The uplanned garden

Went to the garden centre for lunch; came home from the garden centre with a plant. Didn’t mean to, it sort of just happened … and although I had pictured where it might go, when I got there it was all wrong.

So the pot of Phylica plumosa Golden Plume will do the magic dance round the garden until it looks right … although the Vege Grower has started talking about rearranging, moving and removing, and extending!


Phylica plumosa Golden Plume, with the tag still on. Photo: Sandra Simpson

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years it’s that garden changes go better with a plan! And not just one sketched on a serviette while having lunch. So when we got home we paced things out, waved our arms around, sparked ideas off one another … uh, oh.

Anyway, back to Golden Plume – it is native to the Cape Town area in South Africa, flowers in late winter, grows in full sun and will take a light trim after flowering. The Liddle Wonder website says it can be short-lived (not on the tag)!

I liked the softness of the flowers and foliage, just asking to be touched, so the texture will be something to consider when finally digging a hole for it. This specialist website notes that the sun shining through the “hairs” makes the bush glow, so that’s quite a particular thought to keep in mind as regards siting. Phylica plumosa is smaller than the related P. pubescens.

One of the things that may be moved is Spiraea cantoniensis Flora Plena, a variety of mayflower, that has really come into its own this year – lots of arching stems and lots of delicate white flowers, which kind of indicates it’s in the right place. Read more about the may family on this South African website or on this Sydney-based site.


Spiraea cantoniensis Flora Plena is flowering well in my garden this year. Photo: Sandra Simpson

When I was in Japan in 2012 I was rather taken with the shrub pictured below – just smothered in flowers. It’s known as snow willow in Japan (yuki yanagi or Spiraea thunbergii) and can be grown as a hedge. Whereas the flowers on my S. cantoniensis Flora Plena are in small clusters, each of the flowers on S. thunbergii is an individual bloom a bit like a flat plum blossom.]


Businessmen walk past a snow willow bush in the Chidorigafuchi area of Tokyo. Photo: Sandra Simpson

In other news from my garden, the much mistreated azalea that I moved from the back yard to the new front garden is flowering! The poor thing had been so overgrown where it was that it flowered poorly but this year it has a number of pretty, pink blooms.

Los Angeles palms

A 2010 photo showing LA’s oldest Washingtonia robusta, planted in about 1875. Located on what was Palm Avenue at Adams Boulevard. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Close your eyes and picture Los Angeles – chances are you’ll be imagining something like the image above. I know I was when I visited LA last year, but not knowing the name of the tall, slender palms I mentally nick-named them Hollywood palms (because Hollywood is Los Angeles, right?).

Thanks to this informative webpage by Nathan Masters, I can now identify them as Mexican fan palms (Washingtonia robusta), mass planted in the 1930s both as a beautification project for the Los Angeles Olympics of 1932 and as a work scheme during the Depression, although many are older than that.

As close as I got to Hollywood – Washingtonia robusta in the Disney California park at Anaheim. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Geoff Stein on the Dave’s Garden site says he can’t think of another palm that is as easy to grow and as hardy as W. robusta (and that sometimes stopping them from growing is a gardener’s biggest problem). Geoff also mentions some of the other palms that are widely grown in southern California.

Washingtonia filifera is the only palm native to the western United States and has several common names including California fan palm and petticoat palm (because of the way the old fronds hang down the trunk). These are also grown as street trees but, as Geoff points out, they have thicker trunks than W. robusta (although, interestingly, he puts the case for them not being two separate plants, while also muddying the nomenclature waters is the hybrid of the two, the so-called W. filabusta).

In an interview by Nathan Masters with author Jared Farmer, we learn that in the 19th century California’s preferred tree for public planting was the pepper tree (Schinus molle), but in the early 20th century the majority were removed because they housed a scale that threatened the citrus industry. The first avenue of Mexican fan palms in Los Angeles was planted in the 1870s, although there have been many different types of palm used as street plantings throughout southern California.

An avenue of Phoenix dactylifera (date palm) in Anaheim. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Surprisingly, today’s vision of tall, stately palms wasn’t intended. “In the wild, California and Mexican fan palms grow from 40 to 60 feet [12-18m] tall,” says Don Hodel, horticulture advisor for the University of California system and author of Exceptional Trees of Los Angeles (California Arboretum Foundation) and quoted in the LA Times. By contrast, their city cousins have shot up to between 100 and 150 feet tall [30-45m].

