Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Summer Beach Walk . .

A beach path through the sand dunes, leading down to the wide open east coast beach - a scene etched in most New Zealander`s minds - the hot sand that has to be run and hoped quickly over, wild native grasses and` bunny tails` to be picked, brought home to sit in a glass to remind us of our holiday, along with the bag of smelly shells still with their inhabitants in - but after washing them out, if you listen carefully with the shell to your ear, you will hear the ocean, swishing in onto the sand . . .

 A man and his dog . . .  My son Cameron with Bella - both love this beach with a passion. Cameron surfs every day if he can, Bella runs and runs, chasing seagulls and shadows. Cameron, with his family, lives a couple of blocks back from the beach, he reckons by the time he is 40, they will be living on the beach ! 

 Looking back along the beach towards the Maunga (Mt Manganui) with the distant Kaimai ranges in a blue haze - these are the ranges I have to travel over from my lush Waikato valley to the east coast - this long range of hills are like a spine down the side of the North Island, starting in the Coromandel, running right through, separated by narrow valleys and with a different name as they spread.
I must admit, I do have a stronger `pull` to the west coast of NZ, it is wilder, has black sand mostly, with a strong and distinct feel about it - the east coast is lovely but abit too tame for me. I love the wind and crashing waves of the west coast - might be something to do with all the iron in the sand or even my Irish heritage - who knows . . .

Monday, December 27, 2010

Flower Creations . . .

A new sunflower beginning to emerge, all tightly curled and twisted, slowly unfurling to become the beautiful `sun` shaped flower we all recognize - rather lovely I think . . . .

My favorite seat in the Herb Garden down in Hamilton Gardens surrounded by flowering herbs, the tall yellow flowers being Elecampane. also known as Horseheal, Scabwort and wild sunflower. The bright yellow daisy-like flowers (below) attract bees and other pollinating insects, the roots of this plant being used by herbalists to treat stomach ailments in ancient Greek and Roman times, still used by vets to treat skin diseases on animals.

Globe artichoke, one of my favorite structural plants in either the vege or flower garden, the intense blue/purple flowers with the amazing silver leaves, tall and striking in any garden - an acquired taste for the palate.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Little Night Time Reading . . .

My bedside chair is groaning under the weight of Books, National Geographics, Organic Mags, Horticultural bits and pieces, even an Arboriculture Mag which has fascinating articles on all things `trees`, plus my latest bee read, `The Buzz about Bees` by Jurgen Tautz which I can`t wait to have time to start reading, all the reviews I have read about this book have been very positive, informative and enlightening.
Another book that arrived in the mail this month ( I am an absolute push-over for books) is `Natural Beekeeping` by Ross Conrad, an excellent book I have been wanting to have in my `natural beekeeping` library for ages. It is so good to have my thoughts and ideas on natural beekeeping reafirmed by other people who have been practicing this way of keeping bees - there is precious little advice or information here in NZ, I am hoping that will change in the near future - I`m not really holding my breath tho !!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Elderberry Clouds . . .

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) flowers . . . beautifully scented floating clouds above dark green leaves, followed by small dark berries that make delicious wine and jam. I brought a bottle of Elderberry cordial at the Raglan market last Sunday, mixed with soda water it makes the most delicious, refreshing drink.                       
   Herbalists have for generations been aware of the benefits of using elderberry syrup for cough and congestion remedies, herbal teas for relieving sore throats, also used as a mild laxative or diuretic. Evidence of the cultivation of Elderberry has been found at stone-age village sites in Switzerland and Italy. It was also imbued with myth and magic, spirits were said to live in the tree, people refused to cut it down or burn the wood. The leaves were once used in green elder ointment for bruises, sprains, and wounds. 
There is a wealth of folklore attached to this plant, often described as a `complete medical chest` because of its countless therapeutic qualities, one being the use of elderberry water for whitening the skin and removing freckles !

Elderberry is considered a weed here in NZ as are so many other exotic plants introduced over the last 100 yrs. Being a mostly temperate climate and fertile soils, plants get out of control quickly, moving into our native bush and smothering everything.     

