Category: Philosophising

Thoughts on herbal medicine

Geoff came across this speech, written by Rob McGowan about working with plants, traditions of healing, & the need for working with intent. It’s a bit of a trendy sales pitch these days, but the reality of working closely with the plants in our gardens & bush is that it adds a whole added dimension to our lives & our remedies. This speech is a wonderful, concise & eloquent description & exploration of that relationship. I hope you will take a few minutes to read it.

I remember attending a Herb Conference, some 15 years ago now, & I had the feeling that I was out of step with many of the other participants, who could discuss at length the strengths of tinctures & how many  papers they had achieved in various modalities. (Interestingly, many of them could not identify even the commonest weeds & plants, or where to find them.)

Then Susun Weed stood up to speak, she spoke of the Wise Woman Way, & the gentle plants & their uses. I sat in the audience, moved to tears, feeling validated in my hands-on knowledge, that my years of having soil on my hands & under my feet counted for something. That something may not be quantified but it is valid, & for me it is the foundation of my love of herbs.

A stand of Salsify seed heads, Te Onepu Road

Downstream, Fibre Art

Most years I make something to enter into the Nelson ‘Changing Threads’ Exhibition. This year I was lucky enough to get one piece accepted, but the second piece I entered was declined. I thought I could put it up here, with the written description, as I feel it has an important, although not new, message.



“DOWNSTREAM” We have a beautiful creek as one boundary to our place. It is spring fed, flowing out of the range behind us,& then meandering through farmland. It crosses under the road & then transforms into a swirling, bubbling stream, running between steep, 7m high banks.

In this secret world there are waterfalls & limestone creations, ferns & fungi, Shining Cuckoos & Grey Warblers. There are eels, freshwater crayfish & mussels.

Sometimes now, the water runs brown, upstream cows wade in the shallows & defecate. We ponder the possibility of run off from farms further away too. Over the last few years we have noticed more & more algae collecting in the lower pools, so much so that we rarely glimpse the eels & crayfish.

Our creek is a precious resource to us & our neighbours. Not only because it supplements our household water in Summer droughts, but also because generations of children have played & explored it’s cool depths. For us it is a living entity, a whole, tiny ecosystem  on our doorstep.

There are many small watercourses that feed into the creek when it’s not a drought, some are mere winding trickles. These are where the cows paddle, & it appears it is not practical or viable to fence them off.

“Downstream’ is a comment on this situation, I harvested weed from the lower pools & layered it, leaving it to dry in the sun. After much deliberation & experimenting with the sheet of weed I had created, I decided to try & sew ‘drops of water’ onto it.

I’m not a good seamstress at the best of times, & I used my Mum’s old machine. Somehow it worked OK & I am pleased with the result. My Mother was horrified that I hadn’t trimmed the loose ends of cotton, but I think they enhance the sense of flow. Luckily while  Mum was distracted by the cottons she  didn’t note that I had been sewing pondweed with her machine!


We subscribe to a magazine called the Bay Buzz, & in the latest edition, there was a very pertinent article, by David Trubridge, called ‘What’s in a Name?’

I don’t think it’s available online yet, so I shall quote a little…

“To some farmers that flow of water is a drain: to someone who loves nature, it is a stream. The drain name is dismissive, denying it’s intrinsic value. It is something opened with a digger to remove inconvenient water from land that is used for business. the farmer owns it.

To call it a stream gives it significance. It is not just a means of directing water; it is a whole ecosystem in itself, supporting thousands of different life forms, and is a vital part of a larger ecosystem including the farm.”

Many thanks, David for exploring some of the issues that affect our precious waterways.

We have a ritual in our family, to see in the New Year. It doesn’t require staying up late or drinking lots of alcohol. It’s a simple concept, but a powerful tool for setting up for the New Year.  I read somewhere. a long time ago that it is very good for families to have & create traditions that help to give a sense of belonging & meaning to our lives, & this is one of them… the initial idea came from the Learning Connexion, in Wellington.

