Mellow fruitfulness

Since Ruth Appleton and husband John bought their 2.2ha at Pahoia in 1992 they have been developing their own mini-arboretum, even though they didn’t move on to the site until 1997.

The land falls steeply away from the road, is boggy at the bottom and climbs up to a ridge on the other side. Ruth is only half joking when she says that she has been given only the worst bits to garden – cattle graze the rest and John has a big shed for his mechanics hobby.

“We used to come over from Tokoroa and stay in our mobile caravan,” Ruth says. “I remember the first ute-load of trees we bought for planting, we thought we had such a lot. But when we’d put them in, they hardly went anywhere.”

She has no idea of the number of trees she has planted but says she always intended it to be an autumn garden – plenty of colour set off by evergreens. “To me leaf colour is more important than flowers.”


Ruth sets off her garden’s autumn colour with plenty of evergreen trees. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Among the colourful trees are the terracotta swamp cypress (Taxodium distichum) which, despite its name, grows in wet or dry conditions; the yellows of golden ash (Fraxinus excelsior), which also comes in a dwarf variety, paper birch (Betula papyrifera), and Gingko biloba; various bright shades, including scarlet and orange of Japanese and Canadian maples (Acers); and the spectacular Liquidamber styraciflua, which vary from yellow to deep purple on one tree.

But Ruth admits that her garden looks pretty good in spring too as the cherries (Prunus, both upright and weeping), dogwoods (Cornus), magnolias and Melias comes into bloom. She also loves Fagus sylvatica Rohani (European beech) for its soft spring foliage, which is purple – in autumn the tree takes on coppery tones.

“I don’t buy lots of one thing, as you can probably tell. I tend to buy things and then find somewhere to put them. I have a cherry that doesn’t flower much but it stays because of the colour of its autumn leaves.”


A Japanese umbrella pine (Sciadopitys verticillata) snuggles into a red Acer maple. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Her first task was to create a series of five ponds to tame the general swampiness along the valley floor, including doing all the rockwork along the sides of the main pond.

“I love working in the garden. John helps too but I do the mowing, the planting, the pruning … anything. I love it all.”

“John’s tree” is a Cunninghamia lanceolata (China fir), which comes with spiky green needles or softer blue needles and, Ruth says, has to be mowed round cautiously.

Plants along the edge of the ponds must withstand both wet and dry as the ponds tend to shrink without regular rainfall. It’s a hard ask but, through trial and error, Ruth has found success with flaxes, daylilies, bog sage and ligularias, while Carpet Roses in various shades are dotted through the garden.

“They are just marvellous plants,” she says of the roses. “They’re hardy and never stop flowering.”

As we walk she makes mental notes to herself to limb this, move that, check on the health of something, picks guavas to munch and retrieves her favourite shovel from a bank where she’d forgotten she left it. “I do walk around the garden for pleasure but I always notice what needs doing.”


Cornus Cherokee Daybreak is Ruth’s pick of the bunch for autumn. ‘The leaves change colour throughout the year, becoming very intense in autumn and it has white flowers in spring.’ Photo: Sandra Simpson

Ruth has used small-flowered grevilleas widely on her clay banks and intends to plant more prostrate plants, especially those enjoyed by birds and bees.

Anything put in below the shelterbelt has a hard life as “the wind belts across the top of the shelterbelt and drops down” but a white protea has surprised her by doing well there.

Ruth’s trees are all given time to show off their attributes, including a Davidia involucrata (handkerchief or dove tree) which has unusual hanging white flowers – that is, according to the tag as Ruth is still waiting for hers to bloom. A Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip tree) also needs a few years’ growth before flowering.


Cornus Purple Glory has vibrant autumn colour. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A small memorial garden, entered between camellia hedges, has been created off to one side of the pathway round the main pond and Ruth has also made a “fairies’ garden” for her grandchildren, complete with a friendly gnome, in another secret corner.

“It’s a good garden to let your imagination run wild in,” she laughs.


