Postcard from Japan

Just back from almost 3 weeks in Japan, where it’s autumn. The Japanese, despite being a very urbanised culture, remain in tune with the seasons and have well-established traditions to mark the passing of time.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

One of the very visible seasonal fruits was the persimmon (Diospyros kaki) – still on trees or peeled and hanging to dry to make hoshigaki, a popular sweet. This website takes you through the steps of drying the persimmons and which fruit to choose. And this Martha Stewart video shows a couple of Japanese-American women explaining how to do it (4:24).

Hanging out to dry in Takayama. Photo: Sandra Simpson

In this June 2015 article about growing persimmons Kate Marshall of Waimea Nurseries says New Zealand annually produces about 15,000 tonnes of commercially grown persimmons (the NZ Persimmon Industry Council is a bit more cautious saying it’s “about” 12,800 tonnes). In 2011, according to Wikipedia, Japan produced 207,500 tonnes and South Korea 390,820.

Fresh for dessert after a wonderful multi-course meal in Kyoto – the flesh was jelly-like and delicious. Photo: Sandra Simpson

And the tree foliage colours really well in autumn, even in Tauranga’s warmer climate.

Fruit & Vege Wisdom

Scooted off and heard Andrew Boylan of incredible edibles give a talk on Thursday night at Palmer’s and then up to Katikati on Friday morning for some more good advice from Gerard Martin of King’s Seeds at the final open day for the year that had a summer/Christmas theme.

Some of Gerard’s tips for a stress-free summer garden:

Mulch – supresses weeds and retains moisture in the soil (but you can mulch a plant too deeply; keep it at a maximum of about 50cm to allow the soil to breathe).

Water – a plant that keeps flowering will keep fruiting and a mulched plant that is watered regularly is more likely to stay free of disease and insect attack. Water thoroughly in the evening.

Stay on your toes – stake plants before they need it; remove seed heads to avoid treasures becoming weeds; watch for insects on the underside of leaves; remove diseased plants; deadhead to prolong productivity; train plants; sow every 6 weeks for a continuous harvest.

Bolting – some plants naturally bolt. Coriander and watercress won’t be under stress, they’re reacting to day length. Successive sowing will get you over any bolting.

Eggplants (aubergines) – when the plant sets its first fruit, take it off. This encourages other flowers to grow equally and produce better fruit. Put your plants in the hottest part of your garden.

Whitefly – Mix 4 tbspns bicarbonate of soda to 1 litre of water and add a drop of detergent. Spray on plants affected by whitefly, but keep the mix agitated so the bicarb doesn’t sink to the bottom.

Gerard conducts his own germination trials – a current one for beans has seen him remove a line of seeds from the shelf as they didn’t strike well.

Visitors at King’s Seeds open day take advantage of the free offers – red lettuces, tomato plants, pumpkin plants and bundles of rhubarb. Photo: Sandra Simpson

And some of Andrew’s advice:

Blueberries – are surface feeders so have a shallow root system. Acidic soil is vital and they don’t like wet feet. Blue Magic will overcrop the first year so you need to remove the emerging fruit. Blue Sapphire, to be released next year, is the same.

Fig – Let the tree grow to the height you want and cut the top off. Keep cutting it back to encourage sideways growth. Mosaic virus (mottled leaves) doesn’t affect fruit but keep the tree fed (especially if it’s in a pot) and it will recover.

Feijoa – Don’t use them as a hedge as they fruit on last year’s wood (or trim alternate sides each year). The flowers are pollinated by big birds such as blackbirds, mynahs and starlings. Waxeyes may be in the tree but they’re not pollinating. In urban areas it’s not necessary to have 2 trees to achieve pollination but in the country it’s probably a good idea.

Passionfruit – Full sun and lots of water. Spray with copper in spring and summer as a curative for greasespot. “The fruit will look awful but it still tastes good,” Andrew says.

Avocado – Never plant another tree where one has died from root rot (Phytophthora). When planting a new tree, carefully extract it from the bag and under no circumstances disturb the root ball. incredible edibles is next year introducing a (they hope) dwarf avocado called Cleopatra that flowers heavily. The Hawke’s Bay breeder has a six-year-old tree that is 3m.

Casimiroa/sapote – Can be planted in the place where an avocado has died.

Pine nuts – It’s 8 years before you get a crop, 18 months before the cones have ripened … and then you have to get the nuts out! Andrew says he has nice, big pine trees.

Chilean guava/NZ cranberry – Keep trimming it and the bush will keep flowering and fruiting. Cut young plants 3-4 times a year to develop their structure.

