Flowering now

Some photos from a wander round my garden this week – having planted some seedling annuals at the weekend I can say that last night’s rain was timely but now we’ve had a day of good soaking rain, that’s probably enough!

Several Tillandsias (air plants – cousins to bromeliads) are offering some bright and unusual flowers.

Tillandsia heliconoides. Photo: Sandra Simpson

This pretty little Tillandsia above has green foliage (the vast majority have silvery-grey foliage) and may be one of the most neglected plants in my garden. It sits in an ornamental pottery bowl (no planting medium) and I leave it alone, apart from occasionally spraying it with the hose in summer!

But I reckon the most neglected plant in my garden may be this bromeliad below. The plants were in another (better) place until I got sick of the way they’d spread so were divided up and put under the oak tree – low light in summer, pretty dry all year round and no protection from the cold. And yet … they still flower.

Aechmea gamosepala, a bromeliad. I’m pretty sure the original plant was from Andrew Steens when he was selling through garden centres. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The alien-looking flower of Tillandsia punctulata, which will last for many months. Photo: Sandra Simpson

If a Tillandsia breaks or falls apart, don’t worry. You’ve now got two (or more) plants. They really are fool proof!

My friend Audrey has done something nifty with her beautifully grown collection (inside a small plant house) – recycled a greetings card sales stand to a Tillandsia plant stand.

Audrey’s Tillandsias on her recycled display stand. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Went up the back of Pahoia on Tuesday afternoon and passed a property that’s growing a commercial quantity of Phylica plumosa (among other things all in neat rows) – the tall plants looked lovely with the sunlight catching the fluffy flowers.

Phylica plumosa Golden Plume in my garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Phylica is native to South Africa where there are two types that look pretty much the same – Phylica plumosa and Phylica pubescens . Read more at this informative website.

Tree of the moment: Puriri

Although puriri trees (Vitex luscens) can flower and fruit off and on all year round, winter is the start of the main flowering season, and while visiting Te Puna Quarry Park at the weekend I finally got my first decent shots of puriri flowers – relative to the size of the tree the flowers are small and often hidden underneath the spreading canopy.

The tree is naturally found in roughly the top-third of the North Island. Its pretty flowers provide nectar for birds, while the fruit is an important food source too. The birds return the favour by spreading puriri seed with a helpful little dollop of fertiliser to start them off.

Puriri flowers. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Lawrie Metcalfe (The Cultivation of NZ Trees and Shrubs, 2011) calls the puriri a “large, handsome tree” and says it grows rapidly when young to a mature height of 12-20m or more. Young trees are frost tender. In Tauranga we have an avenue of mature puriri trees outside the Domain on Cameron Rd, where they don’t seem to mind vehicles being parked on their roots day in and day out!

Alison Evans in New Zealand in Flower (1987) notes that puriri are distantly related to the teak trees of Burma and Southeast Asia, and have one of the longest flowering periods of any native plant.

European settlers used the hardwood for fence posts, railway sleepers, house piles, bridge building and furniture (the veneers have a walnut-like finish), while Maori used the timber for garden tools and weapons. The timber, “very hard, dense and heavy and of great strength” (Metcalfe), is no longer used commercially. The green puriri moth (Aenetus virescens) tunnels through the tree causing much damage, although I’ve seen a magnificent table top that made a feature of the moth’s handiwork. See an unusual cabinet made from puriri here, along with some interesting information about the tree, including that it was traditionally used for eel traps because it sank and that the bark makes a yellow dye.

In the charming small book, Te Rongoa Maori (Maori Medicine, 1996), author PME Williams says the liquor from boiling leaves was used to relieve sprains, backache and ulcers, and he had also heard of an infusion of leaves being taken as a drink to relieve kidney complaints.