This maple turns a vibrant shade of red, set off perfectly by a clear, blue sky. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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

Making a difference

A lifetime – two lifetimes – spent working with plants and flowers has taken a new twist as sisters Mary Parkinson and Jo Dawkins put their energies into helping develop Te Puna Quarry Park,  the Western Bay’s premier public garden.


In 2005 I managed to get these two busy bees to stand still long enough for a photo. They haven’t changed much. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Born on a farm in Oropi, near Tauranga, the sisters grew up surrounded by a large, lovingly tended garden. Their father, Arnold Shanks, had emigrated to New Zealand from Northern Ireland and met their England-born mother, Christine, on a ship when returning to Britain on a visit. She was going home after a stay in South Africa.

And it was their father who was the keen gardener, although they say both their parents loved “beautiful things” and the home and garden were decorated accordingly.

Volunteering at the outbreak of World War 2, Arnold was sent to Greece, captured and spent four years in an Austrian prison camp. “He said the only thing that kept him sane was thinking about the garden and always redesigning it,” Jo says. “He had a small tin of watercolour paints with him and we still have some of the paintings he did of his ideas. The love of gardening kept him going.” The 0.4ha garden comprised a tennis court, lily ponds and flower beds and was the scene of annual church garden parties after the war.


A visitor from England snaps a souvenir of one of the Quarry Park’s many sculptures. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Mary’s first ambition was to become a marine biologist, dropped, she says, because she couldn’t swim well. Instead, she opened a florist shop at No. 2 Devonport Rd in Tauranga in 1956. “The shop became available and opportunity strikes only once, although I was terrified about going into business,” she says. And it may have been an inherited talent from her father – who had created his bride’s elaborate bouquet for their wedding in 1933 – which nudged her in this direction.

Vogue Flowers was a success, although Mary says “we made a lot of friends but not much money”. Highlights included making presentation bouquets for visiting Queen Sirikit of Thailand in 1962 and one of water lilies for Queen Elizabeth for her visit in 1963.

When their mother became ill with cancer and wanted to make a final return to England in 1958, Mary handed the business to Jo, who was part-way through teacher training. After her mother’s death, Mary worked as a florist at London’s Savoy Hotel where she prepared arrangements for such people as Princess Margaret, ballerina Alicia Markova and flamboyant pianist Liberace who always wanted a floral grand piano.

While in London, she attended the Cordon Bleu school run by the doyenne of 1950s English domestic style, Constance Spry. “We cooked in the morning and did flowers in the afternoon,” Mary recalls. “They were big, massed arrangements which complemented the houses they were in.”

On her return, Mary rejoined Vogue Flowers until the birth of her first child in 1963, when she sold the business.

But she and Jo have never stopped working with plants – they both worked for John and Mary Ewart when they began to grow Tauranga’s first commercial carnation crop, while Mary has had a nursery specialising in kiwifruit seedlings, and Jo has a citrus orchard and garden nursery.

“There’s a lot of pleasure to be had in planting a seed and watching it come up and flower,” Mary says of their lifelong interest in growing things.


Cymbidium orchids blooming at the Quarry Park. Photo: Sandra Simpson

She is also something of an orchid expert, having joined the Tauranga Orchid Society 30 years ago and also has previously run a business hybridising and exporting South African disa orchids.

But even Mary admits she had no idea the orchid area at Te Puna Quarry Park would become what is believed to be the largest outdoor planting of cymbidium orchids in the Southern Hemisphere.

Jo, whose home is in the shadow of the former quarry north of Tauranga, has been part of the community project since it began almost 20 years ago and has served a term as president of the society’s committee, while Mary joined the volunteer workers 18 years ago.

“It’s great to be part of a volunteer group creating something for the community,” Jo says. The park has always placed an emphasis on art too, and work in the park includes sculpture, mosaic and pottery.

“It’s such a magical place,” she says, “but it was very hard in the beginning, as a gardener, to adjust to the size of it. It was no good planting just one of something, we had to think in big drifts.” More than 4000 cymbidium orchids might be described as a big drift. “We were lucky the orchids were the first plants to arrive and we could choose a site,” Mary says.

