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.

Coming up

Tomorrow – June 23 – sees a free rose-pruning demonstration at 1.30pm at Palmer’s in Bethlehem taken by the knowledgable and very able Laurie Jeyes (pictured below).

Laurie has been pruning roses since he was a nipper and is a long-time member of rose societies (Auckland and Bay of Plenty). He will show the pruning basics, talk about tools and safety and answer questions. And did I mention it’s free?

The Events page has some new bits and pieces on it to keep us interested while winter has its way with the garden:

  • A tree sale in Hamilton on July 6
  • Permablitz in the rural Katikati area on July 7
  • Demonstration day at Kings Seeds, near Katikati, on July 12
  • A garden tour and Greenswap meeting in Katikati on July 13
  • Plant auction in Te Puke on July 14 courtesy of the BOP Orchid Society.

Go on, click on the link at the top of the page and plan a fun day out. You know you want to!

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.