The Central Garden

When the painter and sculptor Robert Irwin was commissioned to create a garden at the $1.3 billion J Paul Getty Centre in Los Angeles he approached the project as another artwork.

However, Irwin was the first to admit that he knew nothing about plants and Southern California nurseryman Jim Duggan joined the project, collecting plants from Irwin’s long lists, “plus anything else you think is interesting” and growing plants to trial their performance.

The stream path leads into an open space where giant ‘bowers’ for bouganvillea have been constructed from reinforcing rods. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Completed in 1997, the 12,400 square metre Central Garden was, Irwin has said, “a sculpture in the form of a garden, which aims to be art”. More than 500 varieties of plant have been used.

A series of paths forces visitors to walk through every part of the garden while at the same time slowing them down.

The garden follows a natural fall in the land with the first path taking wide zig-zags to a bowl at the bottom, crossing and re-crossing a man-made stream shaded by an avenue of London plane trees (Platanus acerfolia Yarwood).

The water is at first concealed, although it can be heard, by large boulders, becoming more visible on descent.

The stream falls into a round pool containing an azalea maze growing in planter boxes but which looks as if it is floating on the water. The pool is the lowest of four levels of round garden with paths linking the terraces.

A view of the ‘floating’ maze looking back towards some of the museum buildings. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The two outer rings feature mass plantings of Chondropetalum tectorum (Cape rush) and Tulbaghia violacea Silver Lace (variegated society garlic) underneath crepe myrtles (the American-bred Muskogee), while the inner rings are a riot of colour, even at the end of a long, hot summer.

The pale trunks ofthe crepe myrtle Lagerstroemia indica Muskogee, underplanted with Tulbaghia violacea Silver Lace (variegated society garlic). Photo: Sandra Simpson

There are plenty of “ordinary” plants such as dahlias, day lilies, roses, euphorbias, bromeliads, irises, herbs, succulents, hydrangeas, cannas and poppies – but some unusual ones too, including Dalechampia dioscorefolia (purple wings), a vine native to Central America, the red form of Crinum asiaticum (Asiatic poison lily) and Acalypha wilkesiana Haleakala with its bright copper-coloured leaves.

Acalypha wilkesiana is native to the Pacific Islands and is known as copperleaf. This hybrid is Haleakala, named for a volcano in Hawaii. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Among the plants homesick Kiwis will recognise are flaxes, cordylines, hebes, the creeping native fuchsia and coprosomas (which are lightly pruned two to three times a year to stop them getting leggy).

  • Entry to the Getty Centre is free, the only charge is for parking, $US15 (if you visit the Getty Villa in the same day – about a 40-minute drive away – the second parking charge is waived.)

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

Tuesday digest

I’ve been watching a DVD called How to Grow a Planet, a British TV series from 2012 presented by Professor Iain Stewart, a Scottish geologist – and some of the information is absolutely fascinating. He was in New Caledonia for one bit of it, showing us Cook’s pines (Araucaria columnaris) and then moved inland to find what he called “the world’s first flower”.

Yep, plants haven’t always flowered – conifer pollen and fern spores being two of the very ancient ways of plant reproduction. The oldest living flowering plant on our planet, reaching back at least 130 million years, is Amborellaceae, a family that includes just one known species, Amborella trichopoda (see a photo here). Often described as a “living fossil,” this small woody plant grows only on New Caledonia.

See a clip of the Prof climbing the world’s tallest tree (other clips available on the right-hand menu).

“The Big Bloom – How Flowering Plants Changed the World” is a National Geographic article that may be read here. The land on this planet was, before the advent of flowers, almost entirely green and much of it comprised ferns, cycads and conifers.

I’d been thinking I hadn’t see or heard much about the show gardens at the recent Sydney Garden Show – Catherine Stewart (no relation to the Prof) was getting the same reaction from people who knew she’d been so has posted a review on her Garden Drum website.

Have you heard of Egyptian walking onions? Neither had I until recently. The name made me curious enough to find out a bit more – here is an informative American site and here’s a place to buy the bulbs in New Zealand (they’re also available on Trade Me).

