On Hay fever


Suffer from hay-fever? Looking to reduce the chemicals in your life? Phil Garnock-Jones a retired professional botanist, based in Wellington recently posted on how he avoids using anti-histamines, on his mostly botanical blog “Theobrominated”.  As he repeatedly says ‘this is not medical advice’ but if you’re a hay fever sufferer and you can’t go to Antarctica for the main pollen season, this just might provide another level of relief.

The blog is hosted on Blogspot so I can’t just re-blog his post, you’ll find it here  ‘Theobrominated’

Fortunately I don’t have problems with hay-fever but Phil, what about migraines?


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Historic Fairview Homestead For Sale

Looking for outdoor living space? Got a bunch of kids with no where to play? Into horses?  Fairview might just be the answer.

I’ve been helping get the trees under control on friends’ 3 acre section as their interests have outgrown this historic Waddington estate with its extensive grounds. With their interests elsewhere, they’ve made the hard decision to sell Fairview and I’m just easing the woody stuff and creeper filled wilderness into a more presentable shape. Continue reading

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Flax cultivars for weaving

This coming Friday 18th August, the Canterbury Botanical Society will be having a guided tour of the Rene Orchiston, living harakeke collection at Landcare Research, Lincoln. Meet outside the main reception, 54 Gerald St, by 1.25pm.  Parking is limited, so it is recommended to find a roadside parking space, and walk to Landcare Research.

The collection comprises over 60 varieties of flax selected by Maori weavers and brought into cultivation for their diverse properties.  To understand what  I mean by that, download the catalogue (PDF) and read some of the descriptions.

Rene Orchiston collection – catalogue

The catalogue also has a brief introduction to the many uses and history of NZ flax, that is well worth reading.

The varieties include both swamp flax/harakeke (Phormium tenax) and mountain flax/wharariki (Phormium cookianum).

Harakeke is the 3m tall stiff bladed flax that fills the marshy ground beside lakes, rivers and lagoons as in this variety copied from the catalogue

ARAWA (42)
Source: Rotoiti area.
Description:  Straight, fairly long, medium green blades. Up to 2.5 m tall. Reddish-orange margin and keel. Very high flower heads but seldom flowers.

Uses:  Excellent muka harakeke. The best Mrs Orchiston found

detail from a family portrait. My great grandmother modelling a bone patu with flax wrist loop, bone hei tiki and a feather cloak (colours are hand tints by the printer late 19th C)

for producing long strands of clean fibre with hāro method (stripping with a shell).

Good for piupiu because it is so easy to prepare. Especially good for ladies piupiu because of the length although the prepared strips do not dry as strong as other cultivars. When boiled for one minute, it dries to a cream colour. Ideal for whenu and aho in kākahu and for muka kete.

Without harakeke and it’s muka the weaving methods of taaniko and feather cloaks might not have developed.


Wharariki is that tough and shiny chest high tussock that flexes to the wind in exposed sites from coastal cliffs up into the sub-alpine zone where it joins hebe, turpentine scrub and mountain daisies above the treeline.  Wharariki is pliable but it is difficult to extract the fibre so is more likely to be used in weaving such as kete/baskets, as in this example from the catalogue

Source: Tairawhiti (East Coast).
Description:  Short, bendy, bright yellow-green blades, giving the bush a yellowish
Uses:  Very valuable for kete as it dries to a clear yellow when boiled for half a minute. Gives good contrast for patterns when used with other cultivars. When unboiled, it dries to rich bronze-golden shades. Not a muka variety.


For a full story on the history of NZ flax this link goes to a New Zealand Geographic article, that starts in a replica collection, in a paddock near Takaka Flax-the enduring fibre, NZ Geographic

Heres a condensed video, from paddock to wardrobe, of the making of a mans (short) piupiu.


kete: a basket

kākahu: a cloak

muka: the fibre that remains after the flesh and skin of the leaf is stripped away.

aho: in weaving, the weft.

piupiu: skirt of dried and jointed harakeke leaves woven at the waist to form a belt.

whenu: in weaving, the warp

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Honesty Box

Facing the back of the Old Canterbury University


West of this Y


yet East of this Y


is what must be the smallest public Continue reading

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Cultural Shift

We must have been having terrible weather lately because I received a couple of emails (even one from Oz) asking how we’d fared with the storms that have hit Canterbury recently.

Well thanks for asking

We’re fine

We had a one day wonder

The consummate divaricate, wiggiwiggi, Muehlenbeckia astonii

Then we had a week of sun and frosts

followed by a bit of wet

looks like the 8″ culvert is blocked

after that a week of sun and frosts

During which there was a whole day knocking in steel ‘Y’ posts

followed by another bit of wet

and now we’re finally getting the sort of frosts that usually start in June.

That’s the air temp, not the frost temp. The frost was more like -10C

I’d really like to know how it is that frosts dry up puddles overnight!

