Jim Knaggs' Garden

Mrs Knaggs admiring her roses

Jim Writes


March is the first month of our autumn and this year we had glorious sunny weather with temperatures in the low 20’s. Our son and daughter-in-law have been down from Hamilton in the North Island (Ken McSherry’s stamping ground). We have been out and away with only the occasional look at the computer.

All changed this week. On April Fool’s day it started raining and the temperature plunged to a maximum of 11C !! Son has gone back north and I am trying to cope with the crop of new weeds. Fortunately, the temperature has now gone up to a more acceptable level. A busy time in the garden, roses still need dead-heading - they continue flowering until well into June, but masses of other stuff needs cleaning away – and the lawn keeps growing. Don’t mind the mowing so much, it’s the edging that can get a bit tedious. Nevertheless, I would be lost without a garden to poke at and potter in.


Thought I would send the attached picture I took of Pam as she finished dead-heading the roses in front of our sitting-room window. Just to cheer up you lot who live in the northern ice and snow.

(That is the picture you can see at the top of th page- ed)

Still on the subject of roses. Pamela was doing her dead-heading task yesterday and noticed that we had a pair of wax-eye birds in our main rose garden, busily eating the aphids. We are always pleased to see our wax-eye visitors (I believe they are known in Australia as silver-eyes). Delightful little birds - they are really tiny, about the length of my forefinger. I attach a photo in case anyone has not met them.

They migrate down from the lower slopes of the Southern Alps at this time of the year and nest in our gardens. They are very tame. They are insect eaters and love the aphids on our roses. We are always delighted to see them because they reduce the amount of spraying I have to do.

Edgar Braybrook from Australia responded to this

Your Waxeye is a little different from our Silvereye. According to dear Angela's "Field Guide to the Birds of Australia" all belong to the family Zosteropidae, a widespread family of small birds formerly known in Aust. as silvereyes. Ours are a longer bird with yellow underneath with grey to olive plumage and a ring of fine white feathers around the eyes. There are many types including Pale; Yellow; Grey-breasted. The last named also called: Blightbird, Grape Eater, Green-backed, Grey-backed, Grey-breasted or Western Silvereye etc.etc and finally Waxeye is mentioned.

We can see them almost daily from our balcony. They hop around in the branches of a large Silkyoak just outside in the garden and from previous experience I know that they will eat ripe fruit off the trees. Not so welcome then.

Jim responded

Edgar -Interesting to hear about how your silvereye differs from our waxeye, and about the widespread family of similar birds. Our waxeye is not local, it is said to have arrived from Australia round about 1832. It is thought that a large flock of them were blown here by the northwester. Apparently an even larger flock arrived a few years later, and they have settled throughout both islands.

Blackbirds cause more damage to fruit in our garden. They have just been raiding my gooseberries and I am very cross about this because goosegogs are my favourite fruit. Never saw them in Palestine, or in Kenya where we had to make to with cape gooseberries - a much inferior fruit. I was delighted when we came to the South Island and found that they do well here. I attach a photo taken this morning of some of the goosegogs that the blackbirds had not found.

Back to Jim's post of 9.12.2004

This morning I walked down the drive to clear our mail box. Bart, our 14 year old cat always accompanies me, but this time he insisted on taking me over to the rose garden. His reason was soon apparent, there at the foot of one of the bushes were a few feathers and bones - all that remained of a little wax-eye. Bart was of course delighted to show me his kill. He spent most of his life as a farm cat, and since we adopted him a couple of years ago he has delivered to our door-step the corpses of three very large rats - from the stream 50 yards away - numerous mice and a selection of blackbirds, thrushes and sparrows. Although he is now well fed with cat biccis and meat, he is still a predator heart . His memsahib, Pamela, is very cross with him, but if anything I notice she has increased his rations of biscuits and cat meat, hoping he will be too full to slaughter the garden wild life. Don't think she will be successful, farm cats are almost as bad as foxes - they will instinctively kill, whether or not they need the food.


I’m afraid I am not a garden expert. I am just a country boy who feels lost if I don’t have a garden to explore and poke at. Both my parents were much better gardeners. My father had great fun budding standard roses so that he had three or four different roses growing on the same standard. Used masses of raffia in the process.

I was most surprised to learn that the Clean Air Act seems to have created a black spot problem in the UK. One would have thought the opposite affect. You are right about some of the UK rosarians moving down here. Sam McGredy, the Northern Ireland rosarian who moved his business here some 20 or 30 years ago, led them. He is now retired in New Zealand and claims that this is the best rose growing country in the world.

Thank you for that Web site of the National Rose Society of New Zealand. I have passed it on to our elder son who has recently moved here from Hamilton on the North Island. Got himself a new house with a large garden to be planted out and he proposes to have massed roses at the front.

(I hope yor son will contribute to this page in due course, Jim- ed.)