Blooming marvellous

Don’t want to skite … but looked what happened while I was away!

I’ve had this hybrid Dendrobium speciosum (Sydney rock orchid) for 5 or 6 years – bought in bloom from the Tauranga Orchid Show, but do you think I could get it to flower again?

As you may recall, I was advised last November to repot it (ie, replace the bark) to try and encourage it to flower. The curious thing about orchids is that they don’t use their potting medium for anything other than stability – and can be potted in polystyrene balls, bark, sphagnum moss or scoria – but every so often orchids benefit from repotting. Read more about repotting here or here.

There have been new canes from this plant since I’ve owned it but no hint of a flower so you can imagine my delight when I saw unmistakable flower buds developing – and not one … but 10!! (Yes, two exclamation marks, it’s that amazing.)

Each arching flower spike (made up of lots of small flowers) is about 50cm long so the plant in full bloom is quite a sight. (Part of the hybrid nature of this plant is that it’s a lot bigger than a regular Dendrobium speciosum; sorry about being vague on its name, orchid growers don’t always have the best handwriting.) The flowers also have a sweet scent, quite light.

Everything orchid will be on show at the Tauranga Orchid Show this month (September 20-22), including advice on repotting. Details on the Events page.

Postcard from Los Angeles

I’ve spent the past couple of weeks in the City of Angels … hot, hot and more hot. We were mostly based in Long Beach, about an hour on the freeway south of central LA and where the temperature was always a merciful couple of degrees cooler and sea breezes likely.


The outer peristyle garden at the Getty Villa, a re-created Roman villa at Pacific Palisades (that’s the ocean you can see in the background). Photo: Sandra Simpson

While I was there I was fascinated to read this on the Garden Drum website:

Los Angeles has paid residents to remove more than 93,000 square metres of lawn from their home gardens since 2009.

With the first 5 months of 2013 being the driest on record across the south and western US, cities are looking at rebates for lawn removal, and even a complete ban on all new front lawns. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power says its lawn rebate programme will save about 178 million litres of water a year. Long Beach offers its residents $US2/square foot to take up their lawn (a proviso being that it has to be alive, not already dead).

In Las Vegas front lawns are banned in new residential developments and rebate rules state the lawn must stay removed even when the house is re-sold, or the new owners will have to repay the rebate plus interest.

Friends from Palm Springs came over to Long Beach to spend some time with us, pleased to be away from the southern California desert and the 46C heat they’d been having. I mentioned this story to them and they rolled their eyes – lawns, and irrigation systems, are par for the course in Palm Springs! (They don’t have a lawn, by the way.)

So it’s been a long, hard summer but the gardens I saw were looking pretty good – thanks to a lot of New Zealand, Australian and South African plants used, plus palms, palms, palms and lots of cycads. I’ll get into specific gardens in later posts.

Steady as she goes

I’ve been meaning to repot my Poor Knights lily (Xeronema callistemon) for some time but have been so filled with trepidation that I kept putting it off. After 15 years plus of growing it and one flower two years ago I don’t want to upset it now.

But the poor thing had been in the same pot since I bought it and although they apparently like to be root bound I thought this might be pushing it.

I had to cut the pot off the plant. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Before I started, I did a quick Google search to see if there was any helpful advice floating around in the ether – and struck gold with the Tawapou Coastal Natives website which contains some information on growing conditions, including what to do if you see signs of root rot. The website makes the interesting observation on the Poor Knights islands the biggest plants (leaves up to 1.8m high) aren’t perched on the cliff faces in full sun, but are to be found in the shade of pohutukawa trees where they benefit from the rich droppings of seabirds (they’re even found growing in trees, where seeds have been dropped).

I opted to use a potting mix for succulents when repotting, thinking it would be a bit more “open” in terms of drainage, and a pot that was not too much bigger. A good water and a feed with some seaweed fertiliser … and fingers crossed.

