With 2018 rapidly approaching, this is the perfect time to reflect on the past year and set goals for the new year. This is the second post in a two-part series on this topic. To read about my achievements in 2017, please click here. This post will focus on my goals for 2018.
Here are my five main business goals for the new year:
1. Improve the newsletter for Anita’s Garden
One of my main goals for 2018 is to improve the format of my gardening newsletter. I’d like there to be more of a link between my blog and the newsletter, as at the moment I feel that I’m simply reproducing content. I’d also like to shorten the length of the newsletter without sacrificing the breadth and depth of content. At 15-16 pages, I feel that the newsletter in its current format is simply too long and there is a risk that readers may lose interest.
I have received very positive feedback on the content of the newsletter, but one reader commented to me that he wished he was able to view the document on his smartphone. I take all feedback very seriously and started to look into ways to make this possible. I’m a brand ambassador for the on-line New Zealand gardening retailers Awapuni Nurseries and New Zealand Bulbs. The marketing liaison for both businesses is the wonderful Gemma Collier of Collier Maddigan, who I’ve gotten to know really well over the past few months. Gemma writes a regular newsletter for Awapuni called Cultivated News, which is circulated by email. She advised me to look into using Microsoft Publisher for generating my newsletter as opposed to using Microsoft Word, as I have been doing in the past. Publisher is apparently the programme to use for creating newsletters. I had no experience with Publisher, nor did I have it installed on my laptop as the Microsoft Office 2010 package I purchased six years ago didn’t contain that programme. However, a few weeks before Christmas, my cousin Daniel who is an IT guru and heads up the IT department at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) very helpfully installed Office 2016 on my laptop, which includes Publisher! I am having a little play around with the programme at the moment and will see if it is possible to generate a newsletter template which is user-friendly on a smartphone and is an improvement on the old format.
2. Develop my presence on social media
As mentioned in my previous blog post which covers my achievements of 2017, I created social media accounts for Anita’s Garden on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest and Snapchat. Remaining active on social media, in addition to maintaining the garden, propagating plants, running the nursery and the many other activities that form part of my business is admittedly exhausting. However, I firmly believe that social media is the most effective way, both cost-wise and in terms of outreach, to market a business in the 21st century. Of course, this might be a bit different for professional services in sectors such as law. Client confidentiality restricts what you can write about in order to market your business. You can’t exactly tweet about your current cases or transactions! In addition to learning how to use social media, it took me awhile to adjust to being so open about my passion for gardening and share what I have learnt over the years with other gardeners. This is one of the things I love most about my business.
In 2018, I would like to focus on building my Pinterest account. Up until now, I used Pinterest as a personal tool and had a variety of boards on different topics I was interested in. I only re-pinned posts from other people. Now that I have converted my personal Pinterest account to a business one, it dawned upon me that you can actually create pins yourself! This is of course how content on Pinterest is generated. Duh! This is a great way for me to assert myself as a business owner, establish credibility in the marketplace and build my brand. Of course, it takes time but I’ll get there eventually.
3. Get my own domain name
This year, I’d like to get my own domain name for my website. It’s not expensive to do. In fact, I wanted to register my own domain name for Anita’s Garden in the first instance. However, my cousin challenged me to set up a free website first to see if I would actually maintain my blog. I think I’ve proven that I’m committed to blogging regularly based on my track record of posts. Having my own domain name certainly won’t change the quality of the content on my website but will give it a more professional look overall. I hope to make this happen sometime in 2018.
4. Develop Anita’s Garden
As discussed in my previous blog post, in 2017 I added a mini-orchard to the garden. In 2018, I would like to develop our rose garden. At present, we have a collection of 17 standard roses. In the winter, I will be adding 10 standard David Austin varieties to our garden. This is in addition to our two existing David Austin varieties, Sharifa Asma and Winchester Cathedral. I love old-fashioned English roses and am very excited to expand our collection this coming year.
5. Unveil my mystery project!
In 2018, I hope to roll out my brand new venture. I’ve been busy working on something new behind the scenes. As if Anita’s Garden wasn’t enough to keep me busy! As discussed in a previous blog post, I famously always said that owning a business was one of two things I’d never do (the other was to become a politician). I therefore can’t believe that I might launch another start up! As someone who was always very risk-adverse (which is typical of most lawyers), I must say that being a business owner has made me more daring. I’m not afraid to put myself out there. Sometimes, you just have to be bold. As discussed in my last blog post, in 2017, I became a brand ambassador for some leading New Zealand gardening retailers after approaching them directly with a proposal. Sure I was a little nervous about their reaction, but the worst thing they could have said is no.
