A year’s worth of thanks

Just a quick round of thanks before the old year rolls out and the new year rolls in … to you, dear readers, for visiting often enough that I reckon it’s worth my while to keep posting.

According to my WordPress statistics for the year to December 24:

  • November was the busiest month with 2,532 views from 1,472 visitors (up from 448 views in November 2012)
  • The busiest single day was February 4 with 132 views and 66 visitors
  • The overwhelming majority of views come from New Zealand – 12,196, followed by the United States (1,616) and Australia (1,483) with Britain just about cracking four figures (840)
  • Visitors from far-flung countries have also found my site so I hope that those from Uzbekistan, Syria, Cote d’Ivoire, Chile and Hong Kong (among others) found what they were looking for
  • The Home page was the most popular, followed by the other pages on the top menu bar in this order: Specialist Growers, Open Gardens, Who I Am(!), Events, Groups and Things I Like
  • The most-read post has been Last word on pea-bean at 203 views
  • The two most popular links from Sandra’s Garden that visitors have “clicked out” on have been Jury’s Garden (118 clicks, the blog of Taranaki garden writer Abbie Jury) and Auckland business New Zealand Bamboo Specialists (112 clicks) with Northland specialist grower Russell Fransham’s Subtropicals website third on 47 clicks.

And a very big thank you to the 20 people who have signed up to “follow” this website – each time I make a new post they receive an email alert. I appreciate that commitment from you. (If you’d like to join the merry band of followers click on “Follow” at the top of the screen.)

I’d love to hear from you if you have the time, all you have to do is click on “leave a reply” at the end of a post.

With my very best wishes for 2014,

Purple rain

Merry Christmas to all those who call into Sandra’s Garden … and here’s to success in the garden (or gardening success) in 2014.

With the jacarandas in full bloom right now I remembered to take my camera with me this morning for some images of the beautiful tree on the corner of 13th Ave and Fraser St in Tauranga.

Purple isn’t a colour traditionally associated with Christmas, but seeing the jacarandas at this time always reminds me of my clever friend Dorothy who, when we were both living in Qatar, a country that didn’t officially celebrate Christmas, one year themed her home in purple and silver, spray painting palm fronds to make a stunning, and original, Christmas arrangement.


Photo: Sandra Simpson

When I lived in Lebanon I visited one of the editors for whom I freelanced there and congratulated Peter on the gorgeous view of the jacarandas in full bloom outside his first-floor office window – he hadn’t noticed them!

South Africa’s capital Pretoria is nick-named Jacaranda City (see some images here) and many years ago I remember being impressed by the jacarandas lining the streets outside our hotel (the Jacaranda Hotel!) in Nairobi, Kenya.

The trees are native to the drier parts of Central and South America and were introduced to South Africa from Argentina in the 1880s. Although Pretoria has up to 70,000 jacarandas, the country’s eco-guardians have decreed that no more may be planted because they are not native.

To me, one of the most beautiful things about the trees is their “purple rain” (I wonder if that is what Prince was singing about?) and with rain forecast for Christmas Day here in Tauranga the trees are bound to be a picture with the blossoms lining the ground and in the air.

Find out more about growing Jacaranda mimosifolia (the one with the purple flowers) while this website includes tips on growing from seed.

Grafton, a town in New South Wales (Australia), has an annual Jacaranda Festival. Read more here.

Text and photos copyright Sandra Simpson and may not be reused without permission.

Curious plants: Spanish moss

Spanish moss or Tillandsia usneoides is an intriguing rootless plant that adds an air of mystery to gardens, conservatories or greenhouses with its long silver-grey tendrils.

A member of the bromeliad family, Spanish moss is an epiphyte, meaning it grows on other plants, but does not rely on its host for nutrients (and so doesn’t kill it). Instead, the plant “catches” moisture and nutrients from the air.

It thrives in humid areas, such as Florida and Louisiana in the US, but it can go dormant until there’s enough moisture about again. It reproduces by wind-borne seed and by producing “pups”.


A Tauranga gardener has some fun with her thriving Spanish moss. Photo: Sandra Simpson

As well as humidity, the plant also needs shade and is generally grown hanging from tree branches where it also gets good air movement. One website (which I won’t link to as the English is rather poor) advises the plants prefer rainwater (ie, not mains water) and that they must be watered from the top so the water runs down the length of the plant. Watering must be thorough and done only when the plant is once again dry (ie, don’t water when the plant is still wet).

