mosaic fish paver for a memorial garden

And so it began

My husband helped me mix (well he did most of the mixing) and get the cement in into a hole I had dug in front of my driftwood seat.  He made it look so easy and I realized with my other projects, that had I paid attention to his lessons on mixing cement, I could have saved myself a lot of time, effort and possibly a hernia. I will not forget these latest instructions especially as I still have the paving in the glade to finish


I left this to cure a week or two while I drew a goldfish that would sit well into the cresent shaped


This was the actual size I needed it to be so I could then cut it out and draw around the outside exactly where I wanted it

At this point I felt relatively happy with how the fish was shaping up , I wanted the tail in larger more fluid shapes as a contrast to the smaller tiles in the fish. My real wish was to have brighter oranges and a larger range to get the shading a bit more 3D but I was using tiles I had already with a few extra scraps from a tile shop. They didn’t have a lot of coloured scraps as once again, colour seems to be out of fashion, so this is what I got.IMG_6126

Firstly I thought I would grout the fish with varying shades of orange and then white. After that I decided on an effect of ripples so went for those next as the final background was going to be fairly random, with hopefully, plenty of movement going on

Screenshot from 2017-11-12 11-20-05

And so it continued until we left for Sri Lanka. It was winter by this stage and getting wetter so it was just as well to be away and not tempted to be gluing down tiles. We had a very busy 6 weeks away, as is often the case with holidays and on returning,  spent the next couple of weeks just hanging out at home.  I started to itch to get back into the mosaic and get it finished before the arrival of a group who were coming to see the garden in November. I find taking photos is a really useful way of stepping away from the work you’re doing and looking at it in a more critcal way from a laptop screen, you can  spot mis alignments and odd placings etc. I won’t bore you with all of it but below is the final result, pre grouting of the background

Screenshot from 2017-11-12 11-17-41

I bought some cobalt oxide as A: I couldn’t find a suitable grout colour for what I had in mind and B: I had made a mortar for the grout of the fish and liked being able to play around with the colouring. So the day came to grout and although I was excited, I was also a bit nervous as I had never done a mosaic as large as this. In my usual sloppy, casual way, I used card and plastic bits around the edge to help contain the area for grouting. The final result shows the irregularities of this decision which may bug some people but not me in my sloppyness. Below is the final mosaic seen from the lawn side as the fish is meant to be viewed from the seat though I’m not sure what happened here as the photo is a bit fuzzy, you get the idea though I hope

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and finally the garden around it. A Pohutakawa tree that one day will provide shade and, Heliconia Tortuosa on the left (both out of sight) with an orange flowering epiphyllum in a pot and a red flowering orchid on the right. I have planted a tiny blue grey succulent around the edge that has been dug up many times now by the birds so may take time to grow

This garden is a memorial to my Mum in law and stepson, both were artistic so I wanted to get things right. For me it feels right and I am happy with the result


An art project that had our neighbours worrying

painting the house

We were never going to paint but the cladding aged badly and my husband started talking about painting the house sky blue. I wasn’t so sure, I love colour but wanted a more complex blue, we couldn’t agree but as I was going to have to get rid of my plants against the wall that faces the road, I asked what he thought about me painting a life sized elephant and could see the sky blue working as a backdrop. He agreed!!!  He also carried it a step further, as he does, and suggested I painted scenes on the entire house. I had already painted a peacock behind the daybed but the last thing I had painted before that ,was about 20 years ago, ( I painted theatre sets as a volunteer then). I procrastinated as the wall by the road could be easily seen as people passed and I didn’t feel that confident about being watched. Time went by until autumn last year when my sister rang to tell me she had 2 cyclists from Quebec staying with her and they were keen to stop somewhere for a couple of weeks. They painted murals and were interested in our wall. We had no idea at the time what their style was like but loved the idea of more people joining in. I am a control freak and always have in mind exactly what I’m after so this was going to be a challenge of stepping back for me.

