Monday, March 26, 2012

Fashionable Plants - And Those Also Rans

Recently when Madame La Poste was visiting she admired a plant in the garden, which surprised me mightily.  It was this “shrimp plant” as I have always heard it referred to, and I immediately responded by saying, “Take it, you’re welcome to it.  I can’t stand it!”  Madame La Poste explained that she always thought of it as being a particularly Victorian or Edwardian plant and that it may have been one of those plants brought home by intrepid plant hunters.  Though it became a little bit more interesting to me, it is still not one of my favourites but last weekend yet another visitor to the garden was observed actually fondling the flowers, which made me realise that indeed there is no accounting for taste!


This started me thinking about the strange fashions which plants are victims of as much as anything else we have in our homes and gardens.  I recently bought this aspidistra plant for the sum of $2 at a local market. 

It has happily remained in its plastic bag waiting to be potted up, with never a complaint or a sulk.  No languishing like a Victorian heroine here, thank you very much!  Rather a stoical disregard for unfavourable conditions.  Aspidistras were a cliché of Victorian parlours, I suspect chiefly because of their ability to cling on to life despite neglect and having to live in dark and dusty corners.  But now they are hopelessly out of fashion and the person who sold me mine for $2 obviously could hardly give them away.  What a shame, because with their strappy leaves and longsuffering nature they are a very pleasant indoor plant to have around.  Also remember such old indoor favourites as “mother-in-law’s tongue” (both variegated and plain) and philodendron (Swiss cheese plant as it was then called).  I wonder if they are in danger of becoming extinct now that few people like them and there is no space for them in our homes?

Then there is the "chain of hearts", a lovely hanging indoor house plant which was ubiquitous when I was growing up.  It is rarely seen now and it was hard to locate one when I had a sudden longing for one.  I managed to secure a plant from my mum, but never see them for sale anywhere. 

Sometimes there are plants which don’t gain the attention and popularity they deserve, either.  One plant which I believe should be a lot more popular is what we call the “Pea Plant”, for obvious reasons.  I have never heard its correct name or seen it for sale, it is another one of those under appreciated specimens which you only ever acquire by begging a piece from a friend or relative.  (Once again, this one came via my mum.)  It will happily look after itself and is not particular as to temperature or location, but it does reward you if you place it in a nice bright window sill. 

Whole tides of gardening fads have washed over us by in recent decades from the overblown cottage garden obsession of the 80s (still a firm favourite with me, I am ashamed to admit) through the subtropical 90s to the minimalist cacti and succulent trends of the early 2000s.  It is all fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable while we live through these fashions, but sometimes I feel for all the casualties, poor specimens which are tossed aside when the garden is full and another “must have” new plant comes on the scene.  Sometimes oldies are goldies too.   

And then there are the plants which come highly recommended by all and sundry and turn out to be thugs and bullies in our gardens.  I have a book on the flower arranger's garden but I was horrified to see that this plant was selected as a "must have" and a treasure in any garden.  I beg to differ!  In every garden I have ever possessed the plant below is a noxious pest which pops up in every corner, in every season, and always amongst delicate treasures which will be irreparably damaged if the trowel is plunged in to remove the offender.  I don't have a very good photo of it in fact, because I had just spent a prolonged period of time trying to remove it when I realised I wanted to show it to you, so you can be on your guard.  This was the last remaining specimen but you can be sure there will be plenty more by next weekend.  

Here is another example of the kind of escapee which makes our garden endeavours so challenging.  When we bought Shoestring Cottage one of the borders was completely infested by these "spider plants", which were a big hit in the 1970s.  Well do I remember them hanging in macrame holders, do you remember those?  Somebody must have "released" their unwanted plants into the garden, because the roots are like a thick fibrous mat just under the soil in places.  I have tried to dig out as many as possible, and placed a couple in pots as a memento - it seems cruel to destroy them all.  

