Monthly Archives: October 2014

Stevia Surveillance

It’s come to this … yes, I’m sleeping with my stevia (and other) seedlings. And all because of a very nasty rodent attack.

Stevia surveillance

I’ve taken to sleeping with my stevia (and other) seedlings following a very vicious rodent raid!

Spring here in The Catlins has taken a turn for the worse and temperatures have plummeted, causing rodents to abandon the great outdoors and sneak back into the house. The result is that we returned home from a weekend in the city to discover that every container of seed we had left sitting on heat pads on the windowledge had been dug up by mice looking for food! Gone was the germinating New Zealand spinach, the heads of several nasturtium shoots had been broken off and … worst of all, my precious stevia seedlings had been dislodged from their seed raising mix and buried beneath it! It took over an hour to put to rights everything that could be saved. Tweezers were employed to handle the tiny stevia seedlings but although they’re back in the soil, who knows if they will weather the storm.

In the meantime, unable to lure the mice into our humane mouse-catcher, I can take no risks, so every night, the seedlings and I share lodgings. And every morning I cart them back out to the living room and place them on the sunny windowledge again. Now that’s dedication for you!












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Quaky Cat Visits Japan

If you haven’t heard of Quaky Cat, you probably don’t live in New Zealand (or Japan!).

quaky cat 001

Following the devastating Christchurch Earthquake in 2011, I wrote a book to raise funds in support of those whose lives had been, literally, turned upside down. It was a huge honour to be supported so generously in this venture by publishers Scholastic New Zealand and Christchurch’s own illustrator, Gavin Bishop. Quaky Cat went on to raise over $100,000 dollars, and a sequel to the book is on its way.

Book signing with Gavin Bishop at the  launch.

Book signing with Gavin Bishop at the launch of Quaky Cat in Christchurch.


Reading Quaky Cat to Christchurch children.

Reading ‘Quaky’ to Christchurch children affected by the earthquake.

Now, the very exciting news is that Quaky Cat has gone to Japan to help out after the earthquake and the subsequent tsunami that left large parts of that country in ruins, and some areas contaminated by radiation from the damaged Fukushima power plant. Quaky Cat was introduced to Japan by a young woman called Kaori, who once lived in Christchurch and attended the University of Canterbury. She is in Japan now and toured with a trio called ‘Smile Again’, a small group who help raise money for children affected by the Fukushima Earthquake. She strongly believes children in the Fukushima/Tohoku area can relate to the story of Quaky Cat, and that the book can help many people in Japan as well as those in New Zealand. She requested permission to translate the book into Japanese for a reading and powerpoint. It is heartening to know that ‘Tiger’ (alias Quaky Cat) has been reaching out to so many, half a world away. Thanks Kaori!



Kaori translates the story as Quaky Cat appears in Japan on the big screen.


The poster advertising Kaori’s performance.







Filed under MY BOOKS and ARTICLES


dolphin 001 flight from ledron 001 Tui Garden 001 quaky cat 001 teddy bears promise 001 best loved bear 001
   I’m a writer as well as a gardener, and these are just a handful of over 200 publications I’ve written for young readers.

You can see my writer-profile on the NZ Book Council site.

  Check out my books and articles here: National Library


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Filed under MY BOOKS and ARTICLES

Gardens that Wobble!

Some of my garden beds wobble – truly! If I put the fork into them and jiggle it back and forwards, the surrounding growing medium wobbles like a jelly. I say ‘growing medium’ because there’s not a lot of what we would generally regard as ‘soil’ there. There’s certainly none of that sticky black stuff that clings to the sides of a carrot as you draw it out of the ground. My ‘growing medium’ is more a mass of crumbs made up of tiny fragments of twig, bark, leaf, the friable remains of composted plant material, aged animal manure, seaweed, straw, pine needle, egg shell, threads of cotton, wisps of wool, and filaments of hair. If I squeeze it all together in a tight fist, it takes on a shape for a moment, then gently collapses. It’s like the crumbs of a pastry mix just before you add that final drop of water or lemon juice that turns it into a lovely, soft, malleable ball of dough.

Wobbly soil 2

This organic growing medium, straight from the garden, looks (and smells) good enough to eat!

In fact, I often think of my garden beds in baking terms. As I add barrow loads of this and that to them, it really does feel as if I’m following a recipe for cake batter, especially when I mix it all together with the fork. And I just know that whatever vegetable I plant in the garden, it’s going to enjoy eating what there.

giant cabbage

How do I know vegetables like my growing medium? Because this looks like a pretty happy cabbage!

Today, while I was reading Roots of Civilisation – Plans that Changed the World, by John Newton, I began to think of my garden beds in another light – as helpful storehouses of carbon. ‘Organic fertilizers,’ according to Newton, ‘mulch, compost, manure and other organic waste materials’, build up the soil and are not only 15-20% more efficient at retaining water than convention chemical fertilizers, but are also far greater sequesters of carbon. The organic system stores up to 981 kilograms per hectare as opposed to 293 kilograms per hectare in the conventional system. And, as we all now know, the more carbon in the soil, the less there is in the atmosphere to contribute to global warming.

Where do these statistics come from? They come from a 23 year old study by the Rodale Institute which you can read about here:  So, without my even realising it, the roadside garden has been helping fight global warming since its instigation five years ago. Now that’s something to celebrate!




