Kids, food & community

Jizzy Green was walking in Katikati with husband Mike when she came up with the idea of planting fruit trees in a public reserve so passersby could help themselves. “I expected the council to say ‘no’,” she laughs, ‘so when they said ‘yes’ I got a fright.”

At the time, almost 7 years ago, Jizzy was teaching at Katikati Kindergarten and had started taking the organisation into the Enviroschools programme and initially saw her fruit tree idea as part of that (the kindergarten achieved Green-Gold Enviroschool status in 2014).

It took 9 months of negotiation before Western Bay of Plenty District Council gave the go-ahead for Gilfillan Reserve to become home to the KatiKaiWay. “We thought wouldn’t it be great for people who don’t have citrus trees in their gardens to have them available here?,” Jizzy says. “Or for children who don’t have access to fresh fruit to just grab some and munch on it straight off the tree.”


Jizzy Green (right) and Elizabeth Rae. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Before council staff would endorse the idea, they asked Jizzy to carry out community consultation, primarily with neighbours. Feedback was “very clear” the KaiWay should be organic, which it remains.  A planting plan came from landscaper Hugo Verhagen, now of Turangi but at the time a Katikati resident and member of Permablitz BOP. He included beds of one plant, two plants, three plants, four plants and five plants, designed to help youngsters learn to count.

The Fairview Rd kindergarten, a 5-minute walk for small legs from the park, has been behind the KaiWay from the beginning – mums painted a boundary fence and parents and children collected trash before the first 24 trees were planted in 2012.

“Two days after we planted the trees, about five feijoas were removed,” Jizzy says. “So the next year we bought extra feijoas and advertised that anyone who came to help plant could take one home for free.”

Jizzy, who was born in South Africa, has lived in New Zealand for 23 years, 14 of those in Katikati. Although she took 2016 off for health reasons, Jizzy stayed in touch with the KaiWay and last year was keen to renew her involvement.

Elizabeth Rae, a long-time member of the Tree Crops Association, is now supervising the project – both she and husband Bill, who also lends a hand on the KaiWay, have been chair for the local Tree Crops group, while Bill is coming into his fourth year as national chairman.


Kindy weeders get to work. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Fruit available along the KaiWay includes lemons, oranges, mandarins, tangors (mandarin-orange cross), persimmons, feijoas, plums, Chilean guavas and blueberries, as well almonds, a walnut tree and rhubarb. Generally, the fruit trees are of several varieties for a longer cropping season. “Basically, it’s what grows well in the area and what people like,” Elizabeth says.

Trees have also been lost – a nashi contracted fireblight and an almond silverleaf, several citrus were destroyed by vandals and the replacement nashi was stolen as soon as it went in. “We’ll persevere,” Elizabeth says.

The KaiWay has proved beneficial to the reserve and surrounding homes – increased foot traffic has seen problems such as broken glass and tagging decrease markedly – and on the day NZ Gardener visited with a kindy group, the children immediately zeroed in on litter, begging to collect it.


Miles of orange smiles from Katikati Kindergarten weeders. Photo: Sandra Simpson

People carrying out community work sentences have spread mulch and kindergarten head teacher Cushla Scott hopes the council will offer more such opportunities. “It’s many hands making light work.”

Because the kindergarten now has many more younger children on its roll, weeding trips  aren’t as frequent but groups still help at the KaiWay and late in 2016 were present for the installation of information signs designed by teacher Donya Feci and made by the local Men’s Shed.

It was hoped the project would be taken on by the wider community and although this hasn’t happened yet, the kindergarten continues to pursue that end.

“The KaiWay initiative was our way of trying to educate the community about things we teach at the kindergarten,” Cushla says. “Things like knowing where your food comes from, taking care of it as it grows and showing respect to the soil. They’re important lessons for us all.”

Teachers and children at the kindergarten don’t just talk about sustainability, they practice what they preach every day.

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Kindergarten head teacher Cushla Scott picks lettuce leaves from the kindy’s garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“It all works so well,” Cushla says. “We grow our own food from heritage seeds, we recycle, compost, have a worm farm, collect rainwater, have no-waste water use and being an EnviroSchool means all our purchasing is done through a green lens.

