Tree time

With Arbor Day falling on June 5 it’s a good time to ask some experts about their favourite trees for autumn colour.

Gordon Collier, who developed Titoki Point garden between Taihape and Waiouru (closed to visitors since Gordon moved on), now gardens on the shores of Lake Taupo and says  if he had to pick just one tree it would be Cornus Eddie’s White Wonder – pictured here in spring and autumn.

“It has brilliant autumn colour and beautiful flowers in spring – and the American dogwoods don’t get too big so it’s a good tree all round. Both Eddie’s White Wonder and Cornus florida are good for colder climates.”

Gordon, an advisor to the New Zealand Gardens Trust, also recommends Gingko biloba, Cotinus Grace, one of the American smoke bush shrubs that grow to tree size, and Japanese and American maples, especially Acer rubrum (red maple) which has spectacular colour and is notable for its tolerance of wet soils and air pollution.

“I’d like to recommend Fraxinus raywoodii, the claret ash,” he says, “but it gets very brittle.”

John Wakeling, who with wife Dorothy has planted some 18,000 trees since they began Waitakaruru Arboretum and Sculpture Park 20 years ago in a disused quarry near Hamilton, also recommends Cornus florida, saying it is an “exciting” tree.


Tupelo. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“We have Nyssa sylvatica, or tupelo, but although the colours are good, the leaves don’t hang on.

“The Japanese maples and American maples are generally good but we find that sugar maples [Acer saccharum] don’t do so well here and lose their leaves in March.”

John likes the combination of yellow leaves and white bark of Betula nigra (river birch) and Betula utilis jacquemontii (Himalayan birch) and as an alternative to the common Liquidamber styraciflua recommends the delicate colours of Liquidamber formosana (Chinese liquidamber).

“Oaks are good too – even if they’re not particularly vibrant the leaves hang on. But there are some strong colours from pinoaks [Quercus palustris], red oaks [Quercus falcate] and scarlet oaks [Quercus coccinea].”


Scarlet oak. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Ruth Appleton has developed an arboretum in a valley at Pahoia, near Tauranga, and always intended it to be an autumn garden.

Her pick of the bunch? Cornus florida Cherokee Daybreak (see a photo here).

“The leaves change colour throughout the year, becoming very intense in autumn and it has white flowers in spring.”

Another of her autumn favourites, although more often noted for spring flowers, are ornamental cherries – among them Prunus Kanzan, Prunus Hillieri Spire, Prunus Ukon and Prunus Tai Haku.

And Ruth, who has created five ponds along the swampy valley floor, couldn’t be without Taxodium distichum, the swamp cypress which turns a vivid rusty orange in autumn before dropping its needles.


Swamp cypress. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Maori garden in France

A “Maori Garden” in is being officially opened in France on May 30, to coincide with Matariki.

The Te Putake project has been led by a Ngai Tahu team working in partnership with a team from the renowned Moselle Conseil General Fruit Gardens in Laquenexy, Moselle, in north-eastern France. (The French name is prettier, Jardins Fruitiers.)

The leader of the Kiwi team is Tutehounuku (Nuk) Korako, who was project manager of the award-winning Te Waipounamu Garden at the 2010 Ellerslie International Flower Show. His team includes Ngai Tahu architect Perry Royal and master carver Riki Manuel (Ngati Porou).

The French team is led by garden designer Pascal Garbe, who is the project manager for the Gardens Policy with the Moselle Conseil General. He was International Garden Tourism Person of the Year in 2011 in North America and star judge at the Ellerslie International Flower Show in 2011.

The garden features native totara and kauri carvings from wood and rock sourced from destroyed buildings within the Christchurch, Lyttelton and Rapaki earthquake zones.

There will also be a 120kg pounamu boulder from the West Coast, a 53,000-year-old kauri stump from Kaipara, and three mauri (spiritual) stones sourced from Shag Rock (Sumner), a pa site in the Christchurch CBD and Lyttelton Harbour.

The garden will be a permanent fixture within the Fruit Gardens which already feature the Canadian First Nations Garden, Ohtehra, created in 2010.

Read more about Te Putake and see a concept design here.

Roving reporter

My friend Pat is in Europe on a garden tour and has kindly sent a couple of photos from this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.

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The winning Australia Garden from the Chelsea Flower Show. Don’t you love the corrugated iron water tank peeping out from behind the ‘pod’? Photo: Pat Osman

The Trailfinders Australian Garden by Fleming’s Nurseries encompassed a studio space that looked like it was floating above the garden in a flower-like structure.

The judging, as seems par for the course at Chelsea, has come under fire. Read more here.

New Zealand was represented by the Cloudy Bay Discovery Garden designed by Wilson McWilliam Studio. See photos here.


