time for next spring.  Here’s hoping that the first clutch of eggs hatches and we have babies to observe soon.
You can only see one egg but there are two, possibly three!

Shoestring Cottage is bursting at the seams now, I really must stop buying more and more old china and “trinkets” because we have reached saturation point.  (Actually that was probably already reached on moving day.)  My wicked mama understands this only too well and she insists on torturing me by passing discarded treasures on me.  The last thing was this pretty Coalport plate which I really did not need but was powerless to decline.  

After hanging up the plates outside on the trellis I am bolting off on another quest – to decorate the back garden with old china and cutlery and therefore get some of it out of the kitchen, thereby decluttering the cottage – well, it sounds good in theory, doesn’t it?  So on the strength of this I have a selection of old forks and spoons which Mr Shoestring is going to transform into a beautiful wind chime.  He seems reasonably enthusiastic so hopefully soon I will be able to show you a photo. 

The Dancing Queen has recently completed renovations in her home at the other end of the island and she magnanimously donated this lovely old sewing machine table which has been converted into a surround for a hand basin.  It is going to go into the laundry when we complete the new flooring and line the walls there, I can’t wait.  It will look so pretty in front of the new window Mr Shoestring installed.

The other thing kindly bestowed upon us by The Dancing Queen (makes her sound like a fairy godmother, doesn’t it?) is this “pretend” fireplace which glows as though coals are burning.  It is really an electric fire and her family said it is hopelessly naff, but as you know we at Shoestring are not discerning and gleefully had it collected and transported to the cottage where it will be installed in the fireplace we have uncovered.  Happy days for Mr Shoestring completing all these projects!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Out Of Control At The Market

This weekend we travelled to a local market where great bargains are sometimes to be had in the perennial plant stalls.  I was sorely tempted as soon as I arrived but forced myself to hold off buying anything until a circuit of all the vendors had been made; but even so still managed to exceed my budget.  The man with the hostas was there and we managed not to have any disagreements this time.  In fact he was such a good salesman that I found myself under the sway of his persuasive patter and bought a selection of salvias plus miscellaneous other treasures.  At other stalls there were lovely pinks and pelargoniums on offer.  All in all it was just as well that there was no church shop sale this weekend or the budget would have suffered very badly.  But one disappointing thing I have to report is that one person sold me a plant which turned out to have no roots when I went to plant it!  It must have been snipped off as a cutting and passed off as a growing plant.  If only I could remember who sold it to me I would go back and take issue with them.  (It wasn't the hosta man though, his plants were all excellent specimens.)

Mr Shoestring has put in the "new" back door this weekend and it looks great.  We were held up for a while because we had to buy a new lock for it, and in the end located one on TradeMe for a comparatively modest amount.  It was hilarious to read the "Engrish" instructions which accompanied it.  They started of with: "This lock occupies the first at the same locks" and things only got better from there.  We were in fits of laughter as we tried to decipher what was meant by the convoluted and confusing instructions.  Mr Shoestring was given a "trick" Christmas present last year with this brilliant Engrish, we saved the packet so we could enjoy it whenever we wanted to - we are still not exactly sure what it means though!

The native wood pigeons were back again this weekend, scoffing themselves silly on the berries of the flowering cherry tree.  They are so large and cumbersome that they stamp all over the branches and twigs of the tree as if they are climbing ladders.  I shudder to think what would become of them if they ever missed their footing, they probably would plummet earthward like stones.  At least we got some good photos this week so you can get an idea of how attractive they are - in their own modest, unassuming, New Zealand bird kind of way that is!  No spectacular plumage or bright colours here, thank you very much.  

The last of the yellow roses were putting on a good display though - I am sure they must be the English rose "Graham Thomas" so hopefully there will be some more blooms later in the season.

They looked pretty under a couple of platters on the wall in the kitchen and the scent is very good.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Amateur Theatricals

We recently went to see a play at the little theatre near Shoestring Cottage.  I am no expert where dramatic performances are concerned but the local theatre has been in operation for a very long time and the walls in the lobby are papered with photos of past triumphs.  As far as I am concerned, anybody who has the gumption to get up on stage and perform deserves all the support and admiration we can give them – I wouldn’t want to attempt it!  We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and will try to go along to the forthcoming productions.
It is great to see the tradition of involvement in community affairs; it seems to be one of the things which makes small town life special.  In a couple of weeks we will be attending Miss Peaceable Kingdom’s annual ballet recital and recently the A&P show was held.  There is always something going on; in fact the first weekend we moved into Shoestring we were surprised upon flinging open the bedroom curtains to see hundreds of lycra clad cycling enthusiasts assembled in our street, ready for the annual cycle race.  Just across the road a community garden has opened and individual plots are yielding crops of vegetables and also lots of flowers.  Seeing the community garden made me want to do a spot of guerrilla gardening in town and geranium cuttings are dotted around the place in preparation for this.  Hopefully they will all strike and I will be able to scurry out and plant them around the city.      

Mr Shoestring made a starling house with some leftover scraps of wood one weekend.  We were not hopeful that it would be used because it was already nesting season and a library books we read pointed out that birds like a fairly lengthy period of investigation before they decide a new nesting box is safe to use.  How exciting it was this weekend to see this starling spend his days investigating, flying down, looking all around and eventually popping inside.
 Look at me!  Look at me!
I am a paragon of manly attributes!

So far he has not brought any prospective female with him so I hope he isn’t a bachelor.  Feeling like a desperate real estate agent, I dashed out and filled up the bird bath and hoped he noticed the plum tree nearby laden with ripening fruit.

