Yates celebrates

To celebrate its 130th birthday, Yates is releasing a commemorative seed tin that contains 10 packets of heritage seed varieties and a booklet outlining the history of the well-known New Zealand gardening company.

The tin is illustrated with images from the company’s archive of photographs, seed packets and advertising material and is available from May 1.

The artwork on the seed s in the tin is based on Yates’ packets from the first half of the 20th century, while the seed varieties in the tin were all found in the 1880s Yates seed catalogues that Arthur Yates began to produce soon after he opened his first shop in Auckland in 1883.

You can read more about the history of this well-respected company here. Amazingly, Yates NZ and Yates Australia were run by Arthur and his brother Ernest as separate businesses (albeit with the same name), coming together only in the 1980s.

The seeds in the tin have been selected so it comprises something for planting at throughout the year – Beetroot Blood Red, Carrot Manchester Table, Cucumber Apple Shaped, Leek Musselburgh, Onion Brown Spanish, Pansy Good Mixed, Radish French Breakfast, Sunflower Tall Yellow, Tomato Large Red and Watermelon Ice Cream.



Former television gardener Eion Scarrow has died at the age of 81. Read a news story about that here. A 2012 interview with Eion about how he got started in television and  life since is here.

I’ve added a new link (on the right-hand side of the page) to a Canadian website, Botany Photo of the Day, run out of the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden that features photos from around the world.

The answer to my question about the name of the salvia I’d been given came through the post – the latest issue of NZ Gardener has it under the “Pick now” section.

Salvia confertiflora has flower spikes that can reach up to 60cm long, with the plant itself reaching up to 2m. It is also known as red velvet sage and is native to Brazil.

And Laurie Jeyes kindly offered the reason why my potted chrysanthemum has grown so tall in the garden – the “dwarfing chemicals” used by the original growers have worn off!

Anyone interested in finding out a bit more about plant growth retardants (PGRs) can read this article from the University of Massachusetts.


Lyn McConnell, a member of the Tauranga Floral Art Group, has taken out the New Zealand Floral Art Designer of the Year title at the recent national conference in Gisborne.

Her design, which featured sunflowers on the competition theme of First Light Day Bright, was a 3m-high representation of Mt Hikurangi and also included a vine from her neighbour’s garden and driftwood.

Lyn, who lives at Mount Maunganui, has been involved with floral art for 40 years but almost didn’t make the national competition after being placed second in the qualifying regional contest – however, the winner was unable to go to Gisborne so Lyn was asked to take her place.

The Tauranga group scored another coup at the conference with Fay Edgecombe being elected as the new national president, the third time someone from Tauranga has held this post.

Natalie and Brian Simmonds with their Grand Champion plant, Tillandsia tectorum. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I’ve mentioned the success of Natalie Simmonds previously, but will recap here as I now have a photo and a little bit more information about the sucess of the BOP Bromeliad Group at the show held as part of the Australasian conference in Auckland.

Natalie’s plant, a birthday gift from husband Brian 18 years ago, also won Best Large Tillandsia, Best Tillandsia Species and Best Specimen Plant.

The local group also had two other winners – Johanna Elder took First place in the Tillandsia Small Foliage class, also with a tectorum, while Audrey Hewson was First in the Pitcairnioideae class with a Deuterocohnia brevifolia, a clumping bromeliad (see some pictures here).

“I’ve had my Tillandsia tectorum for 15 or 20 years,” Jo says, “and it’s still only about 10 inches by 8 inches. It’s a very tight-growing plant and is like a ball of cotton wool.”

Curious plants: Elingamita johnsonii

Elingamita johnsonii is named after the steamer Elingamite which was wrecked on the west island of Three Kings in 1902 in dense fog with the loss of 45 lives; and after  World War 1 hero Major M E (Magnus Earle) Johnson, winner of the Military Cross, who found the tree in 1950.

He took his little keeler “Rosemary” on at least 8 expeditions to the Three Kings with botanists and students as crew. The Three Kings seaweed, Sargassum johnsonii, is also named after him.

The islands are 50 km northwest of New Zealand in the Tasman Sea (see some images here) – they are rugged, lashed by gales and home to some of our rarer and unusual native plants.

The fruit of Elingamita johnsonii pictured in Wellington Botanic Gardens. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Major Johnson returned to West King Island in 1951, accompanied by Professor Baylis of Otago University (a great plant hunter) and noticed a good number of Elingamita trees – two of the largest, which were sheltered from prevailing westerlies, were growing in full sun and had a spread of almost 4.5m. Seedlings, however, were scarce.

Seeds were collected and grown at the Mt Albert Plant Diseases Division of the DSIR (possibly now part of Plant & Food Rsearch, but there’s been so much renaming and merging it’s hard to know). Major Johnson also grew seed and in 1960 one of his plants flowered, as did one in Mt Albert. Hand pollination was carried out and Major Johnson’s plant bore fruit (drupes) which took 2 years to colour and remained on the tree for another 12 months after that.

