Home' Christchurch Mail : June 27th 2013 Contents 27
CHRISTCHURCH MAIL, JUNE 27, 2013
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Ahh, the whiff of cow's breath
This column is adapted
from the e-newsletter Get
Growing from New Zealand
Gardener, the country's top
selling gardening magazine.
To subscribe to Get Growing
(it's free!), visit the NZ
Gardener website at
nzgardener.co.nz, and click
on the Get Growing tab. To
mags4gifts.co.nz or call
0800 mags 4 gifts.
MAKE THE MOST OF
YOUR BOGGY SPOTS
If your soil s drowning, plan a bog
garden for spring colour.
Primulas -- including cowslips,
primroses and candelabra
varieties -- are much-loved
wildflowers from Europe, but
rarely get a look in with Kiwi
gardeners any more. More s
the pity, as they re full of unders-
They can be tricky to start
from seed, but plants are avail-
able from nurseries and garden
centres, especially around the
Cowslips (Primula veris) have
nodding buttery blooms with a
warm scent that s said to
resemble the breath of a cow
(this is apparently a good thing!).
And did you know that the leaves
can be eaten as a green vegie?
Cooked cowslip leaves are similar
to kale, while the flowers can be
used to flavour wines, cordials
PLANT A CRABAPPLE
In Otago recently, I was struck
by the beauty of crabapple trees.
These diminutive apples have so
much going for them, from the
exuberant display of spring blos-
som (which can greatly improve
pollination rates for nearby apple
trees, thanks to their conveniently
synchronized flowering) to stun-
ning fruit in reds, pink, oranges
and yellows. Rather like persim-
mons, in the right climate these
remain on the tree long after the
foliage has dropped, looking a lot
like Christmas baubles.
The definition of a crabapple is
fairly loose. Botanically, most are
closely related to -- or of the same
species as -- dessert apples, but
their fruit is smaller.
A rule of thumb says that any
Malus fruit with a diameter less
than 6 centimetres is a crabapple,
and everything larger is a cider or
dessert apple. There are excep-
tions, but it s accurate enough.
Crabapples are typically quite
sour, but not always, and many
varieties improve dramatically
after a frost or two.
All are edible -- if not immedi-
ately palatable -- and can be used
to make superlative claret-
coloured, apple-tasting jelly.
In lieu of traditional cider
apples, crabapples can also be
used to impart depth and com-
plexity to cider. Their high tannin
levels give the drink a solid back-
bone, improving not just flavour,
but shelf-life too.
Birds are often smitten with
crabapples, particularly after a
frost, when the fruit becomes soft
Apparently, the yellow-fruiting
forms are less troubled and I have
my eyes set on a stunning variety
called Golden Hornet.
Crabapple trees can be pruned
to any size, and provided you keep
them watered, make good con-
This nutritious green is so
versatile -- it can be added to
soups, stews, lasagne, pies,
frittatas and omelettes.
It is also frost-hardy, easy-care
and largely untroubled by pests or
diseases during winter, although
you might need to use bait to foil
slugs and snails when they re
seedlings. Fordhook Giant is a
reliable variety that holds up well
With the shortest day now past,
it s officially the optimal time to
plant garlic -- make sure you get it
done before the end of July.
Plant seed garlic in well-
manured, free-draining soil. Don t
bury the cloves too deep (3-5cm is
ideal) and space them 20cm apart.
We tend to think of mulching as
something to be done in summer,
but it has a function in winter by
reducing soil compaction caused
by heavy rain.
Almost all plants grow best in
It drains quickly, because it s
full of air pockets, and supports
communities of fungi, bacteria
and invertebrates (like worms)
essential to plant health.
Heavy rain gradually hammers
topsoil, squeezing out air and
eventually purging it of life, so
mulching is advisable.
Anything organic can be used,
but in winter, the coarser the
better. I use straw because it s
slow to break down and makes a
textured, inky loam. Straw is
most affordable when bought by
the bale from rural supply outlets
like RD1. Hay can also be used,
but is generally full of weed seeds.
Avoid walking on wet soil too. A
badly trampled garden can take
years to recover.
The risk of such damage is the
very best argument for keeping
garden beds narrow enough to
reach across or well serviced with
permanent access paths.
If you must squelch about, lay
down a few planks where you
want to walk.
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