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.


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