Things that make me go ‘ah’

We’ve been sticking to our neighbourhood walks most evenings, the route we’ve been treading regularly since last year’s first big lockdown. And just as the evenings become lighter with daylight saving, in comes the blossom and my walk takes a bit longer as I stop to admire this or that.

Blossom seems to be what I’m needing just now, helping lift my spirits. Hope you enjoy these images.

The first couple of times I tried to photograph this small Leucospermum tree, the sky was grey. Finally, I got a blue sky to offset the vivid orange flowers. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Leucospermum, or pincushion plants, are native to South Africa. Photo: Sandra Simpson
A few steps further along the same street is this eye-catching crabapple on a property boundary. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Applause for the homeowners who have planted this weeping white blossom tree in the council berm. Give it a few more years and it will look magnificent. Photo: Sandra Simpson
The elderly kowhai street trees along one block have been putting on a good show this year – and generally where there’s kowhai, there’s tui. This young bird was singing its heart out. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The postscript to the photo above is that we talked about whether the seed-grown kowhai we’ve had for some years had finally come into flower this year. ‘No,’ said the Vege Grower. Only to be prove he needs to get to SpecSavers as the next day when I was in that corner of the garden there were the distinctive bunches of yellow flowers. Hurrah!

Pink Ribbon rose

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and what better rose to feature than the newly released Pink Ribbon, a stunning free-flowering rose with masses of soft-pink cupped blooms covering the compact, bushy growing plant.

Pink Ribbon looks stunning planted in groups. Photo: Samantha Matthews/Matthews Nurseries Ltd

Bred by Bob Matthews of Matthews Nurseries in Whanganui, the rose will benefit the Breast Cancer Foundation in New Zealand with $2 from the sale of each plant being donated. 

The New Zealand Rose Society has recently launched the New Zealand Rose Experts Guide which provides information on growing roses to those joining rose societies around New Zealand.

“Since 1964, the New Zealand Rose Society has provided a free publication about all aspects of growing roses to new members,” says Hayden Foulds, president of the New Zealand Rose Society and editor of the publication.

The New Zealand Rose Experts Guide has been written by some of New Zealand’s leading rose experts in chapter including types of roses, planting, pruning, general care and maintenance, using roses in your garden, pests and diseases, propagation and hybridising, exhibiting, and a rose care calendar.

Over time, further resources to supplement The New Zealand Rose Experts Guide will be placed in the member’s only area at the Rose Society website. Copies are available only by joining the New Zealand Rose Society online.

The New Zealand Rose Society acknowledges the support of a grant from Pub Charity towards the cost of printing this publication. 

The Gertrude Jekyll Lindisfarne garden

As spring starts to unfurl, our thoughts turn back to gardening and how we might extend or enhance our plot for year-round effect. Back in 2018 I visited a small walled garden on the island of Lindisfarne, just off the coast of Northumberland in northeast England, that was designed simply to be a summer garden.

Renowned English garden designer Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) was a friend of the equally-renowned architect Edwin Lutyens (he called her ‘Bumps’) and designed this small garden at his invitation, creating it in an area used in previous centuries by soldiers stationed at Lindisfarne Castle – the building Lutyens was renovating for its owner, Edward Hudson, then owner and publisher of Country Life magazine. As Hudson intended to use the property primarily as a summer retreat, the garden was intended to be ‘seen’ only at that time.

The view from the garden towards Lindisfarne Castle (the back of the castle was covered in scaffolding). Photo: Sandra Simpson

Gertrude’s first visit was in 1906 and by 1911 the garden was planted with bright flowers and the stone wall facing the castle lowered, so anyone using the rooms on the landward side of the building could easily see the garden. However, given the distance involved, while it can be said that the castle is a feature of the garden, the garden isn’t really part of the castle, which was built in 1570, and sits like a colourful island amid grassy pastures.