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We each make a  collage of our hopes & dreams, goals, disciplines, things we’s like to bring into our lives. All you need is a big stack of magazines, which you can get cheaply from the Op Shop. You do need to be selective though & get ones with good quality paper, & avoid the bitchy Women’s gossipy mags, they are really negative. You need some big sheets of paper, or you could tape together some sturdy A4s. Decent scissors & a glue stick, much better than PVA as the paper doesn’t buckle. We put a big  double sheet on the living room floor, pile all the mags onto it, & go for it. You’ll need a good couple of hours to complete the process.

Firstly browse the mags & pull out any images, colours or words that catch your attention, try to let this be an intuitive process, so don’t think about it, & especially don’t limit your choices. When you have run out of mags, or have a big enough pile of pics, spread them out & start to put them onto your paper. We’ve found by trial & error that it’s good to cover the whole page with big broad pictures to start with, so you don’t get left with lumps of white. After that layer up the images & words into an image that pleases you & covers all the areas of life you want to focus on. What is most interesting is looking at your own & each others collages & seeing the patterns, the hidden metaphors, the symbols etc.

Geoff & I pin ours up in our bedroom so we can look at them first thing in the morning, positive thoughts & focus. I have about 5 years worth of collages, I like looking back over them & seeing how my priorities change from year to year (don’t forget to put a date on the back).


We wish you all many blessings for the year to come, & may each of us, in our own quiet ways  bring about peaceful & gentle change, in the words of Michael Leunig:

God, help us to change. To change ourselves & to change our World. To know the need for it. To deal with the pain of it. To feel the joy of it. To undertake the journey without understanding the destination. The art of gentle revolution.


Commonsense, a rave

Saw a brilliant quote on the back of a truck today, “commonsense is genius wearing work clothes” I love it. I’m often heard to bemoan the lack of commonsense around. Years ago I read a book called ‘The Peter Principle’ which propounded the theory that generally people get promoted to a level of incompetence. This makes good sense when you think about it, often someone with great practical skills will get promoted to managing a team, teaching other people or some managerial position, for which they have few skills & no passion. My call for commonsense is that we should all learn vegetable gardening, especially if  unemployed, or low income. What a great way to help with the budget, keep fit, eat more healthily & if it’s a community garden, get to socialise & learn from other people as well. My other passion is early childhood education. I think all potential parents should be supported  by a mentor, if they don’t have family support. I remember hearing that many children are punished because their parents don’t have realistic expectations for the child’s age. For example they think the child should be toilet trained by 6 months, & then punish the child for lack of control.


(Random photo of our old dog, Pip with the tame eel that used to live in our creek.)

Ok back to things practical… I forgot to mention that we planted out garlic & onion plants about 3 weeks ago. Despite the cold & wet they are doing well. We’ve planted them in a different place from last year, most of our crop got some kind of fungal disease & did not thrive, so we are avoiding contamination. Other than that we’ve hardly been in the garden, if the weather is fine hopefully we’ll get into it next week. We have 13 lambs now, they are so sweet. Will try & get some photos to put in soon.

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Yesterday a friend called in, “is business booming?’ she asked, we looked at each other, questioningly, “not really” & optimistically… “we’re going to make our own boom!!” Next minute the phone rings, the Dom Post wants to do an article on us, coming out next monday. Yikes that was quick, we say a short prayer of thanks to the God of small things, or whatever it is that keeps us afloat in the lean times.

Being self employed can be a test of faith, an act of hope & a joy & inspiration. The sense of freedom & flexibility is great. Of course on a bad day it can be all of the reverse, but it doesn’t take much in the small miracle department to fire us up again. Actually, our S.M.D. works pretty well & often in a low patch, when the ins & outs in accounts just won’t comply, someone will email or ring us to tell us how such & such an ointment has changed their lives. Perspectives shift, the sun shines again, the anxiety passes, replaced by a sense of this is where we’re meant to be, all’s right with the world. Haven’t waxed philosophical in ages.

