The world of plants

Botanists in Cambridge, England are waiting for a rare cactus to bloom and have a live webcam running so anyone can see the bloom on the Selenicereus wittii (moonflower) open. It’s believed to be the first time the Amazonian cactus, with flowers that last for one night only, has bloomed in the UK. Read more, and find the livecam link, here.

The Australian Landscape Conference, always a belter in terms of its lineup, is preparing for any eventuality, given recent Covid outbreaks in Australia and New Zealand and the ongoing difficulty of international travel. An email yesterday said of the March event: ‘A range of options has been developed including live for those who can attend, virtual for those who can’t and satellite meetings in Sydney, New Zealand, and Tasmania for those who would like to gather with others and watch in a conference-like setting but may not be able to travel to Melbourne. More information will be provided about these options shortly.’

The Chelsea Flower Show in London has been postponed for the first time in its 108-year history – moving from May to September. Read more here.

For some people living with dementia, gardening can be a therapeutic and calming outlet. Read about a care home in Christchurch (NZ) that incorporates gardening into its care for patients with dementia – and employs an 83-year-old gardener!

A life in plants: Pierre-Joseph Redoute

Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840) is one of the most talented botanical artists that has ever lived – his reputation enhanced in no small way by the patronage of two vibrant women of history, Marie Antoinette and Joséphine Bonaparte.

Born in what is now Belgium, Redouté came from a long line of painters. His father taught him to paint and at 13 Pierre-Joseph left home to earn his living as an artist, spending 10 years working as an itinerant painter across Flanders and the Low Countries.

Musa paradisea by Pierre-Joseph Redouté, published in 1816. Image: Wikipedia

In 1782 he joined his older brother in Paris to work as a stage-set designer and it was here that his interest in botany began. He often went to the Jardin des Plantes to draw and there met Charles L’Heritier de Brutelle, a noted French aristocrat, biologist and plant collector.

Redouté collaborated with the greatest botanists of his day and participated in nearly 50 publications depicting both the familiar flowers of the French court and plants from places as distant as Japan, America, South Africa, and Australia, always working from live specimens and not dried plants. He published more than 2,100 plates depicting more than 1,800 different species, many never painted before.

In 1786, Redouté began work at the National Museum of Natural History cataloguing the collections of flora and fauna and participating in botanical expeditions, and the next year went to Kew Gardens in England where he spent a year.

He painted right through the turbulent years of the French revolution (1789-1799), losing his post (but keeping his life) as official court artist to Marie Antoinette when the monarchy was abolished in 1792.

Lilium superbum by Pierre-Joseph Redouté. Image: Wikipedia

Joséphine became his patron in 1798 and some years later he became her official artist. He was commissioned to make pictorial records of her newly established garden of rare plants at her Chateau Malmaison. After her death in 1814, Redouté had some difficult years until appointed a master of draughtsmanship for the National Museum of Natural History in 1822. In 1824, he gave drawing classes at the museum with many of his pupils aristocrats or royalty.

Redouté became a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1825 and from then on produced paintings purely for aesthetic value. He taught and painted up to the day he died of a stroke in June 1840.

Rose, clematis and anemone by Pierre-Joseph Redouté. Image: Wikipedia

The State Library of Victoria in Melbourne has a copy of Les Liliacées (The Lily Family), Redouté’s masterpiece work, published in only 200 copies under Joséphine’s patronage; while the National Library of New Zealand holds a botanical print of a Sophora (kowhai) branch and flower.

Read more about this extraordinary talent here.

What a life!

Photo: Palmerston North City Libraries

Doesn’t this look like the life? The elderly gent is sitting (or sleeping, it’s hard to tell) in a vinery with dark-skinned bunches of grapes hanging all around him. The photo is dated circa 1895-1905 and was taken in Palmerston North. He’s in a deck chair, there’s a log of wood for visitor and a table for their cuppa. Perfect.

The word ‘vinery’ could mean a vineyard as well as a glassed growing house like the one pictured. In 1894 it was reported that an Austrian immigrant in Kumeroa (near Woodville) was trying an ‘interesting experiment’ – growing his grapes outside! And not just one or two, he had 1200 vines planted.

Golden Chasselas. Image: Wikipedia

In 1889 a Manawatu newspaper reporter visited a successful vinery grower in the Foxton area, with 85m under glass, and helpfully listed the delicious-sounding grapes: Mrs Pince’s Black Muscat; Black Muscat of Alexandria; Black Hamburg; Golden Hamburg; Lady Downe’s; Black Prince; Golden Champion; Golden Chasselas.