The stone wall is a must in helping plants get away before they get buffeted by the salty winds and the site was chosen by the garrison’s soldiers because it’s out of the building’s shadow and is on a gentle south-facing slope.

Some detail from one of the flower borders. It was a windy day! Photo: Sandra Simpson

Hudson, who spent most of his time in London, sold the castle in 1920 and the garden later fell into disuse. In 2003 the garden was restored to Gertrude Jekyll’s original design by the National Trust which, because of the visitor numbers the roughly 7 square metre garden attracts, has extended the garden’s season by including spring bulbs and early-flowering plants. The original design incorporated culinary herbs, vegetables and fruit trees and these are still, a small, part of the planting.

Apparently Jekyll also planted the crag on which the castle stands. How? By firing seeds at the rock face from a large fowling gun and lowering Harry Walker, a local 7-year-old, in a basket from the Upper Battery to access the difficult ledges!

Diagnosed with myopia, a degenerative eye condition, in 1891 Jekyll saw colours as blurs and it’s said she approached her designs like a painting. The garden at Lindisfarne includes large herbaceous beds with drifts of flowers with plants including sweetpeas, hollyhocks, phlox, roses (including ‘Gertrude Jekyll’), fuchsias, helianthus, sea buckthorn, poppies, larkspur and scabiosa. A sign in the garden says the planting plan follows Jekyll’s ‘very closely, but is not exact’.

Gertrude Jekyll portrait by William Nicholson in 1920. Commissioned by Edwin Lutyens. Image: Wikimedia

Jekyll was the first woman to be awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour of the Royal Horticultural Society, the highest award for British horticulturists, in 1897. Her tombstone was designed by Lutyens.

Lindisfarne Island, also known as Holy Island, is accessible only twice every 24 hours at low tide.

A memorial stone in the Lindisfarne garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Alpine Nature Walk

Primarily a walk for the summer – in fact it was brisk with snow still on the tops when I was there last November. As we’re all still holidaying at home, keep this short, roadside loop walk in mind (20 minutes, according to DOC) if you are going through the Lewis Pass in the South Island, not only to break up a long drive on fairly lonely roads, but also because it’s an easy stroll and rather lovely!

The formed track takes visitors through alpine wetland and beech forest. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Lichen on tree trunks at the tarn end of the walk. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Plant Stories: The Separation Tree

I’ve recently had access to an historic photo album from the Vege Grower’s side of the family and came across an interesting snapshot. The photographer was the family link and he and one of the chaps in the snap were on their way to New Zealand, the photographer to settle.

The photographer, who had served in Britain’s brand-new RAF during World War 1, kept a record of his sea voyage to New Zealand via the Suez Canal, Aden, India, Sri Lanka and Australia. Some of the images are named, but many just indicate the country and year.

However, this one, thanks to the sign on the tree, reveals that it was taken in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne.

The Separation Tree, Melbourne, August 1920.

Alas, the Separation Tree is no longer with us, falling prey to human vandalism – ring-barked twice – leading to its removal in 2015.

The 24m Eucalyptus camaldulensis (river red gum), which had been minding its own business for about 400 years before being attacked, was one of the few trees left in the gardens that pre-dated European arrival and was one of two river red gums that bordered the swampy billabong which later became part of the Ornamental Lake.

It was the place where, on November 15, 1850, superintendent Charles La Trobe announced that what is now Victoria would separate from New South Wales. When that news reached Melbourne on November 11, 1850 it was the cause of great rejoicing with fireworks, illuminations, street parades, games, thanksgivings and three public holidays! The new Crown Colony of Victoria was formally proclaimed on July 1, 1851. 

As well as the shield-type sign seen in the photo, a plaque was added to the base of the tree in 1951 to mark the beginning of the second century of self-government in Victoria. The plaque remains, as does a spike that was embedded in the tree to show the high-water mark from an 1860s flood.

