More from Ellerslie 2014

Large garden shows are as much about spotting the cheap ‘n cheerful ideas as being blown away by the cash that’s been thrown about to create a small garden for a very limited time.

Here are some of each …

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Milk containers recycled as lettuce planters – St Alban’s Catholic School won silver. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Letitia Thomson and Ashleigh Matthews looked to Mexico for inspiration for their courtyard design in the student section and won silver. Wouldn’t this wall be fun to create, just think of all those op shop visits? Photo: Sandra Simpson

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An exterior view of Ben Hoyle’s garden. He won the supreme award for construction and quite right too. The garden was beautifully finished. Photo: Sandra Simpson


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H&S Landscape Designs of Christchurch went the whole hog – beside the bath and its pool was a huge double bed! Photo: Sandra Simpson


And, finally, because it’s a flower show, here’s a shot of the Canterbury Horticultural Society Begonia Circle’s garden (with a mirror on the wall) that won gold. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Ellerslie International Flower Show 2014

The 2014 show is the largest in Ellerslie history with 20 exhibition (outdoor) gardens, eight student courtyards, eight school gardens (a new category), four flower beds and nine marquee gardens, plus a marquee of floral art.

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Detail from the supreme award garden, ‘Burn after Reeding’. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Prizewinners: Only two golds awarded to exhibition gardens, while four were awarded in the schools category! The supreme award went to ‘Burn after Reeding’ by Christchurch Botanic Gardens, another of the team’s trademark unusual “gardens” (they also took the supreme award in 2010 for a fungus and moss garden). “High on horticulture, sculpture and drama with a strong and clever concept,” says chief judge Andy Sturgeon of the UK.

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Will Morrison managed living walls all over the place – under the pool table, on the bar and a library full of petunias. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Trends: Vertical gardens … among them, St Alban’s Catholic School reused plastic milkbottles as planters, student designer Leigh Nicholson had “hanging gardens” (lengths of material with pouches), Ben Hoyle had curving planted walls (unfortunately, the plants hadn’t taken off), Will Morrison (Urban Paving) had walls densely planted in horizontal stripes of orangeberry and the native groundcover Acaena inermis Purpurea, and Natural Habitats had walls of grasses in vertical stripes.

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Ben Hoyle’s “sanctuary” garden was one of the most photogenic – and won the supreme award for construction. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Brickbats: Underplanted gardens such as Jade Temepara’s “food forest” (but as she was due to give birth to her fifth child on Wednesday Ellerslie may have been a project too far). I can’t help but compare her effort to that of Incredible Edibles in 2010 as both were presenting edible gardens. The earlier garden had style, flair and filled its space. This week’s garden had more mulch than plants, and too-small plants.

“Gardens” that are more about hard landscaping than plants. Not having a food stop (that I could find) for mid-afternoon on media day. The designers who weren’t available to be spoken to (most of them!) once the awards had been handed out.

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Kevin Gillespie of Manawatu had layer upon layer of allusion to World War 1 in his garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Bouquets: The designers who really think about their concept – gold winner Emily McEwan (step outside your comfort zone), bronze winner Kevin Gillespie (the centenary of the start of World War 1). The designers who use interesting plants (please, no more petunias). Fun touches such as the tuba water feature in Chisnallwood Intermediate School’s garden, and the old gumboots used as planters by the Canterbury Community Gardens Association. Feeding the media!

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If it weren’t for your gumboots where would you be? Photo: Sandra Simpson

Hurdles: The gardeners had to keep their plants alive in blistering 33 degree heat on February 22 and save them from the ravages of hail on February 23!

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Part of Laura McKenzie’s gold-award ‘The Secret Garden’. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Perennial moan: Why is floral art always so hard to photograph? Too high, too wide, one bit here and one bit there. Hard to do it justice. (I have just read that the judging panel was split over the supreme award, between Burn after Reeding and the floral art pictured above by Laura McKenzie. It would have been an interesting decision if it had gone Laura’s way.)

Text & photos copyright Sandra Simpson – they may not be reused without permission.

On the road: Larnach Castle

Although Dunedin’s Larnach Castle has had a garden since 1871, visitors to the privately owned property see mainly the results of what has been a labour of love for the past 44 years.

