Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Backyard Lavender Farm continued.....


As you may have read here, in August we planted out a large portion of our back lawn with Lavender. Such a great decision and this summer we have really reaped the rewards of our odourous endeavour. It has been beautiful wading through the long stems of flowers with wafts of lavender pervading through the summer air. The greatest part of the Lavender Farm has to be all the Bees we have been attracting into the garden. They seem to be really enjoying the flowers and the backyard is literally abuzz with life. Not only is their presence lovely for us to enjoy but whilst here they will hopefully nip around all the surrounding fruit trees to assist with pollination of the flowers helping in fruit set of the trees.

In the centre of the Lavender we have installed a terrecotta water Bird Bath which has also seen a lot of action from the local birdlife. We have at times had up to 10 birds on a one time all jostling for a dip on a hot day. Even the bees (and wasps unfortunately) have been sitting at the water's edge for a drink after buzzing amongst the Lavender. Good times.

Throughout the summer we have been intermittently harvesting bunches of flower stems and have saved the buds for use in various ways. My wife, Jennifer, has been experimenting with making her own soaps with Lavender buds, Shea butter, Essential oils and various other concoctions.
In the future i am hoping to look into distilling our Lavender into our own essential oil which would be amazing. I could either buy a still which are about $500 like these which seems a large investment or else i may ask around at a few Lavender farms around Auckland to see if i could process a batch though one of them.
This leads me on to our latest expansion. So we purchased another 35 Grosso plants from our supplier "Pocket Mouse" on trademe and have extended out the other third of the previous lawn to make the whole back lawn now all rows of Lavender. This time i laid the black weed mat down first and pinned it down into place. Next i measured out with string, straight lines and placed out the Lavenders to match the existing plants' layout. I then cut holes in the mat and planted the little Lavs in mounds with a porous potting mix to help with drainage. Now they are in, they look really good and by next year they shouldn't be too far behind the others. I just now need to source some more wood chips to mulch over the top of the mat and around the plants to match the other side. This also helps to stop weeds popping through and aids water retention during summer.
Anyway i hope this could inspire some of you to make your own waste of space of a lawn into a productive, re-energised and more organic, natural space.


Wednesday, 22 February 2017

International Margarita Day

Happy International Margarita Day! Margaritas have to be my favourite cocktail. So much so that i have 9 Lime Trees planted in anticipation of unlimited fresh Limes always on hand. And at $30- a kilo i'm going to be rich! Haha! 

Here's my list of Limes planted in the garden.......
6x Tahitian
2x Australian Fingerlime
2x Key Lime
1x Kusaie

2x Kaffir

International Margarita Day is officially observed annually on February 22nd. This is perfect for us in Auckland, NZ as Limes are just maturing into ripeness. Margys, as they are known in our household (or "Troygaritas"), are the most common tequila-based cocktail. It is a cocktail that consists of Tequila, Triple sec and fresh Lime juice. A key ingredient is the freshly squeezed lime juice. The most common Lime to use is the Tahitian (Persian) Lime. However, margaritas in Mexico are generally made with Mexican limes (Key limes). These are small, thin-skinned limes and have more tart flavour compared to Tahitian Limes. Margaritas can be made with Lemons, they have a much softer taste. But i recommend to keep it authentic and use fresh Lime juice only. To juice my Limes i use a Lime Juicer like so:

Manual juicing is often messy but this is as efficient as a machine juicer without making a mess. You simply slice the lime, face the flesh towards the holes, hold it over the measure, and give it a good squeeze. The mechanics of it make is simple to get enough pressure to juice a lime without having to go all Hulk on it. Then you just give it a quick rinse & dry off. It’s easy to use and easy to clean.

So here's a couple of my go-to recipes for a Margy. You can keep it Classic or funk it up with my Mescal Margarita or get really fruity and go for a Oaxacan Gold Pineapple Margy the choice is up to you! 

Classic Margarita.

70ml Tequila.
40ml Cointreau.
30ml Fresh Lime juice.
Agave Syrup or Caster Sugar (to taste).

1. Rub the rim of glass with a Lime Wedge then dip the rim into a shallow plate of Salt.
2. Shake all ingredients with Ice.
3. Carefully pour into the glass with some Ice.
4. Garnish with a Lime wedge.

For the Classic i like to use a nice Anejo Tequila such as Patron or Herradura for a oaky aged smooth flavour or you can use Silver Tequila for a bright, clear flavour.

Mescal Margarita.

