Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mellow Yellow

This weekend while the sun blazed down on the land and most of the population made the most of it Mr Shoestring and I toiled away in the scorching hot sun, painting the doors for the storage units in the sewing room.  This project has dragged on for weeks and weeks, or weekends and weekends rather, and it will be a blessed relief when it finally comes to an end.  Right from the beginning I had a yearning for a yellow room, primrose yellow to be exact.  This proposal did not meet with universal approval.  For instance many friends warned me of the yellow rooms they had had in the past and the difficulty in getting the shade right – an almost impossible achievement apparently, as yellow can easily be overpowering and turn out to be a lot darker on the walls than it looks in the pot.  The man in the paint shop sucked his teeth a lot and said much the same thing, warning Mr Shoestring that “A little goes a long way” and doling out yellow tinter as if it was some exotic and rare poison, not to be trusted to amateurs and likely to cause all kinds of mayhem.  So we were suitably careful in mixing the paint, putting it in little by little and erring on the side of caution.  Needless to say, after the primer and undercoat and the first coat of “yellow” being applied, it looked like a very anaemic shade of cream, virtually indistinguishable from white.  More yellow had to be added.  (I suspect the man in the paint shop was toying with the idea of refusing to sell us any further tinter but overcame his scruples and decided to let us sink or swim, since we thought we knew best.  Possibly he was resisting the urge to call out as we left the store, “Have it your own way if you’re so smart.  But don’t come crawling back to me when your room is the colour of an egg yolk!”).  Finally the doors and walls are painted and a very pretty shade of yellow and now comes the really challenging part – trying to jam all the art deco costumes and stitching supplies back into the room.  Something to look forward to with apprehension and dread, and once it is done I probably will never dare to clamber to the top of the cupboards and take anything out for fear that it will not be able to be squeezed back in.  You can be sure there will be photos of the end result, it will just be a merciful relief to have it over and done with. 

In between the sewing room project (or debacle) there was time to get out into the garden and play with my latest toy, the rotating compost bin.  Ever since they came on the market I have wanted one of my very own but they are fiendishly expensive.  How can something made of moulded plastic be so pricey, I used to ask myself repeatedly as I stroked their smooth black sides in garden centres?  Finally one was reduced to half price at Le Maison Rouge and though it was still $75 I was overcome with desire, threw caution to the winds and dragged my prize home.  Mr Shoestring looked askance at the “some assembly required” and set to with a will, and in no time the job was done and I have my very own rotating compost bin.  (Apparently New Zealanders and Australians are notorious for not reading instructions on how to operate the things they buy, multinational corporations even make special simplified instructions for us because of our impulsive natures/refusal to take instruction, and Mr Shoestring is no exception, he tossed aside the assembly instructions with a hollow laugh and proceeded according to his own inner instruction sheet, which resulted in some uncouth language and a somewhat protracted assembly time.)  The composter was imported from Canada, which would make you suspect it would be a large, rugged and hardy piece of equipment (you know, sweeping plains, huge trees, burly lumberjacks and so forth), but it is rather diminutive and I am sorry to say I have filled both its chambers in one weekend.  (In theory there is one chamber for the compost which is decomposing and one for the lovely rich earthy mixture which has finished composting.)  Mr Shoestring laughs at me as I repeatedly spin the drum and tells me that it won’t make much difference to the speed of making, but still I continue turning it; it is quite therapeutic, actually, and probably good for the biceps as well.  Compost is a fascinating thing, in theory very simple – things just decompose and when they are ready you put the end result on your garden, and it is rich and full of goodness and makes things grow like topsy.  In reality though it is very difficult to get right; I once read a book on how to make it and ended up despairing of ever achieving the balance – not too wet or dry, no weed seeds, no perennial weeds, just the right percentage of “green” and “brown” matter, it did my head in.  In fact I suspect you really need to grow your garden to suit your compost, not the other way round.  Then I noticed a book on compost at the library, this one was full of more than 150 compost “recipes”, I kid you not!  Obviously it is not a thing to be undertaken lightly so in future I shall try not to rush at it in such a precipitous fashion, there will be a more scientific and cautious approach.  But what will I do with all the prunings and old annuals which will accumulate week by week, I wonder?

