News Digest

Chelsea Flower Show favourite UK designer Dan Pearson has started an online magazine called Dig Delve which will “feature stories about gardens, horticulture, plants, landscape, nature, food growing and eating, and will also look at inspirational growers, producers, farmers, makers, cooks, florists, artists and craftspeople”. Read the first issue here.

Didn’t make it to last month’s Melbourne Flower Show? Never mind, Catherine Stewart from Garden Drum was there as our eyes, ears and inquiring mind. Read her thoughts and see photos – Trends, Trophies & Tidbits and Avenue of Achievable Gardens by student landscapers.

Various plants in my garden have struggled with this summer’s extended humidity – and yes, some have died. Kate Wall at Garden Drum explains why growing in the subtropics isn’t just about the heat. Read her post here.

Just for garden tourists, The Guardian offers a list of 10 of the best gardens … that you’ve probably never heard of.

Don’t be alarmed myrtle rust has not arrived in New Zealand – yet. However, the Ministry of Primary Industries is asking gardeners to remain alert and have prepared a webpage showing what it looks like and what to do if you think you’ve spotted it. See it here.

Box tree moth (Cydalima perspectalis), a native of East Asia is spreading through England after first being spotted in 2008, while one Dutch grower reports that Switzerland is buying very little box now “due to the blight and the moth”. Read the full story here.

It’s a long and winding road, but the nub of the story about the latest “buzz band” is that its members are 40,000 bees, and their activity forms the basis of One, “a transcendental drone symphony between man and bee that is surely one of the year’s most beguiling offerings”. The “soundscape” was created especially for an art pavilion designed to represent a hive. Read the whole story here.

And while on the subject of bees: Newly published research shows that bees looking for nectar need to be able to spot flower petals and recognise which coloured flowers are full of food. Professor Beverley Glover, of Cambridge University’s Botanic Gardens and who is also Head of the Evolution and Development Group at the university’s Department of Plant Sciences, and Dr Heather Whitney from the University of Bristol found that iridescence – the shiny, colour-shifting effect seen on soap bubbles – makes flower petals more obvious to bees, but that too much iridescence confuses bees’ ability to distinguish colours. Read more here.

And just one more … while the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were in Bhutan last week they presented the Queen with a gift – a rose named for her. King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema founded the annual Royal Bhutan Flower Show last year and have created an English garden.

The Daily Mail reports: The red flower, named the Queen of Bhutan Rose, was developed as a special gesture for the King and his wife, who has been dubbed the ‘Kate Middleton of the Himalayas’. (Don’t you hope the last bit of that sentence has been made up? Maybe we should dub Kate the ‘Jetsun Pema of the Home Counties’.) Read the full report here.

Orchids ahoy!

Apologies for not getting this posted sooner but I found myself exhausted after two half-days at the Te Puke Orchid Show – obviously, not getting any younger!

Despite a strange growing season – very hot and very humid for a long period – there was a nice display from both Bay of Plenty and Tauranga orchid societies, plus displays from commercial growers.

The champion orchid was last year’s reserve champion, so well done to Carl Christensen of Napier.

Oncidium trulliforum, grown by Carl Christensen of Napier. Photo: Sandra Simpson.

The plant also received an award from the national Orchid Council and Lee Neale was delegated to count the flowers!

Reserve champion went to Thomas Brown of Whangarei with his delicately coloured Ascocenda orchid.

Ascocenda Charlie Barg x Ascocenda Varot Gold, grown by Thomas Brown of Whangarei. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Thomas Brown was for a number of years head grower at the Eric Young Orchid Foundation on the island of Jersey but these days runs Kentia Palms in Whangarei, a business that also includes orchids.

With orchid enthusiasts visiting from Auckland, Taranaki, Whakatane and Hamilton, the show was a great place for good advice! For your enjoyment, here are some of the beauties that were in the displays.

Ornithophora radicans. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Cattleya Lulu x Cattleya Summerland Girl was on the display table of Lee and Roy Neale (LeRoy Orchids). Photo: Sandra Simpson

Colmanara Wildcat. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Attracting attention on the Neales’ display was Epidendrum Snow Cocktail x Pacific Sunset x Pacific Darling. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Dracula chimaera, grown by Conrad Coenen of Apata (near Tauranga), is also known as the monkey-face orchid. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Little jewels

“Orchids keep me sane,” says Wilma Fitzgibbons of her plant collection, “but I think they drive my husband insane.”