Allium proliferum have a shallot-like onion at the base and produce bulblets at the top of the stem (usually, they don’t flower) which, if heavy enough will drag the foliage down and take root in the ground, hence the name “walking” onion.

Orchid Show, Part 2

Popped back to the Tauranga Orchid Show today, this time taking my tripod with me! (It makes a difference, believe me.) The show was judged this morning and so I was able to get photos of the grand champion – orchid and grower.

Conrad Coenen and his Grand Champion zygopetalum. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The champion orchid is a striking and dramatic colour combination, a deep plum that is almost black in places with green-outlined petals and a white-edged fall.

Conrad, who is vice-president of the society, and his partner Judy Shapland have a sales table at the show so if you’re going tomorrow, drop by and say hello. Judy is into clivias and breeds her own – her big event is coming up on October 6 with the Tauranga Clivia Display (see the Events page for details).

Reserve Champion is a gorgeous cymbidium, a striking burnished copper colour (grower Andy Price of Whakatane).

Reserve Champion, Tauranga Orchid Show 2013.

Another couple of people you should wave to at the show are Mary Parkinson and her sister Jo Dawkins who are beavering away just inside the entry. They work hard every year making up posies on the spot for people to buy and take home, one of the few times of the year they can be torn away from Te Puna Quarry Park where both are volunteers.

Jo Dawkins (left) and Mary Parkinson in among the flowers.

The Quarry Park’s new event – Spring Fling – is on next Sunday to celebrate gardens and gardening. Jo is leading a small group of organisers and Mary is planning some special butterfly events. See the Events page for details.

40 years of orchids

The Tauranga Orchid Show takes place at the Racecourse from this Friday (September 20) to Sunday, open daily from 10am-4pm, $3 adult entry. As well as a massed display of flowering plants, there will be orchids for sale, repotting demonstrations, a display by Tauranga Porcelain Painters, and bromeliads and clivias for sale.

Almost 40 years ago Isabel Clotworthy was given a Cymbidium orchid as a thank-you present – now she has some 600 orchids in her home and shade-houses at Papamoa.

“And I’ve downsized,” she laughs. “At one time I would have had about 2000 plants.”

Like most orchid enthusiasts it was the reliable Cymbidium and their long stems of flowers that got her hooked and, like most orchid enthusiasts, she has moved on from the cut-flower staple.

“Cymbidiums are good to start with,” Isabel says. “They’re fairly easy to grow and fairly hard to kill.”


A hybrid Dockrillia orchid. Photo: Sandra Simpson

These days the majority of her collection comprises Phalaenopsis, Dendroboium, Masdevallia and Sarcochilus orchids, with a “few other bits and pieces” – and only one Cymbidium. The highlight of Isabel’s orchid showing so far has been Best Cattleya at the 2003 Wanganui Orchid Show but she no longer has any Cattleya after a frost got inside the glasshouse and killed them all.

Isabel began her orchid-growing career in Tokoroa, despite the difficult climate that one year included a frost on January 1, and joined the Waikato Orchid Society to learn more about the plants.

“When we moved to Papamoa 23 years ago I thought ‘bliss, I’ll be able to grow lots of things’,” Isabel says. “Then we got hit by wind and frost the first year we were here. One year the salt spray stripped all the leaves off the camellias.”

However, the (mostly) more temperate climate has allowed her to fall in love with Phalaenopsis orchids (moth orchids), said to be the most popular house plant in the world.


Phalaenopsis Orchid World Red. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“Some are said to be shy flowerers,” Isabel says, “and I’ve had one that has flowered for the first time in three years. But when they do flower, they’re out for weeks. A stem can flower for three or four months.” She advises that if plants are “sulking” try moving them round to find a spot they like.

“They like free-flowing air and not being in stuffy rooms but, having said that, I’ve got one fussy fellow who lives by the fireplace in winter.”

She moves her Phalaenopsis from the house into a cold shadehouse at the end of February for three to four weeks to “jolt them into producing new flower spikes” and once she has the flower tries to keep her living room and shade-houses as insect-free as possible – once an insect pollinates a flower it turns brown and falls.

