We haven’t had too many days this winter that have been cheerless and grey, with rain and wind, the sort of day when all you want to do is stay inside and hibernate. More often the days have been calm and still, with some frosty mornings that are always followed by glorious sunshine, and it is on those days that I love to spend time in the garden, enjoying the beautiful winter colours.
Calendulas among the carrots, brightening up the veggie patch.
Orange and grapefruit trees laden with fruit.
Pots of dianthus.
The beautiful camellia in the abandoned garden next door.
The Peace Lily in our living room, illuminated by early morning sunshine.
For this page in my art journal, I collaged on some scraps of paper and teabags, applied texture with gesso, stencils, and lace, and painted the background in wintery hues. I then painted the colours of my garden: the starkness of the maple tree without its leaves, the red berries on the holly tree, the bright orange citrus, and the beautiful winter flowers. Lastly I added a few pressed flowers of the pansies and violas that flower throughout the winter.
We love to encourage birds to our garden. Every morning, the sparrows perch on the roof of my studio and watch me through the kitchen window, waiting for their daily feed. When I go out the back door, they fly around me in a flurry of excitement and follow me to the back lawn where I toss a couple of handfuls of wild bird seed onto the grass.
Inside my studio, I have a good view of them through the French doors where I can watch from a distance as they peck around on the grass, then have a drink from the birdbath. It is fun to watch them splashing around and playing in the water. Sometimes they are joined by finches or silvereyes or starlings. Occasionally bossy mynas will come and scare them away. The blackbirds hang around on the outskirts, foraging on the grass and in the garden for worms and grubs.
This little birdbath sticker was the perfect addition to the photos in my garden journal.
We have just a few beetroot left in our veggie garden, which I have let become overrun with nasturtiums and violas, both of which attract beneficial insects to the garden. Both the violas and nasturtiums have come up through self-seeding and are a welcome addition to the garden until winter frosts kill off the nasturtiums in the next few weeks.
I planted enough beetroot to last us through the summer and autumn. We have enjoyed them in salads and sandwiches, in burgers and on pizzas, and roasted with other veggies. I have bottled enough to keep us going through the rest of the year, but I couldn’t let them all go without making one last cake! The beetroot gives the cake a lovely texture and flavour, as well as a red tinge.
Chocolate Beetroot Cake
1 large beetroot (about 250g)
1 cup raw sugar
1 cup oil (I use olive oil)
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 cup plain flour
1 cup wholemeal flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ cup cocoa
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Beat together the eggs and sugar. Peel and grate the uncooked beetroot. Mix the oil, vanilla, and grated beetroot into the eggs and sugar until well combined. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and cocoa, then add to the wet mixture and stir to combine. Pour the batter into a paper-lined cake tin and bake for 50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.
Allow to cool, then spread with icing.
2 cups icing sugar
1 tablespoon cocoa
3 tablespoons butter or non-dairy spread, softened
2 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon vanilla essence
Sift the icing sugar and cocoa into a bowl, then add all the other ingredients and mix until smooth and a spreadable consistency.
In celebration of Earth Day I’d like to shine a light on the tiny creatures that are so vital to our very existence – wild bees, honeybees, and bumblebees. Sadly, worldwide bee populations are in decline, which is why we need to protect them and encourage them into our gardens. We can make our gardens bee friendly by planting flowers with open petals, planting colourful flowers with lots of blues and purples and yellows, providing a source of water so the bees don’t get dehydrated, planting native plants, and creating nesting habitats for them.
A few of the plants that bees love include alyssum, daisies, asters, bergamot bee balm, lavender, rosemary, cosmos, echinacea, borage, anise hyssop, and salvia.
These are a few of the beautiful bees and bumblebees that have visited our garden over the summer.
I painted this canvas of a furry bumblebee for my dear friend, Erica, who has just retired and is looking forward to having more time to spend with nature in her lovely garden.
As we head towards the end of summer, here in New Zealand, the days are still hot, but we are expecting a cool change this weekend with some much needed rain, which the garden will be grateful for. The air is loud with the sound of cicadas during the day and long into the night, a regular hallmark of summer. There is something comforting about going to bed in the summertime and listening to the chorus of cicadas through the open window. Pretty monarch butterflies continue to visit the garden. They can often be seen fluttering around the echinaceas, and the oleander tree outside our living room window.
In the garden, many of the summer annuals are past their best, but the hardy echinaceas are still making an impressive display of colour in the back garden, while, out the front, the dahlias and marigolds continue to bloom.
Our vegetable garden has produced a bountiful crop of tomatoes this year. It is the best season we have had for growing tomatoes in quite a few years. Our one zucchini plant has provided us with a constant supply throughout the summer and we have enjoyed using them in muffins, fritters, pasta sauce, salads, and zucchini slice. We have a few beetroot left in the garden, as well as some carrots, cut and come again lettuce, kale, chard, and spring onions. We are even still picking a few strawberries.
With some of the beds now empty, I have been planning the autumn and winter garden. We are lucky to be able to grow lettuce, carrots, kale, chard and spring onions year round in our climate. I have seeded a new bed of carrots and am growing some red onion seeds to be planted out in the autumn. I haven’t tried growing onions before, so it will be interesting to see how they do. We have dug up the last of our Agria potatoes. Unfortunately we don’t have space to grow enough for storing, but we have enjoyed eating freshly dug potatoes over the past month.
The artwork in my garden journal is by Hannah Dale. It is an English book and includes wildlife that we don’t have in New Zealand, but I think her paintings are just beautiful.
Other tasks in the garden this month have included saving seed and drying herbs.
Below is a recipe for zucchini muffins that I have made often over the summer. They are nice to take to work for lunches or to pack for picnics.
Savoury Zucchini Muffins
1 cup milk
¼ cup olive oil
250g unpeeled zucchini, grated (1 average sized zucchini)
1 large or 2 small spring onions, chopped
½ red capsicum, chopped
1 cup grated goat’s cheese
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 cups plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
salt & black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 200°C. Brush a 12 hole muffin tin with a little oil.
Whisk together the eggs and milk. Stir in the olive oil. Squeeze the moisture from the grated zucchini and add to the mixture, along with the spring onions, capsicum, cheese, and parsley. Stir to combine. Sift in the flour and baking powder. Add salt and pepper and mix to combine.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin. Bake for 30 minutes. Allow the muffins to cool slightly before removing them from the tin. Eat warm, or cool on a wire rack and enjoy cold.
Happy gardening and harvesting wherever you are in the world!