Wilma has had Parkinson’s disease since 2007, diagnosed when recovering from breast cancer, and enjoys retreating to the peace of her plants, although problems with a knee meant husband Tony had to take over watering for a long while, hence the “insane” comment.

Wilma Fitzgibbons in her orchid house. Photo: Sandra Simpson

She is this week getting ready for the annual Bay of Plenty Orchid Society show in Te Puke on Friday and Saturday (April 8 and 9) from 10am-4pm. Wilma not only has orchids in the judged section but also puts plenty of plants on the sales table.

Raised in Mount Maunganui – and recalling as a teenager catching the ferry to work in Tauranga (sitting by the funnel in winter to stay warm) – Wilma lives in Papamoa where, because of frosts and salt-laden winds, she grows her orchids under cover.

She prefers smaller orchids, some of them extremely miniature, and has an array of magnifying glasses for visitors to view and appreciate the flowers. Small plants means she can fit more into her greenhouse and grows them both in pots (on layered shelves) and mounted on wood, ranging from hard wood to cork (hanging in tiers on racks). There are another three shade houses in the back yard, containing mostly bromeliads and tillandsias with an orchid here and there, plus more bromeliads outside.

The flowers of Aerangis mystacidii, a plant native to southern Africa. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Wilma joined the Bay of Plenty Orchid Society in 1980, taken along by friends who later dropped out, and since then has been newsletter editor, secretary, president and is now treasurer.

She is also a member of the Tauranga Orchid Society (which meets in the evening; the BOP society has daytime meetings) and when she spent 15 months working in Auckland Wilma joined a subtropical plant group and a cycad group. “I’ll grow anything,” she says. “Anything that tickles my fancy.”

Aerangis hyaloides mounted on a piece of cork. This orchid, grown by Helen McDonald, is native to one area in Madagascar. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The highlight of her involvement with orchids was a 1996 trip to South America that included the world conference in Brazil and a night’s stay at the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu in Peru.

“As a collector I prefer species orchids over hybrids so to see them in their natural environment among the ruins was a dream come true. The day-tourists left at 3pm and then the mist came down. It was magic.

“The plants can be interesting in their own right – their roots, the way they hang, their new growths – even without flowers,” Wilma says. “But you have to keep looking at them, a flower spike can appear almost overnight.”

Aerangis luteo alba var. rhodosticta is a miniature orchid native to Kenya (this plant grown by Helen McDonald). Wilma notes that ‘in captivity’ the plants only seem to live 5-7 years. Photo: Sandra Simpson

This article was first published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission.

Cropping now

There’s nothing I like better than picking a crop of food. Our magic beans – probably flat Italian runners – have been enjoyed throughout the summer as well as packed into freezer bags for enjoying later in the year with some pods dried for seed for next year’s plants. King’s Seeds stock flat Italian runners.

Flat Italian runner beans, possibly. They can be eaten raw, pod and all, and don’t need much cooking. Full of flavour. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Down on the farm over Easter I spied enough walnuts on the young tree to be worth picking – next year the top of the tree may be beyond my reach. The green outer skins were splitting so easy enough to prise off (and an indication that it was about time to harvest them). We’re air drying them in the shell now, according to this website it will take about 2 weeks.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

My great-aunt had a massive walnut tree next to her home and harvested the nuts every year. I seem to think she had a wire-wove mattress base (or two) in a shed that she laid them out on to dry. Even if I’m mis-remembering, it’s a good idea because air can circulate under the shells as well.

The Vege Grower and I wandered around the paddocks a couple of times hunting for mushrooms and were rewarded with a meagre supply, although enough for buttered mushrooms on toast for lunch. Delicious. Freshly picked field mushrooms bear as much resemblance to supermarket mushrooms, in terms of taste, as champagne does to Adam’s ale!

