Singapore success

I can’t find evidence that mainstream media have covered the People’s Choice Award won by Kate Hillier (until recently exhibitions manager at the Ellerslie Flower Show) and Dan Rutherford at the Singapore Garden Festival in August, or even that Kiwis were at the show – compare this to the coverage of a certain landscaping All Black (video link) when he and his business partner attended and won gold.

Winter Illusion was entered in the Fantasy Garden section and, according to the festival’s website, “enthralled” visitors with its surprise – a winter garden nestled inside a typical Singaporean garden. At the 2010 Ellerslie show Dan created An Icy Oasis, celebrating the landscape of Antarctica, although struggled to achieve the “slow melt” mentioned in the article and instead struggled with a fast melt.


‘An Icy Oasis’ at the 2010 Ellerslie International Flower Show. Photo: Sandra Simpson

His background in geotechnology and sculpture means Dan’s gardens are always worth seeing and, if you can grab a chat with him, his thinking behind the designs is fascinating. Read an interview about his life and work, including setting up in Singapore.

Another story that may have slipped under the radar is the one about illegal mining of swamp kauri threatening an already fragile native orchid. According to this report much of the population of the fragile Thelymitra ahipara, one of only two native species of sun-orchids, has been wiped out.

And there will be plenty of people who don’t think it matters very much. And yes, that is the same Oravida.

Australia’s plant of the year is … a lavender! Princess Lavender has been some 15 years in the making and is, according to the story, pink. It’s available in New Zealand, try this nursery or this one, or ask at your local garden centre.

Little helpers

Over the winter months and on into spring I have noticed a great many steel-blue ladybirds (Halmus chalybeus) in my garden, particularly on my two new BIG cymbidium orchids. Turns out they’re just what I want to see there.

These ladybirds are native to eastern Australia and were introduced to New Zealand in 1899 and 1905 as a biological control agent. Read more about the insect and its life cycle here. Ruud Kleinpaste says they will be found where their prey – scale insects – are to be found.

Pulling the stem sheaths off the orchid revealed lots of steel-blue ladybirds. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I’ve found numerous ladybirds inside the stem sheaths, where the flower stems join the main stem, on the backs and fronts of the flowers … long may they continue their good work.

A louder buzz

The buzz in our garden just got a bit louder – thanks to the arrival of a bumblebee hive. We’ve had fun watching them pop in and out of the hive and get used to their new surroundings and the Vege Grower is hoping for bumper crops this year, thanks to the extra workers.

And away they go! Photo: Sandra Simpson

The hives have been developed for backyard gardeners and schools as a joint venture between Zonda Beneficials, an Auckland company that specialises in biological controls and pollination, specialist Tauranga seed company Wildflower World and Farmlands.

The hives come with about 50 workers and a queen – enough to pollinate a backyard vege garden – and the hive will last, in favourable conditions, for three to four months. “The key,” Geoff Brunsden of Wildflower World says, “is to make sure they have enough food in your garden so they stay there.” He has put together a mix of 16 wildflower species designed to feed bumblebees for at least three months and keep them close to home.

Unlike honeybee hives that continue from year to year, bumblebee hives are short lived with the queen laying worker bees until just before the hive closes down. Then she will lay only queens, 20 to 30 on average, and these will disperse to start new colonies. “If you’re lucky – and have planted for them – they may stay in your garden,” Geoff says, “but they won’t use the box hive again.”


A bumblebee hard at work inside a hollyhock. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Bumblebees are thought to be more efficient pollinators than honeybees because they:

  • Start earlier and finish later each day
  • Work in all weathers (honeybees don’t like wind or rain)
  • Carry a bigger load of transfer pollen
  • Will visit more flowers per hour than any other pollinator
  • Are extremely efficient in extracting pollen from “hard to access flowers” such as beans and tomatoes
  • Will forage in confined areas, within a small radial area.

Bumblebees are also easy to look after – there’s no honey to collect, the numbers in each hive are much smaller and they aren’t affected by the varroa mite that has devastated honeybee hives.

Step one in preparing to have a backyard box of bumblebees is to sow the wildflower seeds near where the hive is to be located – once the flowers start to bloom the hive can be ordered. Home garden hives cost $60 (plus GST and overnight courier charge) and can be ordered from any Farmlands store. Full instructions on hive placement and maintenance are included.

Geoff suggests that in areas of high rainfall, or prone to heavy downpours, that a cover be placed over the hive (he uses an old beach umbrella). Although the hive is a waxed cardboard, it may deteriorate faster than it should in “monsoon” conditions.

Read more about bumblebee pollination trials in avocado and kiwifruit orchards.

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

Tauranga’s best orchids

I feel totally orchid-ed out after three show days and a set-up day, so as the final word here are the prizewinning blooms. Enjoy (and, in my case, be envious … one day!).