In 2006 Washingtonia robusta were deemed by city councillors to provide no street amenity (shade) and to be too water-hungry for dry southern California and so were not to be replanted as they came to the end of their natural lives – although exemptions were given to Hollywood and Sunset boulevards. The story from the Los Angeles Times also notes that deep-pocketed palm buyers in Las Vegas have pushed prices too high for LA councils.

With citrus now largely gone and the palms reaching the end of their lives what will be next for the City of Dreams? Apparently, councils are considering jacaranda, native oaks and ficus. Read my earlier piece on jacaranda trees.

In an erudite (and long) article from this year’s Los Angeles Review of Books, Victoria Dailey, in Piety and Perversity: The Palms of Los Angeles, claims the palms make her feel “queasy” and are a cliché.

A Disney Plaza planting of the Canary Island palm, Phoenix canariensis. Photo: Sandra Simpson

But when choosing trees to line Grand Avenue opposite the Walt Disney Concert Hall in central LA, well-known landscape architect Nancy Goslee Power used  the Mexican fan palm. To her mind, it had the grace, the elan, and, most important, the resonance. “They’re ours,” she says in the LA Times article. “They’re California.”

The Times story also answers a question for me – when I read that my “Hollywood palms” were Washingtonia robusta, I was surprised but, as it turns out, it’s all in the way the fronds are removed.

“The way its trunk is trimmed can make it look like two different plants. Palms with cross-hatching on the trunk still bear the stems. Skinned palms look more like elephant legs.” I had been associating the cross-hatching effect as “normal” for W. robusta as that tends to be how gardeners in New Zealand deal with the old fronds.

Phoenix reclinata (Senegal date palm) pictured in Tomorrowland. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Update September 2017: This Guardian report says the palm trees in Los Angeles are dying – falling victim to a beetle and/or a fungus – and won’t be replaced. City authorities plan to replant with shade trees that are less thirsty.

Roses are, er, green

While chatting to rose breeder Rob Somerfield at the weekend I mentioned seeing his “green” rose in the NZ Rose Society trial grounds in Palmerston North early this year. Yes, he said, he had created a green rose – and it had only taken him 23 years to get there!

Last year a regional conference of the World Federation of Rose Societies was held in Palmerston North and naturally enough included a visit to the trial grounds. Rob’s green rose, with the breeding name Sompounamu, won the People’s Choice award as voted by conference delegates.

rose-somerfield5 - Copy

The as-yet unnamed green rose bred by Rob Somerfield. The plant was photographed towards the end of its second flowering in pretty arid conditions. I’m publishing it because it gives an indication of colour. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“Lime buds open to lime-green blooms which deepen in colour as the blooms age. Small to medium grower with matt green foliage,” the trial grounds webpage says. “To be released in the near future.” Rob adds that it’s a good picking rose.

He is holding back a New Zealand release because he’s working towards a release in the United States, a market whose PVR rules demand it be there first “but it’s hard sitting on it”, he says.

thwaites-lemon'nlime2 - Copy

Lemon ‘n Lime. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The new plant is one of the parents of Lemon ‘n Lime, a yellow-green that won the Rose of the Year title for Rob at the Hamilton rose trials in 2011.

Meanwhile, look out for his new Little Miss Perfect in garden centres in November. “It grows very small but flowers like a floribunda – it’s a real patio rose that has large flowers.” Rob trades as Glenavon Roses.

rosachinensisviridifolia - Copy

Rosa chinensis viridiflora. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Rosa chinensis viridiflora is commonly called the green rose and has been sold commercially in England since 1856, although is thought to have been in cultivation for maybe 100 years before that. The unusual little blooms are made of sepals rather than petals which means no pollen and no hips (so no hybridising). Read more here.

You may see images online of emerald-green roses, perfect blooms. There are also step-by-step instructions available on how to “create” such a bloom, which generally means standing the cut stem of a white rose in a container of green-coloured liquid!

Spring is springing

Despite a cold snap arriving today, we’ve had a very mild winter and Nature is beginning to throw off her blankets of hibernation. Here are some photos that I hope will get your sap rising and excited about the garden again.

A tui gets serious about feeding in a Prunus campanulata. Photo: Sandra Simpson

They may be weedy in our warm climate, but the early flowering Prunus campanulata make spirits soar with their bright colour and branches full of nectar-feeding birds. One of the main roads in Tauranga has a stretch of P. campanulata as street trees but with their habit of spreading through the landscape, as they come to the end of their lives, they are being replaced with other types of tree. 