Photo: Sandra Simpson

With more steers than sheep now in the paddocks and several paddocks having been turned over and resown, mushrooms were hard to find – although we may have been a bit early in the season too. In the end, we took just as many from the farm house lawn as from the nearby paddocks. On our way home we saw a woman with huge bags of “field mushrooms” selling from the side of the road near Hunterville and had heard of a property near the farm where the paddocks were “white” with mushrooms. Ah, well.

Other images from the farm …

This buttercup has positioned itself between the boards of the fence, resulting in an odd shape and the problem of how to remove it. Photo: Sandra Simpson

As far as I know, the farm’s crabapples have never been anything other than ornamental. My mother once tried to use quinces but gave it up as a bad job. Photo: Sandra Simpson

At home we’ve collected 8 pumpkins off our vines (grown from saved seed) and have white onions galore.

All the tomato plants have come out now but as a last hurrah the Vege Grower made another batch of his delicious tomato relish (Edmond’s cook book). Photo: Sandra Simpson

And finally, our apples. We moved the Blush Babe tree from the front garden to a more open aspect in the back yard and this year have had our best crop of apples yet – thankfully, as the two columnar trees (Waltz and Polka) decided not to bear at all this year! Here’s a webpage about growing apples in smaller spaces, well worth a read.

Blush Babe apples. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Summer’s Golden Queen

Watties built an empire on them, late summer wouldn’t be the same without their delights – and Tauranga can lay claim to being the birthplace of the Golden Queen peach.

Edwin Reeve of Greerton, then a separate settlement, quickly spotted the potential of the seedling growing by his pig sty and in April 1909 the Bay of Plenty Times reported on the tree’s superior qualities, including heavy cropping, vigorous growth, a clingstone fruit and a skin that didn’t mind being handled.

Mr Reeve had purchased peaches in Opotiki for customers in Rotorua and among them were some yellow-fleshed peaches which, apparently, had come from trees planted by  missionaries. It is reported that Maori called them paukina pititi, or pumpkin peach. Mr Reeve kept some stones from the Opotiki load and planted them on his 4ha property on Cameron Rd.

Several varieties grew, but one stood out. It was later described as “averaging 8 and a quarter inches in circumference” (22cm in new money). Its “blush” colour and taste were also praised. For more than 100 years, the Golden Queen has been a firm favourite with home preservers.

Golden Queens bottled and ready for eating. Photo: Kings Seeds

Read Karen’s blog about preserving at Kings Seeds.

Originally named Reeve’s Golden Peach, the fruit was developed for the public by Auckland nursery D Hay and Son, which propagated the tree through cuttings – so every Golden Queen has grown on a tree descended from Mr Reeve’s. Although some reports have Mr Reeve receiving as much as £100 for the tree, his family recalled it as being closer to £25.

Mr Reeve, who fought in World War 1 and attained the rank of sergeant – and whose father had fought at the Battle of Gate Pa in 1864, died in 1921 aged 49. His wife Ellen had opened Greerton’s first Post Office from their home in 1904, the first stop on the coach route from Tauranga to Rotorua.

But Tauranga hadn’t quite finished its association with the Golden Queen. The peach’s suitability for canning prompted Major Mayfield and his relative Mr Chater, both orchardists, to open a cannery on the Mayfield orchard on Waihi Rd near Bethlehem just before World War 1.

When war was declared, Major Mayfield returned to England to rejoin his regiment, leaving Mr Chater in sole charge of Hawkridge Orchards.

The Burbury family of Hawke’s Bay have been growing Golden Queen peaches for Watties for three generations. Photo: Watties

Young women travelled to Tauranga for the seasonal work of peeling and preparing the fruit in an open shed (apparently wasps weren’t a problem in New Zealand then). Syrup was added to the cans which were soldered shut apart from one small hole. The cans were then “cooked” by immersion and the steam hole soldered closed.

Hawkridge Orchards canned both peaches and pears but the venture ended after only a few years when crops were destroyed by fire blight (pears) and brown rot (peaches).

The Hawkridge name lives on, chosen by millionaire property developer Paul Adams as the name for his Bethlehem home. His Carrus Corporation bought the Mayfield property in about 1995, donating the homestead to Tauranga Boys’ College where it is used as a sports pavilion on the corner of Cameron Rd and 15th Ave. The orchard and farmland has become the Mayfield housing subdivision in Bethlehem.

Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand says: “There is no record of who introduced stone fruit to New Zealand. Groves of wild peaches, known as ‘Māori peaches’, were found growing along several North Island rivers by the first European settlers. They may have been planted by the explorer James Cook and his crew, or by early 19th-century sealing or whaling gangs. The first peach orchard was planted about 1840.”

Here’s a timeline of when and how peaches may have arrived in Northland (the first part of New Zealand to be ‘settled’). It appears Samuel Marsden had sent fruit trees from Australia and by 1817 these were ‘perfection’.

The Golden Queen still forms the vast majority of peaches canned by Watties but there are threats to this business. Read more here. And believe it or not there is an entire blog devoted to labels in New Zealand, including a great section on food can labelling. Long White Kid is well worth a look.

Cherry blossoms open early

Perhaps pushed along by the warmest February in recorded history, Japan’s famous sakura (cherry blossoms) are opening early this year. Read more here.

Blossoms along the Philosopher’s Walk in Kyoto. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Kiwi tour guide (and fluent speaker of Japanese) Robyn Laing heads up to Japan with a tour group every year, arriving on or very close to April 1. “It’s likely Tokyo will be just over full bloom, but it looks as though it will be perfect for us in beautiful Kanazawa,” she says of this year’s trip. The secret of such a tour, she says, is to schedule stops in places of varying climates. If you miss the blossoms higher up, then you’ll be likely to see them at sea level, or more northerly versus more southerly.

Japan goes slightly bonkers for the sakura season, but in the nicest possible way. Everyone is so uplifted by the mass blossoming, which is an integral part of the nation’s culture, it’s a lovely time to visit.

Egg-statically Easter!

Wishing all my readers a happy Easter – may you enjoy all the chocolate and gardening you want!

A fun thing to do with youngsters around Easter is decorate the shells of hard-boiled eggs and yes, you can use paint, felt pens and so on … or you can try some natural dyes.

Photo: Wikimedia/Ikonact

Onion skins, turmeric, red cabbage leaves, coffee, blueberries, tamarillo juice, beetroot juice – I think the list is probably only limited by your imagination. However if, like me, you feel more comfortable with a recipe, here’s a link to Megan Anderson’s website where she’s done the experimentation, made recipe cards for each colour and put some great photos with them.

The Waldorf Today site draws on a number of sources for further ideas for dyes and  how to create patterns on the eggshell using flowers and leaves, while Big Sis, Lil Sis has step by step photos of how to make these patterns.

An Easter egg of a very different kind is the one now known as the Rose Trellis Egg. It was made by Henrik Wigström (1862-1923), under the supervision of renowned Russian jeweller Peter Carl Faberge (1846-1920).

Tsar Nicholas II in 1907 presented this egg to his wife, Alexandra Fedorovna, to commemorate the birth of the tsarevich, Alexei Nicholaievich, three years earlier. Because of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05, no Imperial Easter eggs had been produced for two years. The egg contained a diamond necklace and an ivory miniature portrait of the tsarevich framed in diamonds (now lost).

Photo: Wikimedia/Walters Art Museum

The eggs were made for the Imperial family between 1885 and 1916. Read more at the Faberge website (the Hen Egg of 1885 must have created a wonderful reaction after she opened the plain exterior).

By 1920 the Rose Trellis Egg had made it to Paris and in 1930 it was acquired by American Henry Walters who, a year later, bequeathed it to the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.

Although it sounds unlikely, a real Faberge egg made in 1887 was discovered in the American Midwest in 2012 where a fellow who had bought the item for its scrap gold suddenly realised what he’d been looking at “for years” on his kitchen bench – £20 million worth of egg! Read more here.

But Queen Elizabeth (and her staff) is also guilty of not knowing what she owns – an automaton elephant decorated with diamonds and rubies was last year authenticated as being the “surprise” from the Diamond Trellis Egg (1892). The egg itself resides in the United States. Read more here.

So I’ll be enjoying my chocolate eggs (or scrambled eggs) while watching Antiques Roadshow and dreaming … here’s the list of the whereabouts (including the known unknowns) of the surviving Faberge eggs.