My first attempt at growing it was thwarted by birds who made off with strands of the plant for their nests – however, I have recently been told by a gardener with a good selection growing outside that if the Spanish moss is kept damp the birds won’t touch it, they want only dry material.

The plant used to be used for several commercial purposes in the US, including as mattress stuffing. Read more here, and see a photo of it growing in the Florida everglades.


If you look carefully there are subtle variations in the sizes of the tendrils. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Bromeliad Plant Care website says the French call it “Spanish beard” while the Spanish call the plant “French hair”. One legend as to how it got its name tells of a Spanish explorer Gorez Goz who “bought” a native maiden in central America. But she was afraid of him and ran away. To evade her pursuer she climbed a tree and dived into some water. Goz followed her but became entangled in the tree and died there. However, his “grey beard” continues to grow and spread through the trees.

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The tiny flowers of Spanish moss are sweetly scented. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Text and photos copyright Sandra Simpson and may not be reused without permission.

Our native pantry

As we scatter round the country on our summer holidays I thought it might be fun to let you know about some of our native wild food plants.

The native spinach, Tetragonia tetragonioides, is a useful plant in the vege garden over the summer as it tolerates hot, dry conditions when other Spinacea species are prone to bolt.

Native plant expert Mark Dean of Oropi, who founded the renowned Naturally Native nursery, says the easy-to-grow scrambling plant was included in salads and broths for Captain James Cook and his crew of British explorers and has been cultivated in New Zealand since 1809. The Terrain website says that for two centuries it was the only cultivated vegetable in England to have originated from New Zealand or Australia.

Native spinach, pictured at Te Puna Quarry Park’s herb garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Naturally Native website (which includes a recipe) says it can be eaten in much the same way as English spinach. Pick it when you need it though, as the leaves will wilt within a couple of hours.

The plant is also native in Australia (and Japan, Chile and Argentina!) and this interesting article wonders why it hasn’t been recorded as being a staple part of the Aboriginal diet in the Botany Bay area – a mistake by the locals or a mistake by ethnobotanists?

Cook was a great experimenter with foods in his determination to beat scurvy, a vitamin C deficiency that in the 18th century killed more British sailors than enemy action. Although Cook spent three years at sea in the Endeavour, there was not a single death due to scurvy.

Native celery growing just above the tide line on Tiritiri Matangi Island in the Hauraki Gulf. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Apium prostratum or native celery is another plant used by the English explorer. It has thick, grooved stems and a thick, deep taproot and can be found growing wild along the coast. The leaves and stems are able to be eaten raw or cooked and the seeds can be used for flavouring.

Cook’s scurvy grass, Lepidium oleraceum, was thought to have been grazed to extinction until a significant colony was discovered on an island off the coast of Waikato in 2006 – the link at the start of this paragraph notes that 11 new species have recently been identified, although that doesn’t make the plant any less threatened! Here’s another article about the plant and some of the threats it faces.


Cook’s scurvy grass grows in the Auckland Regional Botanic Gardens. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Other native wild foods include native cress (Rorippa divaricata), puha (Sonchus oleraceus, a member of the sow thistle family) and horopito (Pseudowintera colorata). Find a pork and puha recipe here (watercress can be substituted.)


Horopito is a useful ornamental garden plant too. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Horopito was used by Maori as a herbal medicine but more recently has been promoted in its dried form as a substitute for pepper or chilli in foods.

It’s also a useful ornamental plant to brighten up a shady corner. It will grow in deep shade but the more light the plant gets, the brighter its red splotches. The Red Leopard hybrid has a deep-red colour that is maintained well in shade.

Native spinach seeds are available from Kings Seeds in Katikati or Yates; native celery plants from Oratia Native Plant Nursery and horopito from garden centres.

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

Wonderous waterlilies

There’s a reason why waterlilies and lotus are used as symbols of enlightenment in so many cultures, Bevan McDuff says. “They grow from mud into the light and produce an exquisite flower.”

