Wally Richards – Autumn gardens

Autumn is a great time for planting out gardens. Besides the planting of vegetables and flowering plants, there is also a wide range of shrubs and trees you can add to your garden.or different parts of the garden, depending on what you are planting.

It is still a bit early for new seasons deciduous fruit, ornamental trees or roses – but orders can be placed at your garden centre now for collection in winter. There are different gardening considerations for different parts of the garden depending on what you’re planting.


The vegetable garden

Silverbeet is one of my favourite winter plants. There are two main types available: the original dark green variety such as ‘Fordhook’; and the newer, coloured silverbeet – called ‘Bright Lights’. The latter has a milder flavour, so if you don’t like the flavour of the dark green variety, you may well like the sweeter taste of the more colourful plants.

When you buy silverbeet to eat, you find that you are generally buying the whole plant (minus the roots), as this is the way the commercial growers harvest the crop. In the home garden there is no need at all to harvest the whole plant – instead just remove the outer leaves and the plant will continue to produce till it goes to seed. Rust or pests should not be a problem through the winter, so no extra work or spraying is necessary. For planting at this time of year, it is best to buy the seedlings, as seed-raising will take longer and delay harvest.

Broad beans can be grown from seed, and if you like these versatile, iron-rich vegetables then go ahead and plant a row. Snowpeas are another good winter seed-grown crop, and are ideal for stir-fried meals. All the brassicas do well during winter and you should have no problems with caterpillars. For those with bigger vegetable gardens, you can also sow seeds or plant seedlings of Chinese cabbage, cress, leeks, winter lettuce, mustard, onions, radish, shallots, spinach and turnips. Continue reading

Organic Vegetable Gardening – what to plant in July

patch from Scratch

…What to plant in July

Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Chinese Cabbage, Garlic, Peas, Radish,

Silverbeet, Perpetual Spinach, Turnips

Planting Potatoes

If you live north of or within Auckland, you can grow potatoes all year round. (If you are south of Auckland you will need to wait until the ground gets warmer – we’ll keep you posted)

Group shot of potatoe varieties

I’m using a few old recycle bins to grow mine in as they are so invasive I prefer to keep them outside of the crop rotation. Some people use 2-3 old car tyres stacked on top of each other, I am a bit hesitant to do this as I worry about what is in the tyre materials. You can also use ½ wine barrels or even just a compost bag.

Potatoes are grown from small tubers called seed potatoes. As soon as you buy them, place seed potatoes in a tray or empty egg carton with the shoots (growth buds) pointing up and leave in a light, frost-free place to ‘chit’ (grow shoots). When the shoots are about 2cm long they are ready for planting out. Prepare your potato bed a few days prior to planting day by digging trenches and laying comfrey leaves along them (see details below). If you don’t have any comfrey then use nutrient rich compost. Plant marigolds in amongst where the seed potatoes will be planted to help keep nematodes at bay, see section on these below. When you come to plant the tubers, they need to be roughly 5cm deep and about 30cm apart. Plant with the growth buds pointing upwards. As shoots grow from the potato, keep mounding the soil around them to prevent them from them going green. Always keep the top half of the foliage uncovered. As always make sure you mulch with pea straw, water the mulch rather than the leaves to help keep diseases from developing. You can start harvesting potatoes once the flowers are fully open. Once the leaves start to die back you know that the main harvest will be ready in a couple of weeks, stop watering at this stage. To harvest, loosed the soil and reach under the plant to find the new potatoes. Take out large potatoes and leave the smaller ones to continue growing. It is important that the growing potatoes are covered in soil at all times as sunlight will turn them green and toxic.

Alternatively if you prefer to wait until spring to plant out your potato tubers then wrap them in brown paper bags and store them in a biscuit tin away from the light. Potatoes are prone to several diseases so it really is worth buying government certified ones from a garden centre and for heritage organic varieties talk to www.koanga.co.nz


Although you don’t eat it, Comfrey is a valuable herb in the vege garden as it has a host of other uses. The roots of Comfrey mine deep into the soil, taking in rich nutrients that most plants would not reach and then keeps them in the leaves. It has high levels of the NPK, and therefore is an excellent source of potassium and nitrogen. The ideal place for comfrey is sunny with deep soil and most importantly a disused corner of the garden where it can spread and dig deep.

