The fact that it is now late November and there is no sign of any major digging or construction work happening in our garden is an indication that I am not getting my Christmas wish this year, either.
Honestly, a swimming pool’s not such a big ask. These days they come pre-fabricated and if you’re smart you can order one on the Monday and have it in the ground by Friday. But if it’s not to be, I have an auxiliary list of suitable items for a Christmas gift for a gardener.
You’d have to be blind not to notice that tin is the material of the moment, and, sucker that I am, I’m completely besotted by all those tin signs with scraps of poetry, sappy quotes or pure nonsense printed on them.
I bought The Partner one printed with the first verse of You Are My Sunshine for a minor anniversary a few weeks ago and I’m hopeful he may reciprocate with something similar – although not so sentimental. They’re very handy in the garden.
Our neighbours have a very clever tin sign, obviously handmade long before the current fashion. It’s an arrow with her name on one side and his on the other, and depending on which way it’s pointing at any given time, it indicates who’s inside, and who’s out. I’m not sure what they do when they’re both outside at the same time.
The neighbours on the other side have a street sign bearing their name, which they insist was found in a junk shop but I suspect may have been separated from its moorings after a few beers one night in Invercargill about 30 years ago. I want one pointing to the kitchen that says “Tearoom” to remind The Partner that gardening is not just about hard work, but also sitting down to share ideas over a cup of tea and a gingernut.
One of the nicest things about signs, whether old or new, is that it doesn’t really matter what they say. My favourite is a street sign just up the road. “Access Road”, it reads, and immediately underneath, the words “no exit, no access”. Don’t you love it?
Failing getting a clever sign for Christmas, I have found a brilliant tin whole-year calendar which is just made for our courtyard. It has magnetised frames to mark the month and the date, and for two people who don’t wear watches and are continually asking each other what the date is (and sometimes the day) it’s the perfect gift. We can give it to each other and save a dollar or two.
I’m given to falling in love with the most unsuitable types (present company excepted) and the results are all over the garden. Happily, it’s easier to correct poor choices of trees than it is husbands, because you can’t whack an unsuccessful partner off at the knees the way that you can, say, a paulownia.
I fear I am once again about to embark on an unsuitable relationship, this time with something called a robinia ambigua. Robinia x ambigua
‘Idahoensis’ is believed to be a cross between the white-flowered black locust tree Robinia pseudoacacia and the pink-flowered bristly locust shrub Robinia hispida. This member of the pea family features bluish, fern-like, compound leaves made up of rounded oval leaflets.
In late spring, when the foliage is still a fresh, apple green colour, wisteria-like clusters of blooms hang gracefully from the new branches. I saw it at a friend’s place a few weeks ago and quizzed her for info. She confirmed that I’d be best to find a new love.
The ambigua is a moderately fast growing, spreading, arching, deciduous tree with spiny shoots. It grows 12 to 15m tall and up to 10m wide, so it’s not exactly the thing for an urban garden, and even if you live in the country, you need to give serious thought to where you might plant it.
It’s also inclined to send out suckers in search of water, so where we live, with a stream on three sides, we would be surrounded in no time. Would that be so bad, though, I ask myself? Deep pink, fragrant, showy flowers are held in pendant racemes 20cm long, and the scent is to die for.
If you can live with rosellas picking them off, and if you have space, put Robinia ambigua on your Christmas list.
About Lee Ann McKenzie
Lee Ann wasn’t always a gardener - she lead what she terms ‘a normal life’ as a newspaper journalist and then television producer in Dunedin until the nineties, when she started moving north. Working on various lifestyle magazines in Auckland, Lee Ann eventually published her own garden design magazine, Alfresco, for 10 years.more of this author