Long-standing love affair

Colleen Thwaites’ garden at Te Puna is a Garden and Artfest stalwart and much loved by the many visitors it attracts. Full of roses and cottage flowers the garden is testament to Colleen’s skill and knowledge.

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Colleen Thwaites admires the blooms of Uetersen, a winner of the Gold Star of the South Pacific at the NZ Rose Society trial grounds in 1980. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The only time in 56 years when she hasn’t had a rose in her garden was when Colleen realised that she would have to grow them in cages to stop them being destroyed by possums. Fortunately, the family moved from that Ngutunui farm, near Kawhia, to a kiwifruit orchard at Te Puna 40 years ago and Colleen’s roses bloomed again.

“I started showing roses when I lived in Fordell, when I was first married,” Colleen says. “The prizes were always rose bushes – some shows I would bring home eight or nine new plants.”

She moved her roses on to Waikato but quickly admitted defeat. “There was a poison drop on the paddock next to the house – they picked up 700 dead possums in one go. The roses were on a hiding to nothing.”

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Kaimai Sunset, a climbing rose by Rob Somerfield. Photo: Sandra Simpson

With its abundance of flowers, including plenty of cottage favourites such as mignonette, foxgloves and poppies, Siesta Orchard is one of the most popular stops in the biennial Tauranga Garden and Artfest and has been so since the first festival, 18 years ago.

“I grow what I like,” Colleen says. “I’m a great seed saver and I scatter them about. I’m not worried if things come up in funny places.”

Colleen, who had a stroke about five years ago, enjoys roses bred by Rob Somerfield, also of Te Puna, and has a good number. “They do so well, are pretty disease free and nice to look at – I’m delighted with Lemon ‘n Lime which I bought unseen when it was first out.”

About seven years ago she decided that she had enough roses – and was promptly given three Blackberry Nip bushes (a Somerfield rose) for her birthday. “Two years ago I said I’d buy only a couple but ended up with about 10 and have more from cuttings.”

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Fourth of July rose. Photo: Sandra Simpson

It takes about three weeks for Colleen to prune her plants – she needs to be finished by mid-July to have them flowering well at festival time, although this year’s festival is a fortnight later than usual to avoid a clash with Taranaki’s premier event.

Apart from a clean-up spray of copper and Conqueror oil after winter pruning, Colleen doesn’t spray her roses. “I feed the waxeyes all winter and see them working on the aphids in spring. When a plant is growing well and is healthy it doesn’t need spraying.”

Colleen’s  top tips to keep your roses looking their best through summer:

  • Mulch to retain soil moisture, compost is ideal as it also feeds the plant
  • Water regularly and thoroughly
  • Feed little and often
  • Dead-head to encourage repeat flowering.


Flowering now

Here in Tauranga the days are getting warmer (and the weather a tiny bit more settled), the birds are getting cheepier and flowers are flowering all over the place – it must be spring!

Two iris gardens in the Tauranga area are opening for the coming holiday weekend – Meadowland Iris in Meadowland St, Matua in Tauranga and the Amazing Iris Garden, off the main highway south of Katikati. Both have stock bed gardens and plants for sale. Go to the Events page for details.

My patch of Sixteen C bearded irises (bought from Wendy at the Amazing Iris Garden two years ago) are looking great right now. [A 2023 comment from a reader alerts me to the fact that name of this iris should be Sixtene C. spelling error on my tag.]


Sixteen C, a prosaic name for a beautiful bearded iris. Photo: Sandra Simpson

My Pride of Madeira echium is covered in flowers and don’t the honeybees and bumblebees love it? My plant has a biennial clock so this will be its last year of flowering, but there’s already one seedling coming away underneath it. The poor thing has been a bit mystified by our, mostly, mild winter and has had a few flowers on it right through the past year.

The plant I have is a descendant of one from childhood home, a link that’s dear to me. When I was a kid I called these plants “bee flowers” so noticeable an attractant were they.