I understand that P. campanulata Pink Cloud, bred by the late Felix Jury, is a sterile form (but not as vivid), while P. campanulata Felix Jury and Mimosa are also sterile with the former a brighter colour. Read an informative article about P. campanulata in New Zealand here.

Speaking of Felix Jury and red flowers, here’s a picture of his hybrid Magnolia Vulcan, a real stunner if you have room for it.

Magnolia Vulcan. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Magnolia doltsopa, also known as Michelia doltsopa or sweet michelia, has its leaves on when it flowers but you’d hardly know, so covered in sweet-scented white flowers is it. We have a large tree on a verge near our home and I always wonder how safe the traffic is as it’s so eye-catching.

Perhaps in homage, the council is planting a nearby street with M doltsopa.

Magnolia doltsopa. Photo: Sandra Simpson

M. doltsopa Silver Cloud came out of Duncan and Davies in the 1950s or 60s. The Magnolia Grove website has information about New Zealand-made magnolia hybrids. Magnolia Grove has released the Genie (2011) and Cameo (2013) hybrids, with Genie surviving -24C in Hungary!

Curious plants: Cook’s pine

Although the tree as a whole is interesting, the first thing I want to mention about Araucaria columnaris is its cones.

The male cones on a Cook’s pine. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I spotted the bronze-coloured cones on a young tree in a Western Bay of Plenty garden last week and was introduced by the owner to some of that “isn’t Nature grand” information. The Cook’s pine carries only male cones (elongated) on its lower branches and only female cones (round) on its top branches – he bounced a couple of the lower branches and the fine, sulphur-coloured pollen come away in a cloud. Thanks to the placement of the cones, Nature ensures that this pollen doesn’t pollinate the tree it’s come from but is carried by the wind to the tree next door.

I have seen online references to Cook pines (named for the great English navigator James Cook) coming from the Cook Islands (also named for James). But this is incorrect. Araucaria columnaris are native to New Caledonia and gave Isle des Pins its name – incidentally, there they grow on coral substrate and are sometimes known as coral pine. They have also naturalised on the Hawaiian islands.

Cook pines grow very tall – some 60m –  but cultivated trees usually don’t grow very straight. The one I saw was at an almost 45-degree angle from the ground, despite the owner doing his best to pull it back to true.

The round female cones at the top of the tree. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The owner, who is very knowledgeable about this family of trees, says some people  believe Araucaria columnaris have a season for cones, pollen and seeds – but his experience is that the trees have cones, and so seeds, at any time of the year and are not necessarily in synch with one another.

They were some of the first trees on the planet and, as such, have some simple habits – such as not flowering. They are also one of the few conifers native to the southern hemisphere.

When Cook pines are young they can easily be mistaken for Norfolk Island pines (Araucaria heterophylla).

Read much more about the Araucaria and their close relatives the Agathis (kauri) families here and here (lots of photos with this one).

Cook’s pines growing in New Caledonia. Photo: my LifeShow, via wikimedia commons

Birds, etc

This year’s Garden Bird Survey indicates that waxeyes (silvereyes) are disappearing – the numbers recorded well down on last year and in fact the lowest recorded since the surveys began in 2007.


A waxeye feeds in a persimmon tree. Photo: Sandra Simpson

But before we get too worried, the Landcare survey blog says several survey participants suggested the fall in numbers may be because the early winter has been mild, and birds have not come into gardens in search of food as much as they would when conditions are harsher.

The house sparrow was by far the most numerous species counted this year (average 13.2 per garden) but its overall numbers were also down on last year.

Sam van Aken is an American artist who has grafted 40+ different heritage stone fruit on to the one tree – not sure if this shot on his website is faked/enhanced but it’s stunning. He’s also given a Tedx talk about the project – the Tree of 40 Fruit (5 minutes 17).

Plantes pour Jardins Secs (plants for dry gardens) is a garden and nursery in the Languedoc region of south-west France. Simply dazzling. Read an article about it here.

Some photos from the International Garden Festival at Grand-Metis in Quebec province, Canada, open until September 28. Not so much gardens as conceptual installation art! More information about the gardens and their creators from the official website.


Wildflowers on a verge in the countryside north of Tauranga. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Ever fancied being a guerrilla gardener? Well, going along with the military-type terminology, here’s a YouTube video on how to make seed bombs (6 minutes 52), which can be lobbed into areas where you’d like to see something growing – the clay protects the seeds from birds but dissolves in rain.

Guerrilla gardening takes place in urban centres all over the world – here’s a website by Richard Reynolds who started in London 10 years ago, and here’s an article about a visit he made to New Zealand last year.

