Feeding the bees

Tree Crops Association branches are having sales – Waikato (July 4), Auckland (July 11) and Bay of Plenty (July 18). See the Events page for details.

Worried by a lack of bees in your garden? You should be for it is the bees and bumblebees that pollinate most of our fruit, nuts, vegetables and flowers but if New Zealand follows northern hemisphere trends these busy little workers are at risk – and so are our crops, whether domestic or commercial.

Bill and Elizabeth Rae, who have a kiwifruit orchard north of Katikati, have been following news stories and research on the threats to bees in Britain and the United States and are working to try and stop a decline in bee numbers here. They are members of the Bee Group within the Bay of Plenty Tree Crops Association – motto Bee Wise – and have compiled information and planting lists for gardeners.

Alnus jorullensis (Mexican alder) flowers in winter in the Western Bay of Plenty and is attractive to bees. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“There seems to be a lot of information for the commercial growers and not a lot for the home gardener, either on useful plants or the use of chemical sprays,” says Bill, a trained botanist and former teacher at Katikati College.

“Spraying on roadsides and under kiwifruit vines takes away flowering weeds, monocultural cropping takes away the diversity of pollen bees seem to need to stay healthy, and home gardeners aren’t necessarily planting to support bees, especially these so-called easy-care gardens with lots of stones.”

Research is showing that the decline in bee numbers may be down to reduced plant diversity – those with access to pollen from a range of plants had healthier immune systems, French scientists have found – while another European study in 2008 showed that bee numbers were declining in step with a reduction in wild flowers.

In 2010 the French government announced a project to sow nectar-rich flowers by roadsides, while the previous year the British government pledged ₤10 million to research ways to halt the decline in pollinators, including bees and butterflies.

“There’s a general concern around the world about the decline in bee numbers,” Bill says, “and being orchardists ourselves we’ve heard a lot about being careful with the bees that are brought in for pollination.”

If you have the space, banksia shrubs and trees are winter flowering and also attract nectar-eating birds. Photo: Sandra Simpson

In their own home orchard and vege garden Elizabeth sows mesclun salad plants and basil and encourages them to bolt to flower for the bees. “I’ve got lots of nepeta [catnip], borage, thyme and lavender that bees like, and corydalis flowers for a long time and is always covered in bees.”

She suggests an area planted in perennial wallflowers (erysimum) will help bee-food shortages from spring through to midwinter, and notes that so-called lawn weeds are of great value too – self-heal, clover and daisies. “I mow the lawn in areas now,” Bill says, “so there’s always something flowering in the grass for the bees.”

Good winter sources of nectar, according to Bill, are two weedy plants – gorse and mangrove, “perhaps worth considering when you say mangroves are useless”, he says. Other useful bee food includes conifers that, ironically, don’t need bees for pollination.

The Bee Group has made its information available to the Bay of Plenty Regional Council and it is posted on the Tree Crops Association website. See also the Trees for Bees website (includes a North Island and South Island planting guide).

Winter: Puriri (flowers off and on all year), casimiroa, hazel trees, hardenbergia, rocket.
Spring: Puka, maples, apple trees, ajuga, rosemary.
Summer: Lancewood, tupelo, citrus trees, alyssum, mock orange.
Autumn: Houhere, viburnum, zinnia, echinacea, fuchsia.

A bee and a monarch butterfly are finding winter food in an aloe flower. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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

Postcard from Feilding

Sometimes when you receive bad news, the only thing to do is hug each other and go out into the garden for a potter and a ponder. That’s what I did this morning on a gloriously sunny winter’s day. Get the thoughts in order. So I’m sending a postcard out into the world wishing all those facing difficult times ahead their fair share of moments of peace. Hard to know what to say to those who are left behind except that time does help, a bit.

Clematis Freckles – flowers and seed heads. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Earlier this month I found Clematis Freckles flowering on the block of public toilets in Manchester Square, Feilding. A winter-flowering vine, now there’s a grand thing. This story from the Guardian (UK) tells you a bit more about the plant. Here’s some New Zealand information about the plant, although I will note that the flowers in Feilding were much smaller and more bell shaped, sort of like hellebores.

Planting it on a brick wall in Feilding was a good idea as the vine will receive just that bit extra heat through the Manawatu winter.

