David Austin Rose Garden

David Austin’s Rose Garden in Shropshire was on my to-do list from the start so it was with much pleasure that we discovered that not only was it free to visit (free for us as we couldn’t haul away piles of plants) but the onsite cafe produced one of the best cream teas of our trip!

The rose garden is divided into several gardens and although we struck it between main flushes (there were many buds waiting to burst), there was still enough out to make it a worthwhile stop and a lovely place to wander on a hot summer’s morning.

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Part of the extensive David Austin Rose Gardens. Photo: Sandra Simpson

David Austin, who began his working life as a farmer and is now aged 92, started experimenting with rose breeding in the 1940s and 1950s, opening his eponymous nursery in 1970. And it’s still a family business with the great man’s son, also David, and his grandson, Richard, on board.

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The Lady’s Blush, named to mark the 125th anniversary of The Lady magazine, Britain’s longest-running weekly magazine for women, was released in 2010 and is an English Alba hybrid.

David Austin has called the results of his breeding programme ‘English Roses’, explaining in his 1993 book of the same name that he used 18th and 19th century roses, such as Damasks and Gallicas, with modern Hybrid Teas and floribundas to create the roses that he began releasing from 1969 “… although there had been three earlier varieties – Constance Spry in 1961, Chianti in 1967 and Shropshire Lass in 1968 – but these were more in the nature of stepping stones towards the true English Rose”.

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Lady of Shallott, introduced in 2009 to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The rose name comes from one his poems. Photo: Sandra Simpson

He goes on to define an English Rose as combining the form of flower, fragrance and general character of an Old Rose with the wide range of colour and repeat flowering of a modern HT or floribunda and “they retain much of the shrubby. bushy growth of the old varieties”.

Of the first roses he introduced in 1970, two of the seven are still available – Wife of Bath and Canterbury. David Austin Roses has now released more than 200 varieties.

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Cordelia was released in 2000 and belongs to David Austin’s English Alba hybrids. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Princess Anne is a Leander rose, released in 2010. Photo: Sandra Simpson

According to his Wikipedia entry, he has more recently separated his roses into four groups:

  • Old Rose hybrids
  • The Leander group, often with Rosa wichurana in their breeding, with larger bushes and arching growth tending to make them pillar or low climbing roses
  • English Musk roses, based on Iceberg and the Noisette roses, with pale green, slender and airy growth. The musk rose scent is missing from most, though other scents are present in many.
  • English Alba hybrids, with tall, rather blue-leaved bushes like the old Alba roses.
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Tottering Gently By is an English Musk hybrid released in 2018 by David Austin. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Another 2018 release is the perfumed Emily Bronte, an Old Rose hybrid. Photo: Sandra Simpson

In a nice coincidence the NZ Rose Society is promoting a David Austin rose as its Rose of the Month for October.

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Bred by David Austin in 2013, Thomas A Becket is named for the Archbishop of Canterbury who was murdered in 1170 and later became a Saint. Photo: David Austin Roses

Thomas A Becket features clusters of rosette-type blooms, crimson red in colour (more so than has transferred to the image above) with a moderate Old Rose scent. It is a medium-growing plant with a shrubby habit and has excellent disease tolerance. Read about the life of Thomas A Becket.

The rose is available in New Zealand from Tasman Bay Roses (pre-order for winter 2019).

David Austin’s tips for growing his English Roses (in Britain):

  • Mix ample quantities of farm manure or other hummus in the soil before planting
  • Plant in groups of two or three, particularly the smaller-growing varieties
  • Prune in early winter to half or three-quarters of the length of the shoot and thin out any weak growth
  • Mulch with farm manure or hummus annually or every other year; feed with a rose fertiliser twice a year
  • Maintain a regular spray programme, particularly in spring.

“Provided you follow these broad instructions, as well as of course, using a liberal dash of common sense, your roses should repay you with years of enjoyment.”

The company’s website has particularly thorough advice for the planting and care of roses. Read The Basics of Growing Roses.

Tree of the moment: Rewarewa

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A rewarewa flower unfurling beside a busy street in Tauranga. Just visible in the background are the old seed pods. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I spotted the rewarewa tree in Greerton’s shopping area a couple of years ago but had never been in the right place at the right time (with camera) to get a photo of the beautiful flowers – until now.

Sandwiched in tarmac between a small off-street carpark and the footpath it wouldn’t seem to be in ideal conditions but it’s apparently thriving and covered in racemes of intricate flowers just opening or waiting to open. I was once told that rewarewa flowers “are like candyfloss to possums”.

