Native hibiscus, part 2

Happened to be in Auckland Botanic Gardens earlier this week and guess what I found? Both of our native hibiscus in flower (see the post below for information about a plant now not considered to be a native hibiscus).

Hibiscus richardsonii. Photo: Sandra Simpson.

Read more about Hibiscus richardsonii here, although I am surprised to see it growing so tall in the photos. The plants in Auckland were much smaller, more a ground-cover type of thing.

Hibiscus diversifolius is more of a shrub that grows about 1-2m high. It has fine, sharp bristles on its stems and leaves.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

Interesting to note that it is also found in other parts of the Southern Hemisphere.

Hibiscus trionum

I came across this little sweetie in an Omokoroa garden several years ago and was surprised to learn it was a “native hibiscus”  as I always imagine hibiscus as large, tropical shrubs, not front-of-the-border temperate zone plants.

Hibiscus trionum. Photo: Sandra Simpson

It’s generally classified as an annual, although in some places may be a two-year plant.

“Although rare in the wild, it naturalises freely from seeds in warm sites throughout the country, even in the southern South Island,” according to Alison Evans in New Zealand in Flower (get a copy from a book fair near you.)

“There is some evidence that Hibiscus trionum may have been introduced to New Zealand by Maori who used the leaves for cleaning hands and may have cultivated it for this purpose and for its attractive flowers.”

Fiona Eadie, in her book 100 Best Native Plants for New Zealand Gardens, reports that there are two very similar types of H. trionum in the country – one native (and which also occurs in Australia) and one that was introduced by man and has naturalised.

The difference, she says, is that the latter has more finely dissected leaves and an almost maroon centre, so I think I’m right is saying that the one pictured here is the true native … or am I? Keep reading.

Flowering is from late spring into autumn and the plant typically forms a small bush about 50cm high. It can tolerate very dry conditions which may even encourage flowering and doesn’t mind coastal winds – but it doesn’t care for very wet positions and frosts. It sets seed readily. Unfortunately, the flowers are no good for picking as they wilt immediately but the seed heads are liked by floral artists.

However, since the two books I’ve referenced were published (1987 and 2008 respectively) there has been a bit of a rethink on the “native” status of H. trionum, something I was alerted to by a recent post of Abbie Jury’s.

Shirley Stuart, curator of the native plants collection at the Dunedin Botanic Garden, has decided to treat H. trionum it as a “non-indigenous fully naturalised native” after doubts about its origins were raised.

The Oratia Native Plant Nursery website says of Hibiscus richardsonii: “Previously known as Hibiscus trionum this yellow-flowered Mercury Islands form is now recognised as the true native species.” Read a full profile of H. richardsonii which is now accorded the name “puarangi”  previously given to H. trionum and which you’ll see is missing that dark centre.

Native or not, H. trionum is a pretty little thing that grows well and should be appreciated on its merits, not where it hails from.

Rare chance to see

Had a marvellous time at the BOP Orchid Society show in Te Puke yesterday – lots of photos, lots of chat and bought a few plants.

The show is on again until 4pm today so if you’re in the area and you want to see some beautiful specimens make sure you go along to the Memorial Hall in the main street. Russell Hutton of Auckland, who has a sales table, has mounted a gorgeous towering display of flowering plants, many of them not often seen.

But the orchid I’m featuring here is in the main display and owned by Conrad Coenen of Apata (you may remember Conrad won the supreme award at last year’s Tauranga Orchid Society show, with another plant).

Stanhopea oculata photographed yesterday at the BOP Orchid Society show. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Stanhopea oculata isn’t, in itself, that rare or unusual. What is unusual is that it is rarely seen in shows. Why? I’ll let Conrad explain.

“It had been in bud for about 2 weeks and was showing no sign at all of opening. So to try and encourage it, I moved the plant inside for a bit more warmth. Still nothing.

“So on Thursday morning after we’d had our morning coffee my wife and I breathed on it and lo and behold, the buds began to open sequentially all the way down the stem – and in about 15 or 20 minutes the whole spike was open … and by Sunday it will be finished.

“By the way, I don’t think our coffee breath had anything to do with it, it was just the right time for it to open.”

And that’s why Stanhopeas are so rarely shown – the show has to be perfectly timed to catch a flower that opens quickly and lasts just two or three days. (Compare that to Dianne Hintz’ Phalaenopsis White Witch which has been in flower for 18 months and shows no sign of fading!)

But what caught my attention about this plant was its perfume – walking by the part of the display it’s in I couldn’t help but turn towards it, lean in and try and identify which flower the amazing scent was coming from. Conrad describes it as vanilla-peppermint-chocolate. I couldn’t break it down into anything particular but it was phenomenal.

Stanhopea oculata is native to Central America and, like all Stanhopeas, must be basket grown and the basket lined with soft material as the flower spikes push out underneath the plant (ie, it flowers through the bottom of the basket).

BOP Orchid Show

 BOP Orchid Show, Memorial Hall, main street Te Puke, Friday and Saturday, 10am-4pm,  $3 entry (children free).

Among her large collection of orchids, Diane Hintz has some that belonged to her mother and, although unnamed, they are precious to her.

