Out & about

Went to Lynda Hallinan’s preserving workshop at Palmer’s last night – she is so calm and confident. She and her mum (her mum mostly while Lynda whizzed stuff up and talked) were making jam on a barbecue and had brought along examples from Lynda’s preserves pantry including pickled onions, damson gin, blackboy peaches and bachelor’s jam, which she described as ‘summer in a jar’. (The link will take you to a site where a single-variety method is described – the recipe on River Cottage is more traditional with its layers of various fruit.)

Some of the Vege Grower’s home-made chutney. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Picked up some great tips too, and I’ll post a link to Lynda’s recipes when they go up on her blog (in the next few days, she says):

  • Pour jam into a plastic container and put it in the freezer where the high sugar content stops it from freezing – just scoop out what you want when you want it
  • If you’re bottling tomatoes, use a bit of citric acid in the mix to counter any fear of botulism taking hold during storage
  • A jam funnel is an essential piece of equipment
  • If you use jam-setting sugar berry jam will take about 5 minutes to make.

She also talked us through the water bath method and the overflow method – for the former there’s no need to stew fruit first as the water bath will lightly “cook” the fruit.

The audience was shocked to learn that none of the tinned apricots we buy in this country actually come from New Zealand. Lynda buys her central Otago apricots fresh and has them shipped up, 20kg at a time.

Earlier this month, the Tauranga Bromeliad Group held its annual open day, always good for picking up some growing tips, as well as plants.

I came away with a couple of plants – a bromeliad and two tillandsias. A few days later I went to the Tauranga Orchid Society auction and came away with a few more bromeliads and tillandsias, plus some orchids.

And last Sunday it was time for the annual volunteer breakfast at Te Puna Quarry Park. Some misting rain had settled the dust but we desperately needed more rain (at the orchid auction it turned out that the Te Puke area had had a deluge the night before – we didn’t get a drop in town).

A lovely cooked breakfast, a birthday cake for Jo Dawkins and a walk to settle all that lot. Perfect.

Aristolochia in flower at Te Puna Quarry Park. The one on the right is the front of the flower, with the back showing on the left. Photo: Sandra Simpson

See an earlier post about Aristolochias or Dutchman’s pipe.

A side view of a flower shows the “bowl” of the pipe that gives the vine its common name. Photo: Sandra Simpson

And best of all we last night got our downpour!

Winter gardens

The exterior of Tauranga’s Tropical Display House in Cliff Rd doesn’t promise much – it looks more like a shed than a winter garden – but inside you’ll find plenty of colour and a warm, lush atmosphere.


Anthurium scherzerianum. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The building was refurbished at a cost of $50,000 in 2007, putting a stop to it raining inside when it was raining outside, according to then contractor Jayne Ward, of Floragrow Nursery in Te Puna, who tended the plants daily on behalf of Tauranga City Council for about 20 years. The current contractor being Liani Smith of Aztec Gardens (see the post below – Slasher council – to read about the possible closure of the display house).

Over the years the building has gone from being mostly a display of tuberous begonias on display benches to a regularly changed display that includes inground plantings and an orchid cabinet to show the collection of Les Cannon.

“Mr Cannon was headmaster at Tauranga Intermediate and a member of the orchid society,” Jayne says. “He donated his collection to the council more than 30 years ago and since then it has been extended and added to.”

The orchids are kept behind glass for two reasons. One is to stop light-fingered visitors taking them and the other is to try  to keep them from insects so the perfect flowers are on show for as long as possible – once an insect pollinates a flower it turns brown and drops.


The fascinating foliage of Pilea involucrata Moon Valley. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The house, which is between the Rose Gardens and historic Monmouth Redoubt, is kept at about 18degC thanks to an underground boiler system added in 2007. Plants on display include Tillandsias (air plants), Nepenthes (carnivorous pitcher plants), Hoyas, palms, ferns, bromeliads, succulents and tropical foliage plants.

Ned Nicely was parks co-ordinator at Tauranga City Council until the end of 2013 and was a true champion of the Tropical Display House.

“We get more people in the house from cruise ships than we do from Tauranga,” he says. “This is a nice place to come, especially in the winter, but it’s not well advertised.”


Bromeliad flowers. Photo: Sandra Simpson

He describes the Display House as a “sanctuary”.  “It truly is a sublime place,” he says. “I guarantee no one walks in and thinks of their in-tray and absolutely no one texts.”

  • The Tropical Display House, Cliff Rd, is open 10am-4pm daily April-September; 9am-6pm daily October-March. Entry is free.

Outside looking in at the Auckland Winter Gardens. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Winter Garden Tradition

Auckland’s Winter Garden pavilions were built after World War 1 and gave the Queen City a pair of glasshouses in the style of Kew Gardens, albeit on a much smaller scale.

