Crunching frosts...

July brings a new month, even more wintry and cold. There are morning crunching frosts, log fires when it gets dark, and weak winter sun. It's strange though how the weeds keep growing.

 These bergenias are Bressingham Ruby.
carex and bergenias in frost

Sunday 1st July

It's July! I'm learning about the low winter sun - this year it seems even lower than ever. The Stables seat doesn't get sunny until nearly 10.30, and the borders over the water race are definitely afternoons only. Another crunching overnight frost, which of course makes weeding impossible. This winter the temperatures are definitely lower, like the sun. In the circle of garden life does that mean that all the bugs are dead and my roses will be bug-free next spring/summer? Hmm...

I've been pottering, cutting back perennials and shifting ungrateful hebes. As a celebration of my holiday I have purchased several new green gardening shirts and one blue (elegantly vertically striped) for holiday apres-gardening. Would I rather be somewhere else? Guess not. I love this season, where perspective is somehow gentler, lists are shorter yet more meaningful, and gardening work is thoughtful rather than frenetic.

I remember the NZ winter/ English summer I spent on holiday in Devon and Norfolk, visiting gardens. At the end of each day I felt a profound and somewhat distressing homesickness for my own garden back home. Logic told me that I was in summer (England) and that I should enjoy the warmth and the beauty of the English gardens and countryside. I just wanted to go home. Hopeless.

Tomorrow I do have a small list of chores. First I have to finish planting the spring bulbs. Then I will collect the pinecones from the fence-line, move some more hay bales to mulch the borders over the water race, and continue my peaceful secateured wanderings following the sun around the garden. I may even try and weed around the edges of the compost heap with the spade, if the frost isn't too severe.

Monday 2nd July

This is really the first day of my holiday. Gardening will have to wait a couple of hours as there's a rather crisp frost out there and it's still quite dark. I'm writing this at 7.45 in the morning, impatient - do I truly do like winter? I've lit the log burner and now am off for a pre-porridge crunching walk with the dog.

Later, in Elegant Vertical Striped Apres-Gardening Shirt...

I've had a great day chasing the sun around, clipping and spreading mulch and clearing weeds. I worked for a long time in the Dog-Path Garden with the nearby water race gently burbling and murmuring. Now I am off to have tea with my gardening friend Astrid, who tells me there was frost on the beach this morning. Many areas of my garden stayed frosted all day, and apparently tonight is forecast to be minus 6 degrees. I've covered the cannas with pea-straw just in case.

 The ice is quite thick, but not as think as Canadian Ice!
frozen pond

Tuesday 3rd July

It's 10.40am and almost pleasant enough to go outside for some serious gardening. How very peculiar July gardening is. I can't remember this type of gardening timetable ever happening before - have I been romanticising about my all-weather exploits? Will check my old diaries.

Ha! I either sit around reading books and not writing anything much (1998 and 1999) or I am in outback Western Australia in 28 degree heat (2000). So this is the first July I have tried to be a well chronicled winter gardener. I am seriously breaking new ground! Which is precisely what I should be doing outside. Hmm...


I've collected pine cones and raked and burnt gum tree rubbish. I am rather disappointed with my efforts, and feel quite lonely.

Wednesday 4th July

Another heavy frost this morning, and I didn't start work outside until 11am. I mooched around a bit collecting more cones for the fire and I trimmed all the catmint around the patio borders. I've sat on the Stables seat in the sun and read some of a book and all of the newspaper. A quiet day in paradise.

Thursday 5th July

These frosts are amazing. I can't ever remember being here (in West Melton, New Zealand) with so many freezes. Today I gave up on the early start. It's now 10.30 and I'm about to get into gardening clothes. There's a limit to what I can do in the freeze, and writing a list won't help, since most of the locations on it are frozen. Might visit the glass-house and peer at the hopefully non-frozen succulents in their pots.

 My dog.


I went for a long long walk with the dog, then enjoyed the sun and worked in the Pond Borders clipping and cutting back. At times it felt warm, but now it's 3.45 and already the sun is sinking. I can now see why mid-winter gardeners don't have very much to say about the garden. Another quiet day (8 degrees max) in paradise.

A seed catalogue arrived in the post, and it will be my after-tea-reward to make a list from it. Fervent spring resolutions will also be made.

Friday 6th July

The catalogue still waits. Again, there is a heavy frost and the newspaper claims that this succession of frosts is very unusual. It's actually quite difficult to be a gardener when it's frozen. I admire the patience of my friends in North America who survive months of freeze. I'm just not used to it. I've mooched around the garden with the dog taking photos of frost patterns and have arrived back inside unsatisfied.

Much Later...

The dog and I went for a much longer walk right around the fence-line or our property. We talked about winter garden dreaming and how I might write a story about the dreams inside the new seed catalogue. Wish I was better at describing shapes of petals, colours of leaves, habits of plants, though.

Brown Flax :
Flaxes are either species or hybrids of Phormium tenax and Phormium cookianum.

In winter my flaxes look too huge - could this could be because they actually are too huge? Either I take credit for planting things so obviously suitable for the garden conditions here, or the flaxes are simply a big mistake, big trouble, impossible to plant around, etc. I know which one I believe. Hmm...

Saturday 7th July

Today is different! - a light frost , only 1 or 2 degrees. Now it's 11.45 and I am about to go outside and do some serious damage. Yes, it's time that all those ill-placed roses by Middle Path were shifted. They can go into pots to await their new homes. Order and sensible spacing of plants will prevail. Right! Off I go, not to return until I have something serious to report.

 Still growing...
'Small' red flax


The first proper gardening day I've had during my holiday! A decent winter's day temperature (about 10 degrees) is a great motivator. I've shifted roses and small rhododendrons, planted the last of the daffodil bulbs into the holes left behind (I thought that was pretty clever), and removed all the cannas from Middle Border, stuffing them into pots. Next summer they will be potted and portable.

I have thrown out some small scratchy cherry coloured roses, and have removed an ugly spirea shrub. Filler perennials have been scooped out and potted. This border is now much simplified, and officially re-designated as woodland, and I am thinking about laying down a path surface. Would my haphazard garden design be improved if I actually committed my paths to being there (by laying gravel or bark)?

At 3.45 I stopped working and set off down the road with the dog for a walk in the late sun - abandoned it after 5 minutes as Sifter the cat thundered along the grass verge to join us. We three turned and headed back home. Sifter is behaving oddly, and the cold weather has him hanging around the house a lot more.

I am much happier with my gardening day.