And so it begins. These two shamed me with their enthusiasm into making a start but my confidence was still low as I started.  I decided one of the smaller least seen walls was the place for me to begin. It was just around the corner and as I progressed, I gained more confidence but can see my initial flaws. It was a fun time and the two muralists stayed a month, painting about 3-4 hours a day


My husband did the background green, he had never painted before so I was surprised and impressed with how he did. I loved seeing the king fishers in India, much larger than our kingfishers, so that’s the scene I wanted to start with and then I came in front with palms, impatiens, gingers etc. This is how we continued for the next couple of walls with Brett painting background plants



This is an area we call the tree house and my step son really wanted to paint a Brugmansia but only managed a few leaves with a messy scrubbed out back drop. I got a mental block with that until my husband blued out all the green mess, leaving the best leaves and then while I was away, he proceeded to get on with a very detail background. He was also gaining confidence. I came home and got started on the flowers and foreground leaves, the agave leaves are Brett’s, he is continuing to impress me


this wall was done entirely by my non painter husband


cleaning up at the end of the day



My sister stayed for a couple of months so I got her onto background while I did a rough background for the tiger and prepared an outline for her to paint in a base colour. I decided while I waited for her to put the base coat on the tiger, I would paint a palm by the back door. At this stage, neighbours were coming up and saying things like ” Oh you’re painting the whole house??” with a certain amount of dismay and disbelief



This is my favourite. My sister wouldn’t do the background for the tiger, sadly she is only too aware what a control freak I am but it meant I could do what I wanted here


I popped a little orchid above the tiger


I have finished the hornbills and lose my sisters help at this stage so continue alone



the monkey meets with the elephant wall and the bamboo is on the other side of the door to the hornbills. Plants are growing back again which will give a more 3D look with the paintings as a backdrop. We now can’t imagine our house not painted.

Now I am meant to be finishing some paving in the area I call the glade but have been distracted by a mosaic paver at the top garden. Watch this space

Cordyline fruticosa and orchids

some of my favourite cordys for winter colour and hardy orchids for that exotic feel

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been collecting cordyline fruticosas and also orchids that are hardy for my climate and look exotic when they are in flower as well as making wonderful tree decoration, I have quite a few now attached firmly by their roots to tree forks and branches, I carefully glue them and tie them with bird netting and in a matter of months they are gripping on with their roots and the bird netting can come off. Oncidiums are remarkably hardy as are cymbidiums, Miltonias and Bifrenarias. I have only had one flower so far from my maxilaria ternefolia, a beautiful, small flower smelling of coconut. I have got a lot of my cordylines from cuttings from either asking someone who had them in their garden or cuttings from florist suppliers so don’t know many of the true names.


Kiwi and one that was called green centre but I loved it for it’s pink stems. The leaves have now turned bright pink over the season


The white leafed one I bought as pink edge and haven’t managed to find one similar, it is next to my Persian shield and looks stunning when both have their summers colours. The red and pink leaf I believe is Tartan


Fiji by my water feature and Daybreak is the other one, it took a long time in getting it’s colours and this summer it has beautiful new leaves. Both these cordys have very large leaves


The really bright ones here are cuttings from a Samoan woman who generously gave me enough to even give some away and the other was also called pink edge

Orchids for a warm temperate climate


Cymbidiums. I leave them in pots, scattered around the garden but some have grown down into the ground, others are in old hollowed out stumps. Snails love them so I use copper tape as soon as I see a flower stem arriving. apparently it’s the favourite part


Oncidium Charlesworthy is the pink one and the yellow is the common dancing ladies. Both grow very well in trees and I have them in filtered light but Dancing ladies I have split off and one of those is coping and thriving in full sun


Miltonia hanging around in Schlefera Amate


Bifrenaria. This is as hardly as cymbidiums and flowered the first year it was in the garden. It has a beautiful scent


Sarcochilus, a sweet little orchid that is happy growing on a rock

Epidendrum or crucifix orchid, a great hardy orchid that can handle sun but looks better in filtered light. There are a lot of colours and they can be planted straight into my clay soil. They climb up supports fairly quickly


last but not least a scented Dendrobium in a tree and another dendrobium in soil

The brief for starting the garden


IMG_0181Views of the land when we were deciding to buy it

Not only the gorgeous views of both hills and sea, but on our second visit to the property the birds were singing and the sheep across on the hills were voicing their opinion, that’s what sold it to us, we had found our new home.

There were certain things we wanted from the garden. We wanted sea views but privacy, birds and bugs so we needed to grow organically which we have always done for vegetables anyway. We wanted whatever fruit we fancied, shade in summer and sun for the winter but I like to have evergreen trees. I really wanted to have tropical plants but I don’t like a garden to look like it’s suffering so to keep it lush I needed to firstly plant for protection of more tender plants and secondly choose wisely but there was still a lot of trial and error until conditions improved.  Lastly I wanted it to be a garden for family and friends, giving respite but also stimulation.