I’m now preparing to trial an entirely different project in parallel to my existing business. If it takes, it takes. It’s a bit like my philosophy when propagating plants by cuttings. There is a lot of truth to the expression nothing ventured, nothing gained. Are you thinking of launching your own start up like me? In the words of Nike, my favourite spots brand, just do it! So what if it fails (like a lot of start ups do)? Just be super-cautious like me and avoid investing capital! Instead, invest your ideas, time and energy. Even if it isn’t a success, at least you’ve given it a shot and learnt something in the process. Don’t worry if others laugh at you or talk about you behind your back. I have discussed the issue of negativity and put-downs from others at length in a previous blog post. There are some people who will always have something to say, and it will usually be negative. It’s best to avoid these people, or at least try to limit contact with them if you can help it. At least you’re using your time constructively, which is more than can be said for people with nothing better to do but sit back and rejoice in other people’s downfalls. As I have said before, people who use their time so unproductively probably don’t have much of a garden, if that’s any consolation.
With 2018 rapidly approaching, this is the perfect time to reflect on my accomplishments during the past year, as well as set goals for the new year. I have divided this topic into a two-part series of posts: (i) Achievements of 2017; and (ii) Goals for 2018. This post will focus on my achievements in 2017. I will cover my goals for 2018 in a separate post to follow this one.
There are some years where you feel that you haven’t really achieved that much. 2017 definitely hasn’t been one of those years! One of the partners at my previous law firm Bell Gully told me that she is really impressed by how I’ve managed to pack so much into a relatively short space of time. Looking back, I can’t believe what I’ve managed to accomplish. I can only hope that 2018 is even more productive than this year!
Here are what I consider my top five achievements of 2017:
1. I started my own business
In May 2017, I launched my own start up, Anita’s Garden. As discussed in a previous blog post, my business grew organically from a hobby and I left my career as a commercial lawyer to pursue Anita’s Garden full-time.
I spent a two-week holiday at our bach in Tauranga Bay creating a website by myself on Weebly, no mean feat for someone who is completely hopeless with technology! A month later, I began writing a gardening blog that remains active to the present day. Soon afterwards, I set up various social media platforms to help promote my business. I created a Facebook page and set up accounts on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat. In spring, I started writing a gardening newsletter filled with information about what to do around the garden and advice about how to grow different vegetables, flowers and herbs. I am pleased to have a growing database of readers.
In October, I opened my boutique plant nursery to the public and made a range of plants available for sale, including vegetable and flower seedlings I had propagated by seed, herbs, perennials, roses and fruit trees. I also received several requests for mail orders, which I successfully processed and arrived in excellent condition on the overnight courier service.
In addition to retail sales, I have also supplied a number of services to the public. I led my first tour of the garden for a walking group from a local church, conducted a gardening workshop for the children of a law school friend that are being home schooled and supplied flowers for a tangi (funeral) in Northland.
Finally, I discovered Vistaprint, who supply business owners with fantastic marketing materials. I have designed my own business cards, brochures, calendars and t-shirts (which form part of my work uniform).
2. I became a brand ambassador
In addition to setting up my own business, I also became a brand ambassador for a number of leading New Zealand gardening businesses. You can read more about my thoughts on being a brand ambassador in this blog post. Building on our pre-existing relationship over the years since I started gardening, the idea is to work closely with one another and promote each other’s businesses.
3. I finally got a smartphone (and learnt how to use it!)
I actually wanted to put this at the #1 spot! It marks a huge milestone in both my professional and personal life. For years, I have resisted getting a smartphone, much to the chagrin of family and friends, who always complained that they could never reach me. In April 2017, this all changed when I got myself a smartphone. Why did I live in the dark ages for such a long time? The real reason was simply that I felt that I had enough to do each day without the constant interruption of checking a gadget every few minutes because I received an email, text or phone call. In my former career as a lawyer, we were expected to carry a blackberry with us at all times (and respond to it!), including over the weekends and during holidays. I hated seeing that flashing red light notifying me that I had received a message. I could never quite relax in my free time and I vowed that if I ever left the legal profession, I would go completely incommunicado. Sans smartphone, I managed to zone out and accomplished quite a bit over the years, including creating our garden from scratch. However, setting up my own business changed things. All of a sudden, people had to be able to contact me to line up appointments to visit the nursery otherwise I wouldn’t have any customers! I have to admit that my phone is probably my most indispensable business tool. I use it all the time to communicate with customers, take photos of the garden and remain active on my social media accounts, which is essential in order to market my business effectively. Now that I have a smartphone, I honestly don’t know what I’d do without it!