Bevan and his partner Alix Gamble bought the 6ha Waihi Waterlily Gardens in 2004 in partnership with Alix’s son Sam and his partner, Olivia Thorn.

Sam and Olivia ran the property until part-way through 2012 when they took a South Island sabbatical with their young children, with Bevan taking over management of the gardens.


A lotus flower at the gardens. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Development of the water-lily garden began 70 years ago thanks to retired farmers Tom and Mabel Gordon and celebrated 60 years of opening to the public in 2011. “The gardens were first open to the public for four Tuesdays in February 1941,” Bevan says. “And apparently they had thousands of people through.”

Sam and Olivia closed the property for three years after they bought it, working with Alix and Bevan to clear, clean and tidy the site, and add two new accommodation cottages. During their tenure Sam restocked the waterlily ponds while Olivia added to the land plantings.

This past year Bevan has moved to refocus the property as a wedding venue and has bookings throughout this summer with some already in place for 2015. The gardens remain open to the public but there is no longer a café on site. Instead, visitors are welcome to bring a picnic.

Campsis radicans or trumpet vine is native to the southeastern United States. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Twenty stream-fed ponds, including the 0.8ha lake, are home to 70 varieties of water lily – including hardy and tropical types – and lotus plants (read more about how to grow lotus plants here; links to video guides on waterlilies are at the end of this article).

“We knew zilch about water lilies when we took the place on,” Sam recalls. “But we quickly had lots of physical interaction – we had hundreds of thousands of rhizomes pass through our hands.”

The lake was particularly problematic, says Bevan, a retired music teacher. “The lake was so choked when we took it over that you’d have thought it was dry land. The dog kept trying to walk across it and falling in.”

Sam says even experienced gardeners feel anxious about trying water lilies, although they shouldn’t.


Photo: Sandra Simpson

“It’s amazing what a psychological obstacle the water is,” he says. “People think you’ve got to be specially set up, but the hardy varieties are really hardy and you can grow them in tubs, planters and wine barrels – water lilies are just like pot plants except there is a layer of water between you and the soil.”

  • Waihi Waterlily Gardens are at 441 Pukekauri Rd (take the Old Tauranga Rd from the north end of Athenree Gorge and follow the signs, or from Victoria St in Waihi), near Waihi. They are open daily, 11am-3pm. Admission $8.50 (adults), $7.50 (seniors), $25 (families) and $6.50 for groups of 10 or more. For more information see the website or phone (07) 863-8267.

Youtube videos:

More reading at the International Waterlily and Water Gardening Society (membership is free).


Don’t know if this chap is still about – the photo is a couple or three years old now. But what a greeting at the gate to the gardens! Photo: Sandra Simpson

Mandela’s Gold

It seems appropriate to offer this photo – taken Wednesday this week in an Omokoroa garden created by a plant lover, full of interesting things.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

Strelitzia reginae Mandela’s Gold was originally known as Kirstenbosch Gold. The naturally occurring yellow form of the orange bird-of-paradise was found in the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, as well as other places around the world. However, it cross-pollinated with the orange readily and seeds would produce the orange form. Read more about how John Winter at Kirstenbosch spent 20 years  producing and building up enough stock to bring the plant to the market, as well as how to grow it (including how to protect the flower bud from squirrels!).

The plant was renamed in Nelson Mandela’s honour in 1996. Nelson Mandela was jailed for 27 years (from 1962) for his struggles against apartheid in South Africa. In 1993 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and a year later was elected as the nation’s first black president, serving five years. He died on December 5, 2013 aged 95.

Awa Nursery (Waimauku, near Auckland) and Kaipara Coast Plant Centre are Wairere Nursery (Auckland) and Coast Palms & Cycads (Te Puke) have plants for sale. (Information updated November 2014.)

The Big Dry

Xeriscaping – or landscapes that need little water – is a trend that’s well-established across the Tasman and is something that Kiwis living in the northern half of the North Island should consider as climate patterns change.

Melbourne has recently come out of a 10-year drought but, experts say, the respite is the anomaly and residents should get used to the idea of water conservation as a way of life.

The city’s renowned Royal Botanic Gardens, rated among the top five in the world, is restoring and expanding upon a water recycling system that was established in 1876 with “Guilfoyle’s volcano”, a reservoir that gravity feeds irrigation systems that run into wetlands and lakes before water is pumped back to the reservoir.

