On the road: Riverstone Kitchen

Riverstone Kitchen is open from Thursday to Monday and is sited a few kilometres north of Oamaru on the landward side of State Highway 1. For more information phone 03 431 3505 or see http://www.riverstonekitchen.co.nz/

Riverstone Kitchen and its chef-owner Bevan Smith have quickly gained a rock-solid reputation – and for gardeners a visit to the restaurant just north of Oamaru on the east coast in the South Island is a double delight, thanks to its beautiful, productive gardens.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

Head gardener Leigh Steel is a florist by training but was brought up in a family of female vege growers so was happy to take on a role at Riverstone when asked.

“People get quite overwhelmed by the size of it but it’s just the same as a home garden – only on a larger scale.”

Bevan, who has written two cookbooks about seasonal eating (his pink-haired mum Dot Smith has this year published a book about the castle she’s building near the restaurant), says the garden provides all the restaurant’s herbs and leafy greens and about 50 per cent of the rest of the produce used in-house, mainly specialist crops like Florence fennel bulbs, Jerusalem artichokes, purple-spouting broccoli and celeriac.

However celeriac, a root vegetable, is something of a bete noir for Leigh. “It can be temperamental,” she says, “and can run to seed quite easily – one year I lost the whole lot. It needs good compost and plenty of water. Like garlic, it’s a six-month crop so it’s lovely to get it into the restaurant.”

The lidded pots are rhubarb forcers, sold on site at the store run by Bevan’s mum, Dot. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The North Otago soil is stony and free-draining so Leigh lays straw mulch in summer to help retain moisture. “At the height of summer a lot of my job is watering,” she says.

Flowers, some edible, help attract pollinators and beneficial insects and beehives are put in the orchard in spring to ensure good pollination.

Oyster and mussel shells from the kitchen are re-used on garden paths. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The garden is as organic as possible and waste plants go to the free-range chickens which, in turn, supply eggs for the kitchen, while mussel and oyster shells are reused for paths. Compost is made off-site.

Microgreens are grown year round with each crop cut twice, while cavolo nero (Italian black cabbage) can be picked for eight months “if you’re careful”, Leigh says.

A harvest in waiting – blackberries. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Most produce, including fruit, is used fresh but the kitchen also makes jams, jellies, chutneys and elderflower cordial.

Cherries are grown in a netted enclosure to prevent bird damage but on December 17 last year the area was hit by a hailstorm and wiped out the crop.

“Gardening can be a tough old thing,” Leigh says “but we don’t let it get to us.”

Visit the Facebook page of Riverstone Country Gift Shop.

Visit the website of Mike Lilian (see photo below).

The woven willow hedge has been created by Mike Lilian, a Kakanui craftsman. The trunks will fuse as they age but the plaiting will remain visible. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Rose trial winners 2014

Hayden Foulds of the New Zealand Rose Society has sent news of the winners from the national trial grounds in Palmerston North, announced last week.

Winner of the 2014 Gold Star of the South Pacific, Christchurch Remembers bred by Rob Somerfield. Photo: Hayden Foulds

The Gold Star of the South Pacific, the top prize from the trials, went to a red rose named to commemorate the Christchurch earthquakes, Christchurch Remembers, and is from the increasingly successful stable of Rob Somerfield (Glenavon Roses) from Te Puna, near Tauranga.

“The name had to go to a red rose,” Rob says. He hopes a bed of the rose will form part of the official memorial once plans are finalised. The rose will be released to the New Zealand market in 2016 or 2017.

Rob also received two Certificates of Merit for the pale pink Eye Candy and the tangerine-orange Hot Topic, also due for commercial release in 2016 or 2017.

Christophe, bred by Colin Dickson, won a Certificate of Merit. Photo: Hayden Foulds

The other Certificate of Merit was presented to the vibrant orange Christophe, bred by Colin Dickson of Northern Ireland and entered by Matthews Nurseries in Wanganui.

Rob has now won five Gold Stars now with only the legendary Sam McGredy in front, although Hayden points out that Sam won most of his in the era when two or even three were awarded each year, rather than just one as has been the case for the last 20 years.

Rob’s Gold Star winners are: Star Quality (2004);  Pacific Glory (2006); Sunline (2007); Love Heart (2009); Christchurch Remembers (2014).