4. Addition of a mini-orchard to Anita’s Garden
2017 was also the year that we started to add fruit trees to Anita’s Garden. Up until this point, the garden contained only roses, vegetables and flowers. In March, two American wwoofers helped me plant a dwarf banana tree called Misi Luki in our garden. In April, I planted eight blueberry plants in containers and planted a further three different Feijoa varieties into the ground. In winter, I planted a range of dwarf deciduous fruit trees in containers, including eight different apple varieties, five different peach varieties and three different nectarine varieties. We also have an apricot tree, a pear tree, two guavas and two fig trees. I also planted a raspberry, a boysenberry, a blackberry and a hybrid berry against our trellis at the back of our house. The raspberry and boysenberry have been cropping prolifically since November. The blueberries and dwarf fruit trees are absolutely laden with fruit, which is very exciting! In October, I planted a dwarf avocado tree called Cleopatra, which is an exciting addition to the market. I can’t wait to start reporting on its progress in years to come. My customers to the plant nursery were so impressed by our mini-orchard and I became inundated with requests for fruit trees. I managed to source two lots of fruit trees which I made available for sale and hope to continue to supply them to customers in future.
Click here to view the entire range of fruit trees in our home garden.
5. We became woofing hosts
Towards the end of January, mum and I hosted our first wwoofers. You can read more about the Wwoof scheme in my previous blog post on this subject. Wwoofers are travellers with working holiday visas that receive accommodation and meals in exchange for some assistance around the garden. The scheme has enabled us to meet some lovely people from all around the world. We really enjoy educating others about organic and sustainable growing practices. We have found that wwoofers have, in turn, taught us a lot about gardening as well.
Set out below are some key points to help you keep your garden looking good all summer long.
Watering the garden
Water early in the morning or in the evening
Water deeply, not superficially
Aim to water the roots, not the leaves
Make sure you water any potted plants really well. They may need doing twice daily as they will dry out quicker than plants in the ground. You’ll know they’ve been adequately watered when you see the water coming out from the drainage holes at the bottom of the containers.
You may want to consider installing irrigation. This can be quite simple or complex, cheap or expensive depending on your garden.
Make sure you get someone to water your garden while you’re on holiday.
What is mulch? Mulch is a layer of material that is spread across the ground. Why do we mulch? Mulch is applied to retain moisture and control weeds. It also adds nutrients to the soil eg pea straw contains nitrogen.
What can you use? Pea straw is my favourite but you can get other kinds of mulch. If you’re using pea straw, wet it down well with the hose so it doesn’t fly away. I have also used Kolush Manuka and Seaweed Garden Mulch, which is exclusive to Palmers Garden Centre. I used this product around our lemon tree and all our standard roses. I have been very impressed by the surge in flowers soon afterwards and highly recommend this product to other gardeners.
Don’t use mulch in areas where you want to sow seeds directly because they won’t germinate through the mulch.
Liquid feeding/slow release
Liquid feeding nourishes plants, helping them grow strong and develop flowers and fruit.
Liquid feed on a weekly basis. You can use any plant food formulated for this purpose. I like Seasol as it is an organic tonic made from seaweed extracts. If you have a big garden, try to get one which you can attach to your hose. Otherwise dilute in a watering can according to the instructions on the back of the bottle. Alternatively, you can use a slow release fertiliser to feed plants. This will keep them going for up to six months.
As your garden produces, continue to pick veggies to encourage the formation of further flowers and fruit. If veggies are left sitting on a plant for too long, it drains their energy and inhibits the development of further fruit. This is particularly true for zucchinis, but applies to eggplants, tomatoes etc.
So far, most of my growing guides for flowers have been for annuals or bulbs/tubers. Over the next few weeks, I would like to cover some of my favourite perennials. In last week’s newsletter, I covered coreopsis. This week, I would like to cover another of my favourite perennials, lavender.
To quickly recap, the difference between annuals and perennials is that annuals will grow, set seed and die after one growing season (meaning that you will have to resow them unless they self-seed freely), whereas perennials stay alive in the ground and will reflower in subsequent seasons. By their nature, perennials are low maintenance plants. I think there’s a place for both annuals and perennials in any garden. Anita’s Garden contains both annuals and perennials. This is the reason that there are normally flowers in the garden year round, which is very important to us.
A perennial that has been in our garden since I started gardening five years ago is lavender. This wonderful plant is extremely hardy and has beautiful purple flowers. But the main reason why lavender will always feature in our garden is because it is a fantastic bee attracting plant. From September onwards, bees are drawn to the garden by our lavender. This greatly assists with the pollination of our fruit trees, which are blossoming at the same time. Our favourite lavender plant is a grafted standard lavender called The Princess, which is in a large container near our front door. It has lovely purple flowers which draws the bees from September through to December. Lavender plants have been a very popular seller in my nursery, which is another reason why I wanted to provide readers with advice about how to grow and care for plants. I hope that this guide will encourage others to give this beautiful, hardy bee magnet perennial a go, too.