Four truckloads of “fill” orchids, donated by former nurseryman John Kenyon, began the planting and since then almost all the plants have been donated. To plant them on the steeper banks, the orchids were rolled down and Mary and her helpers (most in their 70s and 80s) clambered after them and chipped them in where they stopped. The orchid area now features several other varieties as well, so there’s always something flowering.

These days Mary’s most often to be found in the butterfly garden, a project that had its genesis in 2006 when she saw a swan plant growing in a patch of weeds on the “middle terrace”.

A grant from the Bay of Plenty regional council’s Environmental Enhancement Fund paid for a butterfly hatching house (and to protect caterpillars when predators are about) and a noticeboard, while in 2009 Wildflower World began a relationship with the garden donating seed to extend the butterfly area for a Monarch Butterfly New Zealand Trust conference in Tauranga which Mary, then a trustee, organised.

quarry-monarch release

A release of newly hatched monarch butterflies in the Quarry Park’s butterfly garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

During the breeding season Mary often responds to calls to rescue monarch caterpillars that have run out of food and has been trying try to establish a population of native red admiral and yellow admiral butterflies at the quarry. She’s at the quarry most days when the butterflies are hatching, and on hand for regular school visits. “When the ‘wild kids’ are given butterflies to hold it transforms them – the big smiles make it all worthwhile,” she says.

Jo, a former president of the International Plant Propagators Association, and Mary have developed a sub-tropical area, bounded on one side by Australian natives, including a prostate Banksia and winter-flowering grevilleas, much loved by birds, and on another by South African natives.

And they have both, along with grandchildren, created a mosaic “pool” at the bottom of a tumble of rocks which suggested itself to Jo as a dry waterfall. Small wooden “bridges” on the path add to the illusion.

Among plants of interest in this area are Chorisias (monkey no-climb trees) with trunks full of thorns and requiring some lateral thinking when it came to moving them for planting, a red banana palm and a rare pink version (in New Zealand) of the Tibouchina shrub.


A massed planting of lilies above the Herb Garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Jo has planted about five varieties of the Araucaria family, which includes monkey-puzzle and Norfolk Island pines, near the Chorisias, and groups of maples and magnolias in a new area, as well as a tackling a steep, hot bank which is being filled with grevilleas, native to Australia.

“We are especially grateful for the generosity of commercial and private growers,” Jo says. “We don’t have the finances to rush out and buy, for example, 50 hibiscus plants, but if we ask for, say, three we usually get 12.

“The quarry park isn’t a botanical garden, but we do want it to be botanically interesting,” she says. “The rewards for our hard work are to see people enjoying it.”

Te Puna Quarry Park is signposted off State Highway 2, just north of Te Puna, and is open daily during daylight hours. Free admission but a donation is appreciated.


A tui investigates a protea bloom. Photo: Sandra Simpson

This article is a combination of two pieces that were originally published by the Bay of Plenty Times and appear here with permission.

BOP Orchid Society champion blooms

Popped back to the show this afternoon – and had a lovely surprise waiting for me. Second prize in the Cattleya section! And with my first-ever entry in an orchid show!! Couldn’t stop smiling. So here is SLC Coastal Gold ‘Geyser Gold’ (the SLC stands for Sophrolaeliocattleya, from Sophronitis, Laelia and Cattleya, its parent genera).

Photo: Sandra Simpson

But the main event, naturally, was the champions’ table:

Champion of the show was Rhyncattleanthe Lee’s Ruby ‘Cherry Ripe’ grown by Lee and Roy Neale of Auckland. Photo: Sandra Simpson

This magnificent spray of Oncidium trulliforum flowers won Reserve Champion for Carl Christensen of Napier. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Tauranga Orchid Society meets once a month on a Tuesday evening in the Wesley Church hall in 13th Ave. The BOP Orchid Society meets once a month on a Sunday afternoon in Te Puke, contact Faye Diprose. It’s perfectly admissible to belong to both!