When I was at the Kelliher Estate in Auckland recently (see Happy Birthday Yates), I spotted a water feature that included Xeronema callistemon as feature plants. The plants all looked healthy – some were in pots on top of the stone wall, one was planted in the vertical wall and some in a horizontal shelf. The plants not in pots presumably have a trickle of water around their roots all the time. Wonder if they flower?

Xeronema callistemon form part of a water feature at Kelliher Estate. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Wellington Botanic Gardens has a magnificent show of these plants, a lot of them planted on a slope to improve drainage and, so I was told, with metal thrown in the planting hole to help in that regard too.


Xeronema callistemon in Wellington Botanic Gardens. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Birds & butterflies

The Prunus campanulata are out – and although they have a tendancy to become weedy (and when they’re coming out it’s easy to see that) in this area who could begrudge them one bad habit when they’re such a tui magnet?


Pictured at McLaren Falls Park – they were about 10 tui feeding in a couple of trees. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Late winter/early spring sources of nectar aren’t just attractive to birds – butterflies and bees are starting to move again and are keen to feed as well.

Some good plants for this are:

  • Aloes
  • Grevilleas
  • Camellias
  • Bottlebrush
  • Banksias
  • Ericas
  • Manuka
  • Lavender dentata (mine flowers almost year-round).

A bee (left) heads for the flowers of an Alnus jorullensis (Mexican alder). Photo: Sandra Simpson

I was in a garden near Katikati in the middle of winter, wandering about on my own, and I could hear the bees busy in three or four of the same trees – Alnus jorullensis (evergreen alder). The flowers didn’t look much, but the bees were thoroughly enjoying them.

Federated Farmers has developed a Trees for Bees programme and produced regional planting lists. Find those here.

The Bay of Plenty branch of the Tree Crops Association has prepared a similar list but organised it in to garden flowersherbs, shrubs and trees and included information on when they are in flower.

Magnificent magnolias

There’s nothing quite like a leafless branch covered in magnolia blooms to stop passers-by in their tracks. And, despite most of her trees having grown way past the height stated on the tags, Lorraine Cox wouldn’t be without her magnolias.

“We’ve been 35 years in our home and I don’t know how many times we’ve changed the garden round, but you can do that in Tauranga,” Lorraine says. “I guess the garden should be planned, but I see things I want and have got to have … and then I find a space for them.”

Her passions for the past few years have been maples, for their autumn and spring colour, and deciduous magnolias, even though some of them take several years to flower. She waited five years for her Magnolia campbellii Alba cross to flower, and says that one year she threatened it “with the chop” as a last-resort tactic. It worked, even though the tree usually takes 10 to 12 years to flower.


Magnolia campbelli alba. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“They’re just like floating iced cakes,” Lorraine says of the ivory blooms. “They look good enough to eat.”

She has chosen trees for a staggered flowering from July through to October, and has a colour range from white to the darkest of the magnolias, among them Magnolia liliflora Nigra, Magnolia Yellow Fever (although Lorraine says it’s more cream than yellow) and Magnolia x brooklynensis Woodsman, a relatively rare tree that has flowers with purple and green petals.

“Magnolias tend to flower profusely every other year, but the exception to that is Vulcan.”

Lorraine bought her Vulcan when the tree was first released about 16 years ago by the Jury family in Taranaki, saying the distinctive red flowers stood out among the more common pinks and whites.

“Quite a few of mine are Jury-bred magnolias,” Lorraine says, “but they don’t have the growth in Taranaki that we have here so you can’t believe what they say on the label. They shoot past that.”

She notes that Vulcan blooms take about four years to come to their true colour and can look “quite insipid” at first. “But every year the colour gets a bit darker and a bit stronger.”

Some of the larger trees have been underplanted with members of the shrubby Magnolia stellata (star magnolia) family, including Magnolia loebneri Leonard Messel, a pink stellata-type flower.


A stellata, or star, magnolia. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Her first tree was Magnolia soulangeana (tulip magnolia) that Lorraine says is “just the common one that you see everywhere”. Among her collection is Atlas, considered to have the largest flower of any of the deciduous species, and another Jury creation. “It’s magnificent,” Lorraine says of the flower, “about 30cm in diameter and quite perfumed.”

