Garden news

Some bits and pieces from the world of gardening …

Gardener charged
Last week’s Herald on Sunday had a news brief saying that Clive Higgie, owner of Paloma Gardens near Wanganui, has been charged by the Ministry of Primary Industries – the first charge to be laid after raids on public and private property two years ago. MPI was hunting for an exotic kauri allegedly imported illegally. However, the HoS records Clive as saying the charges relate to an Australian fig tree!

Some Agathis specialists (the top specialists in the country are, ironically, the ones being raided) argue that the tree MPI is so concerned about, Agathis silbae from Vanuatu, is actually the already recognised and recorded Agathis macrophylla, which has been in New Zealand for some time. This 2012 backgrounder article on the controversy is a good read.

New fig tree with historic connections
A new fig tree from Katikati company incredible edibles may have links to some of the district’s Ulster Irish pioneers (Ulster Scots in the link) as it is thought the original cutting of Candy came from the garden at Athenree Homestead, built by Adela and Hugh Stewart in 1879.


Candy, a new fig from incredible edibles. Photo: incredible edibles

“Someone gave us the cutting and said it came from there,” says Fiona Boylan of incredible edibles. “Fig names have been causing problems in New Zealand for years, though – the same tree can produce different fruit in different soils and climates.”

Some of Adela’s original orchard still stands and in among the trees is at least one fig, although the day I visited the paddock was full of frisky young cattle (some with horns) so discretion was the better part of valour! Volunteers at the homestead make marmalade from “Adela’s citrus trees” and sell it as a fundraiser for the restoration project.

Fig expert John Dean, a life member of the Tree Crops Association who lives near Katikati (and who has a fig variety named for him), says there is a tree in the district known as “Mrs Stewart”, supposedly descended from a fig tree Adela had. He was planning to take a sample of the homestead tree to a South Island expert to see if it could be properly identified.

Blue moon update
Mary Parkinson of the Monarch Butterfly NZ Trust says there are a good number of blue moon butterflies (native to Australia) around Papamoa while someone in Whakatane has 20 or so on a couple of camellia trees. Three males and two females have been confirmed at Te Puna Quarry Park near Tauranga but apparently there have been no confirmed sightings in Auckland so it’s just our bit of the coast that has been graced with their presence!

I recorded my sighting at the Quarry Park on the Monarch Trust website and Margaret Topzand of the trust has been in touch to say that “many sightings of blue moons are coming in, all blown over from Australia via Cyclone Ita”.

Seeds of success
Tomato seeds brought back from Italy by a solider after World War 2 have been distributed in the Timaru area with great success, thanks to Albert Peattie of the Timaru Horticultural Society. Read more here. (No “approved organisms” list then, obviously!)

Right royal bouquet

After having watched the Duchess of Cambridge receive conventional bouquets and posies (scroll to the bottom of the link for the flowers) on her recent tour of New Zealand and Australia, it was fun to see this photo of Queen Maxima of the The Netherlands and the unusual bouquet she was presented with last year when visiting the Hortus Botanicus (botanic gardens) at Leiden University.


Photo: from Zimbio

Yep, those are carnivorous pitcher plants (Nepenthes spp), orchids and Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides), the perfect bouquet for a queen with an obvious sense of humour! Maxima always looks as though she’s having a great time on her royal engagements and this was no exception.

Our plants: Parataniwha

Looking for a striking foliage plant for a wet, shady area? You may need to go no further than our own native parataniwha (Elatostema rugosum).

Given the space this perennial groundcover forms beautiful mounds of toothed leaves that range from green through bronze to purple in colour and can take really wet feet – in lighter shade the leaves are smaller, in deeper shade larger. The leaves are rough to the touch on the surface and have serrated edges. It has insignificant flowers which are followed by a small, one-seeded fruit.


Parataniwha growing down a cliff in Pukekura Park, New Plymouth. Photo: Sandra Simpson

This handsome plant also has the common name, New Zealand begonia, due to its dark stems. Parataniwha will grow to about 1m tall, but can be as high as 2m in sheltered gullies. It will take only light frost and was originally found only as far south as the Tararua Range.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

Its botanical name puts it in with the nettle family, elatostoma roughly meaning “to burn”. The Maori name means home of the taniwha, or water spirit (something like a dragon) … or it refers to the leaves feeling like sharkskin, the shark being a taniwha. Either way, it’s a good story.

Read more about parataniwha here and how an innocent question about the colour of parataniwha leaves sparked scientific research that has led to discoveries about the importance of purple-fleshed food.

Orchid of the Year

A flower grown by Erica Cowdell has been chosen by the New Zealand Orchid Council as its 2013 Orchid of the Year.