Not the greatest shot, but the best I could do on a grey, breezy day. Photo: Sandra Simpson

By the way, it really is ‘Friendly Feilding’ and the Farmers’ Market in the square on a Friday is one of the best in the country.

Charges dropped

The Herald on Sunday today reports that the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has withdrawn criminal charges against well-known kauri (Agathis australis) expert Graeme Platt. Read the story here. Good on Cherie Howie from the HoS for regularly following up this story, most other news outlets lost interest as the case wound on.

The MPI has been left with egg on its face after a dressing down by the judge in the latest Platt hearing. I understand that Clive and Nicki Higgie, owners of Paloma garden near Wanganui, have also had the charges against them dropped (here is a link to a story from the end of last year about the case against them). Suffering a dawn raid at the same time as Graeme Platt was Jack Hobbs, curator of Auckland Regional Botanic Gardens, but he wasn’t, in the end, charged.

Here is the original Herald on Sunday story from 2012, which gives an insight into the mix-up in tree names for a Pacific kauri – legally imported from Vanuatu – that seems to have triggered the whole MPI response.

Go here to read about the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (1996).

Garden art from the Junktion

John Hilhorst is always on the lookout for “interesting stuff” and has sheds full of odds and ends – fortunately wife Karen shares his passion for creative recycling.

The top two sections of the Great Balls of Wire artwork by Karen and John Hilhorst at Te Puna Quarry Park. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The couple are behind one of Te Puna Quarry Park’s newer sculptures, Great Balls of Wire, a set of three balls made from barbed wire and mounted on a central post.

“You can’t use barbed wire on boundary fences on public roads anymore,” John says, “so there has been some old stuff around. We’ve sourced some from Karen’s brother’s farm in Waikato but we’ve used it all. We advertised for more but didn’t have any replies.”

Karen made her first ball wearing shearing chaps and a leather glove to handle the wire. “But one hand had to be free to use the tool to join the pieces,” she says. “It was pretty hard on my skin.”

That ball sits in their Tidalwood garden south of Katikati, and it was this that John and Gay Ireland saw on a visit.

“We’ve known the Irelands for years – we bought their Mamaku dairy farm 25 years ago and have been friends ever since,” Karen says.

The Irelands commissioned a barbed wire sculpture for Te Puna Quarry Park, where they are both long-time volunteers. Karen refined her original design and John helped her make the three-tier Great Balls of Wire.

A walk round their garden reveals their quirky sense of humour – Faulty Towers is a collection of op shop pottery fixed to clay irrigation pipes, a set of stocks and a knight were made by John for a mediaeval-theme birthday party and the Orbitron is an old railway flour carrier converted into a children’s playhouse by John.

John and Karen Hilhorst in their kitchen garden, which is surrounded by John’s home-made palisade fence. Photo: Sandra Simpson

At Karen’s request he made a palisade-style fence around their potager, primarily to keep out pukeko and rabbits. A neighbour was so impressed she ordered one too, but about five times larger.

“ It was quite a job,” Karen says, “especially doing the points. There are four varying lengths and John fixes them in randomly.”

Some of Karen’s mosaic work on an upside-down terracotta pot. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Karen, who used to do mosaic work, goes to pottery classes and makes art from groups of recycled objects, such as candlesticks or colanders, while John is restoring an old truck (he’s made a sign from the deck – General Junktion) and sculpting a recycled block of Oamaru stone.

“We’re always looking for things that may be interesting one day,” he says.

“We bought home a trailer-load when they closed the museum at the Historic Village [in Tauranga] and when we go away anywhere we’re always on the lookout. One thing about this though, you’ve got to have a reasonable-size shed.”

A piece of recycled electrical equipment ties together the colours of Loropetalum China Pink, coloured flaxes and papyrus. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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

Rose-planting time

The annual New Zealand Rose Review had arrived in my mailbox, courtesy of Hayden Foulds at the NZ Rose Society, and the garden centres are stocking up on plants, although over the holiday weekend just gone I heard one staff member say “head office has dropped a sale on us and our roses haven’t come in yet” as she forlornly surveyed the few plants on offer.