At the time of the tree’s removal in 2015, the gardens’ director Tim Entwistle said three offspring of the Separation Tree – planted 70, 16 and 11 years ago – were on the nearby Tennyson lawn and seedlings from the tree had been sent to 20 schools. The Botanic Gardens’ nursery was also propagating trees and sending them throughout Victoria. One sapling went into the gardens of the state Parliament in Melbourne.

Kūmara connection

On a pre-lockdown visit to the Ōhope Beach area we followed the signs to a ‘scenic lookout’ and found ourselves at Kohi Point scenic reserve with magnificent views of both Whale Island (Moutohorā) and Whakatāne. We had planned to take a tour out to the island but, alas, the weather was against us – fine, but windy.

Moutohorā (Whale Island) from the lookout. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A plaque embedded into a rock caught my eye at the lookout, which includes an historic pā  site – one of the oldest settlement sites in New Zealand – and is also known as Toi’s Pā or, more correctly Kaputerangi. The reserve also forms part of the 16km Ngā Tapuwae o Toi Walking Trail

The plaque records that Toi had two names, one of them being Toi-kai-rakau which means ‘wood-eater’ because of the need to eat fern root and forest food – early Polynesian migrants to Aotearoa must have been shocked to find very little growing that they recognised and a much colder climate. 

(Added September 1: I have just read in Witi Ihimaera’s book Navigating the Stars that according to one story Toi had brought only one plant to Aotearoa with him – the hue (gourd) – so when kūmara landed here centuries later, for all that time his progeny had been ‘wood eaters’. However, Ihimaera notes another legend that gives the honour of introducing the kūmara to Toi.)

The plaque said Toi was said to be living at the pā site in 1150 and tradition records the site still in use about 200 years later ‘when a most important event occurred, viz. the introduction of the kūmara or sweet potato’ [to New Zealand]. Concrete details about the arrival of kūmara (Ipomoea batatas) in Aotearoa have necessarily been difficult to establish with hints having to be gleaned from oral histories and archaeology, including that Polynesians obtained the staple crop from South America.

However, it was nice to be standing in a place with a strong link to the story of the vegetable we Kiwis love to love.

A model of traditional kūmara growing. Image: Wikimedia

Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand includes some details around the planting of kūmara, which I share here, click on the link to read the original article for more details.

Māori developed large kūmara gardens, often on sloping, sunny land. They grew the plants in mounds of soil, adding sand and gravel to make it drain better. Fences protected the gardens from wind and pūkeko birds. The plants were sometimes attacked by caterpillars of the kūmara moth, and Māori kept tame black-backed seagulls to eat the caterpillars.

Te Parapara kūmara garden at Hamilton Gardens, New Zealand’s only traditional Māori productive garden. Read more here. Every year the crop is donated to the community. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Tubers were harvested around March and stored in underground pits over winter. Some were eaten and some saved to be planted out the next spring. Kūmara, which were much smaller than the vegetables we know today, were cooked in hāngī (earth ovens), boiled, or steamed. These and fern root were the main sources of carbohydrate for early Māori.

Northland is New Zealand’s biggest kūmara -growing area and where most of the commercial operations are, go here to see some of the modern varieties available.

National Camellia Show 2021

Camellia japonica ‘Roger Hall’, grown by Kathy Phillips of the Western Bay of Plenty Camellia Society, was Grand Champion at the 2021 national show in Tauranga. The plant is not named for the much-loved New Zealand playwright Roger Hall, but for the father of Australian nurseryman Jon Hall. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Kathy Phillips of Rotorua had an ever-present smile at today’s National Camellia Show in Tauranga – and why wouldn’t she? A quick look at array of silverware on the Champions’ Table revealed her name appearing on many of the certificates.

“Bit of a shock really,” she said, “but you never know with exhibiting how things will turn out. We’ve been lucky with the weather this year so that’s helped.”

