Monthly Archives: December 2012

The fibre optics of the Pohutukawa Flower, a photo to consider on Friday

The Pohutukawas are flowering beautifully right now. They are known as the New Zealand Christmas Tree because they flower around Christmas time. It looks as if this year will be a bumper flowering.


Do you believe in magic? Do you see nature reflecting man-made inventions back to us?


A Christmas Story for you

It is Christmas Eve and the weather is unbelievably hot, humid and sunny. Preparations are underway for tomorrow…parcels to wrap, fudge to make, fruit to check, maybe a little cooking to do when the kitchen is not full of sunshine.

Happy Christmas to you all in the blogosphere.


A long time ago in Germany, a mother was busily cleaning for Christmas. The spiders fled to the attic to escape the
broom. When the house became quiet the spiders slowly crept downstairs for a peek.
Oh what a beautiful tree!
In their excitement they scurried up the trunk and out along each branch. They were filled with happiness as they climbed amongst the glittering beauty.
But alas! By the time they were through climbing, the tree was completely shrouded in their dusty grey spider webs.
When Santa Claus came with the gifts for the children and saw the tree covered with spider webs, he smiled as he saw how happy the spiders were, but knew how heartbroken the mother would be if
she saw the tree covered with the dusty webs.
So he turned the webs to silver and gold. The tree sparkled and shimmered and was even more beautiful than before.
That’s why we have tinsel on our tree and every tree should have a Christmas spider in it’s branches !

*author unknown*

The longest day means harvesting the garlic

My gardening eye had been on the garlic in the past couple of weeks. The tops were beginning to dry indicating that the best growth has happened below ground.
Ironically garlic is meant to help keep aphids off over plants but I had discovered numerous colonies of black aphids on my garlic stems. They were not welcome.

Time to harvest was hastened by weather news that we are to experience the dregs of Cyclone Evan here over the next few days. That will mean damp, humid, sweaty weather which is not helpful to garlic…..or lots of other plants……and humans.

After the heavy mists and rain of yesterday morning had been burnt off by the sun I headed out and harvested 41 head of garlic and 5 elephant garlic.


Can you see the small bulbils on the elephant garlic?

These heads are Year 2 heads and can be eaten (yum!) and I will plant the bulbils back in the ground to produce next year’s elephants. Ideally elephant garlic grows best in a roughish patch of ground where it can cycle through the years and regenerate as well as offering pickings for consumption.

I lack such a piece of ground and use a black tub instead so bit more intervention and organization is required.

The garlic is drying off in the garage, which will now smell very pungent for a while. No vampires in our garage.

Does this box make me look fat?

Jazz has always loved to sleep in boxes.

Yesterday I was searching for some ribbon and lace and opened this small shoe box that contains all manner of bits and pieces for making dried lavender sachets.

At first Jazz was happy to snooze on the lid – a bit half on and half off the lid.

Later in the afternoon I caught him wedged into the body of the box. When he emerged from his catnap some hours later he did smell very beautiful….he should be stress free!





The Country Diary of a New Zealand Lady by Christina Ferens

Rae Roadley and Christina Ferens have kindly allowed me to repost Rae’s latest blog post.

Meet Christina Ferens, author of ‘The Country Diary of a New Zealand Lady’
by Rae Roadley

As a writer about rural life, I was recently asked to review a book by another Northland writer, Christina Ferens. The Country Diary of a New Zealand Lady is glorious; it’s both a meditation and a celebration of the birds, animals, and plants which many of us see every day and don’t give a second thought.

Her writing is excellent and inventive – she expresses her observations with clever originality. Her writing is also gentle, insightful, loving and reminiscent of a past era when people lived at a slower pace than most of us do today.

After the book launch at the Takapuna Library, Christina emailed to say she was pleased with my review (of course she was, it’s a fabulous book) and that she’d even referred to it during the launch. I asked Christina if she’d share some background about her book and life and she agreed.


Hi Christina – thanks for agreeing to be part of my blog.

