Jerusalem artichokes are almost ready to harvest.
by Fionna Hill
Autumn is the season of the harvest. Last weekend in South Wairarapa, New Zealand, my nieces and I went roadside foraging. From the ground we gathered acorns, chestnuts, walnuts, spindle berries, beech nuts, cones and more. And to follow when we came home we put together appealing mixes. The pomegranate, clove oranges, and Greek olive wood egg came from previous adventures.
Many flowers and foliage colours are golden, russet, orange and red – my favourites. And berries have appeared – some edible and some unfortunately poisonous. Some tree branches are becoming bare at this time, but those with a few of the turning fiery shades in their leaves are special. Gather up the fallen leaves and display them in a bowl. Later the changing of the seasons from summer to winter brings bare branches of deciduous trees. A couple of large branches alone in a large vase set on the floor can look sculptural and elegant and make a simple statement on their own. Choose good quality stems, not quantity. For shorter branches place a couple in a glass container so that the whole line of the stems can be seen.
Fennel growing wild on the roadside has lime/khaki seed heads and stems can be long enough to stand in a huge crock on the floor. The vegetable garden supplies good branches of seeds too – like parsley, fennel or angelica.
The orchard too can produce some splendid treasures. Branches laden with edible fruit make wonderful decorations. Green persimmons or quinces on the stem look amazing indoors. Bought fruit used as a decorative item can turn the edible into an artful feast too. A simple bowl of oranges looks great or a huge shallow bowl of shiny red apples can be dressed up by placing candles at random throughout it for a low-level design with high impact. I once used a huge bronze Indian Urli for this purpose for a function and it looked impressive. Gourds, small pumpkins and maize add good colour and interest and are long lasting at this time of year too. Autumn is a bountiful season with great richness. ©
By Fionna Hill
I did some homework on MENZ SHED a couple of months before moving to provincial New Zealand and decided that I was a starter.
My branch in Greytown has an active female membership of 25% and is happy to increase the number of women. Plaudits to you Greytown because I gather this isn’t the case with some other Menz Sheds. There was one other woman on my first day and about nine men.
I arrived to live in Greytown and, before I even finished unpacking boxes, I snuck down to see the Menz blokes. Not wishing to arrive empty handed, but unsure of the system I took a small, peculiar, probably industrial, metal pedestal table that I bought in a junk shop near Dunedin years ago. I wanted to convert it to a side table for beside an armchair. It’s black with abundant rust traces. The top was actually a sort of ‘lazy Susan’ but I can’t think of a sensible reason why I would want to revolve a side table. I want to keep my scotch and soda at arm’s length and not spinning out of reach like at Yum Cha. I bought a vaguely wooden round table top in a dump store for it and when I took to it with sandpaper it fluffed up like candyfloss. I need to learn about faux wood. I want to do a decoupage decoration on the table surface but Menz is probably not the environment for this less practical stuff, although they encourage suggestions for future skills practice and there are many skills among members.
The blokes look askance at my table and suggest black paint or varnish to cover the rust and patchy surface. They clearly want to ‘tidy it up’ more than I do. My idea is ‘rustic industrial chic’.
The workshop has masses of machinery and the men help me with the names of gadgets that we use. Ratchet. Combination square. I’m all over it. Not. I had my eye on a grinder that has a sort of tiny floor polisher looking attachment made of lethal metal spikes. Someone says it will take the rust on my table down to silver but I don’t want that. Anyway, Les says it’s too dangerous for a newbie like me. I do some sanding and wire brushing and Les saws off the nails sticking out of the bottom of the legs with sparks flying everywhere. I can’t work out why his trousers don’t catch fire.
John’s wife Eve shows up and is my first female colleague at Menz. Looking like an astronaut because of head safety, she whips up a perfect looking wooden bowl on a wood turner and helps me clean the gunk off my table legs with white spirits.
You can’t complain about the membership fee – just $30. With it comes my own ear muffs and protective goggles that immediately have my name emblazoned on them and are shoved into a dusty pigeonhole, which will have my name on it as soon as my sub is in the bank. How cool is that?
Morning tea is announced by a loud hooter and we all clatter around a large table for tea, coffee and biscuits. Dunking your gingernuts is OK and one gentleman ices a slab of chocolate cake in situ, complete with a lone candle. He doesn’t want to talk about the obvious purpose of this cake. No problem.
A Scout master joins us for tea and asks about someone teaching scouts to make a knife. There are lots of suggestions and then, by pure chance, a former blacksmith and new member turns up. He has great suggestions and produces a gigantic sharpened cleaver sort of instrument from his pocket and like Crocodile Dundee proclaims, “That’s not a knife. This is a knife.” Fred tips out the morning tea gold coin donation coins and some comic has donated metal washers.
The second week, I take an old office chair, bought at the Whangarei dump store for $2. The blokes look a little startled but they will get used to my stuffed stuff. They kindly carry it for me to an operating table and soon Pete has the raggedy splintered wooden seat sanded smooth and clean and sends me to the supermarket to buy coconut oil to oil it. A vigorous scouring with a metal pad reveals a patina on the table metal but the pads’ plastic composition is almost useless. Mental note - bring an apron next time or wear scruffier clothes. The following week my chair is ready to go home to my desk and is clean and au naturele, not over-tidied and varnished.
I’m going twice a week to this blissful Menz Shed retreat and take along items that I never dreamed of bringing back to life.
The fundraising knife sharpening day is extraordinary and confirms that I have indeed joined rural New Zealand - but that’s another story.