Chelsea digest

Ah to be a garden writer in England
now that Chelsea’s here …

Well, I’ll just have to be content with reading the opinions of others – and what a blast they’re all having. I heard Rosemary Alexander speak  (briefly, it was in the middle of a talk on gardening in general) about her judging experience at Chelsea. Battle royale seemed to sum up the awarding of medals.

I mention that because one of the designers who didn’t win Best in Show has been complaining, prompting erudite garden writer Tim Richardson to explain the system to us mere mortals. Quote of the week: “They are spraying gold medals round like confetti.”

Garden Drum blogger Catherine Stewart of Australia has posted the first of her review of gardens, summarised as “a bit boring” (apart from the Best in Show Australian garden, of course). Read it here.

And here’s a look at some of the new plants being introduced at Chelsea, including one we must hope makes it these distant shores – Cercis canadensis Ruby Falls, a weeping form that has the popular Forest Pansy as one parent. New foliage emerges brick red, later darkening and then turning yellow in autumn.

Friday digest

For your weekend reading pleasure …

Local: Food Foragers Initiative is a new project in Katikati, based at Te Runanga O Ngai Tamawhariua (22-24 Waterford Rd, just off the main road) that stems from frustration at seeing so much food go to waste – rotting in gardens, orchards and at businesses. If you have something to donate to the group  phone Maria 549 1270, Elizabeth 027 768 8987 or Karen 549 0760.  Alternatively, if you know of someone who is in need of additional fresh food, head along to the Runanga and see what is available.

National: Loved this column by Abbie Jury on why lawns are bad for the environment. I’ve been muttering about lawns for years after hearing Trish Waugh on the subject of sustainability, but people don’t seem to get it. Have a lawn by all means, but at least know what it’s costing the environment.

Global: The World Landscape Art Exposition alongside Longqi Bay in Jinzhou, China  opened this month with two New Zealand companies involved in an ambitious project that runs until October and expects to attract 10 million visitors! (Surely, a case for an exclamation mark.) The exhibition covers 7 square kilometres and each design area runs about 3000sqm!

Prorata Landscape Architecture of Palmerston North has created the Aotearoa Park and Bespoke Landscape Architects of Howick, Auckland, the Waka Wetland

Read more about the expo here.

Listening: National Radio’s Katherine Ryan this week interviewed John Bunker, a nurseryman from Maine and the founder of Fedco Seeds Trees. John is trying to save heirloom apple varieties and over the last 30 years, estimates he’s rescued some 100 varieties from oblivion. He also talks about the old apples being often not good eating apples but perfect for cooking, preserving and making cider – and how modern consumers don’t “get” that. (The broadcast is 28 minutes, 12 seconds.)

Marvellous ‘mushrooms’

Rainy is Shirley Kerr’s preferred kind of weather – it means her favourite plants are lifting up their heads and “fruiting”.

Shirley is a keen amateur mycologist (someone who studies fungi) who likes nothing better than heading off to the bush in damp conditions to try and spot something new for her extensive photo collection.

It was her love of photography that brought her to fungi – natural history photos entered into Tauranga Camera Club competitions had to be properly named – and it was someone she met while trying to identify a fungus that introduced the retired Athenree relief teacher to a whole new world.

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Shirley Kerr loves her work. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“He introduced me to the annual New Zealand Fungal Forays run by Landcare Research, and I discovered there were a lot of others who were mad keen on fungi.” This year’s foray was  based around Matawai on East Cape and took place from May 12-18.


Fungus at McLaren Falls Park. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Shirley has regularly attended forays around New Zealand, has been to Australia to look for fungi and has her own website of photographs and information.

“It’s good to go to another area,” she says of the forays, which comprise of a day out photographing and collecting and evenings spent on identification – with always one or two rarities emerging.

`”We’ve got a bit of native beech in the Kaimai Range, but in the South Island you get several varieties of beech in one place – and where’s there beech, there’s interesting miconzal fungus.”

Shirley says there’s probably been about 9000 New Zealand fungi named and there’s probably that many again waiting to be found and named.

“They definitely need a moist environment. They won’t fruit unless conditions are right.”

But, she quickly adds, all that’s needed to get interested in fungi is a good pair of eyes and an inquiring mind.


Photographed in Puketoki Reserve, Whakamarama. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“There’s plenty of interest that pops up in lawns, although they tend to be drably coloured. Ileodictyon cibarium [basket fungus] can appear in bark mulch. It starts out as an ‘egg’ then out this odd thing pops.

“There’s always something beside the track in the bush. You don’t have to go searching for them. I’d never seen a Hygrocybe conica [blackening waxcap] until a few years ago – then a year or two later I spotted some in my own street frontage.”