 70ml Mescal.
40ml Grand Marnier.
40ml Fresh Lime Juice.
10ml Agave Syrup.
Maldon Salt.
Lime Wedges.
*For a less smokey drink 35ml Tequila/ 35ml Mescal.
**You can Cointreau instead of Grand Marnier if you wish.
***For the rim you can make a blend of crushed Dried Chilies with the Salt.

1. Rub the rim of glass with a Lime Wedge then dip the rim into a shallow plate of Salt.
2. In a cocktail shaker add the Mescal, Grand Marnier, Lime Juice & Agave Syrup. Add a handful of Ice & Shake.
3. Carefully pour into the glass with some Ice.
4. Garnish with a Lime wedge.

Oaxacan Gold Margarita.

30ml Oaxacan Mezcal
15ml fresh Lime juice
75ml Grilled Pineapple-Vanilla Puree.

6 to 10  ice cubes.
Chilli Salt.
Roasted Pineapple-Vanilla Puree

1 Large ripe Pineapple, peeled & cut crosswise into 2cm thick pieces.

½ cup Sugar

½ teaspoon Vanilla Extract.

Roasted Pineapple-Vanilla Puree

1. Grill Pineapple until it is softened & caramelized. Cool.
2. In a blender, combine the grilled Pineapple with the Sugar, Vanilla & enough Water to bring the quantity of the total puree to 5 cups (about 2 cups water). Cover & pulse until the pineapple is roughly chopped, then blend on high until smooth & foamy.  Strain into a storage container, cool & refrigerate until you're ready to use, up to 3 days.

3. Rub the rim of a glass with a Lime Wedge then dip the rim into a shallow plate of Chilli Salt.
4. In a cocktail shaker, combine the Mezcal, Lime juice, Grilled Pineapple-Vanilla Puree & Ice. Shake until frothy & cold. 
5. Pour into the prepared glass with Ice.

For more Margarita recipes check out my book called 'Viva La Mexico' its available for free download as an e-book at

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Late Summer in the City.

If you ask any Aucklander, this Summer has been pretty awful with all the rain we've been having. The gardener in me however, has been pretty thankful it hasn't been such a scorching Summer like some of the past few years. Previously we've suffered a many casualties during February & March due to the searing sun and dry, parched soil. This week especially we had a welcome thorough drenching to a very dry garden. The Garden has responded quickly with lots of new growth sprouting out, fresh blooms of flowers and Fruits swelling with engouged deliciousness. I find rainwater especially, makes the plants take off in a way that watering with the hose never achieves.

The most exciting examples of this has been one of my Australian Finger Lime has finally started to flower. I have been very intrigued by the prospect of its fruit with it's "Lime Caviar" inside. It has been in the ground now for roughly 2 years now so hopefully we will get some of its fruits to try soon!

Tahitian Limes are getting very close to harvest time aka "Margarita Season". Looking back on last year it was March that they were fully ripe, though i could probably pick some very soon i'd say.

My Meiwa Kumquat is fruiting prolifically even though it is only a recent acquisition & is still in its pot. It has an alarming amount of Kumquats on it that i'm worried it might snap a branch. I am thinking of making some Marmalade with them, probably the smallest batch ever made i'd say:)




Monday, 23 January 2017

My Darling Clementine.

Of late, my wife Jennifer & I have been working our way through the recipes in my Jersusalem cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi. In one of the recipes it calls for Clementines specifically and i could see why as they have a very distinct flavour and texture. So i decided i just had to get one to add to my burgeoning collection and popped down to the plant store. When i got there i was faced with a slight dilemma of whether to choose the new, healthy, dark green leaved sapling, or an much older, slightly worse for wear orphan that nobody wanted for much the same price. I decided on the more mature tree in the hope with a little Tender Loving Care he will be healthy in no time and sooner productive. As you can see he has very pale, yellow leaves most probably indicative of lack of Nitrogen and possibly Magnesium so i repotted him up with a good dose of complete Citrus fertiliser and some diluted Epsom Salts. Fingers crossed! It is labelled as Corsica No. 2, a new improved selection of a 'Fina' Clementine. It originated in the 1960's as a selection of Moroccan Clementines made at the Station de Recherches Agrumicoles, San Guiliano, Corsica. It ripens in NZ around June-July. It has good sized, sweet juicy fruit with very few seeds and a tangy flavour. Peels easily and cleanly. Generally crops well.


