Sunday, October 2, 2011

Spring has Sprung !

Spring has finally arrived here in Aotearoa with the unpredictable weather, brilliant blue-sky days and blossom everywhere. The spring equinox winds tend to blow the blossom in a flutter of white, covering the lawn. Daisys smother the grass amid bright dandelions - banquet for beezzz 
Tulips in the Hamilton Gardens look amazing, all planted out in their colours and blooming in time for the festival. The bulbs are lifted by the gardeners each year after flowering, stored then planted again next year - a huge job as there are thousands of bulbs !
Native tree, Rewarewa, displays its beautiful, rust-red flowers bursting open into yellow tubes that the bees and birds seek out.  
Kowhai flowers shine butter yellow, attracting nectar drinking birds - I have a flock of wax-eyes that visit in the afternoons flitting around after the bugs. This time of the year in the southern hemisphere there is a certain feel in the air, a light brightness, noisy blackbirds and raucous tui . . . New, bright green delicate leaves on the deciduous trees - the smell of fresh rain in the air . .  

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Piwakawaka darting . . .

My beautiful Piwakawaka, NZ Fantail, a very sweet little native bird that inhabits most of NZ - a tiny wee bird that flits around catching bugs in the air, follows me around the garden flying very close,  catching the bugs I disturb.
This amazing work is by a woman called Kate Hill, a very clever artist from Hamilton. I love the stitching of the birds and leaves she has done .

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Pieces of my Day. . .

A wee Wax-Eye enjoying the nectar in the Red Hot Pokers or Knifofia sp in the Gardens this morning, , these south African flowers always make me smile on dreary winter days.
I went for a wander through the cemetery above the Gardens today, the detail on this old gravestone caught my eye  - an old curtain with tassel. I feel very peaceful walking around reading the lichen covered stone, trying to decipher the words - my only company being a solitary blackbird . .
  A beautiful card my youngest daughter, Ellena, sent me for Mothers Day in May - my girls always pick lovely cards for me, they know what I like and poke around in book shops looking for that special one that Mum will like ! She found this in the Victoria University bookshop in Wellington. .
 This is the funky birthday card my eldest daughter, Meg, made for me this birthday - her quirky paintings are popular with many people - I love her work, she is so clever . .

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Moon Balloons !

Full moon over Aotearoa (NZ) this week, an amazing yellow globe that shone all night, lightening up my bathroom in the early hours ! My lovely cousin in Christchurch reminded me that the 2 major earhquakes they had, in Sept and Feb, happened at full moon times - I can understand how scary full moons are to those traumatized . .
On a misty morning during the week, I walked out my door and was greeted by this beautiful sight ! The hot air balloons are usually up and well away by this time of the morning, but it was a foggy start, so typical of Hamilton winters, so it was about 11.00am. I do have a dream of going up in one of these floating baskets, it is quite expensive, but will do before I get to old !

 They got so close we could wave !! We have a balloon festival here each April with many coming from overseas - if the weather is fine it is a fantastic time - balloons landing in school grounds and parks, even the odd street !

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Aotearoa (NZ) Autumn and Christchurch . . .

The colour of autumn is abundant here in Aotearoa - dried, brilliantly coloured leaves are falling to the ground, making a carpet of stunning reds,purple, orange and gold.
Red maple or Acer rubra is one of the first maples here to loose leaves - all shades of red, the first to bud in the spring. Like many exotic trees from the northern hemisphere, maples thrive in our temperate climate, adding their bright colours to our many hues of green that our native trees display.
The pics below I took in Christchurch last weekend - it was quite painful to see this beaitiful city so broken . . . Having experienced 2 large earthquakes and many large aftershocks since last Sept, this city known as the `garden city` is like a 3rd world country war zone in places.
Signs like this abound all through the badly damaged areas, including the CBD - it is truly heart-breaking to see so many beautiful old buildings fallen, rubble everywhere - just the sounds of demolition and birds. I can`t see the city rebuilding in this place - CHCH was originaly build on marsh land, this very evident after the shocks, with the dreaded liquifaction, a nasty smelling grey, gritty substance bubbling up from underground, spreading through the street and homes.
One example of an old building with the walls being braced, saw many with all the bricks lying in piles - it took many weeks to get power and water back on to thousands of people - very hard for us to comprehend.
A row of shops and the Catholic cathedral, just a small portion of buildings to be completely demolished  - very sad to witness. .

