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.

Our Christmas tree, Part 2

Pohutukawa turn on a blooming marvellous free show at this time and, besides the obvious attributes of their flowers, also offer great shade and drama to the landscape.

Pohutukawas a Plenty is a specialist nursery in Omokoroa owned by Geoff Canham and wife Liz. Geoff is a member of the New Zealand Recreation Association, a former parks manager with Tauranga City Council and now a parks and recreation consultant for Opus in Tauranga. (2013 update: Geoff is now a self-employed consultant.)


Pohutukawa blooms. Photo: Sandra Simpson

He and Liz grow their trees from seed they collect on Mauao’s base track, choosing trees that flower earlier and longer. “And because the trees are constantly hybridising among themselves,” Geoff says, “we use older ones to ensure undiluted stock.”

But collecting the seed is no walk in the park. “It’s quite a fine seed and, if it touches your skin, it is an irritant.”

The Canhams also grow cuttings of yellow-flowered pohutukawa taken from parent stock on Motiti Island – in season you can see the yellow trees in flower on the central median strip of Cameron Rd between 10th and 11th Aves.

Geoff warns that pohutukawa will be successful in a pot for only a limited time.
“Pohutukawa loathe the limited light spectrum inside and are particularly susceptible to air conditioning,” he says, adding that rata do better as a potted specimen, but are still not suitable as a fulltime indoor plant.

“We grow container specimens for display at outdoor events and reckon on about eight months in a pot as the optimum.”

Pohutukawa are great low-maintenance plants once they have their adult foliage (usually deeper green, with thicker leaves that are grey beneath), although the teenage years can be a bit rough.

“The juvenile leaves [green] of trees grown from seed can suffer from an insect called a psyllid which can give an acne-type appearance to the leaves but the psyllid doesn’t feed on adult leaves,” Geoff says. “Cutting-grown plants don’t seem to suffer.”

He suggests a systemic insecticide to control leaf rollers, other leaf miners present in buds, and scale, which is often out of sight in the root zone in containers.


Pohutukawa at Maxwell Rd, Tauranga. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Cicadas are another pest to young trees, laying eggs in the stems which then die and break off. A systemic insecticide will also control this.

“As adult trees, they tend to grow through any pest attack.”

Possums are the number one enemy, particularly in the wild where marsupial grazing may be undetected until the trees are in significant decline. With protection, regeneration is possible.

Geoff pleads with gardeners to plant their pohutukawa to “leave a legacy”.

“Pohutukawa need space, and if you’ve been given a potted plant but don’t have space you could donate yours to a park or coastline.” Pohutukawa should never be planted near a building or water pipes as their extensive root system can cause major damage.

  • For more information on Pohutukawas a Plenty see the website or phone 548 2008 or 021 351 602.

This article first appeared in the Bay of Plenty Times and has been edited slightly. It appears here with their permission.

PS: Who’s noticed the pohutukawa sculpture beside the motorway in Auckland? More about that here with details of how its constructed here.

What’s flowering now

A few photos taken in my garden today …

I bought a packet of cornflower seedlings from a local supermarket but when I opened the newspaper roll the tops had rotted off the roots. The name tag with them said Awapuni Nurseries (Palmerston North) guaranteed their product. So I phoned the 0800 number and received a voucher for some more seedlings. Great customer service.

A member of the Tigridia family, native to Mexico, also known as jockey cap or peacock flower. The gorgeous flowers last only a day but they open progressively all over the plant, which has tall, strappy leaves, so make quite a show. I find that it seeds quite easily.

Hydrangea quercifolia or the oakleaf hydrangea makes a nice show. Now that I know it flowers on old wood I’m a bit more restrained with pruning! The flowers ‘antique’ nicely on the bush and the leaves change to a deep wine colour in autumn before falling.

I fell in love with the colour of this hydrangea. “Once the flowers have finished,” the tag said, ” either dispose of the plant or cut back and plant in the garden.” It is named only as ‘Indoor Hydrangea’ and is, apparently, living decor. I have had it in the garden for 2 years, although this is the first year since coming out of its pot that it has flowered properly.

Sad news

Update: Dec 16: Veronica’s funeral will be on Wednesday, December 19 at 1.30pm at the Te Puke Methodist Church, on the corner of Oroua Street and SH2 in Te Puke.

Original post: Veronica Lowe, long-time secretary of the Bay of Plenty Rose Society, died on Friday in Tauranga Hospital.

She has been a real stalwart of the society, which has had some challenging times over the past few years, including the death just a few months ago of its president Derek Vane. But, despite everything, Veronica was always happy to help when I rang seeking information and loved an opportunity to promote roses.

Veronica has had some health issues recently but seemed to be recovering when she fell gravely ill on Wednesday. She will be sorely missed and our thoughts are with Russell and their family.

On the trail of preans

Had a call at work yesterday from a man wanting to know about the “peans” mentioned on the garden page in the Bay of Plenty Times last month – he’d been asking around for them and no one had heard of them.

Fortunately, we have a reliable online library of stories and photos used in all the APN papers around New Zealand so I found the story and read it while he was on the phone. The reference to the cross between a pea and a bean came in the very last paragraph, but the answer lay in the acronym tagline that followed, AAP.

The story had originated with Australian Associated Press and a quick Google of the author’s name reveals that Maureen Gilmer is, in fact, an American. No wonder my caller had been meeting with blank stares and shakes of the head around Tauranga.

There’s information about Irish preans here and this article is about a legume identified as pea bean, claiming the variety has been grown in Britain for 400 years. The seeds pictured in the article, the ones that look like ceramic pebbles, aren’t actually of the pea bean!

[Read a second post about the pea-bean here.]

Meanwhile, the Central Tree Crops Research Trust in Wanganui is running the Heirloom Beans project, calling for donations of seed to build up a national collection, one that will be shared with gardeners when stock allows.

The trust’s director, Mark Christensen, was the man who discovered the Monty’s Surprise apple, proven to be packed with health-giving properties, growing on the roadside. The trust has since given away thousands of the apple trees.