Raw elderberries should not be eaten as the seeds contain an un-pleasant tasting, poisonous alkaloid, cooked they are used in jams, sauces, jellies and syrups. Fresh elderberry flower clusters make delicious fritters !  
The old wood is very hard, it was used for making nails for the soles of shoes, the young wood is brittle and soft, often hollowed out to make pipes and musical instruments.    
A tree of many uses, elderberry may be considered a pest, but it is one of my favorite plants.

Friday, December 10, 2010

NZ Bee Plants

The 2 photos above are of our native Manuka  Leptospermum scoparium , a scrubby bush that grows all over the country. Once thought of as a weed by farmers, my father spent many days `scrub cutting`and burning manuka off the steep hills, later sowing  grass seed, it is now considered NZ`s best honey producing plant !! Beekeepers have been known to helicopter hives into very isolated valleys and hillsides to capture the nectar from this flower. Manuka honey is now used in medicine all over the world, pioneered by our own Dr Peter Molan from Waikato University, here in Hamilton. The dark, strong flavored honey is probably the most expensive to buy here in NZ, with most of it exported overseas.       

Native flax Phormium tenax is another widely grown NZ plant that bees love gathering the pollen and nectar from. Birds love it to, even starlings can be seen with a yellow head after dipping in for the treat. Maori used the strong fibrous leaves of flax to weave into clothing, decorative panels, water proof roofing, utensils, just about everything. It was the only plant that was available for them to use in this cool, temperate land, no big animals for skins, just lots of amazing birds that either didn`t fly or hopped through the trees, having no natural predators until man arrived ! Flax also has many excellent medicinal properties, animals will naturally self-medicate with flax leaves if able to access it.
There are a number of hybrid species, with P.cookianum the mountain flax, smaller then P.tenax planted alot in gardens. Many of our NZ native plants can be found growing all over the world these days, I always smile when I see flax or cabbage trees growing in cold countries, sometimes having to be wrapped up for winter !


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bee Banquet in My Garden

My summer garden has plenty of bee flowers - allissium that comes up everywhere, including the cracks in the path, roses, queen anns lace, herbs including sage, borage, comphry,hyssop and lavender . There are citrus also, with their divinely smelling blossom scenting the garden and a rather wide feijoa bush absolutely smothered in flowers,( see previous post) that has been pollinated largely by blackbirds and starlings ! it is the first time I have seen birds all over a fruit tree when in flower, they actually peck at the flowers so hope I get fruit !

The hollyhocks this year are amazing ! Dark and light pink saucer shaped blooms starting from the bottom of the stem, taller then I am and having to be tied back from falling all over the path.
All these plants are self seeded, growing down the edge of the driveway making backing out abit hairy if I don`t want to collect the flowers in my side mirror ! I have noticed the bees seem to favor the lighter coloured flowers, the bumblebees also have a picnic in my garden at the moment, I am going to stagger the planting so there is something flowering till autumn.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Sneak Preview . . .

Tucked away between the Italian garden and gardens yet to be completed, is the Te Parapara Maori garden, an example of pre-European native bush and kumera ( sweet potato) patch. This would have existed here on the banks of the Waikato river before European settlers and millitary arrived in the 1860`s, and driving most of the Maori iwi ( tribe) further south before claiming the land as `theirs` !
The inner section of the garden has been fenced off to the public while pataka ( store houses), more manuka fencing and planting has been completed. Rocks with cultural significance have been carefully placed, plants that would have been grown eg kumera, taro, gourds have been planted - it is stunning ! Maori brought these plants with them from the warmer Pacific islands, not all surviving. Tree berries and birds were the main food sources, with pork and potatoes welcomed after introduction by whalers and early settlers.
The pic above is of the raised store house taken looking through the tall kanuka Palisades that surrounds the entire garden.

One of the many carved faces around the garden, all protective and very important symbols belonging to Tainui, the main tribe from this area.

The small fenced off open-sided building at the entrance to the enclosed area, after walking through a bush path lined with NZ native trees that would have grown here, and many still do - Kanuka, Manuka, ferns, Kumarahoe, Kahikatea, Makomako ( wineberry), Oleria and Renga renga with native clematis and jasmine climbing the punga fencing. This area was planted 2 yrs ago now reaching high and eventually will become a real piece of bush.
Check out this website for more info:

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Our Beautiful Xmas Baby ..