The honour, announced last month, also included the Species of the Year title, while the same plant – Paphiopedilum hirsutissimum var esquirolei ‘Skye’ – was a section champion at last year’s national Orchid Expo in New Plymouth (see our local results here).


New Zealand’s 2013 Orchid of the Year, grown by Erica Cowdell. Photo: Dennis Chuah

Erica, who received her first orchid as a gift in 1959, grows thousands of Paphiopedilum, or slipper, orchids as a commercial cut-flower crop at her property on the Omokoroa peninsula, near Tauranga, and has been exporting blooms to the United States for three seasons.

“I’d had some Paphs since 1970 but in 2007 I got more focused and swapped my crop from Cymbidiums. The one that has been honoured is a flower I sell locally as it doesn’t quite have the lasting qualities for export.”

At the time of the national expo Erica had few orchids in flower as it was late in the season for Paphiopedilums.

“I put in virtually everything I had that was freshly in flower and this plant happened to peak at the right time.

“You can have the perfect flower but no show for it and some people spend their entire lives hoping to get a winner.”

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


Blue moon butterfly

Had a phone call from Mary Parkinson yesterday to say there have been several sightings of blue moon butterflies in the Tauranga area, including at Te Puna Quarry Park.

So I laced up my walking shoes and headed to the park, thinking I’d have a good walk, including the butterfly garden, regardless of the blue moon … and saw one! Hypolimnas bolina, native to Australia and some Pacific islands, was flitting around the fuchsia garden.


A male blue moon butterfly seen at the Quarry. Female butterflies are brown with a white marking across the bottom of the wings. He was about the size of a monarch. Photo: Sandra Simpson

They’re called common eggfly or giant eggfly in Australia – blue moon is a much prettier name, isn’t it? The blue moon is notable for having evolved itself very quickly to protect against a bacteria that was pushing the population on Samoa towards extinction.

According to this story from New Plymouth last year, the butterflies get blown across on the jet stream.

As well as seeing two yellow admirals pushing a monarch around in mid-air, I also came across some common blue butterflies (Zizina otis labradus, cool name) in the park’s butterfly garden. It also occurs in Australia and some Pacific islands and is often seen in dry pasture here.


A female common blue butterfly. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Garden snippets

Hope you’ve all had – are having  – a nice Easter. For your enjoyment, here are some bits and pieces from around the gardening world …

Cut-flower rose growers on TV
Commercial rose growers Alistair Grant and Anne Mackersey were featured on Country Calendar on Saturday. They established Highland Roses on the farm of Anne’s parents at Whakamarama, near Tauranga, 18 years ago, having previously grown in the Otaki area. The episode follows the couple from Christmas into their biggest day of the year for their rose blooms –  February 14. You can see some of the show, and read about it too, here.

Topiary hedges
If you’ve been watching the Great British Garden Revival on Choice TV (Friday nights), you will have seen the amazing topiary creations of London man Tim Bushe (yes, that really is his name).

An architect, Tim created his first shaped hedge at a request from his wife (although it wasn’t the shape she wanted, he later did do a cat hedge). Read about, and see photos of, the creation of his elephant hedge here and here’s a longer article (but with only one photo) about Tim and his work – he donates all his fees to charity.

Plant help request
Charles Novak, director of the (under development) Tropical Adventure Botanical Garden in Florida, has been in touch to request help sourcing a plant. “I am looking for Ficus dammaropsis germplasm as part of scientific research to determine if Ficus dammaropsis will survive and grow in our climate and then harvest to maximise nutrient content.”

In his email, Charles says he wants to research grafting and espalier of Ficus trees, set up an experimental plot for comparison of rootstocks by grafting different rootstocks with the same source of scion; and a comparison of scion by grafting them on to the same rootstock.

He would like Ficus dammaropsis seeds or cuttings and would like five to 10 cuttings that are 8 to 12 inches long. For more information or to offer help email Charles.

Read an article by Charles about grafting here. The new botanical garden is being developed in the aptly named Plant City, inland from Tampa. (Sadly, the reality is that the town was named after a person, not its abundance of gardens!)

Free guides to New Zealand lichen
The New Zealand Plant Conservation Network is offering for free download two field guides to lichen, thanks to the generosity of authors Dr Allison Knight (Otago University)and Bill and Nancy Malcolm. Find them here.

If you’d like a hard copy of Dr Knight’s book, and wish to support the replenishment of the Audrey Eagle Botanical Publishing Fund, here’s information about paying for a copy ($20 each, plus P&P).

Our native plants: Hibiscus

Happened to be in Auckland Botanic Gardens earlier this week and guess what I found? Both of our native hibiscus in flower (see the post below for information about a plant now not considered to be a native hibiscus).

Hibiscus richardsonii. Photo: Sandra Simpson.