My first burning question is this: your book includes many fabulous photos. What sort of camera do you use? Is it so tiny you can carry it with you almost constantly or do you set off on photographic missions, set yourself up and wait for the magic moment – or is it somewhere in between?

Not a pocket camera, but with the view-finder essential for bird photography and an extraordinary zoom capacity, the Fuji Finepix is light enough to be almost constantly round my neck. To capture those spontaneous moments, I soon learned to have it switched on and zoomed up before even setting foot outdoors and to leave it on till I was literally back inside, regardless of the drain on the battery. That way I caught the lovely pair of greenfinches so close when I was on my way indoors, finished for the afternoon as I thought.

Your writing is poetic and engaging. Do you scribble your thoughts in a notebook or do the words come to you when you sit at your computer? Or do you take a laptop into a paddock?

Thank you for the compliment. Nothing so organised as a notebook or even laptop!
I like to mull the words around in my mind when they come to me and to have pen and paper on hand wherever I am. By the end of the year I had a whole hand-written manuscript.

Is there a particular time of day when you write?

For the purposes of the diary, I would already be gathering up my thoughts by mid-morning and by late afternoon I was usually ready to wrap up my entry for the day. If I write a poem, I can be sure to see it during the ‘night watch’, the lines written clearly against the darkness so that I can make improvements which elude me in light of day.
I am quite used to writing in the dark!

What led to the publication of the book? Had you written a diary for some time and realised your scribing could grow into a book – or what? Was it your idea or someone else’s?

Certainly my own idea and one which had been germinating since I came across an old copy of “The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady”. I imagined doing something beautiful like this for New Zealand and shortly afterwards, very late in the year, happened to move house to the perfect setting. On New Year’s Day I got out pen and paper.

A daily diary is a huge commitment. How did you manage to keep it up?

The enormity of what I had undertaken (the relentlessness, even, of the constant observations) came home to me one afternoon in March. By next morning I was as determined as ever  and come the frostiest morning I was outdoors first thing in dressing-gown, gumboots and parka! I was having a love affair with words as well as with my subject, and I was spurred on by the knowledge that I was creating a unique record. Then, I had the advantage of hemisphere; with spring falling two-thirds through the year, followed by summer nesting, my involvement continued to grow and I was provided with a natural climax to the book.

Did you happen to count the number of species in the natural bird sanctuary around you?

There are 48 species of bird detailed in the appendix, and some gained the limelight more than others. I gave myself a rule that any mention at all was to shed an additional light or describe a new aspect of behaviour. By the end of the book, the reader should have built up a comprehensive knowledge of the birdlife.

What makes this book different from any other ‘bird book’ I’ve read is the fact that the birds seem to take on their own personalities. Can you comment on this?

There is certainly an intimate perspective to this natural history. A fascination for me, in observing the same bird families over the period of a year, is that different idiosyncracies did emerge, highlighting loyalty and personality beyond our own. The swallow couple, who nested opposite our front door, is a case in point.

Do you have an entry in your diary – and book – which is a particular favourite and which perhaps evokes fond memories?

Probably the last one, when I seemed led to the right spot at the right time throughout a day of memorable happenings that enabled me to draw in many of my main ‘characters’ and so ‘tie up all the ends’ in a satisfying way.

You must have been delighted to have your book as one of the best animal books of the year in the NZ Herald Canvas magazine. Has it been reviewed elsewhere?

The first review (copied below) ran in ‘”Bay Chronicle’”and ‘”Northern News’” and your own review for ‘”The Northern Advocate’” also ran in seven other provincial newspapers from ‘”Northern Age” to ‘”Oamaru Mail”.

Your book is published by Faith House Publications. Can you tell us a little more about them?

Being a books editor, I have set up my own publishing house by this name to produce my books, wall calendars and floral cards.

Is there a website where people can buy the book? If Whitcoulls are out of stock, purchase thru:

What other writing have you done or had published?

