Plant stories: California poppy

The state flower of California is the somewhat prosaic California poppy, the bright orange self-seeding annual that in that part of the world is a true wildflower. However, the story of how the ‘golden poppy’ attained its high status is thanks in large part to the efforts of a self-taught botanist and botanical artist, Sara Lemmon (1836-1923).

Born in Maine, Sara Plummer moved to Santa Barbara in California in 1869 for a better climate for her health, opening a lending library and stationery store in 1871. As well, she founded the Santa Barbara Natural History Society in 1876, the same year she met John Lemmon, who was collecting plants for the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and giving lectures. John, who had been a Civil War prisoner, an experience that affected his health for the rest of his life, was also self-taught.

They married in 1880 and spent an extended honeymoon in southern Arizona looking for new plants – it was during this trip that Mt Lemmon in southern Arizona was named in her honour. Read more about her exploration of southern Arizona here.

Later in the 1880s, the couple were living in the Oakland area, near San Francisco and both working for the California State Board of Forestry. Sara delivered a lecture on forest conservation at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, an event that fostered discussion about choosing national and state flowers, leading to the creation of the National Floral Emblem Society.

In 1890 three candidates were put forward to members of the California State Floral Society  – the golden poppy, Romneya coulteri (a shrub with large, silky flowers commonly called Matilija poppy in California), and the Mariposa lily. The golden poppy won by a landslide.

California poppy. Photo: Sandra Simpson

As chairwoman of the California State Committee of the National Floral Emblem Society, Sara had the task of persuading the California Legislature to declare a state flower. Three times a bill was introduced and three times it failed to pass into law. However, on the fourth attempt in 1903 it finally succeeded and was signed into law. Sara was officially rewarded with a gold-mounted eagle’s quill that had been used to sign the bill into law. Read the full story here.

Although Sara was an equal partner in collecting and researching plant specimens, the scientific papers and articles published by John credit “J.G. Lemmon & Wife”. They are both buried in Oakland, near San Francisco, with a poppy engraved on their headstone.

In 1974, April 6 was officially designated as California Poppy Day and in 1996 May 13-18 was named as Poppy Week.

Ancient bug trap

Wandering through the Hamarikyu Garden in Tokyo last year I noticed that many pine trees had straw sleeves tied around the branches. A bit more inquiry turned up the information that they are put on in autumn and used to trap pests (which snuggle into the straw for winter) before being taken off and burned in spring.

Komomaki. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Komomaki were developed in Japan during the Edo Period (1603-1867) to combat a pine moth (Dendrolimus spectabilis) known in Japanese as matsugareha. The sleeve provides an overwintering site for the pest, which  does its damage in spring when the caterpillars are hungry for pine needles. The attack continues through to early summer, leaving the tree unable to feed itself and making it vulnerable to parasites.

As with everything in Japan, great attention is paid to detail. The komomaki could have been tied on with plastic strips (probably cheaper) but straw ropes look so much better. Photo: Sandra Simpson

This excellent 2012 article from The Japan Times notes that komomaki have been researched and aren’t as effective as once thought – in 5 years of study they trapped more beneficial insects than harmful ones! The sleeves are now most likely used to convey a sense of season, especially in Tokyo where winters aren’t nearly as cold as they once were.

However, the komomaki concept has proved successful at helping to protect Tokyo’s Zelkova serrata street trees from beetle attack (Pyrrhalta maculicollis).

Floral fun

Took myself off yesterday to Life’s a Circus, a piece of ‘floral theatre’ by Francine Thomas. I’d heard about these productions before but had never been able to attend one – all I can say is, my goodness!

Baycourt Theatre was pretty full and the audience lapped up the event which comprised Francine’s musings on life while creating outstanding floral art quick-snap in front of our eyes (as well as what seemed to be zillions of pre-prepared pieces). The stage slowly filled with groups or single pieces with breaks for a small story to be acted out, dancing or circus-type performance (La Dominique Zirkus, an aerial hoop gymnast, and Libby Winehouse, a pole fitness exponent – and accountant!).

No photos allowed during the show, but we were welcome to take snaps after the house lights came up at the end.

