Plant of the moment: Kiwifruit

With the kiwifruit picking and packing season in full swing, I thought I’d feature kiwifruit – this particular one is Actinidia deliciosa ‘Bruno’ and the plants are some 40 years old. I found them growing in a backyard in Brookfield, Tauranga, where the owner had trained a male plant across the bottom of purpose-built pergola and a female plant across the top.

The 2 Bruno kiwifruit plants. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Although you may not have heard of Bruno – Hayward is the dominant green variety – the New Zealand kiwifruit industry uses Bruno widely as a rootstock for both green and gold fruit.

The variety is named for Bruno Just of Palmerston North (1848-1945), one of the nurserymen in New Zealand who recognised the potential of kiwifruit.

From Plant Breeding in New Zealand by GS Wratt and HC Smith (Butterworth-Heineman, 2015): Bruno Just raised larger numbers of seedlings and made selections which he propagated and sold as grafted plants – the cultivar known as Bruno was selected from a group of 30 plants.

The authors say Mr Just sold plants in many parts of the country, including Te Puke (now known as the kiwifruit capital of the world), and it was mainly due to him that kiwifruit became better known.

Bruno is a more reliable cropper than Hayward (which needs management to do well every year) but has elongated fruit that apparently don’t have the keeping qualities of Hayward. Although Bruno was among the first kiwifruit exported, by the 1970s the variety was no longer considered worth growing as a crop.

Flowers on the female vine. Photo: Sandra Simpson

However, in Kiwifruit: The Genus Actinidia (Academic Press, 2016), author Hongwen Huang says: ‘Bruno’ was introduced into China in 1980, and since the fruit have a reasonable storage life and the vines performed well under tough conditions in Zhejiang, it has gradually become one of the widely grown kiwifruit cultivars in China.  

Originally known to New Zealanders as Chinese gooseberries, A. deliciosa came to New Zealand in 1904, thanks to Miss Isabel Fraser, headmistress of Wanganui Girls’ College, who been to visit her missionary sister in China and brought some seeds home with her. She gave some to Alexander Allison who grew the vines on his farm near Wanganui – most of the fruit on these early plants were small and very hairy – and who passed plants on to Bruno Just.

In 1937 Te Puke dairy farmer Jim McLoughlin bought some plants from Bruno Just – and 20 years later, when the vines came into production, he became one of the first exporters of the fruit. Read more about the kiwifruit industry in and around Te Puke in this 2005 NZ Geographic article.

The Hayward variety is named for Hayward Wright, another pioneer in kiwifruit. In a biography of this pioneering plantsman, Ann Chapman writes: … it was in the 1930s that Hayward Wright, an exceptional horticulturist, researcher and an opportunist, saw the potential in this new plant. He pollinated and produced a fruit which was large, flavoursome with exceptional keeping properties. Enter the Hayward strain of kiwifruit, the cultivar which was to become the foundation of our modern industry.

The name Chinese gooseberry was abandoned in 1959 when it was felt that importers didn’t associate the fruit with New Zealand. After trying ‘melonettes’, Auckland fruit-packing company Turner & Growers came up with ‘kiwifruit’.

In 2015/16 Zespri, New Zealand’s single-desk exporter, sold 131 million trays of  kiwifruit to 53 countries.

The Garden Party

Hamilton Gardens recently hosted a Katherine Mansfield Garden Party as part of its Arts Festival and as a way of promoting (and fundraising) for the forthcoming Katherine Mansfield Garden.

The new garden will include elements from Mansfield’s 1921 short story The Garden Party and a recreation of the facade of her childhood home in Tinakori Road, Wellington (she was born Kathleen Beauchamp) – karaka trees, beds of white roses, a lily pond, tennis court and a marquee. I have seen a figure of  $800,000 mentioned in terms of creating this garden. The new Fantasy Collection gardens – Picturesque, Concept, Surrealist and Mansfield – have rolling openings with the Tudor Garden debuting in January 2015.

Waikato Horticultural Society’s meeting on May 25 features an illustrated talk by Bernard Breen about the plants of Katherine Mansfield’s era. He will also talk about the new garden. Visitors are welcome at these meetings for a small charge.

