Pottering about

Musa velutina or pink velvet banana, native to northeastern India and Assam. Photo: Sandra Simpson

On a recent visit to the Auckland Regional Botanic Gardens for the first time I stumbled upon the Potter Children’s Garden.

The garden, which was made possible by funding from the Frederick Potter Masonic Trust, was officially opened by HRH Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales in March 2005 – and, despite the similarity of names, is nothing to do with the Ian Potter Foundation Children’s Garden at the Royal Botanic Garden Melbourne. Read more about Sir Ian Potter.

New Zealander Frederick Potter (1857-1941) was a Freemason who dedicated his life to helping young people, despite having no children of his own. He was born in London and came to New Zealand as an infant with his parents and elder brother William aboard the steamship Lord Ashley.

A successful businessman he made land donations to various organisations in several parts of Auckland, including an acre in 1929 to the Takapuna Borough Council for what became Potter’s Park.

In 1930 the Potter properties and endowments were entrusted to the Grand Lodge of New Zealand which created the Potter Masonic Trust. Mr Potter died at Auckland Hospital on March 29, 1941.

The Potter Masonic Trust has also given money to children’s parks in Hamilton.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Potter Children’s Garden in Auckland was extended in 2010 and also won an award that year – and encourages self-discovery from its visitors. As well as native plants, there is a desert area (don’t you love the skull!) and a rainforest area, complete with “steaming rain”.

The garden also aims to introduce children to the wonders of New Zealand plants and animals and the relationships these have, for example the puriri tree, kereru (native wood pigeon) and mokoroa (puriri moth).

In 2009 it was reported that about 9000 children a year visit the garden.

Bromeliads attached to what might be old bridge pilings. Photo: Sandra Simpson

In other news from the garden, you may have seen that a 90kg bronze sculpture of an eel was stolen at the weekend – the NZ Herald reported this morning that it has been recovered intact and will be given to the sculptor, Bing Dawe, for repairs. The artwork is worth $30,000 and was recovered from a scrap metal yard after thieves tried to sell it for $300!

Breaking a promise

Well it was only to myself. No more plants, I said, I’m only going to the auction to make up the numbers … famous last words. Mind you, not all of the $80 spent was on orchids, some of it went on jam, lemons, books and bromeliads.

The one orchid I really had my eye on went to another bidder – twice! Never mind, there’s always the Tauranga show in September.

Really, nice plants (many with flower spikes on) for $2, $3, $5 … who could resist? The old milk-bottle crate that came with four Dendrobium orchids tucked in it was a charming bonus and brought back memories of lugging the milk in from the gate in such a crate on cold and frosty mornings.

Thanks to the BOP Orchid Society for a great afternoon out.

Pick of the bunch

The New Zealand Rose Review, put out by the NZ Rose Society, has this year collected information from 53 contributors about their favourite roses. Useful information to have at hand when you’re in a garden centre – and now is the best time to buy and plant a rose so that it’s well rooted in by the time spring arrives.

The  “Review of Newer Roses” section includes comments from growers in various parts of the country about particular positives and negatives they’ve noticed.

Dublin Bay, one of Sam McGredy’s most popular roses. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I won’t reproduce the full lists of favourites here, that’s hardly fair on the Rose Society which wants to sell copies of the Review, but will mention the top-ranked rose in each category.

Hybrid Tea: Paddy Stephens (top for the eleventh consecutive year). Floribunda: Raspberry Ice (top since 1991!). Modern Shrub: Sally Holmes. Miniature & Patio: Irresistible (top since 2000). Large-Flower Climber: Dublin Bay (27th consecutive year at number one). Small-Flower Climber: Dusky Dancer. Healthy: Paddy Stephens. Fragrant: Margaret Merrill. Heritage: Jean Ducher.

Sally Holmes. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Hooked on plants

Fun, educational, even pretty. Are we talking about flesh-eating plants? Tauranga enthusiast Elizabeth Bailey reckons that once you’ve grown one carnivorous plant successfully you’ll be hooked – if not consumed – by this group of specialised plants.