Yes, that is a ‘pole dancer’ (Libby Winehouse is more of acrobat or gymnast really) who was part of the show. Looking on is one of the young dancers. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Just part of the stage at the end of the performance – the piece on the far right was hoisted up during the show to reveal the pole and performer. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Francine acknowledged her Aunty Betty, down from Whangarei for the show, who had a florist shop where Francine and her mum helped out (her mother was also in the audience). Francine’s husband Ashley makes many of her props and was a stagehand, while other assistance came from members of the Tauranga Floral Art Group. The show was filmed and DVDs may be ordered, $30 each, email Fay.

Francine was the New Zealand demonstrator at the 2014 World Association of Floral Artists in Dublin, won the 2016 Designer of the Year title from the Floral Art Society of NZ, and next year is heading to the US where she has been invited to teach and demonstrate.

Last Sunday I popped into the Tauranga Clivia Show at Te Puna Quarry Park where business was brisk as visitors were thrilled by the colours on offer from local breeders Ian Duncalf (Plant Struck) and Judy Shapland (Pixie Clivias).

Clivia breeder Ian Duncalf was thrilled with the show. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Clivia Diana, one of Ian’s breeding successes. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Tip-toe Through the Tulips …

Off to Rotorua yesterday to attend Michael van de Elzen’s cooking demonstration, one of the inaugural events of the week-long Tulip Festival (see the Events page for garden-related happenings still to come).

A young visitor is all concentration as she gets a great shot of Rotorua’s tulips. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The words “celebrity chef” send a chill down my spine but Michael turned out to be charming, funny, inventive, down-to-earth, and generous with his food and time.

The son of Dutch migrants, he grew up on a poultry farm in west Auckland and while his parents wanted him to take over the business, he followed his sisters into weekend work at Tony’s, a steak restaurant and Auckland institution but – unlike his sisters – wanted to work in the kitchen.

“We were doing 500 covers a night and I was the dishwasher,” he recalls. “I looked at the line of chefs all working in harmony to put the plates up. It was addictive and I wanted it.”

He worked his way up to head chef at Tony’s by the tender age of 23 and then headed to London where he got a job as a commis chef (“the bottom of the bottom”) at Bluebird, one of Sir Terence Conran’s “gastrodomes” that seats 500 – and at that time had 140 chefs to make the food! He reckons he went home in tears every night.

His mother urged him to stick at it and 2 years later he was running the kitchen – minus the 70 or so French chefs who, it turned out, didn’t want to listen to a “little Kiwi”. Within 2 months all the French chefs had gone and Michael had 140 chefs from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa working for him.

Michael van de Elzen. Photo: Sandra Simpson

One of the highlights of his time in London was cooking for Queen Elizabeth II (and 6000 other people) for the opening of the Tate Modern gallery on May 11, 2000. Each of the six floors had a different cuisine theme – the stress went up a notch when Michael and his catering team arriving at 5am and discovered the lift wasn’t working and wouldn’t be for the rest of the event!

He came home to open his own restaurant, Molten, in Auckland in 2004, selling it in 2011 – along the way becoming a “celebrity chef” thanks to The Food Truck programmes (he believes he barely survived Episode 1 after being stranded amid a starving, drunk crowd) and now Kiwi Living.

Floral art for the evening was courtesy of Sally Ah Chan. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Coincidentally, we sat next to the charming Sally Ah Chan. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Michael, his wife Belinda and two daughters, aged 5 and 3, have recently moved to a lifestyle block in Muriwai where he is building a cookschool that will focus on “old-fashioned” methods such as curing, smoking and preserving – with the animals coming from his own farm.

He’s also got a project nearing fruition, 2 years in the making so far. “Mike’s Mission” will be a national trailer-tour teaching schoolchildren to cook (including, he says, how to use left-overs).

Besides a quick and easy demonstration for creating a healthy dip, Michael also talked us through curing a side of salmon and then every table received two platters crammed with goodies from local producers – many of whom were among the stalls at Rotorua’s inaugural Farmers’ Market this morning (October 2). The market will be held every Sunday, from 9am-1pm at the corner of Hinemoa and Tutanekai streets.