Knightia excelsa grows naturally throughout the North Island, but only in the Malborough Sounds in the South Island, according to the Tane’s Tree Trust website. Maori appreciated the flowers for their nectar, but didn’t use the attractive wood, which is usually pale with a reddish-brown fleck. Early settlers called it the bucket of water tree as it made useless firewood! Its more common name is New Zealand honeysuckle. Honey produced from the tree is said to be a beautiful deep reddish-amber colour with a rich, full bodied caramel-like taste.

The trees are a colonising species in the wild and grow in a conical shape – up to 30m tall but with only a 1m diameter trunk – and have tough, leathery leaves. Lawrie Metcalf writes in his 2011 book The Cultivation of NZ Trees and Shrubs (Raupo) that rewarewa will grow in sun or shade, although very dry conditions will make growth slower.

“The flowers secrete copious quantities of nectar at their bases, to which tui and bellbirds are attracted. In fact, the birds can often be seen investigating the state of the flowers long before they are ready to open. In their desire for the nectar the birds are dusted with pollen, which they transfer from the younger open flowers to the receptive stigmas of the older flowers.”

The tree is a member of the Protea family and distantly related to the Banksias of Australia.

In his 1884 book, Medical Botany of New Zealand, P J O’Carroll noted that the inner part of the bark was bandaged on to wounds and he had seen several wounds healed in a surprisingly short space of time. PME Williams in Te Rongoa Maori (Raupo, 2008) notes that the inner bark was applied in its raw state by bushmen to stem the bloodflow from cuts, and the bark was also used as a bandage. Researchers in 1987 reported that the bark contains beta-sitosterol, a major component of an American proprietary drug used to lower blood cholesterol levels.

Knightia excelsa was first collected at Tolaga Bay in 1769 by Daniel Solander during the first voyage of James Cook.

Butterfly nation

From October 1-14 Yates NZ is giving away free seed packets of butterfly friendly plants to help attract the beautiful insects (and important pollinators) into our gardens. Register for free seeds here.

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It’s Saturday morning in the butterfly garden at Te Puna Quarry Park, near Tauranga, and while monarchs flit and flutter 83-year-old Mary Parkinson is clambering up a rock face to plant a prickly euphorbia, while 80-year-old Norm Twigge tames a wayward shrub with loppers.

The pair, who met as trustees of the Monarch Butterfly NZ Trust, have for the past 2 years combined their talents in the garden, one of the many themed areas in the 32ha park, after Norm, a lifelong butterfly enthusiast, moved to Tauranga from Whakatane.

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Norm Twigge and Mary Parkinson in the Te Puna Quarry Park butterfly garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Mary, NZ Gardener’s Bay of Plenty Gardener of the Year in 2010 and long-time Tauranga Orchid Society member, started helping at the former gravel quarry at the behest of her sister and foundation volunteer, Jo Dawkins, after a large donation of Cymbidium orchids arrived.

The butterfly garden, on a terrace in the area planted with orchids, was developed in 2007 after Mary spotted a self-seeded swan plant amid 3m-high gorse. “Actually, the butterflies invited themselves,” she says. “They found the plant and laid their eggs, all I did was try and give them a home.”

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Pride of Madeira echium provide good food for monarch butterflies. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Each year she raises as many monarchs as possible which, at various times, means wasp and preying mantis patrols, as well as hauling buckets of water in summer to keep nectar-rich flowers in peak condition.

“I just keep suggesting things and then have to get stuck in and get the work done,” Mary says, recalling that her offer to stage a Monarch Butterfly NZ Trust conference in Tauranga in 2009 also meant clearing and planting more of the terrace in readiness for a conference visit.

A small hatching house was added when she and fellow volunteer Shona Purves decided to feed caterpillars inside to protect them from wasps. Thanks in part to public response – containers of caterpillars left on site – it was quickly apparent a larger house was needed.

In 2016 Mary and Norm extended the larger, second house in support of a MBNZ Trust project that saw UK conservationist Steve Wheatley and local entomologist Peter Maddison investigate the forest ringlet butterfly, in decline in lowland areas. Norm, who has been recording forest ringlet sightings in the Mt Ruapehu area for 20 years, was also be involved, particularly during the trial breeding phase.

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An admiral caterpillar on a nettle leaf. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Norm raises admiral butterflies, both red and yellow, in the quarry garden. Loss of habitat is the major problem facing these butterflies as nettles are essential to their life cycle. “This is a public garden so we can’t grow big areas of nettles,” Norm says. “Someone’s always got to touch – even if there are warning signs – which means the size of our admiral populations will always be limited.”

