Tag Archives: lavender

No Guarantees

People talk a lot as they toil up the zigzag or wander down. There are so many: mostly I tune them out. So yesterday, when someone walking up the path said ‘It’s beautiful’, I kept weeding, worrying because this year my zigzag plots don’t look as good as they did last year. And although they attracted many bees in spring, as summer progresses there are fewer.

The woman on the zigzag repeated herself.

I turned around and there she was, expensive camera in hand.

‘Thank you’, I said. ‘But this is a five-year project and I have two more years to go in this wild bit. Those plots further down are beautiful though, aren’t they?’ (And they truly are, each in a different way.)

‘It’s all beautiful’, she said, in her interesting accent (South American?), gesturing towards the houses at the edge of the zigzag and back towards the wild plot where I stood. ‘I heard that this was better than the Botanical Gardens and it’s true.’

I was gobsmacked. ‘Thank you’, I said again. ‘Are you a tourist?’

‘Yes’, she said.

‘Well, enjoy it’, I said, knowing from other tourists that they really enjoy the domestic scale of the zigzag, the historic houses as much as the gardens. ‘Because soon that house over there at no. 1 – which is older than the big brick monastery it’s next to – will be sold. And the site probably redeveloped’.

‘Whaaaaat?!’ she said. ‘That’s crazy.’

And then she left, trudging up the zigzag to her companion, leaving me in my wild zone with mixed feelings. And a couple of hours later one of those huge cruise ships sailed past. I waved, in case she was looking this way.

And thought about what’s working and what isn’t.

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Annuals like these cornflowers now self seed everywhere. I love the blue. And I’m very pleased that clover has spread, because that’s great for the soil.

And the first of my perennial hollyhocks grown from seed  have flowered, too.

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I’ve learned that honey bees and bumble bees have no interest in alyssum in this part of Wellington, whether it’s spring or summer, near fruit trees, in sun or shade. But because it spreads so well, I’m leaving it wherever it grows.

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Around the hugelkulturs, growth is good in some places. These few cavallo nero plants have done well where last year there were bordoloi beans.

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(The bordolois are doing well across the path this year.)

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This little plot grown from seeds from a well-wisher has been looking good for a while and I love the phacelia, as do the bumble bees.

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The thyme borders are terrific and much admired, particularly by those who cook. Am about to transplant some to the other side of the zigzag, down from those beans.

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But it’s not all good. Water runoff, or something harmful in it, appears to have damaged some plants, like this lavender, so I’ve spread organic biochar (it has an awful smell) under organic sawdust, after compost and other soil builders made no difference.

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I’m going to try the biochar in a couple of other places too, where there was a lot of yucky buried rubbish.

My pride-and-joys are three baby manuka trees, which I hope will give local honey bees a treat when they flower. One of them is that little spiky plant in the centre, below, surrounded by dandelions and parsley.

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Some people see this plot as a ‘mess’. For instance, as in the photo immediately below, there’s silver beet, wild sweet peas, calendula, leek seed heads and more, all mixed in together. near various native shrubs and trees.

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So I plan a sign that explains that this wilderness is for the bees (who love dandelions and calendula and clover!) and for experiments. I’ll write it on one of the tiles that fly off the monastery roof in the gales. Completely encouraged by that random visitor.

What More Can I Do?

 

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Rosemary

I started to grow neonic-free bee-loved plants to nourish the bees. Because there were few of them, perhaps because the city council sprayed nasty chemicals on the public zigzag outside my gate. The chemicals made me ill, so what were they doing to the bees?

So a lost two years ago I arranged with the city council that I’d care for a big area of the zigzag closest to our place, in return for No Spraying. And I planted lavender and rosemary, alyssum, phacelia, cornflowers, thyme. Nearby, the fruit trees, herbs and bushes flowered in my organic garden as they always did.

This New Zealand summer, the dandelions, calendula, parsley and borage kept right on flourishing and self-seeding in my garden and on the zigzag and I encouraged clover wherever it appeared. Would more bees flourish?

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Autumn: mature lavender above nearby borage, parsley, calendula and silver beet (chard) seedlings, near a primitive shelter for my turmeric plants, growing well in this warmer time

The answer, sadly, is No. At the end of this long hot New Zealand summer there were few bees, in my garden or on the zigzag. After my parsley plantation finished flowering, every so often I saw a bumble bee or honey bee on a rosemary or lavender bush in the garden, or at the edge of the zigzag path on the thyme, growing well. But none on the alyssum, now vigorously self-seeding everywhere and flourishing in spite of little rain. This autumn, still quite warm, I see about one bee a week.