My precious new granddaughter, Mia Ann Maree was born on the 2nd Dec, the second child for my lovely son Cameron and his beautiful wife, Carly. I think this photo sums it all up really - a loving family . . . Jackson (2yrs) loves his `baby sister` and has planted kisses on her head !

Thursday, December 2, 2010

New TopBar Hive Blog




Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pure Sunshine . . .

Wax comb from my TopBar hive - isn`t it the most beautiful creation ? I kept this out of the hive last summer so I can use it in my talks, plus it gives my house a delicious scent.. In the TB hive the comb is made completely by the bees, no head start with foundation sheets that have the size of the cells just a tiny bit bigger, hopefully breeding a bigger bee = more honey ! The bees know what they are doing, they don`t need mans interference or manipulation, which is one of the reasons I am only keeping my bees in a TopBar hive now. I am encouraging others to do the same ! Check out my new blog, where I will be putting my TB beekeeping news and info on. I am also in the process of starting a NZ based group for people keen on using this type of hive for their bees.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sepia Sat - all about sheep !

My Dad, Thomas Brian Meehan dipping sheep on the farm `Patunga` in the late 1950`s. I can clearly remember him doing this smelly job on hot summer days - pushing the sheep under the thick yellow concoction with a hooked pole. My biggest dread was that I might fall in, as it not only smelt bad, but consisted of sulphur and other nasty chemicals - there is Dad, dressed in shorts, socks and boots, no protection at all, not like today . . .

This photo of moi and pet romney lamb ( can`t recall the name) was taken on a kiwi icon event, Calf Club Day, usually in summer at every country school, ( Te Whakarae, now closed down) in 1950`s and still running. I would have been around 8 or 9 so the year would be early 1960`s. he/she was an obedient lamb by the look of things - leading very nicely ! Growing up on a remote sheep and cattle farm through the 50`s and 60`s was an idyllic life for a child, the tiny country school with 2 rooms and husband and wife teachers never had any more then 20 children, so all classes were in the same room. I will dig out a picture of the school, lots of fond memories. . .

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Fruity Flowers. . . .

Two of my favorite quirky fruit flowers, Passionfruit, Passiflora edulis, with beautiful purple tassles and ovaries containing all those seeds ! A native of Brazil, this vine grows really well in NZ, sometimes to well, it can climb and attach with it`s tendrils to just about anything, but the fruit is so worth it - scooped out and piled over icecream, topping on a pavalova - all those kiwi traditions, or just eaten out of the crinkly,purple skin. It is extremely good for you also, has no colestrol, with high amounts of Vitamin A and C, plus potassium. It gets it`s name from Spanish clergymen who thought the flowers resembled religious figures.

I love looking at the intricate flower arrangement, a very inviting landing pad for a bee !

My vine here was only planted last year, has been fairly neglected but has covered the trellis and is searching for more things to cling to ! It is covered in flowers and fruit already - it never ceases to amaze me at how marvelous a miracle it is - from a tiny seed to flower to fruit, all with the help of our honey bees. . . .

A real winter treat in NZ, by the end of the season I am always totaly `feijoa`d out ! Another native plant of South America, Feijoa, Acca sellowiana grows extremely well here. I have 2 small trees which are covered in buds and flowers, the fruit is ready from March onwards and you can`t give them away by June ! Eaten raw, stewed, cakes, muffins, jam, frozen for later - you name it, we do it ! The smell of this fruit is one you never forget, aromatic and strong. My English son-in-law hadn`t seen them before coming here and wasn`t that keen as the fruit is highly scented. This plant makes a great hedge, bees and birds love the flowers (and fruit), another kiwi icon.

Star burst flowers, quite similar at a quick glance to our native Rata and Pohutukawa flowers, they all belong to the same family, Myrtaceae . The thick green leaves with their tomentum covered backs are very much the same as the NZ natives. Great plants to have in a coastal garden as that white c0vering on the leaves protects them from salt spray.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sepia Saturday in Aotearoa . . .