She has found the only pink enteloma in New Zealand, although the professional mycologists want to see if another one turns up before they record it as a separate species, and Shirley also found an Entoloma congregatum, only the second one ever to be recorded in this country.

She uses a 1:1 macro lens to record her finds and spends a lot of time on her hands and knees in the bush. “I have a bad habit of keeping my eyes down, when there’s just as much to see on tree trunks – and you don’t have to stray off the tracks to make good finds.”


The vibrant colour of the fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) serves as a danger warning. This fungus is highly toxic. Photo: Sandra Simpson

She was intrigued, but not surprised, that a fungi garden had won the supreme award at Ellerslie International Flower Show in 2010 – the Hygrocybe family are known in Europe as “the orchids of the field”, thanks to their bright colours, although in New Zealand they are not found in grassland, only bush.

“The garden probably opened people’s eyes to how beautiful fungi can be,” Shirley says.


The award-winning fungi garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Taranaki pioneer Chew Chong established a lucrative export trade in wood ear fungus (Auricularia polytricha), which became known as “Taranaki wool” and was regarded as a delicacy in China, but, says Shirley, there are very few examples of edible native fungi.

“Some were known to be eaten by the Maori, but probably only in times of severe food shortages. I’ve tried a couple and they’re not very nice.”

In the Western Bay of Plenty, Shirley recommends Puketoki Reserve (Whakamarama), the short loop track at Aongatete Forest (end of Wright Rd) and McLaren Falls Park for fungi spotting. Don’t handle or eat anything you have not definitively identified. Most fungi in New Zealand are not safe to eat.

To see more of Shirley Kerr’s photographs go to her website Kaimai Bush which also includes sections on lichen, native orchids and mosses.

This article first appeared in the Bay of Plenty Times and is reproduced here with permission.

Celebrating Chelsea

And it’s off … almost. The 100th Chelsea Flower Show opens in London on May 21 and runs for 5 days.

Daily Telegraph writer, and exhibitor, Bunny Guinness takes a look at the show’s pedigree, plants and prestige ahead of this gardening showcase she calls “arguably the greatest flower show in the world”.

The show is asking for public votes to choose the Plant of the Centenary and the Royal Horticultural Society website has the list of candidate plants – one for each decade – and a “plant champion” (born in the same decade) talking about it on video.

And here’s the link to the official website with stories, photos and videos – and plenty about the winning gardens when the judging is finished.Oh yeah, the ban on garden gnomes in the exhibition gardens has been lifted!

New Zealand is represented at the show – former Christchurch garden designer Rosemary Coldstream, who is based in Hertfordshire, has her Koru Garden in the Fresh Gardens category, while the Cloudy Bay Discovery Garden takes its inspiration from the Marlborough setting of the vineyard.

Here’s a gallery of photos of the last 100 years of the flower show.

Don’t forget the gold medal garden of the 2004 show – the Garden of Pure Ora – has been reconstructed at Taupo Museum and is open to visit. This was the first New Zealand garden to win gold at the show. See the Open Gardens page for details.


Gary Borman, ranger at McLaren Falls Park, deserves a reputation for stickability, if he hasn’t already got one.

Gary has been trying to grow from seed the much-admired maple at Cherry Bay that lights itself up with fiery red leaves in the autumn.

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The red maple in full autumn colour at Cherry Bay. Photo: Sandra Simpson

His first couple of tries failed miserably, not one seed germinated. But this past summer it looked like success might finally be in the wind – a whole tray of seeds came through. He’d kept them in the fridge for several weeks (earning the ire of his wife in the process, he reveals), figuring that a good chilling might be key in encouraging a tree native to Japan where feezing conditions are the norm in winter.

Catching up with Gary last week, I discovered that the story doesn’t have a happy ending – yet – as every one of his sprouting trees rotted. He thinks he over-watered them, is doing some more research and is ready to have another go.

If he ever realises his ambition and gets a group planted on the bank opposite the visitor centre, that will truly be Gary’s legacy to the park.

On the road: Paloma Gardens

Paloma is at Fordell,  20km from Whanganui and 70km from Palmerston North, $10 entry. If you would like a guided tour, please arrange in advance. The garden is open seven days year-round. There are B&B and camping options. For more information see the website.

Hand-made signs – very well-made signs but clearly hand crafted – point the way to Paloma Gardens from the road through Fordell, giving a hint of the passion Clive and Nicki Higgie have for their one-of-a-kind garden.

The sheep farm has been in Clive’s family for generations, while his half-French, half-Kiwi wife Nicki was introduced to the property in the hinterland of Wanganui and a “typical Kiwi farm cottage” 35 years ago.

