Sad news

News has come through this morning (December 1) that natural beekeeper Marcia Meehan of Hamilton has passed away suddenly.

Update: A service for Marcia will be held on Monday, December 3 at noon at Hamilton Park Crematorium, 395 Morrinsville Road, Newstead, Waikato.


Marcia Meehan, urban beekeeper

Marcia, who has taken workshops all over the country, was so encouraged by the turnout at her recent talk about natural beekeeping at the Garden and Artfest that she decided to hold a workshop in Tauranga – that was to have been held tomorrow.

The hosts, Helen and Mike Crosby, don’t have a list of those who were to attend, and neither does Marcia’s daughter. Her daughter has been able to contact a few people who have left messages on Marcia’s cellphone, but knows she hasn’t been in touch with everyone.

Because people may be turning up anyway, Mike and Helen have arranged for Dennis Crowley, president of the local beekeepers’ association, to talk about top-bar hives and bee-keeping, from 9.30am for the morning, 98 Kulim Ave, Tauranga. It will be a drop-in sort of event and there are top-bar hives to see. Mike says that since he’s had his own bees his fruit trees have doubled their production.

To read more about natural beekeeping, visit Marcia’s website.

Our thoughts are with Marcia’s family. She will be a great loss to a great many people.

Gardening World Cup

No sooner do I mention the Gardening World Cup (in a Sunday Digest) than Auckland landscape designer Xanthe White goes and wins the Best Design award at this year’s event in Japan which had the theme Gardens for World Peace.

Read all about it, and see some pictures, here or at the official website. Xanthe has used plants from Aotearoa and included a green wall.

Other results: Best In Show – Lim in Chong (Malaysia); Peace and Flowers Award – James Basson (France); Gold Medal – Lim in Chong, James Basson, Xanthe White, Kazuyuki Ishihara (Japan), Hiroshi Terashita (Japan); Silver Medal – Jo Thompson (France), Gabino Carballo (Spain), Karen Stefonick (USA), David Davidson and Leon Kluge (South Africa); Bronze Medal – Richard Miers (England), Jihae Hwang (South Korea), Haruko Seki (Japan).



What’s Flowering

Some photos of what’s “on” in my garden right now.

A gerbera from the Everlast range – the tag promised it would flower for almost 12 months of the year and so it has! Fingers crossed it is setting a new plant or two … and it has lovely, glossy leaves.

The Iceland poppy is a cottage garden favourite and it’s not hard to see why – they’re gorgeous. I tried other kinds of poppies last year but they didn’t do well in the wet summer. Iceland poppies are native to northern subpolar regions.








Anyone care to hazard a guess as to what sort of flower this is? Leave a reply and I’ll put the answer in the next post …







Gibbs Farm

I was lucky enough to be invited on a group visit last Friday to Gibbs Farm, a 400ha private sculpture park on the Kaipara Harbour north of Auckland. Alan Gibbs generously opens his property to the public a few times each year and despite staff being anxious at facing a record crowd, it all seemed to go pretty smoothly.

I may write some more about it, although it’s not a garden in the true sense but a honking great landscape that is beautifully kept. Anyway, here are a couple of pictures to be going on with.

Horizons by Neil Dawson, supposedly a sheet of corrugated iron that’s blown in from elsewhere, changes slightly depending on where you are. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Farm staff have created their own work of art with the cairn-like woodpile. To the left is the stunning Dismemberment, Site 1 by Anish Kapoor. Photo: Sandra Simpson

National Rose Show 2012

Laurie Jeyes of the Bay of Plenty Rose Society went to the national rose show in Levin last weekend and has kindly reported back with the results.

Champion of Champions: White Romance, bred by Rob Somerfield of Te Puna and shown by D & H White of Northland.
Champion Large Stem: White Romance.
Champion Exhibition Bloom: Signature (released in 1998).
Champion Decorative Bloom: Grandpa Dickson (an old favourite this, released in 1966), also known as Irish Gold in other parts of the world.
Champion Small Stem: Millennium, bred by Doug Grant of Auckland.
Champion Display Vase: Joan Monica, bred by Brian Attfield of Cambridge (Brian passed away in July, 2012).

Monarchs of the Air

Realising my meagre collection of swan plants wouldn’t hold out much longer, I carefully picked the 15 or so caterpillars off yesterday morning, put them in a plastic container (with airholes) with a few leaves and took them to Mary Parkinson at Te Puna Quarry Park. “The butterfly lady” is accepting donations and took me into the park’s new butterfly house, about three times as big as the previous one and divided into two rooms.

Roy Oakley, a retired builder and new quarry park volunteer, whipped up the house in about two weeks. It has glass panels so visitors can see in and lots of openings covered in plastic mesh so there’s plenty of air movement.