I think this is the last rose of the season and I suspect it is Compassion, though I am not completely certain.  It is very vigorous and ignores the lack of care and spraying and blossoms away thanklessly from earliest spring to the very end of summer.
The acorn buttons I made last weekend are looking quite realistic with their paint on them.  There a few places where they need a bit more attention, but on the whole I am pleased with them.  They have little holes through them so they can be used as buttons.  I have moved onto crabapples, which hopefully will dry enough this week to be painted next weekend.  The possibilities are endless in Autumn!
And speaking of Autumn, we went for an even longer ride along the rail trail this weekend.  We spotted these barberry fruits (none of the blackberries were quite ripe yet) and research has shown that they are in fact edible - much to my surprise, they certainly taste poisonous in their unripened state).  When they have ripened we will try to harvest some and make something out of them - nothing very impressive, I fear because they certainly have a reputation as being somewhat unpalatable.
There had been a lot of rain during the week and some pasture was flooded, giving the effect of a lake.  The swallows were swooping over the surface of the water for insects and the birds were all around.  (Though I must admit that the flock of spur winged plovers was making a horrible shrill cry and I can understand now why my friend hates them so much.)

While we were out on our bike ride a lovely doyley mysteriously appeared on the front porch.  I know it must have been left there by Madame La Poste, and isn't it beautiful?  I can see that with this addition to the swallow doyley collection there must be a project in store for them - but just what, exactly, will it be?
And last but not least I have to share with you the present daughter number three gave me this week.  She knows how much I want a cat (as do we all in our apartment), but for the time being it is impossible.  So we have a cat doorstop instead, not quite the same but a good substitute nevertheless.  

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cycling Along The Rail Trail

In New Zealand we have a number of disused rail corridors which are slowly being converted to cycling trails.  The local one at Shoestring Cottage is near completion and on Sunday Mr Shoestring and I set off for our inaugural outing.  I would like to report that it was a completely happy experience but to be honest I have to admit that it was (for me) terrifying to begin with.  Having never owned a bicycle as a child and being new to cycling I refused to cycle on the road to the beginning of the track, looking like a complete ninnyhammer by walking my bike to the place where the trail started.  In fact I urged Mr Shoestring to go on ahead, having vaguely formulated the sneaky idea that I could perhaps turn tail and go home once he was out of sight.  Mr Shoestring was too clever for me though and insisted on staying by my side. 

Once we got to the beginning of the trail I noticed very little of the surrounding countryside to begin with because I was concentrating so hard on negotiating the terrain.  I gripped onto the handlebars as though liable to lose control at any moment and the only thing I noticed was the varying grades of stones used for the surface of the track.  Mr Shoestring cycled along behind me, calling out helpful instructions which seemed impossibly ambitious to me.  He urged me to try veering from side to side, using my weight to change direction.  Then he wanted me to attempt all kinds of complicated manouvres involving the gears, and to mount by jauntily swinging one leg over the bike’s frame while wheeling along.  I think not!  I could happily change the gears on the right hand side but those on the left seemed to me to have seized up, so I was unable to oblige. 

Who would have thought riding a bike was such a complicated, nay, dangerous, undertaking?  I will never say, “It’s as easy as riding a bike” to anybody.  There were a number of bridges and cattle stops, and I cautiously dismounted at each of these.  Eventually I plucked up enough confidence to cycle up and over one bridge – not too bad!  When I came to the next bridge I smashed my bike into the railings at the side and bent the handlebars.  Mr Shoestring was very cleverly able to twist them back into shape for me and on we went.

Eventually the going became more enjoyable and I was able to look around me.  What pretty farmland we were passing through.  All the blackberries were fruiting (not quite late enough in the season to harvest any as yet, but maybe next weekend).  In some places garden plants had escaped and dahlias and the dreaded purple convolvulus made a beautiful show.  There was a kind of wild sweet pea clambering all along the sides of the trail in places too.  

A rabbit went hurtling past us and kept on the track for a long way ahead instead of diving off into the surrounding bush for cover.  Its scut made a flashing signal visible from a long distance off.  A hen pheasant went dashing along the path up ahead too, but she had more sense and left the trail and took cover quickly.  I noticed some spur winged plovers which made me remember the first time I had seen them.  I asked a farming friend about them and he exclaimed, “Oh, those horrible things!”  (In fact he used words much stronger than that but I had better not repeat them.)  He seemed to utterly loathe and abominate them, and when I asked why, he could think of no reason apart from the fact that they fly at night time and utter a raucous cry.  I still can’t fathom out quite what had caused his intense feelings towards them, but it still makes me smile when I remember it. 

