Bulb of the Moment: Haemanthus

For me, flowering bulbs are a sure sign spring is here but over the years it’s been my pleasure to meet bulbs that flower at other times of the year – Haemanthus albiflos (white) and Haemanthus rotundifolius (red) are autumn-flowering bulbs, while Haemanthus coccineus (red) is late-summer flowering.

My planting of H. albiflos has clumped up nicely and this year has produced myriad flowers without the aid of any extra summer watering through our long, dry period, thanks to the bulb being native to arid parts of South Africa. The plants like to be left undisturbed and the biggest problem I have is snails snacking on the broad, strappy leaves. Read more about cultivation here.

Haemanthus albiflos. Photo: Sandra Simpson

To my mind, the flowers are a little ho-hum when viewed individually, but do look good en masse. H. albiflos likes a bit of shade (similar to clivia), which makes it a useful plant for a woodland-type garden or under large trees. However, the Pacific Bulb Society entry notes it can be grown in full sun and although the leaves will suffer, the flowering doesn’t!

H. albiflos, or white paintbrush, is evergreen so an unusual member of this family as most Haemanthus don’t have leaves and flowers at the same time.

Haemanthus coccineus. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I bought a single H. coccineus bulb, planted it in a pot (so I wouldn’t lose it) and waited to see what would happen – this bulb flowers in late summer (March for me) and has its bloom first. Once the stem has died back, two wide leaves appear.

Also known as blood lily, paintbrush lily or elephant’s ears, the flower is apparently prompted by a spell of summer rain (or watering). The leaves will apparently last through until late spring-early summer. Read more about its cultivation here.

See some great photos of H. coccineus at this website – the author enthuses about the spotted stem almost as much as about the flower!

Chelsea 2016 medal winners

New Zealanders will be pleased to see that the Cloudy Bay garden, designed by Cornishman Sam Ovens, won a silver gilt award in the show garden category. (For non-Kiwis, Cloudy Bay is a major wine maker in the Marlborough region at the top of the South Island.)

See photographs of all the gold medal gardens (and the Cloudy Bay garden) here.

Chelsea isn’t Chelsea without some argy-bargy and it seems Mr Ovens has objected to a particular element of his neighbouring design. Read all about that here.

The other controversy (so far) has been remarks by Juliet Sergeant, designer of the Modern Slavery garden (gold in the Fresh category), that horticulture tends to be dominated by middle-class white people with double-barrelled names! Ms Sergeant, who was born in Tanzania, is the first black person to design a garden at the 103-year-old Chelsea show. Read more about her comments here.

Overall Chelsea winner Andy Sturgeon may be remembered by Kiwis as heading the 2014 judging team at what turned out to be the final Ellerslie International Flower Show held in Christchurch.

Chelsea Flower Show 2016

The much-anticipated Chelsea Flower Show is again under way in London, visited by a fine crop of Royals for its first day – Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry, Princess Anne, the Countess of Wessex, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie and their father Prince Andrew, Princess Alexandra, Prince and Princess Michael of Kent and the Duchess of Gloucester. Wow!

See some images of the gardens here. Read the Daily Mail’s coverage of the Royals on show here (less about the gardens, more about the people), although it does note that famed English rose breeder David Austin is the same age as the Queen – and also still working!

The striking “red carpet” of hand-knitted poppies began with two Australian women who had a modest plan to crochet 120 poppies as an Anzac Day tribute to their fathers – as you’ll see here, it grew a bit and ended up inspiring 50,000 people around the world to contribute!

The Chelsea Plant of the Year is Clematis chiisanensis Amber. See photos of it and the runners-up here.

The gold medal gardens are announced tonight (NZ time) – I keep seeing tree ferns in the background of pictures of the Queen posing by her floral silhouette. Wine-maker Cloudy Bay has again sponsored a garden – see photos here – but haven’t used native plants.

The Daily Telegraph roundup is an eclectic mix of people, plants and information. Well worth a scroll through. Did you know that the oldest plant thought to be on show at Chelsea is a 117-year-old Cymbidium Lowinanium orchid?

And, finally, The Guardian offers up interviews with the people who make Chelsea tick.

BOP Garden & Art Festival

Bay of Plenty Garden & Art Festival director John Beech was guest speaker at the Tauranga Orchid Society meeting last night and had some news and updates about this long-running biennial event.