His plant flowered again in 1963, the fruit this time taking 12 months to ripen.

The above information is largely taken from Gardening with New Zealand Plants, Shrubs & Trees by Muriel Fisher, E Satchell and Janet Watkins (Collins, 1988). The information on Major Johnson from the Tiritiri Matangi website, which also includes this information about the fruit of the Elingamita johnsonii: “… a red-skinned drupe which has white flesh and a single seed. It is said to be edible, the flesh tasting like an oily, salty apple.” Yum!

The Plant Conservation Network website notes that “the entire world population occupies a rather small area on one rocky island and two very small adjacent rock islets” and so is vulnerable to weather events, fire and rats (the islands are rodent free but the fruit is thought to be palatable to them).

Lawrie Metcalf, in his book The Cultivation of New Zealand Trees and Shrubs (Raupo, 2011), describes it as a handsome tree with glossy, deep green leaves, creamy or yellowish flowers, and, of course, the long-lasting large fruit. It is frost tender.

Thursday digest

And not only is it time for a digest … but it’s Anzac Day (April 25). So here is my rendition of a Flanders poppy (click on the link to read about how the red poppy has become a symbol of Anzac Day). The photo was taken at Te Puna Quarry Park in summer.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row

The lines under the photo come from the poem In Flanders Fields written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae of Canada, who was killed in 1918.

Did you know that we had a “national flower”? I didn’t, although I had heard that the kowhai (Sophora) “used to be” New Zealand’s national flower. An online search shows people generally hedging their bets with “widely regarded as”, etc. Te Ara, the online encyclopedia of New Zealand, says we don’t have a national floral emblem, despite the silver fern (Cyathea dealbata) trying to win that title by stealth … and sports.

My Bateman’s New Zealand Encyclopedia (2000) says of Sophora tetrapetra: “It is this popularity which leads many to claim that, if any one of the three species [of kowhai] should become the national flower, it should be S. tetrapetra”.

Kowhai Te Atatu Gold.

To my mind, kowhai flowers look their best against a stormy sky. Hands up anyone who knows which coin the flowers were depicted on? Yes, it was the 2c coin, rather disparaged in this article about a collectors’ edition of two pure silver and one pure gold coins featuring kowhai and kiwi.

But while we may be lacking in a national flower, across The Ditch they not only have a national flower, but state flowers as well.

When I was a young reporter, one of my more senior colleagues on Australia Day (January 26) came out with this piece of Monty Python poetry rendered in a broad Strine accent:

This here’s the wattle
Emblem of our land
You can stick it in a bottle
You can hold it in your hand

Watch the Bruces sketch here (3mins18). Health warning: It’s very silly!

The golden wattle (Acacia pycnantha) was chosen as the national flower in 1988. Read more about the plant here.

To find a list of the rest of Australia’s floral emblems, click here. Queensland’s floral emblem, the Cooktown orchid (Dendrobium phalaenopsis) was chosen by public vote in 1959 as part of the state’s centenary celebrations. Read more about that story and its botanical story here.

Flowering now

My formerly potted chrysanthemum.

Fell for a chrysanthemum in a garden shop late last year, the flowers a delicate lilac colour with a centre so pale it was almost white … believe it or not, the picture above is of the same plant! The advice was to plant it out and cut it back when it finished flowering, which I did, not expecting much as previous attempts resulted in dead plants (a few years ago, mind, so maybe I’ve got better at this gardening thing).

The plant has shot up to about a metre high, got very bushy and covered itself in pink flowers, which are nothing like the colour they were when I bought it. Can anyone explain this change to me?

I’ve noticed a few plants have had more intensely coloured flowers this year – is it the long, dry spell; the application of seaweed fertiliser, a combination of both …? All thoughts gratefully received, just click on “leave a reply” at the bottom of the page.

My pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) is in full bloom, and what a sight it was yesterday with raindrops hanging off its many flowers and their scarlet colour intensified by the dark sky (in case you didn’t hear, the drought has well and truly broken).

The flowers of pineapple sage.

The common name of pineapple sage comes from the tropical scent the leaves give off when crushed. Both the leaves and the flowers can be eaten. I cut my plant back hard when it’s finished and it will shoot away again in spring.

I’ve got it in my small “red garden” with orange-red alstroemerias and tall red kanagaroo paws all planted, as you can see above, against a bright, blue wall.

The Salvia Study Group of Victoria (Australia) has a great website with a long list of plants, their flowering times, photos for identification – one thing the group wants to do is ensure correct naming of the many, many plants that make up this family – and lots of other information.

I’m going to use it to try and track down the name of the salvia pictured below. I spotted one recently in a garden and eagerly asked its name, only to be told, “I call it ‘the one Peter gave me’.” Ah, I have ‘the one Gael gave me’.

