Many hands make light work

For the first time in its almost 20-year history Te Puna Quarry Park is concerned by a lack of volunteers, particularly men. President Ian Cross is hoping to get the word out through local media and says the problem has arisen simply because of age. While there are generally plenty of women to tackle the weeds, the park society is becoming desperate for men who can operate machinery and generally do some of the heavier work – previous experience not necessary!

If you are interested in joining the work mornings – Tuesdays from 9am to noon – phone Ian on 07 578 8735 or email the society secretary Dulcie Artus. If you’re new to the Tauranga-Katikati area, working at the quarry is a great way to meet new people and make a worthwhile contribution to a project that is enjoyed by hundreds of people each year.

So now is a good opportunity to profile two of the volunteers who have made a difference at the park – Jo Dawkins and her sister Mary Parkinson.

In 2005 I managed to get these two busy bees to stand still long enough for a photo. They haven’t changed much. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A lifetime – two lifetimes – spent working with plants and flowers has taken a new twist as sisters Mary Parkinson and Jo Dawkins put their energies into helping develop Te Puna Quarry Park,  the Western Bay’s premier public garden.

Born on a farm in Oropi, near Tauranga, the sisters grew up surrounded by a large, lovingly tended garden. Their father, Arnold Shanks, had emigrated to New Zealand from Northern Ireland and met their England-born mother, Christine, on a ship when returning to Britain on a visit. She was going home after a stay in South Africa.

And it was their father who was the keen gardener, although they say both their parents loved “beautiful things” and the home and garden were decorated accordingly.

Volunteering at the outbreak of World War 2, Arnold was sent to Greece, captured and spent four years in an Austrian prison camp. “He said the only thing that kept him sane was thinking about the garden and always redesigning it,” Jo says. “He had a small tin of watercolour paints with him and we still have some of the paintings he did of his ideas. The love of gardening kept him going.” The 0.4ha garden comprised a tennis court, lily ponds and flower beds and was the scene of annual church garden parties after the war.

A visitor from England snaps a souvenir of one of the Quarry Park’s many sculptures. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Mary’s first ambition was to become a marine biologist, dropped, she says, because she couldn’t swim well. Instead, she opened a florist shop at No. 2 Devonport Rd in Tauranga in 1956, the town’s first florist. “The shop became available and opportunity strikes only once, although I was terrified about going into business,” she says. And it may have been an inherited talent from her father – who had created his bride’s elaborate bouquet for their wedding in 1933 – which nudged her in this direction.

Vogue Flowers was a success, although Mary says “we made a lot of friends but not much money”. Highlights included making presentation bouquets for visiting Queen Sirikit of Thailand in 1962 and one of water lilies for Queen Elizabeth for her visit in 1963.

When their mother became ill with cancer and wanted to make a final return to England in 1958, Mary handed the business to Jo, who was part-way through teacher training. After her mother’s death, Mary worked as a florist at London’s Savoy Hotel where she prepared arrangements for such people as Princess Margaret, ballerina Alicia Markova and flamboyant pianist Liberace who always wanted a floral grand piano.

While in London, she attended the Cordon Bleu school run by the doyenne of 1950s English domestic style, Constance Spry. “We cooked in the morning and did flowers in the afternoon,” Mary recalls. They were big, massed arrangements which complemented the houses they were in.”

On her return, Mary rejoined Vogue Flowers until the birth of her first child in 1963, when she sold the business.

But she and Jo have never stopped working with plants – they both worked for John and Mary Ewart when they began to grow Tauranga’s first commercial carnation crop, while Mary has had a nursery specialising in kiwifruit seedlings, and Jo has a citrus orchard and garden nursery.

“There’s a lot of pleasure to be had in planting a seed and watching it come up and flower,” Mary says of their lifelong interest in growing things.

She is also something of an orchid expert, having joined the Tauranga Orchid Society 30 years ago and also has previously run a business hybridising and exporting South African disa orchids.

Cymbidium orchids blooming at the Quarry. Photo: Sandra Simpson

But even Mary admits she had no idea the orchid area at Te Puna Quarry Park would become what is believed to be the largest outdoor planting of cymbidium orchids in the Southern Hemisphere.

Jo, whose home is in the shadow of the former quarry north of Tauranga, has been part of the community project since it began almost 20 years ago and has served a term as president of the society’s committee, while Mary joined the volunteer workers 18 years ago.

“It’s great to be part of a volunteer group creating something for the community,” Jo says. The park has always placed an emphasis on art too, and work in the park includes sculpture, mosaic and pottery.