Coffee – Grow inside in a pot in the hottest place you have. The bushes hate cold wind. Andrew this year cropped 500 beans from a plant in his office. Fiona roasted them in the frying pan, then the oven and smashed them up in a blender. They made a delicious brew, says Andrew.


Chilean guava trained as a topiary. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Pacific Rose Bowl Winners

Rose breeder Rob Somerfield of Te Puna, near Tauranga, has done it again – taking out the Rose of the Year award at the recent Pacific Rose Bowl Festival in Hamilton with Looking Good, a pink floribunda that will go on sale next year and will also support the cancer charity Look Good, Feel Better.

Looking Good, bred by Rob Somerfield, and winner of the Rose of the Year award at the 2015 Pacific Rose Bowl Festival. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Looking Good also won the Best Floribunda, Best New Zealand Raised Rose and Children’s Choice awards, the last a favourite of Rob’s because he reckons youngsters judge in a very “pure” way. They like what they like. Read an interview with Rob about his win here. As you may recall, Rob won the top award at the Rose Bowl last year with Love Heart.

Best Fragrance: Caroline Bay by Mike Athy (Gisborne), another of his purple-hued blooms. Read an interview with Mike here.

The Pacific Rose Bowl Festival is decided entirely by public vote. Early next month the results from the National Rose Trial Grounds in Palmerston North will be announced; these are decided by a panel of rose judges.

Curious plants: Colletia paradoxa

I first ran into this plant (not literally, and you’ll understand why I didn’t want that to be the case when you see the photo) in Clive Higgie’s Paloma gardens near Wanganui but had my interest pricked (if you’ll excuse the pun) after seeing it again in the Auckland Regional Botanic Gardens.

Native to Uruguay, western Argentina and southern Brazil, Colletia paradoxa is an autumn-flowering plant that, as you might guess, doesn’t have any trouble from browsing animals and grows slowly to 2m to 3m tall. The genus name honors French botanist Philibert Collet (1643-1718), while ‘paradoxa’ is from the Greek and means ‘unexpected’ or ‘strange’. The flowers have a sweet scent.

Colletia paradoxa. Photo: Sandra Simpson

What appear to be leaves are actually flattened stems which do the photosynthesis for the plant. It does have leaves but they’re not particularly noticeable and are deciduous.

The plant has many common names including Thorn of the Cross, Anchor Plant and Jet Plane Plant.

Read some growing details here.

Get rambling!

As you’ll see from the Events listing, this is a busy weekend in the Bay of Plenty-Waikato area.

First up is the Pacific Rosebowl Festival in the Rogers Rose Garden (Hamilton Gardens) that runs from Thursday to Sunday (November 12-15) with the Rose of the Year announced on Sunday afternoon. Interestingly, this is one of only 2 rose trials in the southern hemisphere that is decided by public vote.

The Vege Grower and I went over last year and toured the garden in absolutely dismal weather so fingers crossed for a couple of nice days this year.

Dignity is bred by Mike Athy of Gisborne. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Mike Athy’s Blue Diamond rose was released in Britain at this year’s Hampton Court Flower Show – you can see it at the Rogers Rose Garden under its New Zealand name Hi Ho Silver.

The Rotorua Festival of Gardens runs from Friday to Sunday (November 13-15) with more than 45 gardens open. Tickets are $30 for a 3-day pass.

Make sure you include Tikitere on your list of gardens – it’s the 25-year project of Bill Robinson and his partner Ann, an extensive wonderland of maples, rhododendrons, hostas, daylilies and irises – and much more. People forget that the spring foliage of maples is just as beautiful as the autumn colours, but Tikitere will put you right. And there’s an extensive nursery too (where it’s very hard not to buy anything).

The spring foliage of maples at Tikitere. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Katikati Rotary has its biennial garden ramble – Up the Garden Path – on Saturday and Sunday (November 14 and 15), “wet or fine” as the pamphlet says ominously. A $20 weekend ticket buys you entry to 13 gardens in an area from Pahoia to Waihi Beach. Find details on the Events page.

It includes the garden of Sue Sisley, which you can read about in this 2013 post.

Visitors to the Sisley garden in 2013 inspect a bower seat. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Penny Kilmartin’s garden is another reliable stop – a rambling country garden with masses of old-fashioned roses, including Rosa chinesis viridiflora, commonly known as the ‘green rose’, although the flower isn’t actually a flower but a collection of sepals and leaves!