Kathy and her husband Dave Lowry garden at ‘Camellia Crest’, a 1.4ha property containing about 120 camellias. “We planted it up about 30 years ago,” Kathy said, “before the camellia blight came along.” Cold snaps have kept the blight in check this winter with the result that few blooms on display were showing signs of it. Tomorrow will be a different story, sadly.

Camellia japonica ‘Kathryn Funari’, grown by Kathy Phillips, won the Maureen & Roy Isles Memorial Trophy for three japonica blooms of one variety. Photo: Sandra Simpson

What does she love about camellias? “They’re very hardy plants that range in size from small shrubs with small blooms for small gardens to tree-size camellias with huge flowers. There are even weeping varieties. People think about the bother of dropped blooms but the newer, smaller plants don’t make such a mess.”

Since her retirement 6 years ago Kathy has been getting more serious about showing camellias and says it’s been a learning curve. “It takes time to learn to exhibit and I honestly wouldn’t manage it, or have a garden, without Dave’s help,” she said. “He was out there yesterday in the rain helping me pick flowers for the show.”

This is the first National Camellia Show and Convention in Tauranga for 20 years and with three Western Bay of Plenty members holding national positions it was almost a foregone conclusion it would be here this year. National president Derek Beard (WBOP) formally opened the show with the help of Tauranga MP Simon Bridges. Visit the NZ Camellia Society website.

Best hybrid bloom was Camellia Mimosa Jury, grown by Derek and Jenny Beard of Mt Maunganui. The plant was bred by Felix Jury of Taranaki and named for his wife. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Camellia ‘Virginia Franca Rosea’ won the Founder’s Trophy (best bloom of a camellia introduced into New Zealand before 1910) for Nyrene and Rex McLeod of Matamata. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Three hybrid blooms, one variety (Os Blumhardt Memorial Trophy): Kathy Phillips, Western Bay of Plenty, ‘Jamie’.
One bloom introduced into New Zealand before 1910 (Founder’s Trophy): N & R McLeod, Matamata, ‘Virginia Franco Rosea’.
One bloom of New Zealand origin (Edith Mazzei Trophy): Kerry & Alan Upson, Whangarei, ‘Peggy Burton’.
Three blooms of New Zealand origin, different varieties (Duncan & Davies Trophy): Kathy Phillips.
One bloom of Australian origin (Colin Elliot Trophy): Roger Aitchison, Kapiti, ‘John Hunt’.
Three blooms of Australian origin, different varieties (Rhea Egg Trophy): Kerry & Alan Upson.
One bloom of American origin (America Camellia Society Trophy): Blanche & Ray Lauridsen, Manawatu, ‘Guilio Nuccio’.
One bloom of a Neville Haydon camellia (Neville Haydon Trophy): Rita Verry, Hawke’s Bay, ‘Peggy Burton’.
One Yunnan reticulata bloom (Durrant Trophy): N & R McLeod, ‘Purple Gown’.
Three reticulata blooms, different varieties (Des & Joyce Crowley Trophy): Kathy Phillips.
Six reticulata blooms, different varieties (Les & Ida Berg Trophy): D & J Beard, Western Bay of Plenty.
One reticulata or reticulata hybrid seedling (Clark Cup): N & R McLeod.
One bloom of a japonica seedling (Clark Cup): Rita Verry.
Three japonica blooms, same variety (Maureen & Roy Isles Memorial Trophy): Kathy Phillips, ‘Kathryn Funari’.
Three japonica blooms, different varieties (Boon Trophy): Kerry & Alan Upson.
One miniature bloom (Clere Memorial Trophy): Pat Flockhart, Gisborne, ‘Koto-no-Kaori’.
Three small or miniature hybrid blooms, different varieties (B & J Warsaw Trophy): D & J Beard.
Twelve small or miniature hybrid blooms, different varieties (H & V Cave Trophy): Kathy Phillips.
Six hybrid blooms, different varieties (Sir Victor & Lady Davies Trophy): D & J Beard.
One white bloom (Rayner Memorial Trophy): Kathy Phillips, ‘Lily Pons’.
Best Doak hybrid bloom (Doak Memorial Trophy): Tony Barnes & John Sole, North Taranaki, ‘Barbara Clark’.
Best seedling bloom (Maire Trophy): Kathy Phillips.
Best novice bloom (Iris Gittings Trophy): Carol Shaw, Western Bay of Plenty, ‘Ballet Queen’.
Best small bloom (Harold Austin Memorial Trophy): Ailsa James, Western Bay of Plenty, ‘Maroon and Gold’.
Best reticulata or reticulata hybrid bloom (Roland Young Memorial Trophy): Kathy Phillips, ‘S P Dunn’.
Best hybrid bloom (Council Trophy): D & J Beard, ‘Mimosa Jury’.
Champion bloom (Bethwaite Memorial Trophy) & Best japonica bloom (McLisky Trophy): Kathy Phillips, ‘Roger Hall’.

