Thank you for all the lovely stays over the years, and even though service and standards have been erratic at times – the staff member clomping around the corridors in her gumboots, for instance – and the decor has become a bit tired in places, we’ve always loved being there, always loved the atmosphere of 1930s glamour and luxury at the foot of a live volcano. Perhaps, she says with a hope-filled air, this isn’t the end, but only a pause. Read more about what’s behind the closure.
The original building was started in 1929 and finished just 9 months later. A new wing of 40 rooms was added in 2005. From 1942 to about 1947 the building was used, firstly, as a psychiatric hospital after a Porirua building was damaged by an earthquake, and then as a recuperation centre for returning air force personnel. After refurbishment, The Chateau Hotel re-opened in 1948. And, after standing steady in earthquakes and through eruptions, its doors closed on February 5, 2023.
Last weekend – and thankfully it was last weekend with torrential rain this weekend – we took a trip into the foothills of the Kaimai Range, partly so the Vege Grower could have a site meeting for a project he’s volunteering on and partly to visit farming friends we haven’t seen for far too long.
The site meeting was held in an informal carpark off the dusty road and I parked the car so I could sit in shade while the meeting took place in the open. I was actually thinking about the gorse flowering in front of me and the blackberry when I realised what was blooming in the background, clinging on to a ponga. White rata!
White rata, which germinates on the ground, climbs trees with its fine clasping roots. Once the plant reaches the canopy it branches out and becomies bushy. The trunk thickens, the roots break away from the tree and the vine can hang off the tree. White rata can be a bushy shrub when a tree is not available to climb. Read more here.
Our friends took us for a ride around their property which is farmed with guardianship principles in front and centre. We’d stopped to look at a trial of regenerative pasture, but I was just as interested in a piece of fenced off native bush on the other side for there was white rata flowering all over the place.
Our hostess said it was a common plant hereabouts and she also got a kick out of seeing its prolific white flowers in summer.
At the dawn of the day, in the great Southern Ocean When the world’s greatest fish was being landed And the boat they were pulling it into was sinking And the sea was quite lumpy, and the weather was foul …
– From We Don’t Know How Lucky We Are, lyrics by John Clarke aka Fred Dagg
A visit to Bluff last year resulted in an encounter with what I think must be one of New Zealand’s best artworks – it’s clever, witty and well thought-out. And although I was at the mainland end of the chain, the story actually started on Stewart Island, which was my next port of call.
Rakiura National Park, which covers most of Stewart Island, was established in 2002 with the chain sculpture that marks its entrance in Lee Bay being unveiled a year later. The sculpture symbolises the anchor chain of the demigod Māui who, by tradition, anchored his canoe (Te Waka a Māui, the South Island) with Te Punga a Māui (Rakiura/Stewart Island) as he fished up Te Ika a Māui (the North Island). Stirling Point at Bluff didn’t get its piece of the chain until 2009, and there the sculpture includes a shackle to connect it to the stern of the canoe.
Southland local Russell Beck (1941-2018) was the creator of both pieces of chain – the one ‘going into the sea’ at Stirling Point is shiny, while the piece ‘coming out of the sea’ at Lee Bay is rust-coloured. I love the thought that went into that. Russell was an archaeologist, museum curator and artist. What a full life he led. Wikipedia notes that the chain sculpture was made with the help of his three sons, one of whom is Peter Beck of RocketLab, and his wife.
Just for fun, here’s the much-lamented Fred Dagg (John Clarke) performing We Don’t Know How Lucky We Are with some famous (to New Zealanders of a certain age) faces helping out.
A new exhibition and book shine a spotlight on one of our leading botanical artists, whose name and achievements since her death in 1927 have largely been forgotten by the wider world.
Watercolourist Sarah Featon, who undertook her most well-known work in the 19th century, is the focus of a major new exhibition at Tairāwhiti Museum – Colours Deluxe: The Art Album of Sarah and Edward Featon of Gisborne.
Gisborne historian Jean Johnston, who has written a book to accompany the show and who worked with museum director Eloise Wallace on exhibition research, says she too had never heard of Sarah who was at one time a local heroine until, when researching another book, coming across a reference to The Art Album of New Zealand Flora saying that a delegation led by suffragist Margaret Sievwright asked Premier Richard Seddon when he visited Gisborne in 1894 for a copy of the Featons book to be put in every New Zealand school.
