Willow pattern

Hunting through some photos today and I came across a set taken in Christchurch in February. It was a momentous time to be in the city – our baby was leaving home to begin university and it was the third anniversary of the earthquake that killed 185 people with visible reminders of that terrible day all around in the form of broken buildings.

Strolling by the Avon River one morning, I noticed the way the sunlight was outlining the weeping willow fronds and paused to take a photo. Just as I was lining up the shot a punt came under the bridge and into view. Perfect.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

And if I hadn’t moved closer for the shot, I wouldn’t have seen the plaque that explained the history of the riverbank willows, which are Salix babylonica or one of its many hybrids.

The planting commemorates Francois Le Lievre who came to New Zealand on the French whaling ship Le Nil in 1838, returning in August 1840 on the Comte de Paris as  part of the attempt to create a French colony at Akaroa on Banks Peninsula.

The plaque is unclear as to when the planting took place, but says that “after landing” in Akaroa Francois planted weeping willow cuttings taken from the grave of Napoleon on the south Atlantic island of St Helena.

An illustration of the grave site on St Helena by JC Mellis. Note the willow. Image: Wikimedia Commons

“There is strong evidence to suggest that the first willows planted on the banks of the Avon River grew from cuttings taken from those trees,” the plaque says. It was erected by the Christchurch City Council and Marie Emily Le Lievre of Akaroa, the great-great granddaughter of Francois, in 2001.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

After I’d taken the photos a passerby came over and said, “it’s nice to see something beautiful, isn’t it?”. We noticed that strangers often spoke to us in Christchurch, and always to say something positive. It’s a wonderful trait to have developed when it must have been so tempting to do otherwise.

Winners, various

Pacific Rose Bowl Festival, Hamilton

Love Heart by Rob Somerfield. It was photographed in the rain, but it actually much redder in person. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Rose of the Year: Love Heart by Rob Somerfield, Te Puna (entered by Glenavon Roses, Te Puna), red.
Best Floribunda: Little Miss Perfect by Rob Somerfield, coral.
Best Climber: Love Knot by Chris Warner, UK (Tasman Bay Roses), red.
Most Fragrant: Loving Care by Mike Athy, Gisborne (D&S Nurseries, Takapau), purple.
Children’s Choice: Picotee by Rob Somerfield, pink and white.

Rob took the Rose of the Year award last year with Wild Cherry.

Despite the rain on Rose Bowl Saturday, Rob Somerfield was out in Hamilton Gardens looking at blooms. Photo: Sandra Simpson

 NZ Rose Society National Spring Show, Hamilton

Champion of Champions: Solitaire, grown by J Barnett, Waikato Rose Society.
Champion Decorative Bloom: Joan Monica, C Lovett, Waikato.
Champion Exhibition Bloom: Solitaire, J Barnett.
Champion Full Open Bloom: Paddy Stephens, J Lusty, Matamata.
Champion Small Stem: Raspberry Ice, J Walker, Northland.
Champion Large Stem: Playboy, M & M Brown, Canterbury.
Champion Display Vase: Silky Mist, V Forshaw, Northland.
Best Exhibit in Section 4: D & H White, Northland.

The Champion Vase – Silky Mist grown by V Forshaw of the Northland Rose Society. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Miniature Roses:
Champion of Champions: Chelsea Belle, J Walker, Northland.
Champion Decorative Bloom: Chelsea Belle, D & H White, Northland.
Champion Exhibition Bloom: Stephanie, J Walker, Northland.
Champion Full Open Bloom: Amore, S Gare, Waikato.
Champion Small Stem: Chelsea Belle, J Walker, Northland.
Champion Large Stem: Sweet Dream, J Walker, Northland.
Champion Display Vase: Little Jackie, S Gare, Waikato.

Thanks to Hayden Foulds of the NZ Rose Society for the Rose Bowl and National Show results.

Bay of Plenty Floral Designer of the Year

Designer of the Year: Francine Thomas 1 (Tauranga), Pat Nairn 2 (Tauranga), Berwyn Pollard (Te Puke) 3. Francine now goes on to contest the national Designer of the Year title in March in Rotorua.
Other design categories: Stumped (Natalie Meredith 1), Celebrate the Season, novice (Janice Downer 1), Rustic Romance (Natalie Meredith 1).

Natalie Meredith’s interpretation of the Rustic Romance theme – each designer was given a set of three wooden boxes that had to be used in the final work. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Find contact information for a Floral Art Society club in your area.