Comfrey flowers

Although sun is ideal it is not that fussy, I have mine on the shady side of the house where it can spread freely and it grows really well. It is worth planting it in deep soil though so that the roots can dig deep. Decide carefully on a permanent spot to plant Comfrey, eradication can be difficult due to the deep furrowing roots. Comfrey is valued by herbalists for healing damaged muscles and ligaments.

Uses in the garden

  • A compost activator, add to your compost bin to heat up the decomposing materials and enriches the compost.

    Comfrey botanical slide


  • Put a handful of comfrey leaves into a bucket of rainwater and let them rot down for around 6 weeks to give you a rich liquid fertilizer for plants
  • Lay comfrey leaves in a potato trench and leave for 3 days prior to planting the tubers to give them a potassium rich boost of fertilizer.
  • Use as a Comfrey leaf mulch around plants, by layering leaves around the stems of plants. Potassium will slowly be released to the plants as the leaves break down – Great for tomatoes, beans and fruit bushes.
  • Use wilted leaves as a nutrient rich Chicken feed

Nematodes (also known as Wireworm or Eelworm)wireworm- nematode


Nematodes are little worms that feed on the roots of vegetables. There are a number of different types of nematodes – Root knot, cyst, sting, root lesion or meadow nematodes. It has to be said that some types can be beneficial in controlling other pests such as grubs and just because you have them in your soil it doesn’t automatically mean you will have a problem, they are also good at decomposing organic materials. However, if your vegetables are getting attacked you know you’re in trouble. They particularly like potatoes, corn, peas, lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. Signs to look out for are wilting of plants and swellings on the roots of vegetables.

To get rid of nematodes, try the following;

  • dissolve 2kg of sugar in a bucket of water and drench the infested soil.
  • Make a marigold tea by chopping up a whole plant and soaking it in water then pouring it around the affected area.
  • Always plant marigolds in every bed and especially if planting potatoes. They repel nematodes.
  • Remove the infected plants and destroy them, don’t put them in the compost bin. Leave the soil completely free of weeds and plants from September – May. When replanting do not sow similar vegetables.

We also offer Kits sets for DIY enthusiasts and a consultancy service for people who really want to do it all themselves but just need a bit of guidance. For more on our services go to

Happy Gardening!

Kind regards,

Sarah Davies www.patchfromscratch.co.nz

Patch from scratch


The importance of earthworms in our garden soils cannot be unstated. They are a quick and visual guide to how healthy your garden soils are, lots of earthworms in a square foot of soil is the goal to having healthy plants. Few or no earthworms in your gardens indicates a big problem and a continuing fight to maintain your garden plants until you resolve the health aspects of the soil and worm numbers increase.
Now that the soils are moist you can easily find out what your worm populations are like by carefully lifting some soil in each of your garden plots. During dry times you are unlikely to find worms near the surface of the soil.
The recent publication of OrganicNZ magazine has an interesting article on earthworms in New Zealand which lead me to do a little research at  (a free government NZ encyclopedia ) The following is information from that site:

The term “earthworm” cannot be satisfactorily defined in the scientific sense but it serves to describe a large number of species of the order Oligochaeta which inhabit soils and accumulations of decaying plant materials, and are occasionally found in shore and aquatic habitats. The earthworms of New Zealand consist of two groups of species. A large group of 173 native and five introduced species (27 genera) belong to the family Megascolecidae and a smaller group of 14 introduced species (seven genera) belong to the family Lumbricidae.

From the evidence of known distribution it is most likely that the native earthworms came originally from the Indo-Malayan or Australian region and entered New Zealand across a land-bridge connection from the north. They probably arrived in at least two waves, the first (subfamily Acanthodrilinae) in Cretaceous times and the second (subfamily Megascolecinae) in Tertiary times.

The largest, Spenceriella gigantea from North Auckland, attains a length of 4 ft 6 in. and a diameter approaching an inch, while a number of the smaller species are up to 1 in. long and less than 1/10 in. in diameter. Most of the native species are red or brown.