After reviewing ticket information from 2014 – which revealed that 85% were one and two-day garden passes – the decision was made to change the festival from Monday-Sunday to Thursday-Sunday. (Previously, the various festival areas opened one by one from Monday to Thursday, with all gardens open Friday to Sunday.)

Coming soon … Photo: Sandra Simpson

The event, previously known as the New Zealand Garden & Art Festival, has been renamed the Bay of Plenty Garden & Art Festival to reflect its locality. John knows my feelings on the previous name so also knows the change has my whole-hearted support!

This year the festival takes place from November 17-20 and has 60 private gardens from Katikati to Te Puke, as well as 46 artists exhibiting. John noted that the garden trails are made up of genuinely private gardens with some “places of interest” also listed and this category will include public gardens such as Te Puna Quarry Park.

The Lakes subdivision will again play host to a festival hub and feature one of the largest marquees in New Zealand as a display area. The Expo will include concept gardens, a sculpture walk, speaker series, displays, stands by local garden-related societies (such as the Orchid Society), music and a café.

Ben Hoyle, an exciting and multi-award-winning landscape designer from the Kapiti Coast, is coming to the festival as a speaker after competing at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show. Photo: Sandra Simpson

John has contacted a number of specialist garden groups in the area about having a free stand with a gazebo provided as an opportunity to encourage interest, educate, potentially gather new members, and sell plants – two have responded!

“We know the festival touched 25,000 people in some way in 2014,” John said, “and 15,000 of them went through The Lakes hub. On the first day the hub was open we had 500 people per hour coming through the gates.”

John went to the inaugural Brisbane International Garden Show last year and said the display stands by horticultural groups had worked well and it was something he wants to do here.

The kokodama forest was a popular feature at The Lakes in 2014 and will return again this year. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I hear so many garden groups complaining about declining membership and/or ageing membership that it beggars belief they wouldn’t jump at this opportunity to put their ‘brand’ in front of an interested public, potentially fund raise and sign up new members. The Tauranga Orchid Society is fortunate to have some new, young and enthusiastic members – and we did that by putting on our three-day annual show with a beautiful display of plants and making sure we have friendly meeters and greeters who have membership information to hand.

The BOP Garden & Art Festival programme will be launched on August 5.

Sleight of hand

A nifty trick I saw in Japan last year was the training of chrysanthemums. Chrysanthemums, or kiku, are the national flower of Japan and the symbol of the Imperial family.

In the delightful mountain town of Takayama there was an exhibition of chrysanthemum bonsai at Jinya, the old local government office and living quarters, now a fascinating museum. But the largest of the ‘trees’ was an illusion, albeit a clever one.

From the front, ladies and gentleman, a chrysanthemum tree. Photo: Sandra Simpson

While the back reveals how the trick is performed. Photo: Sandra Simpson














An actual chrysanthemum trained as a bonsai. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania the US has been staging a chrysanthemum festival since 1924 and 70 years later set out to achieve a ‘thousand bloom’ (ozukuri) chrysanthemum using Japanese techniques – finally cracking it in 2011! See the story and photos here or watch a 2009 video about the technique (3:30).

A single plant trained into a ‘cascade’ (kengai) shape on display at Izumo Grand Shrine, about an hour from Matsue. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Cracking kowhai

Wandering along the lakefront in Wanaka and had my eye caught by some large, spreading kowhai trees – nothing like the poor, stunted specimens that serve as street trees in my neighbourhood. These were trees with grunt and clearly of some age.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

The ground beneath them was peppered with small golden seeds as the wind tossed the branches around. Kowhai  are part of the Sophora family – the Maori name means ‘yellow’ and is pronounced something like ko-fie. Unfortunately, evolution has seen fit to give the tree a seed with a particularly tough outer shell. The tree man I chatted to in Wanaka reckoned seeds that fell in the lake did okay as stones and sand abraded the tough outer shell so water could get in.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

Photo: Sandra Simpson

To help start your own seeds try this advice from DOC.

Here in the Western Bay of Plenty we don’t have any naturally occurring kowhai thanks to the volcanic ash and pumice that covered the area 27,000 years ago after the Taupo eruption.

In a 2009 interview Robert McGowan (Pa Ropata), a rongoa Maori medicine expert, said: “Anything with a wind-blown seed or a seed that will be dropped by birds comes back very quickly into a devastated landscape, but the seeds of a kowhai are generally carried back into a landscape by a flood and that will only happen after the rivers start to rebuild the landscape.