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Tomato Growing … and more

Tomatoes and how to grow them 001


Tomatoes 2 001












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October 23, 2014 · 10:45 pm


Labour Weekend is here – the time of year here in the south where every gardener traditionally sows their potatoes. In a tiny village like Papatowai, where almost every home is a weekend crib (that’s South Island-ese for ‘beach house’), even the holiday-makers sow potatoes in their holiday gardens so that, come Christmas, they have new potatoes for the dinner table.

Seed potatoes - new life from old.

Seed potatoes – new life from old.

It makes for a busy weekend – rotary hoes revving, lawn mowers vrooming,  visitors to Blair’s Lost Gypsy Gallery just up the road, people pouring into Jac’s kayak-hire caravan, lining up at Pueng’s coffee cart outside the Gallery, booking into Catlins Wildlife Tracker’s echo cottages. The excitement is all a bit too much for me – too much of a change from our usual nothing-but-bird-noise and waves and wind-in-the-trees lifestyle. I’ll probably hide-out in my kitchen garden until it all blows over and we’re back to calm. But the weekend will bring loads of harvesters, like these Auzzie campervan-ers, to the roadside garden, and that’s nice.

Happy Auzzie harvesters.

Happy Auzzie harvesters.

Like a lot of visitors to the garden, these folk enjoyed taking photos of the ‘Free Vegetables’  sign which I put up last year. For several seasons I’d just scrawled a make-shift sign and tacked it to the fence. I’m not big on signs, I think they’re intrusive, but at the same time, you can’t have a garden without a ‘help yourself’ notice or people will think the vegetables aren’t for them. And if you’re going to have a sign, then it may as well be a beautiful one. My patient husband waited and waited until I came up with a design for the sign, and then he painted it for me.

The Roadside Garden sign

The Roadside Garden sign

The tools featured on the sign are painted gold – that’s because, although they’re usually brown and covered in mud, and made from only wood and forged iron, I think they are the most beautiful objects. I built a hanger for them a while back and sometimes I just stand there, admiring them – simple shapes but so well designed, so well-worn and useful. I love to feel the wood in my hands.

Between the tools is the ‘dove of peace’ – only our ‘dove’ is a kereru, a native pigeon.

The Kereru-of-peace

Birds are so much a part of Papatowai, and the lives of all of us who live here – sea birds, bush birds, exotic birds in the garden. In many ways, they bring order and pattern to our lives: November is the time for the oyster catchers to lay their eggs on the beach, and all summer we watch the chicks change from balls of fluff to untidy adolescents, until finally they look just like their glossy black parents. August is the pigeon-display-diving time of the year, when the kereru fly high into the sky and then swoop straight down, almost collapsing into the air. October is when they sit, fat and berry-filled, in the trees, coo-ing. January is when they balance on branches in the heavy rain, one wing held straight up so the water trickles down, cleaning their feathers. Winter is for nectar-feeding the bush birds – the tui and bell birds and the tiny wax-eyes.  Spring is worm-digging time for the thrush and blackbirds, and busy snatching-of-spiders-from-their-webs by tui who are looking for protein for their chicks. The kereru on the ‘Free Vegetable’ sign holds in its beak an olive branch – another sign of peace, but also a connection to Greece, my second home.

Written onto the frame that surrounds the sign are the words from Isaiah 2:1: ‘… and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.’ The following line is just as beautiful but there’s no room for it on the frame. It is: ‘Nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more.’

Each morning, I listen to Radio New Zealand’s news before I get up. And when I do, I think of these words from Isaiah, rising above the chaos and despair of the world, and often, before anyone else in the village is awake, and before holiday makers are on the road, I go out into the garden and plant. Despite the horror and hate reported each morning on the radio, the gentle earth is still kind to us and brings forth good things for all those who till and care for it.





I have no idea why, as kids, we called gooseberries ‘gooz-gogs’, or why most kids nowadays have no idea what these berries are. So it was sheer pleasure last summer to watch a whole family of children who knew all about them, and just loved crunching on them. They came back and back to the roadside garden every day for a week as the stripy green fruit began turning red. When they polished off the last one, I invited them into my own garden and they had another feast!

I grow two types of gooseberries, a fruit that values a cold winter and a cool-ish summer. The first is a desert gooseberry which was given to me by a friend now in her nineties. Its berries are smaller than other varieties but despite never turning red (or even pink) they becomes translucent in early summer, and are so sweet that they never makes it into the house – we  just stand in the garden and feast on them.  The second type is probably ‘Pax’, and its berries grow very large – about a third the size of a hen’s egg. They turns red if left on the bush but are never super-sweet no matter how ripe they get (those kids visiting the garden didn’t seem to mind!). These gooseberries are great for the freezer, and in winter, the ones from our own kitchen garden get turned into gooseberry shortcake whenever we have a community gathering.

Right now, the roadside garden gooz-gogs are sporting delicate little berries. I fed the bushes loads of seaweed and donkey manure during their dormant winter period so I don’t need to do anything more to help them on their way – the wax-eyes will attend to any aphids, hopping through the branches and gobbling up the pests,  and the wet conditions we’re having at the moment will soon bulk up the berries.



I can’t wait for the return of those gooseberry-gobbling children come summer!