Tuesday, March 22, 2016


The graphic artist Maurits Cornelis Escher said: 

“We adore chaos because we love to produce order.”

 At Great Dixter Gardens I saw chaos and order together in a wonderful living paradox.

'Great Dixter is a house in Northiam, East Sussex, England. It was built in 1910–12 by architect Edwin Lutyens, who combined an existing mid-15th century house on the site with a similar structure brought from Benenden, Kent, together with his own additions. It is a Grade I listed building. The garden, widely known for its continuous tradition of sophisticated plantsmanship, is Grade I listed in the National Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.

The original Northiam house, known as Dixter, dating from the mid-15th century, was acquired by a businessman named Nathaniel Lloyd in 1909. He had a 16th-century house in a similar style moved from Kent and the two were combined with new work by Lutyens to create a much larger house, which was rechristened Great Dixter. It is a romantic recreation of a medieval manor house, complete with great hall, parlour, solar and yeoman's hall.

Lloyd and Lutyens began the garden at Great Dixter, but it was Lloyd's son Christopher Lloyd, a well known garden writer and television personality, who made it famous. The garden is in the arts and crafts style, and features topiary, a long border, an orchard and a wild flower meadow. The planting is profuse, yet structured, and has featured many bold experiments of form, colour and combination. The garden is currently managed by Fergus Garrett, who worked closely with Lloyd up until his death in 2006 as Head Gardener and introduced a number of innovations into the planting scheme.'

I am very much a non gardener, so it is difficult to make a lot of informed technical comments regarding the finer points of what I saw. But as the great gardening expedition rolled on I got to appreciate and know a little more. I liked Great Dixter a lot. Its pattern of plantings seemed more relaxed and less formal than say Hidcote Manor. There was a feeling of abundance and plenitude. Radiant chaos. A celebration of colour.

Large clusters of plantings in pots provided inspiration for our own garden.

Paths, hedges, walls and the vibrancy of the flowers made each garden room a place of intimacy and wonder.

Clusters of terracotta pots alive with various contrasting foliage added interest and delight.

On the left the old baronial hall, to the left the Oast house and the old barn.

An archway through a well manicured hedge entices you on as you explore.

Topiary lived alongside generous flower beds.

I was quite taken by this new garden seat and took a number of photographs. I liked its chunky simple lines and no nonsense design. When I have the time I am going to build one.

Box hedges planted among the flower gardens.

Agricultural students from all over the world come to Great Dixter to work. Here some of them  were gathering some cacti for a display.

The sunken garden with its pond by the old barn.

"Meadow Gardens" were a feature of some of the gardens we visited. These are areas of grass or wilderness left to grow in their natural state.

There was something slightly Wind in the Willows - Toad Hallish about the buildings. If I had come across Toad, Ratty, Mole and Badger strolling together in the grounds, or if I had seen a very large motor car with Toad behind the steering wheel careering up to the old Manor I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised!

Having a meadow garden I guess means less weeding?

A beautiful cluster of pots around the entrance to the main hall.

The painter Harlan Hubbard writing in a quiet book of a quiet, contemplative life wrote:

" The slanting sun is warm, the sky above the tawny earth is of deepest blue. The gardener harvests much that was never planted"

As a builder of boats, I understand this. In my opinion this is the deeper meaning of the gardens that we viewed. Both the tangible and intangible insights of the journey of creation are as important as that which is created.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Ngataki Classic Yacht Race

My good friend Ben emailed me this Utube video of the famous yacht Ngataki sailing on Aucklands beautiful Waitamata Harbour. Thanks Ben.

Ngataki is an important part of New Zealands growing yachting hertitage. Ngataki and her builder  are also a symbol of the 'Can Do' or 'Number 8 Wire' Kiwi attitude to life. I have posted extensively about Johnny Wray and his yacht Ngataki before. You will find some of these posts here:


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

____________ ABBEY CAVES, A CELLPHONE, JORIT AND ME _____________

Socrates said,  “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.” 