Camellia ‘Maroon and Gold’, grown by Ailsa James of the Western Bay of Plenty Society, was judged the best small bloom in the show. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The answer, naturally

Karen Shirley’s journey from having a severe skin complaint to developing her own successful natural treatment and becoming a businesswoman has all been based on one thing – herbs.

“In 2002 my face started to become inflamed,” she says, “and it was steadily getting worse. I believe it was a side effect of dairy farming for 20 years, all the chemicals that were around me, but no root cause was ever diagnosed.”

She found the creams prescribed by her GP made it worse so decided to try and treat herself using plant-based remedies.

“Our skin sucks in as much as it pushes out and things will just sit there if we don’t cleanse properly. I think it’s really important to be as gentle on our skin as we can. No woman, or man for that matter, wants an unsightly rash.”

Karen Shirley with some of her products in her garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Karen decided her best weapon was knowledge so, knowing nothing about herbs or how to make creams, lotions and soaps, she enrolled with the Naturopathic College of New Zealand and also took courses in remedial therapies, including massage.

“When I started I was doing it for myself and my family,” she says. “I had no intention of selling what I was making.” However, word about her products spread and demand was such that Karen found she couldn’t afford to keep giving things away.

She began her business in 2005, changing the name to Myaura Naturals in about 2012, by which time she was already looking for more flat land to grow herbs on, supplying her products into three local pharmacies, and had just started a website.

“I enjoy gardening too much to grow things in neat rows like a market garden,” Karen says. “The nettles are in buckets, the lavender down the drive, the lemongrass tucked in here and there … a few things are grown inside a possum-proof cage but I definitely need more room.”

Her knowledge of herbs has grown alongside the business and Karen credits Tauranga Herb Society members as a big part of that. “Members have such a wealth of knowledge, and they’re all willing to share.”

Rose petals drying before use. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Her products, which include soaps, skin balms, shampoo bars and deodorants, are as pure as possible (and cruelty-free), although, to keep costs down, Karen hasn’t obtained organic certification.

The shampoo bar was developed after her distress at seeing her elderly father’s dry, flaky scalp during his last few months in a rest-home before he died. “A lot of older people suffer the same way. We had tried all the medicated shampoos and there was no change so I made a shampoo bar for him and it worked a treat.”

Rainwater harvested at her 2ha Te Puna property, tucked into the bush line, is filtered and distilled twice before being used, and dried flowers and leaves are stored in glass and cardboard. All products are made from scratch.

Air drying her soaps, which takes a minimum of 4 to 6 weeks, means there is no need for the chemical present in many commercial soaps that helps it dry more quickly.

Although there are many natural ranges available, Karen believes there is room for them all, her own experience being that consumers often have something from one brand and other things from other brands, after having discovered what works best for them and sticking with it.

This article first appeared in the Bay of Plenty Times and is published here with permission.