“Some of the flowers are very highly scented, particularly at night-time, to attract moths so it’s difficult to stop.”


Phalaenopsis Golden Sun x Bedford. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Isabel, a member of the Tauranga Orchid Society, says the secret to her success is “worm tea”, a fertiliser made from worm castings some members of the society pooh-pooh and that previously she herself thought was nonsense.

“Some boys came to the door selling worm tea for a school. I didn’t really want it but bought some to help out. I used it on plants destined for the compost bin and was amazed at the results. It’s the only fertiliser I use now.”

She immediately bought her own worm farm that now produces 12 litres of liquid every fortnight and, as it’s diluted at a rate of 1 dessertspoon to 2 litres of water, Isabel has plenty to go round.

“It’s known as liquid gold in the plant world and I can see why. I use it on everything  – orchids, bromeliads, vegetables and flowers. It works a treat.”

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

Sunday digest

Pacific Connections is a project being undertaken by the Washington Park Arboretum in America’s Washington state. Phase 2 of the project is being opened on September 15 (kind of today our time) and is a $US1.2 million New Zealand Forest.

The forest, modelled on a South Island mid- to high-country area, covers 0.8ha (2 acres) and expands on the New Zealand High Country Exhibit, dedicated in 1993  which was the arboretum’s first “ecogeographic exhibit”. The Forest includes mountain beech (Nothofagus cliffortioides) and silver beech (Nothofagus menziesii), as well as three open areas – a Phormium (flax) Fen, Hebe Heath, and Griselinia Bush, plus two tussock grasslands. There is a long article about the design of the garden here (pdf format).

The New Zealand Film Festival is doing the rounds and included is a documentary on Sister Loyola Galvin, 90 years old and the main gardener at the Home of Compassion in Wellington. Gardening with Soul (the link includes a trailer) is directed by Jess Feast. Read a review here.

You may recall that Sister Loyola was NZ Gardener’s Gardener of the Year in 2008.

This is the busiest time of the year for mail-order plant companies – and for gardeners there is much joy to be had in reading through the catalogues, even if it’s only to compile a wish-list.

Here are some links that you may find useful:

This isn’t an exhaustive list and nor is it intended to be – these are some I know of or have come across that I thought may be useful. If you want to search by particular plant types, then this website looks pretty good. It also offers an alphabetical list of mail-order nurseries.

Happy reading!

Rambling with Alf

Preparing his extensive Te Puna garden for its first showing at the Tauranga Garden and Artfest didn’t phase Alf Mundt – he’s had bigger challenges in the garden’s short life.

The 1ha site was part of a kiwifruit orchard when four years ago Alf and wife Shirley fell in love with the uninterrupted views to Mauao (Mt Maunganui) and decided to build their retirement home.

“I’ve put in something like 3000 plants,” Alf says, “and I’ve probably lost about 10 per cent to Phytophthora diseases. They’re a fungus that cause a plant to quickly collapse and die. I’ve had one that attacks the roots and one that starts at the top of the plant.

“But you’re dealing with Mother Nature so you can’t get too demoralised when you lose a few plants – and the worst seems to be over.”


Alf Mundt talks to a visitor during last year’s Garden and Artfest. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Mundts, who had farmed in several places including Paengaroa and Taupo, used Te Puna designer Peter Lochhead for the house, his wife Lynette, for interior design advice, and Lynette’s father, John Burton, for help with landscaping.

“John became my mentor,” Alf says. “I couldn’t have done it without him.”


Leucodendrons. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A “secret” woodland walk meanders away from the home’s striking entrance, which includes a water feature and a miniature waterwheel, made by Alf and “something I had always wanted”.

The path through the woodland area has been built so its entire length is never visible and Alf also likes the fact that looking at the garden from the lawn gives no idea how extensive this area is.