There was a narrow area where any top soil had been removed and that’s where we ended up with the main house. The property was 3/4 of an acre and most of it quite steep with a basin that I now call the glade, below the house and lawn. The garden now offers a lot of different micro climates to grow Heliconias and orchids among many. Below is the garden as it is at the moment, most of it is only 10-11 years old so palms and trees are still growing. We kept some of the gums with one large gum tree being the focus of the glade. I’m still planting trees as the steepness gives us a lot of room for that.



My first job for the garden was to break up the clay and in areas where I knew I would plant, I dug the area (with a pick, as it was so hard), added gypsum to the soil and left it to break down for about 3 months but I was impatient to plant so parts were just mulched heavily and planted out. I added horse manure from a neighbours property and planted. Tropicals love good drainage in our climate so I had mixed results with being so impatient and lost a few Bauhinia variegata being one of those and a Ceiba speciosa died back quite a bit.  I moved the Ceiba (Chorisia speciosa) which has thrived away from the sea spray and is now about 9 metres tall.  I was given another Bauhinia and this time made a small hill of composty soil so it had good drainage for its early life when small roots needed protection from too much cold rain during winter. That tree is also thriving now and I am less lazy about preparing sites these days. With all the mulch came insects and therefore, birds and year by year the soil improved and I find I can plant most things now.

Some of the first trees I planted


Bauhinia variegata (Hong Kong orchid tree) it’s also my orchid tree as it grows about 2 metres a year, outwards so has lots of forks for orchids to attach to. I have put Barkeria, oncidium, Dendrobium and maxifolia orchids in the branches and am growing Hoyas at the base where they can climb up.


Jamaican Fiddlewood which has the sweetest light apricot, scented flowers but is anti social in the way it drops most of it’s leaves in our spring.


Bangalow palms, these 3 are right next to the path going down from the top garden to the bottom and the glade


Australian Frangipani with red Alstroemerias and Rhapsis exelsia beneath them


A native variegated Mertya “Moonlight” with Brugmansia Ecuador pink in the back ground”


Dombeya, very fast growing and in 8 years reached 10 metres, it also has a lovely open habit so you can easily see the clivias underneath




Trevesia with Justicia Aurea beside it. This has been a very slow growing tree, the first winter it nearly rotted away so I raised it up on a mound and it has slowly grown to about 7 feet.


From an obsessive glassblower to an obsessive gardener

I am well aware I can bore most of my family and friends with garden talk although they usually try to hide the fact, it is noticeable how they pick up the pace if looking around the garden with me. My husband loves the garden as a beautiful environment but only has interest in the edible plants, although, he has started to absorbed some names such as Heliconia, Alstroemeria and Schizopetalus.  My sister is my main garden enthusiast and has a beautiful garden herself but is 7 and a half hours away by car so here I am writing my first blog so I can share my experiences, both successes and failures with other keen gardeners or garden lovers.  Maybe I can start sharing cuttings and rhizomes with other Kiwi gardeners.

My love of the tropical all started with Dad being transferred from Wellington (south of the North island) to the warmer climes of Auckland (north of the North island). The smell of warm rain on the earth and the sight of so many exotic plants excited me but it wasn’t until I was 21 that I really experienced the true tropics. Myself and a group of friends spent 5 weeks in Samoa for the 21st birthday of one of those friends who was brought up there, and whose family still lived there. It was a wonderful time spent often in the back of a pick up truck on our way to yet another beautiful beach and passing through wonderful coastal and rain forest scenes.



I’ll fast forward here to early marriage and mortgage days. We bought a six acre block of land and a rotting house in Taranaki where we  farmed emu, pigs, sheep and a house cow. It was a beautiful property with a river running around 2 sides of the house but the garden was much smaller than our present one as I had my own glass blowing studio and most creative energy went into my glass designs.  When possible we escaped winter by going to somewhere like Bali or Rarotonga, highlighting both our desires to be somewhere warmer and preferably coastal.

14 years later and we are on the East coast, I no longer blow glass and couldn’t find a replacement that excited me as much, so the garden grew until it has become the obsession glass blowing was to me. It keeps growing and changing, sometimes I can feel ill at ease with a plant setting until finally I move a plant maybe only 6 inches to the left or right and find I can now have my coffee without the feeling of things being all wrong.

Well that’s how I came to be gardening in a zone 9-10 garden and as I can’t afford sculptures or wooden furniture for the garden, I make my own from ferro cement and in the case of furniture, driftwood. My sister helped me with the daybed below and looking out from the daybed you see my first water feature.