Orchid evaporation

Tauranga has this weekend played host to a national seminar for orchid judges, which culminates this afternoon in the annual meeting of the Orchid Council of New Zealand. The Tauranga Orchid Society has organised not only a premises and display plants for the seminar, but also last night organised a dinner at the race-course for seminar registrants, as well as members of both the Tauranga and Bay of Plenty orchid societies, and it was a chance for the Tauranga group to mark its 35th birthday. (The seasoned members of the committee know what they’re about and it’s run like clockwork with very little input from committee newbies needed.)

Judges had come from all over the country – from the Bay of Islands to Otago and all points in between – for the seminar.

Guest speaker was Roy Walker who talked about “evaporation” as it applies to orchid society memberships throughout the country. Too many snowy tops in the room, he reckoned, and went on to challenge the Auckland region societies to increase their membership – having fewer than 1000 combined membership across four societies wasn’t good enough in an area with a population of more than 1 million – and the incoming national councillors to do something about making membership more attractive to younger people.

Roy’s talk caused cheers and, occasionally, jeers and one non-orchid person present commented that “some people in the room were not impressed”. I didn’t think I was hearing anything I hadn’t worked out for myself so maybe it was Roy’s somewhat idiosyncratic approach. Anyway, he did what a guest speaker should do – offered some laughs and was thought-provoking. Here is the evening in a few photos.

Roy Neale introduces guest speaker Roy Walker. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The New Zealand branch of the Cymbidium Society of America (CSA) took the opportunity to hand out awards from the parent organisation.

Joe Vance (left), president of the New Zealand CSA branch, presents an award to Conrad Coenen of Tauranga. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Yvonne and Allan Rae of Palmerston North with their CSA awards. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Susan Tucker accepts two CSA awards from Joe Vance. Ross Tucker was in the audience but told to sit down and let Susan take the limelight for a change! Photo: Sandra Simpson

Betty Vance kisses away the tear that rolled down Joe’s cheek when the couple’s three CSA awards were announced – for orchids they bred themselves. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Lee Neale receives a CSA Award for Leroy Orchids from Joe Vance. Photo: Sandra Simpson

After a delicious roast meal, the Tauranga Orchid Society marked its 35th birthday with the cutting of an enormous carrot cake (in fact, there were two of the delicious things to make sure we had enough to go round) – founding president Ron Maunder did the honours.

Founding president of the Tauranga Orchid Society Ron Maunder (left) with current president Barry Curtis just before the cake cutting. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The final presentation was somewhat spontaneous as the recipient couldn’t be there until just as the evening was ending, but the surprise and delight on his face was lovely to see. Bill Pepperell of the Waikato Orchid Society has grown the bloom named as the New Zealand Orchid of the Year – Fredclarkeara After Dark ‘Toulmx’, a black orchid. See a photo here.

Bill Pepperell with his framed certificate and photo of his orchid, presented by Margaret Lomas of the Orchid Council of New Zealand. Photo: Sandra Simpson

And why were we all there, whether judges or not? For the love of these extraordinary plants and flowers …

Dracula wallisii grown by Audrey Hewson of Tauranga. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Calanthe vestita, a terrestrial orchid that is deciduous, grown by Dennis Chuah of Auckland. Photo: Sandra Simpson

An orchid that looks more like a bromeliad or a hosta – Stenorrhynchos speciosum is native to Mexico and Central America. Photo: Sandra Simpson

This ball of Epidendrum porpax was transported carefully from and to New Plymouth by Joy Wray. Photo: Sandra Simpson

To find out where your nearest orchid society is in New Zealand, click here.

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News from around the world

British garden designer Dan Pearson has won this year’s top award at the Chelsea Garden Show – read some comments and see some photos here. The Daily Telegraph lists its Top 10 Trends from Chelsea, while the Guardian offers Six Things we Learned. See a gallery of photos from Chelsea here.

A New Zealand connection at Chelsea this year was the Cloudy Bay garden. “The garden echoes the terroir of the Marlborough region … with deep red and fresh white flowers representing Cloudy Bay’s signature wines, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc,” writes Rona Wheeldon on her blog (see some pictures of the garden too). “The two wines are also represented in the two different hard landscaping areas…the rusticness and earthyness of the oak reflecting the red wine and the clear crispness of the concrete reflecting the white.”

A virtual visit to Chelsea wouldn’t be complete without a read of Tim Richardson’s thoughts, always to the point and with plenty of insider gossip. I’m amazed he had nothing to say about the synchronised swimmers!