The people of CHCH seem resiliant, but I know many are very anxious with all the after shocks still happening - I felt a decent 4. something shock while in Lyttelton - rocked the building I was in.There is such a huge amount of work still to do, it may take years - also costly ! I am sure this lovely city will rise up out of the bricks with a totally different look . .

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


My honey bees Apis mellifera, are precious in more ways than one. . . Some people understand that without our food plants being pollinated, except for the likes of rice and some cereals, we humans will be existing on a very bland diet indeed, others don`t understand at all !  What most don`t understand, is the tiny honey bee, which was imported to our shores in the 1830`s, is the main contributor to this vital job, one which it is finding harder and harder to accomplish.  But hey, there have always been enough bees haven`t there ? Once there were, but now there is a huge decline in their numbers due to many issues,  I do believe it has been mainly brought on by mans selfishness, his idea that the bee is here for our use and of course, don`t forget, the mighty dollar. Varroa arrived on our shores around 2000, decimating many hives and putting beekeepers out of business. Many hobbyist beekeepers just gave up, not wanting to bother treating their bees twice a year, but our numbers are on the rise again, thanks to many younger and not so young bee enthusiasts learning about bees, planting gardens and orchards, realising they need bees for pollination !
Honey bees have long been part of human life, providing much needed sweetness, light from candle wax, and most importantly, the pollination of over 40% of what we eat. Up until Rev Langstroth discovered removable frames, humans lived with bees in a fair relationship, each providing the other with what they needed ie habitat, flowering plants, honey and wax.
With products from the hive including honey, pollen, wax and propolis earning beekeepers a tidy sum, things changed rapidly, leaving the bees stranded in a place of disease and illness. .  their numbers declining, their health declining, with their ability to fight.. slowly declining ..
We will loose our bees unless attitudes change, food as we know it will change considerably, life as we know it will change beyond our comprehension – sounds abit over the top? I don`t think so, and neither do many other worried bee keepers. I feel very strongly that until many of the established ways of beekeeping, here in NZ and world-wide, change from how much money can be made from keeping bees, to how can we care wisely, working with these insects in a way that will benefit both parties, with the bees being the major beneficiary of our kindness and knowledge we now have regarding the use of pesticides and other chemical nasties.
Honey bees evolved with Angiosperms, flowering plants, millions of years ago – each supplying the other with the exact life sustaining substance it needs. During this time, bees along with other pollinating insects and birds dealt with many life threatening changes, over time adjusting and continuing to pollinate, plants providing the proteins and sugars needed to keep the insects healthy, the bees transferring pollen from flower to flower, thus continuing the cycle of life . .
So, my plea to all who care for our planet and its inhabitants, next time you see honey bees, bumble bees, other insects in your garden or wild places, think of what you can do to make their short lives free of starvation (plant bee food), free of contamination ( don`t use chemicals of any kind), free of homelessness ( keep a hive, maybe a TopBar hive, in your garden)  - it does not take much effort at all . . trust me
 Marcia Meehan     ( an article I wrote recently for a magazine )           

Monday, April 25, 2011

ANZAC in Aotearoa . . .