Because of gaps in ownership, little remains in the garden from William Larnach‘s time – the driveways, some stone walls and a few specimen trees – while the next owner, who took it on in 1927 after 20 years of neglect, left only the bones of the rockery (at the time said to be the largest in the country), a fountain and a glass cupola.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

Newlyweds Margaret and Barry Barker bought the derelict castle and its 14ha of overgrown grounds in 1967 – a spontaneous decision sealed with a handshake on the doorstep and a visit to the bank the next day – and set about restoring the property with a view to opening it to the public.

While the castle’s cool, wet climate is limiting in some respects – there are few roses – it does offer opportunities for rare native alpine plants and some lesser-known natives such as giant Spaniard grass (Aciphylla scott-thomsonii), which has spiky blue leaves and tall spiky flowers.

A statue of Alice and a flamingo with some Dublin Bay roses. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The garden is an ongoing project for Margaret, who has created nine distinct areas and who has been supported for the past decade by Fiona Eadie, author of 100 Best New Zealand Native Plants (Godwit, 2008).

Margaret has travelled widely in search of knowledge and ideas, including to the Andes, the Himalayas, France and the Campbell and Chatham Islands, and the enthusiasms of the women are clearly seen in the South Seas Garden, which combines plants from ancient Gondwanaland.

Pennantia baylisiana, once the rarest plant in the world with only one female in its native Three Kings Islands, was rescued in 1945 when six cuttings were taken. Three survived and more cuttings taken – until one plant spontaneously produced female and male flowers.

Senecio candicans. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Other plants in this garden include Senecio candicans from Patagonia, Dendrocerus littoralis, a member of the lettuce family, from Chile’s Robinson Crusoe Island, the mounding groundcover Azorella trifurcate from the Falkland Islands and Coxella dieffenbachia from the Chatham Islands.

Magnificent vistas of Otago peninsula and harbour have been opened up and Otago’s Scottish heritage is invoked by the giant thistle in the Flower Garden (planted to evoke a country garden in the early part of the 20th century) and a tapestry planting of heathers in the Patterned Garden.

For more information see the Larnach Castle website.

This article was originally published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission. Photos and text copyright Sandra Simpson and may not be reused without permission.

Tree planting

Six years ago I was invited to the annual volunteers’ birthday breakfast at Te Puna Quarry Park, marking the month the project began in 1998. That 10th birthday was commemorated by having the area’s two mayors – the late Graeme Weld and Stuart Crosby – plant a kowhai tree each. The third one was planted by Shirley Sparks, the driving force behind the project for many years.

This year, there was another kowhai tree planted by Shirley, now a life member of the Quarry Park Society. But there are still only three kowhai trees.


Shirley Sparks plants another kowhai. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The two planted by the mayors have thrived, but sadly Shirley’s first attempt failed to thrive, something the committee felt a bit guilty about … so she was asked to try again. And I was there again.

Carnations wanted

Paul Lander of Hawera has been in touch wanting to know if we still had access to Frank Sydenham’s collection of carnations. He had seen Frank’s plant list on the Sydenham Botanic Park website and wanted to see if we still had Maori Chief available. Alas, Frank’s plants have long gone.

Paul is collecting carnations and dianthus, new and old varieties, although is particularly after old, scented varieties.

“I’ve got quite a number of modern cut flower carnations both standard and spray and probably 20 different varieties of Dianthus, again mostly newer varieties,” he says.

“I’ve got hold of the old carnation Otaki Pink and an old purple variety with red flecks that I don’t know the name of. I’m particularly after old scented and if possible named varieties of carnations. I’m quite happy to either pay or swap plants with anyone.”

For more information email Paul or write to Paul Lander, 228 Meremere Road, RD 12, Hawera 4672.

Read an article here about the history of Dianthus and some of the hybrids we know and love.

Beautiful bromeliads

One of the world’s top breeders of Vriesea bromeliads modestly concedes that, yes, he may be among the vanguard of those creating interesting, new plants.

Andrew Maloy, who has “tens of thousands” of the plants at his Kiwi Bromeliads in Whenuapai (Auckland), believes he is the first breeder in the world to develop plants with notably wide leaves.