She’s also a fan of the crinkled petals of Felix Jury, another large-flowered tree. Both Star Wars and Black Tulip have repeat flowerings, the latter, Lorraine says, with a large burst of blooms before being “constantly” in flower for a long period.


Magnolia Felix Jury, a New Zealand-bred tree. Photo: Sandra Simpson

She recommends Black Tulip, Vulcan and Caerhay’s Belle for small gardens due to their upright and narrow growth habits.

“I saw a tui diving into a magnolia bloom the other morning – he was really pulling at the flower, which wasn’t quite open, to get at the stamens. So we’re not the only ones who think they’re gorgeous.”


Deciduous magnolias are native to Japan and China; evergreen magnolias to the southern United States.

In New Zealand the Jury family of Taranaki is the name most associated with deciduous magnolias, however the late Felix Jury released only eight new trees and his son Mark, despite raising about 1000, has released named only four so far.

It takes up to 20 years from the initial cross to select, trial, evaluate and build up a new variety for release.

In 2003 the International Magnolia Society gave Mark Jury the Todd Gresham Award for his work.

Read more about Jury magnolias.


Magnolia Black Tulip. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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

Sunday musings

We live on an island, right? (For the purposes of this argument we are one island – Fortress New Zild.) Right. So keeping out bad stuff that will harm our precious growing environment and crops shouldn’t be that hard, right? Right.

So why do we keep having to deal with this stuff?

There’s a well-established rumour among the beekeeping community that it was a beekeeper who brought the parasitic varroa mite into New Zealand by illegally importing a queen bee … that turned out to be infected. The rumour goes on to say that he was one of the first to go out of business.

Federated Farmers are saying that wild bee colonies, including native bees, have gone … and won’t be back, thanks to varroa. Read more about that here.

In the NZ Herald last week was a story about kiwifruit seeds being illegally imported with a container of household goods and believed to have been grown since 1999! The Ministry of Primary Industries has finally caught up with it all and is removing and destroying the plants.

The arrival of Psa has been investigated, and quite clear allegations made in some quarters, as to exactly how the disease arrived in Te Puke, where it was first detected in 2010.

And let’s be clear, it’s not one person that’s affected but the lives and livelihoods of a whole raft of people from the producers to forklift drivers on the wharf, it’s losses in export earnings and a muddying of our reputation in international marketplaces.

So what’s wrong? Why are our biosecurity laws, so stringent for the home gardener, not working for commercial crops? And while TV programmes like Border Patrol lead us to believe it may be a case of “new chums” and language barriers threatening our biosecurity, the cases of varroa and Psa would suggest otherwise.

So let’s pause and think next time we go overseas and consider stowing away a seed or cutting in our luggage or not declaring stuff as we re-enter the country. There are some really nasty diseases and pests out there that these blessed isles know nothing about … yet.

Take, for instance, citrus greening, a bacterium spread by insects. It stunts the development of oranges, stops them turning orange and makes them sour. It is rife in Asia and Brazil and has spread to the United States where it has affected the prime orange-growing areas of Florida and California.

One Florida orange grower has been working hard since it arrived in his orchard in 2005 to try and find a solution, preferably one that doesn’t involve applying ever-increasing amounts of pesticide as is the case at present. So he turned to science.

This (long) article in a recent New York Times is worth reading, not least because of its profile of the GM food debate in the US.

As we have learned to our cost, geographical isolation is no safety barrier. And once we’ve got it, we’ve got it for good. Take heed and do the right thing. Here endth the lesson.

Keith Hammett honoured

Well-known Auckland plant breeder Keith Hammett has been honoured by the Royal Horticulture Society with the awarding of the prestigious Veitch Memorial Medal for someone who has “made an outstanding contribution to the advancement and improvement of the science and practice of horticulture”.

He is the fifth New Zealander to be awarded the medal, the previous recipients being Leonard Cockayne (1932), Douglas Cook (1965), Jack Yeates (1968), and Bev McConnell (2012). Read a full list of winners here.