“So I went to Gisborne Library to see their copy of the book and realised what a treasure it is,” says Jean. “When I looked at old copies of the Poverty Bay Herald, I realised how proud Gisborne was of them. It was very touching to read.”
Sarah and her husband Edward were both born in England, migrated separately and married in New Zealand before moving to Gisborne in 1875. Their crowning glory was the 1889 publication of The Art Album, using 40 of Sarah’s paintings of flowering plants and Edward’s descriptions, the couple wanting to dispel ‘the mistaken notion that New Zealand is particularly destitute of native flowers’.
The book was so highly regarded that in 1897, on behalf of the citizens of Gisborne, Louisa Seddon, wife of the New Zealand Premier, presented a copy to Queen Victoria to mark her diamond jubilee. The special edition had a new frontispiece painted by Sarah and came in a wooden box commissioned by Gisborne mayor J Townley, himself a cabinet-maker. The presentation copy then went on display in London with other jubilee gifts.
This isn’t the first showing of Sarah’s watercolours – 18 were exhibited at Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in 2019, an event that coincided with the release of a set of NZ Post stamps featuring her artwork – but it is the largest with 28 of Sarah’s botanical studies on show until June 25, 2023. Some, held by the family, have not been on public display before. Colours Deluxe also includes three copies of the Album, letters, original print blocks and family memorabilia.
Untangling Sarah’s life hasn’t been easy, says Jean, although she has been able to correct some published ‘facts’, including discovering Sarah’s birth year to be 1847. “There’s also been confusion around the fact that both her parents, who weren’t related to one another, had the surname of Porter.”
No images of Sarah and Edward had been known, but Jean was delighted to find photographs in family hands and was, at long last, able to put faces to the names and to have the photos in the exhibition.
“Edward was certainly a man about town in Gisborne,” Jean says, “and much more is known about him but I’ve tried to dispel the notion that he was the dominant partner – they worked very much as a team and appreciated each other’s skills. Sarah was completely au fait with botanical terms and corresponded with eminent botanists of the day, such as John Buchanan.
“The Featons purchased plant specimens from other collectors or plant nurseries, all sent to their home in Gisborne, even from some of the sub-Antarctic islands. In one letter to John Buchanan, who was planning a trip to Stewart Island, Sarah asked him to find someone who might post specimens to her, while in another letter she describes receiving a box from the island that had taken just 10 days to arrive, and remarking on how well packed everything was.”
In 1919 Sarah wrote to the ‘Nature Notes’ column of the NZ Herald about the rare plant Colensoa physaloides (koru). It was first brought under my notice by Mr [William] Colenso himself. He sent me a lithographed copy of a drawing from a specimen grown in Kew Garden. … Later, 25 or 30 years ago, I obtained a specimen from beyond the Bay of Islands, paying 16s for it. It was very rare then, but I believe that specimens were growing on the Great Barrier Island. My specimen had a cluster of beautiful mauve leaves. I was surprised to learn that it had been found in this district. It must have been before Bishop [Leonard] Williams’ time, as he greatly helped me in producing my book, and if he had known of it here, he would have told me.
The same year, widowed for a decade and apparently in need of money, Sarah sold her collection of 134 paintings for £150 to what is now Te Papa Tongarewa. “It might seem like a sad ending,” Jean says, “but she was very purposeful over a long period in keeping the collection together and intact.”
This article first appeared in NZ Gardener magazine and is published here with permission.It has been amended slightly.
Picked up an unusual volume at a recent book fair, Celebrating the Southern Seasons: Rituals for Aotearoa by Juliet Batten (Tandem Press, 1995) and, since it’s the summer solstice in New Zealand, I thought I’d share some of the information from that section as an alternative to Christmas tinsel and jolly, fat blokes with white beards.
By now [Maori] people … went out to gather honey, known as wai korari, from flax flowers, a great delicacy in a land without honey bees … The nectar was said to ebb and flow in the flowers in unison with the tide; at low tide it receded but at a spring tide it overflowed the edges of the flower … The flowers would be picked at full tide and gently tapped on the sides of a gourd so the nectar would flow out. It was used for soaking and flavouring fern root, and in the South Island was mixed with para ti, the cabbage tree ‘sago’ (made from its roots and stems). An added bonus was that the kaka was now growing fat on flax honey, and could be caught for good eating.