Christchurch Remembers, bred by Rob Somerfield of Tauranga, won the Gold Star of the South Pacific – the top award – at last year’s national Rose Trial Awards. It will be on sale in 2016-17. Photo: Hayden Foulds

The Rose Review is a great little publication that’s available to purchase ($8.50) from the Rose Society. It contains the winners of the Trial Ground Awards, the Pacific Rose Bowl Festival and the top 10 favourite roses as voted on by rose society members – but the real value for gardeners is in the rating of various freely available plants by rosarians around the country. My Mum, for example (a New Zealand-bred rose), is being grown by people in Kaitaia, Waikato, Manawatu, South Canterbury, Otago and Southland which covers a good many of the climate zones in New Zealand (it gets a pretty good review by everyone).

A vase of My Mum, a rose bred by Bob Matthews of Wanganui. Photo: Sandra Simpson

There’s also a summary of the roses that have been reported on for 5 years with, for example, Absolutely Fabulous (Julia Childs in the US) receiving 7.7 (very good) as a garden plant, 6.4 (average to good) as an exhibition flower, 7.8 (very good) for health and 5.1 (moderate) for fragrance. “Very healthy with brilliant repeat flowering and its only fault is that the blooms can fade.”

And finally, a short article on using roses in mixed garden plantings, including some lovely photos.

The top plants on the favourite rose lists, by the way, all retained their number one spots from last year Paddy Stephens (hybrid tea and health), Raspberry Ice (floribunda), Sally Holmes (modern shrub), Irresistible (miniature and patio), Dublin Bay (large-flowering climber), Dusky Dancer (small-flowering climber), Margaret Merrill (fragrant) and Jean Ducher (heritage).

I’ve listed the always-worthwhile rose pruning demonstration in Tauranga by Laurie Jeyes on the Events page (July 19), but there are demonstrations on all around the country over the next couple of months and the Rose Society has a list.

Picked up a copy of the Te Awamutu Courier of May 28 this week and read this letter to the editor: “Due to circumstances beyond our control, the Te Awamutu Rose Society has been wound up”. Goodness, that sounds … interesting. Te Awamutu likes to call itself ‘Rosetown’ and makes much of its public rose gardens so it seems sad that it can’t sustain a rose society (but that “circumstances beyond our control” makes it sound like there might be a bit more to it).

Orchid evaporation

Tauranga has this weekend played host to a national seminar for orchid judges, which culminates this afternoon in the annual meeting of the Orchid Council of New Zealand. The Tauranga Orchid Society has organised not only a premises and display plants for the seminar, but also last night organised a dinner at the race-course for seminar registrants, as well as members of both the Tauranga and Bay of Plenty orchid societies, and it was a chance for the Tauranga group to mark its 35th birthday. (The seasoned members of the committee know what they’re about and it’s run like clockwork with very little input from committee newbies needed.)

Judges had come from all over the country – from the Bay of Islands to Otago and all points in between – for the seminar.

Guest speaker was Roy Walker who talked about “evaporation” as it applies to orchid society memberships throughout the country. Too many snowy tops in the room, he reckoned, and went on to challenge the Auckland region societies to increase their membership – having fewer than 1000 combined membership across four societies wasn’t good enough in an area with a population of more than 1 million – and the incoming national councillors to do something about making membership more attractive to younger people.

Roy’s talk caused cheers and, occasionally, jeers and one non-orchid person present commented that “some people in the room were not impressed”. I didn’t think I was hearing anything I hadn’t worked out for myself so maybe it was Roy’s somewhat idiosyncratic approach. Anyway, he did what a guest speaker should do – offered some laughs and was thought-provoking. Here is the evening in a few photos.

Roy Neale (left) introduces guest speaker Roy Walker. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Some of the mixed reactions during Roy Walker’s speech. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The New Zealand branch of the Cymbidium Society of America (CSA) took the opportunity to hand out awards from the parent organisation.

Joe Vance (left), president of the New Zealand CSA branch, presents an award to Conrad Coenen of Tauranga. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Yvonne and Allan Rae with their CSA awards. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Susan Tucker accepts two CSA awards from Joe Vance. Ross Tucker was in the audience but told to sit down and let Susan take the limelight for a change! Photo: Sandra Simpson

Betty Vance kisses away the tear that rolled down Joe’s cheek when the couple’s three CSA awards were announced – for orchids they bred themselves. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Lee Neale receives a CSA Award for Leroy Orchids from Joe Vance. Photo: Sandra Simpson

After a delicious roast meal, the Tauranga Orchid Society marked its 35th birthday with the cutting of an enormous carrot cake (in fact, there were two of the delicious things to make sure we had enough to go round) – founding president Ron Maunder did the honours.