Gardens and more gardens

Felt like I might have been running out of steam today, but still managed the “just one more” approach. The Garden and Art Festival draws to a close at 3pm tomorrow – there are exhibitions at several sites (including Graham Crow’s marvellous paper hydrangea installation at Gallery 59 in Ninth Ave), the Hub and the garden trails. And that will be it for another 2 years …


Wood and gravel combine to make a transition between asphalt and lawn in this city garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Another version, this time linking the paths and the beds in the Spiers’ garden at Tauriko. Photo: Sandra Simpson


A striking colour combination – the sweet William was actually almost black, while the maple was a deep wine colour. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Visitors try out the bath seat in a new area at the Marsh garden in Te Puna. Photo: Sandra Simpson


The swimming pool and its rock surround in the Marsh garden attracts a lot of attention, one visitor today saying he’d never seen anything like it in a private home. (The penguins, by the way, aren’t real!) Photo: Sandra Simpson


There’s also water in the van Deventer garden – a water-lily pond (with flowering lilies) that’s tucked away from the main house. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Paulien van Deventer says there were three Cycas revoluta (sago palm) in the garden when she moved in, now there are about 2 dozen scattered through the large garden, all descended from those first plants. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Paulien van Deventer and husband Hans regularly remove yellowing fronds from their cycads and Paulien assures me they grow back. “It seems if they flower or cone they lose their fronds; they can’t do both at once,” she says.

Here’s an informative article of growing various kinds of cycads, including the sago palm.


The Suspended Forest installation of kokedama has been attracting plenty of interest at the Hub. Photo Sandra Simpson

The Suspended Forest has been made by Coraleigh Parker of Pickled Whimsy and looks spectacular. However, I suspect many of the plants she’s used wouldn’t be suitable for growing like this long term – most orchids, for instance, need to dry out between waterings and are epiphytes so having their roots enclosed in a peat ball which in turn is wrapped in sphagnum moss wouldn’t be conducive to their health. As for the trees … a whimsy indeed.

Here’s a how-to for kokedama and another.

Three winners

Got in a few Te Puna-Plummer’s Point gardens today then back to the Garden and Art Festival Hub at The Lakes for lunch (a 20-minute queue), a couple of speakers and a look around the installations there. Free shuttle buses are running from central Tauranga to the Hub and back. And on the way I met some winners. The undoubted star of the Hub is Francine Thomas – not only did she fill the Speaker tent today for her demonstration but she’s also put together a huge display in the floral art tent called The Pavilion Garden and won the Bay of Plenty Floral Art Designer of the Year title in the adjoining show.


Detail from the winning entry by Francine Thomas – Bay of Plenty Floral Art Designer of the Year. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Floral art is always horrendous to photograph and do justice – the theme for the Designer of the Year section was Showing Off and many entries were “split level” with Francine’s in three sections. The dark green “flower” is a dianthus, actually a sterile sweet William, but in case you think I’m making that up, read more here. Green Wicky is another type.

Francine had us laughing as she described her low-key approach to being New Zealand’s official demonstrator at the World Floral Art conference in Dublin in June – she and a bicycle box (containing three folded-up metal koru) were all that took to the stage, while her fellow demonstrators all had “teams”. However, when she described being overwhelmed at receiving a standing ovation before she had even finished her piece, there was no doubt at how moved she was.


Demonstrations by Francine Thomas always include a good laugh. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Right at the entry to the Pavilion Garden is a grand piano – of a sort. It’s made from metal, has flowers for keys and water tumbling off the keyboard, which gives you some idea about Francine’s inventiveness. She says she spends a lot of time on her own in the evenings while her husband’s at work and this is when she comes up with many of her bright ideas.


Detail from Francine’s grand piano. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Another winner was sitting quietly in the Te Puna garden of Jo Dawkins – potter Murray Garner last night won the Supreme Award at the annual Bethlehem Potters Society exhibition. Murray’s a quiet sort of bloke and pretty modest but he was delighted with the win. The exhibition is on at Baycourt until tomorrow. His pottery is outstanding both for its form and his use of glazes.


Two Murray Garner pots on show in the garden of Jo Dawkins. Photo: Sandra Simpson

And the third winner was quieter still, sitting in the nearby garden of Colleen Thwaites. Little Miss Perfect, a new rose from Rob Somerfield of Te Puna, won the Best Floribunda title at the recent Pacific Rose Bowl Festival in Hamilton.


Little Miss Perfect. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Rob describes the colour as “coral” and that’s about right to my eyes. The rose is available only at selected independent nurseries, with Décor in Tauranga being the only outlet in the Bay of Plenty.

Garden trail – day 2

Bitsy day today as I went to gardens in Mt Maunganui and Papamoa this morning then came home to write a piece for the daily (unpaid, naturally) and sort out a couple of photos. That done I headed over to beyond Te Puke. I was planning to see two on the same road but a friend I met in the first one recommended a cottage-type garden a bit further out so I took her advice and was glad I did. Beds bursting with flowers, flowers, flowers … and a beautiful afternoon tea at a reasonable price (Dianne had recommended that too!).

The Speaker Series starts tomorrow at The Lakes hub, as does the floral art exhibition and one or two other fun-sounding temporary installations such as the Suspended Forest and the display gardens. And all the gardens are open from tomorrow to Sunday, so nothing to stop you. Read full details here.