Some tips from Mary:

  • Pumpkin as a supplementary food is suitable only for caterpillars ready to become a chrysalis. If it’s fed to younger ones they will end up with deformed wings at the butterfly stage.
  • To keep butterflies from laying more eggs on a devoured swan plant, cover it with a net curtain, or similar.
  • When transporting caterpillars put some food in with them … otherwise they will end up eating each other!

Once the butterflies have hatched make sure to have nectar-rich flowers for them to feed on – anything brightly coloured is Mary’s recommendation, including single, orange dahlias, hebes, echium and cottage garden flowers such as coreopsis, dianthus, aquilegia and cornflowers.

Orchid Manoeuvres in the Dark

Elizabeth Bailey of the Tauranga and BOP orchid societies came for a cup of coffee yesterday morning – the deal was that I would provide morning tea and she would provide enlightenment on how I might improve my growing of some of my orchids.


Something I can grow – Sarchochilus hartmannii. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I’ve tried to choose only those orchids that will be happy growing outside year-round (albeit under a verandah) – so things like the gorgeous Vandas are beyond my spectrum – but I am also relying on the plant sellers to be realistic about what will and won’t work. However, I’m darned if I can get the Australian Dendrobiums (reckoned to be “easy”) to reflower, even the New Zealand-discovered Pukekura which one local grower described as “bombproof”. (See note at the bottom for some of its history.)

And despite growing outside and being covered in flowers at Te Puna Quarry Park, my Coelogyne cristata alba (photos of a plant in full bloom) has hardly increased in size since I bought it. “Don’t worry,” says Elizabeth, “lots of people find it tricky.”

Why does it do so well at the Quarry Park? My expert shrugged her shoulders. Which I suppose is why people are fascinated by orchids. They need their owners to learn something, they can surprise you with their adaptability and the reward when they flower is bliss.

So now I’m on a mission to:

  • Repot Dendrobiums into hanging baskets and spread them along the fence that’s under deciduous trees (the plastic pots sold as water lily pots in garden centres are ideal as they have lots of small drainage holes and so don’t need a liner but I will need to make wire hangers for them).
  • Water my Dendrobiums more (although it is better to be an under-waterer than an over-waterer with orchids), starting by soaking the pots in a bucket so the bark is soaked.
  • Buy or make* a spraying oil. I have the odd scale insect, nothing major, but these pests suck the vitality out of a plant. Oil suffocates them so is the most effective treatment.
  • Use a fertiliser that’s higher in nitrogen. I have been using a liquid seaweed fertiliser at half-strength in rotation with Brigitta Orchid Food. Elizabeth recommends one that’s higher in nitrogen as well. Phostrogen (a British horticultural society has useful advice on its use) is a popular choice with orchid growers and is available again after seemingly disappearing for a bit. It’s no longer imported into Australia and Debco claims its all-purpose fertiliser is essentially the same thing.
  • Buy BioBoost. Made at the New Plymouth wastewater treatment plant, it is the bee’s knees, Elizabeth says, when it comes to slow-release fertiliser. Palmers in Bethlehem has it, in 8kg and 25kg bags. Farmlands is also listed as a stockist.

The point of getting the fertilisers right is that almost all orchids are grown in a medium (bark, sphagnum, etc) that gives them nothing in terms of food, it’s just something for their roots to hang on to and allows us to have them in a pot or basket. In the wild they don’t grow in soil either but can collect food from bird droppings, leaf litter, etc., when it rains.

It’s also useful to understand that orchids with “bulbs” (properly called pseudo-bulbs) can store food and water (e.g., Cymbidiums and Zygopetalums) as can those with canes, such as Dendrobiums. Orchids that have only roots (Sarchochilus, Phalaenopsis) feed through their leaves and roots so need more food/water, more often than those with storage chambers.

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Bifrenaria harrisoniae, an orchid native to Brazil. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Fortunately, I am doing all right with some plants and so far this year have had flowers on both Sarchochilus, Osmoglossum pulchellum (a sweetly scented flower), Cymbidiums, Coelogyne fimbriata, Dendrobium kingianum and Dockrillia pugioniforme, the first time this creeping orchid has flowered for me. One Bifrenaria harrisoniae has a fat bud (I expect more in later summer), while indoors my white Phalaenopsis (bought from Eric Jones) is sending up its second flower spike for the year and the parent plant of the pink one (from Mega Mitre 10, separated into three plants after its last flowering) looks like it might have a flower spike too.

* I have found this spray recipe for scale on the net: Mix 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil (canola, sunflower, etc) with 1 tablespoon mild dish-washing liquid and 900ml (1 US quart) of water.

Note: Dendrobium Pukekura was discovered in the 1960s among a collection donated to Pukekura Park in New Plymouth by Fred Parker. The plant had been given to Mr Parker by a Japanese doctor, who was known to have used Den. moniliforme as a parent. It is generally accepted that the other parent was Den. regium. Others have suggested that it could be Den. Nobile. Information supplied by George Fuller, curator of Pukekura Park, 1965–1990 (from the RHS quarterly supplement to the International Register of Orchid  Hybrids (Sander’s List), January-March 2011).

