Sandra’s Garden – people, plants and events in the Tauranga area

Welcome, please come on in, have a look around and leave a comment.

October 31: Roll up, roll up … what a great weekend we have coming up for gardeners and garden lovers in Tauranga. Details for all these events are on the Events page.

Saturday: Come to any and all of the Garden and Artfest Speaker Series in Baycourt – we have a landscaper, a plantsman (or two), a garden writer, a woman who has redeveloped and extended an historic garden (and along the way developed a love for rare plants), and a specialist on green roofs and walls.

In the evening come along and join in the fun as Lynda Hallinan, Margaret Barker and Stephen Ryan serve out a part of Gardening, a Life Sentence at Baycourt. Complimentary bubbles and brownies on arrival.

Sunday: Spoiled for choice. Come to any and all of the Garden and Artfest Workshop Series (either in Baycourt or across the road, depends on the weather) – we have a seed specialist, a topiary trimmer, an urban beekeeper, an export on the rongoa (medicinal) uses of native plants, and two women to help you kickstart the transformation of your yard into an edible garden.

And/or go to the National Iris Show in the Armitage Hotel … and/or go to the QuarryFest in Te Puna Quarry Park.

Whatever you do, enjoy. (If you come to the Garden and Artfest events be sure to say hello, that’s where I’ll be.)

Update: Due to poor ticket sales the final workshop on Sunday, Ask Your Uncles, has today been cancelled. A shame, but there we are. People have had since September to pre-buy tickets.

October 30: Well, it looks like it’s happening again. The big-flowered clematis I bought last year looks like it’s dying. I might as well treat them as annuals, though at $40 a pop they’re jolly expensive annuals. I gave up on the big-flowered clematis a few years ago after a bad run and swore never again. Then I saw Mrs Cholmondeley in a garden centre …

She was left in her PB last year and was fine. Repotted over the winter into a glazed pot, not pruned and came away with some good shoots and flower buds and, slowly, they’re wilting and turning brown. I’ve just looked up “clematis wilt” on the net and sure enough Mrs C is one that can suffer from wilt.

Anyone have any ideas for me? (Aside from never, ever buying another large-flowered clematis again!)

Cherry blossom at Chidorigafuchi, Tokyo, in April 2012

October 29: I’ve had an email from Ralph Levinson, owner of Travelworks in Auckland, the people I went to Japan with in April. They’re running their next Cherry Blossom Tour from April 1-14, 2013, possibly their last as Ralph and wife Jenny want to retire. The tour is again being led by Robyn Laing of Waiheke Island who speaks fluent Japanese, and the group is again restricted to 18 people.I saw marvellous cherry blossom in Tokyo, Nagoya and Kyoto, and the tour includes a day of garden visits in Kyoto (actually a free day, but Robyn offers to guide anyone interested) plus I used another free day to do more gardens and the Philosopher’s Walk in Kyoto – a canalside amble that is famous for its spring blossom.

The hotels used (including “traditional” Japanese onsen complete with communal hot pools) were comfortable, generally the rooms were a good size, and the food was great. For more information click on Ralph’s name to send him an email, or phone 09 578 3000.

Ralph and Jenny met us all at the international terminal, introduced themselves and us to each other, and Ralph was there to greet us on our return. The whole thing was like that, personal and friendly.

October 28: A fine weekend, who would have thought! Plenty to do in the garden, including dividing and repotting two Cymbidium orchids which probably should have been done two years ago but I always seem to think about it when there are new flower spikes showing. Barry Curtis runs great potting demonstrations at the Tauranga Orchid Show every year that makes the task look simple and straightforward.

If you’ve missed those, you could try this YouTube video from Australia which goes through the process pretty quickly, or this one from England which goes more slowly. Cymbidiums are one of the few orchids that grow on the ground but they will do better potted in bark rather than a medium that is soil-based. The draping leaves hide the pot well or you can dig a hole for the pot so it looks as if the orchid is growing in the garden (this is also a good trick for bromeliads).

Commercial growers of Cymbidiums train the flower spikes so the stem ends up straight. Home gardeners can stake flower spikes for the same effect or leave them to arch. My first flowers came out in July-August and the last flowers at the beginning of October. They last well on the stem but remember to protect them with snail bait.

A Cymbidium orchid at Te Puna Quarry Park

Te Puna Quarry Park is a great place to see orchids growing “naturally”. The park has lost quite a few Cymbidiums recently as large pines were felled, but volunteer Mary Parkinson, who led the original planting team, says the orchids were losing out to the trees in terms of nutrition and were starting to struggle.The hope is that there will be some more large donations of plants, as there were in the beginning. Despite a lack of topsoil and relatively harsh summer conditions,  Cymbidiums thrive at the park and are a sight in late winter through spring.