[March 21 update: The kindy has become the first school in the Bay of Plenty to be awarded the Beyond Green-Gold status recognising its commitment to the environment.]

“We have lots of testimonials that the kids are taking it home and teaching their parents and grandparents! Our next learning step is to save seed from our vege garden.”

The playground features a custom-made adobe and wood area for imaginative play (including a ‘hobbit house’ with a living roof), as well as a custom-made ‘challenging play’ area. A child-sized maimai looks on to bird feeders and a bird bath in a quiet corner.

Re-useable food wraps, made locally, are sold at the kindy as part of the ‘litterless lunchboxes’ campaign. Also on sale are natural toothbrushes, fire bricks made from recycled paper, plant seedlings and ‘worm wine’ made from the kindy’s worm farm. The kindergarten is also involved in a plan to make Katikati an Envirotown.

Weeding takes place at the KatiKaiWay on the first Friday of the month from 9am-noon, all welcome. Meet at the Gilfillan Dr entry.

This article first appeared in NZ Gardener and is published here with permission.


Concept Garden in the flesh

The Concept Garden, the newest garden at the Hamilton Gardens complex, opened in February and forms part of the Fantasy Garden collection.

The first step is to enter the garden – and what fun! A Narnia-ish giant, yellow wardrobe blocks the way. Approach the doors, though and motion sensors will start opening them.

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How do we get into the new garden? Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Through the back of the wardrobe of course! Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Concept Garden has been partly inspired by two Maori proverbs (whakataukii):

He peke tangata, apa he peke titoki … The human family lives on while the branch of the titoki [tree] falls and decays. One interpretation of this proverb is that as the population grows the land uses depicted in the garden grow at the expense of special trees, environments and waterways.

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Maori traditionally smeared the dead with kokowai (red ochre) to give them a high status – the trunks of the titoki trees in the garden have been painted with ochre as a mark of distinction. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Whatungarongaro te tangata toituu te whenua … As man disappears from sight, the land remains.

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The steel pipe will gradually rust away, so demonstrating the truth of the proverb. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The other inspiration behind the garden was taken from the old New Zealand School Atlas and the small, coloured squares (key) used on land-use maps. Pasture is represented by grass, native bush by Muehlenbeckia astonii, urban areas by white Flower Carpet roses, horticulture by citrus trees, tussock grassland by Carex buchananii, coniferous forest by Pinus mugo, scrubland by Leptospermum scoparium (teatree or manuka), wetland by the native rush Apodasmia similis (oioi) and water bodies by the central pool.

Taller plants have been planted below ground level to create the checker effect.

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White Flower Carpet roses (urban) and Pinus mugo (forestry (foreground). Photo: Sandra Simpson

But what’s that over the hedge? An airship? We had to find out more.

The ‘Saucy Sue’ gondola and its paraphernalia forms part of the Huddleston airship, a steampunk-inspired piece of fun that apparently glides silently through the night delivering plants and pruning hard-to-reach hedges for the gardening team.

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Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Huddleston is in good time for the release of Mortal Engines at the end of this year, a movie co-produced by Sir Peter Jackson that will surely make everything steampunk perfectly cool.

Green wall aids recovery

A green wall in the reception atrium of Tauranga’s Kathleen Kilgour Centre is not only pretty to look at but also offers subtle benefits for those coming for radiotherapy treatment.

The building, which opened in 2014, is a public-private centre in the grounds of Tauranga Hospital and means Bay of Plenty people no longer need to travel to Hamilton for radiation treatment. The centre was designed by Wingate+Farquhar of Auckland with architect David Wingate suggesting the green wall to the centre’s managing director Mark Fraundorfer.

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Cancer Society volunteer Sheryll Buck holds the door for Helen Morgan, the Kathleen Kilgour Centre’s business development manager. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“To his credit, he jumped at the idea,” David says. “A lot of clients would say ‘it’s not necessary, just paint the wall green’ but Mark picked up on what we were trying to do. The  idea was that people would first approach the building after being told they had cancer so we wanted it to feel like a place of healing and remission.