“It’s such a magical place,” she says, “but it was very hard in the beginning, as a gardener, to adjust to the size of it. It was no good planting just one of something, we had to think in big drifts.” More than 4000 cymbidium orchids might be described as a big drift. “We were lucky the orchids were the first plants to arrive and we could choose a site,” Mary says.

Four truckloads of “fill” orchids, donated by former nurseryman John Kenyon, began the planting and since then almost all the plants have been donated. To plant them on the steeper banks, the orchids were rolled down and Mary and her helpers (most in their 70s and 80s) clambered after them and chipped them in where they stopped. The orchid area now features several other varieties as well, so there’s always something flowering.

These days Mary’s most often to be found in the butterfly garden, a project that had its genesis in 2006 when she saw a swan plant growing in a patch of weeds on the “middle terrace”.

A grant from the Bay of Plenty regional council’s Environmental Enhancement Fund paid for a butterfly hatching house (and to protect caterpillars when predators are about) and a noticeboard, while in 2009 Wildflower World began a relationship with the garden donating seed to extend the butterfly area for a Monarch Butterfly New Zealand Trust conference in Tauranga which Mary, then a trustee, organised.

The Butterfly Garden is popular with visitors. Photo: Sandra Simpson

During the breeding season Mary often responds to calls to rescue monarch caterpillars that have run out of food and has been trying try to establish a population of native red admiral and yellow admiral butterflies at the quarry. She’s at the quarry most days when the butterflies are hatching, and on hand for regular school visits. “When the ‘wild kids’ are given butterflies to hold it transforms them – the big smiles make it all worthwhile,” she says.

Jo, a former president of the International Plant Propagators Association, and Mary have developed a sub-tropical area, bounded on one side by Australian natives, including a prostate Banksia and winter-flowering grevilleas, much loved by birds, and on another by South African natives.

And they have both, along with grandchildren, created a mosaic “pool” at the bottom of a tumble of rocks which suggested itself to Jo as a dry waterfall. Small wooden “bridges” on the path add to the illusion.

Among plants of interest in this area are Chorisias (monkey no-climb trees) with trunks full of thorns and requiring some lateral thinking when it came to moving them for planting, a red banana palm and a rare pink version (in New Zealand) of the Tibouchina shrub.

A massed planting of lilies above the Herb Garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Jo has planted about five varieties of the Araucaria family, which includes monkey-puzzle and Norfolk Island pines, near the Chorisias, and groups of maples and magnolias in a new area, as well as a tackling a steep, hot bank which is being filled with grevilleas, native to Australia.

“We are especially grateful for the generosity of commercial and private growers,” Jo says. “We don’t have the finances to rush out and buy, for example, 50 hibiscus plants, but if we ask for, say, three we usually get 12.

“The quarry park isn’t a botanical garden, but we do want it to be botanically interesting,” she says. “The rewards for our hard work are to see people enjoying it.”

Te Puna Quarry Park is signposted off State Highway 2, just north of Te Puna, and is open daily during daylight hours. Free admission but a donation is appreciated.

This article is a combination of two pieces that were originally published by the Bay of Plenty Times and appear here with permission.

BOP Orchid Society champion blooms

Popped back to the show this afternoon – and had a lovely surprise waiting for me. Second prize in the Cattleya section! And with my first-ever entry in an orchid show!! Couldn’t stop smiling. So here is SLC Coastal Gold ‘Geyser Gold’ (the SLC stands for Sophrolaeliocattleya, from Sophronitis, Laelia and Cattleya, its parent genera).

Photo: Sandra Simpson

But the main event, naturally, was the champions’ table:

Champion of the show was Rhyncattleanthe Lee’s Ruby ‘Cherry Ripe’ grown by Lee and Roy Neale of Auckland. Photo: Sandra Simpson

This magnificent spray of Oncidium trulliforum flowers won Reserve Champion for Carl Christensen of Napier. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Tauranga Orchid Society meets once a month on a Tuesday evening in the Wesley Church hall in 13th Ave, contact is Natalie Simmonds, phone 07 543 0847. The BOP Orchid Society meets once a month on a Sunday afternoon in Te Puke, contact is Elizabeth Bailey, phone 07 578 6569. It’s perfectly admissible to belong to both!