Having started sowing the seeds which came in the mail (Kings Seeds are wonderful), there is now the pressure situation of finding a spot for the lavateras, basil, and Indigo bean vines which have germinated.  Also the bishop’s flower and the snail vine.  If half these things survive the garden at Shoestring will be a veritable Eden – I had to rip out some plants which were really not quite ready for it, just to make space for the new seedlings … and then of course there was the problem of having no space in the new compost bin to put the ripped out parsley and celery plants, woe is me!  But once started on seed buying it is difficult to stop, I see now there are a couple of other companies specialising in unusual seeds and some of the offerings sound so exotic and beautiful.  Mind you, most plants can be made to sound a lot more interesting than they really are, I once read a description and thought it would be a wonderful addition to the garden, only to realise it was a very common plant with nothing much to recommend it.  I must say I had never noticed the “heavily scented, attractive white blossoms” on the plants in my garden, they were insignificant and virtually invisible. 

Mr and Mrs Peaceable called in to see just what chaos looks like.  They arrived at the perfect moment when we were moving heavy furniture.  Thank you Mr Peaceable, you are a life saver!  Mrs Peaceable donated this beautiful piece of green depression glass to the ever growing collection and it will take pride of place on the windowsill in the sewing room when (if) I get to “dress the set”, which is as we all know the best part of any renovation or decoration project at home.  

The latest edition to the green glass collection in front of my favourite quilt, which was hand made by my mum.  It is a true example of the Shoestring philosophy, each tiny square was hand pieced using a book of patchwork sample fabrics - what else could you do with such tiny scraps of fabric?

Here there was a nasty and stubborn stain which somehow found its way onto the fabric, so an embroidered butterfly now covers the spot

There is a lull in the roses but this new one I planted (if only I had kept the name tag) is very happy in its new home

Canna lilies seem surprisingly controversial - when I mentioned to a friend that I was going to put some in at the garden at Shoestring Cottage (because they had been given to me and would fill up a few holes in the early days) she was aghast at my bad taste.  "No, you mustn't do that!  They are repulsive!" was her vehement cry.  But the leaves are colourful and interesting and look at the curious outcrops on the flower buds of the green one above, I had never noticed these before.

More lilies are opening each week now, this is the star for the week and I hope there will be some blooming over the Christmas holidays.

The leaves of the newly germinated hyacinth bean vine promise great things to come - always assuming the plants survive past their infancy of course!  Slugs have a lot to answer for at Shoestring Cottage!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Back on Deck

First of all darlings, I must apologise for the lack of posts recently; my only excuse is that things have been rather busy with a real estate deal which  went awry, new carpet endeavours and family birthdays.  No, in truth I have been very lazy and that is the main reason for no posts but I shall make up for lost time now.

I am uncertain what type of berries these are - the plant was given to me because its previous owner was disgusted at the thorns - having been sold a "thornless" berry bush.  But they are very prolific and we have high hopes for a good crop.

At the risk of sounding boastful, things in the garden at Shoestring Cottage have been looking as lovely as I have ever seen them.  All those coffee grounds must have had some effect on the soil because things are thriving and it almost seems that you only have to stick a cutting into the soil to have it romp away and start to blossom.  Finally the lilies are unfurling their beautiful waxy perfumed blossoms.

Spurred on by these recent successes the little cold frame in the back garden has been pressed into service and there is a happy looking collection of mixed basil and hollyhock seedlings pushing their way through the earth and now some zinnias have joined them, in the hope of late summer and autumn colours.  Those intense shades are just what the garden needs in the autumn when things can tend to be a bit dreary, so here’s hoping for a 100% success rate from one packet of seeds.  Seed raising used to seem a bit intimidating but after one or two successes there is no holding back and all kinds of seeds will be given a try.  That is part of the beauty and fun of seed raising, for only a small expenditure there are so many plants to be started and giving them away to friends and family is great fun.  (Though sometimes it seems as though not everybody really appreciates yet another punnet of seedlings to add to their garden, it is a terrible shame to waste all that potential.)  Nothing beats the pleasure of opening a new packet and seeing all those hundreds of possible plants to come from such a tiny piece of foil – what potential! 

Spurred on by initial successes from more mundane seed varieties, Kings Seed catalogue was just too tempting to resist - after all, the descriptions verge on being poetical, who could resist the white moonflower with a heavenly perfume or the intriguing hyacinth bean vine and the snail creeper?  Then there is a mind boggling array of dianthus and beautiful old fashioned sweet peas (again with a heady perfume).  Lavatera trimestris is a very rewarding annual to grow as well, with flowers ranging from white through shades of pale and dark pink and we had to try those ones also.

Speaking of seeds and their possibilities, the aquilegias (granny's bonnets) have almost finished flowering now and there is a pleasant sound of their rattling seedpods whenever they are disturbed.  If you would like to have some seeds for your garden let me know and I will send you some.  The seed capsules are very interesting, having between five and seven pods on each capsule and scattering the seed out in a most satisfying way, lovely black shiny hard seeds which spring up in the most unexpected places.  Some friends have already asked me for seeds and it will be good to make a special illustrated seed packet to package it in.  