A Clementine (Citrus × clementina) is a hybrid between a mandarin orange and a sweet orange so named in 1902. Clementine and mandarin oranges are members of the citrus family just like traditional Oranges, but they each taste slightly different. The Clementine is not always easy to distinguish from varieties of Mandarins but through sampling you can clearly taste a difference.  Clementine oranges look like tiny versions of regular oranges, and they have a tart, tangy and rich sweet flavour.  The exterior is a deep orange colour with a smooth, glossy appearance. Clementines can be separated into 7 to 14 segments. They tend to be easy to peel. Clementines are a type of citrus called zipper-peel, which means the skin comes off very easily. They are almost always seedless when grown commercially (without cross-pollination). Their oils, like other citrus fruits, contain mostly limonene as well as myrcene, linalool, α-pinene and many complex aromatics.

Clementines are a highly important North African variety originated as an accidental hybrid in a planting of mandarin seedlings, presumably of the common or Mediterranean mandarin, made by Father Clement Rodier (after whom the fruit was named) in the garden of an orphanage at Misserghin, a small village near Oran, Algeria. It is assumed that the seed parent was the Mediterranean mandarin and the pollen parent a willow-leafed ornamental variety of C. aurantium known as Granito. However, there are claims it originated in China much earlier; one source describes it as nearly identical to the Canton mandarin widely grown in the Guangxi and Guangdong provinces in China.

This variety was introduced into California commercial agriculture in 1914, though it was grown at the Citrus Research Center (now part of the University of California, Riverside) as early as 1909. Clementines lose their desirable seedless characteristic when they are cross-pollinated with other fruit. To prevent this, in 2006 growers such as Paramount Citrus in California threatened to sue local beekeepers to keep bees away from their crops.

For further reading here is an interesting article about Clementines for any hardcore Citrus Nerds by the University of California at Riverside (Citrus Variety Collection).

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Pungas & Fernery.

I have always loved the look of NZ native tree ferns. It is a plant that always reminds me of home here in New Zealand and its native bush. They give the bush here a Primordial sort of vibe of a time before humans roamed the earth. Tree ferns are colloquially known in New Zealand as “Pungas”. This appears to be an English corruption of “Ponga”, a Maori name specific to Cyathea dealbata (silver fern). The unfolding fronds of the tree fern are represented in the Koru, now pretty much a symbol of our country & its Maori heritage. Punga trunks are commonly seen for sale but are not actually Ponga but Wheki (Dicksonia squarrosa). These are often used to make fencing or for garden retaining walls and often have a reasonable chance of coming back to life. 
When we first planted out our garden, we have one area of the yard that is heavily shaded from our Fig Tree and the neighbouring property's fence. We decided that this would be an area perfect for our "Fernery". We had a vision of eventually having a "Punga Forest" of sorts that would remind us of the great stands of Punga & native Ferns that we see out on our hikes in the NZ bush.
Most (but not all) ferns are shade lovers so in general you need to avoid planting in a windy spot and in full sunlit areas. Pungas (aka Tree Ferns) are very much in this category and one thing i have learned during my Fernery experience is that Pungas either need to be planted in the shade or at the very least under the protecting shadow of a larger pioneer tree. The other important thing to keep in mind if that they love moist soil and loath drying out in Summer. To avoid them drying out, apply lots of mulch over the root system to conserve soil moisture in summer. The idea is to try to simulate the bush conditions in which tree ferns grow best, giving them moist soil and high humidity.

There are two main groups of tree ferns in New Zealand: Cyathea and Dicksonia. They are easily distinguished since Cyathea is scaly and Dicksonia is hairy. The most frequently seen species of tree fern in New Zealand are Cyathea dealbata (silver fern), C. medullaris (Mamaku or black tree fern), C. smithii (katote), and Dicksonia squarrosa (wheki).

In terms of NZ native tree ferns there are about 9 varieties, they fall into 2 distinct species -

1. Dicksoniaceae (Dicksonia for short) are distinctive due to long woody trunks and crown of fronds on the top. The two common varieties are:
Dicksonia Squarrosa (
Dicksonia squarrosa is common throughout New Zealand, except in the coldest of habitats. It is particularly abundant around streams and other wet areas. Trunks of Dicksonia squarrosa often arise in close proximity, and the dead orange-brown fronds often give it a scruffy appearance. However, unlike D. fibrosa, D. squarrosa does not retain a skirt of dead fronds. The frond stalks of D. squarrosa are bristly-hairy, dark-brown, and comparatively long. Dicksonia squarrosa has buds on its trunk, and it can resprout if the main crown in damaged. Most “punga” trunks for sale are D. squarrosa. 

Dicksonia Fibrosa (

D. fibrosa is a slow-growing plant which has a very thick, soft and fibrous rusty brown trunk. It holds on to its dead leaves producing a distinctive pale brown skirt, distinguishing it from the related Dicksonia squarrosa. D. fibrosa can reach a height of 6 metres (20 ft).