We must have covered 20km altogether according to Mr Shoestring’s calculations and by the time we got home I was able to conquer my fear and cycle on the road, confidently making plans to travel a bit further next time.  After sitting down with a cup of tea we both could feel the effects of sitting in the saddle for quite a while and knew we were in for a fair bit of training before we would be doing the entire length of the trail.  We have learnt that the trail may be extended in the opposite direction also so we have plenty to look forward to. 

On Saturday we did a little bit of marketing and Mr Shoestring discovered these folios of Modern Masterpieces of British Art, published in 1932, each with eight lovely prints on linen finish paper.  ($2.50 each, acceptable even under our present reduced circumstances.)  We loved the fact that they contained so many pastoral and melodramatic story telling scenes.  (Lots of shipwrecks and tragic events unfolding.)  They insist on the covers that they will be completed in not more than 24 fortnightly parts, as though there could not possibly be more than 192 modern masterpieces of British art.  They could come in handy for framing at Shoestring Cottage if the walls don’t collapse under the weight of what we already have there. 

I found this very pretty embroidered tablecloth in mint condition, obviously somebody's treasure which had been put away for "best" and never used.  How sad but it will definitely be having an outing or two now, so all was not wasted.  

The Jerusalem artichokes are finally flowering, reaching for the sky and no doubt under the ground they will be romping away and continuing on their campaign for world domination.  If I don't dig up every single one I know there will still be more there next year, they are so rampant and vigorous!
Autumn is on its way and soon we will be needing to bring out the quilts, the weather has turned horribly windy and wet but at least it isn't too cold yet.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Changing Seasons

Down at the wetlands the autumn fruits are formed and the walnuts are dropping all over the footpaths.  Mr Shoestring and I took some home to see whether they were palatable, and were surprised to find delicious walnuts inside.  We looked up some recipes using fresh walnuts so next week we will have to try some.  They are very difficult to open though, we resorted to manoeuvres with a hammer outdoors because I was frightened the kitchen bench top was going to be irreparably damaged.

As well as a selection of walnuts we brought home a few acorns, which fascinate every year with their beautiful smooth skins and varied shades.  When our daughter came to visit she and I spent a happy time making models of acorns which we hope to turn into buttons.  First of all the modelling clay has to dry and set, then we will paint them.  We made holes through the centre with skewers so as to be able to attach them.

With thoughts turning towards autumn and fruits I had set my heart on a crabapple tree and also a fig for the garden at Shoestring.  Mrs Peaceable has a wonderful venerable crabapple and at this time of year the fruits glow as though there were tiny lanterns inside them.

We set off for the local market on Saturday morning but of course there were no figs or crabapples for sale.  Instead we came home with a cranberry and three vireya rhododendrons, and also a camellia of the sort you can make green tea with.  (Apparently it is also the sort normal tea is made from, but the process of smoking too convoluted to be managed by amateurs so we will content ourselves with drying the leaves and making green tea, very interesting it will be too.  I am sure Mr Shoestring will manage to force down a couple of cups before the novelty wears off and we return to Earl Grey.)

But the most thrilling things at the market this weekend were definitely these:

I thought this was a greyhound but Madame La Poste called round and assures me it is a saluki.  Whatever breed of dog it is, it is charming.

But I was most excited to find this wire haired fox terrier.  I have wanted one for years and this one has such a bright eye and intelligent expression!  When first I spied it on the table I was convinced somebody else would get there first, (shades of last week's art deco mirror all over again), but for some reason nobody displayed the slightest interest and I was able to snaffle it up for the princely sum of $3.  Now I realise there is another collection starting though:

I had better call a halt and keep well away from them in future.

A few months ago we were given a cutting of a brugmansia, and this week it has had its first flowers.  They are the softest shade of pink and have a delicious light lemony scent.  Because they are frost tender we have grown them in a large pot and will put them in a sheltered spot for the winter.  Apparently if they are hit by a frost they will recover, though.

Though the season is coming to an end there are still quite a few things blossoming, especially begonias and the last few roses.  The Jerusalem artichokes are obstinately refusing to open their buds, though my mum's ones are blossoming away madly.  I want to dig them up and check the crop of tubers but suspect you are supposed to wait until the blooms have finished, wretched things!

These are all treasures from the market or the op shop this week.  The cream and green enamelled jug  is perfect for watering the plants on the front porch.  The lady who sold it to me was astonished that anybody would want such a thing and said there had been a little bit of an argument over whether or not to put it out for sale.  They nearly threw it away!  One woman's junk is another woman's treasure, indeed.