In a footnote the author explains that while New Zealand has native bees, they are solitary and do not swarm like Euopean honeybees so don’t provide a collection point for honey.
Another summer activity was the gathering of raupo pollen. In the early morning or late evening, when the pollen was moister and less likely to blow away, a large group of adults and children would go down to the swamps. After picking, they would gently shake the flowering spikes into bark vessels to collect the fine, fluffy powder. The yellow pungapunga or pua (pollen) had a light, sweetish taste and was mixed with water or gently steamed to make gingerbread-like cakes.
The NZ Herb Federation clarifies that it’s the male flowers at the top of the spike that have the pollen, while the female spike develops below on the same stem and is tightly packed seeds with dense parachute hairs (pappus) facing outwards, to produce the distinctive velvety chocolate-brown seed head. Read more here. These downy seeds could be used to light a fire, while early Europeans also used them for stuffing pillows and mattresses.
Miss Mandy is who Amanda Gilbertson would be, she says, if she didn’t have a husband or children. And yet Amanda’s own life has become just as exciting as that of her pink-haired, gin-drinking alter ego!
In 2020, for instance, she “accidentally” purchased a lifestyle block in Pyes Pa on the outskirts of Tauranga, along with 2,500 calla lily bulbs and three caravans, and at the tail end of 2020 started Miss Mandy’s Flower Emporium, a pick-your-own flower farm on the outskirts of Tauranga. It’s about as far from Amanda’s previous corporate life as you can get.
“We didn’t move here with a plan,” she says. “The property had been a commercial orchid operation but it was going to cost as much to demolish the sheds as it was to renovate them so we started to think …”
Inspired by a venture she saw online, Amanda prepared a business plan to convince husband Roger. “The Facebook page I saw had 9,000 likes which seemed to me to validate the idea. We’re in a tourism area, not far from town and this combines a lot of our skills. But ‘suck it and see’ is our daily mantra.”
Roger, “an active relaxer”, renovated the buildings, and their two teenage sons provide muscle as needed. “The inputs and learning were in 2020, we took the feedback and reviewed after the season was over in 2021.”
Her parents find her career pivot from corporate to compost more than a bit amusing. “They had Top Trees Nursery in Clive, and were the first to do a mop top, and Mum’s good at marketing. So here I am, at long last, fulfilling my genetic destiny.”
Plants flowering for summer included cosmos, strawflowers, sweet peas, zinnias, hydrangeas, dahlias, snapdragons, alstroemerias and some callas, with a bed of nasturtiums and marigolds for children to enjoy.
Although the property has three rainwater tanks and a stream to draw on, Amanda says a long dry spell in late January and into February of 2021, her first year in business, was tough. “What have I learned? That hydrangeas are water intensive,” she laughs. “We’ll be doing fewer of them in the future.” The ones that stay have had an orchid drip-irrigation system fitted, while the ones that came out have gone into her garden.
“I learned that there are snapdragons that will do well in the heat – unfortunately, they weren’t the ones I planted. We’re quite hot and sheltered so finding out about heat-tolerant snapdragons means I can try again next summer.
“And I have totally fallen in love with zinnias. I didn’t know they were so amazing.”
For the first season everything was grown in raised beds or, for the hydrangeas, in plastic grow bags. Then she had an idea to dig up a grassed area beside a growing shed and plant shorter, pollenless sunflowers in a range of colours.
“Oh yes, I’m going to expand. More perennials and beds of everlasting flowers such as statice, pincushion flowers [Scabiosa] and tall verbena. And I quickly learned to put succession planting into practice.”
Growing everything in a commercial garden mix for her first season gave Amanda time to build up a mulch heap and an informal composting system.
“I learned so much in a year,” she says. “I couldn’t talk about gardening like this when I started.
“I think we’ve missed a generation who know how to grow flowers,” she says. “But I tell people with small sections or with balconies that you can grow cosmos in a pot, dahlias in a pot – you don’t need the space you think. It’s been lovely seeing the joy that wandering flowerbeds and picking a bouquet can bring.”