Kia ora fellow sepias` and others, welcome on this spring day to my family. Not an old pic but none the less, a black and white study of my 4 children taken to celebrate my 40th birthday in 1993.
Meg, the eldest dragged her siblings to a friends place to get some shots for Mum ... To make matters worse , she insisted they `look` naked, so bare shoulders it was. Ellena, who was 2yrs old at the time, loved every minute of it, being fussed over by her big sisters and brother. Poor Cameron, he was a tortured 16yr old with a reputation to protect, not into `touchy feely` stuff.

This is one of my favorite photos, Ellena was my late bloom and totally loved by the older ones, in fact, she was a tad spoilt, but thats ok, it didn`t ruin her.

My 2 gorgeous older daughters, Meg, 18 at the time and Pip, 11 yrs - both lovely young women, different as chalk and cheese, wonderful, caring Mothers now - this is one very proud Mum of all 4 - I consider them my biggest achievement - I have been a `single` Mum since Ellena was 3 - who says children from one parent homes miss out, not these ones, I made sure of that !

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Scarecrows in the Vege Garden this week.

A group of scary scarecrows are hanging out in the walled vegetable garden down at the Hamilton Gardens this week. All made by school children and pre-school kidlets, with some families involved also, there was a competition organized by `The Friends of Hamilton Gardens` which saw some very inventive scarecrows ! Below is the line-up of blokes !

Mr and Mrs Bloom were my favorites, colorfully made with old clothes, a mask, pots, all sorts.

I liked this scarecrow also, made from old grape vines, raffia basket, seed pods, all natural bits and pieces. The fact that it is lying on its side added to the `look`.

This is the 3rd year the scarecrow competition has been run in the Gardens, it becomes more successful each year, with quite afew more `figures` adorning the walls this year. People are clever you know, everything used had to be recycled and the creativity was astounding ! The walled garden is the ideal place for these shows, the weather has been perfect - it has certainly brought a smile to the faces of everyone I have seen wandering through the vege patch . . .

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Sepia Saturday

Sepia Saturday again - where has the week gone ?? The pics this week are of my maternal Great grand parents, Dorothy ( driving the huge Clydesdale horses) and Arthur Andrews ( see post acouple of weeks ago), my Grand mother, Phylis Gwendoline ( bottom left) and her young brother Marcus, on top of the hay stack on the wagon with his Dad. This photo was taken around 1923 in their orchard at Greenhithe just north of Auckland. It was in the country in those days, now is a suburb of our biggest city Ak.

-The family are getting their winter supply of hay ready to build into stacks - there is a real art in building them to last the winter, I was talking about it with one of my `old darlings` I care for in my 2nd job recently, he is 94 and full of wonderful stories. He told me how the hay stacks were built, if done properly, the stack would stay up and dry inside through all weather , it was all in the angle of the stacking, important not to `over stack` the bundles - very hot and dusty work !
My Gr Grandmother may have been tiny but she could handle those 2 big horses, mind you, most Clydesdale horses I remember were very placid but strong. . .
Happy Sepia Sat from Aotearoa on this sunny day !

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ti Kouka - NZ Icon

Ti Kouka is so photograph-able, it is most probably the plant I have taken hundreds of pics of. This tall, up to 17m New Zealand icon holds a special piece of all our hearts, instantly recognized and now grown in many gardens overseas.

This special emblem of Aotearoa can be found growing throughout the country. Ti Kouka or Cordyline australis is a tall palm-like tree with dark green strappy leaves that blow in the wind like a wild woman`s hair, then drop to the ground becoming the bain of every NZ child`s lawn mowing days as they ( the leaves) have a habit of stopping the mower if run over !
In flower now, the scent is nice, not over-powering but distinctive - when out walking you smell it before you see the tree ! Bees love it, the single Ti in my garden is covered in honey bees every day right through to mid December.

This plant is not a tree, it belongs to the Lomandraceae family, is often called a Tree Lily with its tall trunk, not a woody trunk but one with phloem and xylem, no cambium, a monocot. The leaves are large and long-lived, with many parallel veins and a broad leaf base that wraps around the stem. Ti will grow in most places, often creating a dense forest in swampy areas or to be seen as a lonely figure growing in a paddock, its companions cut down or dead. Called Cabbage Tree by early settlers as the white `heart` of the plant can be cooked and eaten, tastes similar to cabbage apparently. Maori believe that a large early flowering means a long summer ahead. Old Ti are often hollow with one specimen growing up north large enough to house a gum digger, chimney and all !