Te Puke Orchid Show 2015

Spent the morning at the Te Puke Orchid show – it’s on until 4pm today and tomorrow (April 11) from 10am-4pm and I can honestly say the $3 entry is well worth it. There is, as usual, a great display of flowering plants, plenty of orchids for sale (yes, I bought some more), other plants for sale, paintings for sale, orchid growing supplies (pots, bark, stakes, etc), raffles and a nice cuppa with home baking in the side room. You’ll find the show in the Memorial Hall in Te Puke’s main street.

As well as members of the host BOP Orchid Society selling plants, there are also a number of out-of-town commercial growers with orchids for sale, plants that you may not find elsewhere.

Here are a few photos from today to whet your appetite.

Tauranga Orchid Society vice-president Conrad Coenen decided to have some fun with the society’s display, cheekily titled ‘Fifty Shades of Autumn’. The male gardener is wearing a pair of furry handcuffs and has plenty of rope beside him (I’m not going to ask where the props came from!). Photo: Sandra Simpson

The dramatic colours of the slipper orchid, Paphiopedilum maudiae x maudiae. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Dendrobium subclausum var subclausum flowers on bare canes. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Miltonia Mayflower x Goodale Moir. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Subaltern’s butter

Happy Easter to all readers – I’ve spent most of the day in the garden, the weather seeming more like late summer than autumn.

Here’s a line or two from My Simple Life in New Zealand by Adela Stewart, originally published in London in 1908. Adela and her husband Hugh built what is now known as Athenree Homestead, between Waihi Beach and Katikati, north of Tauranga. It sent me into the labyrinth that is Google but the results have been fun.

1887: Several young friends and relations came to stay, followed next day by many more – sixty-seven in all – for [her son] Mervyn’s annual Patrick’s Day birthday picnic to the Waihi beach, where we had our lunch with the usual interest of making tea. Then home for supper. Having received them from a friend in Bermuda, Hugh planted two Avocado pear or subaltern’s butter stones, but they had suffered in the voyage and did not even germinate, which we regretted as they are a delicious fruit and were unknown in New Zealand.

This last comment I found particularly interesting as the Katikati area is now one of this country’s prime avocado-growing areas. I hadn’t heard the name “subaltern’s butter” before – alligator pear, yes – and a quick online search reveals that it might be because a subaltern was a subordinate (in the British military) so this was “less than butter” or maybe because subalterns were too lowly to have proper butter.

Photo: Wikipedia

In his 1836 book Recollections of an Artillery Officer: Including Scenes and Adventures in Ireland, America, Flanders and France Benson Earle Hill writes:

I would almost make another voyage to Barbadoes, for the sole purpose of eating the alacada or, as it is usually called, the alligator pear. Fletcher had designated it by another of its titles, when he desired to have plenty of “subaltern’s butter”. … a greenish white pulp, combining an agreeable but very slightly acid, with a rich, mellow, almost marrow-like, flavour. Scooped out and spread on bread, with a little salt and Cayenne pepper, it is an excellent accompaniment to your breakfast; and eaten au naturel with your wine, it proves equally acceptable. The stone is used for the purpose of marking linen, which being placed over it, the letters are punctured with a small needle, whose point extracts, at every application, an indelible dye.

Read the book here, or download it for free.

According to the New Zealand Avocado industry website, the first tree was grown from seed probably planted in 1926. The first fruit from this tree was marketed in Auckland in 1939 and was “well received”.

“The modern avocado industry consists of 1600 growers who collectively manage 5000+ hectares of mainly the Hass variety of avocados. Hass is harvested for export from late August through to late March. About 80% of export grade fruit goes to the Australian market with the balance going to Japan, USA and Southeast Asian markets.” Read more at the website, including recipes. I have been told by more than one person that Nadia Lim’s chocolate avocado mousse recipe is sensational.

PS: You may have heard that Persea americana (avocados, native to central and South America) are high in fat – relax, it’s the “good fat” that doctors don’t mind.