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.
Every autumn, in April, we enjoy going foraging for walnuts. There are a couple of places where we take Finn walking that we know have big old walnut trees, which are off the beaten track and where the walnuts lie on the ground untouched.
The last couple of weeks we have had some beautiful autumn weather, perfect for foraging. On a day that was warm and still and sunny, we took our bags and headed for the river. Away from civilization, we were surrounded by trees, birdsong, bees, dragonflies, and fantails.
It was clear from the dense undergrowth and foliage that not many people had come down this way.
We discovered a crabapple tree on our walk.
When we reached the walnut trees we had to search beneath the undergrowth for the nuts, however there were plenty to be found, and Finn was keen to help! We filled our bags and left plenty for the next forager to find.
Several chatty fantails accompanied us on our walk, flitting from branch to branch. They rarely stay still for more than a moment at a time, so it is very hard to photograph them, but Nick managed to capture these ones.
Then it was down to the river for Finn to have a swim.
Now I have to wait a few weeks for the walnuts to dry before I can make my favourite caramel date and walnut cake!
Here are a few more pages from my floriography book.
I found this little forget-me-not poem in one of the old books of poetry I picked up for a dollar from the school book fair, and thought it was perfect for adding to my page with forget-me-nots from my garden.
This is a page that I did in my art journal a while ago.
I have collected a few books over the years on ‘The Language of Flowers’ and find it interesting that most of the flower meanings have remained consistent over time, their interpretations drawn from myth and history. However, there are a few that differ from book to book. It would be interesting to get hold of an original one from the Victorian era to compare with the modern books.
I love that Olive Dunn, in her book ‘Delights of Floral Language,’ has started her own floral language list with no sinister meanings, as she found some of the meanings repellent in the old books.
I believe that flowers speak to us with their colour, beauty, uniqueness, and their life force, touching each of us in different ways. I think that all flowers are beautiful, but I know that, for me, certain flowers evoke a particular emotion or bring to mind certain words. I am drawn to them by their colour, associations, or folklore, and the joy that they add to my life. I’m sure that if each of us were to compile our own personal ‘language of flowers’ list, they might make for some interesting reading and comparisons!
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!
For several years now, I have enjoyed watching the English TV show Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year. Each week, contestants, consisting mainly of amateur painters, with a few professionals, are taken to a different outdoor location and given a few hours to paint the landscape as they interpret it, whether it be a castle, a bridge, a river, or even a field of lavender. There is always such a diverse range of styles and mediums, and many of the final paintings are amazing. I have often thought what fun it would be to pack up a bag of art materials and go somewhere quiet to just sit and paint.
A few days ago, my husband had a day off work and we decided to take a drive out to Waimarama Beach, a 40 minute trip in the car. After days of sweltering temperatures in the 30s, it had dropped to the low 20s and was much more pleasant for spending time outdoors. We packed a few art essentials – watercolour paints, brushes, pencil and eraser, a little container of water, a rag, and some watercolour paper. Also, of course, some snacks for nourishment.
Being a week day, the beach was deserted and we had the whole shore to ourselves, apart from a couple of other people walking their dogs.
The rock sticking out of the water is Bare Island. It provides a safe haven and breeding site for blue penguins.
Finn had a wonderful time chasing sticks, digging in the sand and running in and out of the lapping water.
We found a log that was perfect for sitting on and we draped a towel over it to provide some shelter from the sun for Finn.
I painted what I saw, then, when I got home, I added a few paper embellishments to break up the expanses of sand, sea, and sky. I took the liberty of adding a lighthouse to Bare Island because, well, it just looked like it needed one.
It was a fun day. Although I could never compete with the talent of the Landscape Artist of the Year contestants, I have a unique piece of art to add to Finn’s scrapbook album, along with the photos, to remember the day by.
While watching the Landscape Artist of the Year shows, I was particularly inspired by one of the contestants, Helen Hallows, whose mixed media art combines paint, collage, and stitching. You can see her art on her website here. Helen has published a set of four charming little books, one for each season, that are filled with her nature-inspired art and her thoughts on nature. They are lovely little books that I pick up often to browse through and be inspired.
I have always been fascinated by floriography or language of flowers, in which a list of meanings was given to flowers to convey sentimental thoughts or secret messages to the recipient of the bouquet. This was especially popular in Victorian England and was used a lot on greeting cards during that era and for some time afterwards.
I have begun to make my own little book of floriography using pressed flowers from my garden, but have decided to use only the flowers that have nice sentiments attributed to them rather than those whose meanings detract from the beauty of the flower, such as begonia – dark thoughts, foxglove – insincerity, or lavender – distrust. I want my book to be a little garden of happiness and serenity.
I am using a spiral-bound mixed-media book to allow plenty of room between the pages for bulky embellishments.
These are the first of my pages…
A little arrangement on my work table of leftovers.
Park Island is one of our favourite places for walking Finn. Before the Napier earthquake in 1931, Park Island was a cemetery with access by a road formed across the Ahuriri Lagoon. After the earthquake caused much land to be lifted above sea level, the island became part of the mainland, and today Park Island consists of the old cemetery, as well as a newer cemetery, sports fields, an archery range, and lots of walking tracks. It is a lovely walk along the stream, through the trees, and over the small hills. Finn loves swimming in the stream that runs down one side, and there are always other dogs for him to socialise with.
I love walking around the old cemetery. The weathered headstones hold so much history and it is fascinating to read the names engraved on them, many of which have fallen out of fashion and sadly are no longer used today. There is a sense of peace in the graveyard, surrounded by many lovely trees. A row of evergreen Italian Cypress trees were planted down one side of the graveyard to symbolise everlasting life, and there is a fabulous old yew tree, which, according to folklore, wards off evil spirits and protects the dead.
I love the areas where wildflowers and grasses are allowed to grow untamed.
With the temperatures reaching into the 30s the past couple of weeks, Finn is grateful for a swim in the stream.
As well as pine trees and eucalyptus trees, there are lots of native trees planted all around the grounds. With their berries, fruit, and nectar, they attract native birds such as tui, bellbirds, fantails, and the occasional kereru (New Zealand wood pigeon).
We often go for a walk around Park Island after tea, when it is cooler. It is a pleasant way to walk off our dinner and wind down at the end of the day.