Scented Garden

One of the nicest things about moving through a garden is scent, something that really comes to the fore in spring and summer.

I got a nose full of Heliotropium arborescens (cherry pie plant) the other evening and so went even closer to take my fill of the heady scent. I used to have a plant near the front door, just as I had a daphne beside the front door. Neither plant thrived or survived for various reasons, but a replacement Heliotrope has done much better at the foot of a climbing Iceberg rose. It gets a fair amount of shade, being in the lee of a fence, but does okay. This year is the best flowering yet.

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Heliotropium arborescens. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Orange blossom is another delight just now, and the sweetly scented Cordyline Red Fountain (which doesn’t grow a trunk) stops me in my tracks in the gardens of others, particularly when two or three are planted together. This Australian article looks at several cordyline hybrids (click on the pdf option for better resolution). Red Fountain was bred by the Jurys of Taranaki and the story of how it came to be is told here.

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Cordyline Red Fountain. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Fragrant Garden is a specialist nursery on the outskirts of Feilding. Owner Marilyn Wightman is just as interested in foliage with aroma as she is in scented flowers. Kings Seeds has a list of “fragrant flowers” in their online catalogue.

What’s your favourite scented plant? Let me know by leaving a comment and if I have a photo of it I’ll include it in a posting.

Sunday Digest

Some Sunday reading for your education and entertainment … please feel free to leave a comment.

An informative article by Kiwi writer Jude Gillies on nutrients and their use in the garden.

Some of the winning images from this year’s RHS Photographic Competition. The wildlife photos are fantastic! And as for the delphinium garden …

Did you know there’s something called the Gardening World Cup? Me neither, till I chanced on this article. It’s held in Nagasaki, Japan in the grounds of a copy of a famous Dutch castle and garden. Jim Fogarty of Australia, who is coming to head up the judging panel at next year’s Ellerslie, won the event in 2011. This link takes you to the GWC home page.

Speaking of things I didn’t know … meet the Corn Palace of Mitchell, South Dakota in the US which is decorated each year with  naturally coloured corn cobs, grains and native grasses to make it “the agricultural show-place of the world”.

“Ear by ear the corn is nailed to the Corn Palace to create a scene. The decorating process usually starts in late May … The corn murals are stripped at the end of August and the new ones are completed by the first of October,” the website says.

The first Corn Palace was built in 1892 with the present building dating from 1921. “The Corn Palace is known around the world as a folk-art wonder on the prairie of South Dakota,” the website says, while this short YouTube video gives an idea of how it’s done.

And don’t miss Gardeners’ World, 9.20pm on Choice TV (Freeview, Ch 12). On  November 16 we were taken on a tour of the 12-acre garden that surrounds Winfield House, the residence of the US Ambassador in Regent’s Park, London. It’s the largest private garden in London after… Buckingham Palace! The head gardener, Stephen Crisp, is basically given free rein so they must be happy with him. He’s met five US presidents and the residence hosts some 7000 visitors a year. Here are the best photos I could find (disregard the last one). The one labelled “Four Seasons Garden” was referred to as “The Green Garden” on the TV show.

Enjoy your Sunday!

Pearls of Wisdom II

Why do people spend so much time trying to hide sheds? Don’t put in an ugly shed!

I hate to see bare soil if I can avoid it so I love suckerers and self-seeders. I have swathes of forget-me-nots – they’re easy to pull out when you’re sick of them or they’re finished and they make good compost. People say, ‘oh but you get covered in burrs when you pull them out’. True. But if you pull them out naked that isn’t a problem … although it can be confronting for the neighbours!

Stephen Ryan, Australia

When buying seed mix, check the bag to make sure it contains Tricoderma fungi, a beneficial organism.

A teaspoon of broccoli sprouts has the same amount of nutrition as a head of full-grown broccoli.

– Gerard Martin, Kings Seeds

One of the most useful garden tools, says Margaret Barker of Larnach Castle, is an apple corer. She uses it to move and plant small bulbs like snowdrops.

Robert McGowan, rongoa Maori medicine expert, offers this advice on the use of kawakawa: Only take the leaves that have holes in them (they are medicinally active) and that catch the morning sun but are in shade for the rest of the day. Kawakawa is good for toothache and sore throats (chew a leaf and swallow the juice) and will help normalise blood pressure when taken as a tonic (ie, a tisane or herbal tea). He says a kawakawa tea “warms the whole body”.

“A lot of the medicine is in the form of aromatic oils,” he says, “so don’t boil it hard or you will lose the oils.” However, boiling a pot of kawakawa leaves will drive away blowflies.

Robert cautions that anyone taking kawakawa for the first time should try just a little to begin with. Occasionally people have an allergic reaction to it.