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Alyssum

This is much worse than last year. I don’t know what more I can do.

I also asked ‘Is it possible to maintain a useful garden without water?’ Out on the zigzag, where there’s no tap, I’ve experimented with hugelkultur, raised beds above buried wood, because they’re known to be good for plants and good in drought and flood, both more common than they used to be because of climate change.

And I’ve planted vegetables and small fruits among the the zigzag’s bee-loved flowers and  native plants and trees: ngaio, harakeke (flax), ti kouka (cabbage trees) and grasses.

I’ve found that in some parts of the zigzag and on some of the hugelkultur some plants flourish: tomatoes among the harakeke, bordoloi beans on a hugelkultur (but not the more common scarlet runner beans) hardy silver beet in some places but not others. On one problematic hugelkultur not even the borage and calendula bloomed strongly. There, and elsewhere in the home garden I’ve added more mulches; and  Environmental Fertiliser products. Will let you know how they go!

The best news is, that like friends throughout New Zealand I have a huge quince crop, the best for decades, another result of the dry weather, I believe.

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One of the quince pickings

This year I’ll continue to experiment, maintaining the bee-loved focus while working hard to produce more vegetables. We’re aware of water security here because of the earthquake risk and it’s time to consider future drought risk and food security, too. (I hear passersby on the zigzag discussing these possibilities as they admire – and critique – the trees and plants.)

This week because it’s rained recently I’ll start to clear the noxious weeds, transplant some self-seeded land cress and bury the freesia bulbs I’ve been given, for their scent in the spring.

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Self-sown land cress below some thyme and above the thyme, flourishing hollyhock plants, galangal and calendula, dock and dandelion

I’d love your stories and advice, if you’re engaged in similar projects. And in the meantime, off to the kitchen for the quince paste-making.

 

 

Spring Is Coming!

It’s been so cold. But people have been planting on the zigzag: fruit trees and natives. This is my contribution, a Royal Rosa apricot from Waimea Nurseries. I planted it at the edge of one of our hugelkulturs, also known as swales, mounds of rotting wood.

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If you look carefully, you will see borage, calendula, lavender

The Royal Rosa is ‘a very early, freestone selection with firm tasty gold flesh, yellow skin with a red blush. A disease hardy, low chill selection recommended for home gardens throughout New Zealand.’ And its fruit will look like this.

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And of course the Royal Rosa will flower, for the bees. I chose an early ripening one to suit the arc of the hillside’s summer sun.

A little further up the hill are some feijoas and three plums, from the Wellington City Council’s Community Fruit Tree programme, planted by our lovely neighbour. Here are two of the plums.

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And yesterday the sun shone and I saw a bumble bee on a calendula. So I worried about the next burst of the council’s Roundup spraying, because Roundup harms bees, as reported here.

I also read  another new report, about how Roundup harms people (see Bibliography page for more research about this)–

Many neurological diseases, including autism, depression, dementia, anxiety disorder and Parkinson’s disease, are associated with abnormal sleep patterns, which are directly linked to pineal gland dysfunction. The pineal gland is highly susceptible to environmental toxicants. Two pervasive substances in modern industrialized nations are aluminum and glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide, Roundup®. In this paper, we show how these two toxicants work synergistically to induce neurological damage.

But then I read, in the council’s response to submissions to its latest Suburban Reserves Management Plan that–

We have just finalised beekeeping guidelines for public land and consider ourselves a bee friendly city.

As fruit trees, vegetable and bee-loved plants proliferate, especially on public reserves like our zigzag,  if the council is committed to being a bee-friendly city, it will have to stop using Roundup and other poisons. Whew and Yay.

In the meantime, in an exciting initiative that supports pollinators, at Bee Gap,  a New Zealand-based  programme to raise awareness and assist gardeners to encourage and add pollinators to their gardens. They’re keen to encourage native bees, bumble bees and leaf cutter bees and have some products for us to use at home.

And on their Facebook page,  the first contemporary image I’ve seen of bees in trees in New Zealand–

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Bees in a tree, New Zealand

The woman who posted it said it’s near New Plymouth–

This natural beehive in a 60ft tree is massive. I had driven past this so many times and didn’t even know it was there. A work mate pointed it out to me. I’m 5′ and could probably fit inside it.