A honeybee enjoys a Pride of Madeira flower. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The small wildflower patch outside my kitchen door is looking lovely, although someone forgot to tell Nature that orange (California poppy) and red (other poppies) don’t go together – she’s flung them side by side and, guess what, it all works!


Every spring garden should feature silken-petalled poppies. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The display table at the Tauranga Orchid Society meeting this week was groaning as members showed off their plants in bloom. There are orchids for every season but spring is a blooming marvellous time.


Coelogyne cristata alba, perfectly white. Photo: Sandra Simpson

When I bought this Coelogyne cristata (say something like so-lodge-knee) at the Te Puke auction last year, I hoped it would be the form that has a splash of yellow down its throat, but it turned out to be “alba” or pure white. However, at the meeting this week there was a small “lemoniana” on the sales table. Yes. These orchids are best grown in baskets so the hanging cascades of flowers can be seen to the best advantage.


Sarcochilus Cherie x Starstruck. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Another family of orchids flowering now are Sarcochilus, many of then native to Australia and which come is a surprisingly wide colour range (including a definite brown), and although you’ll see plenty of white ones look more closely because many of them have different-coloured “eyes”.

The plant pictured above has 11 flower spikes, each with multiple flowers per stem, which is the best it has yet done for me. Each flower is about the size of the ball of my thumb, and some types have smaller flowers than that.

One enchanted evening


Lynda Hallinan enchanted an enthusiastic crowd at Growing Pains in the Tauranga Art Gallery last night – making them laugh with her musings on the best garden tool (a handyman-type husband) and sending several people to their notebooks and phones as she recommended plants and gardening solutions, including:

  • Orlaya grandiflora, the type of plant she says, that people only grow if it’s recommended to them. “You wouldn’t buy it if you saw it in the garden centre, but the bees and the hoverflies love it.”
  • Use aspirin for tomato blight (no, don’t take it, apply it to the plants). Read more here.
  • Only use fresh horse manure if you are completely sure you know what the horse has eaten – for instance, if the animal has recently been given de-worming tablets, the manure will kill earthworms too. Better to compost it for a year.

Lynda Hallinan. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Lynda, who has been a garden writer for 20 years, is a bubbly personality and fun speaker and she had the audience in the palm of her hand as she recounted some of the growing pains she’s had upsizing from a suburban section to a much – much – larger country garden.

The evening was a fundraiser for the Sydenham Botanic Park project and advisory group chairman Brian Hodge opened the evening by talking about the history of the site and future plans. Thanks so much to sponsors GardenPost, Palmers Bethlehem and incredible edibles for making Growing Pains possible.

There were giveaways too, in the form of vouchers for berry plants courtesy of incredible edibles and NZ Gardener magazines, courtesy of Lynda. There were also two great raffles on offer so there were some very happy winners at the end of the evening.


A section of the crowd at the event. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Lynda brought her gardener Fiona Henderson with her and the pair had had some shopping fun in Paeroa on the way south. Not so much fun was discovering a flat tyre as they prepared to leave for home after dinner.

Help was at hand in the form of Geoff Brunsden and Keith Frentz who not only figured out where the spare was kept (under the vehicle) but managed to work out how to free it. That it required them both to roll around on the ground under the jacked-up ute and stretch their problem-solving skills to the max seems to suggest someone at Nissan got a little bored one day. Unfortunately, there are no photos of the knights in shining armour at work as both phones were busy being used as flashlights!

  • Lynda is presenting a new series of Get Growing, which first screens on Choice TV at 7.30pm on Fridays. Next week’s programme (October 24) features Geoff Brunsden talking about wildflowers. The episodes re-screen at various times.

The organisers of Growing Pains would also like to thank Tui Garden Products, Scullys Skin-care Products, Penguin Books NZ and Pak ‘n Save Tauranga for their donations to the raffle prizes.

Postcard from Bali

Rice terraces at Jatiluwih. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The rice terraces at Jatiluwih in Bali, or more properly the subak irrigation system that waters them, are a Unesco World Heritage Site and an interesting place to visit (Lonely Planet rates the area as one of the “top 20 experiences” in Bali). The terraces have been on the hillsides for at least 1000 years and the intricate method of irrigation that runs water from one terrace to the next for just as long.