He’s also keen to see if any “migrants” that blow over from Australia – blue moon, painted lady and the lesser wanderer –  can be encouraged to breed.

“The biggest thing is the lack of somewhere warm for them to overwinter,” he says, adding that while living in Whakatane he tried heating a room overnight to see if he could create the right conditions for some lepidopteran visitors. “The power bill soon made me see sense.”

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A blue moon butterfly visited the Quarry Park in 2014. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Most butterflies feed on the same flowers and Mary recommends grevilleas, Montanoa (tree daisy), echiums, zinnias, wallflowers and collarette dahlias. “Any cottage garden flowers are good.”

Norm notes many lawn “weeds” are also great butterfly food, including clover and dandelion flowers. “And buddleias are fantastic,” he says. “There are several that don’t seed but sadly they’re all regarded as pest plants. It’s known that butterflies can detect food from 2km away so planting the right things means butterflies in the area will come.”

The white-flowered swan plant and the two brightly coloured Asclepias curassavica (tropical milkweed) provide nectar for monarchs, while the plants themselves play host to monarch eggs, feed the caterpillars and are often home to the resulting chrysalis. Providing enough swan plant for very hungry caterpillars stresses many people, Mary says, and over the years she’s taken in thousands of caterpillars to raise.

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A monarch feeds on Dahlia ‘Pooh’, a favourite plant in the butterfly garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

In 2016 Mary tagged and released 400 monarchs from March 1 until the end of June “when I ran out of tags”. It’s hoped that anyone who finds or photographs a tagged butterfly will go to the MBNZ Trust website and record the “white dot” number and where the insect was found so giving researchers an idea of how far the insects travel and clues to where they cluster to overwinter.

The park’s lone swan plant of 9 years ago has morphed into many more, both in the butterfly garden and beyond, although Mary accepts they need thinning to stop them spreading too far.

“If you’re worried about swan plants seeding through your garden, snip off the green pods before they burst,” she advises. “Swan plants don’t have a long life, maybe 3 or 4 years, so you want at least one new one coming on each year.”

Feeding notes:

See a list of nectar plants to feed butterflies at the MBNZ Trust website.

When buying swan plants from garden centres check they are spray free and keep your garden spray free.

Keep some swan plants under wraps (old net curtains, mosquito nets) so not all have eggs on them and/or are eaten.

Pumpkin can be used as food only at the end stage of a caterpillar’s life (2cm+). Any earlier and the butterfly will emerge deformed.

Wasps, ants, preying mantis and passion-vine hoppers all predate on one stage or another of the butterfly life cycle.

Lend a Hand: Mary and Norm are always looking for helpers. To volunteer simply turn up at Te Puna Quarry Park at 9am on a Tuesday, taking your own smoko.

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

Orchid Show Champions

Tauranga Orchid Society is thrilled to have four trophies to award this year – two more than in 2017 and three more than in 2016! A new Reserve Champion trophy has been added by the society and Lynley and John Roy have donated the Alec Roy Cup for Best Cymbidium.

And the winners are …

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A basket of an unnamed Dendrobium nobile has won the Grand Champion title for Hubert Musiers and Tania  Langen (Ninox Orchids) of Whangarei. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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John Edwards from Tauranga proved that size doesn’t matter, winning both Reserve Champion and the Natalie Simmonds Trophy for Best Specimen plant with his Restrepia guttulata. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Diane Hintz, a member of both the BOP and Tauranga orchid societies, won the Alec Roy Cup for Best Cymbidium with a basket of Cymbidium Hungarian Doll ‘NH’ x devonianum ‘Tuakau’. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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A better look at the flowers of Best Cymbidium. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The show has its last day tomorrow (Sunday), open from 10am-4pm at Tauranga Racecourse, $3 entry (under 12 free).

Tauranga Orchid Show

Great buzz on the show’s first day – don’t forget to come and see it ‘live’ tomorrow and Sunday, 10am-4pm. Here are a few photos to whet your appetite …

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The Asia stand. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Lots of koalas on the Australia stand. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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The Latin America stand is full of colour. The Asia stand. Photo: Sandra Simpson

It’s a good time of year to see beautiful Cymbidiums.

