My Favourite Window

February 26, 2012

Wellington Weekend

After too many days of cold and rain in the Secret Garden,
I arrived in Wellington last week, to find basking sunshine

and hardly any wind !

Although Christchurch, in its heyday, bore the Garden City garland, Wellington is one great Secret Garden.

Hydrangeas and roses nestle into forest glades or sheltered bush-clad valleys.

All over the hillside suburbs, footpaths make short work of getting around - or leave the flatlander short of breath.

They step and sweep, zig-zag, or boldly take a lift to or from sea level, offering all sorts of glimpses into other people's lives, gardens and wilderness along the way.
Amongst the city towers of mirror glass, ivy races for the sky and native seedlings carelessly take root. In the slots and crannies of park benchs pohutukawa seeds sprout hopefully. It wouldn't take much neglect for this trumpeting commercial centre to disappear into the undergrowth,
so fecund is its moist and mild climate.
But Wellington is New Zealand's capital city, and culture is cultivated, so there are gardens that exceed expectations,
like the lovely native forest garden in the national museum,
Te Papa,

and this sea-shore garden on the Waterfront that invites exploration.

 But because my hosts, Noreen and Dyk (above centre) live very close to the Botanic Gardens, it is easy to amble around and through that diverse space:

On my own...
or with friends.

 We marvel at sculptures, such as Rudderstone

or play with Listening and Viewing Devise.

Naturally we take time to smell the roses.

And when night falls I stroll down to the end of the road and enter the forest margin to say goodnight to the gloworms, glimmering under mossy overhangs above the path and from across the invisible stream.

The real reason for my visit to Wellington is the subject of another post...

February 22, 2012

One Year On

How we need anniversaries. They mark the cycle of the year, reminding us that the sun will indeed return or that another season of growing has passed.  They also help us move beyond Fear.

They remind us of what we have lost and they encourage us to see what we have gained as well as what we have become.

Shortly after the September 2010 earthquake, while I was clearing the Skudder House, I noticed this photograph in an old copy of the Christchurch Press dated June 11 1966.  I particularly noticed it, because this building was frequently in the background news shots of a historic building which had been severly quake damaged.  This image is so triumphant: celebrating Christchurch's progress in a new age of construction and technology. Now Christchurch affords new opportunities to the construction industry - for demolition, and the photograph below from The Christchurch Press dated November 17 2011 shows that the Manchester Unity/AMI building had also succumbed to later earthquake damage.

Opportunity. Entrepreneurs thrive in this post-disaster climate, although that dubious invention of humanity - insurance, and in this case, the reluctance of the insurance companies to reinsure - has stalled many projects. 

Someone has seen the loss of suburban chimney stacks as a business opportunity, offering faux fitted chimneys from a relocatable showcase.

But many of the opportunities for re-vitalisation have come from altruistic individuals and community collectives.  With its shop gone, this abandoned chiller has become a book fridge.  It sits on the corner of Barbadoes and Kilmore Streets, an exchange for anyone to use.

And a few blocks south along Barbadoes St, on the site of a pretty landmark brick townhouse is the serene Butterfly Gap Filler.

Then there are gasp-aloud surprises like this view, spotted driving home one evening. So familiar this dome, yet so utterly out of place.

Someone - both altruistic and entrepreneurial I suspect - has rescued the cupola that once stood as an ornate statement to the hey-day of cinematic grandeur, above the beautifully restored Regent Theatre in Cathedral Square.  Now it perches in suburban Linwood, a forlorn folly.

The gardens have established and softened in the new village in the city.  I return to ReStart often for it's ambience, and easy vibe. But nobody visiting there is oblivious to what has happened to this city. The tourists walk in a daze and ask questions in hushed tones. The talk at the cafe tables is about, red-zoned houses, insurance payouts, whether to stay or go...

When I drive past this scene - the one I opened this post with - my heart still sears with loss, and I remember Simon's ashen face, his dust-filled hair, and grimed hands from digging a co-worker out of the rubble of the pink building to the left of the photo. But I also think of Bryony planning to study Drama at the Polytech one block away, and feel the excitement of a Student world at the epicentre of renewal.

This year of facing and surviving loss - of different kinds - has prepared me for what is about to happen closer to home...

as building after building in my local town is closed for safety reasons. In the wake of the official inquiries into
failure of Christchurch buildings during the February 22 Earthquake, the Waimakariri District Council is prudently distancing itself from the cavalier approach by professionals,
which lead to unsound buildings killing people last year.