Actually the bird house Mr Shoestring made is only a rough prototype knocked together very quickly.  As I watched Mr Starling darting in and out of it I formed an ambitious plan whereby the back wall would have lots of starling houses and they would all be painted in different pretty shades, with lots of architectural styles including a villa with ornate scrollwork.  I mentioned this to Mr Shoestring but he didn’t seem as enthusiastic as I had hoped.  Men can be somewhat lacking in imagination sometimes, don't you find that?

The sparrows have finally figured out how to use the seed bells we put out for them and they had a bonanza this weekend, feasting on the seed.

The kereru have returned and are gorging themselves on the fruits of the flowering cherry tree.  In the garden the sweet peas are continuing to blossom and you can see from this photo how few pink ones there are in spite of the fact that I planted all "pink" seedlings – but I have to admit that I am happy with the mixture and their scent is heavenly.  The best thing about sweet peas is that the more you pick them the more flowers you will get and it is very satisfying to strip the plants of their pretty sugared almond coloured flowers.

My mum has been so helpful in the search for plants.  When she heard of the plan for a scented back garden she found this honeysuckle – brighter coloured than the usual one, it seems happy so far in the far corner of the garden. 

I have planted nasturtiums on one of the archways left behind by the previous owners.  If they go to seed at the end of the season we might have more of them next year.  It would be good to put in the sort with darker leaves and darker flowers if I can find some seed.

The ladies mantle (alchemilla mollis) are looking happy.  English gardening books always claim that they become a nuisance and seed themselves all through the garden but I never find this; in fact just getting them to survive our dry hot summers is as much as I hope for. 

Jack (number four offspring) had his birthday this weekend and we had the customary birthday dinner with his favourite meals.  Being a boy there was not much in the way of vegetables on the menu, his favourite dishes being Crunchy Lunchy Munchy Pasta and Chocolate Mousse.  The chocolate mousse recipe is added to the recipe list at the side.  It is dead easy to make and always receives rave reviews. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Pelargoniums - Are They The Gardener's Best Friend?

I have to admit that I used to look down upon pelargoniums.  (We all call them geraniums, but they are not geraniums.  Geraniums look like this and are another very useful plant, but more about them another time.)  

Not to put too fine a point on things, they are decidedly common – you see them everywhere!  But I have realised there is a good reason for this – they are the most hard working and least labour intensive garden plant I can think of for our conditions. 

When we started gardening at Shoestring the narrow strip at the front of the fence looked as though it was going to be a bit of a problem, rather hot, dry and sunbaked.  I decided to fill this area with the “cheap and cheerful” variety of plants, daisies and tough perennials, things which were virtually indestructible and capable of looking after themselves.  No coddling or pampering here, thank you very much!  It has turned out to be the most colourful part of the garden and the results have been great for so little work. 

The most surprising thing has been the way that the pelargoniums have all thrived and prospered.  Most of them have been unceremoniously plonked in the earth as cuttings and as if to give thanks for their chance at life they have without exception survived and flowered madly.  They are happy to rub along with all the other plants and there are climbers, sprawlers and upright bushy ones.  They come in so many forms and colours, and of course there are the ones with the variegated leaves – my personal favourites.

Also the blood red one looks spectacular. 

I am not so keen on the mauve climber but any plant is a good plant in the front garden and none of them will be excluded. 

The fragrant ones have perfumed leaves – for instance, rose, peppermint and nutmeg scented.  Plant them by a doorway or path where you pass by often and can release the fragrance easily by picking and crushing a leaf or two.

 Rose scented

They are great for drying and using to scent linen and instead of sulking if you give them a vigorous prune they take it as a compliment and grow back better and bushier than before.    

Now that I have developed a cunning plan for guerrilla gardening in the city I am taking lots of cuttings from the pelargoniums at Shoestring and will transplant them when they have taken root, I can’t wait.  

Monday, November 14, 2011

An Embarrassment Of Riches

This weekend there were so many bargains to be had that I hardly know where to start.  I have been wanting to plant a grapevine at Shoestring almost since we moved in, and finally found one which fits the stringent financial criteria.  ($2 at the local Anglican bring and buy.)

Of course there was no indication as to what sort of grape it may be, but as the fruit will most likely be scoffed by greedy birds that is not much of an issue.  Another interesting plant was one which is apparently a clematis , but not the usual climbing type.  It is a herbaceous plant and has brilliant blue flowers and I have popped it in on the shady side of the house hoping it will be happy there. 

This idea was suggested by my mum Bobbie (aka Wobblie) when I was telling her how sad the venerable old cherry tree was looking where it had had various limbs lopped off, resulting in large round sawn off areas daubed with green paint.  She thought hanging plates on the bare areas would be a nice idea and it turned out to be such a hit that I now want to scatter plates, and possibly cups and saucers, through the whole garden.

It is easy to find small plates cheaply priced but the larger ones tend to be a bit more expensive so it was a bonus to find two large ones this weekend (the top and bottom ones above).  Then when I spotted the smaller ones I felt I had to take them home, they looked so forlorn the poor things.  What to do with them though?  Onto the trellis they went, soon they should be surrounded by climbing peas and beans, plus a rose which is about to flower beside them.

Also thanks to Bobbie I finally have a Philadelphus Virginalis (mock orange blossom), so the ambitious plan for a white/scented back garden is finally under way.

Next on the shopping list is a Michelia figo (port wine magnolia) which has insignificant flowers, but with an  intense scent of winegums. 

And on the same stall as the plates was this old print which had a very spotty glass.  Fortunately that cleaned up well and Mr Shoestring has painted the frame for me also.  It will look lovely in the colourful gypsy room. 

Last but not least, no foraging expedition is quite complete without a bit of fabric as the icing on the cake.  This week I found a brilliant old silk blouse which will be perfect for crazy quilts.  It has such a wide variety of patterns included in the print that I will be able to use it in lots of different blocks.