Te Puke Orchid Show 2015

Spent the morning at the Te Puke Orchid show – it’s on until 4pm today and tomorrow (April 11) from 10am-4pm and I can honestly say the $3 entry is well worth it. There is, as usual, a great display of flowering plants, plenty of orchids for sale (yes, I bought some more), other plants for sale, paintings for sale, orchid growing supplies (pots, bark, stakes, etc), raffles and a nice cuppa with home baking in the side room. You’ll find the show in the Memorial Hall in Te Puke’s main street.

As well as members of the host BOP Orchid Society selling plants, there are also a number of out-of-town commercial growers with orchids for sale, plants that you may not find elsewhere.

Here are a few photos from today to whet your appetite.

Tauranga Orchid Society vice-president Conrad Coenen decided to have some fun with the society’s display, cheekily titled ‘Fifty Shades of Autumn’. The male gardener is wearing a pair of furry handcuffs and has plenty of rope beside him (I’m not going to ask where the props came from!). Photo: Sandra Simpson

The dramatic colours of the slipper orchid, Paphiopedilum maudiae x maudiae. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Dendrobium subclausum var subclausum flowers on bare canes. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Miltonia Mayflower x Goodale Moir. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Subaltern’s butter

Happy Easter to all readers – I’ve spent most of the day in the garden, the weather seeming more like late summer than autumn.

Here’s a line or two from My Simple Life in New Zealand by Adela Stewart, originally published in London in 1908. Adela and her husband Hugh built what is now known as Athenree Homestead, between Waihi Beach and Katikati, north of Tauranga. It sent me into the labyrinth that is Google but the results have been fun.

1887: Several young friends and relations came to stay, followed next day by many more – sixty-seven in all – for [her son] Mervyn’s annual Patrick’s Day birthday picnic to the Waihi beach, where we had our lunch with the usual interest of making tea. Then home for supper. Having received them from a friend in Bermuda, Hugh planted two Avocado pear or subaltern’s butter stones, but they had suffered in the voyage and did not even germinate, which we regretted as they are a delicious fruit and were unknown in New Zealand.

This last comment I found particularly interesting as the Katikati area is now one of this country’s prime avocado-growing areas. I hadn’t heard the name “subaltern’s butter” before – alligator pear, yes – and a quick online search reveals that it might be because a subaltern was a subordinate (in the British military) so this was “less than butter” or maybe because subalterns were too lowly to have proper butter.

Photo: Wikipedia

In his 1836 book Recollections of an Artillery Officer: Including Scenes and Adventures in Ireland, America, Flanders and France Benson Earle Hill writes:

I would almost make another voyage to Barbadoes, for the sole purpose of eating the alacada or, as it is usually called, the alligator pear. Fletcher had designated it by another of its titles, when he desired to have plenty of “subaltern’s butter”. … a greenish white pulp, combining an agreeable but very slightly acid, with a rich, mellow, almost marrow-like, flavour. Scooped out and spread on bread, with a little salt and Cayenne pepper, it is an excellent accompaniment to your breakfast; and eaten au naturel with your wine, it proves equally acceptable. The stone is used for the purpose of marking linen, which being placed over it, the letters are punctured with a small needle, whose point extracts, at every application, an indelible dye.

Read the book here, or download it for free.

According to the New Zealand Avocado industry website, the first tree was grown from seed probably planted in 1926. The first fruit from this tree was marketed in Auckland in 1939 and was “well received”.

“The modern avocado industry consists of 1600 growers who collectively manage 5000+ hectares of mainly the Hass variety of avocados. Hass is harvested for export from late August through to late March. About 80% of export grade fruit goes to the Australian market with the balance going to Japan, USA and Southeast Asian markets.” Read more at the website, including recipes. I have been told by more than one person that Nadia Lim’s chocolate avocado mousse recipe is sensational.

PS: You may have heard that Persea americana (avocados, native to central and South America) are high in fat – relax, it’s the “good fat” that doctors don’t mind.

‘Like gold for ladies’

On my recent visit to Qatar I was intrigued to see that many women seemed to be more heavily veiled than 30 years ago – it seems common now for women to show only their eyes in a ninja-style arrangement of scarves, whereas in the past faces were often visible or a gauzy veil was dropped across the face. Then, a woman wearing gloves was a rarity; now, it’s more common.

On the other hand, I saw many abayas with discreet white detailing – lace or embroidery around the cuffs and hem – and some that were made from something other than shiny, black fabric (still black though), and the occasional one that had been cut in a fashionable way.

Something that hasn’t changed is the use of henna to decorate their hands. And the two or three women I approached to photograph their hands were quite willing so long as that was all I was snapping (ie, not their faces), and seemed to think it a marvellous joke.