This 2011 article reveals a little about the garden at Katherine Mansfield’s Birthplace in Wellington where the house and garden are open to visit (entry fee).

Although the garden and party are referred to in glorious language in the Mansfield story, the tale has a darker element too – the death of a workman who lives in a cottage near the large Sheridan home.

Here are a couple of photos from the garden party in Hamilton and a passage from the story. Thanks to the Katherine Mansfield Society, the full text of The Garden Party, is available online. Read it here.


Soon after that people began coming in streams. The band struck up; the hired waiters ran from the house to the marquee. Wherever you looked there were couples strolling, bending to the flowers, greeting, moving on over the lawn. They were like bright birds that had alighted in the Sheridans’ garden for this one afternoon on their way to – where? Ah, what happiness it is to be with people who all are happy, to press hands, press cheeks, smile into eyes.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

“Darling Laura, how well you look!”

“What a becoming hat, child!”

“Laura, you look quite Spanish. I’ve never seen you look so striking.”

And Laura, glowing, answered softly, “Have you had tea? Won’t you have an ice? The passion-fruit ices really are rather special.” She ran to her father and begged him. “Daddy darling, can’t the band have something to drink?”

And the perfect afternoon slowly ripened, slowly faded, slowly its petals closed.

“Never a more delightful garden-party …” “The greatest success …” “Quite the most …”

Even the Bicycle Patrol popped in. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Farewell Heather Young

It’s with great sadness that I farewell one of the Western Bay’s champion gardeners – and a great friend.

Heather Young, who for the past few years had been living in suburban Katikati, got to grips with gardening after husband Francis took up a post at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana in the late 1960s. During the Kiwi couple’s stay, Heather gained a bachelor’s degree in ornamental horticulture and a master’s in extension education. After teaching in the university’s plant biology department for 7 years, Heather began teaching ‘master gardeners’ botany and composting.

Although there was only a very short growing season in Illinois, Heather remembered the “jungle-like” growth when it did happen.

When Francis retired in 2000, the couple moved to their harbourside property south of Katikati and began developing the boggy paddock into a garden that, when they sold it, featured five ponds and several dry stream beds (wet in winter), all feeding into the main drain beside the harbour.

“We raised some beds with truck loads of horse manure but anywhere there was a wet patch we made a pond,” Heather told me in 2008. “It’s no use fighting it.”

Heather Young. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The couple ran the garden on sustainable lines but Heather noted that plenty around the garden – which featured many artworks and a palisade-type fence around an extensive vege garden – was there purely for pleasure. They enjoyed planting unusual trees and shrubs, particularly those from the US.

Heather and Francis opened Matangirau for several Tauranga Garden and Artfests, and Heather was also instrumental, while president of the Katikati Herb Society, in opening the (now-gone, sadly) society’s potager at Aongatete, designed to be a teaching place for those interested in herbs.

Francis and Heather both volunteered at Te Puna Quarry Park for a number of years before stepping away to pursue other interests.

This is only a once-over-lightly of a busy life that included preserving, amateur theatre and generally having fun. Heather was unflappable, always smiling, a wealth of knowledge and will be much missed. Kia kaha Francis and family.

Te Puke Orchid Show

Just back from the first day of the BOP Orchid Society Show in Te Puke – beautiful flowers and plenty of plants for sale. It was great to bump into people I know from Rotorua, Tauranga and Katikati, all enjoying the beautiful blooms.

The Grand champion and Reserve champion plant will be named tomorrow morning but in the meantime, here are a few photos of the plants on display. As well as a display by the BOP Orchid Society, there are also stands from the Tauranga Orchid Society, the Whangarei Orchid Society, Leroy Orchids (Auckland) and Carl Christensen (Napier).

The show is in the War Memorial Hall in Te Puke’s main street and is open from 10am to 4pm with a $3 entry charge (under 12 free).