Some of these buildings will be retained but some will be demolished as well - the old, the familiar - but no longer do I feel that buildings determine me. I look forward to what might be: our own shipping container enclave; a main street no longer orientated to channel the prevailing chill Easterly right through all the outdoor cafe areas, but broken up into courtyards with linked parking; or something else altogether that honours the small town spirit but remodels Rangiora for the future.

Today there is an understanding that people must be able to commemorate   the anniversary of last year's worst earthquake in whatever way is most healing. For some that is to ignore it; for others it is important to be part of the remembrance ceremonies, and for others it is enough to reflect in solitude.

Here in Ashley, locals have responded to a call to decorate road cones with flowers.  This is really aimed at the roadworks around the city, which have become a symbol of failed infra-structure and dis-location, but these offerings on roadworks at the entrance to the village are heartfelt none the less.

February 14, 2012

A Game of Tag

The first game of tag that I remember playing was called Witches and Fairies.  It was a school yard game with the big oak tree our safe haven from the witch. Then we graduated to Stiff Candle: when you were tagged you had to stand with your hands above your head and your feet apart till someone else freed you by crawling through your legs. When I was older we played Bullrush. I think Bullrush has been banned from school playgrounds these days!

It's been a long time since I've been tagged, and now I discover it's a game that Bloggers play. There is the hint of chain mail about this; something I never do!  But I like the element of introducing fellow bloggers to one another - I know some of you know each other already and some of you whom I would tag, are one of my nine companions tagged by D-Scribes.  Gee thanks Libby. 

It seems that I have to air eleven facts about myself.  I'm sure 11 is just a typographical error somewhere along the way, but here you are:

I am nothing but a Dreamer.

I arrived in NZ on a sugar cane ship, the Matua.

My earliest memory includes the Full Moon.

The one time I raced a stock car was in a demolition derby: I only covered two laps before being demolished.

Before I took up gardening I wanted to work in Antarctica.

My favourite machine is the great beam engine in the Kew Bridge pumping station.

In four years of living on a narrowboat I only fell in the Canal once.

My life is full of paradoxes: for example I don't like the feel of soil on my hands but I don't like gloves fumbling my fingers either.

I am bossy, lazy and self-centred.

I could quite easily adapt to a life of luxury: I am a Leo after all (That's two facts in one).

Then I have to answer ten questions posed by my Tagger:

Shoplifting - have you ever?
Not knowingly. I can see how easy it would be when people are stressed and distracted and their normal parameters disrupted by death and destruction.

Slapping children - yes or no?
Slapping children 
is illegal in NZ.

Shower every day?
Such a luxury.

All is fair in love and war - yes or no?

Queue jumping - do you? Not intentionally. NZers don't queue like you do (except after an earthquake).

Social class barriers in Britain - vanishing or not? Still in place the last time I looked.
Cap on benefits - yes or no?
Just as long as it's not while I'm on one.


Why blog?
It began with a business plan and the idea of recording the making of a garden and the restoration of a house. Somewhere along the way death and turmoil have turned this blog into a more reflective exercise.

Tribute bands? yes or no? Bantam of the Opera is the only band I follow - after all I got to sleep with the original bass player.

Next, I must pose ten questions of my own...

What is your earliest memory?
What is your favourite museum artifact?
Morris Dancing - Love it? Hate it? What's That?
Lager or porter?
What sort of camera do you use?
What is the latest thing that you have crafted by hand?
How many animals or pets do you have?
Where in the World is your most memorable landscape?
Did you give/get a Valentine today?
What would you choose for a final meal?

And finally, put these questions to ten other bloggers.  Some of my best friends are Bloggers, but not all Blogs lend themselves to this game. It doesn't seem fair (after all this is neither love nor war) to ask someone whose blog has very specific content - like Poems from Cuby or The Prodigal to deviate from form.

I have made an exception for Owen, because although his Magic Lantern Show is a photography blog, I think he is up to the challenge of manipulating the medium.

The Magic Lantern Show
More Canterbury Tales
Sunny Side Up
Going Gently
Bees Make Honey
Little Mondegreen's Theatre House
Musings of Murphyfish
Pear Delirium
The Renegade Farmer
Koro Neil

February 9, 2012

Changing Direction

There was a time, not so long ago, when I had grand designs for this place.  When Elwin and I took it over in July 2010, I was more than ready to remodel a tired old homestead. After all I had been dreaming and planning for the last thirty years. 
There was to be a Tudor rose garden with steps down to the dry stream. There was to be a wide shrubbery and herbaceous border with nine 10 metre repeats of predominantly winter flowering species. There were to be cloud-pruned hedges, and broad, meadow-sown terraces drifting down from the Skudder House. There was to be a knot garden of Maori patterning below an upstairs window and a sub-alpine sweep of domed hebes and spiky tussocks.

