Orchids in bloom

Since I haven’t posted photos from my own garden for a while, I thought I might catch you up on some of the orchids I’ve had in bloom – many of them for the first time. Some of the spikes stay in bud for months so it’s an exciting moment when the flowers finally open.

Laelia gouldiana (Encyclia gouldiana). Photo: Sandra Simpson

My Laelia gouldiana was set aside for me at last year’s Tauranga Orchid Show – Elizabeth thought it was the sort of thing I could grow successfully and it turns out she may have been right. The orchid is native to the mountains of Hildaldo, Mexico which means that it doesn’t mind cooler temperatures. Remember, my orchids are either in the house (just the moth orchids, really) or outside (all the rest) so there’s no fancy-pants heating or cooling for them, they get what the days and nights are dishing out. The only proviso is that they’re under a verandah in winter so I can control the watering and in bright shade in summer.

The gouldiana flowers opened on a long stem that nonetheless stayed upright. The plant is named for Laelia, one of the Vestal Virgins, and Jay Gould, a 19th century American financier and orchid enthusiast.

Cymbidium Pure Love Peppermint. Photo: Sandra Simpson

This one’s a cheat because I bought it in flower – the test will be whether I can get it to repeat as well next year. In mid-June I went to the auction of a commercial operation that was closing down and got this plant, so big that The Vege Grower could barely lift it, and its sister. They’d been in a shade house but although they immediately went into what is a fairly open garden in the winter (deciduous trees) and have been rained on a great deal, there appear to be no complaints. Truly striking plants with multiple flower stems.

The grower’s prosaic name for this line was PLP (green). The auctioneer said he hadn’t sold plant lines before – we ended up getting these gorgeous plants for $2 each!

Dendrobium Kuniko. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A much smaller plant is this Dendrobium Kuniko that flowers all along bare canes (the leaves drop off in the second year ready for flowering). There were a few flowers on it when I bought it last September but when it came into bloom in May it had numerous flowers and on June 30 was still going strong with new buds opening. There were two on the display table at the last meeting of the Tauranga Orchid Society and it was interesting to see how different the flower colour can be – from blue-ish through to vibrant purple (mine is more in the lavender range). The parents are from Taiwan and the Philippines.

Restrepia striata. Photo: Sandra Simpson

This little cutey was bought in flower at the Te Puke Orchid Show in April – no sooner had I paid for it than some bright spark told me it was nick-named the cockroach orchid! The flowers don’t last all that long (a couple of weeks) but it has just come into flower again, so if it keeps that up I won’t complain.

This orchid is native to wet mountain areas in west and north South America. Read more about its care here. The genus name, Restrepia, is for José E. Restrepo, a Colombian explorer of the Andes.

Plants that bite

Passing a garden full of cacti daily on his way to and from school in Christchurch was the beginning of a love affair with plants that “bite” that continues for Roger Allen to this day.

The owner of the garden, a Mr Garrick, invited Roger to have a look round his collection – it now forms part of the largest publicly owned collection of cacti and succulents in New Zealand and is held at Garrick House in Christchurch Botanic Gardens.


Aloe speciosa. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Roger had his own cacti collection while dairy farming in Matamata, but sold the plants after finding the Waikato climate too damp for them.

He and wife Judy then moved to Whakamarama near Tauranga in 1970 and began growing flowers commercially, shifting the operation to nearby Plummer’s Point 20 years ago.

“Judy has patches in the garden that I don’t interfere with,” Roger says, “and there are definite no-go areas for her. I think the interest in spiny plants is a bloke thing.”

Describing his collection as “wicked” and “vicious”, Roger is nonetheless enamoured.


A pineapple fruiting in Roger’s garden. Ananas comosus is a member of the bromeliad family. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“What struck me at the beginning with the cacti was their beautiful flowers,” he says. “And the pineapple, particularly when it first comes out, has a very attractive flower, like a thistle head, and the agaves and aloe are interesting in flower.”

His first interest was trees and he has Australian grass trees (Xanthorrhoea) and Dasylirion, grass trees from Mexico, Aloe angelica, Aloe speciosa (tilt-headed aloe), Aloe bainesii and Aloe alooides (grass-head aloe which has a trailing feathery flower), all of which begin as ground-hugging plants.


A winter-flowering aloe at full throttle. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The winter-flowering aloes and agaves can struggle with in periods of prolonged rain (not unusual in the Western Bay of Plenty), but many manage to flower, among them Aloe succotrina, Aloe thraskii and Roger’s favourite, Aloe fievettii.

“It has a magnificent flower,” he says. “It picks well and lasts in a vase for weeks.”


