Looking back

The start of a new year is a time to look forward and set goals but, ironically, is equally about looking back and considering where we’ve been and what we’ve learned.

My biggest garden adventure for 2012 was a trip to see the cherry blossoms in Japan last April – and they didn’t fail to live up to their hype. We were fortunate to see new blossoms in Tokyo and peak blossoms in Nagoya and Kyoto.

Cherry blossom parties (hanami) were cancelled in 2011 as a mark of respect for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami so celebrations were doubly festive in 2012 and a burst of sunny, warm weather brought people out in their tens of thousands to enjoy the magnificent groves of trees.

The tour group visited two outstanding gardens in Kyoto and I made a personal trip to see another and stroll beside a canal under a canopy of cherry blossom on the famed Philosopher’s Walk.

The Philosopher’s Walk, Kyoto.

Ralph Levinson, owner of Travelworks in Auckland, is running what is likely to be his last Cherry Blossom Tour from April 1-14, 2013 as he and wife Jenny want to retire. The group will again be led by Robyn Laing of Waiheke Island who speaks fluent Japanese and is restricted to 18 people. For more information click on Ralph’s name to send him an email, or phone 09 578 3000.

Closer to home I met rose-breeding legend Sam McGredy in Tauranga’s public rose gardens for a brief chat about his life. My father was a keen rose grower and shower of roses so the McGredy name was well known in our household. Meeting the man was an honour.

Two of my worlds – gardening and haiku – collided in November when the When North Meets South exhibition opened in Dunedin. Four of my poems were chosen by three artists as their inspiration, but I wasn’t sure what would come of a florist choosing

to tie my shoelace –
moss flowers

Donna Ryalls worked with coconut fibre, sphagnum moss, succulents, etc., to create a giant living shoe!

Donna Ryalls with her piece for the exhibition, a giant shoe. Picture courtesy of Ruth Arnison.

Auckland Botanic Gardens and Hamilton Gardens never fail to please, no matter the time of year, and I always come away with lots of photos and plenty of ideas. Don’t forget to take a look at the large Kitchen Garden in Hamilton, it’s always interesting.

A view of the Indian garden at Hamilton Gardens, taken from inside the pavilion.

I regularly visit Palmerston North and always make time for a walk round the sprawling Victoria Esplanade Gardens (“the Esplanade” to locals). The extensive rose garden includes the national Trial Grounds, where our future favourite roses are judged over five years, while the display house (which looks as unprepossessing as our own) is stuffed full of orchids and other tropical beauties.

On a par with any of these is our local Te Puna Quarry Park, a project that began in 1996 and which has seen the overgrown site turned into a series of gardens that belie the fact the place has very little, if any, topsoil. I take any international visitors I have there and it’s one of my favourite exercise spots, although the  walk is almost invariably a stop-start affair as my camera works overtime.

Te Puna Quarry Park.

There’s always something, or a number of things, in flower, there are insects galore (particularly in the Butterfly Garden, but not only) and there are great views from the top terrace.

I’m still suprised at the number of Tauranga people who haven’t visited it – make it one of your resolutions for 2013 to go there as soon as possible and as often as possible!


Petunia reversion

Some gardeners have been experiencing problems with Petunia Bumblee not doing what it says on the packet – a yellow stripe on each petal – and instead having partially striped flowers or all black flowers.

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Partially striped and black flowers on Petunia Bumblebee. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Zealandia Horticulture in Christchurch is the New Zealand agent for the plant and the company’s national sales co-ordinator, Aaron Blackmore, sent this email about the problem:

We have been experiencing some reversion with the flowers on the new Bumblebee petunia – this has meant that the initial flowers are coming out pure black. Under certain growing conditions a lack of yellow pigment can occur in the Bumblebee flowers especially in spring.

Reasons for this occurrence:

  • These plants have been propagated outside their normal growing season when temperatures and light levels are lower, meaning their can be a period of adjustment for the plants
  • Climatic variations which can be quite prevalent in early spring, i.e., warm weather one day, pouring with rain and 10 degrees cooler the next.

What can you do if this occurs?

  • Remove all black flowers and you should find the next flush of flowers will have the yellow stripe in them. If they come through pure black again repeat this process.
  • The plant can be cut back, removing all flower buds in the process and let to grow and revegetate forming new buds that will come through with the stunning yellow stripe in them.

These plants were first released in the international marketplace last year with similar reversion occurring. The advice given by the retailers and breeders in these markets is as above.

We are finding that people who have removed the initial flowers are now getting the distinct yellow stripe coming through, and I have found my ones at home are now performing the way they should when early on they were pure black also.

Rose trial results & conference note

A fragrant dusky-red climbing rose has been awarded the top prize at the New Zealand Rose Society International Trial Ground Awards in Palmerston North.

Red Flame received the Gold Star of the South Pacific and the June Hocking Fragrance Award.

Bred by Michel Adam of France, Red Flame was entered by his New Zealand agents, Bob and Cath Matthews of Matthews Nurseries (Wanganui) who had trialled the rose for several years before entering it. Red Flame is available in garden centres and nurseries.

