Cherry blossoms early

Travelworks tour guide Robyn Laing says the cherry blossom trees are flowering very early in Tokyo this year and it is the second earliest peak blooming since comparable records began in 1953.

However, the Japan Meteorological Agency said peak bloom has appeared 12 days earlier than normal, thanks to warmer-than-usual temperatures in March – early in the month in eastern Japan, temperatures were on average 2.6 degrees Celsius higher than usual, while in mid-March, they were 2.9 degrees higher than normal.

The very first flowers opened in Tokyo on March 16, tying the earliest date on record, the Asahi Shimbun English-language newspaper reports. Robyn adds that one particular tree at Yasukuni Shrine is watched to announce the start of the cherry blossom (sakura) season in Tokyo.

“Just as well we have side trips to the north and higher elevations built into the tour,” Robyn says. “Hopefully we’ll see some yoshino [much like our Awanui] higher up, while at sea level we should see double and other later flowering cherry, masses of azaleas and probably wisteria too.”

Despite each variety of cherry blossom being relatively short lived, parks and gardens are generally planted with succession flowering in mind to extend the season as long as possible.

So what to do? has put together some viewing spot ideas for those tourists (most of them probably) who will likely miss the blossoms in Tokyo. Thanks to Robyn for the link.

Our Cherry Blossom tour last year was indeed fortunate – fresh yoshino blossom in Tokyo and peak flowering in Nagoya and Kyoto.

Butterfly tree

An unusual tree is “blooming” just now at The Chapel cafe in the Chapel St shopping centre in Tauranga.

A potted cordyline is festooned with the chrysalis of monarch butterflies that will open when the time is right. The tree was featured at the recent Monarch Butterfly NZ Trust conference in Auckland and, for reasons that I’m not sure of, has ended up at this cafe in Tauranga.

The chrysalis tree in The Chapel cafe. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The cafe owner says they are beginning to hatch and has put a potted flowering plant at the base of the tree for the butterflies to feed on before, presumably, they are allowed out the door.

Food for the soul

The Chorisia speciosa  (floss silk tree) outside the Western Bay of Plenty District Council headquarters at Barkes Corner in Tauranga is in full bloom and what a magnificent sight it is.

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The blooms of the Chorisia reveal the tree’s family connection to the hibiscus. Photo: Sandra Simpson


The late Australian plantsman Stirling Macoboy in his book What Tree is That? (Landsdowne Press, Sydney, in print continuously since 1979, revised in 2006) says the trees are hard to propogate outside their native South America but “the sight of a Chorisia in full bloom is food for the soul”.

He goes on to say that the flowers of one tree will never be the same as the flowers of another tree, differing in colour and structure. “The flowers will be five-petalled and basically pink … but beyond that they may vary from reddish to salmon in colour, their centres white or yellow, marked in deep red or brown, the petals plain or with rippled edges.”

However, and these are things to be considered, the tree grows very tall, 15m-plus, and the trunk is covered in thick thorns. No beauty without the beast.


Thorns on the trunk of a Chorisia. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Grand Champion

Natalie Simmonds of Pyes Pa in Tauranga has taken out the Grand Champion title at the Australasian Bromeliad Show held in Auckland last weekend.

Natalie won the supreme award with Tillandsia tectorum – and this magic little plant also won Best Large Tillandsia, Best Tillandsia Species and Best Specimen Plant.

“I haven’t stopped smiling,” she says.

And Audrey Hewson of Greerton took a first place in the Pitcairnioideae class with a Deuterocohnia brevifolia, a clumping bromeliad (see some pictures here). “Years ago” Audrey also won a Grand Champion prize with a Dyckia marnier-lapostollei. Read more about Dyckias here.

The recent show was the equivalent to a national bromeliad show as none of the Australian or other overseas delegates were able to bring in plants due to biosecurity regulations. However, entries were assessed by a panel of international judges.

