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Gardening with Gael - Rats and other ramblings


gael-82“Ask you what?” Lloyd is a walking plant encyclopedia. “I know what’s eating your magnolias.” 

Lloyd had recently been on a trip to a magnificent magnolia garden which he described as ‘Heaven’. There, they were experiencing the same problem as me. The owner, an expert on magnolias, revealed the source. “Rats,” said Lloyd. “Rats have eaten the magnolia buds.” Of course. With this year being a mast year in the bush, rats have reproduced prolifically.

A mast year is when all the trees of the bush or forest flower and produce fruit en masse. This has been a mast year.

Once everything has been devoured, the rats turned to other species and the magnolia blooms provided a delicious delicacy. We had rat stations out but clearly not enough and certainly nowhere near the magnolias. It made total sense.

Rats are light enough to run along the smallest branches and it was clear that one bite had demolished the buds. We will know next year. Thank you, Lloyd.

Garden ramble A number of subjects came up during the (Mangawhai Garden) Ramble now a couple of weeks ago. First, there was great interest in the tea plantation and I said I would reiterate the basic facts. If you can grow camellias, you can grow tea. All you need is Camellia sinesis. The type of tea comes from the processing.

I think we are fortunate up the valley with the mists that roll up and provide moisture because our tea plants have done very well. My niece visited with a couple from Sri Lanka and Marg, our main processor, had a great conversation with them. Today we are off to pick some more tea to try out our new process. Hansi from Sri Lanka explained that they too dry the tea initially in the sun but don’t follow up by roasting in the oven.

She said her mother has a large iron wok type vessel that she uses over an open flame and finishes the process in that. Marg has exactly the type of vessel she described so we are going to try. We made a huge pot of our last tea for them to taste.

Gardening on sand Secondly, although the Block garden is glorious clay loam, many visitors came from gardens 
on sand. Having a garden on sand here at the beach I know exactly the struggle. Here are tips on gardening in sand as promised. Once again, I reiterate but it may well be a long time since I wrote about sand. There are no nutrients in sand, and that, combined with a surface tension that initially repels water, are the main difficulties to deal with.

The range of plants that have ‘growing in pure sand’ survival techniques are limited. I dig out a hole twice the size of the plant and barrow it away. I line the bottom third of the hole with newspaper or cardboard. This provides a barrier while the plant becomes established and holds some moisture.

DO NOT let any of the paper peak out the top because it can act like a wick and draw moisture away from the plant. Fill the hole with the desired planting medium e.g. some topsoil mixed with compost, and check the requirements of the plant. A product to hold water is good at this point. Mangawhai Landscape Supplies has an excellent product called SaturAid which claims to reduce water use by 50 per cent. Gardens everywhere could benefit from this. Plant slightly lower than the surrounding area so any moisture runs in.

Box always calls this the moat. It also makes for easy watering. Keep the sand back from around the plant and then mulch. For gardening in sand a barrow is essential. Constant feeding and mulching are required almost forever or until your garden supplies its own leaf litter. The pile of grass clippings everyone leaves at my gate are an invaluable source of planting material as the clippings underneath break down and become the most amazing planting medium. Thank you to all those who leave their clippings there. 
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