Puriri were also used as burial trees by Maori and there is a venerable example, Taketakerau, at Hukutaia Domain near Opotiki in the eastern Bay of Plenty. The Meaning of Trees website offers an age of about 2000 years old, and says: “After the death of a chief or person of high mana, the body would be adorned with a coronet of puriri leaves, and washed with an infusion of the leaves and water.” The website is well worth a visit.

Part of the tree known as Taketakerau in Hukutaia Domain. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A sign by the tree says: “The bones of the distinguished dead some years after burial, were with much ritual, including on occasion the sacrifice of slaves, dug up, scraped, painted with oxide of iron and deposited in a cave or hollow tree where they could not be found and put to base purposes by tribal enemies.

“A tree such as this was highly tapu [taboo] and any desecration of such tapu was a deadly matter and an affront to the tribal atua (ancestral gods). The offender’s death would surely follow.”

Flowering now

An aloe flower. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Not in my garden, alas, but Te Puna Quarry Park yesterday. I hope you like the photo gallery (which seemed to sort itself into colours).

The park’s Cymbidium orchids are flowering, always a gorgeous sight. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A monarch butterfly basking on a still-to-open flower on a tree grevillea. The park was full of butterflies enjoying the sun and the opening flowers. Photo: Sandra Simpson

And now for the pinks …

The only redeeming features of the seedy and weedy Prunus campanulata (Taiwanese cherry) – many would say – are its colour and being a food source for birds, like this one-eyed tui. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The park’s magnolia garden is starting to come into its own – and the trees are still young enough so the flowers are at eye level. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A stellata-type magnolia. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A shrub grevillea in bloom. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The pretty flowers of a Dombeya tree, native to Africa. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Topped off with some whipped cream …

Michaelia doltsopa. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Te Puna Quarry Park is off State Highway 2, about 15 minutes north of central Tauranga. It’s open seven days from early to dusk and admission is free, although donations for the volunteer project are always welcome (donation bin is by the main entry gate) – as are helping hands. If you’d like to meet new people and are reasonably active (age no barrier), volunteers work on Tuesdays from 9am (take morning tea) on various tasks, but weeders are always welcome, and quit at noon. To find out more  phone Ian Cross, 07 578 8735, or email society secretary Dulcie Artus.

Tied up in trees

A serious snowfall in both islands of New Zealand over the past few days has spurred me into posting about some garden work I saw in Japan last year.

Every year on November 1 workmen begin tying ropes to the pines in the famous Kenrokuen garden in Kanazawa (on Japan’s west coast). Yukizuri, which literally means snow hanging, helps the branches bear the weight of Kanazawa’s ‘heavy’ (moisture-laden) snow and have become a symbol for the city. The work always begins on the same date and so has become a ‘seasonal marker’ for the city’s inhabitants, even though snow generally doesn’t fall until January.


Yukizuri work is labour intensive with hundreds of ropes attached to a single tree. Not sure if there’s a health and safety officer present! Photo: Sandra Simpson

We saw yukizuri used in other places and on other types of tree, but it is something particularly associated with the pines of Kanazawa. One online source says the method was adapted from the practice of supporting  apple tree branches laden with fruit. Pines have a special place in the symbolism of Japan as the tree is among the many signifiers for long life, as well as good fortune and virtue. Read more about its symbolism here.

The Kenrokuen yukizuri trees are lit at night and look spectacular. The garden was started in about 1676 as a Chinese-style stroll garden, destroyed by fire in 1759 and restored from 1774 before opening its 11.4ha to the public in 1874.


Yukizuri detail. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Kenrokuen literally means combining (ken) – six (roku) – garden (en) with the ‘six attributes that make up a perfect garden’ being grandness, seclusion, artificiality, antiquity, waterways (water is piped from a river 11km away) and lookout views. It is considered one of the three best gardens in Japan.

Read more about the garden here.


Souvenir biscuits: The top one shows yukizuri and the bottom Kotoji-toro,  the stone lantern in Kenrokuen famous for its two legs of different length. Photo: Sandra Simpson


2016 Garden & Artfest Launch

Joined a happy throng on Friday evening for the launch of this year’s Bay of Plenty Garden & Art Festival (November 17-20).