Champion bloom – Cattleya Itsa Blue ‘Blue Moon’ grown by Lee and Roy Neale of Auckland. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Reserve champion – Aerangis hyaloides, a miniature orchid from Madagascar, grown by Helen McDonald of Tauranga. Not only is this orchid tiny, it is all white and difficult to photograph! Photo: Sandra Simpson

Three Orchid Council of New Zealand awards were also made, based on a points system as scored by the day’s judges.

Paphiopedilum Pavarotti, grown by Elizabeth Bailey of Tauranga. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Cattleya Dreamcatcher, grown by Helen McDonald of Tauranga. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Epidendrum (Rose Valley x Pacific Punchbowl) ‘Big Smile’, grown by Lee and Roy Neale of Auckland. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Lee and Roy breed their own short-stemmed Epidendrum orchids. Read more about that here.

Granny’s Delirium 2

A peek into Granny’s parlour, ready for public inspection. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Pictures from the 2014 Tauranga Orchid Show.

Laelia lundii has been attracting attention, not always an easy plant to flower, according to an expert. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Commercial grower Russell Hutton has brought along award-winning Phalaenopsis orchids from Taiwan, not seen before in New Zealand and including a coppery shade. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Mary Parkinson (with a little help from her friends) makes up table decorations and posies for sale. Mary opened one of Tauranga’s first florist’s and has made bouquets for royalty and celebrities, including Liberace! Photo: Sandra Simpson



Granny’s Delirium

Been at the Tauranga Racecourse for most of the day, helping to put together the display for the three-day Tauranga Orchid Society show that opens tomorrow (10am-4pm each day).

Granny’s Orchid Delirium has been devised by the society’s vice-president Conrad Coenen and is a walk through Granny’s parlour then out past her patio, enjoying flowering orchids of all shapes, sizes and colours.

The Welcome sign. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I’ve lifted furniture, cut cloth, held stuff steady (although was unable to manage a staple gun, those things are hard to fire!), unloaded plants from cars, unpacked plants from crates and placed plants in the display under the watchful eye of those more experienced.

Conrad (left), Ute and nutty Bob. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Ute and I became the origami twins, wrapping framework in black cloth to match the in-situ black dividing panels and so creating the walls of the display. I also reckoned we could probably upscale and become the new Christo such was the neatness of our work. Oh, okay, Ute’s work.

Who is this Granny we’re talking about? Well, she’s a widow with a wide circle of friends and a loving family, but she’s kind of lost the plot after being given an orchid in bloom and has definitely caught orchid fever (no known cure).

Conrad and his Granny (left). Photo: Sandra Simpson

To find out more, come along to the Racecourse in Greerton – there are lots of plants for sale so you may find yourself infected by the same bug as Granny.

National Camellia Show results

Bumped into Caroll Anderton at the Spring Fling and she has been kind enough to provide the Western Bay of Plenty results from the National Camellia Show and Convention held in Hastings last month. Eight members competed and seven brought home awards!

There were 870 blooms on display from 108 growers with 15 camellia societies represented, from Whangarei to Dunedin. The 2015 conference will be in New Plymouth.

To see generic photos of these blooms, go to the New Zealand Camellia Society website.

Champion bloom; champion reticulata: Ruta Hagmann, grown by Diane and Harvey Howard of Blenheim.

Caroll Anderton: Os Blumhardt Trophy for 3 Hybrid Blooms, the same: Patricia M Bates. Clark Cup (best japonica seedling). Maire Trophy (best overall seedling – Caroll has yet to name this plant, but it may be one of her last). Certificate for 3 Medium Japonica, the same: Elena Noble. Honours: Patricia M Bates, Elena Noble and Hishi Karaito.

Ailsa James: Berg Trophy for 6 Reticulata, different. Clark Cup (best reticulata seedling). Certificates: 6 Small Japonica, different; 6 Miniature Japonica, different; 3 Medium Japonica different; 3 Variegated, different; 12 Japonica, different; 3 Small Japonica, different. Honours: Jamie.


Camellia Night Rider in the garden of Colleen Ross. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Colleen Ross: B & J Warsaw Trophy: 3 Miniature, different. Certificate: 1 Spray under 35cm: Wirlinga Princess. Honours: Buttons & Bows, Raspberry Glow, Alfrons and Night Rider.

Margaret & Leo Mangos: Durrant Trophy for Yunnan Reticulata: Purple Gown.

Jill Gray: Honours: Japonica Bernice Boddy.

Bill Anderson: Honours: Peggy Burton.

Photos from the Fling

What glorious day it was at Te Puna Quarry Park on Sunday for the second annual Spring Fling – vivid blue sky, sunshine and plants and people galore. When I was going through my photos it seemed as though there were a few useful sub-headings I could use, so here goes …



John Beech, director of November’s Garden and Artfest. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Orchid repotting demos by Barry Curtis are always popular. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Roger Allen grows hydrangeas for the cut-flower market and breeds his own plants. He was also selling protea flowers that went so quickly he had to send for more. Photo: Sandra Simpson



Black Doris plum – from the stall of Brent Tennet. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Brent is the owner of Te Puna Plum Nursery, which specialises in stone fruit. Why can’t we grow apricots here? Because the soil is too rich, Brent told me this morning, and the winters aren’t anywhere near cold enough. Leave apricots to central Otago.