When it comes to the continual put down of young people this quote shows that not much has changed since 399 BCE. As a teacher of over forty years my experience has for the vast majority of times been the complete opposite to Socrates. For the minority of times where authority and the wisdom of the status quo is challenged I have always seen this as healthy and normal, part of the rhythm and renewal of things. It was something I did myself when I was young. As for bad manners and disrespect, of course young people indulge in this sort of behaviour - so do adults, we aren't that much different in that regard. Anyway here's a little story about thoughtfulness and good manners that I experienced recently.

Last week as I walked into the lounge I met Jorit a young German tourist who was tapping on the window. Jorit had just visited Abbey Caves, a tourist destination not far from our house. He had hitch hiked to the caves in a silver Toyota driven by someone who lived in the area who looked about 70 years of age and had spent 7 years living in the Jersey Islands - this being the sum total of information he had gleaned. Jorit had lost his cellphone and thought he probably lost it in the elderly gentlemans car. Jorit wanted to know if I knew this man. I didn't, but I gave Jorit some simple logical advice that anyone else in the situation would have given, showed some interest in his travels around New Zealand, wrote down his email address, wished him luck in his search and sent him on his way.

The next day I found this on the doorstep:

The message says:

"Thank you! Because of your help I got back my phone, so this is a little present to say thank you! I hope you enjoy this bottle of my favourite German beer."

Jorit must have gone to some trouble to deliver this to my door, considering he had to hitch hike to Abbey Caves.

I emailed Jorit and thanked him for his thoughtfulness. So Socrates you miserable old curmudgeon, don't ever tell me that all young people have bad manners and show disrespect for their elders; generalizations are the great mistakes of philosophical argument. 

..... and by the way, the German Beer was absolutely great!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

_______________________ KAYAKING IN COMPANY ______________________

 Today I went for a paddle with my older brother Tony as he took his new 'ride on'  "Prowler" brand Kayak on it's maiden voyage.

 In an area off the Portland channel we found a break in the mangroves and went exploring.

 We thought we might break through to another part of the harbour but were finally thwarted my a wall of mangrove trees.
 So it was back to 'Pohutakawa Beach' (See three posts back, March 10th) for some lunch. (This time landing was easier as the tide was in).

Tony is pretty pleased with his new kayak. It's stable and slips along nicely. We are already planning our next trip.

Monday, March 14, 2016

___________________ WE CAN DO BETTER THAN THIS __________________

TWENTY LANES? Are these motorway planners mad? Nahhhhh, the roads are just far to small. Let's build something that will really deal to the traffic. Hmmmmm, let me think; I know! fifty lanes!! That should solve it!

Here's FIFTY LANES with everyone returning from their holidays. Some people were trapped for 5 days in this traffic jam. The solution? First we have to create a paradigm shift in peoples thinking. Do we expect roads to make a profit ? No. Generally they are funded out of taxation, they are an economic and social infrastructural cost.

If we applied this thinking of the 'NON PROFIT ROAD' and provided fast, clean, cheap public transport combined with a high toll on the use of private motor vehicles on main arterial routes without expecting public transport to make a profit we would solve the problem.




The benefits? Take a look at the above photographs again. In every city in the world where there is fast, cheap, safe, clean, efficient and convenient public transport - the public use it. This topic is one of my ranting hobby horses and I have been ranting about this for decades.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

_______________________ FIFTEEN POHUTUKAWAS _____________________

My good friend Gerry, an active conservationist was lamenting the fact a couple of days ago that he wouldn't be here in Whangarei to look after fifteen Pohutakawa trees that he had planted earlier in the year as he was moving to Wellington to be closer to family. After inquiring as to what 'looking after' entailed I offered to take on the job of keeping an eye on his planting and removing any ingress and swamping of the trees by the surrounding Kikuyu grass. I wasn't able to go with him yesterday as he did his last feeding of the trees with manure but today I took a paddle to take a look at my new charges. I landed on a long low lying island that was surrounded by mangroves and muddy channels.

The high ground across the channel behind my kayak is Limestone Island which is now a reserve and has been planted over the years by volunteers (myself included). There are Kiwi, Geckoes, Wetas and a wide range of other endangered flora and fauna on the island.