The following article is from 1987 – I thought it may be of interest. The older woman who agreed to be interviewed did not want her name used. She didn’t speak English so I relied on a young Qatari woman, who was also my contact for the household.

Lawsonia inermis. Photo: Wikimedia

Henna decoration for women, a tradition in Arabia for centuries, is alive and well among Qatari women of all ages. The henna plant (Lawsonia inermis) is a member of the privet family and although the shrub can be found in gardens in Qatar, most women use imported henna powder from India, Pakistan, Sudan (thought to be the best for decoration) or Oman (generally used only on the hair).

In the past Qatari women would have collected the leaves, dried them and then ground the leaves into a powder before going on to prepare a henna paste. The flowers of the henna plant, with their distinctive fresh scent, are popular with Qatari women who like to cut them and have them in their homes.

Henna powder. Photo: Wikimedia

Henna paste for decoration can be made in two ways. The first method uses crushed, dried lemons steeped in water. This mixture is then boiled. After stirring it up, the henna powder is added.

The paste is usually made in the morning and left covered until the afternoon when a dash of petrol or mahalabiya (an essential oil imported from Sudan that has a pine oil base) is added to help darken the resulting colour and to give a shine when the paste is applied to the skin.

The application of the paste to hands and feet is usually done in the evening and left on until the next morning.

The second method is simply to mix the henna powder with some lemon juice (again, to darken the colour) and water. It is usually estimated that half a packet of henna powder is enough to decorate the hands and feet of one woman.

Traditional Qatari decoration. Photo: Sandra Simpson (2015)

Designs traditional to the Arabian Gulf are simple next to the more elaborate designs preferred by Indian and Pakistani women and which are now [1987] available in a number of beauty salons in Doha.

Gulf women traditionally like small spots on the backs of their hands, henna staining their fingertips and nails, and perhaps a small flower drawn on the palm of their hand. Other variations include a thick bar across the palm, or the palm being completely stained. Feet are usually stained completely on the sole with the top of the toes and nails covered as well.

“Some ladies don’t like to have nail polish, but do like to have their nails coloured,” one Qatari woman explained, “so they use henna. When the Indian women started coming to the Gulf their fancy designs became more popular, but in our countries the designs are usually more simple. Henna is like gold for ladies.”

This woman had elaborate designs on the palms and simpler designs on the backs of her hands. Photo: Sandra Simpson (2015)

The longer henna can be left on, the darker the colour and, certainly among Gulf women, the darker the better.

A woman who plans to apply henna to her feet would do so overnight and would prepare her bed in a special way, with her feet raised off the mattress. The paste would start to dry after about 10 minutes and she could then go to sleep – during the winter months a small heater is often placed near the feet to speed drying.

To stain her palms, a woman would sleep with a wad of paste clutched in her fist – her hands would be tied into a ball with strips of cloth. The next morning the paste is washed off. The resulting staining can last up to a month, depending on the strength of the paste preparation.

Template patterns for sale in Souq Waqif, Doha. Photo: Sandra Simpson (2015)

On the eve of a young woman’s marriage a henna party (ghumra) is held and her friends and relatives will decorate her and each other. The designs are drawn on with matchsticks. Read more about ghumra nights in Saudi tradition.

The henna tradition is passed from mother to daughter among Gulf women, although many of the younger generation prefer to be decorated in beauty salons. These decorations usually last for about a week and are much redder in colour.

Pearl fishermen used henna on their palms to prevent blistering – henna was thought to harden the surface of the skin, heal, nourish and care for it.

Qatari women also often use henna as a colouring and conditioner for their hair. The powder is made into a paste with boiled tea or water and put on the hair for up to 3 hours, then washed off to give rich, dark red highlights.

Elaborate henna work. Photo: Sandra Simpson (2015)

Read more about henna, including patterns, at The Henna Page website.

Postcard from Doha

I’m recently back from a trip to the Arabian Gulf, something of a sentimental journey even though I knew it was likely to be bitter-sweet.

I haven’t been back to Doha, the capital of Qatar, since we left in 1989 so knew there would be plenty of change – especially as in the interim it became the richest country in the world! Just how big those changes have been left me speechless. A few landmarks still exist from my day, but not many. The administration area has moved across to West Bay, where previously the Sheraton Hotel stood in isolated splendour. That building is now dwarfed by skyscrapers, many architecturally distinctive.