Just 3 years later, the same man had built another glazed vinery, 13m long x 5m wide. Until the vines reached bearing age, the owner intended to grow tomatoes and had planted four rows. Sadly for him, the good life was brought to an abrupt end in 1909 at the age of 44 when he was murdered by his 21-year-old son and the property subsequently sold.

Excellent specimens

If you’re passing through the Tasman District this summer, you may notice two large trees in the main street of Motueka – one each in front of churches either side the road. Whether it was divine guidance, creating a landmark or simply a parishioner keen on trees, it’s nice to see such large specimen trees in the heart of a town.

The Araucaria bidwillii (bunya-bunya pine) outside St Thomas’ Anglican Church is thought to have been planted in about 1860 and on the NZ Tree Register is described as ‘an outstanding example of the species’.

The bunya-bunya pine has been measured at just over 23m tall and with a trunk girth of almost 4.8m. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Araucaria bidwillii is native to southeast Queensland in Australia – its common name derives from the name used by the local indigenous people. Although it has cones, it’s not a true pine, but a member of the ancient genus that includes that other non-pine, the Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla), the monkey-puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana) and our own kauri (Araucaria australis).

Seeds from the huge female cones, potentially deadly if they fall on you, are edible. Read more about the tree here.

Araucaria were distributed almost worldwide during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, becoming extinct in the Northern Hemisphere toward the end of the Cretaceous and now found only in the Southern Hemisphere, with some 41 species spread across three genera.

The tree outside St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church isn’t as old or quite as big, but was imposing enough to catch my eye. Chamaecyparis lawsoniana, is also known as a Port Orford cedar or Lawson cypress. In New Zealand we tend to call them lawsonianas.

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana is native to Oregon and northern California in the US. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The timber, which apparently has a ginger-like fragrance, is light but strong and has good rot resistance. Japan values the wood for making coffins, and for shrines and temples. Thanks to its straight grain, it’s also one of the woods used to make arrow shafts. There are several hundred named cultivars.

In New Zealand, Lawson cypress has been used for house framing, roof trusses, weatherboards, roof shingles, interior panelling, furniture and joinery, as well as for reasonably fast-growing shelter.

The male cones of the Lawson cypress are bright red. Image: Wikimedia

Invisible arc to the future

Gorse (Ulex europaeus) in flower with seed pods forming. Photo: Sandra Simpson

It was late afternoon but the heat had not gone out of the day. Gorse pods still burst occasionally and their abrupt snaps seemed to split the moments in two like the halves that went on twisting, the inner sides black and shiny and the outer silky and furred as a bee, even after their seeds had whirled out in an invisible arc to the future.

  • Dan Davin, from The Gorse Blooms Pale (1947). Dan Davin (1913-1990) was a New Zealand-born author who wrote mostly about this country, even though he spent most of his life living and working in Oxford, England. The Gorse Blooms Pale was a collection of short stories set in his native Southland.

Then all in a fever myself I rushed out of the stifling house – out of the city streets and on to the gorse golden hills. A white road ran round the hills – there I walked. And below me, like a beautiful pre-Raphaelite picture, lay the sea and the violet mountains. The sky all a riot of rose and yellow, amethyst and purple.

  • Katherine Mansfield, from her poem Vignette: Through the Autumn Afternoon which is set in Wellington

Gorse was introduced to New Zealand in the early stages of European settlement – Charles Darwin recorded hedges of it in the Bay of Islands in 1835 – but it quickly became an agricultural and landscape pest. And still is.

The plant is an efficient seeder, with popping pods propelling seeds for several metres, maybe as much as 100m. And the seed can lie dormant in soil for 50 years, germinating when conditions are right.

Good news for the new year

Goodness knows we’ve all earned a bit of good news after the dreary and deadly year that was 2020, so I thought I’d start my new year of postings with some good-hearted stories from our world of plants and gardening.

When I lived in London the sight of mounted police never failed to impress – clip-clopping past my central London office or occasionally even past my west London home. But how about having them stride all over your garden? Just the ticket, say the good people at the Barbican Wildlife Garden, who invited Clyde and Iris, both cross-large horses, to wander about for 30 minutes.

“Grazing animals play an essential role in maintaining traditional wildflower meadows because their hooves create dips and furrows that help push seeds into the soil and create microhabitats. More than 97% of the UK’s wildflower meadows have been lost since the Second World War,” reports The Guardian. Read more here.