Sowing lavender from seed
Lavender can be started from seed. It takes approximately 90 days from the time of the germination of a coreopsis seed until flowering, which isn’t too bad.
Lavender can be started from seed indoors in October or even earlier if you live in a more temperate zone and have a hot house to protect them from the cold. Lavender seeds need warmth in order to germinate. I germinate seeds in punnets filled with seed raising mix from Gardn Gro. I like Gardn Gro’s seed raising mix as it is very fine in texture, enabling seeds to push through the mixture easily as they rise to the surface. I place the punnets inside plastic incubators which you can purchase from garden centres. I then place the incubators on a heat pad indoors and spray plants with water once daily or twice if the seed raising mixture is very dry. If you don’t have a heat pad you can also use your hot water cupboard which will also provide seedlings with a warm environment so they can germinate successfully. At this time of the year, it should be fine to leave your punnets outside to germinate, as the temperatures at night have been becoming warmer.
If you’re planning to grow coreopsis from seed, you’ll find that they come in an impressive array of colours, sizes and heights. Egmont Seeds stock the following varieties: Bandera, Bandera Pink, Dentata, Hidcote and Lavance. To order seeds from the very extensive Egmont Seeds range, visit http://www.egmontseeds.co.nz/.
How to care for lavender seedlings
For new gardeners, those who don’t wish to start their lavender seedlings from seed or if you’ve simply left it too late, plants are available for sale in nurseries from October onwards. Awapuni also sell high quality, large grade lavender seedlings and plants delivered direct to your door. Look out for varieties called Hidcote, Lady, Dentata and Munstead varieties. If you order 7 or more bundles of seedlings or at least 9 established plants, delivery is free.
How to care for lavender plants
Lavender needs at least 6 hours of sunshine per day, so be sure to plant seedlings or plants in the sunniest spot in your garden. Before planting lavender seedlings and plants, take the time to prepare the bed properly so plants receive adequate nutrition. Dig the area over that you wish to plant your seedlings in. Mix plenty of compost and some sheep pellets into the ground. I highly recommend Gardn Gro’s Wonder Nuggets, which are 100% organic and function as an excellent fertiliser. Rake the ground so that it is nice and level. Be sure to water plants every day, preferably early in the morning or in the evening. Liquid feed lavender weekly during spring and early summer to encourage the growth of healthy leaves and the formation of flowers.
As stated above, lavender is a perennial which means that they will reappear in your garden next season. It’s therefore a good idea to give some thought as to where you want to plant them, given that their location in the garden will be permanent.
Remember that lavender can also be propagated by cuttings, so you will be able to increase your stock in future even if you start with just one plant. It’s very easy to do this and a very cheap way to generate more plants as you only need some plastic pots and potting mix. Give it a go. You don’t have much to lose! Cut off pieces from the plant with sharp secateurs and try to take the cuttings on an angle. Dip cuttings in some rooting gel to improve the strike rate. Check cuttings after a few months to see which ones “took” and developed roots. Swap your spare plants with friends so you can share excess and obtain different varieties. After around 4-5 years you may notice that your lavender plants start to get rather woody and need to be replaced. It’s therefore a good idea to think ahead and take cuttings every year so you’ll be able to slip in a replacement for the outgoing plant, which will save you from having to purchase a new one.
Asparagus is the only vegetable that I can think of that is a perennial. All other veggies are annuals, meaning they grow, set seed and die, only for the cycle to resume the following season. Granted, it does take three years until you can start harvesting asparagus spears if grown from seed (you can deduct one year if you purchase one year old crowns such as the ones I’m selling in my plant nursery). But with a little patience, it’s a great long term investment as once established, asparagus will continue to crop for 20+ years. It’s therefore worth putting in the effort to set up the area you want to plant asparagus in properly but once this ground work is done, asparagus requires very little maintenance and can be left undisturbed in the ground. Given how expensive asparagus is in the supermarket, it’s worth considering growing some of your own. It doesn’t take up a lot of space and is very easy to grow. We set up an asparagus bed about five years ago and it’s honestly one of the best things we have done in the garden. Every September and October, we are able to harvest 1-2 bundles of asparagus per week from a relatively small space in our city garden.