Natalie and Audrey are both members of the BOP Bromeliad Group and Tauranga Orchid Society.

Incredible Edibles

Have a hankering to harvest your own tea? Create your own coffee? Or maybe you’d like to make home-made cranberry juice.

The Incredible Edibles range, which is a trademarked brand, forms part of Tharfield Nursery near Katikati, has developed a reputation for offering gardeners cropping plants that are a bit different – and on Thursday, March 21 members of the public are being offered a chance to tour the stock garden (see the Events page for details; bookings essential).

Launched in 2000 by Fiona and Andrew Boylan, the Incredible Edibles range is widely stocked in garden centres throughout New Zealand and two show gardens at the Ellerslie International Flower Show have won gold (2006) and silver distinction (2010).

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Andrew and Fiona Boylan (front) in their award-winning edible garden at Ellerslie in 2010. Behind them, from left, Caroline Elliott (nurserywoman), Sandi MacRae (designer) and Lindsay Robinson (builder). The garden was gifted to a children’s home. Photo: Sandra Simpson

As well as commercial production on the 5.2ha site, Fiona and Andrew also maintain a large stock garden filled with plants for observation. And even if they turn out not to be suitable for further development, plants are often kept for their curiosity value – probably the fate of the liquorice bushes, although Fiona says she hasn’t made up her mind yet.

“The root is actually the part which gets processed into what we eat so that’s probably not viable for home gardeners. But plenty of visitors are curious to see them.”

Carob is another that’s being watched – the trees need male and female plants to create the seed pods which lead to the chocolate substitute.

Fiona grows coffee as a pot plant in her office and says it should be a house plant in most parts of New Zealand as it’s simply too cold for it outside, but even indoors you’ll still get beans to crop.

However, tea, a member of the camellia family, is a good hedging plant and the Incredible Edibles website gives instruction on how to pick and dry the leaves to make your own cuppa – 1kg of green tip leaves will yield about 200g of dry tea leaves.

‘Everyone’s thinking about their health, and growing food instead of buying it,” Fiona says. “Despite our grandparents having extensive gardening knowledge, people are having to learn to grow their own food plants again and we try and help with any information we can.

“In my family garden in Thames we had 50 fruit trees and a big vege garden so it’s a bit ironic that I ended up doing this. We get a lot of emails with questions on how to grow, where to grow and what to do with fruit so we put recipes on the website and have led the way in the amount of information we put on our plant labels.”

The couple sell blueberries, feijoas and tamarillos to commercial growers as well as home gardeners, and regularly work with Plant & Food Research. Partnership plants include Tamarillo Tango, a lower-acid fruit, Blueberry Muffin and the bramble Thornless Jewel.

“I like to think of people planting a grazing garden,” Fiona says. “So as the kids go to school they can pick, say, a guava and go off munching it.”

As well as old-fashioned plants like gooseberries, currants (“we can’t grow enough of them”), brambles (which can be grown on a frame in a large pot), bay trees and rhubarb (“there’s an amazing market for it”), Incredible Edibles also specialises in the unusual.

The Japanese raisin tree (Hovenia dulcis). Photo: Sandra Simpson

The tiny, edible seeds of the Japanese raisin tree fall when ripe and should be picked up, have the seeds snapped off the stem, and put in a paper bag in the hot-water cupboard for a fortnight. When eaten they taste like raisins, hence the name.

The name of the ice-cream bean (Inga edulis) also describes its taste – the edible beans are cocooned in a fluffy white substance with a sweet taste.

Other exotic offerings include sugar cane, red banana passionfruit and cherimoya (custard apple), while recent releases include the dwarf Feijoa Bambina, Strawberry Sundae and dwarf apple Teacher’s Pet.

“When we look at whether to market plants we look at the taste, the size of the plant and ease of growing,” Fiona says.

“We’re pretty restricted by biosanitary regulations and quarantine so don’t bring anything in – all that we have is already available in the country.”

