For the birds

The annual Garden Bird Survey asks participants to choose an area, such as a garden, and list all the birds heard and seen in an hour. The one-hour snapshot can be made any time from June 29 to July 7. Fill out the form in a pamphlet available from libraries and post or enter results online. More details here.

Having birds – whether it’s fantails and their crazy flight paths or blackbird song – in a garden is a joy. But how can we encourage them?

A birdbath is something birds enjoy whatever the season, both for drinking and washing. The receptacle needs to be off the ground and cleaned regularly to keep them coming.

Any food also needs to be off the ground, both to keep birds safe from cats and to stop it attracting vermin.

  • Seed eaters include finches and sparrows (seeds from a pet shop or supermarket can be mixed with melted lard and put in a fine-mesh bag for hanging outside)
  • Nectar eaters include waxeyes, tui, bellbirds and starlings (put out sugar water if there is nothing flowering, 1 tablespoon of sugar dissolved in hot water then made up to 1 litre with cold water)
  • Insect eaters include fantails, kaka, moreporks, kingfishers, thrushes and starlings
  • Fruit eaters include waxeyes, tui, kereru, kaka, blackbirds and rosellas (cut citrus or pipfruit in half; don’t offer kiwifruit as the spread of wild plants is a problem).

A waxeye feeds in a persimmon tree at Te Puna (the fruit are astringent so the owner doesn’t mind). Photo: Sandra Simpson

Birds BOP co-ordinator Eila Lawton warns supplementary feeding can cause problems, especially if you go away.

“It’s best to provide a continuous source of plant food for birds to forage themselves so they’re not reliant on an artificial food source.”

Eila also encourages going spray-free and having native plants as food. “By feeding on exotic plants native birds aren’t doing their essential pollination and seed distribution of native plants.”

For native birds try, among others, flax (seeds and nectar), kowhai (nectar), puriri (flowers and fruit), coprosma, corokia and miro (berries), cabbage trees (flowers and berries) and muehlenbeckia (nectar and seeds).


A bellbird enjoys the nectar from flax flowers while at the same time pollinating the plant (note the patch of pollen on the bird’s head). Photo: Sandra Simpson

Manuka and kanuka offer nesting sites for fantails, while manuka and olearia are good hosts for insects. Leaf litter or biodegradable mulch also encourage insects.

Over winter exotic food species include aloe flowers (nectar), camellia flowers (nectar), grevillea flowers (nectar), banksia (nectar and seeds) and tree lucerne (foliage, particularly liked by kereru).

This article was first published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission.

Aristolochia magic

Happy birthday to Dunedin Botanic Garden, which officially turns 150 on June 30, although the party has been going on, and will go on, all year. If you’re in town, the fun starts at 11am on the tea kiosk lawn (fingers crossed for a nice day).

It’s our oldest botanic garden, by a whisker as Christchurch Botanic Gardens celebrate their 150th on July 9.

I put in a call to Tom Myers, botanical services officer with Dunedin City Council (which runs the garden), about a plant name this week – an Aristolochia I photographed in the Winter Garden earlier this year. He has kindly sent me a link to a story about Sue Wickison, a Wellington-based botanical illustrator, who has worked in the garden drawing the Aristolochias.

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Aristolochia littoralis at the Dunedin Botanic Garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Sue and two other artists have their work on show at the garden’s information centre from July 5-30 in the Delight in Detail exhibition.


Aristolochia cymbifera at Dunedin Botanic Garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

There are about 500 members of the Aristolochia vine family, according to Bizarre Botanicals, a book by Larry Mellichamp and Paula Gross (Timber Press, 2010). Aristolochia grandiflora can have flowers over 30cm long and 20cm wide. The flower has no petals, only sepals and is from the front is a soft-ish halo, although look quite different from the back and have the common name Dutchman’s pipe because of their shape (supposed to resemble a large-bowled smoking pipe).

The flowers emit a scent of rotting meat to attract flies as pollinators, although I can’t say I noticed anything out of the ordinary.

The clever people at Te Puna Quarry Park had one flower outdoors a few years ago, theirs was a different one again.

Curious plants: Crustose lichen

The filaments of crustose lichens release an acid that dissolves the surface of the rock which releases minerals from the rock that the lichen needs for food and allows it to adhere so tightly that it becomes part of the rock.

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This crustose lichen was growing above the tree line on Mt Ruapehu. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Crustose lichens are also found on tree trunks, footpaths and even glass and often can’t be removed without taking some of the surface too.

They grow very slowly – maybe only 1-10mm a year – so a large crustose lichen growing in tough conditions may be hundreds of years old.

Read more about the different types of lichen here and see some photos of lichens in New Zealand here.

All change!

Chelsea gold medal winner Trish Waugh has closed award-winning The Landscape Design Company. In an email this week she said:

“These past five years have been full of change for me. Of most significance was the passing of [husband] Doug four and a half years ago which left a big challenge to carry on with the company that Doug and I had so passionately built together. Because of this I feel it is now time to consider new horizons.”

Trish has sold her Athenree property and is living on the outskirts of Paeroa with her new partner.