“The wall, which is on the south side, makes the interior feel more natural when you walk in and it’s a bit more relaxed for the patients and their loved ones or supporters.”

The building, named for Mark’s mother who died of cancer in 1975 a short time after graduating with her PhD in English literature, has won several awards, including in 2015 a New Zealand Institute of Architects award for public architecture and a spatial design award from the Designers Institute.

The 3-storey, 70 square metre green wall was created by Natural Habitats, the country’s leading specialist green wall designer. It links the building’s glass atrium with workspaces on the upper two floors and on the ground floor is the entry to treatment rooms and the radiation ‘bunkers’.

The wall hooks into the building’s energy-efficient design – rainwater from the roof is used for irrigation, while solar panels power supplementary lighting that ensures the plants remain in peak condition.

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A bank of halogen lights (left) mimic sunlight for the plants. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“Plants are very calming,” says Graham Cleary of Natural Habitats. “We know they decrease the incidence of walk-outs by 75 per cent – that’s huge when you’re talking about health treatments. And for the benefit of everyone in the building the plants are cleaning the air and pumping out extra oxygen.”

Despite the challenges of growing a sizeable green wall inside, there has been a “very low rate” of plant loss, Graham says. “Once a wall has settled in, which takes about a year or so, it’s a very stable environment.

“We’ve thought about colour in the wall too. As well as some plants with variegated leaves, there are times when there will be patches of flowers – red anthuriums, white peace lilies or purple streptocarpus, among other things.”

If bare patches do occur through plant loss, or even plants growing in only one direction, maintenance staff give neighbouring plants time to colonise the space, which often happens, or put in extra plants. The wall is maintained on a monthly basis with a scissor lift providing access to the upper levels so staff can prune and clip the almost 4000 plants, check on nutrition and for pests and disease.

Reports of the occasional gecko and weta being seen in and around the wall don’t surprise Graham. “They probably got in when we were growing plants on. Because we try not to use any noxious sprays for pest control they’ve been able to survive. Wetas will be cleaning up any dead debris while geckos keep down pests, which do much better on plants grown inside.”

David says the geckos are “a nice surprise” for anyone who spots them and that they add a little movement to an otherwise static planting. “They’ll take your mind off things for a moment and that’s all to the good.”

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View from the top. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Helen Morgan, business development manager for the centre says the wall in general is a valuable conversation starter between Cancer Society volunteers who greet patients, as well as a distraction for those arriving for treatment.

“We notice that people linger a little and admire the wall,” she says. “And with people coming for anything up to 8 weeks of treatment they will see changes in the wall over that time. I’ve been enjoying watching a peace lily flower unfurl day by day – it’s that sort of natural cycle that helps lower anxiety levels.

“The whole building is a work of art and after 2 years it is maturing in a beautiful way.”

This article was first published in NZ Gardener and appears here with permission.

African violet Queen

It was almost 60 years ago that Betty Enticott saw her first African violet, commenting to her husband that she rather liked the neat-looking compact plant. Now, Betty has one of the largest collections of African violets in New Zealand.

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Betty Enticott in her growing room. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Back in 1959 Betty was newly married and living at Massey, near Auckland. Her husband, Brian, listened to her praise of the plant and she duly received one as a Christmas gift. “From then on I was interested and picked up leaves from other people, putting them in water until they rooted – I ended up with about 30 plants. Then I got a book about them and started to work out the light they needed and a potting mix – I used garden soil mixed with coarse sand.”

Once a week she put them on her concrete deck and fed them. “In Massey at the time we were surrounded by farms so I’d pick up cow manure from paddocks and put it in a bucket of water to break down. I’d use a dilution of that to feed the plants then spray them with fresh water.”

When the couple set off for England Betty’s treasured African violets were moved to her mother’s home in Tauranga but unfortunately, none survived the change of conditions.

A year later, back in New Zealand with an adopted child and a baby, Brian and Betty settled in Mt Maunganui, later adding two more children to their family. “When I had the time I started again – and this time learned much more.”