Dock and Roses ('Matawhero Magic')

This was to become a way of supplementing income because it was what I could do. Events of the past 18 months have changed what I can do.  I no longer have a technical advisor-cum-handy man companion, with a salaried income.  And I am no longer a fit young gardener: my arthritis dictates how I work these days.

Scarlet pimpernel amongst bedding plants

It is a surprise to realise how right Lady Mondegreen has been:
to let the garden show me the way.  It gives me great pleasure as it is, and as I move around remembering the past, considering the future, I have been noticing the wild flowers that have gained a foothold amongst my garden plantings over the last year.

Yarrow and Thalictrum delavayi 'Dainty Blooms'

But the creative urge is still with me, that need to tweak nature: to make my mark. Even now I am seeing new possibilities, where clearings can be made or focal points changed.

Gladiolus 'Holland Pearl' amongst foxglove seedheads and flowering hawksbit

I would like to harness the successful and flamboyant weeds that grow here and use them in a shockingly grand border.

Hemlock and pot marigolds 

I will continue to plant Ashley River kowhai trees in a grove along the stream. I will use existing snowflake bulbs to outline a braided tributary (have you noticed around old farmsteads, how spring snowflakes still outline vanished paths and fences where they were planted so long ago?)  I will find just the right place out of the wind to plant a set of six handkerchief trees; maybe I could still have a dancing greene!

Traveller's joy

And regretfully, I will continue to control the old man's beard.

Dock  Rumex spp
Scarlet pimpernel  Anagallis arvensis
Yarrow  Achillea millefolium
Foxglove  Digitalis purpurea 'Foxy'
Hawksbit, Smooth hawksbeard  Crepis capillaris
Hemlock  Conium maculatum 
Pot marigold Calendula officinalis
Traveller's joy, Old man's beard  Clematis vitalba

February 3, 2012

Fear of Fire

As I walk around the garden this cool damp day, I remember that today is the anniversary of The Fire.
I sometimes talk about the fire risk here, and know that even in the periods between the moistness, the grasses that are maturing and drying are easy tinder on a hot windy day.

There are reminders here and there, of that nightmare day sixteen years ago, before I had returned to live on this homeland.

Huge pine stumps are decaying along old hedge lines, providing at different stages of de-composition, habitat for diverse wildlife.
Huhu beetles were early colonisers, their thumb-sized larvae gnawing their way noisily out of felled wood, opening it up to the elements, and making space for other insects and fungal spores to rummage about in. By the time Elwin and I came with our children and a house to live here, the stumps had rotted enough, for a pair of kingfishers to nest in one, and raise their young in full view of our verandah. A kingfisher makes a hole much bigger than a huhu grub and so the process of breakdown speeds up.

But at the end of that day the rasping of giant mandibles scratching into warm still air; the sketching of rotting root runs by basket fungus and the courtly rituals of kingfishers were unforeseeable.

Though even then we were counting our blessings: nobody died and although fire found its way into the roof space of the Skudder House...

Firemen saved it.  A tell-tale gloved-handprint remains in the stairwell as a stark reminder of their presence .

My brother had been mowing long grass when the fire started, and the Nor' Wester fanned the spark that started the fire.  Although so much of the land was swept black by the fire which spread into the nearbly river catchment, the home orchard and close-mown lawns around the house escaped damage.

There it is - this land - the green patch, in the bottom left-hand corner of the photo.  The tall pines which surround it are gone now but for a few rotting stumps, and the orchard and ornamental trees that survived the fire have become Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden.

Seedlings that rose phoenix-like from the ashes have become trees in their own right.

With the passage of time, the Fear has all but evaporated: the sweating palms and racing heart every time the fire siren sounded in Rangiora; every time I glimpsed a tell-tale column of smoke rising from dry scrub in the river bed; every time I smelt woodsmoke on a hot breeze.

They danced there at the edge of the fire; without hankies or bells or whites; Ian in his jeans and un-tied office shirt and Tony in shorts and a polo shirt. The jig should have been unremarkable.  But without bell-jangle and only the piping lament of the whistle to accompany the shuffle of back-steps in ash, the dance transcended genre.  It stepped back in time to when all dance was the same – feet treading rhythm, bodies twisting in firelight. One dancer leading, wordlessly but expressively: the other hesitant at first but knowing the shape of the dance, matching his companion in display
           Hera watched them, their faces and limbs up-lit by the fire. It was burning low, but sending up sparks, the embers becoming hypnotic.  Starting out of entrancement, Hera curled her fingers into her palms.  Her hands were warm, but not clammy with sweat.  She listened to her heart; breathed slowly and deeply; and marveled that tonight fire held no fear for her.