October 27: Received an email from Ned Nicely, parks co-ordinator at Tauranga City Council yesterday, extolling the Robbins Rose Garden, saying it’s looking the best he’s seen it in the 15 years he’s been associated with it, and urging me to go and take some photos. Which I did this afternoon.

And yes, the gardens are looking good.

One of the 28 beds is given over to Mutabilis, a twiggy rose that covers itself in blooms – orange buds opening to flowers that darken with age. Up close the singular flowers are ho-hum and not really what you’d put in a vase, but the effect of a mass planting, such as at Robbins Park, is stunning … and on a windy day you can see why Mutabilis has the nickname “butterfly rose”. Mutabilis is an old china rose, dated to “before 1894” and flowers for an extensive period. Barbara Lea Taylor’s book Old-Fashioned Roses (Bateman, 1993) tells me that it was originally named Tipo Ideale and the author describes it as an “astonishing rose”.

Serendipity at the Robbins Rose Gardens

I couldn’t get any photos that I felt did the plant justice so am instead sharing a picture of another rose, Serendipity. Other roses on show just now include New Zealand-bred Hot Chocolate, Blackberry Nip (by Rob Somerfield of Te Puna) and Hamilton Gardens.

While we were at the park we also ducked into the Tropical Display House, which Ned  describes as a “hidden treasure”. The exterior isn’t terribly promising, but the interior always looks great – various hoyas are in flower just now, as is the national flower of Chile, Lapageria rosea, various bromeliads, vireyas, tuberous begonias and orchids.

A visitor to the Tropical Display House admires the fruit of a banana palm

John Beech, Garden and Artfest director

October 24: I won’t normally be making two posts in one day but thought it would be nice to put up a picture of Tauranga Garden and Artfest director John Beech hard at work this evening. Tonight was the night those who are generously opening their gardens picked up their signs, name tags and other “official” bits and pieces.The biggest talking points at the gathering? The cold, wet, windy weather we’ve been having which has delayed growth – and that last night extended to a frost being recorded in parts of the area!

That, and box blight which seems to be a general problem now for gardeners. Most are trying to treat it but some are giving in and replacing plants.

The Garden Trails begin with area days from November 5 and all gardens open from November 9-11. See the Events page for more details.

October 24: Called in to see Ohauiti potter Murray Garner this morning. He wanted me to see the progress of the outdoor bowl he’s making for me. As we were wandering through the garden I complimented his wife Kay on her Chatham Island forget-me-nots, some of which were blooming. Kay very kindly offered me some of her seedlings (even after I told her that I killed a store-bought plant last year). She has a good-sized patch of them and says her only “secret” is to scatter some table salt round them once a year.

Myosotidium hortensia or Chatham Island forget-me-not

This photo wasn’t taken in Kay’s garden (I didn’t have my camera with me) but part of a group planting I saw last year growing happily in the CBD in Wellington. Council gardeners had teamed it with clivia and rhododendrons under deciduous trees.

There’s a preconception that the Myostidium hortensia grows only on rocky shores but New Zealand in Flower by Alison Evans (Bookmakers, 1987, an excellent book if you can get it) says  plants have been grazed out of other sites and that it survives only where inaccessible to animals. It is described as a “perennial herb” and is, believe it or not, related to the common forget-me-not.

Another excellent book is 100 Best Native Plants (Godwit, 2008 revised edition) by Fiona Eadie, now the head gardener at Larnach Castle. Fiona identifies one of the biggest enemies of the beautiful Chatham Island forget-me-not as humidity and says that in humid areas they should always be planted where they will get plenty of air movement … and somewhere that is sheltered from the rain. “Shade is not necessary so long as the root system can be kept cool.” So, easy then!

Murray will be exhibiting his work in a garden during the Garden and Artfest.

There has been a change in date to the BOP Rose Display – the Events page has been updated.

October 23: Have you noticed the new Visit page on the menu header? More gardens will be added over time.

The elegant new growth of Picea smithiana (Himalayan spruce), pictured at McLaren Falls Park yesterday.

October 23: Just back from Te Puna Quarry Park where the volunteers are getting ready for the annual QuarryFest on November 4 – stall sites being mapped, goods for the Garage Sale being accumulated, and entertainment being rostered.

A damp morning at the Quarry Park saw volunteers folding newsletters ready for posting.

Merry Cooney and I, but mostly Merry, co-ordinated the first one back in 2006. It was such a great day, bringing in hundreds of people and a good amount of cash for the park, that it’s become an annual “do”.

This year will feature new entertainers, including the high-energy Wai Taiko drummers from Hamilton, food stalls, craft stalls, alpacas to pat and abseiling.

The Quarry Park Society AGM is on November 6 – guest speaker is Geoff Brunsden (full details on the Events page). And it’s not one of those AGMs where you get a job if you turn up … my uncle fell asleep at a car club meeting one night, woke up and found he’d been elected president!