A scrumptious platter of food from, mainly, Rotorua-area artisans and including Michael’s superb cured salmon, as well as his roasted carrot, macadamia and honey dip. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The food was delicious and Michael was keen to acknowledge his two assistants from Waiariki Polytechnic who quietly worked in the Bowling Club kitchen throughout the show.

Although this morning was as wet as could be, the warmth and enthusiasm of everyone we got chatting to (last night as well) really helped brighten our day. The tulips looked fantastic, even in this weather, with more ready to burst into bloom as the week progresses – the plantings in Government Gardens are gorgeous, but there are also median strips, hanging baskets, roundabouts and so on, plus “plantings” of wooden tulips, knitted tulips …

A tub of Tulip Lily Schreyer in the foreground with the mock Tudor Bath House Museum at rear and Art Deco Blue Baths to the right. Photo: Sandra Simpson

We heard today that after it’s all over Rotorua Lakes Council sells bulbs for 10c each, thereby ensuring private gardens are starting to fill with tulips too. What a great idea!

In fact, the council really got behind the festival year planting 100,000 bulbs in public spaces, so good on them. Unfortunately, a large proportion of the bulbs planted on Hospital Hill rotted (that’s gardening for you) but hopefully next year will be a success. What a welcoming sight the tulip-filled hillsides would be.

A glorious bed of mixed colours in Government Gardens. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Coming up …

Spring must be springing as the calendar starts to fill up with garden-related activities in the beautiful Bay of Plenty (pouring with rain today, but never mind).

The Rotorua Tulip Festival is a week-long event that starts on Saturday – some of the events are more garden-related than others, but there are things for all the family to enjoy. The organisers have kindly invited me to a cooking demonstration by Michael Van de Elzen, The Food Truck chef and now resident on Kiwi Living, so keep an eye out for a report on that plus, if the weather’s kind, some garden photos.


Here are a few things on the festival programme that sound good to me (as well as strolling around the more than 100,000 flowering tulip bulbs):

October 1 Plants and Trees of Government Gardens, 11am & 1pm, free but limited to 20 people so reservations essential.

October 2 City Tulips Bike Tour, 10am, $35. Group limited to 10 so bookings essential. Repeated October 3, 7 and 9.

October 3 Daltons Plantation and Homestead Gardens Bus Tour, 10.30am from Rotorua, $60. Repeated October 6.

October 3 The Design of Government Gardens, a walking tour with landscape architect Mel Cameron, 2pm, free but places limited so please book.

October 4 Plenty Flora and Sandara Gardens Bus tour, 10.30am from Rotorua, $39. Repeated October 8.

October 4 Caring for your Rhododendrons with Dave Stewart from Rhodohill, 11am,  free.

October 5 Tours of Plenty Flora Gerbera Greenhouse, 10am & 2pm, Horohoro (near Rotorua), free.

October 5 Xanthe White’s Gardening Tips and Tricks, 1pm, $15, bookings essential.

October 5 The Design of Government Gardens, a walking tour with landscape architect Mel Cameron, 2pm, free but places limited so please book.

October 6 Edible Gardens Talk, 3pm, free.

October 8 Behind the Scenes at NZ Gardener with Jo McCarroll, 11am, $15.

Tauranga area events over the same period include:

October 2 Tauranga Clivia Show, noon-4pm, Te Puna Quarry Park Gallery (near Tauranga), free. Flowering plants on display, plants for sale, growing advice.


Kiwi Star is a clivia bred by Judy Shapland of Apata, near Tauranga. Photo: Sandra Simpson

October 2 Tauranga Camellia Show, opens 1pm, Bob Owens Retirement Village, 112 Carmichael Rd, Bethlehem. gold coin entry (proceeds to Heart Foundation), complimentary refreshments. Ph Janet 579 2519.

October 4 Patio Containers & Hanging Baskets, 7.30pm, Palmers Bethlehem (Tauranga), free but spaces are limited so book by phoning 07 579 3925 or email. Repeated October 6.

October 8 Life’s a Circus, 4.30pm, Baycourt Theatre, Tauranga, $55. “A floral theatre presentation featuring Francine Thomas.” Donation to Waipuna Hospice from the profits. Tickets from Baycourt. Inquiries to Fay.

