Fungal Foray 2015

Some of you may have noticed that I’ve got the occasional piece of writing appearing in the NZ Gardener magazine. The latest piece is in this month’s issue and is about Shirley Kerr, fungus and the annual Fungal Foray (this year in Manawatu).

The piece has been put on to the Stuff website, so if you don’t get the magazine you can pop over there and have a read and see one of Shirley’s great photos (despite the photo credit, the one of Shirley was taken by me). Fungi lovers to meet up in Manawatu.

Our native plants: Golden tainui

Also known as gumdigger’s soap, Pomaderris kumeraho is a shrub of about 3m tall. The name ‘gumdigger’s soap’ is because the pioneer-era diggers of kauri gum (amber) in Northland used the flowers and leaves as a soap – rubbing them between wet hands to create a lather. The plant flowers prolifically in spring and grows naturally in poor soils from Auckland north. See photos of the sunshine-yellow flowers here.

Golden tainui in bud – the cream-coloured buds open to sunshine yellow flowers. Photo: Sandra Simpson

There are many other members of the Pomaderris family, including P. apetala (tainui) which is mentioned in Maori legend – a green bough used as flooring in the Tainui canoe grew at the first place a camp was made in Aotearoa, near the moth of the Mokau River in Taranaki. The inference is that it came from elsewhere in Polynesia but research has discovered that P. apetala is native only to New Zealand and Australia. Lawrie Metcalf in his Cultivation of New Zealand Trees & Shrubs (Raupo, 2011) notes that the New Zealand native is now called P. apetala ssp maritime and is regularly confused with the very similar P. aspera, which is native to Tasmania but has become naturalised in several parts of New Zealand.

The authors of Gardening with New Zealand Plants, Shrubs and Trees (Collins, 1988) recommend P. phylicifolia as a small, flower-covered garden shrub that is drought tolerant.

Lone Pine – and its descendents

Young pines grown from seed gathered from an authenticated descendent of the Lone Pine at Gallipoli were planted in various parts of New Zealand at events on Anzac Day.

The Battle of Lone Pine began on August 6, 1915, and is the site of the main Australian war memorial at Gallipoli in southwestern Turkey. It’s also one of the five Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries on the peninsula that are burial places for those whose names are unknown.

Dr Toby Stovold with his crop of young pines. Photo: Scion

The authenticated Pinus brutia tree is at Paeroa Golf Club and seeds were gathered in 2012 by Dr Toby Stovold of Scion (formerly NZ Forest Research Institute) in Rotorua. About 50 trees were propagated by Dr Stovold and gifted to RSAs (Returned Service Association) around the country. As well as the RSA plantings, seedlings have also gone to the National Army Museum in Waiouru for a memorial garden, Christchurch’s Park of Remembrance and Government Gardens in Rotorua.

Lone Pine cemetery at Gallipoli. The tree pictured is a stone pine, whereas the original is thought to have been a Turkish red pine. Photo: Wikipedia

Interestingly, the Wikipedia entry about the cemetery (linked to above) mentions two types of pine that have grown at the site – claiming the original to have been Pinus halepensis (Aleppo pine) and its replacement as Pinus pinea (stone pine). So I wonder how the Paeroa tree was ‘authenticated’ if the original tree no longer exists? Family legends are notoriously unreliable and there are many, many trees that have been grown from seeds and acorns ‘brought back from the war’. In this case, the Turkish red pine in Paeroa is said to trace back to a pine cone brought home by Australian soldier Sergeant Keith McDowell after World War 1.

This website says Pinus brutia is ‘closely related’ to Pinus halepensis so all may be well. The common name for P. brutia is Calabrian pine – Calabria is a province in Italy, called Brutia by the Romans.

Other trees around New Zealand have also claimed to be descended from Gallipoli’s Lone Pine but so far the claims have been found to be astray. However, there is a tree in Rotorua Cemetery which Dr Stovold is testing. Read about that here. The tree was planted on Anzac Day 1965 by Lieutenant-Colonel Cyril Bassett, VC.