Iris unguicularis on the stand of Bill and Willie Dijk. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Commonly known as the Algerian iris, this little plant flowers in winter. Read more about it here.


A ranuncula in a kokedama hanging made by Coraleigh Parker. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Read more about Coraleigh Parker and kokedama here. Read how to make a moss-covered kokedama here.


Francine Thomas gets emphatic during a floral art demonstration. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Francine’s tea cup and saucer. Photo: Sandra Simpson

See Francine’s website. She’s an enormously talented individual, and a real hoot!


Shona Purves reckons that she made about 200 scones for Devonshire teas last year – I’ll be sure to ask her this week what her estimate is for 2014. The women were busy all day and sometimes had lines of up to 20 people waiting, and no wonder. The scones were fluffy, delicious and fresh from the gallery’s oven … and they had jam and whipped cream on top! What’s not to like?


Lynne Avery (left), baker Shona Purves in the background, and Lois Galbraith. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Update: Shona says that more than 300 scones were baked and sold on the day … and they went through 8 litres of cream, whipped for the crowning glory.


Quarry Park visionary and society patron Shirley Sparks (right) takes a tea break with Pauline McCowan, who brought her red MGBGT along for the day. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Begonias from seed

Well-known Tauranga plantsman John Burton loves his tuberous begonias and has been growing them for many years for a bounteous summer display. In this area tubers can be planted in a good, open-draining potting mix in September and October.


Some of John Burton’s summer display of begonias. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Up to three plants can go into one large basket. The baskets need to be shaded through the middle of the day and sheltered from strong winds. In the past John has put several baskets to hang from a small tree and also fixed them to the walls of a house.

John, who has been involved with plants for nigh on 65 years, advises keeping the baskets moist and feeding with a liquid fertiliser every two weeks during flowering.

“Removing small, single [female] blooms off the flowering stems means larger flowers that will last longer,” he says, adding that mildew is about the only problem that affects begonias.


Beautiful basket begonia being grown indoors at The Esplanade in Palmerston North. Photo: Sandra Simpson

When flowering has finished, the leaves will start to yellow. Gradually reduce watering before drying off the basket.

Remove the tubers and store in a paper bag in a dry, airy place. Before storing, check the tubers for rot and dust with flowers of sulphur to prevent decay over winter. Although tubers will last for several years, they may begin to lose vigour as they age so a good idea is to take cuttings from the new shoots each year. Read more about propagation here.

“They are very rewarding plants for the small amount of effort required to grow them,” John says. “They flower for three to four months over the summer.” He recommends annual lobelia, impatiens, alyssum and fuchsias as plants that combine well with cascade begonias. Read more about growing begonias here (an Auckland-based website). There is a Begonia Circle in Auckland.

Spring Fling

Te Puna Quarry Park volunteers have been getting the place gussied up for Sunday’s Spring Fling – gates open at 10am and if you’re the least bit interested in gardening I would suggest that you bring yourself along. The forecast for Sunday looks good so fingers crossed.

Man at work: Ray Oakly shifts some mulch. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Spring Fling is a chance for gardeners to talk directly to growers, a bit like a farmers’ market. There are more stallholders than last year, plus some garden art on offer. Specialist growers include clivia, topiary, fruit trees, rare bulbs and bearded iris, plus there will be some garden centre retailers there too and Kings Seeds. Four talented people who will be presenting interesting demonstrations that are entirely free (your $2 admission at the gate gets you to all these):

  • Coraleigh Parker will show how to make kokedama
  • The always-popular Francine Thomas and her floral art (Francine was the official New Zealand demonstrator at the recent Floral Art World Cup in Dublin)
  • Roger Allen on pruning
  • Barry Curtis on dividing and repotting orchids.

Geoff Brunsden and a bumblebee hive. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Visitors will also have the chance to chat to Geoff Brunsden about bumblebee hives, Judy Knipmeijer about honeybees and Mary Parkinson about butterflies – and all of them about creating habitat for pollinating insects. Shona Purves and her helpers will again be baking scones for Devonshire teas on site – last year she reckons they baked well over 200 scones through the day, “so we’ve well and truly ironed out any kinks in the process”. The teas are served in the gallery building at the far end of the car park, which is also where visitors will find a display of entries in the competitions for children – sand saucers (up to 20cm in diameter) by youngsters aged up to 7, and miniature gardens (up to 30cm in diameter) from 8 to 13-year-olds. Entry to the competitions is free and there are prizes in both categories. Entries must be delivered to the gallery by midday on Sunday 7.