Image: Auckland University Press

Karl Maughan is one of New Zealand’s most successful contemporary artists and I’m sure most Kiwis would recognise his paintings of gardens, usually depicting rhododendrons in flower, even if they don’t know the artist. Auckland University Press last month published a coffee table book about his work, edited by Hannah Valentine and Gabriella Stead. Read a Stuff profile of Karl marking the publication (note that Gordon Collier’s garden, Titoki Point, was near Taihape and is no longer open to visitors).

Dr Peter Sergel, the driving force behind Hamilton Gardens since 1979, has resigned, although will be back for a bit this year on a part-time basis to finish off a couple of projects. Under his stewardship, Hamilton Gardens become a major visitor destination with about one million visits each year, and in 2014 won the International Garden of the Year Award. Read more here and see some stunning photos of the gardens.

Recognising the downtrodden … a Guardian report from earlier last year highlighted the More than Weeds campaign where an “international force of rebel botanists armed with chalk” have started writing the names of the flora growing in urban pavements and walls across Europe. “The idea of naming wild plants wherever they go – which began in France – has gone viral, with people chalking and sharing their images on social media.” Read more here.

And with that, I’m off to pull a few weeds! Mind how you go and take heed of any water restrictions in place at your place …

Festive fun

Courtesy of Palmers comes a step-by-step for making a succulent wreath, DIY plantable gift tags and cards, or even a Christmas tree made from living succulents.

Click here to watch a 3-minute video on making a wreath using pinecones that have been painted to resemble zinnias (note that creator Jacob Leaf has some specialised gear but there are probably ways around it).

Christmas trees need not be green!

Here are 22 images (and ideas) for creating Christmas trees without cutting down or de-limbing an actual tree.

Did you know there’s a worldwide shortage of ginger? The Guardian newspaper (UK) says it’s caused by a bad harvest in China, source of almost half the world’s exports. The newspaper has helpfully gathered some links to cooking without, or substituting if you can’t find the spice, and includes a recipe for a gingerless mice-pie filling.

One of my favourite Christmas foods is stollen, a fruit-studded bread of German origin. I once thought about making it but the recipe I found had a list of ingredients as long as my arm! This stollen recipe seems much more approachable. Stollen is available from supermarkets in New Zealand and it keeps well.

For traditionalists, here’s a link to the recipe for Tui Flower’s Christmas Cake. Those old enough will remember Tui Flower (1925-2017) as the doyenne of the NZ Women’s Weekly Test Kitchen for 20 years.

Previous posts you may enjoy about plants we associate with Christmas – Poinsettia, mistletoe (including New Zealand’s native mistletoe), and pohutukawa, known as New Zealand’s Christmas tree.

A planting of pohutukawa in an industrial area near Mount Muanganui. Photo: Sandra Simpson

W would like to wish all my readers, near and far, a peaceful and safe, happy and healthy festive season – and hope to see you back here, shiny and bright in 2021! xx

Tree of the moment: Feijoa

It seemed like everywhere I went during last month’s BOP Garden and Art Festival there was a feijoa flower winking at me, many of the shrubby trees being grown as hedges.

Feijoa flowers in New Zealand are mostly bird pollinated. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Acca sellowiana is native to the highlands of southern Brazil, eastern Paraguay, Uruguay, northern Argentina, and Colombia, but grows very well in much of New Zealand. Kiwis will spot the family relationship feijoas have with our native pohutukawa, thanks to the flowers and leaves being so similar. Both are members of the Myrtaceae (myrtle) family.

Originally named Feijoa sellowiana, German botanist Ernst Berger was honouring João da Silva Feijó, a Portuguese naturalist, and Friedrich Sellow, the German who first collected specimens of feijoa in southern Brazil.

A New Zealand newspaper gardening column of 1910 notes that the plant, introduced into Europe in the late 19th century, should grow well in Auckland. By 1925 Hayward Wright, who was a kiwifruit pioneer in New Zealand, was discussing the plant, and offering to show samples, at an Auckland Acclimatisation Society meeting, while in 1929, a newspaper correspondent was being advised that trees could be purchased locally.

A 1987 paper, available online, reports that an “Auckland nurseryman” (no name mentioned) introduced three cultivars from Australia in about 1908. Kate Evans, who is writing a book about feijoas, says in a NZ Geographic article that one account claims they were imported from Australia in about 1908 by our unnamed Auckland nurseryman; another gives the credit to Alexander Allison of Whanganui (another plank in the kiwifruit story). Allison’s property, Kate says, still boasts an enormous feijoa tree that could easily be more than a century old.