The pods of the ice-cream bean tree (Inga edulis) contain an edible white pulp. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The couple are occasionally approached by home gardeners who have something to share and which sometimes results in a new line.

“Someone bought in the naranjilla from their own garden. It’s a great ornamental plant with its big, hairy purple leaves and has strawberry-scented fruit that is used extensively for juice in South America,” Fiona says.

“We’ve also developed the weeping Cipo orange from someone’s garden.

“People who have older gardens probably have some really interesting things tucked away, things pioneers may have brought with them, although identifying varieties can often be difficult, especially with things like figs and feijoas.

“The only way everyone can get ahead is if we all share.”

This article originally appeared in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission. It has been altered slightly for relevance and updated.

Monday digest

Hope you’ve all caught up with the fact that The Kingdom of Plants with David Attenborough is showing on TV One on Tuesdays at 8.30pm. Filmed at Kew Gardens,  last week’s first episode dealt with wet zone plants. If you missed it, the episode is available from TVNZ on demand.

Here is a short introduction to the series.

While we’re on the subject of Kew visit the Fungarium at Kew in this video (5min35). Why are fungi important? Watch and learn – they are essential to plant life and so all life on this planet.

Another Behind the Scenes at Kew video, this one on the Millennium Seed Bank (5min17). Did you know that the only time a plant can move is when it’s a seed?

Dubai Miracle Garden is the world’s largest natural flower garden (although judging by the photos the meaning of “natural” in Dubai may be a bit different).

And check out this stunning gallery of photos from the International Garden Photographer of the year 2013. The winner is Dennis Frates for a shot taken in Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.

Nectarine Goldmine

Discovering more about the origins of particular plants is always fun and after mentioning Nectarine Mabel earlier this week (named for the gardener who found the seedling), I remembered coming across Nectarine Goldmine while researching a feature on spring blossoms.

An online search reveals that it was “developed” by Hayward Wright in the early 20th century. Hayward Wright, as you will doubtless know, is the man who was a pioneer in the field of commercial kiwifruit (Hayward’s variety is named for him).


Blossom of Nectarine Goldmine. Photo: Sandra Simpson

There is a fairly new, and constantly developing, online resource called Papers Past, which are scanned articles from old New Zealand newspapers.

An article from The Press in 1910 states that Goldmine was a chance seedling from Nectarine Ansenne found in a garden in Parnell, Auckland. “It has proved to be one of the finest nectarines known,” the article says, “and is more largely planted than any other variety.”

From 1921, Goldmine and its named seedlings were used in the United States and Australia as breeding parents in attempts to improve the nectarine.

Read an excellent biography of Hayward Wright by Ann Chapman, “probably the greatest plantsman New Zealand horticulture has had”.

This and that

Been here and there lately, a bit of this, a bit of that – here are a few photos.

I’ve never much cared for nectarines, don’t know why, but this week shared a
fresh-off-the-tree Mabel fruit with the garden owner. Delicious. The fruit is quite dramatic looking – purple skin with a pale yellow flesh – and the gardener says the tree’s new growth is purple, making it spectacular tree in spring. Nectarines are self-fertile.

Mabel is named for the Waikato gardener who discovered this natural hybrid of a Blackboy peach in her garden.

Have given up dead-heading as the dry weather continues – can’t be bothered and figured the plants could do with a break. The ploy paid off when a pair of goldfinches visited to feed on the cosmos seed heads.

A goldfinch enjoys cosmos seeds. Photo: Sandra Simpson

One of my favourite fruits is the fig – we generally lose the spring crop on our potted tree to wind so have to wait patiently for the autumn crop to size up and ripen. Spying a sign for “figs” on the side of the road near Te Puna this week I found the fruit stand – one bag left. Yay!

Took a visiting Englishwoman out for the day recently and part of the tour was Waihi Beach – I think the things she enjoyed the most were the road-side fruit and vege stands and the locally made Waitete ice-cream from the health food store (cause it’s all natural). I didn’t try their fig flavour so that pleasure is to come.