The Victorian folly is now the centrepiece of an “arid garden” that includes cacti, succulents and bromeliads mass planted, some of them to resemble flowing lava down the lower slopes of the volcano.


A Crassula succulent flowers madly on a scree slope of Guilfoyle’s volcano in the Melbourne Botanic Gardens. Photo: Sandra Simpson

For home gardeners the trick is to select plants that will withstand everything your climate can throw at them – from frosts to drought and from strong winds to a high winter rainfall – and still bring you pleasure.

Group plants together that have similar water requirements and get serious about mulching as this will help the soil retain its moisture.

There’s no point creating a cactus garden if your heart isn’t in it, but there’s no harm in doing some research to extend your plant horizons.

The well-illustrated Succulents by Wanganui plantswoman Yvonne Cave (2002, revised in 2009 published by Godwit) is a good place to start or if you’re in the Tauranga area schedule a visit to El Jakedo Cactus Nursery and Garden in the Welcome Bay Hills (phone 07-544 1178) or Paloma Gardens near Wanganui to see how plants can be used.


Eremophila glabra pictured in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne. Commonly known as tar bush, the plant is native to Australia. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Award-winning Kiwi landscape designer Xanthe White includes a chapter on dry gardens in her 2012 book The Natural Garden (published by Godwit) and she makes the good point that “a dry garden does not need to resemble a desert”. At the end of the chapter is a series of design considerations that include water storage and distribution and shade, as well as a plant list.

“Closed rooms can become sensual sanctuaries from a harsh environment,” she writes. “Colour, fragrance and water are all carefully embraced as essential elements. Efficiency is paramount, though. Where water is scarce, not a drop should be wasted, nor used but once.”

Hear Xanthe talking about the book (9 minutes, 44 seconds).

Renowned English gardener Beth Chatto has created a gravel garden in harmony with the environment – Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden was published in 2000 or visit her website for a plant list. Here is a little more about the gravel garden from a knowledgeable visitor.


The flowers of a Libertia – the plants are more commonly grown for their strappy, golden foliage. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Plenty of New Zealand natives are drought-tolerant – among them cordylines, flax, astelias, corokias, lancewoods, pohutukawa and the native iris (Libertia) – and there is a wide choice of tough Australian and South African natives, including Eremophilia glabra (red flowers or the yellow-flowered Kalbarri Carpet), kangaroo paws (use full-sized Anigozanthos for a longer-lasting plant) ti-trees, Oldenbergia grandis with its outstanding foliage and clivia, which are also shade tolerant. The plants of the coastline of Chile, Peru and Brazil might be worth investigating too.


The new growth of Banksia speciosa is striking. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The palette is widened by plants from similar Northern Hemisphere climates such as the shores of the Mediterranean, Canary Islands, California (southern California has a dry climate, while northern California is a bit wetter) and Mexico.

  • Further reading: Colorado State University’s useful website on xeriscaping.

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

Monday digest

The NZ Herald last week featured an article about what happens when glasshouses (in this case at the Christchurch Botanic Gardens) are closed to the public, and most workers, for 2 years.

Piet Oudolf, the Dutch landscaper of the High Line garden in New York, has been honoured in The Netherlands with the Prince Bernhard Cultural Foundation Award, presented by Queen Maxima in a gala show. He is the first landscaper to win this award. English garden writer Tim Richardson was invited to make the speech and writes about that here.

Here is Piet Oudolf’s own website – if you’re looking at the Gardens selection, click on the thumbnails at the top of the screen for various colour images – the private garden in Boon is interesting.

The long borders at Newby Hall in north Yorkshire – thought to be the longest in western Europe – are to be completely replanted in what is expected to be a two-year project. Read all about that here.

Closer to home there is disquiet at the Koanga Institute at Wairoa about proposed spraying in the vicinity. The call has gone out for help.

And you can hear Kay Baxter, the driving force behind Koanga, talk about food, heirloom varieties, seed saving and more in this radio interview with Chris Laidlaw (18 minutes 46 seconds).

And I’ve been updating the Events page over the past couple of weeks, so do have a look through and see what’s coming up.