Keith is involved in all sorts of plant breeding but is best known for his contributions to sweet peas, dahlias and clivias – he has released some 300 commercial cultivars so far. Read a 2008 profile of Keith here (click on the pdf link).

Dr Keith Hammett with the presentation painting by Jan Beck. Photo: Sandra Simpson

At the Yates birthday event in Auckland on August 9 he was presented with a watercolour of one of his sweet peas by the late Jan Beck. Read about some of his sweet pea work in this 2012 UK article.

“The Veitch Medal came out of left field,” Keith said to me afterwards, “and this has too. I’m quite delighted though, it’s an honour for New Zealand.”

In his podium speech, Keith thanked Auckland Botanic Gardens director Jack Hobbs, who was present, for his help and support when he set up on his own account.

Keith regularly attends October’s Clivia Show in Tauranga and intends to be here again this year.

Happy Birthday Yates!

Went to Auckland for the day on Friday, invited to a “High Tea” to celebrate the 130th birthday of Yates and to launch the 78th edition of the Yates Garden Guide.

Judy Horton, communications manager from Yates Australia, MC’d the event which took place at the Kelliher Estate on Puketutu Island in Manukau Harbour. Oddly, you have to drive through the Mangere wastewater treatment station to access the causeway across to the island. An inauspicious start to many marriages, one would think.

Fortunately, the palm-lined walk up to the beautifully restored Spanish mission mansion is calming and wedding parties doubtless arrive in good form. Businessman Sir Henry Kelliher bought the 200ha volcanic island in 1938 as a farm and stables for his beloved racehorses.

The start of the garden party and high tea event. The balls hanging from the pohutukawa are draped in Spanish moss. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The gardens feature tropical-look plants although, oddly enough, there is a large rose garden with an Dracenea draco (dragon tree) at its centre and surrounded by a bamboo hedge!

Arthur Yates, who came from a family of seed merchants in Manchester, opened his own seed company in Auckland on June 1, 1883 – and Judy noted that income on the first day was one shilling and sixpence, while expenses totalled two shillings and sixpence! Seeds in packets, rather than sold by weight, were introduced in 1893.

The company has gone on to thrive and is a byword for garden products, including sprays, fertilisers and seeds. As part of the birthday celebrations there will be a range of New Zealand native plant seed released in October.

The first Yates Garden Guide was published in 1895 and was devised while Arthur Yates was recovering from illness. It was 90 pages. The latest edition is 525 pages (my old 1989 one is 346 pages) and will be available from August 16 at an RRP of $49.95.

Judy Horton, Yates’ communications manager, and Finlay Macdonald of HarperCollins with the new edition of the Garden Guide, available on August 16. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Judy launched the latest “collector’s edition” in tandem with HarperCollins publisher Finlay Macdonald, and paid tribute to HarperCollins editor Eva Chan who, Judy said, had picked up and rectified errors “that had been there since the year dot”.

In an earlier chat, Eva had told me she had been born in Tauranga, although moved with her parents, who had had a greengrocer’s, to Auckland when she was aged only 3.

All in all, a grand day out and a very pleasant way to launch a book.

Flowering now

A little while ago I posted a Flowering Now that was coincidentally about red flowers – well, today’s provides the balance with a look at some white flowers.


White Magic hellebore (winter rose). My flowers come on short stems, but there are plenty of them! Photo: Sandra Simpson

And here’s a link to Clifton Homestead Nursery in Otago that specialises in hellebores, a useful plant for part-shaded situations. The large, glossy leaves are there all year and in late winter along come the flowers. The long-stemmed types tend to be nodding but someone told me a few years ago that she grows hers in hanging baskets so she looks up at the flowers. Not a bad idea.


Osmanthus Pearly Gates. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I bought this plant after going for a walk round Looking Glass Garden in the spring – after climbing the Stairway to Heaven with St Peter at the top waiting for us we reckoned we’d earned afternoon tea at Pacifica Garden Centre on the outskirts of Papamoa.