Back then, the Vege Grower had to go on ahead of me and get his residency established before I could apply for an entry visa. When I arrived in February 1985 the plane taxied to near the terminal and passengers descended by a set of stairs and walked across the tarmac. My visa paperwork was waiting on a table and I had to shuffle through the pile, find mine and take it to the immigration officer.

Thirty years later we disembarked at a new airport via an airbridge and emerged into a large, modern terminal. We lined up and the young Qatari man simply checked our passports and stamped our visa in, no paperwork needed. We told him the years we had lived in Doha – he was astounded as he had been born in 1994!

Sheikh Khalifa was emir in 1985, his son Sheikh Hamad (who was the heir apparent) took over in 1995 and in turn stepped aside for his son Sheikh Tamim in 2013. Read a list of the emirs here. The reason you may have heard of Qatar is that the country is hosting, amid much controversy, the soccer world cup in 2022. Fifa announced this week that games would be played in November and December to try and have conditions as cool as possible.

I’ll post more about Doha and Qatar over the next little while, but one of the highlights of our trip was a visit to the Museum of Islamic Art, built on reclaimed land beside the Corniche, and designed by I.M Pei (he designed the glass pyramids at The Louvre; I read he was dragged out of retirement for the Doha job). I’m not sure why, but images on the MIA website link above start halfway down my screen.

Here are a few photos of some of the many amazing objects in the museum, these  incorporating plants in the design. Read more about carnations and Iznik pottery here or go to the V&A site for a teachers’ resource: Exploring plant-based design through the Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art.

Detail from a long-necked water bottle ca 1570-1580, Iznik pottery, Turkey. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A 17th century cushion cover from Turkey, with a pattern of stylised carnation. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Carnations and other flowers on an Iznik plate. Photo: Sandra Simpson

And, finally, a 20th century piece – calligraphy in gold on a real leaf. The artist wasn’t named, but the art was made in Turkey. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Apple picking time

The Daily Telegraph recently published an interesting gallery of photos of popular British apples. Among the crop were several New Zealand-bred varieties:

  • Jazz, a cross between Gala and Braeburn; Gala (bred 1934), went to England in the 1980s and is now the most common eating apple grown commercially in the UK
  • Braeburn bred in the 1950s, but not grown in England until 40 years later
  • Envy (which I’d not heard of), another Gala-Braeburn cross made in 1985.

Braeburns have their own website and there you’ll find the history of this deliciously tart and juicy apple. The tree was found by a farmer in Waiwhero in 1952 in the apple-growing area around Nelson. It was a seedling cross-pollinating from Granny Smith and Lady Hamilton trees. It was subsequently cultivated at the Braeburn Orchard and thus named.

Clockwise from bottom left ( think I’ve got most of them right): Envy, Braeburn, Fuji, Pacific Rose, Pacific Beauty, Red Delicious, Royal Gala and Jazz. In the centre are Granny Smith (front) and Pink Lady. Photo: Enza

According to the 100% Pure Apples from New Zealand website:

Braeburn: New Zealand’s second-largest variety by volume and one of the world’s premium apple varieties. Harvested late March and April. Sports of Braeburn include Aurora, Eve and Mahana Red.

Pacific Beauty: A natural cross between Gala and Splendour, harvested mid- to late February. Pacific Queen is a cross of Royal Gala and Splendour (mid-March to late April), and Pacific Rose (April).

Royal Gala: New Zealand’s largest variety by volume, was developed in New Zealand and is harvested from late February to late March. Higher colour strains include Galaxy and Brookfield. A red sport of Gala.

Sonya: Developed in New Zealand as a cross between Gala and Red Delicious. Harvested late March, early April.

The Enza Foods website says Royal Gala and Braeburn are grown in the greatest numbers in New Zealand, followed by Fuji (Japan), Jazz (New Zealand’s fastest-growing export, sold in 20 countries), Pacific Rose, Granny Smith (Australia) and Cox’s Orange Pippin (England).

I’m partial to a Pink Lady (sounds like a cocktail, doesn’t it?), an apple that originated in western Australia and is a cross between Golden Delicious and Lady Williams.

Other popular New Zealand-bred apples are:

  • Gala: Developed in New Zealand from Cox’s Orange Pippin and Golden Delicious (late February – late March). Gala has produced many sports, including the popular Royal Gala.
  • Southern Snap: Recently developed, a bright red apple said to have a rich tangy flavour with crisp, juicy flesh (late February – mid-March).

My own apple trees, I hear you ask? I have three trees but only one is bearing fruit – and then only five little, green apples, just beginning to colour up!