On the 25th April 1915, thousands of NZ and Australian solders along with many, many other allied solders were thrust ashore onto the Turkish beach, Gallipoli, under constant gun fire from Turkish army above them.  It was total bloodshed and miserably managed, so much unnecessary death and injury.
96 yrs on, this day is always remembered by New Zealanders and Australians with dawn services across the countries, solemn church services, young and old marching together . . .to remember them.
For many years, Ellena and I have put the red Flanders poppy the RSA men sell, on the cenotaph in Hamilton. Now it is just myself and my thoughts . . . My paternal Grandfather, Mick Meehan, went away to WW1 , a glorious adventure, he was only 20, a young farming boy from Wanganui. He came home shattered, not so much in body but needed time to sort his emotions out at Hamner Springs, which was then used as a rehabilitation center for war veterans. He was a gentle, loving man who raised a family and worked hard.
The cenotaph by the river here in Hamilton, this was yesterday before the rain and the wreaths, put there today. The solders, men and women from each war NZ has taken part in, march slowly across the Victoria bridge at dawn, gathering in silence beside the cenotaph. What is quite amazing, is the number of young people there - wonderful to see them listening and learning about what their Grand and G Grand parents did for their country.
A special day, a day for reflection - today seemed ideal . . . wet and gloomy.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Waiheke Day ..

Goodbye Auckland, see you tonight - this was me on Sunday, 8.00am, on the ferry to Waiheke Island. I had not been to this island before, heard heaps about it, but like lots of things, one of the many places in my lovely country that I had yet to visit . . . I always knew the Waitamata harbour and Hauraki gulf had many islands dotted around, but was amazed at how many there were. Even at that hour of the day, there were small boats out with fishermen  trying their luck - a cherry wave as we lumbered past.
It was a gorgeous day; slight breeze, blue sky and sparkly sea - after the stress with my job that has been happening lately, this was just what I needed - a total change of pace !

My first close-up sight of Waiheke, deep green water with native bush growing down to the shore line. I had taken my car over, so once we docked, I drove up the windy road to the cliff top, meandering my way to the little village of Oneroa.
My first stop was at the Steiner Kindy Fair where I gave a 30min introduction to a large crowd about TopBar hives. The fair had lots of interesting stalls - yummy food, beautiful handmade crafts, old fashioned games for kids with an amazing medieval court set up, complete with wooden horses, big ones, that ran along railway tracks so you could do the jousting thing ! Music playing and many happy people - a very nice vibe throughout ... my huge thanks to Christy, for inviting me over to her special island.
The view from the cafe in Oneroa where I had lunch. There were lots of little sail boats out and about.. Waiheke Is has many sheltered bays, really picturesque, even at this time of the year. The population is around 8000 with many more over the summer and weekends - lots of holiday places, big and small, with most of what you need on the island. It is a 45 min ferry ride from Auckland, just enough time to enjoy the sea air and views.
Oneroa Bay is where I ran my TopBar Hive workshop - this the view of the bay from the rather lovely winery/b&b owned by Christy and hubby, where we all sat out on the decking in the sunshine.
The land down to the water is a wetland, the surrounding hills are covered in manuka - Christy`s bees have a great choice ! With guests expected, we moved back to the Kindy and concluded the day sitting around the table, coffee and tea and chat.  
This is my lovely group of enthusiastic TopBar beekeepers to be ! I did so enjoy my day with all these lovely friendly folk, was invited back in the spring to check out their beezzz and you can be sure I will be there !

The car ferry on its way to Waiheke and my journey home . . . I was back in Hamilton in 2 hours, so really, it is not a long trip, a trip I will be making again, this time I think I will organize a `girls` weekend, there are so many other places to discover on Waiheke, stunning scenery, friendly locals - a small slice of NZ to treasure ..

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Herb for Bees - Autumn food !

Lemon verbena or Aloysia citrodora would be one of my most favorite herbs. It is flowering profusely in the Herb Garden at Hamilton Gardens, filling the area with its bewitching lemony scent.

 Native to many parts of South America, this plant was taken to Europe in the 18th Century, where it became very popular and used in alot of different cooking styles. In Victorian times it was simply known as `the lemon plant` Today Lemon Verbena is used to flavor meat and fish dishes, puddings, cakes, my favorite being a refreshing drink infused with crushed leaves, left to cool and add soda water for a sparkling beverage !