The garden trail runs from Katikati to Te Puke and comprises 64 garden and/or art stops (and one show home!). At the launch we had a taste of the gardens and artists, but if you go to the website you’ll find the complete list. Several artists will exhibit in group shows but you’ll find individual profiles for the artists here.

Graham Crow will restage his magnificent paper hydrangeas at Trinity Wharf Hotel, with other artists in individual shows being tropical plant lover Barry Dabb (Tauranga Art Gallery) and Richard Orjis (Baycourt – where he will, apparently, ‘rip up the front lawn’ and cover it in wildflowers). A wildflower garden is also being established at The Hub at The Lakes by Geoff Brunsden from Wildflower World – or at least it will be when the ground dries up a bit!

Read about the special events here, including the Long Lunch with Michele A’Court, the fashion show, the BOP Designer of the Year floral art award, and activities at The Hub, such as a kokedama master class and workshops, and a sculpture walk.

Speakers and workshop presenters take to the stage at The Hub on Friday and Saturday, November 18 and 19. Included are food writers, award-winning landscapers, broadcaster Tony Murrell, Larnarch Castle head gardener and native plant expert Fiona Eadie and NZ Gardener editor Jo McCarroll. Read the programme here. Tickets for speakers are separate to the garden trail. Saturday offers free 30-minute talks between 11am and 12.30pm in a ‘Meet the Locals’ event.

Tickets for the garden trail are available now, with tickets for special events and speakers on sale from September 1. TECT cardholder discounts for local residents remain in place for the entire sales period.

And bees …

I had great fun observing all sorts of new plants and wildlife on my trip and discovered that even the bumblebees are different in North America! Apparently there are 50 species in the US, while New Zealand is home to 4, all of which were introduced from Britain.


Most likely Bombus californicus, which is found in western North America. This one was at work in a Seattle garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

alaskabee (2)

Possibly Bombus sitkensis, a ‘hairy’ bumblebee found from Alaska to California and as far east as Wyoming. Pictured at Icy Strait Point, near Hoonah, Alaska. Photo: Sandra Simpson

As you’ll see if you look at this 2-page North America bumblebee identification chart, you really have to study the insects to be sure of the name.


And here’s a different one again, I think! Could it be Bombus melanopygus? Pictured in a park in Wrangell, Alaska. Photo: Sandra Simpson

If any readers are able to help with ID, I’d love to hear more.


At work on orange hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum) in Wrangell, Alaska. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Orange hawkweed may look pretty but the US government lists it as an ‘invasive’ plant for Alaska and says: “A favourite flower of unwary gardeners and wildflower enthusiasts. Found along roads, riparian areas and beaches. Moves into forb [wildflower] meadows where it spreads aggressively. Forms dense mats, crowding out native plants.”

Now we’re on to the smaller bees, I’m not even going to attempt to name them!


An orange globe mallow flower attracts a bee at the Painted Hills in eastern Oregon. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Orange globe mallow (Sphaeralcea munroana) is a recognised wildflower of the Pacific northwest of the US. Read more here. And read a little about the wildflowers of the John Day Fossil Beds here.


In the same area I saw this bee diving headfirst into the flower to do its job. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I’m tentatively identifying the flower above as Linaria dalmatica as the foliage looks about the same. Linaria are, as you may have guessed from the flower, related to the snapdragon. Both this and Linaria vulgaris (butter and eggs plant, toadflax) are considered weeds in Oregon and started life as garden escapees.