“If you want perfect flowers in a florist-quality bouquet, this is not the place for you,” Amanda says. “These are garden flowers that you can throw into a vase and enjoy, redoing and replacing them as needed.”
Amanda has trained as a marriage celebrant to host micro-weddings (fewer than 20 people) among the covered flower beds, and a smaller shed is now a gift shop where Amanda’s tapped into her creative side to make jasmine vine wreaths and repurpose vintage embroidery, as well as showcase her range of hand-made crayons, another new business.
“I want everything to be as natural as possible and as local as possible,” says Amanda, who has sourced offcuts of New Zealand wool used in rug making to tie picked flowers.
She would be delighted if others were to use her business as inspiration. “There’s plenty of room in the market and it’s the sort of thing that’s perfect for a woman. We’re all part of a Facebook group and support one another.”
For more information or to book a visit to Miss Mandy’s Flower Emporium see the website. Opening in 2022 is likely to be mid-December.
A shorter version of this piece was first published in NZ Gardener and appears here with permission.
Had a few days in Wellington recently, thoroughly pleased to be back in this vibrant, compact city after having to postpone this visit twice due to Covid-related reasons.
On an early evening walk I discovered some Doryanthes palmeri (giant spear lily) flowering away beautifully, tucked in just off Civic Square, itself now mostly a ghost space thanks to earthquake strengthening works.
Once thought to be part of the Agave family, this slow-growing plant – which can take 13 years to come into flower – has since been given its own genus which includes just two species. Read more here.
Rengarenga lilies (Arthropodium cirratum) are brilliant when planted en masse and the upright stems of white flowers are a common sight in early summer. They seem to attract slugs and snails though, so control is needed if a planting is to look even passable. Apparently, many are now instead choosing A. bifurcatum, which is less prone to snail and slug damage.
Eight years ago I wrote about the Myosotidium hortensia I’d seen growing in a street planting in the central city so am pleased to report that not only are they still there, but some of them were showing off their beautiful blue flowers. Read the earlier post here.
The view above caught my attention – a cabbage tree in flower (there were more in the vicinity), a ‘hanging garden’ on the side of an otherwise bland concrete building, and the capital’s iconic metal nikau palms designed by architect Ian Athfield. There are 15 of the nikau, which are 10m tall, and were designed as part of the Central Library project. The library closed in 2019 and is undergoing work for earthquake strengthening.
I was very fortunate a few weeks ago to be invited to join a group touring the Tauranga Heritage Collection at one of its storage sites – for anyone not familiar with Tauranga, we don’t have a museum, but we do have a long-standing museum collection! And, it looks like we will have a museum as earlier this year our commissioners approved plans for a new civic ;precinct, Te Manawataki O Te Papa, that will feature some form of museum.
But for now, and since 1998 when the previous museum at the Historic Village closed, everything’s been in storage, although not in stasis as items are still being donated and actively collected.
What we visited was a storage facility so everything – more than 30,000 things – is wrapped, labelled and safely packed away. However, curators Fiona Keen and Dean Flavell, do have out a few things of interest available to show visitors, plus the museum has a very cool sub-collection that is sent to schools who book it, and about 11,000 items have been digitised and are available to view on Tauranga Heritage Collection website.
The final peace-making between Te Arawa iwi of Rotorua and Maketu and Ngai Te Rangi of Tauranga took place on September 23, 1845 at Otumoetai pa, after 10 years of bitter warfare. We were told the stone had been brought from Mauao and it is believed that the two chiefs each placed a foot on the stone, performed a hongi and smoked a pipe that they passed between them, thus sealing the deal.
Some of the items are old, some are newer; some have bigger stories and some have smaller, but they all have stories and all a piece of our story.
The curators put together a lovely illustrated booklet for this year’s Association of NZ Embroiderers’ Guild Conference in Tauranga. It was their second ‘Glimpses’ booklet, the first done for the Tauranga Arts Festival in 2019 that highlighted Maori artefacts.
A mounted albatross head is one of the stranger things in the collection. The head – just the head, mind you – was gifted to William Soultau Pillans (1849-1915) by well-known ornithologist Walter Buller (1838-1906) as thanks for bird illustrations drawn by Pillans, a fellow of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. This being the 19th century naturalist, ornithologists shot what they wanted to learn about and had the birds stuffed!