“I’ve consciously gone in the direction of wide leaves because, as far as I know, no one else is doing it,” he says. “There’s a bit of fashion setting involved simply because we’re working so far ahead in a very fickle market.

“Breeders have to be incredibly patient because we don’t see the results of our work for several years – from making the cross on the flower it’s six months to picking seed, then about three years before you see what you’ve got, then if it’s any good you’ve got to build up stock before it can be released to the market.”


Andrew Maloy with Vriesea Astra Jewel, not yet available to the market. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Rare bromeliads, or those considered desirable by the market, can fetch high prices in Australia, Europe and the United States, doors that aren’t open to Andrew.

“The export of live plants is far too difficult for a variety of reasons,” he says, “but I can export tissue culture and occasionally do that.”

Andrew, who was born in Scotland, came to New Zealand in 1974 with his Kiwi wife Rhonda. A long-time member of the International Plant Propagators’ Society, he has lectured in horticulture and plant propagation, written books and articles and is a Fellow of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture.


Vriesea Kiwi Cherry Ice, another Andrew Maloy bromeliad. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“Bromeliads caught my attention about 15 or 16 years ago,” he says, “and vrieseas because they don’t have any nasty prickles.”

Although he is constantly selecting plants for crossing, Andrew admits that he missed the potential of one of his plants, Dark Knight.


Vriesea Waihi Dawn, bred by Andrew Maloy. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“I didn’t think it was that great but it’s proving very popular with home gardeners because it’s very tough, almost foolproof.”

He wants his plants, which are named in series – such as the Jewel series, the Tasman series and the Kiwi series – to have attractive foliage from an early age and to be desirable texture plants.

“One of the biggest disappointments for many people is that the plants they buy don’t stay the same once they’re in the garden – but there’s often an easy answer to that.

“Too much sun will markedly change the leaf colour. Vrieseas don’t like direct sun all day. They can tolerate a bit, but prefer dappled or light shade or filtered light.”

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

Tropical Garden opens

The new Tropical Garden has opened at Hamilton Gardens, the first of three new gardens in development.

Read all about it here. I like the way the garden is part of the Fantasy collection – the fantasy being, Hamilton Gardens director Peter Sergel told me a couple of years ago, that the climate in Hamilton could support a tropical garden.

Community gardening

When Anne and Al Gourley decided to have a vegetable garden, they realised they had no one to ask about how to grow veges.

“It was too late to get the knowledge from our parents, they had gone – and we realised a lot of our peers were in the same boat,” Anne says.

At about the same time, Al, a builder, spotted a bit of unused land in Otumoetai between the railway line and a council reserve and the idea for a Tauranga version of the English allotment system was born.

“Previously, it was just mown with overgrown plants by the railway line,” Al says. “There were people sleeping rough down here and the shed was always covered in graffiti.

“The council guy looked at me sideways when I walked in, but we’ve had pretty good support from them and from our neighbours.”

Al and Anne Gourley in the Otumoetai Community Garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The garden opened at the end of 2010 and has 58 plots, each raised bed measuring 4.5m by 1.5m (so a gardener can reach into the centre from the side). It is run by the non-profit Let’s Get Growing Trust, headed by Anne, who works as a hospice nurse.

Plot-holders pay $20 a month to cover water, a starter kit, workshops and to employ a part-time worker. In return, gardeners have the use of communal tools, a bed of compost and the chance to grow their own food.

“We researched pretty thoroughly and this size plot, if intensively managed, can feed a family of four,” Anne says. “Our gardeners range in age from 8 to 90 and some are passionate about passing on their skills and some are passionate about learning.”

A bee enjoys a leek flower. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Katikati-based Incredible Edibles donated fruit trees and bushes, which have been planted around the perimeter of the garden. Large signs invite passersby to help themselves to this produce but to leave the plots alone.

“So far that has worked pretty well,” Anne says. “We have a bit of pilfering but only enough to be irritating.”

One of the unexpected spin-offs has been the relationships that form between the gardeners.

“There is a real sense of belonging,” says Anne. “It’s very motivating to work alongside others – gardening is traditionally a solitary past-time but, when you do it in a community, it elevates the whole level of enjoyment. We’ve all made some firm friends here.”