Waikato Orchid Society 60th jubilee

The rain may have been lashing down on Saturday but there was a cosy atmosphere inside the Pavilion at Hamilton Gardens where a group gathered to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Waikato Orchid Society with a sneak peek at the orchid show, which opened to the public the next day, and a special jubilee lunch.

Two of the founding members were on hand to help cut the cake – Elsie Young and Rae James – and show trophies were handed out, followed by some Orchid Council awards. Having had the event postponed last year, it was lovely just to be together and hear everyone sharing their memories.

Apparently someone (from Auckland) was reported as saying of the first show in 1963, “I never knew orchids could grow so well south of the Bombays”! Waikato Orchid Society hosted National Expos in 2000 and 2005, and another Expo will be held in the area in 2023.

The club opened with 47 members and has about the same membership now, but in the 1980s, in the heyday of commercial Cymbidium growers in New Zealand, had an almost unbelievable 500 financial members.

Grand Champion of the 2021 Waikato Orchid Society winter show was Paphiopedilum rothschildianum ‘New Horizon’ x ‘Raptor’ grown by Jason Strong of Napier. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Grand Champion of the Show was Paphiopedilum rothschildianum ‘New Horizon’ FCC/AOS x Raptor GM/JOGA, grown by Jason Strong of Napier. Reserve Champion was Dendrobium Jairak ‘Blue Star’ grown by Yvonne Tong of the local club who, incidentally, also had Reserve Champion at the 2019 show with the same plant.

Phragmepedium kovachii, native to the cloud forests of northern Peru, was named for science only in 2001. Photo: Sandra Simpson
A novelty prize was awarded to Cattleya Lucy Ingram – the oldest hybrid in the show, registered with the RHS in 1897. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Oncidium Calico Gem, grown by Helen Barrio. Photo: Sandra Simpson

‘Mystery rather than majesty’

I received two books by English gardener Monty Don for Christmas and have been thoroughly enjoying both of them. This extract is from My Garden World: The Natural Year, a lovely ramble through the seasons with short pieces on everything from sheep to floods, by way of birds, flowers, worms, voles and anything else that takes his fancy. It was published in 2020.

Clipped yew trees in the Pillar Garden, created in about 1923, at the famous Hidcote Garden in England. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Yew has become such a feature of European gardens that it is sometimes easy to forget that it is a wild tree – and the oldest, wildest tree that there is. People tend to confuse the incredible age that yew can reach with the speed of its growth. For the first hundred years or so they grow quite fast … After that, it is just a question of keeping them in check by clipping once a year.

But once they get to about 400 years old, their growth rate slows and after 1,000 years, becomes very slow indeed. They take their time because they, above all living things, have time to take. It is appropriate that one of the oldest wooden artefacts in the world is a 250,000-year-old spear found in Essex – made of yew.

It is also easy to misjudge the age of a yew, because height and grandeur do not come with age … Until about 500 years old, it grows in a neat but unremarkable mop-headed shape and then, with true venerability, it sprawls and swells, and the branches grow out and then down to the ground. Age gives it mystery rather than majesty.

Longbowman shown on a sign. Image: Peter Lucas, Wikimedia Commons

Monty goes on to say that the English yew (Taxus baccata) possesses some traits that support longevity to a high degree. One is the ability to regenerate from a bare stump, while the other is that they are made up of two kinds of wood an elastic outer sapwood and a compression-resistant inner heartwood which means that if the interior wood is rotted by fungus, the tree continues to survive thanks to the heartwood which has enough tensile strength to keep the whole thing upright. Yew wood was used to make the famous English longbows that dominated mediaeval warfare because of its rare ability to stretch and compress and then return to its original shape with enormous force. Read more about the longbow.

Yew trees bear female and male flowers on separate trees and, although a conifer, do not bear cones. Instead each seed is enclosed in a red, fleshy, berry-like structure (an aril) which is open at the tip. Image: Didier Decouens, Wikimedia Commons