Rosa chinesis viridiflora in Penny Kilmartin’s garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Enjoy your rambling, whichever or wherever you choose to go.

Unusual flowers

Lorraine Cox gave me a call last week to let me know she had some interesting plants in flower and would I like to come and take some photos? Lorraine keeps a beautiful garden in central Tauranga and knows her plants so, needless to say, I accepted her kind offer.

Echium pininana alba Snow Tower. Photo: Sandra Simpson

She has had her Echium pininana alba (Echium Snow Tower) plants for 4 years and despite being told they would flower after 2 years, it has taken them this long to come into bloom. These echiums have one towering flower spike per plant.

Described as ‘rare’, this echium is native to the island of Guernsey in the English Channel and prefers a cooler, moist position which, Lorraine believes, may explain why she’s had to wait so long for flowers as most of her plants are in full sun. The plant that has done the best this year (pictured above) is in semi-shade.

She found her bundle of plants at Bunnings (coming from Hamlin Nurseries in Papakura), proving it’s always worth keeping your eyes open.

Although her next treasure flowers only every 7 years it was to be found in a pot well away from the house – and for a very good reason. Her Amorphophallus konjac bulb, a gift from her son, emits the scent of rotting meat (to attract pollinators) as the flower unfurls. I couldn’t detect any scent the morning I took these photos, but by early afternoon Lorraine had emailed to say ‘Stinky’ was doing its thing.

Amorphophallus konjac in flower – there is no foliage at this stage, that comes later. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Photo: Sandra Simpson

Read more about this interesting plant here. Among its common names are voodoo lily,  corpse flower and devil’s tongue arum. Read a Sandra’s Garden post on the 2013 flowering in Auckland of this plant’s larger cousin Amorphophallus titanium.

Petrea volubilis isn’t particularly rare or unusual but what you may not know about this vine is that its true flowers are the tiny ones with a splash of white at the centre – the rest of the purple ‘stars’ are calices (I didn’t either until Lorraine told me).

The true flowers are the ‘doubles’ with a white centre. Photo: Sandra Simpson

It gets its common name, sandpaper vine, from the harsh surface of its leaves, which are in such contrast to the soft racemes of flowers.

Getting fruity

Labour Weekend is the traditional time to get tomatoes in, at least in warmer areas of New Zealand. In her Sunday newspaper column this week Lynda Hallinan mentioned Bristol Seeds of Wanganui, stockists of a wide range of heritage tomato seed. So I thought I’d share the link with you. Owners Frank and Joy Bristol have been working with Mark Christensen, the man who discovered Monty’s Surprise apple, on a project to analyse the health benefits of various heritage tomatoes.

Mark is director of the Heritage Food Crops Research Trust which has also been looking at beans and plums and peaches. Hear an April 2015 interview with Mark on National Radio.

Some of the Vege Grower’s 2014/15 crop. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Ecoseeds is another New Zealand company with a list of heritage vegetables, including tomatoes (to see the list, click on the down arrow to the right under ‘Product’). See also the Country Trading Company, King’s Seeds heirloom tomatoes and the list at Koanga Institute (including coloured corn).

Growing from seed isn’t difficult – it just takes some planning to get things in at the right time so they crop when you want them. You can always go to a garden centre and buy a potted plant that is partially grown, but if price is a factor, seeds are definitely a great way to grow food and flowers. And remember to chat to your neighbours. There’s many an excellent seed swap to be made over the fence.

The promise of things to come. Photo: Sandra Simpson

We moved our small Blush Babe apple tree to the back lawn this past winter and are now excited to see more blossom than it’s ever had so hope our busy worker bees are converting flowers to fruit. I mentioned a juicy and delicious apple my dear old great-uncle used to have (both long gone, alas) to a friend last week and in researching the name for her found the terrific website of Mana Whenua Apples. Stayman’s Winesap is the apple Uncle Percy had – a late apple, according to the Mana Whenua list, and a tree that originated from the US in 1866.

Rangpur lime. Photo: Sandra Simpson

My friend showed me an interesting fruit tree in her garden, labelled as ‘Rangpur Lime’ but which has orange skin and orange flesh. A little research reveals that it’s not a lime at all but a cross between a lemon and a mandarin, although because it’s so acidic can be used like a lime. The leaves are scented like kaffir lime leaves and can be used in cooking. The fruit seems to have come from the Indian subcontinent but is also known in China and Japan. Here’s some growing information (remember to alter the months for the southern hemisphere), while this website includes some recipes. It should be noted that the Rangpur lime also grows quite long thorns!