Founding president of the Tauranga Orchid Society Ron Maunder (left) with current president Barry Curtis just before the cake cutting. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The final presentation was somewhat spontaneous as the recipient couldn’t be there until just as the evening was ending, but the surprise and delight on his face was lovely to see. Bill Pepperell of the Waikato Orchid Society has grown the bloom named as the New Zealand Orchid of the Year – Fredclarkeara After Dark ‘Toulmx’, a black orchid. See a photo here.

Bill Pepperell with his framed certificate and photo of his orchid, presented by Margaret Lomas of the Orchid Council of New Zealand. Photo: Sandra Simpson

And why were we all there, whether judges or not? For the love of these extraordinary plants and flowers …

Dracula wallisii grown by Audrey Hewsen of Tauranga. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Calanthe vestita, a terrestrial orchid that is deciduous, grown by Dennis Chuah of Auckland. Photo: Sandra Simpson

An orchid that looks more like a bromeliad or a hosta – Stenorrhynchos speciosum is native to Mexico and Central America. Photo: Sandra Simpson

This ball of Epidendrum porpax was transported carefully from and to New Plymouth by Joy Wray. Photo: Sandra Simpson

To find out where your nearest orchid society is in New Zealand, click here.

News from around the world

British garden designer Dan Pearson has won this year’s top award at the Chelsea Garden Show – read some comments and see some photos here. The Daily Telegraph lists its Top 10 Trends from Chelsea, while the Guardian offers Six Things we Learned. See a gallery of photos from Chelsea here.

A New Zealand connection at Chelsea this year was the Cloudy Bay garden. “The garden echoes the terroir of the Marlborough region … with deep red and fresh white flowers representing Cloudy Bay’s signature wines, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc,” writes Rona Wheeldon on her blog (see some pictures of the garden too). “The two wines are also represented in the two different hard landscaping areas…the rusticness and earthyness of the oak reflecting the red wine and the clear crispness of the concrete reflecting the white.”

A virtual visit to Chelsea wouldn’t be complete without a read of Tim Richardson’s thoughts, always to the point and with plenty of insider gossip. I’m amazed he had nothing to say about the synchronised swimmers!

Britain seems captivated by the idea of ‘wild swimming’, the latest is a new public, outdoor swimming ‘pond’ at King’s Cross in London. Christopher Woodward has already taken the plunge. “Outdoor swimming makes you sensitive to the health of water, as I can testify, having swum from Oxford to London over eight days last September,” he writes. “At Clifton Hampden it’s as sweet smelling as a Georgian pastoral, but at Hampton Court it’s so dirty that for a fortnight I lost all sense of taste.”

Kathleen Inman has a collection of British double-flowered plants – including double-flowered gorse! In New Zealand gorse is a pest plant so we sometimes forget that elsewhere it’s a prized plant. A parks officer once told me that gorse was a perfect ‘nursery plant’ for natives as it protects them while they’re small, while beekeepers like gorse because it has such strong pollen and flowers through the winter when there isn’t much else around in the way of food plants. The website of Plant Heritage National Collections (UK).

America’s Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) has announced its award winners for 2015, and Garden Drum’s Catherine Stewart profiles three of the Gold winners in this post. “APLD’s award winning designers each year feature gardens and landscapes that are simply stunning, filled with clever problem solving, beautiful planting, well-chosen hardscape elements and both sustainable and decorative ideas that you can use in your own garden,” Catherine says.

Adrian Gray had a cameo role recently on the new series of Grand Designs showing on TV3 (Thursdays) – a couple building a flash, but small, place on an eroding cliff on the Welsh coast. Adrian was creating a lawn sculpture for them, by balancing one rock on another on the tiniest of contact points. If you didn’t see it, pop on over to his website and have a look (there are short videos too). The one he did for Grand Designs was bolted because of the wind on the top of the cliff, but generally they are simply balanced.