Seeing a plant named Pearly Gates seemed like a big, celestial nudge so we bought it and, as the label said “highly fragrant”, we planted it by the front door. I can’t smell it, but others have told me it has a “sweet, creamy” scent. The label suggested also that it could be used as a “low hedge”, which is an interesting idea.

I’ve tried to photograph my sweet box (Sarcococca ruscifolia) while it’s in flower, but the flowers are very small and I haven’t managed a decent photo yet – I can’t smell that either, yet it’s also supposed to have a pleasant perfume. (Usually I have a good sense of smell so can’t explain this current malfunction.)

My plant is in a tall pot and was badly treated for a time – I moved the pot into a garden bed to fill a temporary hole and promptly forgot about it, leaving it in full sun for the best part of a year. What’s that plant with yellow leaves? Yep, it was an ailing sweet box. I quickly moved it into a shady spot and nutured it for a good while and thankfully it has recovered.

And, finally, my small wildflower patch still has some flowers in it – alyssum is going great guns and there’s also this interesting plant, sweet mignonette (Reseda odorata).


Sweet mignonette. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Tea with the bonsai master

We had been told that bonsai master Kunio Kobayashi was overseas but that one of his senior apprentices would show our group around the master’s gallery in a Tokyo suburb – found only on the second attempt after our affable bus driver missed it because he was so enchanted by the street’s blossoming cherry trees.

However, there was clearly a man in charge and this turned out to be Kunio Kobayashi himself, his travel plans altered and our group the beneficiary (especially as he was off the next day to another overseas destination).

Mr Kobayashi is matter-of-fact about the practical aspects of  creating a bonsai but, he says, if someone does not understand the work in their heart, then they will not succeed.

“If your heart is not in the right place you will never make a good bonsai,” he says. “Plants are very direct and straight in how they react to their care. Passion is just as important as knowing how to prune.”

The garden grows all its own moss – three different types – for use in the bonsai pots.

Acknowledged as one of Japan’s top two bonsai masters, Mr Kobayashi opens Shunkaen, his purpose-built gallery in Tokyo, to the public.

kobayashi17 - Copy

Bonsai master Kunio Kobayashi with the 400-year-old azalea that won Japan’s top prize in 2012. He is particularly proud of the tree as when he bought it at auction it was ‘almost dead’. Photo: Sandra Simpson

At any one time there may be as many as 17 apprentices at the garden – “raising people is much harder [than bonsai] for me”, Mr Kobayashi says. He accepts Japanese students  at the end of their secondary schooling, refusing anyone who has embarked on tertiary study, but takes in foreign students of all ages.

He has been involved with bonsai for 40 years and won the prestigious Prime Minister’s Award four times, and the Grand Prix at the Kojuten Azalea Exhibition six times, as well as regularly giving demonstrations and lectures around the world. He is also the author of a highly regarded book.

The key to bonsai success, he says, is creating the right balance of water, light, temperature and food, while recognising that each tree is different.

Working with trees that are damaged or dying is a challenge he enjoys – he had a juniper with only one living branch so formed it as a “mountain tree” apparently gnarled by the elements.

“The tree becomes more valuable due to the impression of hardship the plant has had but what you do with it depends on the tree.”

kobayashi19 - Copy

A pine tree on show in a tokonoma (display alcove). Photo: Sandra Simpson

Mr Kobayashi has a room full of antique Chinese pots awaiting their trees but has sold one that was once been owned by a Chinese emperor. The government of Japan bought it to present to China as a symbol of friendship paying Mr Kobayashi more than $NZ15 million.

Unfortunately, he said, the sale came after he had built his gallery, which had cost $1.5 million for the building alone. “Imagine what I could have done with the extra money.”

kobayashi13 - Copy

Part of the outdoor display at Shunkaen Gallery in Tokyo. Photo: Sandra Simpson

  • Thanks to Robyn Laing for the translations.

Read more about Mr Kobayashi and bonsai here.

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