A Bilbergia bromeliad in flower. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Other prickly plants in Roger’s garden include Hechtia and Dyckia (related to one another), Bilbergia bromeliads, the silver-leafed Encephalartos horridus (described as one of the most unusual of the South African cycads), and Strelitzia juncea, which has flowers identical to the usual bird of paradise but with rush-like sharp-tipped leaves.

“There’s something very structural and pleasing about all these plants,” Roger says, “but they take no prisoners.”

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

World floral art success

The World Flower Show for floral art has just ended in Dublin and among the winners are some Kiwi names.

Overall winner (best in show) was Vinita Khemka of India with Wendy Parsons (UK) runner-up. Watch a 2min 34 video about the show here, which includes a delightfully excited Janitha Holt of New Zealand. And there’s a small gallery of still photos here.

Sylvia Scott of Hamilton, New Zealand won the “Imposed Exhibit” section, one of the big awards.

In the competition classes, Sylvia also won the Conundrum section; Elizabeth Chapman (Geraldine) was Commended in Living Art; Francine Thomas (Tauranga) was placed Third in Spontaneous Approach; Annette Waller (Geraldine) was Commended in Flight Patterns; Glenis Bealing (Dannevirke) Commended in Delight in the Detail; Anne McKay (Oamaru) was Third in Austere Beauty; Marilyn Page (Hibiscus Coast) was Third in Defining Line; Linda Richardson (Hamilton) Second and Rosalie Barr (Matamata) Commended in Light Flow; Linda Smith (Takapuna) Commended in Variation on a Theme; Marguerita McBeath (Cambridge) First in Weaving Dreams; and the Kiwis made a clean sweep of the top three prizes in Concepts – Val De Lautour (Palmerston North) First, Janthia Holt (Nelson) Second and Jenny Wallace (Temuka/Clandeboye) Third.

Read the full list of results here.

The show, which even featured its own stamp, is held every three years with the next World Flower Show in Barbados in 2017. Find information about the NZ Floral Art Society here.

Botanical brooches

Thanks to the work of Ella Kay on The Court Jeweller website in covering Queen Elizabeth’s recent state visit to France I have been enjoying photos of the Queen and several of her brooches.

Some are specific botanical subjects – such as the silver fern brooch presented to Her Majesty by the people of New Zealand, and which the Duchess of Cambridge wore during her recent visit to these shores – while others are simply “flowers” of an indeterminate sort.

Beautiful jewels fashioned into botanical subjects, what’s not to like? So just for fun on a winter’s day I thought I would highlight some of Queen Elizabeth’s brooches that represent specific plants – the links are all to the same website, the Royal Order of Sartorial Splendor (sic).

  • The Australian Wattle Brooch – presented as a state gift on her first tour of Australia in 1954. It represents Acacia pycnantha or golden wattle, the national floral symbol of Australia. See some golden wattle images from the National Museum of Australia, including a 1954 portrait of Queen Elizabeth that became known as the “wattle painting”.
  • The Flame Lily Brooch – a 21st birthday gift the funds for which were raised by 42,000 children in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Returning home from Kenya after the death of her father in 1952, this was the only piece of jewellery Princess Elizabeth wore on her mourning clothes. Gloriosa superba, or flame lily, is the national flower of Zimbabwe.
  • The Sorghum Brooch – a state gift from Botswana in 2007 when the country hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM). Apparently this month’s outing in France was the first time the brooch had been worn in public. The caption on the Royal Order website says “sorghum (or millet)” but they are not the same plant, although both are cereal crops. Read more about sorghum here and millet here. This website indicates that sorghum is the staple food crop in Botswana.
  • New Zealand Fern Brooch – purchased by the “women of Auckland” and presented to the Queen on Christmas Day 1953, during her first tour here. Her Majesty loaned the piece that represents the silver fern (Cyathea dealbata) to the Duchess of Cambridge for her first tour to New Zealand earlier this year. Read a little more about the original gift here.
  • The Williamson Diamond Brooch – included because it features such a stonking diamond as the centre of the flower, 23.6 carats. Yikes! Elizabeth was given the diamond as a wedding present and in 1953 Cartier created a jonquil brooch using its as the centrepiece (despite the diamond being pink!).
  • The Sapphire Chrysanthemum Brooch – presented in 1946 for launching a ship. I have included this one because of the lovely photos at the end of the piece – Prince Phillip and Princess Elizabeth on honeymoon, and the same shot recreated for their 60th wedding anniversary.

If you’re keen there is a long list of her brooches, floral and otherwise, here. Click on the photo and a new page will open.

News & events

Graeme Platt, who used to hang out of helicopters to collect kauri cones, has been charged by the Ministry of Primary Industries for allegedly illegally importing seed of a Pacific kauri banned in new Zealand. Read all about that here. The 73-year-old isn’t going down without a fight. And here’s a link to the post in early May about the charges against Clive Higgie of Wanganui.