All of the interior of a feijoa is eaten, seeds, jelly and flesh. Image: Wikipedia

Known as pineapple guava or guavasteen countries, the fruit seems to divide people. I’m definitely not a fan, disliking the smell and the texture of the flesh. The Vege Grower made some feijoa chutney last year and, when combined with other foods, I’m finding I’m not disliking it, so maybe that’s the permanent solution to the produce of our dwarf Feijoa Bambina. Here are some feijoa recipes from a fan in southern California, and here are recipes from New Zealand.

Writing in the NZ Herald in 1934, Hayward Wright said of the feijoa: “It is bushy and symmetrical in shape, and in the spring is a mass of blossom, a fact which should win a place for it in every garden as a shrub, to say nothing of the fruit, which is destined to become one of the very best for jams or jellies.”

Depending on the variety you choose (here’s the Incredible Edibles range), you could plant for an almost year-round supply of fruit.

Layered hedging – from horopito and star jasmine at the front to the acacia shelterbelt at the back, and bounded on the right by a long feijoa hedge. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The 2019 edition of Fresh Facts (Horticulture NZ), reveals that for the 2018-19 season there were 225 commercial growers of feijoas in New Zealand producing 1,200 tonnes of fruit. The domestic market was worth $4 million and the export market $200,000. The trees have a productive life of about 30-40 years.

National Rose Trial winners

By Hayden Foulds

The weekend was a good one for Palmerston North rose breeder John Ford, who scooped the main awards at the New Zealand Rose Society International Rose Trial Grounds in Palmerston North.

His rose ‘Bright Eyes’ won the Gold Star of the South Pacific for the highest score across the trial, the Silver Star of the City of Palmerston North for the highest score by a New Zealand amateur rose breeder, and the Nola Simpson Novelty Award.

Bright Eyes rose, bred by John Ford of Palmerston North. Photo: Hayden Foulds

Mr Ford, who is the chairman of the Trial Grounds Committee, was “blown away” with the success of the rose which has clusters of light mauve blooms with a dark pink ‘eye’ in the centre. Winning the Nola Simpson award was the icing on the cake – the late rose breeder was his aunt and encouraged Mr Ford’s interest in roses from an early age.

High Fashion rose, bred by Rob Somerfield of Tauranga. Photo: Hayden Foulds

Certificates of Merit were presented to Tauranga rose breeder Rob Somerfield of Glenavon Roses for the pink ‘Smart Choice’ and the pink/red ‘High Fashion’. Whanganui rose breeder Bob Matthews of Matthews Nurseries also received a Certificate of Merit for his yellow ‘Valerie Webster’ and collected awards for overseas breeders Colin Dickson of Northern Ireland with the light pink climber ‘Checkmate’ and Christian Bedard of the United States with the yellow ‘Sparkle & Shine’. 

‘Valerie Webster’ is already on the market in New Zealand while the other winners will be released in the year or two. 

Valerie Webster rose, bred by Bob Matthews of Whanganui. Photo: Hayden Foulds

The New Zealand Rose Society trials, now into their 50th year, test new varieties from New Zealand and international rose breeders and are judged over two years by a panel of 20 judges who assess freedom of flowering, health, plant quality, flower quality and fragrance.

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

Unfortunately, the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the trials was disrupted by Covid-19 and many events have been postponed to 2021, including the hosting of the National Rose Show and the publication of a book on the trials history.

However, the anniversary was marked at the weekend by the cutting of a 50th anniversary cake by Mr Ford and Palmerston North Mayor Grant Smith.

Garden trails, Day 2

Hot out on the BOP Garden & Art Festival trails today so the cooling effect of water was much appreciated, including the free drinking water on offer at many gardens. Photos from the Plummer’s Point-Katikati area.

A pelican contemplates a dip at the swimming pool in Garden 25. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Ducklings were doing what they oughta in a pool at Garden 8, closely supervised by mum (dad was having a snooze in the shade). Photo: Sandra Simpson
Garden visitors were having fun playing with the self-activated seven dwarves water feature at Garden 13, a cool oasis of ponds and water sounds. Photo: Sandra Simpson

But what of the plants, I hear you say?

Garden 20 was a riot of colour thanks to its many roses. This one is Ziggy, hybridised by Bob Matthews of Whanganui and released in 2017.
Every garden features a health and safety alert sign, warning of steps, pools, bees, etc. This is a list of the hazards at Garden 14. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Davidson’s plum, an Australian native, flowers directly on its trunk. Also to be seen at Garden 14. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Read an earlier post about Davidson’s plum here.

Burgeoning vege beds at Garden 2. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Another rose to finish – this one is Crimson Glory and may be seen, with its spectacular backdrop, at Garden 6. Crimson Glory was released to the market in 1946! Photo: Sandra Simpson