The ‘mossy balls’ I spotted on briar-type rose bushes in Washington state had me scratching my head until I could spend some time with Google. Known as mossy rose galls, they are made by the plant as result of ‘injury’ by one of two wasps. The centre of the gall then becomes a nest for the wasp larvae. Apparently, the galls don’t affect the health of the rose bush. Read more here.

mossy gall

Mossy rose galls on a rose bush in Port Townsend, Washington. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A Fourth of July visit to the Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve in western Oregon brought about a casual meeting with retired scientist Ron Spendal who ‘as a hobby’ is working with Montana State University to learn more about the grass-carrying wasp (Isodontia).


Ron Spendal checks one of his nesting stations. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The spindle-waisted wasps, which up until 3 years ago weren’t known to be in Oregon, are ‘pretty docile’ as they make solitary nests so don’t have a hive to defend. Their name comes from what they do – carry long strands of dry grass to stuff into small holes and create a nest. Ron’s stations are testing how deep females will go to nest – it’s further than previously thought – and observing the nesting cycle. Females lay about 30 eggs in a lifetime and paralyse drumming katydids, bringing them back for their young to feed on.

Ron says the wasps are pollinators but ‘inadvertently’ as they dip into flowers for an energy-boosting sip or two of nectar. “Bees have feathered hairs designed to collect pollen while wasps have straight hair that just a little bit sticks to.”

Great to see citizen science in action!

This video shows a nest being built (3:50).

Birds …

Plenty of amazing and interesting birds to be seen in the US – besides the raptors, which I’ll post about separately. My joy knew no bounds when I was introduced to hummingbirds! I think the women standing next to me in the Chihuly Museum garden thought I was bonkers until I explained I’d just seen my first hummingbird – they understood completely.

These pocket rockets are tiny, weighing only a few grams, and make the most amazing buzzing sound as they thrum the air with their wings. They’re pretty bolshie too and drive each other off feeders, their long beaks resembling swords or bayonets! (Having one whoosh right by my ear was scary.)  I began to refer to them as ‘stealth birds’ after seeing one rise vertically above a second-floor deck rail, look around and disappear vertically below the rail!

Because of the energy hovering takes they need nectar/sugar syrup every 10 to 15 minutes – and the rufous hummingbird still manages to migrate each year from Mexico (possibly even Panama) to southern Alaska! Read about the citizen science that is helping track the migration. I can personally confirm how far north these birds go as we were startled to have our red jackets checked out by a hummingbird while on a cruise ship at Hubbard Glacier (60 degrees north)!

This link takes you to an interesting article on what hummingbirds eat – apparently they migrate at the same time as sapsuckers (a kind of woodpecker) and feed from the same sap wells in trees.

Scientists have just released information about their flight patterns, read that here (the flight video is only 52 seconds long).


My first hummingbird, seen in the Chihuly Museum Garden in Seattle. From the corner of my eye it looked like an extraordinarily large insect! Photo: Sandra Simpson



A hummingbird on a feeder at a bed and breakfast stop in Washington. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The state bird of Washington is the American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) – and I was lucky enough to see them in all three ‘lower 48’ states I visited (Washington, Oregon and California). Read more here and listen to its call. They’re also known as the lightning bird, which is a lovely name for such a yellow bird.


American goldfinch in Mt Rainier National Park. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Stellar’s jays (Cyanocitta stelleri) look like what they are – bovver boys! Bold and aggressive, the books say, and likely to be found scavenging food around human habitation, including campgrounds. As you can see from the photo, they’re closely related to the blue jay. Read more about the Stellar jay here.


Stellar’s jay seen in Mt Rainier National Park. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The birds are named for Georg Steller (1709-46), a German-born naturalist. He  discovered them on an Alaskan island in 1741 while on an ill-starred voyage with Danish-born Russian explorer Vitus Bering. Stellar was the first European to step on to what is now Alaska. The story of the voyage, including Stellar wanting to treat scurvy with berries and leaves, is worth a read. His journals were later used by Captain Cook.

And finally, a blackbird … but with a little flash of brilliance (only for the blokes though, typical). Read more here.


A male red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) in Oregon. Photo: Sandra Simpson