Earthworms are hermaphroditic, both male and female organs being present, but they are not self-fertilising and, when mating takes place, sperm cells are exchanged.

Native earthworms feed almost entirely on dead and decaying remains of plants and, because of their limited capacity to move about, they are obliged to live very close to their sources of food. The presence of free water is essential for they have virtually no mechanism for conserving moisture. Respiration takes place by diffusion of gases through the moist body wall; hence both moisture and dissolved oxygen are essential. Earthworms are injured and may die by exposure to daylight, except when the intensity is very low, the more pigmented species being more resistant to light damage than the less pigmented. They are killed by temperatures in excess of 85°F100F, but in most New Zealand habitats they escape the effects of extreme high or low temperatures by retreating to lower layers.

The pH tolerance varies from species to species but no native earthworms have been found in soils lower than pH4. Most earthworms are able to tolerate submersion in water and there are a few species that prefer an aquatic life. During heavy rains, however, earthworms are commonly driven to the surface, but this is most probably due to the shortage of oxygen in the water in their burrows.

The leaf-mould species are small, active, and heavily pigmented. The smallest is 15mm long and the largest 180 mm but most are between 20 mm and 50 mm. They do not make permanent burrows but move around freely in the loose material just as arthropods and other animals do; hence they are more prone to capture by predatory birds and are more frequently exposed to ultraviolet light than those species inhabiting topsoil or subsoil.

Both the topsoil and the subsoil dwellers have two distinct methods of making burrows in which to live. In the first method soil is swallowed and subsequently cast either at the soil surface or in natural cracks and cavities in the soil and in deserted burrows. In the second method the anterior end of the body is extended and inserted in spaces between the soil particles and then, by contracting the longitudinal muscles, the body is expanded laterally, compressing the soil to form a burrow. Usually burrowing consists of a combination of these two methods, the former predominating in more-compact soils and the latter in less-compact soils. As a burrow is formed it is lined with slime and thus has smooth walls firmly compacted by the lateral pressure applied during its construction.

Subsoil earthworms are usually large, sluggish, and unpigmented. The smallest is 32·5 mm and the largest 1,400 mm, but most are between 100 mm and 400 mm in length. The majority are circular in cross-section and have weakly developed body-wall muscles. They occasionally come to the surface or near to the surface for food, but otherwise are found only in the subsoil. They make very extensive burrows extending both laterally and vertically in the subsoil and occasionally going up into the topsoil. (Burrows of Spenceriella gigantea have been found about 20 mm in diameter and still continuing downwards at a depth of 11 ft 6 in.) They appear to make these burrows to obtain food by ingestion of soil and not primarily for shelter, like the burrows of the topsoil species. As they move forward they may deposit castings in the section of burrow left behind and it is not uncommon to find burrows partly filled with subsoil castings.
The most common introduced earthworms belong to the family Lumbricidae and, since such a large part of New Zealand has been cleared of the original vegetation and sown down to pasture, the lumbricid earthworms which feed on dead root and leaf material from pasture have become the dominant earthworm fauna both in pasture and in cultivated lands.

After the clearing of the land, native earthworms decline rapidly. The leaf-mould fauna is eliminated since there is no supply of leaf-mould; the topsoil fauna is usually eliminated but occasionally persists in a much reduced form; the subsoil fauna may be relatively unaffected but, if the soil is continually cultivated, this, too, fails to survive.

Earthworms affect soil fertility in various ways. Their burrows provide drainage channels through the soil, improve its aeration, and assist deep root penetration. The lumbricid species of New Zealand pasture lands are all topsoil dwellers but in summer, if the surface soil becomes too dry, they retreat into the subsoil and go into diapause  a state of suspended animation. The vertical channels so made remain for a short time as subsoil drainage channels but, as their thin walls are not usually firmly compacted, they soon collapse.
The quantity of soil deposited at the surface in the form of worm casts was found (Evans 1948), on eight fields with different management histories, to range between 1 and 25 tons per acre per year. Calculations, based on total populations and taking account of species that cast beneath the surface, showed that from 4 to 36 tons of soil per acre per year passed through the alimentary systems of earthworms and were cast at or near the surface.

