She’s right – it’s amazing!

Wendy Begbie’s iris nursery, which features extensive stock beds of over 1000 varieties, is, she says, a hobby “that got out of control”.


Visitors enjoy the stock beds at the Amazing Iris Garden, south of Katikati. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Wendy has been growing irises for 13 years, the last five at Walford Rd, south of Katikati, and although tall bearded irises are her “mainstay”, the Amazing Iris Garden has expanded to include Siberian, Louisiana and Japanese types.

“It’s the multitude of colours that attracted me to them,” Wendy says of the bearded iris. “You buy one and you keep going – you can’t help yourself.”


The tall bearded iris Batik is a fascinating swirl of blue and white. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Wendy, who is a fulltime sales rep and product manager covering Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Hawkes Bay, employs three part-time staff and opens the garden during flowering each year.

“It’s actually harder leading up to opening because I like to make sure the garden is as pristine as possible – each visitor has the potential to bring in more customers.”


Thornbird has curved beards. Photo: Sandra Simpson

She produces an annual mail-order catalogue, which includes information about care of bearded iris and says the biggest problem in this area is the humidity and high rainfall.

“The rhizomes will rot if they stay wet so plant them above the soil a little bit so they can bake in the sun. They don’t care about the soil type so long as they have good drainage and some air movement around them.”


The Getty Villa gardens

The ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, buried when Mt Vesuvius erupted in AD79, clearly made an impression on 19-year-old American J Paul Getty, soon to become an oil tycoon, when he visited Italy in 1912.

Almost 60 years later he built a museum at Pacific Palisades in Los Angeles to display his collection of antiquities – a replica Roman villa, right down to the gardens.

The outer peristyle garden – a peristyle is a covered walkway. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The 6000 square metre villa has four gardens, each featuring, as far as possible, plants that would have been available to a Roman gardener.

The outer peristyle garden is designed to impress visitors – 1.6km of clipped box hedging, a 67m pool, two rows of standard bay laurels and Damask roses. This garden is on top of a parking building with only 46cm of soil depth so anything needing a deeper root run is grown in pots.

The large European fan palms at the ocean end of the garden were 75 years old when transplanted here in the 1970s.

The outer peristyle garden has 1.6km of clipped box hedging. Photo: Sandra Simpson

An iris blooms in a bed of Achillea tomentosa Maynard’s Gold (woolly yarrow) – according to the ‘Iliad’, the Greeks used yarrow leaves to staunch bleeding on the battlefield. Photo: Sandra Simpson

As well as herbs, vegetables and fruit, the kitchen garden includes plants that do double duty. Olives, for instance, made cooking oil, medicine, cosmetics and lamp fuel; pomegranates were used for dye (flowers), scenting rooms (leaves) and tanning (fruit skins); and myrtle (Myrtus communis Boetica) for fragrant smoke (leaves), “ink” (seeds) and hair dye (berries and leaves).

Myrtle (Myrtus communis Boetica). Photo: Sandra Simpson

The inner peristyle garden (central courtyard) has a green and pastel colour scheme, while the private east garden includes a water feature, mosaic grotto and seating. A stroll here reveals butcher’s broom (Ruscus aculeatus, the little ‘knobs’ on the leaves made them useful for cleaning), holly (Ilex aquifolium) and potted strawberry trees (Arbutus unedo).

The strawberry tree is a distant relative of the pieris. The striking fruit turns from yellow to orange to red but despite its bright colour is said to have a bland taste. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Mr Getty loved sycamores so this garden has Platanus acerifolia Columbia – but when the villa opened in 1974 he was in England and no longer travelling, dying two years later without having ever stood in his Roman garden.

  • Admission is free to the Getty Villa, parking $US15 (if you visit the villa and the Getty Centre in one day there is only one parking charge). The villa can be reached by public transport and offers free guided tours of the garden.

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

Bee flower

The bee flower was my name for this plant that I adored when I was growing up – the pink and purple flower combination caught my fancy as did the way it always seemd to be covered in bees and bumble bees. And, as you can see from the photo, butterflies love it too.


An early monarch butterfly (or one that’s overwintered) feeds on my Echium candicans. Photo: Sandra Simpson

It’s actually called the Pride of Madeira, a grand name, and is a member of the huge echium family (yep, just like those little milkweeds we’re forever pulling out round here), Echium candicans (or Echium fastuosum).

My plants are descended from some seedlings I dug out from around my mother’s plants (including from the driveway gravel) – their lifecycle is a little bit different in that the first year from seed they grow only their leaves, flowering in the second year. They flower for two years, then the plants die off, having set seed and it all begins again. The leaves are silvery-grey and attractive in their own right.