My next crazy quilt is going to have a "second hand rose" theme, and a happy time was had putting together some new squares all ready to start stitching on.  But first things first, I really must finish the one I am already working on.  Each time I make a few more squares the sewing room looks as though there has been a tornado and there are scraps of silk all over the ironing board and cascading down onto the floor, it really is a most uncivilised hobby.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Scary Times

Sad to relate, after sixteen and a half years Mr Shoestring has been faced with the horrible "R" word and so we have had a rather fraught week of it.  (I assumed everybody would immediately comprehend the meaning of the "R" word - what it means is the dreaded "redundancy".)  We are making vague plans but until we find out what job prospects are, there is not a lot to be done.

 As if to compound our woes the weather gods looked up their annual calendar for New Zealand and decided that since it was March, that meant the commencement of ferocious wind and torrential rain and a cessation of sunshine, so Saturday was a day when nothing could be accomplished in the garden.  Luckily by Sunday they had changed their minds and we were back to sunshine and we had a chance to potter a bit before it was time to return to The Big Smoke.  Surprisingly after a battering from gale force winds there were still quite a few things flowering in the garden.  A dear friend from the south had couriered me a parcel of her special geranium cuttings and I was able to plant them before they had been too long out of the earth.  Actually they looked surprisingly happy, she had cleverly provided them with plenty of water and I think we should have quite a high "strike" rate.

 Gardenias still blossoming their hearts out

 All the fuchsias have enjoyed the wet summer

Yuck - dahlias were never my favourite but any blossoms welcome after the storm

We were able to pick lettuce, tomatoes, basil, spinach and silver beet.  The Jerusalem artichokes had mostly withstood the buffeting, only one had to be tied to the fence to stop it flopping its flower buds on the ground.  It must be nearly time to harvest these little beauties and I have found a new recipe for making a puree with the tubers, so that it may be frozen and defrosted later on for soups and other earthy delicacies.  This year we will be more careful, bearing in mind Mr Shoestring's past experiences with the windy properties Jerusalem artichokes undoubtedly have.  He will only be allowed one serving per meal.

To cheer Mr Shoestring Bobby gave him his very own magnificent vintage leather suitcase.

It has bravely ventured across the Cook Strait on the inter-island ferry!  Whenever we watch deco-themed movies it is interesting to see weekend visitors to country homes arrive in their little MGs with wire luggage racks, leap out and jauntily swing their leather suitcase off the back.  What has only recently occurred to me though is how little these leather suitcases actually hold.  By the time you had put your toothbrush and a clean pair of undies into them there would be precious little space left for an evening dress, tennis outfit or even a couple of pairs of shoes.  No wonder packing was such a highly regarded art in those times.  And the weight of the suitcase even without anything inside it is something to amaze!  No wonder people were so fit, heaving your suitcase to your destination would be equivalent to a session in the gym with weights.  Slightly different to the way we pack up when we return from art deco weekend, hastily tossing discarded costumes into one of those hideous PVC stripy bags and hoping the zip will hold and not burst open!  Mr Shoestring already had his very own Gladstone bag (also kindly given to him by Bobby).  I have it on good authority that men actually used to transport flagons of beer around in these bags, rather than their lunches packed in greaseproof paper, and the tools of their trades as I had always fondly imagined.  Here is the Gladstone bag and according to its original label it was owned by one H A Finney of Sidlaw Street, Wellington.  It too has its fair share of stickers to document its travels.

Though the weather was ghastly on Saturday we braved the elements and went to a church garage sale - they are always the cheapest - and since we need to be even more Shoestringy than usual we gave ourselves very strict budget.  We found three unusual brass butterflies to adorn trees in the back garden - 20 cents apiece - and a mirror with a pastoral scene of a farmer with his sheep - 50 cents.  I was very disappointed that I was pipped at the post by a man who made a dash for a gorgeous art deco mirror complete with attached vase made out of mirror but c'est la vie, the butterflies and mirror were enough of a thrill and only set us back a little over a dollar.

I am rather worried that the farmer (you can just seen him on the path on the bottom left, his sheep are trotting obediently along behind him) has no sheep dog to assist him.  We all know that sheep while they may be a little on the silly side, are not so bereft of sense that they would just follow along behind a person.  In fact having mustered sheep myself I can attest to the fact that they are very obstinate and unlikely to do any such thing.