Britain seems captivated by the idea of ‘wild swimming’, the latest is a new public, outdoor swimming ‘pond’ at King’s Cross in London. Christopher Woodward has already taken the plunge. “Outdoor swimming makes you sensitive to the health of water, as I can testify, having swum from Oxford to London over eight days last September,” he writes. “At Clifton Hampden it’s as sweet smelling as a Georgian pastoral, but at Hampton Court it’s so dirty that for a fortnight I lost all sense of taste.”

Kathleen Inman has a collection of British double-flowered plants – including double-flowered gorse! In New Zealand gorse is a pest plant so we sometimes forget that elsewhere it’s a prized plant. A parks officer once told me that gorse was a perfect ‘nursery plant’ for natives as it protects them while they’re small, while beekeepers like gorse because it has such strong pollen and flowers through the winter when there isn’t much else around in the way of food plants. The website of Plant Heritage National Collections (UK).

America’s Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) has announced its award winners for 2015, and Garden Drum’s Catherine Stewart profiles three of the Gold winners in this post. “APLD’s award winning designers each year feature gardens and landscapes that are simply stunning, filled with clever problem solving, beautiful planting, well-chosen hardscape elements and both sustainable and decorative ideas that you can use in your own garden,” Catherine says.

Adrian Gray had a cameo role recently on the new series of Grand Designs showing on TV3 (Thursdays) – a couple building a flash, but small, place on an eroding cliff on the Welsh coast. Adrian was creating a lawn sculpture for them, by balancing one rock on another on the tiniest of contact points. If you didn’t see it, pop on over to his website and have a look (there are short videos too). The one he did for Grand Designs was bolted because of the wind on the top of the cliff, but generally they are simply balanced.

Tree talk

New Zealand’s first Arbor Day was celebrated in Greytown on July 3, 1890 with schoolchildren, residents and “dignitaries”  planting 153 trees, 12 of which are still standing. The idea of a special tree-planting day fizzled out after World War 1 but was revived in 1934. In 1977 Arbor Day moved from August 4 to June 5, also World Environment Day. The world’s first Arbor Day was held on April 10, 1872 in Nebraska.

Lining the entry to the most important colonial building in New Zealand – the Treaty House at Waitangi – are pohutukawa, one of our most loved and distinctive native trees.

Each tree commemorates the visit of a Governor-General or member of the British Royal family, the first planted by Governor-General Viscount Bledisloe in 1934 during the inaugural Waitangi Day celebration on February 6.

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The entry to the Treaty House at Waitangi is lined with pohutukawa planted by special visitors. Photo: Sandra Simpson

It was fitting Lord Bledisloe should have the first honour as without his generosity the Treaty House may have been lost. When he saw how dilapidated it was, he bought the house property plus another 1000 acres and gifted it to the nation – and then donated £500 to launch an appeal for the restoration of the home of James Busby, the British Resident (political officer) at the time of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between Maori chiefs and representatives of Queen Victoria. The Treaty was signed on the lawn in front of the Busby residence.

Lord Bledisloe in the uniform of the Governor-General of New Zealand. Photo: Herman John Schmidt (the National Library of New Zealand collection)

Lord Bledisloe was much liked during his term in New Zealand, mostly for his sympathetic and generous nature. He instigated a 30 per cent pay cut for himself because public servants in the country – at the time in the grip of the Depression – had had a 30 per cent pay cut, even though he then had to use private funds to carry out his duties. He also donated a certain rugby cup to the nation, but that’s another story.

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‘James Busby’ in his dining room at Waitangi. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Harking back to Busby for a moment, according to the Te Ara Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, he is “best known” as the founder of Australia’s wine industry, but also grew grapes and made wine in New Zealand in the mid-19th century. His viticulture and wine manual, initially written for settlers in New South Wales, was reprinted in New Zealand in 1862. Read more about this almost-forgotten side to a sometimes forgotten man here.

In nearby Kerikeri sub-tropical expert Robin Booth has something of a rarity in his Wharepuke GardenFicus auriculata (elephant ear fig or Roxburgh fig), a tree native to China.

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Ficus auriculata in Wharepuke Garden at Kerikeri. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The fruit is eaten in China and India but American research in the 1940s concluded that trees without their specialist wasp pollinator would not develop edible fruit. Robin has read that Ficus auriculata is one of the most delicious figs, “tasting like strawberries and coconut”.

“As far as I know all fig species other than the domestic fig have to be pollinated before they become succulent and edible,” he says.

Fungal Foray 2015

Some of you may have noticed that I’ve got the occasional piece of writing appearing in the NZ Gardener magazine. The latest piece is in this month’s issue and is about Shirley Kerr, fungus and the annual Fungal Foray (this year in Manawatu).

The piece has been put on to the Stuff website, so if you don’t get the magazine you can pop over there and have a read and see one of Shirley’s great photos (despite the photo credit, the one of Shirley was taken by me). Fungi lovers to meet up in Manawatu.