October 21: More in today’s Herald on Sunday on the Ministry for Primary Industry’s search and seize raids on some of our highly regarded plantsmen – Clive Higgie (Paloma Gardens, Wanganui), Jack Hobbs (curator of Auckland Botanic Gardens) and Graeme Platt (Albany). Read an earlier piece from the NZ Herald here (today’s article appears to be behind a paywall) about a to-do in the world of kauri.

The fuss is over Agathis silbae which may or may not be Agathis macrophylla (spelled incorrectly right through the HoS story and differently, but still incorrectly, in the caption). If they’re the same tree, it seems there is no problem. But if Agathis silbae is a separate species the Ministry, which itself has been renamed recently, wants it gone.

The confusion over naming is relatively common in the botanical world – species are regularly moved in and out of genus groupings (think michelias and magnolias, or read this article to discover why the botanical name of Douglas fir has changed 21 times). And despite scientific advances, it seems the identification of plants is still fraught with difficulty.

A retired nurseryman I interviewed last year was despairing of the tangle of names for wisteria ever being sorted out, especially as many of the plants are happy to naturally cross-breed.

A snippet of my work turned up in today’s HoS article – three paragraphs from an interview with Graham and Mavis Dyer about their kauri collection and a photograph of Clive Higgie taken when I visited Paloma Gardens in 2009. He said that he never took his hat off, but did so for me!

October 20: Whew! I think the Events page is now where I want it to be – so much going on this month and next.

Don’t forget to buy your tickets for the Speaker & Workshop events at the Tauranga Garden and ArtFest and the evening panel discussion, Gardening, a Life Sentence (small disclaimer here – I’m managing those events and will even, ahem, be chairing the fun evening event). So I would say come on along, wouldn’t I?

The best thing is for you to pop into the Events listing, have a look at who’s coming and follow some of the links. I heard Stephen Ryan speak at last year’s Landscape Design Conference in Melbourne and, as part of that trip, visited his garden at Mount Macedon – he’s very entertaining and a keen gardener who knows his stuff.

Off outside now to plant things!

October 19: Anyone sick of the wind yet? I’ve been keeping a careful eye on plants in pots and hanging baskets and making sure they’re well watered. Yesterday we had torrential downpours but on Wednesday and today the wind has been drying. It’s hard to know what’s going to happen from one moment to the next – horizontal rain or wind gusts that will knock you sideways. (Wellington gardeners will feel right at home.)

In July Tauranga City Council removed most of the trees on its protected tree register – and an arborist told me recently that the chainsaw gangs had never been so busy. There were about 1800 trees on the register and now there about 340. Unfortunately, Tauranga isn’t renowned for its mature trees and now there will be even fewer for the community to enjoy. Read some council information about the register here (ignoring the map).

October 17: Have added a new Event – a Permablitz in Katikati on October 27.

Was talking to John Little yesterday about box blight – his Oropi garden uses buxus extensively in hedging and topiaries. He sprays regularly with a mix of copper and fungicide and says the affected plants seem to be flushing away with new spring growth … but the spraying must be done regularly, especially in humid conditions.

Having got some blight in my own little hedge, I also asked the advice of a Te Puna nurserywoman.

The first step is to cut out the affected parts, making sure that all the twigs and leaves are picked up and disposed of, preferably not burned and definitely not composted.

She then recommended spraying the affected plants with Nitrosol Oceanic, available at Farmlands, every two weeks and immediately after trimming; and three times a year spreading Roksolid, which is made in the area, “liberally” under the plants. She reckons they can bounce back from the blight but the treatment needs to be maintained.

This is what the Royal Horticultural Society has to say on the matter.

October 16: Have added some photos to the Events page. Adding in photos will be an ongoing project – if the weather is as bad as predicted at Labour Weekend, expect to see a fair few more on the site.

October 15: Thanks to all the visitors who have already dropped by, the site statistics are looking great!

October 14: While I’ve been at the keyboard today getting all these data entered, my husband has been outside working away on a small section of new garden that has been rescued from the twin perils of tree roots and alstroemerias, thanks to a chainsaw and a Dingo. It’s the kind of project at which my man excels – planning and creating. The boxing, base layer of metal and stepping stones are in. Next comes the topsoil and some white gravel to nestle round the schist pavers … then we can plant!

All words and photos copyright Sandra Simpson


5 thoughts on “Sandra’s Garden – people, plants and events in the Tauranga area

  1. Hello Sandra…a very informative and good looking floriferous website. Congratulations! Special thanks too for the plug for our forthcoming Japan Cherry Blossom tour, 1-14 April 2013. I can also be contacted on or tel.09 578 3000. Cheers, all the best, Ralph

    • Hello Pat, I’m glad you found time to call in! I’m hoping the site is useful enough that people keep coming back for information on events, gardens to visit and so on.

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