Along with Solidago (Golden Rod), this beautiful bushy small shrub flowers late summer, early autumn, providing much needed nectar/pollen for honey bees and other pollinating insects, the white/pinkish flowers cover the plant. It does need to be planted in a warm, frost free spot and cut back hard each autumn after flowering as it tends to get straggly - but nothing else can compare with Lemon verbena for the best lemon scent after an actual lemon !

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Autumn is near . . .

The beautiful vase-shaped hips from Rosa moysii with lots of tiny black seeds ready to fall out everytime you shake them. I remember when my children were babies you could buy rosehip syrup which was diluted with water, providing a great source of Vitamin C ! It most probably was full of sugars ! You can`t buy it now.
I cut one open to taste, it was quite sweet and I would imagine a very nice drink could be made - I must google it ! I have added the remaining hips to my `autumn` collection ..
Allium flowers, bees love these pretty white umbels which planted en mass look rather gorgeous I think. Autumn is my favorite season, I so look forward to the days closing in, mellow golden light, cool temps, leaves changing colour - I know it is the ending of the life cycle for many plants, but I feel so energized and alive !!
Miss Bee coming into land with golden rod filled pollen baskets - the bees in the hives at the Sustainable garden in the Hamilton Gardens are still out and about each sunny day. The solidago is one of the last herbs to flower during late summer/ early autumn here in NZ, everything else in the herb garden having reached the end of their flowering. Lemon balm is flowering profusely at the moment, the smell of the flowers and leaves is divine, I must grow more bushes of it next year.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Small Detour into My Past . . .

On the road they call `the Forgotten Highway` which winds its way alongside the Wanganui river from Taumarunui, there is Herlihy`s bluff to negotiate. In the 45 years ( yes . . .45yrs !) since I drove over this now tar-sealed road, there have been afew changes, one being the shifting of the road itself, to a lower level cut out of the cliff side after a person was killed by falling boulders. It has never been a safe place to dally, even with the magnificent views of the river on the other side of the road ! 
The first major change I found on the journey into my past was. . MY BRIDGE HAD GONE !! Far out, I couldn`t believe what I was seeing. Where was the wonderful old wooden Te Maire bridge that you could walk over as well as drive across the rattly boards ?? All I could see was this concrete 2-way eye-sore,(so sad to find the big old end bits sitting amongst the bush on either side) - no character at all, built 8yrs after we left the district. Oh well I thought, nothing else can get any worse  . .  how wrong was I .
Metal, windy valley road, bush-lined for most of the way - old Kahikatea, Totara and Rimu dripping in lichen - cool, a million hues of green - NZ bush I remember. This part was thankfully the same, right down to the tree ferns and sound of Tui. . .
On past the bee hives and angry looking bull, around very tight corners, remembering when my mother, in the family tank (Vanguard car) rounded such corner to collide head on with a horse !! There really isn`t anywhere to pull over, you just have to be extremely good at maneuvering in tiny spaces . . . At the end of the road is the farm `Patunga` where I spent the first 12 formidable yrs of my life - a large sheep and cattle station. Slowly around the last corner I crept, dust flying up behind me, expecting to catch a glimpse of the 102yr old homestead and . . . . . no orchard or hillside, just a newly built add-on glaring down at me - I swear I nearly drove off the road !! Whaaaaat is this ? where are the big old 100yr trees, the walnut with swing, the ponga summer house, the fantastic old veranda, the gardens my mother always had looking so pretty, I drove into the driveway and again . . where is the tall shubbery that we played in - the old cattle-stop was still there, but the house looked so unlike it was in my memory that I cried. No one was home, which was a good thing really, as I must have looked a sight - a crying crazy lady . . .