“Where the Wind Wills” is a smaller book in which I first took natural history as a subject for literature. This time it is a whale at the ‘front door’, in the first of a series of seven unique and stunning environments  from Island to Deep Country, from Ocean Beach to The Farm. This book includes my own pencil sketches rather than photographs, and also the original poetry. My first published poem appeared in “New Zealand Bookworld” many years ago.

If you had a word of advice for a writer, what would it be?

My advice is to visualise clearly the concept of the book and even, if designing it yourself, create the whole book in your mind’s eye from the outset, and then to write a list of goals and guidelines that will bring it into being.

Can you tell us a little about your farm – its size, how long it’s been in your family, etc?

Actually we rented the one dwelling on a farm being used as a run-off and bounding a vast sheep-and-cattle station. The farm is about 175 hectares and the beauty of it (apart from its very special plantings, such as a gingko tree by an unfrequented stream-crossing) is the extent of the wetlands that attract the birds. I never lost my sense of wonder at it all, being city-bred, and I think the success of the book derives from this wonder. I am told the book has opened the eyes even of those who have lived in the country all their lives.

And lastly, you live in rural Northland, but I have an idea your place is more remote than ours. We’re about 20 minutes’ drive from the nearest town – how far away are you?

We are still only 20 minutes’ drive from the nearest town.

Thanks for taking the time to share, Rae.

I’m grateful, Rae, for the opportunity to look back on the steps I took to achieve my goal. The journey was the best part.

PS: And here’s my The Northern Advocate review.

Christina Ferens lives on farm in the Far North where she notices the nuances of nature and writes about them – every day.

She also takes photographs, sometimes going to great trouble to capture that magic moment in time when, say, a turkey chick sits on its mother’s back or a drinking yearling is reflected in a pond.

The result of her labours with pen and camera is a glorious book that’s both a meditation and a celebration of the birds, animals, and plants which many of us see every day and don’t give a second thought.

Her writing is excellent and inventive – she expresses her observations with clever originality. Her writing is also gentle, insightful, loving and reminiscent of a past era when people lived at a slower pace than most of us do today.

Christina has an encyclopaedic knowledge of New Zealand birds; her skills even include determining whether a female or male blackbird “gave voice”.

Written as a journal, with one chapter per month, the book is peppered with photographs, mostly of birds but also of livestock and the countryside she clearly loves. She describes it as the Taheke hinterland.

This is not a book to be read in a rush, in fact, it would be my preference to keep it on my desk or at my bedside and read her observations as a daily ritual.

It commences on New Year’s Day (these are her notes from 2008) and the first entry details the antics of a fantail, a shining cuckoo, and a pair of nesting swallows whose fledglings need no longer “fling themselves with parted beak half over the edge of the nest in a limp effort to keep cool, for the man-of-the-house has kindly placed a piece of wood on the clear roofing above to protect them from the unrelenting summer sun.”

That excerpt – paragraph three in this 250-page, large format book – gives a sense of the pace and tone of what is essentially a diary. Entries rarely exceed 150 words; some are shorter. The typeface and layout make for an effortless read.

It would make a gorgeous gift. Yes, I know, suggesting any book would make a gift can seem to be damning it with faint praise, but that is not my intention.

As I have written this, with the book open beside me, I have felt my blood pressure settling, my mind calming and my mood lightening.

The book is a treasure that would be loved by anyone, but I imagine it might bring special joy to anyone who is say, in a rest home, in hospital, incapacitated, or who is locked in a corporate life – leaving home and arriving home in the dark with the intervening hours spent in a multi-storey building whether in Auckland or Hong Kong.

Anyone who lives on farm will identify, as will those folk who have left the family farm and now reside in an urban area.

The blurb likens the book to The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, written by Edith Holden in the early 1900s, published in 1977 and a best-seller. The Country Diary of a New Zealand Lady deserves that same good fortune.