The New Zealand Rose Society trials are now into their 44th within the Dugald Mackenzie Rose Gardens in Palmerston North. The trials test new varieties from New Zealand and international rose breeders and are assessed over two years by a panel of 20 judges. They mark for things such as freedom of flowering, health, plant quality, flower quality and fragrance.

At the conclusion of each trial, those roses which have gained an average of 70% are recognised with awards and reflect the consistently high performance that they have achieved during trial.

On the road: Trott’s Garden

Trott’s Garden:

Where: 371 Racecourse Rd, Ashburton (off SH1).
Open: September to May, Monday to Saturday, 9am-4pm.
Cost: $10 per adult.
More information: Phone 03 308 9530 or see the website, http://www.trotts.co.nz

This time last year I was in the South Island attending the Young Scientist’s graduation in Dunedin – and finally realising my dream to detour slightly off State Highway 1 and find the Trott garden in Ashburton as we headed back to the airport in Christchurch. It’s one of the best private gardens in the country and adheres to a sign in the entry – a garden is not an object but a process. Read on …

Photo: Alan Trott.

Alan Trott always wanted a big garden, so although it takes several hours to mow the lawns, he’s not complaining.

The 2.8ha Trott’s Garden, on the outskirts of Ashburton in Canterbury, has been judged a garden of national significance, applauded for its spacious layout, thoughtful plantings and impeccable knot gardens.

German author Kristin Lammerting, who spends part of her year in New Zealand (she’s co-owner of Palmco in Kerikeri), has described the carefully laid out and clipped box patterns in a book as the “most sensational” and largest knot gardens in the world. The smaller garden includes a viewing platform so the patterns may be appreciated, and in the other direction also overlooks the hosta area.

The smaller knot garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson


The main knot garden. Photo: Alan Trott

“They’re true knot gardens,” Alan says, “not a parterre which is simply a geometric shape. Our hedges form knots.”

He and wife Catherine bought the property in 1978 and Alan set about designing a pond, a woodland area and a 110m-long double herbaceous border, opening to the public in 1984 after many requests.

Part of the long border. The flowering plant in the foreground is Persicaria mollis. Photo: Sandra Simpson


“I’m completely self-taught,” Alan says. “You can’t learn by reading books, you have to do it. People said it would be too exposed for a garden because there was no shelter. I can listen to advice but I don’t have to take it.”

He worked in an office for 22 years before “going through menopause” and throwing in his job to became a fulltime gardener. “I’d had a gutsful,” he says of the office job. “so I took a gamble and made the garden my job.”

An Ashburton chapel dating from 1916 was moved on to the property in two pieces in 1990 and is used for weddings and events.

Euphorbia Dixter. Photo: Sandra Simpson










“I don’t dwell on the past – you’ve always got to be thinking of new ideas and new plants,” Alan says of his garden. “If something doesn’t perform, it comes out. I’m keen on the new perennials so I’m running out of room. I’m also getting a lot of new dahlias from Keith Hammett in Auckland for the red garden.”

A view of a portion of the red border. Photo: Sandra Simpson

He added a 65m long and 5m wide red garden in 2005, a bed that provided inspiration for a 2009 Ellerslie Flower Show in Christchurch, with the “I See Red” team of Alan, Sir Miles Warren, Pauline Trengrove and Marilyn McRae winning gold.

Plants used in the red garden include Malus Samba with its plum-size fruit, red or purple Oriental lilies, dahlias and poppies, purple amaranthus, purple-leaved maples, Berberis Little Favourite as an edging and spires of Berberis Helmond Pillar. Sure, the garden’s not exactly red – and how hard on the eyes would that be? – but it is an exciting use of plant textures and colours on the red-purple (and orange-brown to a lesser extent) spectrum.

Alan’s eye for detail throughout the garden, which also includes a pond and a silver birch lawn, is extraordinary, making this a garden well worth a small detour.

A view of the red border. Photo: Alan Trott

Most of this article was originally published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission. 

Willow pattern

Hunting through some photos today and I came across a set taken in Christchurch in February. It was a momentous time to be in the city – our baby was leaving home to begin university and it was the third anniversary of the earthquake that killed 185 people with visible reminders of that terrible day all around in the form of broken buildings.