The complex, near Auckland Museum, is now a protected heritage site and comprises a matching pair of houses (one for temperate plants, one for tropical) with a formal courtyard and pond linking them, and an adjacent fernery.

A $3 million restoration of the site began in 2001 with the Tropical House, the last to be restored, reopening in 2006. Architects Salmond Reed won an award for the work.

Visitors enjoy the temperate house at Auckland Winter Gardens. Photo: Sandra Simpson

There are nearly 2000 plants in the Tropical House, including some not found anywhere else in New Zealand, including the country’s only fruiting cocoa tree and Hernandia bivalvis (grease-nut tree) that is rare in its native Australian rainforest.

The gardens are open year-round and are free to visit.

Cotton growing in the topical house at Auckland Winter Gardens. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London lay claim to the world’s most important Victorian glass and iron structure with the Palm House, built from 1844-48 by Richard Turner to the design of Decimus Burton. The building, which resembles an upturned ship’s hull, features “head room” for the growing palms. It was completely dismantled, restored and rebuilt from 1984-88.

The Temperate House at Kew, meanwhile, was once the largest plant house in the world and is now the world’s largest Victorian glass structure at 4880 square metres, twice the size of the Palm House. Although ₤10,000 was set aside in 1851 for Burton to design and build it, it wasn’t completed until 1898. It closed in 2013 for a 5-year restoration project.

The oldest glasshouse at Kew dates to 1836, although is hardly recognisable as a glasshouse, featuring a great deal of stone, while the newest is the Alpine House (2006).

Meanwhile, the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken in Brussels, the official residence of the King of Belgium, comprise seven pavilions with a combined floor area of 2.5ha that use over 800,000 litres of fuel a year for heating. They are open to the public for 3 weeks every spring.

This is made up of 2 articles originally published in the Bay of Plenty Times and which appear here with permission.

Forest of Memories

The first planting of a Forest of Memories – Te Wao Whakamaumaharatanga will take place on the Coromandel Peninsula on April 25, Anzac Day.

Gallipoli Grove will be the first of the forests planted to commemorate the New Zealand landing at what came to be called Anzac Cove in Turkey in 1915 with the plan to have plantings completed on Armistice Day (November 11) 2018. Each forest will mark battles of significance to our soldiers.

Doesn’t this sound like a marvellous way to remember our war dead? The idea belongs to Chris Adams, the first chief executive of Tourism Coromandel, who now works for a  tourism marketing consultancy. He took it to Thames-Coromandel Mayor Glenn Leach and the council, to its credit, has fully embraced the vision – and is acting as underwriter for the estimated $452,000 cost. The organisers plan to recoup costs from grants and by selling trees to people who want to remember particular soldiers.

One part of the website says a tree price hasn’t been settled yet, but inquiries are welcome, while another says the trees will be $100 each. For more information go to the website.

Contractors will prepare the planting sites and schoolchildren and community members will put the trees in the holes. Each tree will be numbered and plotted on GPS.

The forests form part of the official New Zealand WW100 commemorations.

Potty about bromeliads

Despite the fact that it can sometimes “take years” to find the spot where a bromeliad will thrive in the garden, Johanna Elder is a big fan of these tropical beauties.

Broadly speaking the Vriesea types don’t have spikes, prefer shade and need feeding to reach their full colour potential, while the Neoregelia types have spikes, like full sun and need to be starved of fertiliser to colour up.

Lynley Breeze, president of the Bay of Plenty Bromeliad Group, considers Johanna, who founded the group 18 years ago, as the best grower in the group and a visit to her Cherrywood garden shows why.


Johanna Elder in her garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Quesnelia Tim Plowman, a tube-type bromeliad with unusual curled foliage, is being grown in full sun in a stone garden, a bold move with an expensive plant but Johanna says it is responding well.

“Often it’s a case of trying a plant here and there – it will let you know if it doesn’t like something and reward you if it does.” Conversely, she has put a couple of her bright Neoregelia bromeliads into the shade house to see if that will intensify their colour and believes the experiment is working.


Neoregelia Gold Fever. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“It’s heat that brings up the colours in bromeliads not direct sunlight,” Johanna says. A certain amount of stress will intensify colour too, so she adds some slow-release fertiliser when she plants Neoregelias and then leaves them alone.

“Vrieseas however, need as much fertiliser as you can give them.”

While bromeliads of all shapes and sizes and in many colours and patterns form the bulk of Johanna’s plantings her garden doesn’t feel like a nursery – there are also pony-tail palms, ferns, vireya rhododendrons, succulents, cycads and tillandsias (air plants, bromeliad cousins).

“I’m still a gardener,” she says. “It’s just that all the roses and perennials went long ago.”