Feeling sad and emotional, I drove back down the valley road, across the ugly bridge, up past my old school site which is on the farm that once belonged to good friends, whose children I had spent many happy days with, ( one of the sons, Ross, married my cousin), the school closed down many years ago with the building being used as a haybarn, thats another crying story that I won`t get into yet !! Across the road from the school stands the Te Whakarae Hall, once the pride and joy of this  spread-out farming community, the scene of many country dances ( I can still see my parents getting dressed up in their best clothes, my mother with her bright lipstick, sparkly necklace and swirling dress ( it is the 50`s remember), my handsome Dad in strides and sports jacket), the men in one corner with the beer, the women around the kitchen end, fern leaves decorating the walls and powder on the wooden floor for dancing. This hall was used for meetings, Womens Division days, sports events, especially badminton tournaments, plus any school function was held there - now it is derelict and abandoned. . .  I know times have changed, life has moved on from those long summer days, but you know, I do wonder if it is always for the best, there was such a sense of belonging .. it did tug on my heart strings.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tears for Christchurch - all NZ weeps . . .

All New Zealand weeps for our beautiful city Christchurch and her people. . .

A second major earthquake in 6 months has devastated the central part of the city with damage also across the city and surrounding areas. With the time of day ( 1.00pm) yesterday, and the fact that there was already damage from the Sept quake, many deaths and injuries have occurred. People are still trapped under huge piles of rubble, many buildings collapsed, it looks like a war zone you would see on tv in another place, not our peaceful, stunningly beautiful country. . .

There has been an out-pouring of grief, most of us either have family and friends living in CHCH or know someone who has, it is very hard for us as a people to get our heads around a disaster of this magnitude, we have has so few over the time of settlement. Godszone, that is what we have always been called  - safe and secure . . our world has been rocked and will never be the same again ..

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I love Trees

Isn`t she beautiful ? This old cherry tree grows in Memorial Park along side the Waikato river which runs through my city. She is literally being held together with leather straps and a post ! With giant cracks and bora holes in the stumps, this old tree still manages to put on a stunning display of blossom in the spring and a leafy canopy over summer. 
Held together with a large band and metal clip sort of thingie - this and the post is holding the tree together and from the branches hitting the ground.
It took me awhile to find this tag, but I am glad I did and very pleased to see my old tree protected - Hamilton does not have a good record when it comes to protecting trees . . . I have known of many 100yr old and older trees that have been cut down by developers, really sad as we don`t have that many old trees, they were planted by the Hamilton Beautification Society in the late 1800 early 1900`s, these are mainly exotics - lots of Elms, Oaks and other English species were grown and planted.
Even with a long crack in the branch the old tree still manages to grow new wood each year, bloom beautifully and contribute to our breathing with her leaves - trees are the earth`s lungs . .

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pressings . . .

One of my most loved past times is collecting, drying, pressing and mounting plant samples. I started my own herbarium ( collection of dried flora) 10 years ago when I went back to study, for part of my horticultural course I had to collect 100 different species of trees, shrubs, natives, annuals and bulbs, identify them correctly, dry and press them and write the corect infomation, including their latin names ! I found a passion I never knew I had, since then I have continued to add to my herbarium which has come in very handy a number of times when I needed to identify a plant.
I find some of the pressings are so beautiful I want to frame them so I can enjoy them all the time ! 
Pansy flowers are so easy to press - pick up a book out of my library and you more then likely will have a pansy or two drop into your lap, all dried softly crinkled and smelling faintly of the garden - summer memories ..  
Even seed heads from common little garden plants look amazing - their beauty lasts for such a long time, especially if the herbarium is kept in a dry airy place, don`t ever get it damp as some plants can mildue very quickly.
I use tiny daps of a clear craft glue to attach the plant material to the acid-free paper once I make certain all of the plant is completely pressed, laying the plant on the paper in a natural position. If the leaves are to long or wide cut them straight along the edge of the paper. Another thing to look for is the different undersides of leaves, turn one over to display. 
The job I would give my back teeth for is to work in a famous herbarium like Kew Gardens in the UK or maybe at the museum in Auckland here in NZ - anywhere there is a pile of dried, dusty old plants . .