There is no guarantee of what colours you will have, these plants cross-pollinate prolifically and so it is a bit of a lucky dip, but very interesting all the same.  You can see from the colour variation in these two flowers how wide the range is, there are some nice bicoloured pink/yellow combinations also.

As we were on our way to the markets recently Mr Shoestring was chewing my ear in the nicest possible way, telling me that we really should stop buying unnecessary things for Shoestring Cottage now and that we had enough old curiosities to last us for a very long time.  Of course I agreed and nodded and made all the right noises.  Lo and behold, as soon as we got into the market Mr Shoestring spotted two cocktail shakers which he just had to have.  He already had one at home, so now with his extra two he has the beginnings of a collection.


I had to have a secret laugh and was thankful that it was Mr Shoestring who saw something irresistible after having delivered a lecture to me.  But of course after that I did see one or two things which I had to have as well.  There was this lovely set of green glass dishes with matching serving bowl – perfect for the vintage Christmas day celebrations we have planned – and another pretty plate for hanging out in the garden. 

After my mini-lecture from Mr Shoestring I thought this cup and saucer was very appropriate, and sincerely hope he appreciated it when I presented him with it. 

The latest find in the search for landscape masterpieces (!) is this charming one which makes me think the painter set out her palette and was determined to use every shade of blue and green it contained - and what a marvellous job she did of it!  I have to admit this was very expensive - it set me back $15!

But I just had to have it, I have had a drought of paintings in recent months and was beginning to suspect somebody was competing against me in the market so had to snap this little masterpiece up.

We are planning a vintage themed Christmas this year and this tablecloth should look perfect if we hang up lots of paper lanterns to complement it.

Just a couple more pieces of china to add to the collection - Mr Shoestring could hardly complain after the cocktail shaker incident. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Last week I was scratching through a drawer searching in vain for something very important – something so important that I can’t recall for the life of me what it was, now.  But I did unearth a cache of lovely old postcards.  My favouriteis this one with a clock on it where the sender drew in the time they were expecting to meet the recipient. 

How strange it seems that such lengths had to be gone to in order to arrange a meeting!  We would just email, text or call on our mobile phone if we needed to do that.  And how many clues about the life of the sender we can glean from the message on the back, but more questions are posed than are answered.  It offers a fascinating chance to speculate about the sender and his/her life.  I love the way she (because I am convinced we have a "she" here) had problems with her fountain pen and quite a big blob of ink has made a bit of a mess. 

It seems as though the writer of the message must have been a travelling performer, who was appearing in Thames and coming to Auckland for the a new show.  The fact that she travelled to Auckland by sea rather than road seems surprising to us now but presumably sea travel was faster than going by road, so this must have been quite some time ago.  Then there is the idea that she was bringing one of her company home with her to stay with her family.  Was she a black sheep and slightly raffish of reputation if she performed on stage?  Or was she the shining star of the family, of whom they were all very proud and possibly dropped her name casually into conversation because of her fame?  Thames is quite near to Shoestring Cottage and we sometimes go there – its main claim to fame now is that it has the longest straight stretch main street in the country at 1600 metres but at one time after the gold rush in the 1870s it was a thriving and prosperous town and still is very picturesque and retains a lot of its quaint old Victorian buildings. 

To go by sea to Auckland and come ashore at the ferry buildings (still at the port and near where I live in Auckland central) seems so romantic and leisurely.  I see that the postcard is addressed to 43 Boston Road in Auckland, which is not far out of the CBD but I think there is no longer a house there, the area is mainly shops and commercial premises.  Next time I am going that way I must remember to have a look and see if by some remote chance the house is still standing.  As for the Tivoli Theatre, it was in Karangahape Road (still a slightly “edgy” part of town and always raffish), opened in 1913 and closed in 1977.  It was demolished in 1980 and the Sheraton Hotel development is now on the site. 

I suppose looking back and speculating about the life of somebody who lived in the past always allows us to put a rosy glow on things, but from this distance it looks fascinating anyway and probably it is better not to know the full story, but to be able to imagine one of your own. 