Read more about Hibiscus richardsonii here, although I am surprised to see it growing so tall in the photos. The plants in Auckland were much smaller, more a ground-cover type of thing.

Hibiscus diversifolius is more of a shrub that grows about 1-2m high. It has fine, sharp bristles on its stems and leaves.

Hibiscus diversifolius. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Interesting to note that it is also found in other parts of the Southern Hemisphere.

Our native plants: Hibiscus trionum

I came across this little sweetie in an Omokoroa garden several years ago and was surprised to learn it was a “native hibiscus”  as I always imagine hibiscus as large, tropical shrubs, not front-of-the-border temperate zone plants.

Hibiscus trionum. Photo: Sandra Simpson

It’s generally classified as an annual, although in some places may be a two-year plant.

“Although rare in the wild, it naturalises freely from seeds in warm sites throughout the country, even in the southern South Island,” according to Alison Evans in New Zealand in Flower (get a copy from a book fair near you.)

“There is some evidence that Hibiscus trionum may have been introduced to New Zealand by Maori who used the leaves for cleaning hands and may have cultivated it for this purpose and for its attractive flowers.”

Fiona Eadie, in her book 100 Best Native Plants for New Zealand Gardens, reports that there are two very similar types of H. trionum in the country – one native (and which also occurs in Australia) and one that was introduced by man and has naturalised.

The difference, she says, is that the latter has more finely dissected leaves and an almost maroon centre, so I think I’m right is saying that the one pictured here is the true native … or am I? Keep reading.

Flowering is from late spring into autumn and the plant typically forms a small bush about 50cm high. It can tolerate very dry conditions which may even encourage flowering and doesn’t mind coastal winds – but it doesn’t care for very wet positions and frosts. It sets seed readily. Unfortunately, the flowers are no good for picking as they wilt immediately but the seed heads are liked by floral artists.

However, since the two books I’ve referenced were published (1987 and 2008 respectively) there has been a bit of a rethink on the “native” status of H. trionum, something I was alerted to by a recent post of Abbie Jury’s.

Shirley Stuart, curator of the native plants collection at the Dunedin Botanic Garden, has decided to treat H. trionum it as a “non-indigenous fully naturalised native” after doubts about its origins were raised.

The Oratia Native Plant Nursery website says of Hibiscus richardsonii: “Previously known as Hibiscus trionum this yellow-flowered Mercury Islands form is now recognised as the true native species.” Read a full profile of H. richardsonii which is now accorded the name “puarangi”  previously given to H. trionum and which you’ll see is missing that dark centre.

Native or not, H. trionum is a pretty little thing that grows well and should be appreciated on its merits, not where it hails from.

Rare chance to see

Had a marvellous time at the BOP Orchid Society show in Te Puke yesterday – lots of photos, lots of chat and bought a few plants.

The show is on again until 4pm today so if you’re in the area and you want to see some beautiful specimens make sure you go along to the Memorial Hall in the main street. Russell Hutton of Auckland, who has a sales table, has mounted a gorgeous towering display of flowering plants, many of them not often seen.

But the orchid I’m featuring here is in the main display and owned by Conrad Coenen of Apata (you may remember Conrad won the supreme award at last year’s Tauranga Orchid Society show, with another plant).

stanhopeaoculata - Copy

Stanhopea oculata grown by Conrad Coenen. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Stanhopea oculata isn’t, in itself, that rare or unusual. What is unusual is that it is rarely seen in shows. Why? I’ll let Conrad explain.

“It had been in bud for about 2 weeks and was showing no sign at all of opening. So to try and encourage it, I moved the plant inside for a bit more warmth. Still nothing.

“So on Thursday morning after we’d had our morning coffee my wife and I breathed on it and lo and behold, the buds began to open sequentially all the way down the stem – and in about 15 or 20 minutes the whole spike was open … and by Sunday it will be finished.

“By the way, I don’t think our coffee breath had anything to do with it, it was just the right time for it to open.”

And that’s why Stanhopeas are so rarely shown – the show has to be perfectly timed to catch a flower that opens quickly and lasts just two or three days. (Compare that to Dianne Hintz’ Phalaenopsis White Witch which has been in flower for 18 months and shows no sign of fading!)

But what caught my attention about this plant was its perfume – walking by the part of the display it’s in I couldn’t help but turn towards it, lean in and try and identify which flower the amazing scent was coming from. Conrad describes it as vanilla-peppermint-chocolate. I couldn’t break it down into anything particular but it was phenomenal.

Stanhopea oculata is native to Central America and, like all Stanhopeas, must be basket grown and the basket lined with soft material as the flower spikes push out underneath the plant (ie, it flowers through the bottom of the basket).