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Cymbidium devonianum x Night Jasmine ‘Kannika’, bred and grown by Andy Price of Hinemoa Orchids. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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This unnamed beauty was on the Asia stand of the Tauranga Orchid Society. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Cymbidium Mont Nitron Trinity, grown by Kevin Davey of the BOP Orchid Society. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Tauranga Clivia Show

Always a good afternoon at the Clivia Show and 2018 was no exception. Ian Duncalf (Plant Struck) and Jude Coenen (Pixie Clivias) are producing some brilliant plants here in the Western Bay of Plenty and had a selection on display.

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Clivia Dainty Dancer, bred by Jude Coenen, sports an eye-catching flower. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Ian Duncalf has named this plant Clivia Lydia, in honour of champion Kiwi golfer Lydia Ko. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Clivia Jen. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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This unnamed seedling bred by Ian Duncalf has a green throat. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Clivia Toon’s Green is one of Jude Coenen’s green-flowered plants that uses seed imported from Japan. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Ian Duncalf has done me the great honour of naming this plant Clivia Sandra! As they age, the yellow flowers develop a blush on the petals. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Frederick the Spud

One of the stops on my recent trip to Europe was Sanssouci Palace, near Potsdam in Germany, home to Frederick the Great who in 1744 had a terraced garden built to grow plums, figs and grapes – and, once he saw the view, adding a large summer residence.

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Glass ‘doors’ help heat up the fig trees planted against a south-facing terrace wall. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The name Sanssouci means ‘without a care’ and the yellow-walled palace, one attraction within a large park that includes several other gardens and historic buildings, is only one room wide and fully intended as a retreat from the pomp and circumstance of court.

Frederick the Great (1712-86) ruled Prussia for 26 years, the longest of any Hohenzollern king, and was an accomplished musician/composer (his flute is on display at Sanssouci), philosopher and soldier – and was the first world ruler to recognise the United States as a nation.

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The frontage of Sanssouci facing the terrace gardens. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Frederick was the third son of 14 children, the older male infants dying at their baptisms when the heavy crown was put on their tiny heads (fortunately, they figured it out, but still, two!) Frederick hated his father with a passion, and for good reason – after being hauled back from England with his best friend (they’d run off), dear old Dad sentenced Frederick to death, commuting it at the last moment in favour of his friend. And, of course, Frederick was made to watch the beheading!

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The view from the top terrace towards the city of Potsdam. A grape vine runs along the length of the terrace fence but our guide said the wine made here was never good. Photo: Sandra Simpson

In among all his other interests, Frederick was something of a horticulturalist – as well as the plums, figs and grapes, he also had greenhouses at Sanssouci for melons and pineapples. But his biggest contribution to the lives of Germans was encouraging the cultivation of potatoes (kartoffel) to try and halt the famines caused by bad cereal harvests – between 1708 and 1711, more than 40% of the population in East Prussia starved to death.

However, farmers were initially less than enthusiastic – after all, potatoes were animal fodder. It didn’t help that they tried to eat the leaves or eat the potatoes raw! Frederick persevered, describing them as “royal vegetables”, ordering them cooked for state banquets and making a great production of enjoying them, and planting large fields round Sanssouci. Legend has it he put an armed guard on the fields, deliberately relaxed at night to allow locals to steal the “treasure”. Finally, on March 24, 1756 Frederick ordered that everybody had to plant potatoes wherever there was room.

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Frederick the Great at the age of 68, painted by Anton Graff. Image: Wikipedia

Why this interest in the humble spud? Frederick was a military strategy genius and understood that a well-nourished army would be superior to any other, while a well-fed population would be less prone to revolt. And so it proved.

Favourite German potato dishes today include potato pancakes, potato salads and potato dumplings – and of course the tuber also comes chipped, baked, roasted, boiled, mashed ….

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The grave of Fredrich der Grosse (Frederick the Great) at Sanssouci. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Frederick’s nephew, who succeeded him, decided the late king should be buried next to his father in Potsdam Church, despite Frederick’s express wish to be buried at Sanssouci. In his last will in 1752, the king who gave refuge to French philosopher Voltaire said: “I have lived as a philosopher and I wish to be buried as such, without pomp and circumstance or the slightest ceremony. Let me be taken by the light of a lantern with no cortege to Sanssouci and buried simply on the righthand side of the high terrace.” He died at Sanssouci in his armchair, aged 74.

Finally, in 1991 – 205 years after his death – that wish was carried out. Frederick the Great now lies alongside his beloved 11 whippets (who all have name stones too) and in a touching tribute Germans come and lay potatoes on the grave of der Kartoffelkönig (Potato King).