Now usually gardeners say, “I wish you could have seen the garden last week, it was a picture!” but for once I am not in this group, I find myself thinking that I can hardly wait for next week because so many blossoms are ready to open and there are one or two things bursting through the earth which I can’t identify (though I am sure I must have planted them at some stage).
 This rose was already in the garden at Shoestring when we moved in.  I think it is Compassion.  It has a beautiful form with very reflexed outer petals, and a good scent too. 
 Another rose I haven't identified as yet - any ideas?
 One more mystery rose which has appreciated compost and coffee grounds, has returned to life and is romping along the front fence now
 I love these "pinks" which were so often depicted in Elizabethan embroidery.  The scent is so strong and the markings intricate and fascinating
This colour combination is accidental but perfect all the same.  Such intense colours together epitomize spring time in the garden - they almost make your eyes water.

Yet another iris has opened this week and once again it is a different one, excellent!  This one has more subtle and soft shades than the first two and I fear it may be in for an upheaval and a move once it has finished flowering as I suspect it could do even better in a sunny spot – I just have to find a rare piece of earth with no close neighbours to provide strong competition. 

No painting this weekend, for once we had a rest and even went for a soak in a private spa pool on Saturday night, what luxury.  We will have to get back into the swing of things soon or we could lose interest in painting altogether – after all it’s not the most enjoyable of pastimes but the end results are worthwhile. 

The bounty of the season isn’t confined to Shoestring – look at these strawberries growing on the balcony at our apartment high in the sky!  Not really enough for a feast but a little taste all the same.  Luckily the birds show no interest in them, city birds more interested in bread than berries.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Labouring Through Labour Weekend

Labour Day in New Zealand celebrates the gaining of an eight hour working day and many clever people take advantage of the extra day’s holiday and go away for a long weekend.  Not Mr Shoestring and me though, oh no!  We celebrated the true meaning of “labour” by painting another room at Shoestring Cottage over the long weekend, and what a mission it was (once again).  I donned my white Little Gem disposable coveralls (complete with hood) and felt like The Michelin Man as I bobbled around the place preparing to paint and then actually painting.  It turned out to be very fortunate that I had a hood because as Mr Shoestring painted the ceiling I could feel blobs of paint plopping down onto me from time to time – uncanny how he had the ability to be painting just above where I was painting!  Naturally the weather turned sour as soon as the paint can lid came off, so that the drying speed was glacial and we eventually had to turn on the heater, which made things even more uncomfortable.  I can report that I was very happy to eventually toss my Little Gem overalls into the rubbish at the end of the weekend.  White was the colour of choice once again and I can’t really say much more about it than that it looks white, and we are pleased with the end result even if it did take a lot of time and effort.

Luckily I had gone out into the garden before the weather really turned to custard.  I can’t understand why the birds will only go into their homely old bird house from last year and not the more attractive one with the sloping roof made by Mr Shoestring to improve their comfort.  They are still using their old flat topped "art deco" style one though and raising a large brood of nestlings from what I can gather. 

Now be honest, don't you think the one on the right is more attractive?

After being so pleased with the more homely clematis plants last week I had to splash out and buy these two beauties, and planted them near trees so that they will hopefully in years to come climb into the tops and festoon the canopy with flowers – doesn’t that sound picturesque?  The trick is not to plant them too close to the chosen tree though, or they will be starved of water and nourishment, so you have to endure them looking a little but ungainly at first as they bridge the gap between their spot and the tree you want them to climb through.

This exotic minx is named Ramona

All ready to frolic up the trunk of a kauri tree (fingers crossed)

A slightly pedestrian name I thought - "Bees' Delight" - but it must be very difficult to keep coming up with thrilling new names, a bit like naming paints or lipsticks

She coordinates quite well with the aquilegias and cinerarias but you can see the awkward looking stakes she has to negotiate in order to make her way onto the tree trunk

Another iris has is blooming this week and it was a relief to find it is different to the first one.  After they led such a peripatetic early life, and were constantly wrenched out of the earth as I thought of better places for them to be planted I worried that perhaps instead of having a wide variety of plants they would all end up being just one tough iris which was able to withstand my attentions.  So far so good and with more buds ready to break it will be interesting to find out what else is in store. 

The wind and rain were so powerful that the bees seemed to be exhausted and rested wherever they happened to fall

 The latest star

Inspecting the strawberry plants (which I have moved also, there is never a moment’s peace for the inmates of my garden world), I was surprised to find the leaves all lacy and holey.  Closer inspection revealed attractive bronze metallic backed beetles.  I don’t know what they are, but they are quite pretty.  Hopefully they will only feast on the leaves and not on the actual berries as they ripen because so far there seems to be a fair crop coming on. 

Perhaps I was suffering cabin fever after a weekend locked up with my paintbrush and roller (or maybe it was the fumes), but when I came home after work on Tuesday night I spied a fabulous pair of old kauri chairs in the second hand shop just round the corner and something came over me - I just had to have them.  What a bargain!  Can't you just see them with lovely needlepoint seats?  What a pity it takes so long to complete just one but it is always good to have a project.  Do you think the nylon leopard skin covers on the seats may have put a few people off?

