Hyperbole at its finest!

Listening to National Radio today – the 11am news carried an item on the titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) that’s about to flower in the Auckland Wintergardens (refer back to the post of November 26).

The newsreader, in his most serious tones, said that the plant only flowers every seven to 10 years … and a sentence or two later added the flowering is a “once in a lifetime event”.

It’s hardly Halley’s Comet, is it? (About 76 years between visits, the next one expected in 2061.)

It’s summer!

Whatever the weather’s doing, summer has arrived when the pohutukawa come into flower.

I noticed the yellow pohutukawa trees (Metrosideros excelsa Aurea) out along Cameron Rd a week or so ago, well ahead of the red ones, which at Fraser Cove last Wednesday night didn’t even look like they were in bud. So I had a nice surprise today when I saw that they too had started to flower.

The yellow flowers aren’t very exciting, except as a botanical curiosity. Native to Motiti Island off the coast of Tauranga, they still aren’t seen much, although I have noticed a couple in private gardens around the city in the past week or so and last year was directed to a large tree in the grounds of the church opposite Otumoetai Primary School.


Yellow pohutukawa. Photo: Sandra Simpson

This article says the tree was first discovered by a Mr Potts  – the correct date is more like to be 1940 (rather than 1840 as the first reference has it).

The red-flowered trees are certainly more striking and with the trees flowering round about Christmas, they remain ever popular. Naturally, the tree’s southern range is about from New Plymouth to Gisborne but, thanks to Project Crimson and our love of the flowers, they can now be seen growing all around the country, including as far south as Otago Harbour.

The newer varieties are more reliable flowerers – some of the old trees flower in sections or have one good year and one not so good – and the trees in the Fraser Cove carpark have been chosen not only for their good flowering but also for their upright shape.

Metrosideros excelsa Maori Princess is generally a single-trunked tree, all of them descended from a single tree in New Plymouth.


Pohutukawa in flower at Maxwell Rd, Tauranga. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The next neat thing that will happen along the city end of Cameron Rd is the jacarandas coming into flower …

Titan arum prepares to bloom

Nick Lloyd, editor of The NZ Internet Orchid Review, reports that a specimen of Amorphophallus titanum (titan arum) is in bud at the Wintergardens in Auckland Domain – the flowers can grow to more than 3m high and 3m in circumference.

“This will be flowering at some stage in December and is the first flowering for this species in New Zealand,” he says.


The titan arum in flower. Photo: US Botanic Gardens via Wikimedia Commons

Read more about the plant, also known as the corpse flower because of its scent, on the Kew Gardens website. It is native to Sumatra and the Bonn Botanic Garden website reports that only about 70 plants have flowered “in captivity” since the titan arum was discovered in 1878.

A plant bloomed at the US Botanic Garden Conservatory in Washington DC in July, the first time it had flowered even though the plant was nearly 10 years old. The website records that the public display began on July 11; the titan began to open the evening of July 21; started to close the evening of July 22; and collapsed the evening of July 24.

“The ephemeral nature of the bloom, coupled with its unpredictible flowering schedule, attracted more than 130,000 people to see the plant in person, and more than 650,000 views to the live webstream,” the website says.

Pollen was collected from the male flower and sent to the University of California in Santa Barbara where a female flower was ready to open. This cross-continent pollination, if successful, may produce seeds-corms-plants. The tubers can grow to weigh up to 75kg!

According to Wikipedia, the name “titan arum” was invented by Sir David Attenborough while filming The Private Life of Plants, in which the flowering and pollination of the plant were filmed for the first time. “Sir David felt that constantly referring to the plant as Amorphophallus on a popular TV documentary would be inappropriate.”

A related, but smaller, arum, Amorphophallus konjac (devil’s tongue arum), flowered in the Wintergardens last year.

Winners – Pacific Rosebowl Festival

Te Puna rose breeder Rob Somerfield has come up trumps at the Pacific Rosebowl Festival, held in Hamilton last week – his Glenavon floribunda Wild Cherry was named New Zealand Rose of the Year, Best Floribunda, Best NZ-Raised Rose and Children’s Choice.

Wild Cherry won a Certificate of Merit at the National Rose Trial Grounds in Palmerston North in 2011 and was released to the market this year. Rob describes the rose as “producing masses of cherry red blooms with a silver reverse”.


Wild Cherry, pictured at the trial grounds at The Esplanade in Palmerston North. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Other winners at the Rosebowl were:

Best Climber: Cherry Kisses (seems to be an “in” name, doesn’t it?, described in one catalogue as pink-mauve, in another as “compact“, bred by Doug Grant of Auckland and released in 2004); Best Hybrid Tea: Modern Miss (pink, bred by David Benny of Southland and awarded a national Certificate of Merit in 2004) and Most Fragrant: Ali Mau (a pink floribunda bred by Rosen Tantau in Germany).