And, finally, while plenty of plants are still flowering, some struggling, other still looking good, the sedums are just beginning to start their flowering.

Wild about smoothies

Julia Sich drinks weeds daily – and recommends their health-giving properties. She is taking a Foraging for Free Food workshop on Saturday, March 16 in Papamoa. Full details on the events page. Now, read on …

When Julia Sich offers a glass of thick, green liquid and says it is freshly made from weeds my good upbringing kicks in. I take a mouthful and taste … banana.

“Many of the nutrient-rich greens are quite bitter,” says Julia, “so I always add at least a banana. We’re so used to sweet tastes now that we shy away from anything bitter but, in the centuries before sugar, tastes were quite different.

“This blend is two cups of weeds, some wheatgrass, two peaches, a plum and a banana.”

Julia Sich and one of her green smoothies. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Julia, who has a diploma in horticulture from Massey University, began to take a closer interest in the plants others call weeds after a serious illness caused a stroke some four years ago.

She discovered the work of Victoria Boutenko, a proponent of raw food and green smoothies, and has been drinking at least one green smoothie a day since 2010.

“I was aghast at how little I knew about these plants, yet research shows they have more nutrients and omega 3 oil than cultivated leafy greens.”

Julia says that by using a blender to make a drink, the cell walls of the plants are broken down and nutrients released, with antioxidants and fibre retained. Using a juicer produces a less optimum result.

“Drinking the plants allows the body to absorb more of the goodness than eating them and much more than we are able to take in from a supplement,” she says.

The tops of carrots, wild or cultivated and red clover are just two of the ‘weeds’ that can be used as food, Julia says. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A walk around Julia’s garden is a guided tour of an alternative food source – chickweed, dandelion, three types of plantain, speedwell, wild sorrel and amaranth, red clover, fat hen, cleavers (bidibid) and, to her delight, purslane (wild portulaca).

“Until recently I didn’t have it so I was very excited when I saw two small plants – my husband’s not allowed to pull out the one in the terrace.”

Every 1 gram of purslane, Julia says, contains 4mg of omega 3, compared with 0.89mg in a gram of spinach.

Wild portulaca. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“Weeds grow exuberantly and we don’t have to do anything, even plant them. They are all nutrition but most people either pull them out or spray them.”

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


Monday Digest

Jane Bowron, a columnist who lives in Christchurch, attended this year’s Ellerslie International Flower Show on Saturday and was distinctly underwhelmed. Read her thoughts on the show here. (Thanks to the regular reader of Sandra’s Garden who sent the item.)

In my earlier posting about Ellerslie I complained that the list of winners hadn’t been posted to the show’s own website – it is there now, dated March 9, four days after the winners had been announced.

David Harricks doesn’t water his vege garden, saying the cost of the water would make his home-grown veges unsustainable. David’s in a rented property so doesn’t have a rain tank but anyway after almost 3 months with no rain a regular suburban rain tank would probably be empty.

So the cost of water is something to be borne in mind. As of yesterday we’ve put a bucket in the shower – this morning I had 9 litres to put on the tomatoes. Here are some practical water-saving tips from Christchurch City Council, plus a list of drought-tolerant plants (xerophytes are plants that can withstand long periods without water). Remember that this list applies to plants in the ground, not potted plants which will need extra watering.

Central Hawke’s Bay District Council has a pamphlet online that more or less echoes the garden tips from above, but adds some general ideas, including making sure your hot-water thermostat is not set too high (61°C is best, it says). Adding cold water to cool very hot water is wasteful.

Waiheke Island is suffering a major water shortage – drought plus limited fresh water  plus lots of tourists. So for very dedicated, or very drought-hit, people here are some more extreme day-to-day water-saving ideas.

And, finally, an obituary for Dave Green, a plant hunter who established a national collection of species fuchsias at his home in London.