It’s part of the human condition that we keep adjusting our idea of normal to match changing conditions, that’s Cultural Shift. The classic example from the 20th C. was the size of fish. When I was a kid a 5lb snapper would be let go as a tiddler. By 1990, 2lb was a good fish and 10lb would have a good chance of winning the annual surf-casting competition.

Surf casting at Birdling’s Flat, Banks Peninsula

Cultural Shift with weather seems to happen really fast, the reality in Canterbury is that we’ve just had two very dry winters, so dry that we haven’t had water over the 8” culvert for just under 3 years,

and it seems a lot of people, especially the media, are thinking this is the new norm, what the locals call a green drought. Now we’re back to average everyone is grizzling about how wet it is, but this sort of flooding is normally a 3 – 5 times a year event. Then in Christchurch, ever since the big earthquakes it doesn’t take much to get flooding, a combination of some suburbs that are one to two metres lower, streams that are narrower and the Avon – Heathcote Estuary got higher near the outlet. That all adds up to even poorer drainage than what you get from building a city in a swamp, should’ve built it like Venice.

Christchurch and the Avon – Heathcote Estuary from the Summit Road on the Port Hills

So for those that were wondering if we were affected by the bad weather,  Yeah ( the ground is a bit waterlogged) thanks for your concern


but really  – Nah.

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Seeing Red

Looking at the sites stats for this blog the most visited post is getting started with carving wooden spoons, which is totally weird as that’s not really a focus for Between the Ocean and the Sea. However given the interest and that the related blogs I look at, have recurring questions around getting cut, I thought I would share a recent experience. If you’re using good technique, correctly you won’t get cut, but most of us make mistakes, don’t we? Please tell me I’m not alone in this, because here’s a doozy.

Caution the first photo is somewhat graphic

I see red when I make a total stuff up Continue reading

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a walk in the park

Cautionary note to readers – this post is not compatible with mealtimes

A few weeks ago I’d taken my mother to Christchurch Hospital for an appointment.  I’d no sooner got her settled back in the rest home when I got word that a friend was in hospital so I tootled back to the inner city and parked in the middle of Hagley Park.


Hagley Park, Botanical Gardens carpark

The hospital is over there!


Botanical Gardens carpark, Hagley Park, Christchurch

From here it was a pleasant 10 minute stroll through the Botanical Gardens nestled in their intestinal loop of the Avon


Christchurch Botanical Gardens are cradled in a loop of the Avon

with late autumn displays and a brilliant blue sky

RIMG6644 (2)

Swamp Cypress, Taxodium distichum

The air was redolent with the pungent odour of a Cook Strait ferry


Power gives way to sail – “Yeah Right!” Cook Strait ferry brushing aside yachts in entrance to Wellington Harbour (Whanganui a Tara)

after a sailing where the stewards were busy gathering up used paper bags.

It took a while to work out that it was all natural, nothing more than the bountiful leavings of the maiden hair trees, Ginkgo biloba.

The fruit (bottom right) are pretty golden globes, not what you expect from something related to pine trees, but each fallen


ginkgo fruit smells like a cup of warm sick

Elsewhere winter was in place but the gardens are full of trees with winter virtues.


Nearing the hospital there is  a group of paper-bark maple holding up the sky


Acer griseum, paper-bark maple

and warm toned, many textured bark

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Letting in the light

When the Cook Strait kowhai blooms

and the snow-line creeps closer

Puketeraki Range from Loburn

On frosty  mornings Continue reading

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In the hills of Cheviot

North Canterbury Farm Forestry Association visited a couple of farms near Cheviot last Thursday.

The first is a small–holding north of Cheviot that was enthusiastically planted and landscaped around 20 years ago, with ponds ornamental trees and walnuts. The property is a familiar sight to travellers on State Highway One as one of the more scenic farms in this area. Our hosts Kevin and Prue kickstarted the day with tea, coffee and several plates of hot scones and buttered cake.

Continue reading

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Southern Lights

While I was cobbling together my last post, oblivious to events in the real world, a friend who likes his privacy so I’ll just call him ‘The BFG’, was out on the Port Hills near Gebbies Pass taking ‘not very good’ photographs of the Aurora australis.  In response to that last post of mine he sent one of his worst photos.  I am of course green with envy and have had a reminder to trust my instinct, as I had noticed a ruby tinge in the night sky, but with Christchurch to our south had put it down to light pollution.

Aurora australis from the Summit Road, Port Hills, Christchurch, 23 April 2017. Photo courteousy of the BFG.

I understand the next peak in aurora activity is expected to be 26 days after this one (19th May) when the hole in the sun points toward earth again.  This applies to the northern hemisphere too, where the solar storm that produced this display reportedly put on a good show as far south as New York.

You can find out more and check aurora forecasts here

If you want to catch one for yourself you can subscribe to aurora alerts here

The real trick is to spend more time outside in the evenings with a good view toward your polar horizon.


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