Ari, our driver and guide (top bloke, do hire him if you’re in Bali and wanting a driver) told us that white rice can be planted at any time in Bali and has a 3-month growing cycle, producing about three harvests a year. The local “red rice” has a longer cycle – read more about this species plant here (and discover that dragonflies are an effective rat deterrent!).

Youngsters have fun in an irrigation channel. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A street banner in Ubud, waiting to be raised for a Hindu procession – note the dried ears of rice used as decoration. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Unfortunately, the rice farmers of Jatiluwih aren’t benefiting from the tourism or the Unesco listing. We paid for a “ticket” to enter the area but apparently the money doesn’t stay there. We were told that Bali is seeking a “special autonomy” with Indonesia, partly because of the annoyance that tourism cash largely ends up in Jakarta.

Jatiluwih is some 700m above sea level and so relatively cool even during the hottest months.

In his book Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History, Bill Laws notes that “padi” (or paddy) is a Malay word that simply means “rice”. The paddy system of growing probably originated in China, he says, although those in South Korea are among the world’s oldest.

Catching up with Lynda

Lynda Hallinan hasn’t got much time to talk – a TV crew is coming and she’s got weeds that need pulling.

The well-known garden writer is presenting segments for a new series of Get Growing that will start screening on Choice TV on Friday, October 17, coincidentally the evening she’s speaking at a fundraising event in Tauranga.

“People might be able to get home in time to see me on the telly,” she laughs, “if they haven’t already had enough of me.”

In previous series Lynda has hosted the show, teaching people new to vege gardening but this time that role is taken on by Justin Newcombe while Lynda will talk about seasonal work.

“New gardeners tend to get overwhelmed – choosing a fertiliser at the garden centre shouldn’t be hard. So my advice is to relax and not overthink things.

“Sure, mistakes will be made but a garden is made as much by the mistakes and the successes. And in case anyone thinks I’m some sort of superior gardener, all I can say is that I’m still killing things, lots of them.”

She suggests that mastering the basics will save new gardeners money and be a good learning process – growing from seed, taking cuttings for new plants – and that one of the most important attributes a gardener can have (“and I don’t”) is patience.


Lynda Hallinan. Photo: Supplied


Moving to the Hunua countryside and a 22ha “patch” in 2010 after living in suburban Auckland, everything seemed to happen at once. She had only just moved to her fiance’s home when she:

  • Lost all her possessions, including her collection of gardening books, in a shed fire
  • Then, to her great delight, she discovered she was pregnant
  • The couple decided to stick to the February date they had chosen for their wedding, partly because they needed to build the garden to be married in
  • And Jason, who’s a dab hand with a digger, broke his Achilles tendon, twice, during the work.

Lynda wrote a book about her first year back in the country (she was raised in north Waikato) and Back to the Land is a year-long month by month account of the much-loved flower garden she began in 2011, her regular spot at a farmers’ market and the preserves, pickles and various beverages, including cider and beer, that spring from her produce.

Lynda’s interest in veges and fruit stemmed entirely from a wild New Year’s resolution made in 2007 – she would live off the produce of her 733 square metre Auckland section for the year, with only $10 a week allowed for groceries.

“I think the champagne might have had something to do with it but it was a fun year and I learned heaps, including how to barter, although it was a bit touch and go sometimes too.”

This year she’s photographing a food crop and a flower every day, is preparing her garden to again open to the public – and doesn’t for a moment miss the overseas travel to garden shows, her high heels and handbags or even the Big Smoke’s night-life.

“I’m a gumboots girl now,” she laughs. “A Swanni on a cold day, good garden tools and some beautiful flowers are all I really want.”

Flowering now

Just before I went on holiday I spied the blue buds of happiness on my Chatham Island forget-me-not … and when I came back, there were flowers! I’ve had my Myosotidium hortensia for 2 years and was originally given 4 seedlings by Kay Garner whose husband is Murray Garner, the ace potter. Two karked it straight away, one held on but didn’t grow and finally it too died. But the one seedling that did transplant has done well and this past winter looked great with its big, glossy leaves held up off the ground.