And note, these bees are utterly thriving. It can be done. And this year I hope to have some bees in a tree myself. As well as many flowers for them.

#Bee-Loved Flowers (& Tomatoes!) in Almost-Winter

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After a cold night, it’s warm here now. I still harvest tomatoes, mostly Gardeners Delights from King’s Seeds, like someone down the road who shared the plants (thank you for this handful image, on Twitter in exactly the right week).

This morning in the garden I can’t see a single pollinator, but it’s a thrill to see the rapid spread of alyssum. It seems to be more highly scented at the moment, too.

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alyssum! & look at those healthy calendula leaves & flowers!

A single anise hyssop is flourishing now it’s no longer competing with tomato neighbours. It looks as though it may flower soon. Nearby, one of the Italian parsley plant patches, there for passersby.

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centre top, anise hyssop, plus nasturtium at left, some alyssum and (in front) that Italian parsley patch

The late-planted thyme’s flowering well in places.

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The dandelions are going from strength to strength now I’ve embraced them.

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In the back garden there’s a herb forest alongside the fruit trees. Some bergamot is still flowering (and seeding) among more parsley, borage, alyssum, lavender, vietnamese mint, the very last of the basil fino verde and anise basil. And those tomatoes.

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see the little mauve bergamot flowers?

On the front doorstep, some baby hollyhocks to flower next summer.

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And across the water, in Nelson, some travelling plants, in my mate’s garden near her flowering rosemary, New Zealand fern and late hydrangea.

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The borage shouldering out – as always. The calendula and alyssum going for it across the side. The parsley doing its best. The basil and coriander are probably over.

The Year’s Last Bees?

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Quinces. Waiting.

It’s autumn here. Native and exotic birds busy among the apple trees.The quinces are good this year and I planned to make quince paste over this long weekend, from my favorite Elizabeth David recipe. Many thanks to the bees for all their pollination help, six months ago.

There are still lots of bee-loved plants in the garden, even on the otherwise empty table where I kept the plants to sell. Just a couple of pots left, with straggly alyssum and basil fino verde plants that I wouldn’t even give away.

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the almost denuded plant table

And occasionally a bee in the lavender.

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Bumble bees a little more often. Also in the lavender. But soon they’ll all be gone, until spring.

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I wanted to make the quince paste. I wanted to prepare the garden for winter. But I’m trying to complete a project. And I’m struggling. Sometimes with interruptions, like the City Council spraying old man’s beard nearby. With Roundup.

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old man’s beard

 

This meant I had to leave, to work in the town library. The plants and the bees didn’t have that choice. Did the wind carry Roundup all over this hillside? I don’t know. Triumph spray; and Conquest for pasting on places where the weed was cut back. Battle-winner names.  I hate them.

I dream of bee colonies in our trees, love everything I read about apicentred tree hives, but I think this is the wrong place for them. Will think more fully about it when I’m up-to-date with everything else. Will that happen soon?

The Boys & The Bees at the Natural History Museum

Jake and James at the Natural History museum
Jake and James at the Natural History museum, reading that ‘ nearly one third of all the food we eat depends on pollination by bees’

If you’ve read this blog from the beginning, you may remember two beautiful boys and their tomatoes– James and Jake, my grandsons who live in England, near Oxford. It’s winter there now, of course. Not much to do in their garden. So it’s lego and  library times. Museums.

And their dad, Alex, took them to the Natural History Museum in Oxford, where they read about bees. And saw bees at work, European Honey Bees – apis mellifera.

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James watching the hive

The hive was hand-built especially for the museum. It has a  tube leading to the outside world, purpose-fitted with a perspex lid so that visitors can watch the bees coming and going.

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James and the tube

The queen bee has been marked with a green spot on her back to help people identify her in the hive (but I can’t see her in this image from the museum itself).