Ti Kouka has been the subject of many NZ stories and poetry, one of my favorites being `The Wild Bees` by James K Baxter . . .
Often in summer on a tarred bridge plank standing
Or downstream between willows, a safe Ophelia drifting
In a rented boat - I had seen them come and go,
Those wild bees swift as tigers, their gauze wings a-glitter
In passionless industry, clustering black at the crevice
Of a rotten cabbage tree, where their hive was hidden.

Baxter also wrote : I hope they`ll plant me in
The kind of hole they dig for horses
Under a hilltop cabbage tree.

The wonderful `Dancing Leaves - the story of New Zealand`s cabbage tree, ti kouka` by Philip Simpson, is one of my books that I pick up often, a wonderful social and ecological history of this much loved native plant.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sepia Saturday

My Father, Thomas Brian Meehan, aged 33yrs old in 1956 at` Patunga`, the sheep farm he eventually managed for ten years, on his trusty steed. At this stage we were living in the little cottage in the background, moving to the main homestead ( which deserves a post of it`s own) 2 yrs later.
The land is very steep in that part of the North Island of NZ, it once was covered in native forest which was milled, consequently when ever there was heavy rain alot of it slipped down into the valleys and creeks below ! It also took tons of super phosphate fertilizer to grow decent grass, with many farmers walking off their land in the early 1900`s before aerial topdressing was used. Dad had 2 horses he rode and a pack of working sheep dogs that went everywhere with him - both horses and dogs being his work mates and loyal companions. I never saw my Father mistreat an animal, he did swear at them which was the only times I ever hear him cuss, but it was not in his nature to be cruel.
With his tanned fit body, a long piece of supplejack and very sharp knife in a pouch at his side, he was ready for anything - my hero !

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Full Moon and Daisys. . ..

Full moon through kowhai leaves from my front door on Thursday night - I am always energized at full moon and my dreams are very vivid.
Daisy's on my lawn today, I like this simple little flower, snow white with egg yolk yellow centers - my bees were busy visiting all the flowers in my garden - a stunning spring day.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Wee Swarm and Spring Blooms . .

I collected this small swarm from a friend`s place last Sunday, in the rain - poor wee bees were wrapped up tightly under the ferny branches of a weeping maple. It being only acouple of handfuls of bees I am wondering if it has a queen, it may have been a secondary swarm. They have busily started making comb from the top of the nuc box, I am giving them to a friend who has a new TopBar hive all waiting and ready. I have noticed over the last few years that swarms really get stuck into collecting pollen and nectar and making wax very quickly, they build up to a decent size hive in a short while - must be that urge to bring in food for the young and build a proper home !

I drove home, rain pouring down and thankful the bees were safe and dry - it is always an interesting trip with a box of bees on the back seat, not going to fast to have them fall off and break out, and not so slow you draw attention to yourself ! At least I didn`t have my bee suit on, that always gets some weird stares - I just wave . .

I don`t know if it is just me or not, but is this spring an especially beautiful one ?? I seem to be so much more aware of the new growth all around me. . Above is the bud of our native clematis, C.paniculata , it is deciduous and when in flower covers a fence or the top of trees with a brilliant white mass of flowers - in it`s native place, our NZ bush, it always heralds spring - I love it.

Above the flowers and new seeds on a Red Maple Acer rubra shine in the morning sun. Maple have small flowers often hard to find, when seen really close up they are intricate and beautiful. It is always the first maple to flower and leaf up around here. Acers are not native to NZ, we have very few deciduous native trees, NZ is a temperate country and doesn`t get cold enough in most places for plants to go into dormancy over winter.

New leaves on a not very tall Rhododendron - the leaves actually seem far to large for the tree. Once the leaves are older they droop down and make a distinctive skirt. The pale purple flowers are not much to write home about, but the leaves make up for that ! I must try and find out what its botanical name is as it could be grown in a city section.