“Kowhai seeds can remain dormant for 100 years and need something to wake them up. The pod is very hard and needs to be cracked to get at the seed.”

Kowhai in bloom. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Southland’s Denis Hughes is trying to collect all the various types of kowhai. Read more here. His Blue Mountain Nurseries catalogue is here.

Weeds, pests & a new hero

I spent last weekend in beautiful Wanaka at the Aspiring Conversations festival. I was very excited to hear Tim Flannery (scientist and founder of Australia’s independent Climate Council), climate researcher Suzi Kerr and science communicator Veronika Meduna talk about climate change.

Relevant to gardeners and farmers was that in New Zealand we can expect more dry days in winter and spring although the rain that does fall will do so in heavier and more intense bursts which will mean more flooding.

More insect pests will make it through milder winters, meaning populations will not make a slow gain as spring continues but already be strong and in good numbers at the start of spring. As someone who doesn’t spray, this was worrying. Personal experience tells me that a cold snap in winter really knocks back pests that would otherwise over-winter in good numbers. Balance will be lost.

Another comment was that the planet doesn’t need us to save it – in fact, it doesn’t need us at all!

I stayed in the Wanaka Hotel, which featured a Pye radio fitted to the wall above the bed (I didn’t try it). Saw an interesting tree from my balcony so nipped down to photograph it and on the morning I was leaving was lucky enough to meet the knowledgeable owner(?) who this weekend is at the Dendrology NZ conference at Eastwoodhill Arboretum.

Cornus capitata, he said, strawberry tree. Although native to the Himalayas, India and China, the Waiere Nursery says it tolerates only light frosts, while the Weedbusters website lists it as a pest, although doesn’t stipulate whether that is New Zealand wide.

The fruit, which is what I spotted, forms at the centre of a ‘flower’ that is in reality four pale petal-shaped bracts. The Missouri Botanical Garden website notes that it is not reliably evergreen and in colder areas may drop foliage.

The fruit of Cornus capitata are, apparently, edible, although can be bitter. The birds were certainly leaving them alone. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A weed that’s been making the news – and sounds rather alarming – is velvetleaf. It has been found in fooder beet crops in both the North and South Islands and the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) is asking for help.

Search and destroy activities have been conducted on more than 600 properties since March when velvetleaf was discovered in several regions with the weed found on 215 properties in 11 regions to date.

Dr Veronica Herrera, director of investigations, diagnostics and response, says MPI is continuing to investigate how contaminated fodder beet seed entered New Zealand and has beefed up border inspections.

“MPI has already established that some lines of fodder beet seed grown in Italy and pelletised in Denmark were contaminated with velvetleaf. These lines have been banned from entry into New Zealand.” MPI’s velvetleaf hotline is 0800 80 99 66.

I know some people don’t take our biosecurity very seriously – and it can be jolly annoying not to be able to buy bulbs in Schiphol Airport or to leave flower seed or a cutting in a foreign garden – but this is why we should. Farming, forestry, horticulture and floriculture are how some families earn their living so every incursion is a threat to someone being able to put bread on the table for their kids or a roof over their heads.

Meanwhile, Honshu white admiral butterflies (Limenitis glorifica) have been released to combat the pest plant Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica). “The big issue with Japanese honeysuckle is that because it’s a climber it’s really hard to kill with herbicides without killing the thing it’s climbing on at the same time. Biocontrol is seen as a friendlier way to control it,” says Landcare Research scientist Quentin Paynter.

And with nothing to predate on it – until now – the plant has became a major problem in some areas.

The white admiral butterfly was chosen after field surveys in Japan indicated that it is found in a variety of habitats from hot lowland sites to cool mountain areas, suggesting it should be able to adapt to New Zealand.

The release of the first butterflies in 2013 in Wellington and the next year in Waikato was a milestone after numerous setbacks including disruption to the research programme because of the Canterbury earthquakes and the 2011 tsunami in Japan.

Japanese honeysuckle was introduced to New Zealand as a garden plant but has become firmly established in bush environments – and grows up to 15m a year in ideal conditions. White admiral caterpillars feed exclusively on Japanese honeysuckle.

The latest newsletter from Te Puna Quarry Park reveals that they’re trying to establish a white admiral colony there. It appears they’ve succeeded in establishing a yellow admiral population, but no luck yet with the red admirals.