“People buy a Venus flytrap for a child and because the plants are inside at garden centres they keep them inside but the plants die and they never bother with a carnivorous plant again. It’s such a shame.”

A Sarracenia flower. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Elizabeth started growing carnivorous plants about 10 years ago when she was working in a garden centre and saw one in a bargain bin.

“I took it home and got it going again. Cor Schipper in Rotorua grows his own, including some of his own hybrids and I used to swap some of my orchids for his plants.”

The only requirements most have are full sun and standing in water, preferably rainwater – they don’t need to be fed as they catch their own nourishment. Most also don’t mind the cold, although Nepenthes which come from the tropics, prefer winter cover.

Sarracenias. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Sarracenias are attractive tube-like plants native to the swamps of the eastern United States and these form the bulk of Elizabeth’s collection.

“Sarracenias will die back in winter so cut them back hard. Some will put up winter growth, which is like a strappy leaf and not carnivorous. These strappy leaves die back at the end of winter and as the new pitchers appear the plants come into flower. And the flowers are really lovely.”

The flower of a Pinguicula. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Different plants catch their insects in different ways:

  • Sarracenia produce nectar around their mouths to attract insects while the hoods misdirect the insects into the tubes lined with downward-facing hairs that make it impossible to climb out. The bottom of the tube contains digestive acid.
  • Pinguicula (butterwort) have leaves coated with a sticky substance to trap insects. The leaf rolls up to digest the prey.
  • Nepenthes produce nectar as an attractant. They hold water in the pitcher to drown their prey, as well as digestive acids.
  • Drosera (sundew) have shimmering droplets of water on fine “tentacles” to attract insects. When one is caught in the glue other tentacles move to secure it. On some types the leaves roll up around the prey.

A sundew or Drosera. Photo: Sandra Simpson

New Zealand has native carnivorous plants (move the slider to the right to see the link) – seven sundews (about half of the family are native to Australia) and two Utricularia (bladderworts), which suck in insects that touch trigger hairs on the “bladders”.

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

Coming up

People in the Tauranga and Western Bay of Plenty areas have plenty of good gardening stuff to look forward to so be sure to mark your calendars … for contact details for any of these events, see the Events page.

Tomorrow (July 6) at 1.30pm is a free rose pruning demonstration at Décor Gardenworld (Moffat Rd, Bethlehem).

Next Saturday (July 12) Kings Seeds is hosting a free spring event - a talk on getting your garden ready for spring, the launch of the new catalogue and new varieties, plus giveaways. The morning starts at 10am sharp at 189 Wharawhara Rd, Katikati (just south of the township, the recently closed museum is on the corner). Kings Seeds has just become BioGro Certified, read all about that here.

Next Sunday (July 13) the BOP Orchid Society is holding its annual Orchid & Plant Auction, starting at noon in the Masonic Hall, 18 Oxford St, Te Puke. There will also be pots, books, fruit, etc. Cash/cheque only.

Saturday, July 19 sees the annual Fruit & Nut Tree Sale from 10am-12.30pm at the A&P Showgrounds in Katikati (off SH2 north of the shops). Among the trees for sale will be citrus, stone fruit, cherries, soft-shelled almonds, walnuts, persimmons, white sapote and feijoas, plus a selection of  heritage apples, including giant geniton, and cider apples. There will be some other plants for sale too, including berry canes and native plants.

Saturday, August 2 is the popular Western BOP Camellia Society Show, 9.30am-4pm at the Arts & Crafts Centre in Elizabeth St West (near the Takitimu Expressway). Besides the cut blooms on display, the show also offers plants for sale, many of the camellias unavailable elsewhere.

August 2 & 3 (Saturday and Sunday) sees John Dean take a fertiliser & composting workshop in Katikati, 10am-1pm both days. The workshop, which costs only $20, will cover both conventional and organic methods.