“If you want to show or sell plants they have got to be named,” says Diane, a national-level orchid judge, as was her mother, Rose Bell, who overcame  a steep site and salt-laden winds on Wainui Beach in Gisborne to create a garden that supplied local florists with material.

“She started me on orchids but when you get addicted it’s terminal … and fatal,” Diane laughs.

Dendrobium Hilda Poxon Sunglow.

She began her orchid collection with a “few cymbidiums” when she  married – and after 49 years living on the outskirts of Te Puke has enough to fill two orchid houses, plus  a few growing outside.

“I’ve got to be strict with myself and say that unless it’s something special I haven’t got the room for it. And although there are things I’d like to have, like ondotoglossum orchids, I haven’t got the conditions to grow them.”

Dendrobium engae biggibum.

One of her orchid houses is a cool house which, over a long, hot summer she’s had trouble keeping cool enough. The same problem  occurred in the hot house, although her Dendrobium engae biggibum, a cross between a far north Queensland orchid and one from Papua New Guinea, has soaked it up and flowered madly.

Too much heat is a novel problem for Diane, who is more used to battling the cold.

“We live right on the edge of the swamp and get down to -6C with big frosts. I’ve put frost-cloth curtains on the houses so I can close them right up in winter.”

Vanda Palmerston Blue – which really is blue, despite this photo!

If you don’t have a heat source and want to keep Vandas, Diane recommends putting them on top of a fridge – the transferred heat is often enough to keep them happy.

This article was first published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission.

Elementary, my dear Wilson

One of the tricks of dealing with a difficult site is not to fight it – too much – but work out the plants that will handle the conditions and also fulfil your needs and interests.

Aucklander Lynley Wilson took her time and had a good look round before buying a home at Mount Maunganui 12 years ago but when she found what she wanted the “builder’s weeds” weren’t a problem.

“When something is untouched it gives you free rein,” she says.

But things have changed over the years – her initial planting of shrubs has largely been replaced, lawn has been paved, several trees taken out and most of the succulents have gone, thanks to weevil damage.

“They came at night and made a real mess,” Lynley says. “There’s a spray for them but I have so much trouble here with the wind it’s not worth trying. Seeing the mess would make you cry.

“Things keep changing, but that’s how a garden should be,” she says.

Now there is a large collection of bromeliads on a terrace, a flower garden, “I couldn’t be without flowers”, vegetable garden and fruit and ornamental trees, all on a 666 square metre site.

By creating a shelter for plants Lynley also has vertical space to use.

A ponga structure on the terrace features hanging baskets of bromeliads and tillandsias, as well as providing a much-needed windbreak.

“If I grow anything in the ponga logs I have to make sure they’re well tied down, otherwise the wind just whips them out.”

Lynley doesn’t like cobwebs in her bromeliads so has a $2 Shop toothbrush to whisk the spiders’ handiwork out.

Brought up on a South Island apple orchard, Lynley worked as a gardener for about 20 years in Auckland and has grown miniature cymbidium orchid flowers for export – and that extensive plant knowledge came in handy when the hail storm of May 2003 hit.

“As soon as it stopped I was out hosing the hail out of bromeliads so the ice wouldn’t kill the new growth, and I didn’t lose a plant.”

Tough Neoregelia bromeliads can take direct sunlight.

She credits much of her success on her exposed site to an old booklet by Peter Hodson, Hoddy’s Gardening in the Bay of Plenty, loaned to her by a friend’s elderly mother. (Garden with Hoddy, Book One, was published in Tauranga in 1977.)

She always follows Hoddy’s advice to dig as deep as possible before planting, line the bottom of the hole with newspaper to retain moisture and food, fill the hole with vegetable peelings and anything else compostable (Lynley has used phone books and left-over fleece from her spinning), pile the soil back in and plant.

“I had to learn to garden here with the wind, and hard pan not far below the topsoil, and this really works. Hoddy’s pamphlet has been like a little bible to me.

“I put kitchen salt on beetroot plants because Hoddy says so!”

Phlox White Ice is one of Lynley Wilson’s favourite flowers.

This article was originally published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission. It has been extended slightly.


I have been informed this afternoon that as of April 19 there will no longer be a local garden feature in the Bay of Plenty Times.

As you might imagine I have been left shocked and upset by this decision, based entirely on “budget”, the editor told me. The garden content that is shared by all APN regional newspapers in New Zealand (and written from Kerikeri) will continue to be used, and the third section in the Saturday broadsheet will become a tabloid insert with a focus on “activities”. But not local garden events or activities! Apparently, garden events in the Tauranga area will have to take their chances finding space on the news pages.

At no stage in the process to develop this new section did anyone in the “project team” ask for my opinion or input, or even let me know it was happening (a third party kindly gave me the heads up).

I have had a little cry, because this is a job I have loved dearly – I’ve met interesting and kind people and seen some wonderful gardens over the past 6 years - and I have learned so much along the way.

I’m hoping that “another door” that people talk about will open soon but in the meantime I shall keep posting here and am today, more than ever, thankful that I started this project.

- Sandra