Bees in the honeycomb

I imagine that the boys saw the attendant ring of bees that tend the queen bee constantly and watched bees storing the pollen inside the hive, to feed the larvae. They also saw extra information on the walls, like this–

the architectural

I especially like this chart of British bees. Males on the left, females on the right. There are 264 species, much more diversity than we get in New Zealand–

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I love the names of this group. Buff-tailed bumble bee. Cuckoo bumble bee. Longhorn bee. Nomad cuckoo bee (lays eggs in the nest of the mining bee). Brush-legged mining bee. Rose leaf-cutter bee. Large red-tailed bumble bee. Carder bee. Large red-tailed bumble bee. red-tailed cuckoo bee (lays eggs in the nest of the Red-tailed bumble bee).  Lawn bee. Sweat bee. Cuckoo sweat bee. Flower bee. Honey bee. Cuckoo flower bee.

And here’s a fact that’s new to me: most bees are solitary. Only 3% of the world’s bee species are social.

According to the museum’s website, its hive–

Eventually…will have speakers so that people can hear the bees at work in the hive. The area directly outside the windows is being developed into a mini rooftop garden with large barrel planters containing some of the bees’ favourite flowers such as thyme and lavender.

I’m delighted that Alex sent me these pics of the boys learning about bees.

London’s  Natural History Museum has got something similar and some good bee information for us all, among their web pages–

Honey bees: What’s all the buzz about? 
British bumble bee identification guide
The museum’s Bee Tree (yes!)

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bees in London Natural History Museum Bee Tree

The hive in Oxford and London’s Bee Tree installation have to be must-sees for anyone travelling with children. And for the rest of us. I hope they’re in all the guide books!

Back to bee-loved plants in New Zealand in my next post. More flowering. And too much heat, not enough rain.

P.S. For you especially, Jake and James. London’s new Bee Tree being installed.

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The hive in the new tree.

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And the door to the hive.

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A treat to come, perhaps?

The Bee-Loved Flowers Are Growing & So Are The Conversations

I had NO IDEA that growing beeloved flowers would stimulate so many conversations. Not always about bees.

On the zigzag the conversations are with passersby. Some I know. Some I don’t.  Sometimes I’m happy to chat. Sometimes I’m not.  And I loved it when a strong and chatty house guest dug a trench for me,  in a clayey zigzag spot, for the sunflowers which I should’ve transplanted weeks ago. You can see they’re not that happy, a week later. But today it’s raining steadily. That may help.

sunflowers on zigzag, with woollen weed mat (to be continued)

I left the rest of the group in my back garden where they flourish.

sunflowers & glimpse of Florence courgette flower on left
sunflowers & glimpse of Florence courgette flower on left

I loved it on the zigzag when an old acquaintance passed by and said he’d like a  parsley patch. So when the sunflowers were in, in front of them I planted a group of volunteer tomatoes a neighbour donated, some Black From Tula toms that I’d left far too long in their pots, some phacelia that the birds – or a cat frustrated by the netting on the backyard garden – immediately scratched up. And at the very front, next to the zigzag path, a little patch of small parsleys and a few calendulas.

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part of the parsley & calendula patch

I also have conversations with people who are growing tiny plants from here, at their place.

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I’ve lost track…

This picture came in a tweet, in a little group of tweets from one household–

I’ve lost track of what some of these plants are… Also, I tried three of the toms hanging from buckets but I didn’t get their roots in far enough so had to replant them more normally.

I looked at this herb, growing on a sunny windowsill I’m familiar with. It’s grown more quickly than most of my own herbs sown from the same seeds at the same time. But all their labels blew away when they were seedlings. What is it?

I know it’s not thyme. There are thyme, hyssop and bergamot babies in my garden. I sowed two kinds of bergamot, bergamot bee balm and bergamot lemon but they and the hyssop are new to me. Thyme’s the only one I’m sure of, by look and smell and taste.

Thyme and bergamot?
thyme (left) with bergamot or hyssop

Is that plant on the windowsill anise hyssop? Maybe.

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anise hyssop

Is it bergamot? Also maybe. See how it has serrated leaves too? Do you know what the plants on the windowsill are? Please feel free to let me know–

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bergamot

Like hyssop, bergamot is an aromatic perennial herb. It’s also thought to be a good companion to tomato plants. So I hope  those little plants in the sunny window are bergamot and will  join the now-flourishing tomato plants in my friends’ also-sunny garden. And that they will flower soon and feed many bees.

Via email, I have another conversation,  with my mate who identified shepherd’s purse on the zigzag. We swapped bean seeds last year. My bordoloi for her scarlet runners. And both are going great at her place.  She sent me some photos. A bordoloi already–

the first bordoloi
the first bordoloi

And lots of scarlet runner flowers.

