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.

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 maze looking back towards some of the museum buildings.

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).

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.

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.

Weekend events

Saturday sees a celebration of Greerton’s cherry blossom – although with the wild weather of the past few days I have been wondering how much blossom would be left. Greerton Mainstreet manager Victoria Thomas had the same fears and says she has been crossing everything she could to try and encourage the blossom to stay.

“But we’ve been lucky,” Victoria told me today. “The blossom wasn’t full out so although the trees have been knocked around a bit everything’s hanging on. And I think petals floating in the air just makes it all the more beautiful.”

The Japanese call this effect sakura fubuki, or cherry blossom blizzard.

Greerton Village green at peak blossom last year.

The village is planted with Prunus Awanui, a tree discovered and developed by Taranaki plantsman Keith Adams who saw the potential in it and named it for the area of New Plymouth he lived in. (Keith is better known for his rhododendron-hunting expeditions to the tropics.)

The festival, which is billed as a family day, begins at 10.30am with action focused on the village green on Chadwick Rd.

On Sunday, from 10am-4pm, there’s a celebration of spring gardens and gardening at Te Puna Quarry Park with a new event, Spring Fling.

There will be floral demonstrations with Francine Thomas, talks on orchid care, a children’s corner (including readings by Tommy Kapai), abseiling, Devonshire teas with scones baked on site by Shona Purves (brave woman), garden sculpture and ceramic art for the garden.

And, of course, plants for sale – including clivias, fuchsias, shrubs, perennials, ornamental trees, fruit trees, microgreens, and plants to attract butterflies.

The Spring Fling isn’t replacing the popular QuarryFest (taking place on November 3) but is all about encouraging people into the 32ha park at a time when when the gardens are at a seasonal peak.

Kalanchoe pubescens flowers in front of a Dendrobium speciosum (Sydney rock orchid). These orchids are having their best flowering yet, possibly thanks to the long, hot summer.

Te Puna Quarry Park is signposted off SH2 north of Tauranga (coming from the city turn left into Quarry Rd and follow it to the end). There are large carparks available for the event with minibuses shuttling back and forth to the park entry. The Spring Fling will go ahead rain or shine (only a torrential downpour will see it cancelled, organisers say).

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.

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.

It’s show time!

Just back from the Tauranga Orchid Show – it’s open today, tomorrow and Sunday from 10am-4pm at the Racecourse in Greerton and there are orchids as far as the eye can see, thanks to a large massed display and lots of sales tables.

Here are a few photos to whet your appetite.

Elizabeth Bailey (left) and Helen McDonald get the paper work ready for tomorrow’s judging.

A bloom in the display mounted by Tauranga Orchid Society members.

Part of the display with the society’s sales table behind.

Barry Curtis is back with his popular repotting demonstrations, here offering advice on the clean-up of scale.

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.

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.

“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.

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!