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sundialWhoever said gardening was a 'relaxing' occupation doesn't live in New Zealand's unpredictable maritime climate. Just this week, when I was in the middle of my autumn tidy-up, busy pulling out spent courgette bushes, ousting tired celery plants and generally putting the garden to bed for the colder months, along comes the long-range weather forecast, and suddenly, I have to rethink my entire winding-down-for-winter plans.

“Expect an unusually warm, dry autumn and early winter,” said the radio met-man as I was heading out to the garden to roll a length of old carpet over the raised bed I was about to seal up until spring. “Yikes!” I thought. “This is an opportunity not to be missed,” and suddenly, I was dashing back inside for my Asian greens seeds. I sowed a couple of short rows of mizuna and tat-soi, and another of autumn mesclun mix.

The silverbeet and kale, which was looking a little worse for wear, and which I wasn't going to try and extract any more leaves from, now seemed worth coaxing back into life. I quickly picked a few green caterpillars off the kale, doused all the plants with a good helping of strong liquid manure, whisked the hoe round the stems to aerate the soil, and piled on half a barrow of compost and aged animal manure. Then I whipped down to the beach for a string of kelp and chopped that into the soil as well.

The late, half-hearted lettuces I was going to give to the chooks (we'd already had a couple of light frosts and I didn't think the plants would put on any more growth) suddenly looked a lot more promising so I hauled out the clear plastic and pitched a cloche over them before reconsidering my plans to pull up the cucumber vines. There were still a few flowers still on them so I watered the plants, picked off a few yellowing leaves and carefully tied up sections that had fallen to the ground.

I don't usually sow broadbean seed in late autumn/early winter because, in my part of the world, I find the cold weather weakens the plants and encourages rust. And spring-grown beans usually catch up with those sown earlier. But with the golden met forecast, who could resist planting a few seeds just to see what might happen. Heck, why not even pop in a row of coriander? Nothing to lose!

By the end of the day, I was as weary (and excited) as I am at the start of spring so it was a bit of a shock when, just on dark, the rain started to fall and the temperature dropped to the point that I decided to light the fire. But despite the change in weather, I'm putting my faith in the met man. And you know what, I might just sneak in half a dozen early spuds – a crazy notion, of course, in South Otago, but then you never know just how long this promised warm winter might continue …!

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