In a 2007 article in the NZ Foresty Journal Mike Wilcox and David Spencer looked into the story of Lone Pine tree seeds making their way to this part of the world and had this to say: “After World War I Sergeant Keith McDowell brought back a cone from the famous Lone Pine, from which four trees were later planted at war memorials in Victoria, Australia, in 1933-34. These are Pinus brutia. However, most Anzac pine trees planted in Australia and New Zealand to commemorate men lost in the Gallipoli campaign, and in particular the Lone Pine Ridge, are Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) which does not grow naturally in Gallipoli … The origin of these P. halepensis trees is attributed to a cone collected by an Australian soldier [from a branch or log] in the Turkish trenches … probably brought in from a woodlot or hedgerow planted on the Gallipoli Peninsula … the only authentic Pinus brutia in New Zealand from the Gallipoli Lone Pine seems to be the one at the Paeroa Golf Course very likely derived from the cone Sergeant McDowell brought back with him to Australia, and as such must rank as one of the most historic trees in the country.” Read the full article here (downloads as a pdf).

They go on to mention Sergeant McDowell’s story: “During the withdrawal from Gallipoli … Sergeant Keith McDowell, picked up a pine cone from the original Lone Pine and placed it in his haversack as a souvenir. Sergeant McDowell carried the cone for the remainder of the war and when he returned to Australia, gave it to his aunt, Mrs Emma Gray … ‘Here Aunty, you’ve got a green thumb, see if you can grow something out of this,’ the late Mrs Gray’s son Alexander recalled. But it wasn’t until some 12 years later that Mrs Gray planted the few seeds from the cone, four of which sprouted and grew … One was planted in Wattle Park, Melbourne in 1933, another at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, another at the Soldiers Memorial Hall … just north-east of Warrnambool, and the fourth, on 23 January, 1934, in the Warrnambool Botanic Gardens.”

Wilcox and Spencer relate the story that the seeds of the Paeroa tree came from Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens from a tree descended from the original Lone Pine – and although there is no record of one of Mrs Gray’s trees being planted there, the story may simply have become muddled over time. A Melbourne park mixed up with Warrnambool Botanic Gardens perhaps. We’ll never know the truth about these trees but the sentiment is surely in the right place.

Secret in the soil

David Walpole is a gardener who likes to know what’s going on in the soil and has made a particular study of the trace elements selenium and boron.

“I was having trouble with my vege garden and my sister who was visiting from Western Australia and had read about the work of Dr Rex Newnham recommended boron,” David says. “So I scattered around a teaspoon for every 10 square metres and everything came away. Not every plant needs it but the brassicas do, rhubarb, silverbeet and beetroot.” It is also beneficial for strawberries, apples, pears and avocados.

“Beans don’t like it though,” says David, “and boron is also a weedkiller so it has a range of properties.”

David Walpole covers his seedlings to protect them from neighbourhood cats. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Boron is one of the most common soil deficiencies worldwide, says David who was an industrial chemist for 10 years before becoming a sheep and beef farmer on the outskirts of Tauranga for 40 years. It is available as borax, a compound of boron, and in commercial mixes of trace elements.

Selenium, a mineral largely missing in New Zealand soils, has interested David for the past 12 years, his study including a trip to Finland where by law farmers must add selenium to fertilisers.

“A study in the United States found that those in a control group given selenium had half the rate of lung, bowel and prostate cancer of the general population – but there had been no change in the cancer rates in Finland.

“I contacted the professor who had done the US study, Dr Gerhard Schrauzer, and he said the difference was the dose – the study had used 1.7 micromolar of selenium per litre of blood but in Finland the level was about 1.4. New Zealanders have a level of about 1.0.”

Since adding boron and selenium to the soil in his Tauranga garden, David Walpole has had increased crop yields. Pictured here are broccoli (front) and curly-leafed kale. Photo: Sandra Simpson

David, who runs the Tauranga U3A health group, says  selenium added to the soil will also result in an increased crop yield.

He and wife Erica retired to the Tauranga home of her late parents, Jay and Eric Naumann, in 2005. Eric was a long-time principal at Pillan’s Point School. When the Walpoles arrived there were a couple of old citrus trees in the front lawn, and David has added more for year-round fruit.

Tangelos are just one of the many types the provide David and Erica Walpole with year-round citrus. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“We start with the Harwood Late orange in April and May, then mandarins in June and July, the Clementine and Satsuma varieties, navel oranges in August and September, prolific tangelos from October to December and Encore mandarins from December to March.

“I wasn’t getting many flowers on the Encore until a mate told me a bird should be able to fly through it so I thinned the branches and now it’s covered in fruit.”

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

Read an interview with Dr Gerhard Schrauzer.