One of the three flowers on the plant. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Gordon Collier is leading a tour to the Chatham Islands from October 16-23, especially to see the forget-me-nots in flower. There’s another tour from October 23-30 but without the services of the renowned plantsman.

Another first for me are the two flowers on Aloe plicatilis (fan aloe) that I’ve had for a couple of years, bought in the sale when Bonnie sold Pacifica garden centre (which is to change hands again soon, I believe).


Aloe plicatilis. Photo: Sandra Simpson

In her handy book, Succulents, Vonnie Cave records that in 1695 Henrik Oldenland, superintendent of the Dutch East India Company Garden in Capetown, named this plant (deep breath) … Aloe african arborescens montana non spinosa, longissimo, plicatili, flore rubra! Which kind of tells us everything we need to know – it’s not spiny, it has reddish flowers, etc – but would be impossible to remember.

My little wildflower patch has re-established itself with sweet William and California poppies already flowering. But some of the seeds have also blown into the bed next door and that’s where this pretty group of Linaria marrocana (dwarf toadflax) was photographed.


Photo: Sandra Simpson

Local garden news

Been away for 2 weeks (a postcard arriving shortly) so thought I would catch us all up on some local garden news.

1: Tickets are selling quickly for Lynda Hallinan’s Growing Pains in Tauranga on Friday, October 17. They are now available only from Palmer’s in Bethlehem, $15 each and with all proceeds benefiting the Sydenham Botanic Park project. The event is at 5.30pm in the Tauranga Art Gallery and features a couple of really good raffles and some spot prizes.

2: Tauranga City Council discovers it is responsible for the dying Norfolk Island pines along Pilot Bay and Marine Parade in Mount Maunganui! Independent arborists reckon it is the spray council contractors use to combat Onehunga weed (prickle weed) cause, you know, you wouldn’t want anyone going barefoot to complain about having a few prickles in their feet from crossing a public area. Sheesh, prickles in my feet as a child was part of summer.

3: Liz and Geoff Brunsden of Wildflower World and GardenPost are leading a small-group Gardens of Britain tour next year – leaving June 12 for 13 days. The trip takes in the marvellous RHS Wisley garden, the renowned Breezy Knees garden in Yorkshire, the David Austin rose garden in Shropshire and Hidcote Manor in the Cotswolds.

For more information about the trip, see the Flora Tours website.

4: The latest community garden to spring up in the Western Bay of Plenty is outside the Experience Comvita visitor centre in Paengaroa (south of Te Puke on SH33). The garden provides produce to the Comvita café, as well as to the 14 volunteers who have helped set it up. The garden includes a bug hotel, worm farm and a berry garden with Comvita donating the land and building of the raised beds.

Read more at the Paengaroa Community Garden Facebook page.

Postcard from Dubai

Patrick Blanc’s green wall in the Sofitel Palm Hotel, Dubai. Photo: Supplied

A regular reader has sent in a photo of a green wall by the founder of the green wall movement Patrick Blanc of France. In fact, this is only one section of the green wall or “vertical garden” which is inside the Sofitel Palm Hotel in Jumeirah, Dubai (the land reclaimed in the shape of a palm tree). Click here to see more pictures of the garden, including detail of some of the plants.

The reader who has supplied the photo was staying in the hotel and says there wasn’t a great deal of colour in it at the time, a few anthuriums in flower were the only bright spots. Read a 2011 article about the “transformative” work of Patrick Blanc (who dyes his hair green!) here. M. Blanc also works at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, specialising in tropical plants and trekking the world plant hunting – in 2011 he discovered a new begonia in the Philippines (Begonia blancii).

And here’s a 2012 photo of the “palm” just to give an idea of what money can do. The building at the top of the palm ring is a hotel, but not the Sofitel. The buildings on the fronds are private homes.

Photo: Dubai Wingsuit Flying Trip by Richard Schneider, uploaded by FAEP via Wikimedia Commons.