“I have become increasingly conscious of my responsibilities as a custodian of our natural landscapes and of the vital need to consider future generations through sustainable practices in whatever I choose to do. This is, I believe, where my future pathways lie.

“My current focus is on gardening a large productive garden to gain a deeper understanding of the seasons, the soil and the plants and on incorporating the ethics of permaculture and sustainability into this work. For the time being I am not offering any design services but at a later date it is my intention to set up as a permaculture garden designer.”

Trish attended the International Permaculture Convergence in Jordan in 2010 and more recently has been part of the team – with former colleagues Sue Peachey and Hugo Verhagen – bringing Permablitzes to the Katikati area.

Here’s a photo of Trish working in the remade Chelsea garden – Garden of 100% Pure Ora – at Taupo Museum.

Touchwood Books has changed hands and moved from Hastings to Levin.

The new owner of the mail-order garden book business is Liz Legge, who has a background in both horticulture and IT and has set up a new-look website. Liz gained a distinction in amenity horticulture from Massey University in 1987, the year Peter and Diane Arthur started Touchwood Books!

Rosehip season

Hands up who remembers keeping the winter chills and ills at bay with rosehip syrup?

I hadn’t thought much about it being something that’s disappeared off our shelves until I stumbled on a piece on the internet some time ago about some of the history of the brew that was made from wild-growing Central Otago sweet briar hips (Rosa rubiginosa). Read some of that history here.

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Summer in Ophir in cental Otago is one huge blooming of roses, hollyhocks, poppies and foxgloves. Photo: Sandra Simpson

During World War 2 the hips were sent to factories in Dunedin to be made into syrup which was used by mothers and children, including infants, to boost Vitamin C intake at a time when fresh fruit and vege weren’t always plentiful. Read more about that here (with photos of the briars growing wild). Mothers received government coupons which could be exchanged for rosehip syrup. Apparently rosehips have 20 times more Vitamin C than a comparable weight of oranges.

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Rosehips are also ornamental garden features and sought after by floral designers. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Muriel Bell is a name most of us won’t know, but what a life of achievement she led in this country, particularly concerned by the need for a healthy diet (and this was in the first half of the 20th century). In among all her projects – pasteurised milk, the vitamin content of fruit and vege, fluoridated water and better-quality bread – was the promotion of rosehip syrup for mothers and babies during the war years. Needless to say, this health advocate (and a doctor and a scientist) was known as “Battle-axe Bell”.

The Curious Kai blog has a great posting about rosehips so I’ll shut up and you click on the link and read that (includes a recipe and lots of pictures). The Heritage Roses NZ website also includes a recipe for rosehip syrup, while Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has a fairly simple-sounding recipe.

Newsy bits

Part-time Gisborne rose breeder Mike Athy has won the largest rose trial in the United States with a white-flowered climbing rose.

The plant, as yet without a commercial name, won five out of 11 categories at the Biltmore International Rose Trial, including the “outstanding rose of the trial” title. Read the full story here.

The trial grounds are in the historic rose gardens of the Biltmore estate, built by the millionaire George Vanderbilt in the style of French chateau, in Asheville, North Carolina.

Sad news from the Sculpture Park @ Waitakaruru Aboretum — the park gates close to the general public at the end of June and the Waikato Sculpture Trust will go into recess. From July 1 the park will be open by appointment only and to annual pass holders. Bookings for weddings, concerts, and organised groups will still be welcomed.

Over the past almost 9 years the park — in the countryside between Hamilton, Cambridge and Morrinsville — has been open daily and there have been 24 exhibitions with visitor numbers building to 9000 annually.

The Trust Board is still looking at ways of securing funding and volunteers will continue to maintain the grounds.

Visitors enjoy a piece in the 2011 Winter exhibition.

The park itself has been a 20-year rehabilitation project of a former quarry which is now home to a botanically diverse range of trees and shrubs. The owners of the land, John and Dorothy Wakeling, have protected the 17.5ha of trees for the next 50 years as a permanent carbon sink.

Outlook: Rose-y

The bare-rooted or heavily pruned roses available in garden centres over winter may not look much but now is the time to plant roses for a colourful summer display.

By getting roses in the ground, or shifting existing roses, over the next month, you are giving the plant the best chance possible to establish and do well over summer.

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Kaimai Sunset, a climbing rose bred by Rob Somerfield of Te Puna, mixes with yellow irises, violas and Sedum mexicanum at Siesta Orchard, the garden of Colleen Thwaites. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A clean-up before pruning will also pay dividends – remove dead leaves (which may be harbouring disease) from on and under the plant and if you spray your roses June and July should include something to kill over-wintering eggs of aphids, red spider mite and scale.

If you are planting a new rose in the same place as an old one, the National Rose Society recommends disposing of a decent area of surrounding soil (about two wheelbarrows’ worth) and giving the new rose fresh soil to help it on its way.

Many roses can also be grown from cuttings – although you will wait longer for the plant to be of flowering age, it is a cheaper way to stock your garden.

Helen Polstra, who gardens near Katikati, takes her cuttings at pruning time and plants them beside their “mother”, believing she gets a better strike rate.