This plant is great for anywhere hot and dry, including coastal gardens, but you may need to watch that they don’t do a little too well (I weed out any excess seedlings). They are drought-tolerant, cold-hardy plants that don’t mind poor soil and part shade. The Vege Grower reckons ours grow to about 2m with the flowers on.

We have also had the very tall Echium pininana courtesy of a friend – a tall, single flower that soars off a tall, single stem and gets to some 3m.

Like most biennial and annual echiums I’ve come across they have hairy leaves and prickly stems so if you’re pulling out a spent plant it’s advisable to wear gloves.

Te Puna Quarry Park’s butterfly garden has the purpley-flowered plant and also one with a striking sky-blue flower.


The quarry’s park’s sky-blue echium (with Dendrobium speciosum orchids and bamboo behind). Photo: Sandra Simpson

As the common name suggests, the plants are native to the island of Madeira, a Portuguese archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, some 400km northeast of the Canary Islands.

Flowering now

Update: Ate one-third of the chive flower – zowie!!! Next time I think we’ll try a younger one and see if it’s any less zingy on the tongue. The sage flower seemed to taste of nothing much, suprisingly. Now, back to the original story …

It’s almost a case of what isn’t flowering in spring, isn’t it? But, having said that, we’ve had gale-force winds, reasonably hot days, pretty cold nights so the plants have had a bit to contend with.

One of the reasons I haven’t posted for almost a week is that we’ve had visitors – and one of the things they do, when not on holiday, is supply edible flowers to a Michelin-starred restaurant so thought I would share a couple of photos of the edible flowers in my garden now.

Sage in flower.

A chive flower – which is going to be eaten tonight!

You know how good things take time … well, sometimes disappointing things take time too. I bought a bundle of poppies from a garden centre last year but had had to wait until this year for them to flower.

Delighted to spy a big, fat bud earlier this week. Not so delighted when it revealed itself to be salmon pink, one of my least favourite flower colours. All was not lost though as flowering close to it is a bright orange tillandsia flower which looks as though it was planned. Well done, serendipity and nature!

The flower of Tillandsia recurvifolia var. secundiflora.

The “offending” salmon-pink poppy.

Sunday digest

Mount Maunganui’s harbourfront Norfolk pines are suffering, possibly from a phytophthora, but the cure looks pretty painful, that is, if bark = skin! See a photo and read more here. Added to the “site disturbances” mentioned at the end of the story would be the swanky new boardwalk that’s gone in around the base of the some of the trees.

I’ve always lived in places where people mow their own berms so the whining from central Auckland hasn’t been very impressive and I suspect a lot of New Zealanders have been shaking their heads at the fuss. Some newspaper letter writers, columnists and talking heads on TV have suggested planting the grass verges in food crops. Abbie Jury has some sensible things to say, as always.

Abbie and husband Mark, a renowned plant breeder, have taken the sad step of deciding to close their Tikorangi garden to the public until further notice, feeling the intrusion of the petrochemical industry in their area is just too great.

The lecture programme of the World Federation of Rose Societies (WFRS) Regional Convention – being held in Palmerston North next month – is a good chance to hear international and New Zealand rosarians talk about what they love.

The programme, being organised by Hayden Foulds, comprises (click here for photos and short biographies):

  • WFRS president Steve Jones of the US who will speak on the history of American rose breeding
  • American Rose Society president Jolene Adams on the movement of roses between hemispheres
  • Irish rose breeder David Kenny on amateur rose breeding in the UK and Europe
  • Thomas Proll, from the famous Kordes rose company in Germany, on work to breed disease-resistant roses
  • Kelvin Trimper from Adelaide on maintaining the popularity of the rose
  • Anthony Tesselaar, the man behind the very successful Flower Carpet roses
  • John Ford, the nephew of noted Palmerston North rosarian and breeder Nola Simpson,on her life and work
  • Doug Grant, New Zealand Rose Society vice-president, on the roses of Dr Sam McGredy
  • Heritage rose enthusiast Fiona Hyland of Dunedin will speak on conserving old roses in New Zealand
  • Otaki rosarian and author Ann Chapman will speak about significant rose breeders and rosarians from New Zealand
  • Wanganui rose grower Bob Matthews
  • Panel discussion on “Where Roses are Heading” featuring Rob Somerfield (NZ), Matthias Meilland (France), Richard Walsh (Australia) and Murray Radka (NZ).

Tickets for the lecture programme are on sale until November 18. They are $30 each, including morning and afternoon teas. No door sales will be available. Purchase tickets here. The event will be held at the Palmerston North Convention Centre, Main St West on Monday, November 25, from 8.30am-5pm, and on Tuesday, November 26, from 8.30am to 12.15pm.