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Happy Trails is a semi-miniature ‘trailing’ African violet, a type of plant first developed in 1957. Photo: Sandra Simpson

She recalls reading articles in some of the American Sunset Books series and joined, as a correspondent member, an African violet club in Hamilton. She also got to know the late George Laurenson who had a large greenhouse of African violets at his Cambridge home. “I visited George often to buy plants and he would give me notes on their care.”

When the Hamilton club folded, Betty and George joined the Wanganui African Violet and Gesneriad Club, with Betty occasionally penning articles for the newsletter. At the time, there was also a club in Auckland but that later went into recess. The Wanganui club was the country’s only African violet club left when it closed about 3 years ago.

“It’s the same old story,” Betty says. “Members were ageing, numbers were dwindling and the young ones weren’t coming on.”

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Valencia is a ‘chimera’ type – flowers with striped petals arranged as wide spokes are also termed ‘pinwheels’. Photo: Sandra Simpson

She has been a long-time member of the African Violet Society of America, particularly enjoying its magazine which includes information on other members of the Gesneriad family. “I found out I had four or five plants that belonged to the same family although they were plants I’d bought just because I liked them.”

One plant you won’t see in Betty’s home or garden is a cyclamen, a potential carrier of spider mites which also enjoy infesting African violets. Thrips can be another pest but Betty now uses a potting mix which contains neem oil and thinks it is helping.

With the sudden death of African violet hybridiser Daphne Snell of Pukekohe on Christmas Day 2016 and the dispersal of her collection, Betty believes she now has one of the largest collections in the country – about 250 plants comprising 150-plus named varieties.

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Kiwi Carnival was bred by the late Daphne Snell of Pukekohe. Photo: Sandra Simpson

One of Daphne’s plants – Kiwi Dazzler – has been especially popular in Japan and, Betty says, is “one of the best”.

When she and Brian built a home at Mount Maunganui 53 years ago, they included a conservatory for Betty’s African violets featuring fluorescent lights (to encourage flowering) and fans for good air movement (plus she also took over part of the laundry for her miniature plants and ‘plant hospital’). When they moved to Papamoa in 1999 the violets went into a new conservatory, ‘leaked’ into the laundry – and expanded again!

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Betty thinks she may have the only plant of Tineke in New Zealand. She is trying to grow some more on to share it round. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“African violets like the conditions you and I like,” she says. “Probably the biggest mistake is to overwater them – they have to have air round their roots but if you overwater them they can’t get that air and develop root rot. If you put plants in a pot that’s too big you increase the risk of overwatering as the roots are surrounded by much more wet potting mix.”

The holy grail for hybridisers is a yellow flower. Some small amounts of yellow have been introduced into white flowers over the past few years, but it has proved difficult to obtain clear, solid yellows.

“Once we get a solid yellow, we’ll get all sorts of other colours too,” Betty says, smiling at the thought of orange and apricot African violets.


A Potted History: 

African violets, or Saintpaulia, belong to the Gesneriad family, which also includes Gloxinia, Streptocarpus and Achemines.

The botanical name honours the first European to successfully collect seed – Baron Walter von Saint Paul-Illaire, district commissioner of Tanga province (now in Tanzania). In 1892 he sent seed to his father in Germany. The next year the world’s first commercially produced plants were offered in Germany.

Saintpaulias are native to Tanzania and southeast Kenya and can be found growing on shaded cliffs and mountainsides, on moist rocks along rivers and on the shaded forest floor. Altitudes range from 100m to 2,000m. Species plants have tiny flowers in mainly blue, white and pale violet.

German company Optimara is the world’s largest grower of the plants – recently it has developed many new varieties which can be found in New Zealand’s garden centres, hardware stores, etc.

Plants can live for up to 40 years.

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Jenny’s Ruffled Star was hybridised by Jenny Brungar of Tuakau. Photo: Sandra Simpson

To keep African violets happy, mimic how they grow in nature – use shallow pots with a free-draining mix so air can get round the roots (add pumice, perlite and/or vermiculite to ordinary potting mix).