Strolling by the Avon River one morning, I noticed the way the sunlight was outlining the weeping willow fronds and paused to take a photo. Just as I was lining up the shot a punt came under the bridge and into view. Perfect.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

And if I hadn’t moved closer for the shot, I wouldn’t have seen the plaque that explained the history of the riverbank willows, which are Salix babylonica or one of its many hybrids.

The planting commemorates Francois Le Lievre who came to New Zealand on the French whaling ship Le Nil in 1838, returning in August 1840 on the Comte de Paris as  part of the attempt to create a French colony at Akaroa on Banks Peninsula.

The plaque is unclear as to when the planting took place, but says that “after landing” in Akaroa Francois planted weeping willow cuttings taken from the grave of Napoleon on the south Atlantic island of St Helena.

An illustration of the grave site on St Helena by JC Mellis. Note the willow. Image: Wikimedia Commons

“There is strong evidence to suggest that the first willows planted on the banks of the Avon River grew from cuttings taken from those trees,” the plaque says. It was erected by the Christchurch City Council and Marie Emily Le Lievre of Akaroa, the great-great granddaughter of Francois, in 2001.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

After I’d taken the photos a passerby came over and said, “it’s nice to see something beautiful, isn’t it?”. We noticed that strangers often spoke to us in Christchurch, and always to say something positive. It’s a wonderful trait to have developed when it must have been so tempting to do otherwise.

Winners, various

Pacific Rose Bowl Festival, Hamilton

Love Heart by Rob Somerfield. It was photographed in the rain, but it actually much redder in person. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Rose of the Year: Love Heart by Rob Somerfield, Te Puna (entered by Glenavon Roses, Te Puna), red.
Best Floribunda: Little Miss Perfect by Rob Somerfield, coral.
Best Climber: Love Knot by Chris Warner, UK (Tasman Bay Roses), red.
Most Fragrant: Loving Care by Mike Athy, Gisborne (D&S Nurseries, Takapau), purple.
Children’s Choice: Picotee by Rob Somerfield, pink and white.

Rob took the Rose of the Year award last year with Wild Cherry.

Despite the rain on Rose Bowl Saturday, Rob Somerfield was out in Hamilton Gardens looking at blooms. Photo: Sandra Simpson

 NZ Rose Society National Spring Show, Hamilton

Champion of Champions: Solitaire, grown by J Barnett, Waikato Rose Society.
Champion Decorative Bloom: Joan Monica, C Lovett, Waikato.
Champion Exhibition Bloom: Solitaire, J Barnett.
Champion Full Open Bloom: Paddy Stephens, J Lusty, Matamata.
Champion Small Stem: Raspberry Ice, J Walker, Northland.
Champion Large Stem: Playboy, M & M Brown, Canterbury.
Champion Display Vase: Silky Mist, V Forshaw, Northland.
Best Exhibit in Section 4: D & H White, Northland.

The Champion Vase – Silky Mist grown by V Forshaw of the Northland Rose Society. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Miniature Roses:
Champion of Champions: Chelsea Belle, J Walker, Northland.
Champion Decorative Bloom: Chelsea Belle, D & H White, Northland.
Champion Exhibition Bloom: Stephanie, J Walker, Northland.
Champion Full Open Bloom: Amore, S Gare, Waikato.
Champion Small Stem: Chelsea Belle, J Walker, Northland.
Champion Large Stem: Sweet Dream, J Walker, Northland.
Champion Display Vase: Little Jackie, S Gare, Waikato.

Thanks to Hayden Foulds of the NZ Rose Society for the Rose Bowl and National Show results.

Bay of Plenty Floral Designer of the Year

Designer of the Year: Francine Thomas 1 (Tauranga), Pat Nairn 2 (Tauranga), Berwyn Pollard (Te Puke) 3. Francine now goes on to contest the national Designer of the Year title in March in Rotorua.
Other design categories: Stumped (Natalie Meredith 1), Celebrate the Season, novice (Janice Downer 1), Rustic Romance (Natalie Meredith 1).

Natalie Meredith’s interpretation of the Rustic Romance theme – each designer was given a set of three wooden boxes that had to be used in the final work. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Find contact information for a Floral Art Society club in your area.

