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Gardening with Gael - Harry's home-grown vegetables

arthur milestone(copy)The photo accompanying this article is of Arthur Henry (Harry) Milestone, Box’s Dad who passed away last week at the grand old age of 94. Behind Harry is one of his vegetable gardens. This particular garden was in Paraparaumu where they retired to from their home in Paekakariki where Box and his five brothers grew up.

I can’t begin to imagine growing enough vegetables for a family of six boys. The house at Paekakariki was situated directly across the road from the sea. The evidence of the strong nor’westerly winds is apparent in the salt-blasted appearance of all the plants growing along the coast. Close proximity to the sea meant the gar-den was similar to our coastal gardens, predominantly sand. Taupata [co-prosma repens], a hardy coastal native was grown as a wind break. The shiny leaves aid its survival in coastal regions and its lovely bright green makes an attractive hedge. Box (brother number four) remembers helping Harry chop it back.

“How severely?” I asked.

“Ground level,” said Box, “and they would all spring back immediately.”

In my experience this is good advice. Severe pruning of taupata keeps it from becoming straggly and woody.

Brian (brother number two) remembers Harry coming home with a large bag of broad beans to plant, which he did – the entire bag. This provided an enormous quantity of produce. They all remember their mother Joyce boiling the broad beans in the pressure cooker with the other vegetables. Everything came out the same gray colour all tasting the same. To this day Box visibly shudders at the thought of broad beans. Cooking styles have changed and with it the palatability of broad beans. I still can’t tempt Box but the other brothers now enjoy them.

Storms on the beach threw up quantities of seaweed. Colin (brother number six) can remember trudging down to the beach with a wheelbarrow with Harry to bring back kelp and seaweed for the garden. The sand needed additives to help grow the vegetables. One crop that does well with the seaweed is asparagus. Using rocks, Harry built a number of terraces for the garden and one he devoted to asparagus. His son Brian went on to grow asparagus in similar soil next to his home near Oakura in Taranaki. For years Brian and Maree grew beautiful asparagus for the markets. I must get to the beach to get some for my asparagus bed. Last week’s storms are bound to have provided us with a good supply.

There were four different garden beds which were rotated annually. I now know why Box likes his vegetable garden to be nicely regimented. Vegetables were grown in orderly rows (see photo).

When Harry and Joyce moved to their home in a retirement village there was no longer the opportunity to grow a vegetable garden. Instead Harry tried his hand with herbs. Graham (brother number five) and his partner Viv remember Harry wanting to experiment with herbs in his cooking. They bought herbs on shopping trips and planted them in pots for ready access to the kitchen. Sadly these herbs did not thrive in spite of Harry’s enthusiasm for them and the idea of enhancing his diet.

There is no doubt that home grown vegetables are the basis of good health. This is one legacy Harry has left to his family. ‘He was one of life’s true gentleman’ wrote my friend Barb in a card, and he was, and we will miss him.

Last issue showed possums were or could become a perpetual problem. Reader Brian Styles has this to say:

“Regarding Gael McConnachy’s possum problem, a piece of wool dipped in tar and tied on the rose bush will keep them at bay. I once lived in an area where there were more possums than earthworms. (I guarantee you can’t prove me wrong as nei-ther of us can count them anyway.) The roses thrived with their lit-tle woollen collars on. Baling twine dipped in tar and strung on sticks about 4-inches above the ground works like an electric fence for rabbits or a stone dipped in tar and placed at the base of a tree will protect that tree for months. Don’t ask me where to purchase the tar but I think Stockholm tar pur-chased from the vets will do the job.

Another possum combatant was often used by sheepfarmers who were, at one time, considered to have the best fruit orchards. It was always necessary to dag sheep but the dags seldom had much value. Spread widely around the base of roses or fruit trees they proved a good deterrent. It is thought the possums are put off partially by the smell but predominantly have an aversion to getting wool stuck to their claws and so will not cross where the dags are spread. This also provides great fertiliser.”

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