“She’d been educated in Belgium, had studied at university in New York, spoke several languages and had servants when she was growing up,” Clive says. “When I brought her here I decided I’d better spruce things up a bit and it has just snowballed.”

A wooden fence on one side of the drive carries an eclectic collection of neatly painted slogans and thoughts – those supplied by Nicki, a former district councillor, are in French and Latin, while a bridge in Paloma carries a musing on the creation of Frenchwomen, Clive’s tribute to his wife and mother-in-law.


Part of the welcome fence. Photo: Sandra Simpson

And although the garden’s name is Spanish (meaning dove) it was Clive who named what had been known as “the garden over the road” after his youngest child was born 22 years ago. “We had a son, Guy, not a daughter so I couldn’t use the name I’d chosen so carefully. I didn’t want to waste it and ‘the garden over the road’ wasn’t doing much for anyone, so it became Paloma.”

The extensive garden is in two parts – surrounding the house and in a valley across the driveway – but is now all called Paloma.

“I love trees and I love planting,” Clive says simply. “And I’ll buy plants for their species name – mexicana, chilensis. It’s the names that turn me on.”

They opened the garden to the public in the mid-1990s and have since featured in many magazines and books, thanks to the unique collection of plants Clive has gathered, some of them rare in New Zealand, and since 2008 a “Garden of Death”.

“Wanganui is the fourth-most temperate climate in the world,” he says, “and although we can’t grow everything, we can grow most things – that’s a hell of a wide range of plants.”

Paloma does cop frosts, including in 2009 the second-coldest night recorded in Wanganui, but Clive says most plants will shrug off their frost damage in the spring.


The Red Bridge is a popular spot for wedding photos. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The aloes and cacti aren’t bothered by cold and provide bright spots of winter colour in Paloma proper, which features a lake, picturesque red bridge and a spot for weddings.

On the banks around the Red House cottage Clive has tried to re-create a Mediterranean garden, which he explains as the things he saw growing in France, Italy and Spain, not necessarily things that are native to those countries.

And for anyone who shudders at the thought of bamboo, Clive reckons his large grove of Phyllostachys edulis is less work than having six roses. “Sure it’s a running bamboo, but I control it with trenches and groom it once or twice a year. It’s just a magical place to be, quite spiritual.


Clive Higgie in a grove of Phyllostachys edulis, a bamboo with edible shoots. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“I started with a love of palms and bamboos, then it moved to tree aloes and dragon trees … and so it goes. You join societies and learn more and begin to have access to unusual things. We have over 5000 different species and cultivars on the property.”

Paloma is inspired by the Auckland garden created by Noel Scotting (died 1997) that combined palms, succulents and orchids. “We were lucky enough to meet her and she was so generous,” Clive says. “We’re quite a few years behind, but our garden is in a similar vein.”

He has taken the slow route with some plantings – his stand of 32-year-old Washingtonia robusta palms have been grown from seed – and several trees have been grown from cuttings, including one from Wellington Zoo and one Clive begged 20 years ago from a tree he spotted in Wanganui.

“It was a Cussonia sphaerocephala, a South African tree they call a cabbage tree. As far as I know there are only two of the sphaerocephala in New Zealand, one here and, if it’s still there, that one in Wanganui.

“The elderly lady who came to the door was a little startled but she let me take a cutting. She had bought the tree as a little house plant from McKenzie’s [department store] 30 years before that.”


Clive loves the colour of new foliage on Lobelia gibberoa, so much so he had a paint made to match for an outside wall. Photo: Sandra Simpson

An area of garden was “demolished” by a storm in 2004, including bringing down an old elm tree, but the event proved to have an upside. “There was the heartache of losing a big tree in the garden, but it was the best thing that ever happened because it suddenly showed me what my style of gardening was – and an elm, despite being a lovely tree, wasn’t it.”


  • Daphne bholua for its sweet winter scent … but note Abbie Jury’s comments on its tendency to sucker and seed freely in her New Plymouth garden.
  • Colletia paradoxa has vanilla-scented flowers from late summer
  • Agave chiapensis for its unusually marked leaves
  • Chusquea coronalis (a South American bamboo) has delicate foliage and arching stems
  • Schefflera Condor for its “spellbinding” new foliage – this plant was introduced to New Zealand by Dick Endt
  • Lobelia gibberoa (tree lobelia) for its pink-purple ribbed leaves
  • Ceroxylon quindiuense (wax palm) from the Andes is the tallest palm in the world and can grow up to 70m
  • Jubaea chilensis (Chilean wine palm) for its splendid trunk – the largest diameter of any in the world. (There is a large tree at The Domain in Tauranga.)

This article first appeared in the Bay of Plenty Times and is reproduced with permission. It has been edited slightly for relevance.