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scarlet runner flowers

I gave her a Florence ribbed courgette too. Like mine, it’s looking good. Well on the way.

Florence courgette
Florence courgette

And as for the bees, they’re regularly on this little path leading from my place to the zigzag, more bumbles than honey bees.

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single wild sweet pea, dandelion, alyssum, giant pink Palestine stock, more alyssum, daisy or two, calendula, borage on the left, geranium, red wheelbarrow and lavender on the right

(I’ve learned now that bees stay away from geranium, so it’s a good plant to establish around places we want bees to avoid, like a child’s sandpit. I’m keeping mine here by the mailbox, as a courtesy towards the posties.)

AND, for the first time, I’ve  seen a (bumble) bee on the zigzag. It alighted on this forget-me-not, near the new tomato plants.

yay this random, volunteer, forget-me-not
yay this random volunteer forget-me-not

More Magic

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bee box on back fence

A neighbour brought some bees home from work. From urban bee hives. They’re in and out of a little box, up on our back fence, exactly the week that our fruit trees blossom, in a garden filled with borage and calendula and lavender flowers.

And I’m in love. Can watch those bees for hours. Pop out to visit when I want to smile. And I can smell an entrancing honey-ish aroma. The beeswax perhaps?

So far, they’re not much interested in our place. This calm and sunny morning we have the same number of bees and bumble bees we’ve had here for weeks, making a pleasant hum. Are the visiting bees more interested in the neighbour’s own wisteria?

But I put out some water for them, anyway. And thought about the water. With chlorine and other chemicals. Hormones even. Have I missed an essential element in bee well-being? Should I collect rainwater? Should I worry about more than flowers grown from seeds coated with neonics (writing about them in my next post)?

heritage apple blossom, calendula, lavender, borage.
heritage apple blossom, calendula, lavender, borage. waiting for those bees.

PS That aroma. Reminds me of Dani Ehrig’s pure beeswax candles. I found a tea candle and a little heart candle in Commonsense Organics and then Dani’s catalogue with an amazing range.

Bee-Loved Flowers

I worry about bees. In my garden, a wild bee is a rarity. Each year there are fewer honey bees and there are more and more bumble bees, which tend to damage the blossom on my fruit trees and beans.

When I learned that most flowering plants are grown from seeds treated with neonicotinoids, neuro-active insecticides that reach flowers and harm foraging bees, I decided to grow more flowering plants. Bee-loved and SAFE,  from seeds without neonicotinoids, where possible heritage seeds and open pollinated seeds that will then provide more ‘safe’ seeds and plants. To distribute as widely as possible. Let me know if you’d like some.

bumble bee in the borage on this windy spring morning when I'll never see a honey bee
A bumble bee in the Borage on this windy spring morning, when I’ll never see a honey bee – they hate the wind

I already have Calendula and Borage. Alyssum. Poppies. Evening Primrose. Italian Parsley and other flowering herbs-to-cook-with. All self sown in my garden, which has been spray-free for almost 35 years. And some plants from the organic shop. Lavender. Rosemary. But now I’m adding others, from Koanga Institute and  King’s Seeds– Peony Black Poppy, Hyssop, Wild Thyme, Bee Balm Bergamot, Anise Hyssop, Lemon Bergamot, Cornflowers. My Sunflower seeds from last year have already sprouted.

And my mates are helping me. They live on the Kapiti Coast, where it’s warmer and their garden gets more sun. Yesterday, one mate brought the  first batch of seedlings into town. I met them at the station and it felt like meeting a new baby.

the seedlings from Kapiti, with colourful labels
first seedlings from Kapiti, with colourful labels

After that, to celebrate, we went to French Can Can, the best-ever Wellington cafe for French savouries and cakes. The boss, Eric Hauser, has TWO Michelin stars. And it shows.

French Can Can, Willis Street, Wellington
French Can Can, Willis Street, Wellington

One of us had a quiche and a mille-feuille with coffee, the other an amazing little chocolate friand-like cake, filled with a delicious gooey chocolate and raspberry sauce, with a pot of tea. The tea came with a three minute tea timer, so the tea drinker could be sure to get some anti-oxidants. Then I took the baby plants home to meet the tomato seedlings.

Welcome to the world, baby plants!

borage and calendula from heritage and untreated seeds, waiting to welcome the bees
Borage and Calendula from untreated heritage seeds, waiting to welcome the bees