And just a little further afield …

October 1 Plant Sale, 10am-4pm, outside the information centre, Hamilton Gardens.

October 1 Northern Daffodil Club Late Show, noon-4pm, Hamilton Gardens.

October 1 Free Home Composting Workshop, 3-4.30pm, Taupo Community Gardens.

October 8 St Francis Plant Sale, 9am-1pm, 92 Mansel Rd, Hillcrest, Hamilton. Plants, books, garden accessories, baking. Bring secateurs or clippers for sharpening. Contact: 07 854 7662.

October 8 Home Gardening Workshop, 9am-5pm, Thames, $144 (includes lunch). Tutors Harry Parke & Yotam Kay.

October 9-14 Living with the Land, with Sheryn Clothier, Tirau (Waikato), $750.

Hope you find something to take your fancy!

Orchid of the Year 2015

The annual Orchid of the Year award was made tonight at the NZ Orchid Show and Conference dinner with the honour going to Masdevallia Otago Gold ‘Screamer’ grown by Maurice Bycroft of Matamata.

A photo of it graces the cover of this year’s Orchid Journal, a publication available to members of all societies affiliated to the New Zealand Orchid Council.

The plant, which has orange flowers, was bred by Ron Maunder of Tauranga and named Otago Gold by Graham Letts, who lives in Alexandra in central Otago. The cultivar ‘Screamer’ was named by the late George Fuller, where this plant originated.

The dinner saw a number of other awards made: Special Service Award to Diana Elfleet of Auckland; Judges’ Long-service Awards (more than 25 years) to Allan Rockell (Bay of Plenty), Mike Davidson (Waikato) and David Turner (Hawkes Bay); and the John Easton Excellence Award to Clive Perry (Taranaki).

The rain arrived today from mid-morning which may have deterred some from attending the show – tomorrow is your last chance. The point was made at tonight’s dinner that the displays in the ASB Showgrounds pavilions are of an international standard … plus there’s the chance to purchase beautiful plants, interesting plants or even beautiful, interesting plants!

The show is open from 10am-4pm, entry $10. See you there! Just to whet your appetite, here are some photos from the last couple of days.

Cattleya Stippled Sunset ‘Sundown’ grown by Lee and Roy Neale is Champion Hybrid Cattleya. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A delightful tableau from the NZ Orchid Society’s display – Dendrobium Teagon’s Delight with a watercolour painting of it. Photo: Sandra Simpson


The NZ branch of the Cymbidium Society of America has pulled two classic cars into its display. This is detail from the 1962 Dodge 330 Dart. Photo: Sandra Simpson

National Orchid Show

Your reporter has spent the day going round and round – the exhibits, the sales stands – and met many orchid enthusiasts who are, well, all enthusing about the flowers on display, the displays themselves and swapping ideas and information, and generally having a whale of a time.

Winners were announced last night so it was great to see the ribbons beside plants and on displays today (one of the rosettes was pinned on to the Leroy Orchids display by yours truly – but just because I happened to be passing!).

Bob Hamilton from northern California was the first speaker and gave a fascinating talk about the history of orchids in cultivation, particularly Odontogloussums, which are his speciality.

But enough from me – I’ll let a few photos do the talking. The expo forms part of the Orchid + Flower Show and is at the ASB Showgrounds in Auckland, finishing on Sunday.

Jenny’s had her champion plant for years and was thrilled with its success, especially as the contingent coming from New Plymouth had to deal with roads blocked by slips!

Jenny had several other plants with prize certificates, among them a ball of Dinema polybulbon (below). She told me some funny stories about transporting oddly shaped plants to shows, including standing a tall plant in the toilet of her motorhome to keep it steady.

Coelogyne lawrenceana (below) won Graham Jackson of the Manawatu Society a Champion species rosette, while the display as a whole took out the under 12 square metre title.

Commercial growers have mounted displays as well – one of the largest is by Tropifolia of Auckland, which had passersby ooh-ing and aah-ing at the banks of Phalaenopsis orchids (below, yellow is apparently the trend of the moment for these flowers).


Phalaenopsis OX Little Moon won the Champion award for its class. Photo: Sandra Simpson