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.

Putting out the welcome mat

Pat and Ron Howie of Te Puke love their garden and love showing it off so had no hesitation about planning for next week’s Tauranga Garden and Art Festival as soon as the 2012 event was over. This will be the fifth time they have put out the welcome mat for festival visitors.

“There’s not much use in having a reasonable garden if you don’t share it,” Ron says. “The fact you’re doing it for charity is an added bonus.”


Ron and Pat Howie in their garden. Ron builds the gates and any special features himself. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Howies have some handy hints for anyone planning to open their garden for a big event, such as the well-established Tauranga area festival:

  • Do any big work – tree removal or pruning – at least a year before so everything has recovered and filled in again by the time of the festival
  • Make sure lawns and edges are mowed and tidy before visitors arrive – it improves the look of any garden instantly
  • Never let weeds go to seed and sooner, rather than later, you’ll be on top of them. Planting thickly is a big help in keeping weeds down
  • Be available to talk to visitors; it enhances their experience.

But it’s no good asking them when to prune roses to have them flowering at the right time – Ron gave away all his roses long ago.

Instead, the couple enjoy “pushing the boundaries” by creating a tropical look in a sub-tropical climate, although Ron says they have the benefit of a microclimate thanks to the surrounding kiwifruit orchard shelter belts.

“Not every plant is perfect on the day,” Ron says, “but we try and have a garden that has interest throughout the year … and a spring garden can be ruined overnight by unpredictable weather.”

Pat admits the first time of opening can be nerve-wracking. “You’ve got be able to take a little bit of criticism because somebody will always find fault,” she says.

“But if you just be yourself and make people feel welcome everything will go well.”


Cantua buxifolia is a magenta-flowered woody shrub native to Bolivia and Peru. Pat and Ron have the Bicolour hybrid, while the Tricolour is the national flower of Bolivia as it echoes the colours of the country’s flag. Photo: Sandra Simpson

This article was first published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission.

Our people: Sam Rix

While researching the article on Louisiana irises, I came across a terrific story – that of Louisiana iris breeder Sam Rix of Mount Maunganui who in 1965 became the first non-American to win the Mary Swords DeBaillon Medal for the best Louisiana iris of the year with ‘Frances Elizabeth’ (registered in 1957).

Sam was the proprietor of the well-known (but now long gone) Oceanside Hotel at Mount Maunganui – the site now occupied by the Oceanside Resort & Twin Towers. The link names Florence and James Rix as owners from after World War 2 but that it was sold to a business in 1959 with Bill and Jean Fenton (the grandparents of military historian Dr Damien Fenton) running it.

The article linked to above is written by Stephanie Boot, also a Louisiana iris breeder, who quotes from a letter Sam wrote:

“I have had to work under difficulties in a very exposed position, for our hotel is right on the sand dunes, facing the Pacific Ocean. Storms sweep in from the sea, and have frequently scorched many of my plants badly. I have noticed though, that the Louisiana irises have withstood salt spray very well. I have been studying genetics, in the hope that more knowledge may make it possible for me to produce something worthwhile in years to come.”

Sam died in 1998. Apparently there was no obituary published.

Iris eyes are smiling

The national iris convention starts in Hamilton today (November 7-9) and features the president of the American Iris Society as a guest speaker.

Stephanie Boot didn’t know Louisiana irises existed until she joined an iris club in Auckland – now she is a specialist grower and sells them by mail order from her Katikati nursery, Rivendell Iris Garden.

“I didn’t know a thing about the Louisianas but I saw a huge display of them in Auckland and was hooked,” says Stephanie, an international iris judge. “A lot of people still don’t know about them so I guess that is also part of the rationale behind our endeavour –  offering gardeners something that’s lovely and a bit different.”

Extra Dazzle lives up to its name. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The modern hybrids all descend from five species native to Louisiana and Florida in the United States and, although they are now grown in every climate in that country, the irises naturally grow in water or damp ground so can be dormant in summer. Read some cultural advice.

The decision to start a business based on Louisiana irises was made when Stephanie and her husband, Alistair, decided to quit Auckland for a more peaceful, rural lifestyle.

“I’d been down around Katikati with garden groups,” Stephanie says, “and always liked it and knew that growing conditions here were ideal.”

The couple moved to their 2.6ha property in 2001 which, aside from a small avocado orchard and some stands of native trees, mainly comprised lawn. The clinchers were the stream and damp ground which means massed plantings of Louisiana irises that flower through summer.

Mount Bold was bred by Peter Jackson (another one!), a New Zealander living in Australia. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Stephanie and her friend, Darlene Cook, began collecting every Louisiana variety available in New Zealand to do some hybridising of their own, but felt they needed a broader genetic base and got in touch with well-known Australian breeder Heather Pryor.

“She moved heaven and earth to help us import new stock,” Stephanie says. “Without Heather, we couldn’t have done it. The rules and regulations are numerous and the costs associated with importing plants astronomical.”

Heather, who has named a Louisiana iris for her friend (Stephanie Helene), has twice won the Mary Swords DeBaillon Medal for the best new Louisiana iris, only the third time the prize had gone outside the US in its 66-year history. Her award-winning irises were Peaches in Wine (2006) and Hot and Spicy (2004), while Sam Rix of Mount Maunganui won with Frances Elizabeth in 1965.

Stephanie thinks she has got enough new genetic material to try and create New Zealand-bred varieties although, because the plants are field grown, she has to rise early to beat the bees to the flowers.

She’s planning to concentrate on deep colours – black-reds and black-blues – because there aren’t many available. After having seen irises growing naturally under olive trees in Tuscany while judging in Florence, Stephanie has developed a garden under established olive trees that features heritage roses and old irises of all kinds, including Louisiana Iris nelsonii and L. Iris fulva, both used to produce red in hybrids.

A bee enjoys Real Treasure. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“Louisianas can have eight to 10 buds on a stem and these flower over several weeks. If you’ve got a good variety, a mass planting looks fantastic and on the edge of a pond nothing beats them.

“They do it hard in my nursery because most of them are in full sun – they prefer high, dappled shade, the sort of thing you get at the edge of a woodland.”

A member of the American Society for Louisiana Irises, Stephanie says the highlights of her judging career so far have been as part of  the triennial panel at the international iris trial grounds near Paris in 2007, and an invitation to join a judging panel in in 2010in Florence, Italy, for the International Iris Competition, an event that has been held annually since 1954.

Read more about Peter Jackson here.

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