It has been grown from a cutting in a pot and left to its own devices … but it has flowered all summer and not complained about the dry spell. It’s woody, grows very tall and has flowers coloured somewhere in the brick to brown spectrum with white tips that are only really evident when the flowers fall. If anyone knows its name, I’d love to learn it. Update 2016: Thanks to a reply (see below) from the Salvia Study Group, the salvia pictured has been identified as Salvia confertiflora.

The one Gael gave me, properly known as Salvia confertiflora.


Wildflower World

Editor’s note: Publishing this article now may seem “out of step” but wildflower seed can be sown in autumn for a spring display. On with the story …

Harvesting seed from their cottage garden planted an idea with Liz and Geoff Brunsden – one that has blossomed into them owning this country’s largest mail-order plant business.

Geoff and Liz Brunsden have planted wildflowers outside their Tauranga office. Photo: Sandra Simpson

When they bought a home in Te Puke in the early 1980s it came with a hobby apple orchard, which the Brunsdens redeveloped into a cottage and woodland garden they named Windrest Cottage, eventually opening it to the public.

“When we started planting the garden we had no idea we would go as far as we did, in opening it up,” Geoff says. “But it was a garden of passion and taught us so much about what plants were compatible with a cottage garden and the Bay of Plenty climate.”

They quickly found the northern European plants they liked didn’t do so well and turned their attention to the United States, which offers a wider range of species growing in a wider range of climates, although they have never imported a new species into New Zealand.

The couple began to make up their own mixed packets of seed for sale at Windrest –  the beginnings of Wildflower World.

“We have a photo of us packing seeds at our kitchen table,” Liz says, “and I can remember saying that one day we would laugh about it.”

I’ve had a small wildflower garden this summer courtesy of a seed packet gift from a wedding. This is the garden in its early stage. Photo: Sandra Simpson

They visited the National Wildflower Research Centre in Texas in 1997 and spent a month looking at how they might use wildflowers in New Zealand.

The Texas Highway Commission annually plants some 400,000ha of wildflowers beside roads, claiming a reduction in both litter and average speeds.

“I jokingly said on the plane home that it would be a good idea for Transit New Zealand,” Geoff says. “Three years later I finally got the message through.”

Wildflower World has supplied mixes for planting on roadsides and in central medians, mostly around Northland and Auckland, for 10 years, convincing Transit (now the New Zealand Transport Authority) that the flowers would save money on mowing and that people would love them.

Both turned out to be the case and the use of wildflowers is now in NZTA’s national landscaping document, although their use isn’t as widespread as Geoff would like.

“We’ve lost some of our original sites due to road widening and median strips being sealed,” he says. “When I get the time I’d love to sit with NZTA and talk about the use of wildflowers, purple tansy in particular, as carbon scrubbers. There’s so much we still don’t know about the beneficial effects of these plants.”


A monarch butterfly feeds at Te Puna Quarry Park. The butterfly garden grows wildflowers every year. Photo: Sandra Simpson

They select Wildflower World plants for their non-invasive habits, to provide continuing colour through the growing season and to suit local growing conditions.

Once flowering is over, the plants can simply be mowed and the site made ready for re-seeding. The Brunsdens recommend an annual 50 per cent re-seeding of any wildflower garden, and particularly meadow gardens, mostly because of this country’s strong-growing grasses.

They import some 200kg of seed each year, which doesn’t sound like much until Geoff points out that Linaria maroccana (toadflax) has 15,000 seeds to the gram, or soldier poppy (Papaver rhoea) 7000.

The couple created nine wildflower gardens when the Ellerslie Flower Show was in Auckland sites but now concentrate on retail bulb sales at the Christchurch event.

“Growing a garden that’s 2-and-a-half hours away is pretty tricky,” Liz says. “It meant many, many trips up there – and then most people thought we had just moved the garden in.”

The couple added Kaydees, a mail-order plant company based in Tauranga, to their business in 2006, renaming it GardenPost, and in 2008 moved both businesses to one headquarters in central Tauranga.

Ironically, they often re-export their wildflower mixes to the United States, partly because it’s cheaper for purchasers there.

wildflower2 - Copy

My little wildflower patch had distinct phases of flowering. Photo: Sandra Simpson 

GardenPost has several specialist suppliers around the country, although these growers are “dropping like flies”, Liz says, as they retire or go out of business.

“The big garden centres take bulk lines,” Geoff says, “so you don’t get the variety any more — they have one list for the whole country.”

GardenPost’s suppliers include some cut-flower exporters who are prepared to make bulbs available to gardeners, including a nerine grower in Whakatane and a calla grower in Te Puna, while an Invercargill trust supplies old-fashioned woodland plants. They also have the support of a bulb wholesaler who buys all over the world.

“It’s nice that they don’t perceive making bulbs available to the general public as a conflict,” Geoff says. “They look on us as a market tester — we can tell them within two weeks if something is a goer.

“People are still really interested in anything new and interesting, but it has to be attractive too.’’

Both businesses are located on the same website. For more information phone 928 4517 (Tauranga area) or Freephone 0800 752 686.

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