Read a paper by Dr Rex Newnham on the links between boron and arthritis.

Mellow fruitfulness

Autumn seems to have come upon us with a rush, hasn’t it? I’ve changed the header photo at the top of the page to more accurately reflect the season – what follows is the story of the woman who has made the tree-filled garden.

Since Ruth Appleton and husband John bought their 2.2ha at Pahoia in 1992 they have been developing their own mini-arboretum, even though they didn’t move on to the site until 1997.

The land falls steeply away from the road, is boggy at the bottom and climbs up to a ridge on the other side. Ruth is only half joking when she says that she has been given only the worst bits to garden – cattle graze the rest and John has a big shed for his mechanics hobby.

“We used to come over from Tokoroa and stay in our mobile caravan,” Ruth says. “I remember the first ute-load of trees we bought for planting, we thought we had such a lot. But when we’d put them in, they hardly went anywhere.”

She has no idea of the number of trees she has planted but says she always intended it to be an autumn garden – plenty of colour set off by evergreens. “To me leaf colour is more important than flowers.”

Ruth sets off her garden’s autumn colour with plenty of evergreen trees. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Among the colourful trees are the terracotta swamp cypress (Taxodium distichum) which, despite its name, grows in wet or dry conditions; the yellows of golden ash (Fraxinus excelsior), which also comes in a dwarf variety, paper birch (Betula papyrifera), and Gingko biloba; various bright shades, including scarlet and orange of Japanese and Canadian maples (Acers); and the spectacular Liquidamber styraciflua, which vary from yellow to deep purple on one tree.

But Ruth admits that her garden looks pretty good in spring too as the cherries (Prunus, both upright and weeping), dogwoods (Cornus), magnolias and Melias comes into bloom. She also loves Fagus sylvatica Rohani (European beech) for its soft spring foliage, which is purple – in autumn the tree takes on coppery tones.

“I don’t buy lots of one thing, as you can probably tell. I tend to buy things and then find somewhere to put them. I have a cherry that doesn’t flower much but it stays because of the colour of its autumn leaves.”

A Japanese umbrella pine (Sciadopitys verticillata) snuggles into a red Acer maple. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Her first task was to create a series of five ponds to tame the general swampiness along the valley floor, including doing all the rockwork along the sides of the main pond.

“I love working in the garden. John helps too but I do the mowing, the planting, the pruning … anything. I love it all.”

“John’s tree” is a Cunninghamia lanceolata (China fir), which comes with spiky green needles or softer blue needles and, Ruth says, has to be mowed round cautiously.

Plants along the edge of the ponds must withstand both wet and dry as the ponds tend to shrink without regular rainfall. It’s a hard ask but, through trial and error, Ruth has found success with flaxes, daylilies, bog sage and ligularias, while Carpet Roses in various shades are dotted through the garden.

“They are just marvellous plants,” she says of the roses. “They’re hardy and never stop flowering.”

Cornus Cherokee Daybreak is Ruth’s pick of the bunch for autumn. ‘The leaves change colour throughout the year, becoming very intense in autumn and it has white flowers in spring.’ Photo: Sandra Simpson

As we walk she makes mental notes to herself to limb this, move that, check on the health of something, picks guavas to munch and retrieves her favourite shovel from a bank where she’d forgotten she left it. “I do walk around the garden for pleasure but I always notice what needs doing.”

Ruth has used small-flowered grevilleas widely on her clay banks and intends to plant more prostrate plants, especially those enjoyed by birds and bees.

Anything put in below the shelterbelt has a hard life as “the wind belts across the top of the shelterbelt and drops down” but a white protea has surprised her by doing well there.

Ruth’s trees are all given time to show off their attributes, including a Davidia involucrata (handkerchief or dove tree) which has unusual hanging white flowers – that is, according to the tag as Ruth is still waiting for hers to bloom. A Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip tree) also needs a few years’ growth before flowering.

Cornus Purple Glory has vibrant autumn colour. Photo: Sandra Simpson


A small memorial garden, entered between camellia hedges, has been created off to one side of the pathway round the main pond and Ruth has also made a “fairies’ garden” for her grandchildren, complete with a friendly gnome, in another secret corner.

“It’s a good garden to let your imagination run wild in,” she laughs.