Ascocenda Nong Nutch x Betty May Steel. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Dendrobium Lori’s Star. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Cattleya Brownlee ‘Riga’ x Chocolate Drop ‘Waki’. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The flowers of Stanhopea wardii var citrine are strongly scented and appear through the bottom of the plant basket. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Afternoon sun lights up a stem of Oncidioda Charlesworthii. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Paphiopedilum Gary Romagna ‘Palm Beach’ grown by Brian Enticott of Tauranga was Grand champion of the show. Photo: Sandra Simpson


A selection of autumn-flowering bulbs

Don’t know about you, but when I think of bulbs I think of spring – yet there are plenty of bulbs that flower at other times of the year too. And although the title of this post says ‘autumn’, in mid- to late March we’ve experienced hot, humid days and I’d have called it late summer, despite what the calendar says.

Wandering through a lovely garden in Morrinsville I came across a flowering clump of Colchicum speciosum. Commonly called autumn crocus, “they are among the few autumn-flowering bulbs that are sufficiently vigorous to thrive in normal garden situations”, according to Jack Hobbs and Terry Hatch in Bulbs for NZ Gardeners (Godwit, 1994), who go on to add that C. speciosum is “delightfully fragrant”.

Colchicum speciosum. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The bulbs are native to northern Turkey, northern Iran and the Caucasus region and are named after Colchis, an area on the Black Sea in Georgia. They are related to crocus but not closely – one way to tell them apart, besides the autumn flowering, is that crocuses have three stamens and Colchicums six.

The Telegraph’s garden archive says Colchicums need moisture-retentive, fertile soil to flower well and are best grown in a sheltered spot that enjoys afternoon sun (which encourages a good succession of flowers). Plant  7.5cm to 10cm deep.

Enrich poorer soils by adding good, friable compost. However, if your soil tends to heavy, improve drainage by adding coarse grit. Top dress with well-rotted manure or garden compost during dormancy and use a foliar feed, such as seaweed extract, in spring. Don’t cut off unsightly leaves; they need to die down naturally to replenish the corm.

The trick for good flowering, as with many of these ‘naked’ blooms (they flower before foliage appears), is to leave the bulbs undisturbed, letting them naturalise and clump up – so if you can’t stand the sight of the dying foliage it might be best to plant them behind something low-growing to disguise the worst of it.

In case you think the advice to leave these bulbs undisturbed is a bit dramatic, learn from my mistake. About 4 years ago I divided a large group of white Amaryllis belladonna … and am still waiting for them to come back into flower!

A. belladonna is the true ‘naked lady’ and hails from the Cape Province of South Africa. These bulbs love good drainage and being sun-baked through the summer (plant with the necks above ground).

A mass flowering of Amaryllis belladonna in Wellington’s historic Bolton Street Cemetery. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The name Amaryllis is derived from the Greek ‘to sparkle’, while the Latin belladonna means ‘beautiful lady’. A pretty name for a flower that is particularly striking en masse.

Native to South America, Zephyranthes candida (rain lily) flowers in late summer after rain (or watering) with several flushes often occurring until late autumn. This is another crocus-type flower, although a much smaller plant than Colchicum speciosum at about 30cm high. Everything I read about Z. candida, which flowers with its erect, grassy foliage in place, says it ‘multiplies rapidly’ (so consider yourself warned).

Rain sparks Zephyranthes candida into flower. This photo was taken in Eden Garden, Auckland, where the bulbs were planted under big trees. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Garden festival news

You may remember the postponement last July of the Auckland festival designed to offer a North Island alternative to the in-hiatus Ellerslie International Flower Show – well, the NZ Flower & Garden Show is back on and at a new location.

In her from the Director post at the show’s website, Kate Hillier says “its has taken a few months to find a suitable new home for the flower show” confirming my thoughts that Bastion Point had proved too ‘special’ as a venue. The debut event, from November 29 to December 3, will be at The Trusts Arena in Waitakere, west Auckland. (Kate, by the way, is a member of the famous Hillier Nurseries family in the UK.)

Tickets go on sale on May 1 and start from $24 with children under 12 free.