Rae Roadley

Feast for bird and garden lovers

For most of us, busy with other things, seasonal differences are what we notice in the nightly weather forecast, but with this book author Christina Ferens invites us in to observe a feast of change that happens while our attention is elsewhere.

A day-by-day record of life in and around farm hedgerows and gardens takes us through the seasons of mating, breeding, rearing and feeding that busies the lives of birds and insects; all of it observed in fascinating close-ups and illustrated in a profusion of full colour photographs.

It’s also a sharp reminder that life at this level is lived in a jungle. Wasps and birds predate on insects, birds predate on each other, feral cats and possums predate on most things while overhead the big raptors cruise, looking for anything they can lift off the ground.

Christina identifies particular nests at risk and records the small wins as mothers fight fiercely to protect their young or the sad posses when they fail to prevent their eggs or chicks being snatched.

The entry for the first day of January is almost lyrical. “A fantail flew closely above my head as I stood in the shadow of the banksia, at the entrance to the lawn, and a shining cuckoo whistled sevenfold welcome to a new year just hours old. All day the welcome swallows flit about the rafters of the pergola where one pair tends a nest atop a wooden support; excited cheeping comes from two nestlings whenever a parent bird flits by. Sometimes they flutter in one spot, hummingbird style, taking insects from little spiders’ webs.”

Every day of the year is described with the same attention to detail, with birds identified in an appendix and their status, whether protected, native, endemic or introduced.

Christina Ferens lives in the Taheke hinterland, in Northland. Her love for the area and its natural beauty shines through on every page.

Bob Molloy Bay Chronicle; Northern News

“The charm of the language lends it to being read aloud … The other thing I really loved … is that you can get the picture of the stillness of the days and the intense heat of a Northland summer … there is just this quietness of nature … and I think it is a clever writer who can depict that.”

— Helen Woodhouse, Takapuna Library Manager, speaking at the book launch

Trees of my teens

I lived in Hawkes Bay for 5 of my teenage years. Summers there can be relentlessly dry and relentlessly hot. Grass becomes brown and dry very quickly.

It almost looks dusty it is so dry. You are left wondering how animals can find enough to eat. But they do (often with the help of supplementary feed) and this land provides high quality animals and food.


Poplar trees stand in straight lines everywhere, planted as shelter belts and shade. They represent Hawkes Bay to me. These two had broken ranks and marched off to stand alone as an icon for me.


I love the way their leaves shimmer and shake in the breeze that sometimes only seems to reach them and them alone. As the ground bakes you can hear these leaves rustle and shift, showing green and silver as they turn, but there is no air movement down where you are yearning for something cooling to waft along.


It was warming up to be very hot as we farewelled Hawkes Bay last Monday and watched the number of poplars lessen as we traveled south to home and cooler conditions.

Finding summer in Hawkes Bay

We made a visit to Hawkes Bay last weekend to visit my father in law before Xmas. Not only did we enjoy time with him and other family members we also found summer.

Spring here has been long, cloudy, cool, grey and windy. We know that Hawkes Bay experiences vastly different conditions thanks to a large mountain range that shelters it from the prevailing damp, howling winds and rain that come in off the Tasman Sea. It enjoys and thrives in the rain-shadow effect.
We rented a small, self contained cottage just outside the village we were visiting.

It is on a life-style block where the owners are growing and farming organically and also operating this commercial kitchen. Check out a great initiative here.

Look at who lived here:

Plymouth Rock Rooster

Plymouth Rock Rooster

Look at the bounty of goodness that is so abundant in this part of my homeland.



Bounty awaiting in these Feijoa flowers.


The birds were doing their bit to pollinate these beauties that speak of heat and flavour and the traditional colours of the approaching Christmas day.

Beauty in tall, fragrant rose bushes.


You can see how dry it becomes here. Drought is common.


We had hot weather, intense blue skies which faded out to a hazy, pale blue as we left for home in the glare and brightness of the sunshine. But while there we had sat outdoors in the shade in calm conditions, we had strolled in the evening warmth and soaked up Vitamin D admiring gardens.