Asparagus is rich in fibre and very low in fat. It also contains many vitamins, including vitamin A and C, as well as minerals such as iron. Asparagus can be consumed in a variety of ways. Asparagus always tastes best eaten as soon after harvesting it as possible. My favourite way to eat asparagus is freshly steamed. We don’t add anything to it, not even butter, salt or pepper. It’s simply delicious eaten like this on its own. Asparagus is extremely versatile and can be used in other dishes such as frittata. Chances are you’ve been invited to a party or function where you’ve been asked to bring a plate. You can pretty much guarantee that someone will bring asparagus wraps – spears of asparagus wrapped in buttered bread.
You can expect to pay an average of $3 per bundle in supermarkets in New Zealand during the spring when asparagus is in season. Homegrown asparagus tastes so much fresher, sweeter and tenderer than store bought spears. With the help of this guide, you’ll hopefully be on your way to growing your own asparagus successfully in the garden.
When to sow
As it takes three years until maturity, you can pretty much sow asparagus from seed all year round. I prefer sowing asparagus in the spring so it can develop over the summer. I plant seedlings out in early autumn so they have time to become established before the cold weather sets in.
To soak or not to soak?
Some gardeners prefer to soak hard-coated seeds prior to sowing them, including asparagus, in order to aid germination. Other examples of seeds that gardeners might soak include edible sweet peas, snow peas, ornamental sweet peas, beans, corn and okra. I generally soak asparagus seeds for a few hours prior to sowing them.
If you’re planning to grow asparagus from seed, you’ll find that they come in an impressive array of colours. Traditionally, asparagus is green but it’s also possible to find purple asparagus, which looks quite cool. There are quite a few different varieties on the market in New Zealand, but the one which Egmont Seeds has available is called IC157 F2 Hybrid. This is a proven variety of asparagus that is tolerant to rust. It produces high yields and the spears are large in size. To order seeds from the very extensive Egmont Seeds range, visit http://www.egmontseeds.co.nz/.
Growing asparagus from seed
Asparagus can be started from seed indoors in October or even earlier if you live in a more temperate zone and have a hot house to protect them from the cold. Asparagus seeds need warmth in order to germinate. I germinated seeds in punnets filled with seed raising mix from Gardn Gro. I like Gardn Gro’s seed raising mix as it is very fine in texture, enabling seeds to push through the mixture easily as they rise to the surface. I placed the punnets inside plastic incubators which you can purchase from garden centres. I then placed the incubators on a heat pad indoors and sprayed plants with water once daily or twice if the seed raising mixture was very dry. If you don’t have a heat pad you can also use your hot water cupboard which will also provide seedlings with a warm environment so they can germinate successfully.
From now on, it’s warm enough to simply sow asparagus seeds in punnets filled with seed raising mix and simply leave them outside to germinate naturally.
How to care for asparagus seedlings
For new gardeners, those who don’t wish to start their corn seedlings from seed or if you’ve simply left it too late, plants are available for sale in nurseries from September onwards. Palmers stock asparagus seedlings. Awapuni also sell high quality, large grade asparagus seedlings delivered direct to your door. If you order 7 or more bundles of seedlings, delivery is free. At the moment, Awapuni has the variety Mary Washington in stock.
I also have a variety of asparagus seedlings available for sale in my own plant nursery. I am currently selling one year old green Mary Washington asparagus crowns in punnets of 6 plants for just $2 each. This means that you can knock off one year and they will start cropping in just two years from now! I am also selling purple asparagus seedlings in punnets of 6 plants for $2 each. To reserve yours, please text me on 021 02762091.
How to care for asparagus plants
Be sure to water plants every day while they are still in punnets or seed raising trays, preferably early in the morning or in the evening. In November and December, plants are in their most active growing phase. Liquid feed asparagus weekly to encourage the growth of healthy, strong leaves.
How to prepare an asparagus bed
For the best results, pick a sunny spot in the garden that receives at least six hours of sunshine per day. Make sure that the soil is well drained in the area you are planning on growing asparagus. Add compost, sheep pellets and some general garden fertiliser. Dig into the soil and rake the area so that it is nice and level. Space the plants at least 5 cm apart. To give you an idea of how many plants to put in, from our bed of approximately 20 plants, we are able to harvest 1-2 bundles of asparagus per week when it is in season.
Note that after asparagus has finished cropping the plants go to seed. They send up very tall fern-like foliage which can look untidy, which is why our asparagus bed is at the back of the house where no one but us can see it.
Harvesting your asparagus
The asparagus crowns underground will send up spears each year (even in the first three years, but they will be immature and thus unsuitable for harvesting). Pick spears as they crop up and are large enough to harvest, as this will encourage the growth of further asparagus.