He has planted it for colour, texture and scent, including Backhousia citriodora (lemon myrtle an Australian native with scented foliage), white daphne, Heucheras (coloured foliage), Loropetalum China Pink, some of which have been trained into columns, and the yellow variety of forest pansy, Cercis canadensis Hearts of Gold.


Pimelea rosea Deep Dream (rice flower). Photo: Sandra Simpson

Alf’s now finishing a north-facing bank at the back of the house where plants must cope with hot and dry conditions.

He has used mostly Australian and South African natives in groups of three or five, especially those that cover themselves in flowers, including several different grevilleas, Thryptomene Supernova, the small shrub Adenandra uniflora, Phylica pubescens (featherhead) and Virbunum tinus.


Thryptomene Supernova. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Beautiful weeds

On the BBC Gardeners’ World programme on Friday night (Choice TV, free-to-air digital channel 12) Monty Don described a fern he had planted in his garden as a “beautiful weed”.

There are plants like that, aren’t there? They may be things we have introduced into our gardens ourselves or they may be something that has blown through the fence or been dropped by a bird.

Forget-me-nots herald the start of spring.

At this time of the year I love my forget-me-nots – by December I dislike them intensely. They become mildewed and manky and the seed burrs get everywhere (which is why they’re such good survivors).

Cineraria is another that self-seeds all over the place. Lots of bright colour but I’ve taken to pulling them out if I think they’re in the wrong place. And it looks like the California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) that come with the wildflower seeds might be heading the same way.

Japanese anemone or windflower.

But self-seeded annuals are relatively easy to control compared to Japanese anemones – one New Zealand blog blithely says “just dig or pull them out”. Yeah, right. They send out shoots off underground runners which, hard experience has taught me, can run under a wide terrace of bricks and pop up in the lawn on the other side! Pouring hot water on the growing plant slows it down, for a bit.

The flowers are very pretty (pink or white on tall stems) and come at a good time, in late summer and autumn, but I wish I’d never planted them.

Do you have beautiful weeds in your garden? Hit the reply link below and let me know.

Sunday digest

Thomas Woltz, who spoke at the Garden and Landscape Design conference in Auckland in 2009, has won the George Malcom Supreme Award from the New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects (plus two other awards) for his work on Nick’s Head Station (Orongo Station) in Poverty Bay.

Thomas Woltz, pictured in 2009, during a conference break.

Thomas is a partner in Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, an American firm. Read a recent profile of Thomas here.

The project had earlier won a New York American Society of Landscape Architects Honour Award. Read more about the work at Nick’s Head Station here.

I was at the Auckland conference and impressed by everything I heard Thomas say. His designs are extraordinarily thoughtful.

An edible garden around a major sports venue – what a cracker of an idea. The home of the San Francisco Giants (a baseball team, I looked it up) will next northern spring have a new garden around it, full of tomatoes, scallopini, lettuce, silverbeet and bok choy. The story and an idea of the design are here.

Hmm, the Cake-tin, Eden Park, the new Dunedin stadium, Baypark … all ripe for a garden or three.

Ron Finley is genuine agent of change in South Central Los Angeles, one of the city’s poorer areas. He decided to turn his street verge (owned by the council but which he’s responsible for maintaining) into a food garden – and got a warrant for it! He fought City Hall and won. Here is a TED video about his thoughts on why growing food is so important for the impoverished and the use of vacant public land (10mins46sec).

Waiting for the Daughter to do the scary rides at Disneyland last month had an upside – I got to have a close look at some of the gardens. Our first stop was Tomorrowland so she could scratch a 14-year-old itch and ride Space Mountain (she was too short all those years ago).

Outside, I stopped gazing and started looking – lettuces, low hedges of rosemary, Asian greens, chillies and, hey, aren’t those pomegranates? Other fruiting trees in the area included mango, guava, persimmon, date palm, fig, avocado and babaco (star fruit). The olives had been sprayed, so a staffer informed me, so they didn’t fruit, too messy.

Chilli peppers in Tomorrowland, hedged in by rosemary. Photo: Sandra Simpson

In fact, all the gardens in Disneyland and Californialand were amazing – impeccably kept, full of colour and lush. And they do all the work when the park’s closed. Read more about the gardens here (choose an area on the left-hand menu).