Keep moist, but not soggy, and feed regularly with weak fertiliser.

Good, indirect light (not bright sunlight) triggers flowering.

If you are feeling hot, an African violet will need ventilation. If you feel cold, an African violet will need warmth.

They enjoy good ventilation, as in the wild, but need to be sheltered. They will not thrive in stuffy, hot closed-up homes.

This article was first published in NZ Gardener and appears here with permission.


On the road: Hobbiton

Although Hobbiton is only a 40-minute drive from Tauranga, for some reason I’ve put off going. However, seeing the lovely Best in Show garden at last year’s inaugural NZ Flower and Garden Show was the push I needed and we got online and booked a tour, navigating ourselves to the Shire’s Rest in the countryside near Matamata (but you can also pick up tours from Matamata, Rotorua and Hamilton).

A fleet of mini-buses rolls around between Shire’s Rest and Hobbiton all day – our guide told us there are 75 to 100 tours a day in summer – but the system has been well planned and we didn’t feel like the site was overly crowded or that we were being rushed through.

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Hobbit holes dot the hillside. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson first saw the 120-acre drystock farm from the air in 1988 while scouting potential locations. He was looking for, we were told, a pond with a big tree beside it in rolling countryside. Next thing, he was knocking on the farmhouse door – another source told me he was sent packing because a rugby final was on the telly!

Sir Peter persisted and a deal was struck with the Alexander family, but The Shire seen in LOTR was made to be dismantled, which duly happened at the end of filming, although 17 facades remained and guided tours began in 2002 …. but then Sir Peter decided to make some more movies.

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Bagend, the home of Bilbo Baggins – and the only Hobbit hole with any depth to it so it could be filmed from the inside showing the front door. Photo: Sandra Simpson

For the Hobbit trilogy The Shire was made from permanent materials and an agreement hammered out to leave the 12-acre set intact when filming finished in 2009. Now, one Alexander brother runs the farm and one brother runs Hobbiton (in which Sir Peter is a 50 percent partner).

All the animals used in The Shire were brought on to set, including the sheep – the farm runs Romneys (and is the biggest sheep farm in Waikato) but Sir Peter wanted black-faced sheep.

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Photo: Sandra Simpson

Visitors can view 44 Hobbit holes, all but Bagend a facade only, but what facades! Pretty gardens, smoke curling from some chimneys, beehives, a large, central vege garden and orchard area, and the enormous fake tree that sits above Bagend (the home of Bilbo Baggins). This tree, which looks marvellously real, has a steel frame covered in expanding foam and silicone and 200,000 individual fake leaves (made in Taiwan) handwired on over 6 months.

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The amazing fake tree above Bagend. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Some Hobbit holes are oversize to make the Hobbits look small (no one over 5’3″ was cast) and some are small to make Gandalf look big! The same logic was applied to plum trees used in a scene – dwarf apple trees were planted, the fruit picked off and plums wired on. All for 3 seconds on screen, our guide said.

The walking tour finishes at the Green Dragon Inn where groups are served beer or gingerbeer in pottery mugs, all great fun.

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Hobbiton successfully makes it look as though the inhabitants will be back at any moment. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The site gardens are immaculately kept thanks to the efforts of 5 full-time gardeners and 5 part-time – and the attention to detail includes hosing even the grassy/weedy areas to keep the site lush and green during the summer (surrounding farm pastures were drying off to brown).

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Gardeners work while tourists gawp. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Scent of a landscape

Yesterday I was lucky enough to hear some of the story of Queenstown Natural Perfumiers, a business founded by Serena and Harold Jones (she a botanist, he a poet) which has set out to capture some very specific scents from the Queenstown area landscapes and create them as naturally as possible – of the four scents, three are Ecocert-certified as 100% natural, while the fourth uses ‘synthetics’ as an environmentally conscious choice.queenstown

Both Harold and Serena, whom I’ve known for years, are passionate about the wild places of this country and our beautiful landscapes. I was able to sample each of the scents, picking out Lakeland Flora and Wilderness Berries as the two with most ‘nose appeal’ for me.