Gardeners in the Tauranga area may be interested to know that the local Riding for the Disabled is offering horse and pony manure for a gold coin donation – take a trailer or help yourself to pre-bagged manure. RDA is open Monday to Saturday, 44 Ngapeke Rd, RD5, Tauranga (Welcome Bay area). For more information phone (07) 544 1899.

Don’t forget to keep an eye on the Events page for things happening in Tauranga, New Zealand and the wider world! It’s updated regularly.

No Ellerslie in 2015

It was announced yesterday that Christchurch City Council has pulled its guarantee of making up the shortfall from the Ellerslie International Flower Show for 2015. Not really a surprise as the show was widely known to be on a knife-edge this year, but a shock nonetheless.

At the media briefing at this year’s show, people in the know were talking about the show being staged on alternate years only, or maybe even a North Island-South Island sharing of the show name from year to year.

This year’s show needed to sell a lot more tickets than in 2013 to impress the new Mayor and Christchurch City Council. This didn’t happen with ticket sales about the same as the previous year (44,500 over five days). The council bought the rights to show in 2007 for about $3 million, seen at the time as a pretty swift move by then-mayor Bob Parker.

But the first show in 2009 has been the only year it has made money in the South – this year’s show lost a record $516,000 and all up it has lost more than $900,000 since moving to Canterbury.

Ellerslie has had an annual budget of about $3 million and although the council owned the event, it never gave it any cash. The rub is, though, that ratepayers meet any loss. Read comment from the council’s finance committee chairman here, including $500,000 “is a lot for a flower show”.


Take Rest by H&S Landscape Design of Christchurch, won silver in 2014. Photo: Sandra Simpson


An Aucklander has already, predictably, thrown a hat in the ring. Read more here. The Auckland Flower Show held the first year after Ellerslie headed south ended up a financial disaster and, as the Christchurch council owns the Ellerslie name (the brand) until 2016, the comments may simply be “fishing”.

In the same piece linked to above, Dave Mee, who is chief executive of the events company that runs the garden show, hints that Ellerslie’s contract workers could set up a rival show, even if only to keep themselves employed. Certainly, Kate Hillier, the show’s exhibitions manager and a member of the famous English horticultural family, could presumably run a show standing on her head.

But a thorny problem for the organiser of any show of this size, no matter where it’s held, is the quality of the display gardens. This year’s show was patchy, although the landscapers always seem to think they should have won gold! Much play was made of having English designer Paul Hervey-Brookes there, but with his “dry garden” full of dead tree trunks and branches it was an easy one not to “get”.


The Moment by Paul Hervey-Brooks, won silver distinction at Ellerslie in 2014. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The “wow” moments were great, but the show overall wasn’t a “wow” and with the council trying to claw back cash any way it can, the omens weren’t good.

A gardener passes

Shirley Wright probably knew as much about gardening as she did about farming when she got married in 1957. No matter, she listened, watched and learned and when she died on May 20 she was leaving a life that, despite an unpromising start, turned out to a good one. She was widowed for almost 19 years and was much loved her three children and two grandchildren.

At her funeral she was remembered as someone who had a skill for whatever she turned her hand to – her baking was fondly remembered by many of those present – and although increasing mobility problems kept her out of her large garden, she still took a keen interest in what was being planted and had, almost by way of compensation perhaps, became a keen stitcher of tapestries, almost all of them of flowers.

Stitched by Shirley Simpson, an atypical colour palette for her. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Her casket flowers were as perfect as they could be – gentle pinks and wine colours with an accent of blue. A few years ago she offered me one of her many tapestries, any one I liked. Except, as it turned out, not the one I picked, a large tapestry worked in pinks and blues. That was her favourite, so I had to choose again and picked the one above (and will try to get a photo without so much reflection).

Shirley learned her gardening on the job, as it were, and just as she was getting going was suddenly called on to manage a much bigger and well-established garden. Although she never “taught” me gardening as such (perhaps because I never asked) she offered advice and we had great fun discussing plants and gardens. She was a wonderful garlic grower – our seed stock comes from her and will shortly go in the ground again.

In her day she was also a skilled rose pruner, regularly called on to give demonstrations, and I am truly sorry I no longer have her at the end of a phone for reassurance about that and a myriad of other things.

Mum was just a few weeks shy of her 81st birthday when she died. Last year I promised her a blossom tree a year until the road frontage was planted, possibly 20 trees. Now I think we’ll do them all at once.

All dressed up, likely to be in the early to mid-1960s. Photo: Barrie Simpson