The NZ Rose Society puts out an annual Rose Review which provides a handy guide to how some popular new roses do in the country’s various climate and soil conditions.

Winners – orchids

Members of the Tauranga and Bay of Plenty orchid societies have returned triumphant from the recent national Orchid Expo in New Plymouth.

Barry Curtis, president of the Tauranga society, won grand champion of the show with his miniature Cymbidium Cricket, a plant he says always covers itself in flowers – this year it has produced 20-plus spikes with 40 flowers on each spike.

Barry Curtis and his Grand Champion plant, the miniature Cymbidium Cricket. Photo: Dennis Chuah.

Cricket, which has brown-toned flowers, also picked up the show’s champion hybrid title.

From the photo you can see what an effort Barry must have made to get the hanging flowers from his home near Katikati to New Plymouth in superb condition (I’ve been told he hung it from his caravan’s ceiling for the journey).

Erica Cowdell of Omokoroa won a section champion with Paphiopedilum hirsutissimum var. esquirolei, plus three first prizes with other slipper orchids.

Champion in the Vanda section went to Vanda Princess Mikasa Sapphire owned by Diane Hintz of Te Puke, who received placings for other orchids.

Others who had plants placed in their section were Trevor and Pam Signal (who have recently moved to Papamoa), Elizabeth Bailey, Natalie and Brian Simmonds, Ron Maunder and Laurie Dawbin. Conrad Coenen won a certificate of culture.

The three-yearly expo sees orchid societies from around the country mount large displays which are judged as a whole, while the individual plants are also judged in their respective categories. The next expo is in Auckland in 2016.

Flowering now

What isn’t flowering now? The garden is in full swing (although the recent hot weather is probably cutting short the rose display) and the weeds are sprouting overnight.

I have a clump of Dietes grandiflora that was shifted out of the new garden before redevelopment and is still sitting in a clump against the fence, not even heeled in, and is again flowering. They are graceful, elegant plants with pretty flowers that come out in succession on the long stems … and I really must find a permanent home for them. This South African native is drought and generally frost tolerant and grows from seed quite easily in our climate.


The iris-like flowers of Dietes grandiflora. Photo: Sandra Simpson

There are six members of the family – Dietes bicolour is the yellow form, which I don’t care for particularly.

I had more or less decided to give the weeping crabapple in the back corner of the garden the chop – it never flowers very well despite having a label that said Malus Red Jade covered itself in flowers.

Mind you, I wasn’t very impressed when we bought it as the garden centre staff (it later closed) showed minimal interest in being helpful or indeed in serving anyone. Perhaps that frustration transferred itself to the tree. Red Jade was the first weeping crabapple, developed in 1933, so might have been superseded by improved hybrids.

This year I gave it a haircut on the garden side as an experiment after having seen a hard-pruned ornamental cherry is a garden. Dan calls it his “umbrella tree” and that’s just what it looks like so I thought I would give it a go too and simply chopped the weeping branches back to the same length all round.

We had the usual sporadic blossoming in the spring but the tree has suddenly had a second flowering and has big trusses of blossom in amongst the leaves!


Malus Red Jade – a second, better blossoming. Photo: Sandra Simpson

And I’ve always wondered why it’s called “Red Jade” when the flowers are basically white! Seems like false advertising to me …

Find some good information on crabapple trees here.

Postcard from Wellington

Just back from Wellywood where the temperatures are decidely lagging behind Tauranga. Stayed with friends in Northland – they’re close to the CBD but the house is surrounded by silence and from my bedroom window all I could see was bush-clad hills.

The capital has interesting street plantings, not least of which is this one in Mercer St. Chatham Island forget-me-nots (Myosotidium hortensia) are flowering in these beds which are also planted with clivia and rhododendrons and under deciduous trees. They can be tricky plants to grow so hats off to Wellington City Council.


Chatham Island forget-me-not. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Apparently there’s a WCC policy of bringing unusual native plants to the attention of residents by using them, where possible, in public plantings.

Also paid a visit to Otari-Wilton’s Bush, but more about that later – I mention it now because there I saw the white-flowered Myosotidium hortensia. The white may be botanically interesting but I much prefer the blue. There was also a pinky-mauve flower but I wasn’t sure if that was natural or was fading caused by sunlight.


White-flowered Chatham Island forget-me-not. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Last month there was a forget-me-not festival on the Chatham Islands to celebrate the flowering of these beautiful and very special plants.