And this birdy plate had to fly home with me too.  The man in the second hand shop is my new BFF, he starts laughing and rubbing his hands together when he sees me approach, I wonder why?

Ah bless the little darling!  You can't see it in this photo, but he has a very twinkly little eye!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Complete Rebuild

After the disaster with dressmaking last weekend it was quite a good thing that we had an “extreme weather event” on Saturday – that way there was no possibility of making excuses and dashing out into the garden - one just had to press on with the disastrous dress.  I never did fathom out just how I went so badly wrong first time round, but suffice it to say that a completely new bodice and skirt were needed.  The end result was fine but having made that pattern too many times to count, it is a mystery that it all went so badly wrong.  It may be time to retire this pattern and make something else. 

On Saturday night we had an outing with La Biblioth√©caire and her spouse, plus Mr and Mrs Peaceable, to take in the delights of Four Flat Whites In Italy performed by the local players.  How I do admire the people who are so brave as to step blithely onto the stage and show no fear!  I don’t know how they do it and I am afraid I probably sat with my mouth slightly ajar as I contemplated their antics and at the final scene I had a little tear in my eye which I had to surreptitiously wipe away before the lights came up.  Everything was so charming, even the set was enchanting!

Sunday brought slightly better weather but there were still a lot of sudden cloudbursts which meant lots of dashing indoors when the rain bucketed down.  I had been thrilled to find at Le Maison Rouge (emporium with lots of cut price articles and not much usually in the way of exotic botanicals) some tubers of the Gloriosa lily which I had long admired in fabulous glossy gardening books and magazines but never expected to find.  I bought three tubers, knowing my propensity to slash bulbs with my trowel and the ridiculously high expectations I have for plants to survive without any attention having paid to their basic likes and dislikes at planting time.  So here is the photo from the packet, it may be the last time I ever see any sign of the Gloriosa lily at Shoestring Cottage but in order to be any kind of gardener I suppose one must be an optimist.  

The planting directions imply that there will be masses of blossoms from each tuber.  The “lily” is not really a lily as such, it climbs and clambers and needs support and hails from tropical and Southern Asia.  It has a wonderful exotic look and I hope that one of my three tubers will survive and maybe even bear a few blooms. 

Speaking of surviving I was astonished to see this iris bloom in the garden on Sunday.  

The poor rhizome had led a peripatetic existence because when I went through a short lived love affair with irises last year and bought a wide variety of them from a lovely lady at a flea market (she seemed to live in a house bus, how romantic!), I could never find an appropriate home for them, and no sooner were they planted and putting down the odd tentative root or two than I would wrench them from the earth and move them.  Consequently they gradually were losing vigour and looking rather sad.  Finally I decided on a place which seemed as if it might just get enough sunlight and left some there, and this one has rewarded me with this most beautiful flower.  Sometimes our optimism is rewarded in the garden.  Also this week I was thankful that for the first time ever a lily of the valley has lasted more than one season in my garden, and that the Solomon’s Seal has likewise survived and blossomed.

  It must be just a bit colder and moister in the Waikato

The weed of the week would have to be Shepherd’s Purse.  I spent a long time wrestling with this little blighter on Sunday and remembered what somebody had told me about its picturesque name, which made things a bit easier.  Apparently shepherds used to only be paid annually and most of the time lived a very isolated and lonely existence so of course when they were paid they went to town and spent their money very quickly (and no doubt not very wisely).  The name “shepherd’s purse” equates to the explosion of seeds which you experience when you are weeding if you have left it too late and the seeds have already formed and “set”.  It is quite amazing to see the way they burst all around the plant at the lightest touch.  I did a bit of research after hearing this explanation for the name and was downhearted to read that there are 10 – 12 seeds per capsule and 4,500 seeds per plant!  Even worse, they remain viable for more than 35 years!  No wonder I feel as if I am not winning the battle here!  Next year I will have to be super-vigilant and not let a single one get anywhere near the stage of setting seed.  

An innocuous and insignificant flower - who would guess it was so powerful and all-conquering?
The wicked seedpods which cause the seeds to explode all over the earth

I had to put in a couple of clematis also - the white one is supposed to be gloriously scented but I can't detect even a whiff!  

I have been trying to encourage seedlings to come up in all the little nooks and crannies in the garden but somehow I doubt they will succeed in choking out the weeds.  Nice thought though.  

Even the herbs look good in springtime - the sage is flowering its heart out!