These topsoil earthworms play an important part in our grassland farming and gardens. They stimulate pasture growth by removing dead root material, loosening up the sod, and providing an enriched layer of cast soil in which perennial grasses, clovers and your plants are able to re-root year by year.
Too many gardeners destroy their worm populations by using herbicides, manmade fertilisers, chemical sprays and chlorinated water. If the worms are scarce then so is the rest of the soil life and your garden plants suffer as a result. You need to reverse this process if you want great gardens.



Most people love the scenic beauty of trees in the landscape, what would be a landscape without them? They improve the quality of air we breathe and they beautify our homes, parks cities and landscapes.

But, when you are planting them in your garden they can also block drains, cast shadows, hide important views, undermine walls and foundations and cause a real headache. That is why it is vital that you choose the right tree, for the right place and take responsibility for ensuring your own trees do not cause problems for anyone else now or in the future.

What to consider

In a small suburban garden, trees provide structure and height. However there are a few things to think about before rushing out and buying just any old tree to put in the backyard. If there’s a major mistake people make in their gardens, is that they seem to forget that plants grow! So consider carefully the mature size and shape of the trees you want to plant. It’s best to consult with your landscape designer, or staff at your local garden centre to help you choose the right tree for your particular situation.


Screening and privacy

Trees can provide privacy for your home and outdoor living areas. Evergreen trees are best if you require screening. However, you do need to be very careful about what type of tree you plant. Planting a tree that eventually grows too big for the space or is too close to you or your neighbours house can cause problems. If the trunk of the tree extends over the boundary, this does not give you the right to chop it down. A tree planted on your neighbour’s land belongs to them, and they will be liable for any damage it causes. If your neighbour’s tree is causing problems, the first step is to talk to them. A mutually agreeable solution will almost certainly be preferable to a lengthy and costly legal battle.

Also see Boundary disputes between neighbours and

Tip: Plant trees or shrubs on the south side of your house, they will help to filter and divert southerly winds.

Silt Tree

Provide shade

Deciduous trees will provide shade in summer but allow sun through in winter. Evergreens on the other had provide year round shade. Keep in mind the type of deciduous tree you plant. The leaf drop can prove to be a lot of work if leaves fall into your gutters, swimming pools and onto paved areas. Evergreens provide structure in the garden, however they do cast a shadow. So once again carefully consider the location of the tree, so you are not blocking out valuable light indoors.

Tip: Albizzia julibrissin, or Silk tree is a favourite shade tree for small gardens in warm climates. Its umbrella like form offers shade and has the added bonus of outstanding pink fluffy flowers and attractive ferny foliage.



New Zealand’s varied climate means there is an extraordinary choice of trees for your garden, for every season. Trees when accompanied with other shrubs and flowers help to create an impressive garden for any site or situation. Some bring dramatic seasonal colour to gardens. Others provide year-round interest with colorful bark, flowers, leaves or fruit. Many of our native trees such as Vitex lucens, Puriri – Metrosiderous spp, Pohutukawa – Sophora, Kowhai and Cordyline australis, Cabbage tree, are important foods sources for birds, so play an important role in attracting birds back into an urban garden.

Tip: If you are limited for space, try pleaching. This is the practice of pruning trees to create decorative standard hedges. The advantage is you can control the height and width of trees, without blocking all your light and sun. Good trees to pleach are Alnus jorulensis – Evergreen Alder, Olea spp – Olive, Alectryon excelus -Titoki and Carpinus betulinus – Common Hornbeam.

Top ten trees for small gardens

• Acer palmatum spp – Maple tree

• Magnolia ‘Little Gem’

• Pohutukawa ‘Light house’

• Hymenosporum flavum – Australian frangipani

• Mertya sinclairii – Puka

• Albizia julibrissin – Silk tree

• Cercis Canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’

• Sophora microphylla – Kowhai

• Alectryon excelus – Titoki

• Prunus lusitanica – Portugal Laurel

Some Suggested Links

The Beauty of Trees Gallery

Findaplant.co.nz: Plants & Nurseries
Garden Centres & Nurseries

Tree Services

Sandra Batley of Flourish is a multi award-winning landscape designer based in Auckland. Sandra is passionate about, people, plants and design.