World Gardening Cup roundup

Thought I’d catch you up on the results from the Gardening World Cup in Japan. A blogger for The Guardian (UK) newspaper reckons it’s a tougher proposition than Chelsea – however, the two New Zealand designers there this year, Bayley LuuTomes (Home Garden) and Xanthe White (Show Garden), both won silver medals.



Read about Bayley, who will be at Ellerslie next year, and his garden here.

Leon Kluge of South Africa won Gold in the Home Garden section – see photos of his garden here.

Best in Show (and Gold in Show Garden) went to a duo from Singapore, John Tan and Raymond Toh – see photos of that garden here (text is in Japanese).

Leon has also written about the whole experience and the nice relationships that develop between designers. Read that pieces (with lots of photos) here.

Sunday ramble (by me)

Had a great time out and about yesterday in our beautiful spring-summer weather – called in to the Bromeliad Display and Sale, went round several of the gardens in Katikati Rotary’s Ramble and made my final stop at the Rose Society Display at Palmer’s in Bethlehem (which is on again today).

Despite (or because of) the heavy rain at the end of the week, the gardens were looking great – roses, irises, poppies, azaleas, lost of self-seeding annuals … flowers everywhere.

I also dropped in at the Amazing Iris Garden and owner Wendy Begbie confirmed what I’d been thinking – the mild winter and warm start to spring has brought things on early. She says her tall bearded irises are generally just starting at Labour Weekend, but this year were flowering well and she may not open on November 30-December 1 so keep an eye on that.

Decided not to visit every garden on the ramble – 13 in total and spread from Lockington Rd south of Katikati to Athenree north of the town, but did seven (and had seen an eighth just recently). Two of the seven were a bit weedier than they should have been and four were probably a bit much the same in terms of their plantings but it was a pleasant day out (and despite the complaints of one woman at a garden, the signposting was great).

I’m always impressed that anyone wants to open their garden to the public so congratulations and thanks to all those who did so (it’s on again today).

The BOP Bromeliad Group displays are always well worth seeing if you’re at all interested in these plants (which include the “air plants” or tillandsias), how to use them and how to grow them – next show is in late February when the plants are at their peak. Great to see people walking out with bags of plants.

The BOP Rose Society’s display comprises several tables of cut flowers in small vases – and a rose order form. The society hasn’t had a judged show for a couple of years now, the advancing age of members making it a more difficult proposition as well as the deaths, in quick succession, of the president and secretary.

The display is a nice compromise, letting people see all sorts of roses, from heritage varities to Carpet Roses, that wouldn’t be in a show anyway. There were certainly plenty of people looking at the potted roses for sale. I think Palmer’s has done a clever job of arranging these roses for shoppers by putting them in colour groups.

Flower-filled charm

Bounded by a stream on one side and with an enclosing wall of native trees, Sue Sisley’s garden near Katikati is opening for this weekend’s Up the Garden Path ramble – but visitors may notice something missing.

“I can’t abide the colour orange,” Sue says, “something I inherited from my mother who never had orange flowers in her garden either.”

Sue has, however, relented slightly and has a few clivia tucked here and there, appreciating their tolerance of dry shade.

Despite its obvious summer charms – roses, hydrangeas, perennials and self-seeding annuals – Sue says hers is a garden for all seasons. One of her long borders features camellias and rhododendrons, while the facing border includes a number of maples and Azalea mollis.


Astrantia major. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“I haven’t planted the maples for autumn colour especially,” Sue says, “they’re just trees I like.”

She is particularly proud of a natural stand of young (perhaps 100-year-old) kauri at the bottom of the garden and comments that when she first moved to the property 13 years ago she never cared for the rewarewa alongside.

“But now I love them, they’re such a contrast to the kauri.”

Among her perennials are the starry white flowers of Astrantia major, the ball flowers of Phyteuma scheuchzeri Purple Star and the magenta blooms of the thistle relative Cirsium rivulare Atropurpureum, while Sue lists Fuji Waterfall and Annabelle as her two favourite hydrangeas.


Salvia uliginosia. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A large circle of Salvia uliginosia (the sky-blue bog sage) with lawn and a sundial at its centre was created by a former owner. Sue and husband Bill dug it out three years ago, sprayed and covered the soil for six months before installing a recycled rubber edging and replanting the tall salvia.

“It was getting weedy and the salvia was wandering. But we liked it enough to keep it – it’s very effective when it’s in full bloom.”


Heterocentron elegans (Spanish shawl) and a non-weedy Erigeon (Mexican daisy). Photo: Sandra Simpson

The couple have created another enclosure, a living gazebo, training hornbeam for the walls and roof with a pair of crab apples twined across the entry.

Sue admits the romantic look of her garden requires ongoing attention, but “I don’t play bridge and I don’t play golf. Gardening is what I do and what I love to do.”

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