For a sense of what the perfumes invoke – and for much better writing than you’ll get from me – try these reviews by novelist Laurence Fearnley.

Queenstown Natural Perfumiers’ products are not available in stores or by mail order, just at two outlets, so far, in Queenstown.

Ngāi Tahu has a project under way to re-create a perfume known by the South Island iwi and which used the bayonet-like leaves of the plant known as taramea (Aciphylla spp, Spaniard or speargrass). Leaves were gathered, plaited and heated to extract resin with a fragrant oil made by mixing the resin and animal fat. The perfumed oil was highly valued and used in trade for food, pounamu (greenstone/jade) and as gifts between chiefs. Read more here.

Another ingredient in this ‘grand Māori perfume’, is pātōtara (Leucopogon fraseri, dwarf mingimingi), a prickly, low shrub that grows at altitude throughout New Zealand. According to Te Karaka website, it has been reported that, when the plant was more plentiful, the fragrance of its profuse flowering filled whole alpine valleys – and  with an offshore wind, apparently the perfume was perceptible to mariners, even before land was within sight.

In Traditional Lifeways of the Southern Māori, Ngāi Tahu ethnographer Herries Beattie records that the bark of the mountain toatoa tree (Phyllocladus alpinus) was carried by southern Māori as a scent, with one informant saying the bark was used to make a scent similar to the highly-prized taramea perfume.

The leaves of the lemonwood tree (Pittosporum eugenioides) were bruised and mixed with fat to use as a perfume, as were the scented flowers, and Eldon Best also mentions the resin being used for perfume making.

Read much more on this topic of native perfumes at Forest Lore of the Maori: Various Scents and Gums by Elsdon Best (1856-1931).

Heartfelt hydrangeas

Roger Allen has been involved with growing a commercial crop of hydrangeas for about 18 years, although more recently has taken a step back with his daughter taking charge of the business that grows hydrangeas for export as cut flowers, with one of the biggest markets being Dubai.

Roger’s been involved with growing flowers for a lot longer though, starting out at Whakamarama with mainly carnations and chrysanthemums, before moving to Plummer’s Point about 24 years ago, then moving into hydrangeas.

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Roger Allen with some hydrangea stems. Photo: Sandra Simpson

We’d got talking at a couple of funerals recently (as you do) and Roger invited me to see a some of his new hybrids that he’s so pleased with he will go through the PVR process (plant variety rights) and release them to commercial growers.

“There’s probably three I will release, one of them an improved version of ‘Sensation’, but I haven’t named them yet. I think a flower name has to have a little bit of music in the mouth.”

The business grows all but a few of its hydrangeas in bags and Roger pointed out the difference his aluminium-rich soils make – a vivid pink flower in a grow bag becomes a lustrous purple in the ground. “You can change the colour of a hydrangea by adding aluminium to the soil, but it takes a long time,” he says.”

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One of Roger’s as-yet unnamed seedlings. Photo: Sandra Simpson

In the early days of hydrangea exporting people were picking them from the old bushes that can be found beside many roads in New Zealand. “People were getting good money,” Roger says, “but the flowers looked horrid. We’ve come a long way since then.

“I started with hydrangeas primarily because there was money in it, but now it’s turned into a bit of a love affair. It’s a really nice bloom and I’m absolutely in awe of it – a flower changes on the bush daily until it goes to ‘antique’ and changes completely.”

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Hydrangea ‘Irene’, hybridised by Roger Allen. Photo: Sandra Simpson

He has already released two hybrids – ‘Bush Fire’ and ‘Irene’ – and is thrilled that the latter, a soft pink, has proved so popular exporters now request it by name, rather than colour.

An intriguing note to hydrangea breeding is that seedlings can throw either way – mophead or lacecap – no matter what their parentage, but up until 2 years ago Roger had never had a lacecap result from his work.

Roger is opening his garden for this year’s Bay of Plenty Garden and Artfest from November 15-18. Read about his garden in this earlier post.