Curious plants: Buddha’s hand

The somewhat ugly Buddha’s hand (the oldest-known citrus in cultivation) has very little pulp, and no seeds, but instead is almost all rind (lots of zest!). However, one of its main appeals is its perfume. Native to northeastern India (or China), the fruit of Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis has been used for centuries to perfume rooms and clothing.

Although we in the West regard Buddha’s hand as a single variety, in China there are at least a dozen named varieties. In China and Japan the fruit are also popular as temple offerings and in China the fruit represents a wish for a long and healthy life.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

Despite the fruit needing to be cleaned and buffed by hand, it is commercially grown in California, albeit in a small way – in 2008 there was at least 10ha but in the 1980s virtually no commercial plantings. Read more here. It is believed the tree was introduced to the state from Japan in the 19th century.

I’ve come across it a couple of times in Tauranga area gardens mostly grown as a talking point.

Here are five suggestions on what to do with the fruit and here are a few more (both include recipes that emphasise its flavouring possibilities). One grower in California says it’s an ideal plant for the front garden – no one knows what to do with it so passersby don’t pick it! Read an LA Times profile of Buddha’s hand here.

The tree likes to be frost free, doesn’t like to dry out in summer or be too hot and prefers well-draining soil. I’ve seen it described as a “Goldilocks” plant. It can be grown as a patio plant in a pot.

For New Zealand readers Waimea Nurseries, Wairere Nursery and Fronds stock this show-stopping citrus.

Tree climbing results

Kiwis can climb trees! The aptly named Scott Forrest of Kawerau is the new men’s world champion tree climber – at the weekend in Wisconsin regaining the title he won last year and which he also won in 2011.

Nicky Ward Allan of Eltham, who was also defending a world title from last year, was third in the women’s climb-off, while she and James Kilpatrick of Tauranga won the teams title. The 2014 women’s world champion is Josephine Hedger of the British Isles (the UK and Ireland are one “chapter”), who has previously held the title in 2008 and 2010.

See all the results here.

Kitchen sink remedies

Gardeners are always looking for simple ways to treat problems so here are a couple that you might like to try.

1: Petal blight is a constant source of frustration for people who love camellias. I’ve written about the problem before but at the camellia show in Tauranga at the weekend heard of a “remedy” that may be worth trying.

Sprinkle soap powder (laundry powder) underneath the camellia, the theory being that it kills the fungus (Ciborinia camelliae) before it can release its spores (upwards) to continue its life cycle on the flowers (which take it back down to the soil when they drop).

Petal blight on a camellia. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Long-time camellia grower and breeder Ailsa James believes it’s worth a try, although notes that if your neighbours have infected plants it will keep blowing over the fence. She has also heard that there is an onion fertiliser in Germany that kills the fungus but  it’s not available in New Zealand.

2: Once you’ve pruned your roses this year, mix up one-quarter of a teaspoon of Condy’s Crystals (potassium permanganate) to a litre of water and spray the branches and surrounding soil – the idea being that this is a mild steriliser. You can also spray the foliage when it emerges. Wally Richards has written extensively on its use, not just for roses but in cases of brassica club foot too (a stronger mix is suggested for that).

Please note that this mixture will be very purple and may stain clothes (it did come off my hands, where it had turned brown, after a few washes).

Kiwis climb trees!

James Kilpatrick of Tauranga is representing New Zealand this weekend (August 2 and 3) at the International Tree Climbing Championship in Wisconsin, along with Nicky Ward-Allen, of Eltham, who is defending her world title. All the competitors are members of the International Society of Arboriculture, practise tree safety and have won their national or regional titles to qualify for the international event.

The competition is made up of five separate disciplines which give competitors a cumulative score. The top tree climbers then compete in a climb-off up a challenging tree to decide final placings.

Kiwis have a good recent record in the event with Scott Forrest (his real name!) from Kawerau and Nicky winning last year and Scott and Chrissy Spence of Waikato winning both titles in 2011. Chrissy also won the championship in 2007 and 2005 with Elena O’Neill taking the title in 2006.

Interestingly, according to this 2011 story, Chrissy became interested in the sport first and then became an aborist.

Here’s a 2012 article about James when he returned from that year’s world champs.

So, along with all our other proud sporting traditions, we can add tree climbing!

And, as a by the way, Mark Roberts of Dunedin is president-elect of the ISA. Mark is  academic director for Thoughtplanters, a green industry training company providing  theory and practical training in advanced technical skills, supervision, and leadership.