2. Cyatheaceae (Cyathea for short) - different from the Dicksonia due to long hairs on the trunks. The two common varieties are:
Medullaris (Mamaku or Black Tree Fern)
The mamaku is one of the world's largest tree ferns, sometimes reaching over 18 metres and with individual fronds up to 6 metres, making a huge feathery umbrella. Mamaku like lots of light and are not found in dense bush, but rather on the moist fringes of forests, river banks or in light gaps such as old slip sites or road cuttings.

Dealbata (Silver Fern or Ponga)
The silver tree fern is easily distinguished from the mamaku, by having a distinctive silvery white underside to its fronds. It does not grow as tall, rarely exceeding 8-9 m and with upright fronds, like a shuttlecock, up to about 3.5 m. Unlike mamaku, these ferns prefer some light shade and also grows in drier spots. If grown in an open situation its fronds can become ragged and untidy and neither species will do well, or look attractive in very windy sites.

Smithii (K
It produces masses of very soft and delicate looking fronds which spread horizontally from the crown and reach 2 – 2.5m in length. The fronds rather than uncurling in the manner of most tree ferns, in which the main frond stalk unrolls almost to its full length before the "frondlets" (pinnae) unroll, the fronds tend to expand all at once up the length of the frond. The trunk is covered in chestnut coloured scales, and while it can reach up to 8m in height it is fairly slow growing. The old fronds hang down to form a skirt around the trunk, which helps protect it from pests and maintain some humidity.

Cunninghamii (Gully Tree Fern)
C. cunninghamii is an uncommon and slow-growing tree fern. It grows in damp forest, often emerging from stream gullies and riverbanks. The erect trunk may be 20 m tall and is usually 6-15 cm in diameter, occasionally as much as 20 cm. Fronds are tri- to tetrapinnate and 3 m or more in length. The branches are slender, black brown, warty and scaled. To do well in cultivation, C. cunninghamii needs a lot of moisture & shade. Rich humus is a good growing medium. Plants should be protected from the wind.

There are seven Cyathea species native to New Zealand. Five are endemic to New Zealand, with Cyathea cunninghamii also occurring in Australia and C. medullaris being recognised from several Pacific Islands. Two of the New Zealand species are confined to the subtropical Kermadec Islands: C. kermadecensis and C. milnei.

Monday, 19 December 2016

December: Summer In The Garden.

Well Summer is in mid-swing down here in New Zealand and the garden is in peak growth. It's actually been a great season so far as there has been fairly frequent rainfall so to not dry out the garden as in previous years. I think last year we needed to water almost every day as it didn't rain hardly at all for 4 months last Summer. There hasn't been a lot of fruit harvest at the moment but currently in season we are now harvesting:


Kale, Lettuce, Basil, Spring Onions, Chives, Dill, Zucchinis, Raspberries, Strawberries, Lemons, Limes, Rosemary, Swiss Chard, Tomatoes. 
Also available now is an interesting herb I've been growing called Epazote. Its used extensively in Mexican cooking for its unique flavour, but also because it has an interesting characteristic. It helps prevent gas (farts) from when you eat beans. It has a strong kerosene-like flavour fresh, but when cooked it has an appealing sort of earthy depth of flavour. Check it out & give it a go! 
I have just today harvested my first Tomato. I have a few varieties planted: Black Krim, Yellow Teardrop, Sweet 100, Red Roma, Beefsteaks plus a few other pop ups of unknown origin.


Roses have been flowering for over a month now and are now in peak bloom we have over 20 planted throughout the garden. Varieties include In Loving Memory, My Girl, Blackberry Nip, Amber Light, Metro, Freesia, Peace & Blue Moon.


The Lavender Farm has really taken off. And although it is in its first year it is looking great with loads of flower spikes. I will need to add some more bark mulch this week which is working out great to cover the weedmat but also conserve moisture. We should have a decent first harvest soon.

Gardenias have just this week started to pop. And i have to say they are THE best smelling flower I've sniffed. Just a couple in a room will scent the whole room with its luscious aroma.

In other flower news: Hydrangeas, Hibiscus, Gladioli & Aqualegias are all out and looking stunning.



As far as fruit coming along little Blackcurrants, Figs, Grapes, Oranges, Peaches, Nectarines, Apples, are all growing by the day for harvest within the coming months. 



In Citrus news: Limes are starting to become available now with a few coming to ripeness. But it isn't really until March that they will reach peak-Margarita. All the Citrus have now flowered and set little fruitlets ready for winter harvests. I do however have one Meiwa Kumquat just about ready to enjoy which will be my first home grown kumquat to eat!