Kaylene Don’s Mt Maunganui townhouse may have a tiny site but she and landscape designer Michelle McDonnell have given it interest – here are stripes of heucheras and mondo with a miniature bougainvillea in the pot. Photo: Sandra Simpson


St Fiacre, patron saint of gardeners, beside Kaylene Don’s raised vege garden and a vertical patch of herbs and edible flowers. Photo: Sandra Simpson


A quiet corner (note the panels of Balinese stone work, much jealousy from me) in the garden of Leigh Nicholas, who is also exhibiting her photography on site. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Hidden away in the tropical growth in Leigh’s garden is an outdoor shower! Photo: Sandra Simpson


A visit to Ron and Pat Howie’s Te Puke garden is to be blown away by the unusual plants – this is the (large) flower of Magnolia macrophylla, native to the southeastern US and eastern Mexico. Ron has pulled the branch down for me with a rake. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Spent ages in the Howie garden trying to get a decent shot of this striking flower – Passiflora antioquiensis (red banana passionfruit, nowhere near as vigorous as the banana passionfruit). Photo: Sandra Simpson

Read more about Magnolia macrophylla and Passiflora antioquiensis.

Garden trails – Day 1


The Tauranga Garden and Art Festival began on Monday as the areas opened one by one – unfortunately, the weather dished up torrential rain and Transit NZ dished up roadworks that closed SH2 and meant a detour for people travelling between Tauranga and Katikati.

Today has been my first day out, hitting the trail around the Tauranga city area. There were only a couple of tiny sprinkles of rain, although the wind was tiring, but to compensate there were lots of smiles and flower-filled gardens (and two plumbed-in outdoor baths on decks!).

I think I’ll let the photos do the rest of the talking.


A section of Mike Radrup’s impressive vege garden at Oropi. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Cherie Jeffrey makes a last-minute adjustment to her “pearl” chandelier at La Grange, which will soon become a boutique wedding venue. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Heather Loughlin loves having birds in her garden and has set up a feeding table made from an old patio heater. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Think you have no room for veges? Fiona Fullerton maximises the space in her garden by using guttering strips on the boundary fence. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Rachel McGarva in her outdoor bath (and with a box of lavender Blueberry). Photo: Sandra Simpson


Rachel’s harbourside garden features a striking gazebo. Photo: Sandra Simpson


A hedge sharply clipped by John Woolford. Wife Heather is impressed he’s made space for her hand to turn on the tap. Photo: Sandra Simpson


The delightful garden of painter Jenny Coker. She and art photographer Tracy Stamatakos are exhibiting together on site – Tracy’s gorgeous work looks like painting. Photo: Sandra Simpson


When is a rose not a rose?

Went over to Hamilton yesterday to spend a day at the Rogers Rose Garden enjoying the annual Pacific Rose Bowl Festival and the National Rose Show – and although the enjoyment factor remained high, the weather was decidedly dismal with, at times, lashing rain and strong winds. And when it wasn’t lashing rain, it was still raining!

So when 2pm rolled round and rose breeder Rob Somerfield and national Rose Society publicist Hayden Foulds turned up to give a guided talk, the Vege Grower and I were their audience of two. The guys were game and so were we, the little matter of brollies being blown inside out a mere trifle.

We eventually stopped in front of Eye of the Tiger, a small bush, albeit with vigorous, thorny new growth, that the Vege Grower and I had remarked on earlier, drawn by the colours and look of the flowers. And here we heard an unusual tale.

Eye of the Tiger, a rose bred in England. Photo: Sandra Simpson

One of the parents of Eye of the Tiger is Rosa persica (or Rosa berberifolia) which for a while was known as Hulthemia persica and not considered to be a rose! The plant is native to Iran, Afghanistan, central Asia and through to Siberia. It has a single, open rose-like flower with prominent stamens, is thorny but doesn’t have a rose-like leaf and as you can see from the photo below the buds are something else again. It has a suckering habit.

Hulthemia persica or Rosa persica … a rose by any other name. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

But, rose breeders being what they are, some have been attempting to use R. persica, partly because of its hardiness – R. persica takes everything from drought to freezing in its natural habitat – but the plant is difficult to work with and has resisted many attempts to hybridise it. Breeders want to lose the single flowering, the thorniness, the suckering and the sterility, but want to keep that “eye” splash of colour at the centre of the flower.

This 1977 article by renowned English rose breeder Jack Harkness (who died in 1994) outlines some of the history of attempts to use the plant (it’s a little technical). Harkness Roses released three hybrids using R. persica in 1985 (Tigris, Euphrates and Nigel Hawthorne) and a later one, Xerxes, but none of them were repeat bloomers.

American Jim Sproul also took up the challenge and in 2011 released the first plants under the Eyeconic label. Jim blogs about his work with R. persica here.

Bright as a Button. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Bright as a Button, a rose by Chris Warner of Shropshire, England – who has also bred Eye of the Tiger (breeding name Chewbullseye) – also uses R. persica and is an award-winning rose in New Zealand, while his For Your Eyes Only (only 30 years in the making!) has won the 2015 Rose of the Year title at the Hampton Court Flower Show. Read a personal blog about a visit to Warner Roses.