This is what greeted me as I approached the beach. It is one of many bait stations that is part of a strategy to keep Limestone Island predator free. There are similar bait stations on all the other low lying areas close to Limestone Island and on the Island itself. The fact is rats, stoats and weasels are quite capable of swimming across the short channels that surround Limestone Island and creating havoc to the bird life - especially Kiwi.

This is one of the brand new Pohutukawas that have been planted. My job will be to visited this area a few times a year to clear the Kikuyu away from the trees until they are big enough not to get inundated and overwhelmed by this hardy and quick growing grass.

The large piece of driftwood in the background show that this low lying area can be almost under water on king tides or during combinations of high tides and stormy weather.

All the Pohutukawa I looked at were healthy and thriving. This area is ideal habitat for these trees whose roots are adverse to a periodic dunking is salt water, indeed thrive in a salt water marine environment.

Another bait station, this one close to the shore and ready for high winds with a rock on its roof.

The kayak back on top of the car. The area I visited is beyond Portland Channel on the other side  of Limestone Island which is to the left in the above photograph. I paddled back between the island and the mainland (to the right) with a following south west wind. It occurred to me that I could have had a rather pleasant down wind run if I had a sail up. Indeed you can purchase special little kayak sails made especially for this very situation - running downwind with a following wind - must look into that.

Post Script -This orange 'sit on' kayak belongs to my brother. We went and collected it from Kerikeri last week when he won it on a NZ TradeMe auction. Looks like I will have some kayaking company from time to time - that will be nice; he can help me look after the Pohutukawas.

Monday, March 7, 2016

_____________ GARDEN TREASURES (3) - HIDCOTE MANOR _____________

Hidcote Manor Garden is one of the best-known and most influential Arts and Crafts gardens in England.

Hidcote Manor lies in the north Cotswolds at the village of Hidcote Bartrim, near Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, a stone’s throw from Stratford-upon-Avon.

Created by the talented American horticulturist, Major Lawrence Johnston its colourful and intricately designed outdoor linked ‘rooms’ of hedges, rare trees, shrubs and herbaceous borders are always full of surprises. It is owned by the National Trust and is open to the public.

Exploring the maze of narrow paved pathways you discover secret gardens, magnificent vistas and plants that burst with colour. Many of the plants found growing in the garden were collected from Johnston’s many plant hunting trips to far away places. It’s the perfect place if you’re in need of gardening inspiration.

With this garden being the first garden I have ever visited with any sort of concentrated awareness and singularity of purpose I was entranced by the idea of different 'rooms' often containing different themes of planting and colour.

I have always associated a red brick garden wall providing shelter and a backdrop to planting as being a major feature of an English Cottage Garden. At Hidcote and other large English gardens, a high wall is used to create 'rooms'.

All this water feature needs is a few North Island NZ Snapper or Orange Roughy fish to add a bit of interest, surprise and variety to the garden. When I suggested this to other members of the party the universal agreement was, "Yeah, right" delivered with that distinctive sardonic drawl.

Christine underneath the arches. She thoroughly enjoyed the experience and has put the knowledge gained to good use in our own garden.

Every 'room' contained a surprise of flowers and / or architecturally pruned trees and shrubs.

I loved the poppy garden. It was resplendent with yellow flowers that shone like little suns.

Long verdant grass avenues pulled your eyes towards yet another entrance to another garden room.

I liked the large plantings of broad leafed plants of varying textures and shapes.

Large mature trees provided a kind of cradling complement to the gardens, folding everything within their shade and limbs. These gardens were about intimacy and containment rather than a 'Big Skies Montana' experience.

This beautiful adjacent woodland area alive with dappled light provided a harmonious counterpoint to the large expanse of gardens.

I remember Hidcote with some affection because it was my introduction to appreciating gardens and it was one of the best comparatively speaking. As the Tour progressed we were introduced to many other types of gardens but the quintessential English garden remains my favourite.

The small classic English Cottage Garden is really Hidcote (and many others) 'writ very small' and is something achievable by the amateur gardener working on a small scale in their own back yard.