Two un-named roses from Bob’s own breeding programme received Certificates of Merit. Both are lemon yellow and have masses of bloom on compact, healthy plants.

Tauranga rose breeder Rob Somerfield (Glenavon Roses) received a Certificate of Merit for an un-named rose with clusters of blooms that are medium-pink with a lighter centre. It is tall growing and very healthy.

All three of the winning Kiwi roses will be released in the next two to three years.

The New Zealand Rose Society trials are now into their 42nd year and are located in the Dugald Mackenzie Rose Gardens in The Esplanade gardens in Palmerston North.

The trials test new varieties from New Zealand and international rose breeders and are assessed over two years by a panel of 20. The judges look at freedom of flowering, health, plant quality, flower quality and fragrance.

At the conclusion of each trial, those roses which have gained an average of 70% are recognised with awards.


Good garlic!

It’s that time of the year again – no, not Christmas, garlic harvesting time.

The old wives have it that you should plant garlic on the shortest day and lift it on the longest day (or thereabouts at either end). We also follow the advice of my mum, who is, after all, an old wife, to snap off the flowers when they appear “so the energy goes back into the bulb”. I don’t know if it makes any difference but we do it.


Some of this summer’s crop. Photo: Sandra Simpson

My extended family all grows the same type of garlic – large cloves and mild tasting – and although those of us in Tauranga didn’t have a great crop one year, my mum had plenty of “wild” garlic and gave us another starter bulb or five. (She hadn’t planted any, but there were enough seeds or little bulbs left in the ground to give a good return.)

Here’s a New Zealand discussion forum about growing garlic and here’s advice on how to grow garlic if you’re a beginner (note that it’s a company site and so that company’s products are to the fore).

We’re looking forward to some roast garlic on Christmas Day – hope you get what you like too. Merry Christmas, everybody!

Sunday digest

Kokedama is, according to this article anyway, the latest thing in using house plants for decorative effect – wrap them in special mud, wrap it all in moss and suspend the plant from the ceiling, or something. Dutchman Fedor Van der Valk is the acknowledged master, at least this week. (Anything that’s labelled as “the latest internet craze” has to be a bit suspect.) Kokedama originated in space-poor Japan but has now been taken up by artistic types elsewhere and no doubt will be in our glossy mags some time next year. Remember, you read it here first.

These artists use plants in their work, one of them so much enjoys the unpredictability of working with something that’s alive he says he’s not going back to paint, etc. Read the article (with pictures) here.

Gardens by the Bay is the newest attraction in Singapore – featuring “super trees” and cool greenhouses. The project has taken 5 years and cost $780m and is intended to be a teaching tool. Watch an Al Jazeera report on YouTube here (2.24).

Looking for something different to see in London? The Garden Museum is staging an exhibition on the history of the cut flower from February 14 to April 14. The world’s flower trade has increased from £1.8 billion in the 1950s to in excess of £64 billion today, according to the website.

Last-minute gift ideas

Remember, a gift from the heart needn’t cost the earth (or indeed anything at all) …

  • A trailer-load of compost/manure
  • A voucher for your time, to be spent in the garden
  • A new tool (spend as much as you can afford, it will be appreciated – with tools it’s very much you get what you pay for)
  • Packets of unusual seeds – try Wildflower World or something from Koanga Gardens
  • Book vouchers
  • Garden centre vouchers …

Notice how the word “voucher” recurs? That’s because in my experience, gardeners often prefer to choose what they want themselves. Give a plant by all means, but make sure it is a plant the recipient actually wants!

Hand-made signs can be fun, but check that it’s something the recipient will appreciate and not feel duty bound to put in.


Photo: Sandra Simpson


Making something for the garden is a project the whole family can be involved with, although time is ticking away. Some ideas for and pictures of an “insect hotel” structure can be found here and here.

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Making a bug hotel can be fun for all the family – and encourages beneficial insects to hang around. Photo: Sandra Simpson

But whatever you give, if it’s chosen for the right reasons you won’t go wrong.


Last word on pea-bean

Judy Horton, communications manager for Yates Australia and author of a monthly garden calendar on the website, has found a reference to the pea-bean in Growing Peas & Beans by Australian botanist David R Murray (Kangaroo Press, 1999).

She has kindly scanned the relevant text and sent a copy.

“The name ‘pea bean’ is just as unfortunate [as ‘sweet pea’]. Some people take the term literally and actually believe that such seeds represent a cross between a pea and a bean. For instance, Weaver (1997) proposes that a pea bean still sold as such in the USA is a ‘very old cross between the white marrow pea and the red cranberry pole bean’. Peas and beans are so different, however, that any attempted cross would not give viable offspring. All that the term is meant to impart is that a bean has taken on a rounder or globose shape, resembling that of a pea. Alternatively, it may refer to a pea with an unusual mottled seedcoat pattern, resembling that of some beans. To avoid confusion, it is a term best avoided.”

I don’t think we can naysay the findings of a botanist so our hunt for the pea-bean, while fun and with some interesting twists and turns, has been a wild goose chase.

Read the earlier posting here.