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The Autumn harvest is coming to an end, we have processed loads of chillies, dried herbs, cooked feijoas for the freezer, stored the walnuts in sacks. We have put most of the frost tender plants into the greenhouse, although we haven’t fixed the holes in the plastic yet. There’s still firewood to cut & split, we’re hoping one or both of our boys might help out, they like that job, & we like them liking it (& there’s the spuds to dig).

The veges put in a few weeks ago have flourished in this mild weather , we’ve started eating leeks, especially delicious steamed then add a dash of dijon mustard & a good lot of grated cheese, put on hot toast for a quick lunch, superb.Florence fennel is plump, root veges look ready to eat now, & lots of silverbeet & NZ spinach, spuds & kumara are mostly in the ground still although we rush out & dig as we need them.

I’m hoping to source some pea hay or lucerne for mulching, but it’s pretty expensive at the moment, also some fresh sawdust for the greenhouse floor.We’re looking forward to a good hard frost, then we get to strip out all the tired old leaves & make a big pile of compost. It’s funny how one season leads into the next, the thought of making compost for next springs gardens is very encouraging, perhaps it’s just that we don’t get out enough!!

Whys & wherefores

I’ve been putting off writing the blog for the last few weeks, the current events have left me saddened & sober, pondering the whys & wherefores of life & feeling incredibly lucky to have a home & garden to work in.  Then I thought that it’s often the small things in life that keep us going & give us a sense of continuity & meaning, I don’t want to feel trivial in what I write. I think the optimism we cultivate as gardeners is also the optimism that emerges in a place such as Christchurch, once the scale of things is taken in, & that the many small things do make a difference.

Geoff & I have felt very saddened & helpless watching & hearing the ongoing news. Our hearts go out to you, in Christchurch, especially those who have lost loved ones.The scale of disaster in Japan is so enormous, I can hardly take it in, nor react appropriately, it’s beyond imagining in all ways. I think many of us have become newly aware of how interconnected the World is, the ripples both real & metaphorical are touching us all. The service for Christchurch on Friday touched several times on love & peace, those old  ‘hippy’  buzzwords, suddenly brought back into stark & newly meaningful context.

A reminder to live life each day, as best we can, love as best we can, & embrace our integrity.waipatiki-beach-066.jpg

Growing Today Article

We picked up a copy of the April ‘Growing Today,’ to check out the article that Vivienne Haldane has written about us. Funny seeing yourself in print, & seeing things in the photos we wished we’d tidied away! However we were really happy with the way Vivienne has written about us, the info is correct, & it feels like she understood where we were coming from.

Before her visit we sat down to clarify our thoughts, realising that our approach to our business is a blend, we want to provide natural remedies for everyday problems, that are effective & reasonably priced. Although we totally support organics in our own gardens, we realised that to keep our prices reasonable, we would need to be pragmatic, & source non-organic products as well. In the wider scheme of things we still feel that we can offer wholesome alternatives, with minimal preservatives etc. We are sourcing local Olive Oil, which is fantastic stuff, it still feels alive & full of goodies. We also want to keep our business small, so that we have time for all the other things we want to do, & to keep my M.E. at a manageable level or better! The only hiccup, & you’ll be aware of it, if you’ve found us, is that our website address was wrong, apologies for all that ‘google’ searching you may have had to do.

We’ve just had an idyllic couple of days at Mangakuri Beach, the weather was perfect, warm & calm, even I had a swim!! Among other highlights, (see Golden Hunting Wasp) I found a small Paper Nautilus shell, on the beach, so fragile & beautiful. It’s damaged on one side, but it’s still a treasure. They are hard to find whole, only the females make a shell, which is used as a brood chamber for the eggs & young. They normally live on the surface of the open sea, blowing into shore from time to time. The female looks like an octopus in her shell, but two of her arms are modified to form the shell. Apparently not much is known about the male, poor neglected creature!