Gardens and more gardens

Felt like I might have been running out of steam today, but still managed the “just one more” approach. The Garden and Art Festival draws to a close at 3pm tomorrow – there are exhibitions at several sites (including Graham Crow’s marvellous paper hydrangea installation at Gallery 59 in Ninth Ave), the Hub and the garden trails. And that will be it for another 2 years …

Wood and gravel combine to make a transition between asphalt and lawn in this city garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Another version, this time linking the paths and the beds in the Spiers’ garden at Tauriko. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A striking colour combination – the sweet William was actually almost black, while the maple was a deep wine colour. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Visitors try out the bath seat in a new area at the Marsh garden in Te Puna. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The swimming pool and its rock surround in the Marsh garden attracts a lot of attention, one visitor today saying he’d never seen anything like it in a private home. (The penguins, by the way, aren’t real!) Photo: Sandra Simpson


There’s also water in the van Deventer garden – a water-lily pond (with flowering lilies) that’s tucked away from the main house. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Paulien van Deventer says there were three Cycas revoluta (sago palm) in the garden when she moved in, now there are about 2 dozen scattered through the large garden, all descended from those first plants. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Paulien van Deventer and husband Hans regularly remove yellowing fronds from their cycads and Paulien assures me they grow back. “It seems if they flower or cone they lose their fronds; they can’t do both at once,” she says.

Here’s an informative article of growing various kinds of cycads, including the sago palm.

The Suspended Forest installation of kokedama has been attracting plenty of interest at the Hub. Photo Sandra Simpson

The Suspended Forest has been made by Coraleigh Parker of Pickled Whimsy and looks spectacular. However, I suspect many of the plants she’s used wouldn’t be suitable for growing like this long term – most orchids, for instance, need to dry out between waterings and are epiphytes so having their roots enclosed in a peat ball which in turn is wrapped in sphagnum moss wouldn’t be conducive to their health. As for the trees … a whimsy indeed.

Here’s a how-to for kokedama and another.

Three winners

Got in a few Te Puna-Plummer’s Point gardens today then back to the Garden and Art Festival Hub at The Lakes for lunch (a 20-minute queue), a couple of speakers and a look around the installations there. Free shuttle buses are running from central Tauranga to the Hub and back. And on the way I met some winners. The undoubted star of the Hub is Francine Thomas – not only did she fill the Speaker tent today for her demonstration but she’s also put together a huge display in the floral art tent called The Pavilion Garden and won the Bay of Plenty Floral Art Designer of the Year title in the adjoining show.

Detail from the winning entry by Francine Thomas – Bay of Plenty Floral Art Designer of the Year.

Floral art is always horrendous to photograph and do justice – the theme for the Designer of the Year section was Showing Off and many entries were “split level” with Francine’s in three sections. The dark green “flower” is a dianthus, actually a sterile sweet William, but in case you think I’m making that up, read more here. Green Wicky is another type.

Francine is also a bit of a comedienne and her demos are always a hoot. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Francine had us laughing as she described her low-key approach to being New Zealand’s official demonstrator at the World Floral Art conference in Dublin in June – she and a bicycle box (containing three folded-up metal koru) were all that took to the stage, while her fellow demonstrators all had “teams”. However, when she described being overwhelmed at receiving a standing ovation before she had even finished her piece, there was no doubt at how moved she was.

Francine Thomas, just in case you didn’t recognise her from the photo before. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Right at the entry to the Pavilion Garden is a grand piano – of a sort. It’s made from metal, has flowers for keys and water tumbling off the keyboard, which gives you some idea about Francine’s inventiveness. She says she spends a lot of time on her own in the evenings while her husband’s at work and this is when she comes up with many of her bright ideas.

Detail from Francine’s grand piano. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Another winner was sitting quietly in the Te Puna garden of Jo Dawkins – potter Murray Garner last night won the Supreme Award at the annual Bethlehem Potters Society exhibition. Murray’s a quiet sort of bloke and pretty modest but he was delighted with the win. The exhibition is on at Baycourt until tomorrow. His pottery is outstanding both for its form and his use of glazes.

Two Murray Garner pots on show in the garden of Jo Dawkins. Photo: Sandra Simpson

And the third winner was quieter still, sitting in the nearby garden of Colleen Thwaites. Little Miss Perfect, a new rose from Rob Somerfield of Te Puna, won the Best Floribunda title at the recent Pacific Rose Bowl Festival in Hamilton.

Little Miss Perfect. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Rob describes the colour as “coral” and that’s about right to my eyes. The rose is available only at selected independent nurseries, with Décor in Tauranga being the only outlet in the Bay of Plenty.