A sunflower offers tasty seeds (if the birds don’t get them first). Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Let’s Get Growing trust helps foster the ties by holding monthly social occasions on site, as well as semi-regular working bees. Gardeners range from pensioners to children, from entire families to singles, and there are also plots rented by the police and worked by at-risk youth (mentored by members of nearby St Columba Church), and by the Stewart Foundation for those rehabilitating from head injuries.

The garden – which in 2011 won the group/community award in the Great New Zealand Grow-off – is managed as sustainably as possible and includes a system of compost heaps, a worm farm and a beehive.

  • For more information contact Anne Gourley, phone 07 552 4529 or email. Each 4.5m by 1.5m raised bed costs $20 a month to rent (water rates, communal tools and a part-time worker) with a small amount of sponsorship available in cases of financial hardship. There is a waiting list for plots.
  •  There is to be an Open Day at the Otumoetai Community Gardens on Saturday, March 1, see the Events page for more details.
  • To find a community garden in your area in the Tauranga-Western Bay see the Groups page.

This article originally comprised two pieces published in the Bay of Plenty Times. It appears here with permission.

Sunday digest

Full of virus – headaches, sneezing, coughing and overflowing sinuses – so here’s a digest to keep you going.

If you live in the Tauranga area don’t forget to collect seeds, take cuttings and stockpile excess plants for the Swapfest at Sydenham Botanic Park on the afternoon of March 16 (a Sunday). It’s only a gold coin donation to have a stand, and free to just come, look around and chat to the stall-holders. Geoff Brunsden of Wildflower World will be giving a talk on caring for pollinators … and promises a surprise treat as well! Full details on the Events page.

Butterflies are part of the busy legion of pollinators in the garden but the famed annual monarch migration from Canada to Mexico is in trouble – the numbers arriving in the over-wintering ground are at a record low. The largest area occupied by the butterflies was recorded in 1997 and reached 18ha. This season, the area fell to 0.67ha. The culprit, experts seem to agree, is the disappearance of milkweed in the US. Similar to our swan plant, milkweed is where the butterfly lays its eggs and the caterpillars feed until becoming a chrysalis.

I was all set to be a bigger and better monarch farm this summer but we haven’t seen any caterpillars since before Christmas – my total released is a paltry six butterflies. The monarchs come and hang round the swan plants but ants are carrying off the eggs and wasps the caterpillars before I can get to them.

Mary Parkinson, the volunteer who runs the butterfly garden at Te Puna Quarry Park, reports that an Australian painted lady butterfly, thought to have been blown across the Tasman in the spring gales, has laid eggs. I spotted one of these little butterflies in the quarry a fortnight ago. They are often blown to the west coast of the North Island, but not always as far as the east coast.

See some striking images here – the winning photos from the Royal Horticultural Society’s annual competition.

James Golden is a gardener in New Jersey (and he is either in, or coming very soon to, New Zealand – so if you see him say “hello”). This New York Times interview with him about his life, the garden he has created (Federal Twist) and his philosophy of gardening is superb.

Orchid hunter (and heir to an English castle) Tom Dyke Hart was captured by rebels in Colombia and held for nine months, convinced he was going to be killed at any time. To distract himself he designed his perfect garden … and has now created it. Read the story here.

A thoughtful reflection on street trees (in London in particular and England in general) by Tony Russell, including the new threats to urban trees from climate change and increased global trade.

When I was a young thing living in London I had been working most of one Saturday in spring to meet a report deadline. One of my colleagues, and a good friend, who lived in Surrey offered me a ride home in his new car as I was more or less on his way. How glorious it was to ride along Baker Street (I think it was) in the late afternoon after a long day inside with the sun-roof open through which I could see the plane trees with their fresh, new leaves – and Vivaldi’s Spring playing on the cassette deck. Would it surprise you to learn that this was about 1983 and I’d never come across a sun-roof before?

Tauranga is a city that, for some reason, seems to be populated by people who dislike trees. Why? Beats me. I was recently sent a 2002 report, Projected Environmental Benefits of Community Tree Planting which uses Atlanta, Georgia, as a model. Among the key findings:

  • If tree-planting standards were applied to all surface parking lots in the Downtown Atlanta Study Area, mature trees would provide stormwater savings valued at $US491,000 and air pollution mitigation valued at $US7500 annually.

Go on, get outside and hug a tree!