Curious plants: Yacon

At Te Puna Quarry Park this morning when “butterfly lady” Mary Parkinson pulled a piece of yacon out of the boot of her car and asked if I wanted a bulb or two. The Vege Grower was adamant that he didn’t – but I wonder if he would have been more interested if Mary had referred to it as an “underground pear”?

Smallanthus sonchifolius (yacon) is a tuber vegetable native to South America – and are related to both sunflowers (yacon flowers are like small sunflowers) and Jerusalem artichokes (see the photo of the crowns and tubers below).

A young yacon plant – they can grow to 2m. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Yacon is a perennial with tubers that look a bit like smooth kumara (sweet potato). Mary says they can be eaten raw or roasted. This article from the Guardian tells you more about growing them and includes a couple of recipes – the comment that they are an acceptable form of dietary sweetness for diabetics is interesting.

Mary’s root clearly shows the small bulbs that grow the leaves, and the tubers that form from a shooting bulb. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Yacon NZ website includes growing information and recipes. The website owners grow their crop just outside Hamilton and sell yacon crowns on TradeMe. Country Trading also has yacon crowns for sale, the white variety, as does the Koanga Institute.

This article from the Southland Times gives a bit more information about the nutritional value of yacon and says the plants have only been grown in New Zealand since 1982.

Orchids in bloom

Since I haven’t posted photos from my own garden for a while, I thought I might catch you up on some of the orchids I’ve had in bloom – many of them for the first time. Some of the spikes stay in bud for months so it’s an exciting moment when the flowers finally open.

Laelia gouldiana (Encyclia gouldiana). Photo: Sandra Simpson

My Laelia gouldiana was set aside for me at last year’s Tauranga Orchid Show – Elizabeth thought it was the sort of thing I could grow successfully and it turns out she may have been right. The orchid is native to the mountains of Hildaldo, Mexico which means that it doesn’t mind cooler temperatures. Remember, my orchids are either in the house (just the moth orchids, really) or outside (all the rest) so there’s no fancy-pants heating or cooling for them, they get what the days and nights are dishing out. The only proviso is that they’re under a verandah in winter so I can control the watering and in bright shade in summer.

The gouldiana flowers opened on a long stem that nonetheless stayed upright. The plant is named for Laelia, one of the Vestal Virgins, and Jay Gould, a 19th century American financier and orchid enthusiast.

Cymbidium Pure Love Peppermint. Photo: Sandra Simpson

This one’s a cheat because I bought it in flower – the test will be whether I can get it to repeat as well next year. In mid-June I went to the auction of a commercial operation that was closing down and got this plant, so big that The Vege Grower could barely lift it, and its sister. They’d been in a shade house but although they immediately went into what is a fairly open garden in the winter (deciduous trees) and have been rained on a great deal, there appear to be no complaints. Truly striking plants with multiple flower stems.

The grower’s prosaic name for this line was PLP (green). The auctioneer said he hadn’t sold plant lines before – we ended up getting these gorgeous plants for $2 each!

Dendrobium Kuniko. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A much smaller plant is this Dendrobium Kuniko that flowers all along bare canes (the leaves drop off in the second year ready for flowering). There were a few flowers on it when I bought it last September but when it came into bloom in May it had numerous flowers and on June 30 was still going strong with new buds opening. There were two on the display table at the last meeting of the Tauranga Orchid Society and it was interesting to see how different the flower colour can be – from blue-ish through to vibrant purple (mine is more in the lavender range). The parents are from Taiwan and the Philippines.

Restrepia striata. Photo: Sandra Simpson

This little cutey was bought in flower at the Te Puke Orchid Show in April – no sooner had I paid for it than some bright spark told me it was nick-named the cockroach orchid! The flowers don’t last all that long (a couple of weeks) but it has just come into flower again, so if it keeps that up I won’t complain.

This orchid is native to wet mountain areas in west and north South America. Read more about its care here. The genus name, Restrepia, is for José E. Restrepo, a Colombian explorer of the Andes.