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 BibliothĂ©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!



Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mr Shoestring Cuts A Rug


The annual Cruise In for vintage cars came to town this weekend, so our little township was alive with hundreds of out of towners with their beautiful old cars.  This is the time when we like to stroll around with a proprietorial air quietly discussing which one would be ours if we had the means to purchase such a delightful accessory for our art deco weekends.  We had a chance to meet up with Mr and Mrs Mustang and also some new chums, who were friends of theirs.  We all sallied forth to our favourite cafĂ©, Banco, where we had a delicious meal (and one or two libations it has to be admitted).

That night Mr Shoestring was keen to go to see Mr Tony Hamilton, the singer/impersonator who was “being” Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly.  What a great time we had dancing, though I have to admit even wearing my most comfortable dancing shoes I could feel the effects afterwards.  One is not quite so young as one once was, and though the spirit is willing the body occasionally protests.   It was worth having a few sore toes though, and Mr Shoestring hardly sat down all night which was very gratifying as he has been known to experience stage fright when public dancing is called for, and to seize up and refuse to take to the floor.  For some reason this time he was on top form and there was no holding him back, how unpredictable men are!

The battle with the young cock blackbird continued unabated and the car was once again covered with guano on both sides.  Poor Mr Shoestring has more or less given up the fight now, but he was gratified to notice that Mr B Bird has turned his attention even further afield, and that the neighbour’s car was also lavishly decorated with bird droppings, so at least poor Mr Shoestring has not been the recipient of the attacks by Mr B Bird.  

On Sunday I was in a tearing hurry to finish yet another summer dress but I am afraid I met my nemesis, having become too complacent about my abilities.  It seems that I cut out one piece of fabric incorrectly and did not discover my mistake until the dress was nearly completed, hence had to unpick the seam and overlocking on said piece.  Somehow I unpicked the wrong piece, then when I was attempting to unpick the right one got so impatient that I attempted to tear the seam apart.  You guessed it, I have ripped the fabric and now will have to make not only another bodice but also another skirt piece.  Aaaaargh!  In the end it had to be left for another time, I knew that I had run out of time and that if I continued on there would be more disasters.  Thank heavens I have a bit of extra fabric, I only hope it will be enough to recreate the ruined pieces.  This is what happens from thinking that just because you have made a pattern up several times you can do it with your brain switched off, I suppose.

The ill fated dress fabric which now has a nasty tear in one place
The "stamp" fabric which was such a success last weekend

In the garden everything was looking lovely and it was one of those rare days when most things met with my approval and I felt very satisfied.  Such is the season that there were roses and camellias blooming at the same time.
Red rose in the foreground, camellia in the background - hardly able to tell them apart

 This old fashioned pansy took my eye as the prettiest one I have grown in a long time. 

  The cobra head lily was blooming and looking strangely evil but fascinating nevertheless.

I think this cobra head lily is Arisaema Ringens which comes from Japan, but I am not entirely sure.  Apart from the flower the trilobed leaves are very attractive and do not seem to attract slugs in the same way the hostas do.
Holey hosta leaves - can never defeat the slugs entirely!
 Most of the hostas have their leaves out now and they are bulking up and spreading this year.  

Now that I have come to accept the aquilegias I notice what a wide range of shades of pinks they have.  Sadly I don't seem to have any of the blues, and I know that if you plant them you need to pick them before they set seed to prevent them from all crossing together and making unwanted shades.  One of our visitors in the weekend was very taken with them, remembering them from her grandmother's garden, and I offered her some seeds once they have set and dried.  (I refrained from telling her that according to ancient herbal lore a powder made from the dried seeds is supposed to be a very effective cure for lice - I thought she might take it the wrong way, somehow.)  



Monday, October 1, 2012

A Victory for the Wildlings


When I started gardening at Shoestring Cottage I must have been determined to put my own stamp on the tiny garden.  There would be no forget-me-nots, no wild cinerarias and no lunaria (AKA honesty), no siree!  For the first season I was vigilant and managed to remove most of the offenders, but this year I fear standards have slipped and last weekend there were forget-me-nots, honesty and cinerarias blossoming everywhere and I was pleased to see them.  Next year I will really try to remove the forget-me-nots (as seen above) because their horrible "biddy-bid" seeds cling to your clothes and hair and seem impossible to remove, but as for the aquilegia or columbine, they have such beautiful soft shades and their petals are translucent and very attractive.


The cinerarias I always despised because of their prolific habits, but what a beautiful selection of shades "blue" can encompass.





Some of the plants are eye wateringly intense in colour - the only problem is that you don't want to pick them and take them indoors because they do have a horrible pong.

The strangest thing happened this weekend at Shoestring HQ.  Mr Shoestring came racing inside (I was toiling away over a hot sewing machine, completing my latest summer dress) and said, "Come and look at this, some bird has s*&^ all over the sides of the car!"  Indeed it was true, on closer inspection both front doors were liberally festooned with what was obviously guano.  Mr Shoestring loves his automobile and immediately washed the offending matter from the sides of his vehicle.  Within a short space of time it had reappeared, so the washing was repeated.  Soon it became obvious (after some furtive spying) that the culprit was the handsome juvenile blackbird who had so proudly created a nest in the ivy on the walls.  He was looking at himself in the side mirrors of the car and convinced that he was his own worst enemy, an invader trying to take over his territory!  Poor Mr Shoestring folded in his side mirrors and still the attacks continued.  The wretched bird did not cease and desist until the sun went down but early the next morning (as soon as the sun was rising in fact) I could hear the slow and deliberate tap-tap-tapping of its beak on the mirrors of the car.  The car was moved (blackbirds being very territorial, perhaps we could take the car out of the territory) but the assaults continued.  Mr Shoestring is thinking of taking or making two large black socks to cover the side mirrors of his beloved car.  I hope it proves successful because obviously what this young blackbird lacks in grey matter, he more than makes up for in stamina and persistence!

"I'll kill you, you will be sorry you ever flew into my territory, you wretched creature!  Take that."

Taking a brief moment to draw breath in between attacks.

Now, getting back to all things Shoestring (i.e., frugal) and away from things avian (which seem to be an ever-increasing preoccupation), here are a few ways to use up the little nubbins of cheese we find left in our Kelvinators.  We love our cheeses in EnZed, but they are quite expensive and if we are trying to conserve our funds we really need to make the most of them.  At SC HQ we find we have various bits and bobs left from week to week and here are some ideas to use them up:  

Cheese, Ham and Mushroom Turnovers

Onion and Cheese Nubbin Tart

I will post the recipes at the side so you can "have a go" and see what you think of these ways to use up the odds and ends from your cheese buying sorties.   

On the other hand, the spring time does make one feel as though one's sap is rising and one wishes to push out the boat slightly.  And on that note, I think I first sampled the delights of Pea and Haloumi
Fritters at Monarch Cafe in Wellington with The Dancing Queen.  I have checked their menu and this dish doesn't feature, so I may be mistaken, but here is my version and if you are partial to a salty firm cheese such as feta I think you will find Haloumi delish.  It is good because it grills well and keeps its "body" so if you are a cheese lover you should give it a try.