Someone else who dislikes variegated plants (yes, like me!) is Dr Tim Entwisle, director and chief executive of Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens.

Ellerslie International Flower Show is moving forward on the calendar, a little – next year’s show will be from February 26 to March 2, a fortnight earlier than usual.

“Even though we’re moving the event less than a fortnight, we’re on the cusp of the seasons and the difference is quite dramatic. It will give designers a wider range of flowers to choose from, while the new date also boosts the already high chance of Christchurch turning on dry, sunny weather,” says Richard Stokes, Christchurch City Council’s marketing and events unit manager.

There will be 16 exhibition gardens – the most in the show’s 21-year history – of a minimum 100 square metres, compared with seven show gardens this year.

Jenny Gillies, an internationally renowned costume and fabric artist, will stage a new “Naughty by Nature” show featuring sumptuous floral artwear.

Tickets go on sale next month.

The Gardening World Cup in Nagasaki, Japan is on again and Kiwi designer Xanthe White has returned to try and emulate her success from last year – Best Design Award and a Gold Medal. Good luck!

From our Singapore correspondent

The Vege Grower recently spent a few days in Singapore with the strict instructions that he was to get himself to the Gardens by the Bay, the massive public garden that opened last year. Massive? How does 101ha sound?

But the poor dear was there on business and his taskmasters worked him day and night … so even though he could see the gardens from his hotel room it seemed they would stay out of reach.

Supertrees – they range from 25m to 50m high – with a dome in the background.

But never under-estimate a vege grower (or a man whose wife has made a demand!) so early one morning – so early the the domes weren’t open and he was out and about with the tai chi-ers – he wandered through and took some photos before having to scurry back to work.

Well done, that man!

Some detail of the planting of the supertrees with the fabulous Marina Bay Sands Hotel in the background (there’s a pool on that rooftop). A resident of Singapore told me last weekend that to get it right the roof, which is supposed to resemble a canoe, was put on twice!

According to Wikipedia, the government of Singapore wants to turn it from the Garden City to the City in a Garden and the Gardens by the Bay are part of that plan. Read the full entry, which has detail on each section of the gardens, here.

Here’s a link to information about that hotel rooftop – 57 storeys up and with an infinity pool!

He knows I love orchids!

A tropical take on the green wall idea – bromeliads and an oncidium orchid.

Vege news

A single plant that grows potatoes under the soil while at the same time producing tomatoes may be a world first for a Katikati nursery.

Andrew Boylan, co-owner of incredible edibles with wife Fiona, says the idea is all about space. “With shrinking urban sections it makes sense to develop plants that help home gardeners grow more in less space.”


The plant, which has the trade name Potato Tom, combines Agria potatoes with Gardeners’ Delight cherry tomatoes – and is, Andrew believes, a world first commercial release.

Solanum tuberosum, Potatos growing on plant.

Potato Tom. Image: incredible edibles

“The idea of grafting a tomato on a potato is not new,” he says. “But it has never been commercialised and, as far as I can make out, we are the first to do it.”

Tomatoes are members of the potato family (Solanaceae) so the two are naturally compatible. Ian Duncalf of Te Puna, a plant breeder of some note, says he worked out the grafting technique necessary for Potato Tom and had “fun” doing it.

“I had one at a friend’s place, as a bit of a trial, and went round there one night and saw all his guests really taking an interest in the plant. That’s what it’s all about for me, making people excited about something.”

Potato Tom, which can be grown in a pot, produces cherry tomatoes through summer and when they have finished, it’s time to dig the potatoes.

Note: Since my story was first published in mid-September, a nursery in England is also selling a potato-tomato graft, TomTato (and despite the use of  ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘hybrid’ in the link story, it’s still just a graft).

Kings Seeds, another Katikati business, has been surprised this season by the popularity of a Dutch heirloom pea that features deep-blue pods.

“We generally know what will be our top sellers,” says Barbara Martin, who co-owns the mail-order company with husband Gerard. “But this has shot up the list and taken us all by surprise.”

blue pea

Pea Blue Shelling. Image: Kings Seeds

The peas, simply called Pea Blue Shelling, can be eaten pods and all when young or left for the peas to develop out and be cooked for eating. The purple flowers are also edible.

Another unusual vegetable from the new catalogue is the flowering sprout Kaleidoscope, a cross between kale and Brussels sprouts. “They’re pretty little things,” Barbara says, “and if they’re cooked lightly they keep their purple colour.”

The “flowers” look like kale and grow like Brussels sprouts and Barbara advises topping the stalk a month before harvest to increase sprout size.

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