Johanna first got interested in bromeliads because her brother-in-law was very involved with a bromeliad society. “The first bromeliad I came across I fell in love with,” she recalls.


Aechmea fasciata Kiwi coming into flower. Photo: Sandra Simpson

After moving to Tauranga from Hamilton, husband Bruce recontoured the Cherrywood site – and the way was open to plant it how Johanna wanted.

She also enjoys growing Tillandsias and finds their clumping habit interesting, along with the fact they will grow almost anywhere. “You can throw them into a crook of a tree, hang them from hooks or stake them into a piece of ponga [tree fern]. Some are spiky, some are soft and even when they’re not flowering, they’re interesting to look at.”


Tillandisa tectorum grows in the cloud forests of Peru. The fine hairs on the fronds are believed to protect the high-altitude plant from extreme UV light and to help it collect moisture from fog. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Bruce built a shade house for the less hardy Tillandsias and every spring Johanna takes all the plants off the brushwood wall and sprays it for a moth that can eat the back of the plants and rot them. The indoor ones are sprayed fortnightly with a natural pest control and a weak solution of fertiliser, while the outdoor ones obtain all the nutrients they need from their surroundings.

Johanna grows most of her bromeliads in pots so they can easily be moved to find the growing conditions they prefer and so tender ones can be moved under frost protection in the winter.


Morning sun strikes a selection of Johanna Elder’s Vriesea bromeliads. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Pots are presented in garden “beds” which are filled with stone mulch – the stones release the day’s heat into the night, keeping the temperature up by about 3-4degC, Johanna says. “If any of them do get caught by frost you can hose them down before the sun gets to them and prevent frost burn.

“Not all bromeliads are hardy so it’s important to know which is which.”

Her Tillandsia punctulata grows in a ponga and covers itself in flowers. “A friend said God made Tauranga for Tillandsia punctulata and she’s right. They flower here all year and the flowers can last for 10 months – they won’t even do that in Auckland.”

Johanna and fellow Tauranga group member Gil Keesing staged a display of plants at the Australasian Bromeliad Conference in Auckland in 2013 where one of the guest speakers was Elton Leme, a high court judge in Brazil who hunts new bromeliad species in his spare time – and has found more than anyone else alive.

This article is drawn from two pieces that were originally published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appear here with permission.

Update: In 2017 Johanna downsized her collection and sold her property. Gil Keesing died in 2016.

Slasher council takes on Tropical Display House

Startled to read in my local paper last week that our supposedly cash-strapped council is considering closing the Tropical Display House in Cliff Rd to save $100,000 a year. This is the same council that decided to stop mowing reserves so often to save money and then back-tracked when there was a public outcry.

Their rationale seems to be that because the visitor book isn’t signed very often, clearly it doesn’t have enough visitors to warrant keeping it open. Yep, these are the people running our fair city. I visit the display house regularly – it’s a good place for photos – and never sign the visitor book. It’s not compulsory and it’s hard to think of anything meaningful to say, apart from the banal and obvious.

The outcry that has followed is predictable and bewildering in about equal measure. The paper quoted Facebook comments, many of which were along the lines of “I’ve lived here 15/12/10 years and I never knew it was there”. The lack of curiosity people have about where they live never fails to astound me.

One councillor then thought it would be a good idea to do the contractor – Aztec Gardens (Liani Smith) – out of her job and let a “community group” run the place. Read more about that here. All I will say about that is, Cr Curach clearly has no idea how difficult it is for volunteer groups, any volunteer group, to attract enough members, especially members who are fit and able and who have expertise.

The council is also considering selling reserve land to a developer – low-lying land below a bluff, across from an estuary and right beside an expressway. It’s much more valuable as reserve and I would pity anyone who built a home there.

But this new set of councillors (elected last October) are either panicked or wanting to be seen as granite-jawed budgeters and are trying to trim and snip and slice at all sorts of things. True, toxic mould has unexpectedly been found in the council HQ, shifting staff all round town (and no doubt the council is having to pay jacked-up rents), but the building was due to be retro-fitted for earthquake strengthening anyway, and the councillors were aware of that, so some of the cost would be planned for, and have a contingency in it. And, let’s not forget, that the building has leaked before and after it was “refurbished” with an extra floor on top so it can’t have come as a huge surprise that the regular soakings have led to mould. It might be cheaper to demolish the whole thing and start again.

In 1999 the Robbins Rose Garden next door to the Tropical Display House was in a sorry state – uncared for with sparse plantings and the site under threat of being turned into a carpark by the council. Ten years later, thanks to the contacts and hard work of (now former) parks co-ordinator Ned Nicely and head gardener Megan Webber the garden was something of which the city could be proud.

The Tropical Display House is pretty good too.