Aren’t the magnolias looking magnificent just now? On her blog Abbie Jury tells the story of red magnolias – one that is, she says, a New Zealand story and a Jury family story.

Mellow yellow

Gael told me yesterday that the daffodils have about 10 days to go in the garden and will then all be over for another year …

Twenty-six years ago Gael Blaymires began a garden at her new home in the Papamoa Hills – today that garden is 8ha, open to the public and renowned for its whimsical sense of humour.

This time of the year, visitors to Looking Glass Garden come to see the daffodils – some  making it an annual event. The flowers flutter and dance in the breeze just as Wordsworth described, massed on hillsides and under deciduous trees.


An orpington rooster among the daffodils. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The nucleus of Gael’s planting was originally a collection of show-quality daffodils and 100 bulbs of a small-flowered variety. “It clumps up to about 50 bulbs in 5 years and naturalises itself,” she says, “but it hasn’t flowered as well lately perhaps because it’s had two years of drought on the hillside.”


Photo: Sandra Simpson

Also in bloom are magnolias – white, pink, purple and yellow varieties – and an avenue of Michelia maudiae, the large white flowers on the evergreen trees filling the air with their sweet scent.

“[Nurseryman] Peter Cave brought seed in from China,” Gael says, “and these are some of his original seedlings.”


A yellow magnolia in Looking Glass Garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Ornamental cherry trees are blossoming too but Gael says the climate is too warm for them to do well and if she was planting again she wouldn’t put any in.

Besides spending most days in the garden, Gael, whose energy belies her 72 years, sets traps for feral cats, stoats, ferrets, rats and hedgehogs.

“I never used to go after hedgehogs but they take so many bird eggs … since I’ve been trapping, the bird life has flourished and we have good numbers of bellbirds, tui and wood pigeons.”

The garden is also home to numerous sculptures by Papamoa artist Peter Cramond, including the Red and White queens and Queen Alice, as well as fun installations such as the old letterboxes that have been planted in a row beside the driveway and become “box hedging”.


Gael Balymires with her (recycled) box hedging. Photo: Sandra Simpson

However, when she took the land on the landmark hill (with its Stairway to Heaven) was covered in gorse, and the hollow almost invisible thanks to a mass of dead trees and blackberry.

“I’d go and buy these toothless old sheep at the sale and let them in – they’d tidy up what they could and couldn’t ring-bark the new trees,” Gael says.

She is still battling the weeds – using 80 knapsacks of Roundup to cover the garden in a grid pattern.

A large hedge of Leylandii was felled two years ago, around the same time a slip came down from the road taking out a henhouse and plenty of plants – not a disaster, Gael says, but an opportunity.


Edgeworthia papyrifera is a deciduous shrub native to China. Photo: Sandra Simpson

There are 12 chicken houses scattered round the property for orpingtons and Chinese silkies.

“Most people wouldn’t have chooks in the garden,” Gael says, “but they add a bit of life and in a place this size they’re not going to do too much damage.”

Most of this article was first published in the Bay of Plenty Times. It appears here with permission.

Update: Gael and husband Cedric sold and moved from Looking Glass Garden in 2016. The new owners closed it to the public in 2018. Cedric died in 2017. Read an obituary here.

Postcard from Long Beach

One of the fun things about travelling is seeing what other places do with plants that you know.

As I said earlier there were plenty of New Zealand native plants in Los Angeles – I sighted pohutukawa (three, I think) just outside LAX and the airport area also featured a BIG planting of chocolate-brown flax on a bank.

Planter bowls of flax in a public space along East Ocean Boulevard in Long Beach, California. Photo: Sandra Simpson

In the same public space in Long Beach was the planting pictured below – yes, those are petunias rambling around the cycads (which are wrapped in fairy lights)! The morning these photos were taken we had what locals call “June gloom“, despite it being late August, which is a kind-of summer sea fog. However, by about 10am it was all gone.

Photo: Sandra Simpson