Cut straight across the stem immediately below a bud “eye” to form the bottom of the cutting. At least two bud eyes should be above ground (about one-third of the length of the stem). Keep the cuttings well watered through summer and try not to disturb them for a year.

One of Helen’s favourite roses is Martha Ford, which has fragrant, apricot blooms that age to white. After buying a plant from “a little old lady” who had a hand-made sales sign on the highway north of Wellington, Helen has propagated the rose herself from cuttings.

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Martha Ford arrived in Russell in 1837 where her husband, Samuel, was the country’s first resident surgeon. Between October 4 and November 1, 1848, the couple lost four of their 10 children to scarlet fever. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Martha Ford was developed by Ken Nobbs, co-founder of the New Zealand Heritage Rose Society, and is, strictly speaking, a rambler, although Helen uses it as a climber.

“Normally when Thys is driving we go from A to B and that’s it,” Helen says of her husband, “but this day he heard my plea and turned off.”

Although enthusiasts still grow beds of roses, they arguably look best in a mixed border where other plants can come to the fore once the roses have finished flowering and help disguise their less attractive winter stage.

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A Hayley Westenra rose planted in a mixed border in Helen Polstra’s garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The timing of pruning will depend on where you live – in the Tauranga area you should hold off until at least the second half of July.

And this is the last year that you’ll be able to buy Matthews Roses from garden centres. The long-established and well-known Wanganui business – it’s one of the biggest commercial rose growers in the country – is to become mail-order only.

Most of this article was first published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission. It has been updated for this website.

Flowering now

Chatting to Laurie Jeyes at Palmer’s in Bethlehem today and he confirmed what I’ve been observing – many plants are confused by the continuing warm weather.

The deciduous daylilies I cleaned up the other day have now sent several flower stems up from each clump. The foliage has died back as it should, but the flowers have decided to keep going. My cherry pie heliotrope is still flowering after starting in early November and alstroemerias are still going. All a bit confusing, for them and for me!

And although this looks like an attack of scarlet fever, it really is a coincidence.


Cyclamen add a bright spot of colour in a bed that’s not doing much till spring. Photo: Sandra Simpson

You know that cyclamen you got for Mother’s Day? Plant it out in the garden in a frost-free spot once it’s finished flowering and enjoy it for years to come. Years ago I saw a carpet of  wild cyclamen flowering in the mountains of Cyprus. Beautiful. Here’s some advice from the UK-based Cyclamen Society and try this website which talks about the care of “hardy cyclamens”, the type available from garden centres.


Epidendrum or crucifix orchids are very easy to grow in Tauranga. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Epidendrum orchids come in a range of colours – orange, red, scarlet, pink, mauve – and flower off and on all year. Mine are very pot-bound inasmuch as I’d probably have to break the pot to get them out.

They produce regular keikeis (kiekie is an Hawaiian word for baby) which just get snipped off the parent stem and started as a new plant … and they don’t need to actually grow in a medium but will happily do their thing with their roots in the air.


Grevillea Fireworks. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I bought Grevillea Fireworks last year, planted it and enjoyed it. Then in the spring the plants that were around it took off and started to smother it so I moved it across the lawn-path and into my little “red garden”.

And there it sat. Not growing, but not dying either. It baked through the summer and got pretty dry, which I figured it could stand being an Australian native. However, it “standing still” bothered me and I figured there may not be any flowers this year – so was delighted to find it blooming well yesterday. Supposedly it will attract birds.

Huh, just read on this grevillea webpage that Fireworks isn’t a good choice for humid climates as it’s prone to root rot. Funny it being sold in Tauranga then, eh? (And even funnier that we didn’t have a humid summer this year, unlike most years.) But it is a good choice for colder areas. Read more about these hardier grevilleas here.

As well as Fireworks, there is Firecracker and Firesprite. Read more about this large family of plants at the Grevillea Study Group website, part of the Australian Native Plant Society.

Curious plants: Drimys winteri

Drimys winteri (winter’s bark) is native to Central and South America. In its native habitat it is described as a “slender tree that can grown up to 20m”. The RHS describes it only as “higher than 12m” and taking 20 to 50 years to reach ultimate height.

Its fame comes from its Vitamin C-rich bark which was used for centuries to cure scurvy in sailors, a fact stumbled on by Captain William John Winter, a doctor and the commander of the Elizabeth on the 1577-80 circumnavigation by Sir Francis Drake (five ships took part) when the ships were in the Straits of Magellan. [The alterations have been made in response to a comment from a descendant of Captain Winter.]

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Drimerys winterii at Looking Glass Garden near Te Puke. The tree flowers from early spring into summer. Photo: Sandra Simpson


He was shown how to make “tea” from the bark in Patagonia – during the long winters when no fresh fruit or vegetables were available locals ate the bark. (You have to wonder what drove them to that in the first place, don’t you?)

It was apparently also used by explorer Captain James Cook, along with other things, to keep his crew safe from the fatal disease on his late 18th century voyages. A drawing by Joseph Banks appears in his Endeavour Journal 1768-71 (Vol 1).

Drimys winteri needs a sheltered frost-free spot.