This maple turns a vibrant shade of red, set off perfectly by a clear, blue sky. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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

Many hands make light work

For the first time in its almost 20-year history Te Puna Quarry Park is concerned by a lack of volunteers, particularly men. President Ian Cross is hoping to get the word out through local media and says the problem has arisen simply because of age. While there are generally plenty of women to tackle the weeds, the park society is becoming desperate for men who can operate machinery and generally do some of the heavier work – previous experience not necessary!

If you are interested in joining the work mornings – Tuesdays from 9am to noon – phone Ian on 07 578 8735 or email the society secretary Dulcie Artus. If you’re new to the Tauranga-Katikati area, working at the quarry is a great way to meet new people and make a worthwhile contribution to a project that is enjoyed by hundreds of people each year.

So now is a good opportunity to profile two of the volunteers who have made a difference at the park – Jo Dawkins and her sister Mary Parkinson.

In 2005 I managed to get these two busy bees to stand still long enough for a photo. They haven’t changed much. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A lifetime – two lifetimes – spent working with plants and flowers has taken a new twist as sisters Mary Parkinson and Jo Dawkins put their energies into helping develop Te Puna Quarry Park,  the Western Bay’s premier public garden.

Born on a farm in Oropi, near Tauranga, the sisters grew up surrounded by a large, lovingly tended garden. Their father, Arnold Shanks, had emigrated to New Zealand from Northern Ireland and met their England-born mother, Christine, on a ship when returning to Britain on a visit. She was going home after a stay in South Africa.

And it was their father who was the keen gardener, although they say both their parents loved “beautiful things” and the home and garden were decorated accordingly.

Volunteering at the outbreak of World War 2, Arnold was sent to Greece, captured and spent four years in an Austrian prison camp. “He said the only thing that kept him sane was thinking about the garden and always redesigning it,” Jo says. “He had a small tin of watercolour paints with him and we still have some of the paintings he did of his ideas. The love of gardening kept him going.” The 0.4ha garden comprised a tennis court, lily ponds and flower beds and was the scene of annual church garden parties after the war.

A visitor from England snaps a souvenir of one of the Quarry Park’s many sculptures. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Mary’s first ambition was to become a marine biologist, dropped, she says, because she couldn’t swim well. Instead, she opened a florist shop at No. 2 Devonport Rd in Tauranga in 1956, the town’s first florist. “The shop became available and opportunity strikes only once, although I was terrified about going into business,” she says. And it may have been an inherited talent from her father – who had created his bride’s elaborate bouquet for their wedding in 1933 – which nudged her in this direction.

Vogue Flowers was a success, although Mary says “we made a lot of friends but not much money”. Highlights included making presentation bouquets for visiting Queen Sirikit of Thailand in 1962 and one of water lilies for Queen Elizabeth for her visit in 1963.

When their mother became ill with cancer and wanted to make a final return to England in 1958, Mary handed the business to Jo, who was part-way through teacher training. After her mother’s death, Mary worked as a florist at London’s Savoy Hotel where she prepared arrangements for such people as Princess Margaret, ballerina Alicia Markova and flamboyant pianist Liberace who always wanted a floral grand piano.

While in London, she attended the Cordon Bleu school run by the doyenne of 1950s English domestic style, Constance Spry. “We cooked in the morning and did flowers in the afternoon,” Mary recalls. They were big, massed arrangements which complemented the houses they were in.”

On her return, Mary rejoined Vogue Flowers until the birth of her first child in 1963, when she sold the business.

But she and Jo have never stopped working with plants – they both worked for John and Mary Ewart when they began to grow Tauranga’s first commercial carnation crop, while Mary has had a nursery specialising in kiwifruit seedlings, and Jo has a citrus orchard and garden nursery.

“There’s a lot of pleasure to be had in planting a seed and watching it come up and flower,” Mary says of their lifelong interest in growing things.

She is also something of an orchid expert, having joined the Tauranga Orchid Society 30 years ago and also has previously run a business hybridising and exporting South African disa orchids.

Cymbidium orchids blooming at the Quarry. Photo: Sandra Simpson

But even Mary admits she had no idea the orchid area at Te Puna Quarry Park would become what is believed to be the largest outdoor planting of cymbidium orchids in the Southern Hemisphere.

Jo, whose home is in the shadow of the former quarry north of Tauranga, has been part of the community project since it began almost 20 years ago and has served a term as president of the society’s committee, while Mary joined the volunteer workers 18 years ago.