The family had it hanging in the house until after Mr Pillans’ death when his widow had it removed because she thought it bad luck. Later, in the 1970s a granddaughter, who was living in the same house and didn’t like the head, donated it to the museum.
I’ve often thought that food corridors or food islands are a great idea to benefit our native birds and here’s a long-term joint project that is doing just that. West Otago Lions and Blue Mountain Nurseries, which is celebrating 90 years in business, in early September planted 55 kowhai trees, adding to the 200 planted in 2015, as part of their project to create a nature corridor at the base of the Blue Mountains in Tapanui.
The trees are a late winter-early spring food source for nectar-eating birds including bellbirds, waxeyes, tui and kereru (wood pigeons). The kowhai (Sophora) have been sourced from all over New Zealand, as well as Chile and Lord Howe Island, so the nature corridor also serves as a genetic library. The various species planted have been catalogued by Denis Hughes, patriarch and plant breeder at Blue Mountain Nurseries, and their locations recorded so plants can be reproduced or selected for future plantings in the district or nationally. Denis is a real expert on this New Zealand native tree and you can read his descriptions of the types that the nursery stocks here.
Denis’ list includes something called Rangitikei kowhai, which caught my eye, given my connections with that area. A quick Google later had me reading a 2016 Rangitikei District Council newsletter with a section written by the parks and reserves team leader.
This kowhai is one of the last to flower … The hills around Taihape are covered in this plant and it is a real treat to see them in full bloom. Sophora godleyi, also known as Godley’s kowhai, papa kowhai, or Rangitikei kowhai. Grows naturally in the west of the North Island from Te Kuiti to Manawatu … Is named after Dr Eric Godley[1919-2010], former head of the Department and Industrial Research (DSIR) Botany Division. It differs from other kowhai, in that it has a more twisted juvenile appearance which grows out with time. It is an extremely hardy plant that thrives in most areas of our region.
S. godleyi is particularly abundant in the catchments of major south-draining rivers, such as the Pohangina, Rangitikei, Turakina, Whanganui and Mangawhero. Its distribution may have been influenced by the Taupo volcanic eruption some 1,850 years ago, for it isn’t seen on the Central Plateau to the north.
It grows mainly on unstable bluffs, rock outcrops and hillsides so doesn’t have much to compete with and, unusually for a New Zealand native tree, doesn’t have a different juvenile phase which allows for a first flowering just a few years after establishment.
In his small book, Bulls: A History of the Township, farmer and naturalist Major R A Wilson (1909-1964) recalled that near the Bulls Bridge over the Rangitikei River was once an extensive flat covered with kowhai trees. In spring, hewrote, these trees were a mass of golden bloom that attracted hundreds of tui.
One year I met a … man and his wife admiring the beautiful sight and on talking to them found that though they lived in a district many miles away they made a special pilgrimage to Bulls each year to see it. There was generally a flood in the river about that time [September] which was known as the kowhai flood. I was a boy at the time and thought it strange to come merely to see the kowhai in bloom but in a later age I feel it was well worth the journey. Alas! Now the whole flat is gone [after flooding] and the kowhai with it.
People flooded through the doors of this year’s Tauranga Orchid Show, a wonderful sight for the organisers who no doubt breathed a sigh of relief (I’m a society member but not an organiser, only one of the many volunteers who help out). Plant sales tables were stripped bare over the course of the two days, which means everyone is happy – purchasers and the out-of-town vendors, some of who had travelled from Whangarei and Auckland.
There was a happy buzz in the room, the sort that happens when old friends get together again after a while apart. Food 101 ran a great little cafe during the show and the Racecourse venue was great, as always. Visitors this year though turned left instead of right to find the show and the new room, which is shaped differently to the other, gave the display a fresh look.
There were several new trophies awarded this year and the club was delighted that Susan Enticott, daughter of the late Brian Enticott, a Life Member, was present to award the cup donated in Brian’s name.
Me? Well, I got a second place for my Dendrobium Berry x (Aussie Hero x Yondi) but that wasn’t the only warm moment. Turns out a remark I made about the colour of one of Leroy’s gorgeous plants being ‘cheerful’ at a previous show somewhere stuck with Lee Neale and that’s what she’s called the orchid. Talk about honoured!