Sadly, there is no sign of the Ellerslie show, which began in Auckland, making a comeback in the Garden City. Christchurch City Council bought the rights to the show in 2007 for about $3 million. However, the 2011 show was cancelled after earthquakes devastated Christchurch (the show was being built at the time and one of the larger marquees provided shelter for about 1000 people immediately after the February quake) and the last show in 2014 ran at a $325,000 loss and attracted 10,000 fewer visitors than expected. The quakes have left the council in a spending minefield so it’s hardly surprising a garden show is well down the list of priorities.

The biennial Auckland Garden Design Fest is back this year (November 25-26) dovetailing nicely with the NZ Flower & Garden Show for out-of-town visitors. This festival showcases the in-situ work of professional garden designers, many of whom are available in the gardens to talk to visitors.

The biennial Gisborne Garden & Arts Festival has been experiencing some difficulties, according to its Facebook page. The 2015 festival was cancelled because organisers couldn’t find enough “suitable” gardens – it’s hard to convince people to open their private property to hundreds of strangers, even if for a good cause – and this year’s festival was cancelled when drought saw gardeners pulling out. Organisers promise it will be back in 2019. Fingers crossed for them.

The Bay of Plenty Garden & Art Festival (centred on Tauranga) has a new director – John Beech has stepped down after delivering 3 festivals, while stepping up to organise the 2018 festival is Marc Anderson. Marc, a Kiwi who was brought up in Whakatane, has lived most of his adult life in Australia and Ireland where he had strong experience in music and arts festivals. He returned late last year from Ireland to live at Mount Maunganui with his wife and children.

Morrinsville Floral Festival

Popped over to Morrinsville last Saturday to visit the Unforgettable Floral Festival that comprised a large display by floral art groups and individuals from Waikato and Bay of Plenty, plus admission to three local gardens.

Floral art is generally a nightmare to photograph with any justice. However, although the events centre is set up for sport – basketball hoops and electronic timing boards on the walls and the floor marked for various sports – the lighting wasn’t too bad, a pretty good bonus in my book.

The town, sitting in the heart of prime dairying country, celebrates its bovine backbone with a street art exhibition called Herd of Cows. Wasn’t sure about the first cow I came across though – sitting up above the road and with a machine gun on its back! The Vege Grower rightly worked out that it was outside the RSA but the only message I got was: Welcome to Morrinsville … look out!

Fortunately, the cows at the entry to the floral festival were much more benign, made of corrugated iron and ‘chatting’ across a fence.

Members of the local floral art club had worked hard with four groups presenting exhibits, as well displays by clubs from Te Awamutu, Motumaoho (near Morrinsville), Hamilton, Katikati/Waihi, Tauranga, Matamata and Thames.

Little Red Riding Hood from ‘Once Upon a Time’ by Katikati and Waihi Floral Art clubs. Peeking out from under her cape is a miniature scene of a forest home, garden, cow (naturally) and Little Red Riding Hood! Photo: Sandra Simpson

The combined groups mounted a large display – here’s Sleeping Beauty. Photo: Sandra Simpson

It was shame to see flowers on various stands that hadn’t lasted the distance – 4 days on show and one or two more as the pieces were made up. Lilies and roses seemed to be the worst culprits although I spotted some pretty manky looking orchids too (and avoided photographing them). Such a shame for both the floral artists and the paying public, although the use of artificial flowers didn’t feel quite right either.

From the front: ‘A Penny for your Thoughts’ by Matamata Floral Art Group. Photo: Sandra Simpson

And its reverse which uses astelia leaves (I think) to good effect. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Peacock feathers were also used – this time on a peacock – for Monkey Business, a stand-out display by one of the Morrinsville groups.

One of two peacocks featured in ‘Monkey Business’, a Thai-themed exhibit. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I want one! This gorgeous elephant has a wooden frame covered in wire netting which was then covered in papier mache. Her toes are lotus pods and her tusks loofahs. How do I know she’s a she? Because she had a baby nearby. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Fun with flowers in ‘Backyard Memories’ by a Morrinsville group.   The skirt and bra both use hydrangea petals. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Let’s finish with a flourish, shall we?

‘Cats’ by the Te Awamutu Floral Art Club brought back fond memories of seeing this show – twice – in London during its 21-year run. Photo: Sandra Simpson

To find a floral art group near you in New Zealand, go here.