“It’s great to be part of a volunteer group creating something for the community,” Jo says. The park has always placed an emphasis on art too, and work in the park includes sculpture, mosaic and pottery.

“It’s such a magical place,” she says, “but it was very hard in the beginning, as a gardener, to adjust to the size of it. It was no good planting just one of something, we had to think in big drifts.” More than 4000 cymbidium orchids might be described as a big drift. “We were lucky the orchids were the first plants to arrive and we could choose a site,” Mary says.

Four truckloads of “fill” orchids, donated by former nurseryman John Kenyon, began the planting and since then almost all the plants have been donated. To plant them on the steeper banks, the orchids were rolled down and Mary and her helpers (most in their 70s and 80s) clambered after them and chipped them in where they stopped. The orchid area now features several other varieties as well, so there’s always something flowering.

These days Mary’s most often to be found in the butterfly garden, a project that had its genesis in 2006 when she saw a swan plant growing in a patch of weeds on the “middle terrace”.

A grant from the Bay of Plenty regional council’s Environmental Enhancement Fund paid for a butterfly hatching house (and to protect caterpillars when predators are about) and a noticeboard, while in 2009 Wildflower World began a relationship with the garden donating seed to extend the butterfly area for a Monarch Butterfly New Zealand Trust conference in Tauranga which Mary, then a trustee, organised.

The Butterfly Garden is popular with visitors. Photo: Sandra Simpson

During the breeding season Mary often responds to calls to rescue monarch caterpillars that have run out of food and has been trying try to establish a population of native red admiral and yellow admiral butterflies at the quarry. She’s at the quarry most days when the butterflies are hatching, and on hand for regular school visits. “When the ‘wild kids’ are given butterflies to hold it transforms them – the big smiles make it all worthwhile,” she says.

Jo, a former president of the International Plant Propagators Association, and Mary have developed a sub-tropical area, bounded on one side by Australian natives, including a prostate Banksia and winter-flowering grevilleas, much loved by birds, and on another by South African natives.

And they have both, along with grandchildren, created a mosaic “pool” at the bottom of a tumble of rocks which suggested itself to Jo as a dry waterfall. Small wooden “bridges” on the path add to the illusion.

Among plants of interest in this area are Chorisias (monkey no-climb trees) with trunks full of thorns and requiring some lateral thinking when it came to moving them for planting, a red banana palm and a rare pink version (in New Zealand) of the Tibouchina shrub.

A massed planting of lilies above the Herb Garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Jo has planted about five varieties of the Araucaria family, which includes monkey-puzzle and Norfolk Island pines, near the Chorisias, and groups of maples and magnolias in a new area, as well as a tackling a steep, hot bank which is being filled with grevilleas, native to Australia.

“We are especially grateful for the generosity of commercial and private growers,” Jo says. “We don’t have the finances to rush out and buy, for example, 50 hibiscus plants, but if we ask for, say, three we usually get 12.

“The quarry park isn’t a botanical garden, but we do want it to be botanically interesting,” she says. “The rewards for our hard work are to see people enjoying it.”

Te Puna Quarry Park is signposted off State Highway 2, just north of Te Puna, and is open daily during daylight hours. Free admission but a donation is appreciated.

This article is a combination of two pieces that were originally published by the Bay of Plenty Times and appear here with permission.

BOP Orchid Society champion blooms

Popped back to the show this afternoon – and had a lovely surprise waiting for me. Second prize in the Cattleya section! And with my first-ever entry in an orchid show!! Couldn’t stop smiling. So here is SLC Coastal Gold ‘Geyser Gold’ (the SLC stands for Sophrolaeliocattleya, from Sophronitis, Laelia and Cattleya, its parent genera).

Photo: Sandra Simpson

But the main event, naturally, was the champions’ table:

Champion of the show was Rhyncattleanthe Lee’s Ruby ‘Cherry Ripe’ grown by Lee and Roy Neale of Auckland. Photo: Sandra Simpson

This magnificent spray of Oncidium trulliforum flowers won Reserve Champion for Carl Christensen of Napier. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Tauranga Orchid Society meets once a month on a Tuesday evening in the Wesley Church hall in 13th Ave, contact is Natalie Simmonds, phone 07 543 0847. The BOP Orchid Society meets once a month on a Sunday afternoon in Te Puke, contact is Elizabeth Bailey, phone 07 578 6569. It’s perfectly admissible to belong to both!