Our native plants: Golden tainui

Also known as gumdigger’s soap, Pomaderris kumeraho is a shrub of about 3m tall. The name ‘gumdigger’s soap’ is because the pioneer-era diggers of kauri gum (amber) in Northland used the flowers and leaves as a soap – rubbing them between wet hands to create a lather.

The plant flowers prolifically in spring and grows naturally in poor soils from Auckland north. See photos of the sunshine-yellow flowers here.

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Golden tainui in bud – the cream-coloured buds open to sunshine yellow flowers. Photo: Sandra Simpson

There are many other members of the Pomaderris family, including P. apetala (tainui) which is mentioned in Maori legend – a green bough used as flooring in the Tainui canoe grew at the first place a camp was made in Aotearoa, near the mouth of the Mokau River in Taranaki. The inference is that it came from elsewhere in Polynesia but research has discovered that P. apetala is native only to New Zealand and Australia.

Lawrie Metcalf in his Cultivation of New Zealand Trees & Shrubs (Raupo, 2011) notes that the New Zealand native is now called P. apetala ssp maritime and is regularly confused with the very similar P. aspera, which is native to Tasmania but has become naturalised in several parts of New Zealand.

The authors of Gardening with New Zealand Plants, Shrubs and Trees (Collins, 1988) recommend P. phylicifolia as a small, flower-covered garden shrub that is drought tolerant.

Lone Pine – and its descendents

Young pines grown from seed gathered from an authenticated descendent of the Lone Pine at Gallipoli were planted in various parts of New Zealand at events on Anzac Day.

The Battle of Lone Pine began on August 6, 1915, and is the site of the main Australian war memorial at Gallipoli in southwestern Turkey. It’s also one of the five Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries on the peninsula that are burial places for those whose names are unknown.

Dr Toby Stovold with his crop of young pines. Photo: Scion

The authenticated Pinus brutia tree is at Paeroa Golf Club and seeds were gathered in 2012 by Dr Toby Stovold of Scion (formerly NZ Forest Research Institute) in Rotorua. About 50 trees were propagated by Dr Stovold and gifted to RSAs (Returned Service Association) around the country. As well as the RSA plantings, seedlings have also gone to the National Army Museum in Waiouru for a memorial garden, Christchurch’s Park of Remembrance and Government Gardens in Rotorua.

Lone Pine cemetery at Gallipoli. The tree pictured is a stone pine, whereas the original is thought to have been a Turkish red pine. Photo: Wikipedia

Interestingly, the Wikipedia entry about the cemetery (linked to above) mentions two types of pine that have grown at the site – claiming the original to have been Pinus halepensis (Aleppo pine) and its replacement as Pinus pinea (stone pine). So I wonder how the Paeroa tree was ‘authenticated’ if the original tree no longer exists? Family legends are notoriously unreliable and there are many, many trees that have been grown from seeds and acorns ‘brought back from the war’. In this case, the Turkish red pine in Paeroa is said to trace back to a pine cone brought home by Australian soldier Sergeant Keith McDowell after World War 1.

This website says Pinus brutia is ‘closely related’ to Pinus halepensis so all may be well. The common name for P. brutia is Calabrian pine – Calabria is a province in Italy, called Brutia by the Romans.

Other trees around New Zealand have also claimed to be descended from Gallipoli’s Lone Pine but so far the claims have been found to be astray. However, there is a tree in Rotorua Cemetery which Dr Stovold is testing. Read about that here. The tree was planted on Anzac Day 1965 by Lieutenant-Colonel Cyril Bassett, VC.

In a 2007 article in the NZ Foresty Journal Mike Wilcox and David Spencer looked into the story of Lone Pine tree seeds making their way to this part of the world and had this to say: “After World War I Sergeant Keith McDowell brought back a cone from the famous Lone Pine, from which four trees were later planted at war memorials in Victoria, Australia, in 1933-34. These are Pinus brutia. However, most Anzac pine trees planted in Australia and New Zealand to commemorate men lost in the Gallipoli campaign, and in particular the Lone Pine Ridge, are Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) which does not grow naturally in Gallipoli … The origin of these P. halepensis trees is attributed to a cone collected by an Australian soldier [from a branch or log] in the Turkish trenches … probably brought in from a woodlot or hedgerow planted on the Gallipoli Peninsula … the only authentic Pinus brutia in New Zealand from the Gallipoli Lone Pine seems to be the one at the Paeroa Golf Course very likely derived from the cone Sergeant McDowell brought back with him to Australia, and as such must rank as one of the most historic trees in the country.” Read the full article here (downloads as a pdf).

They go on to mention Sergeant McDowell’s story: “During the withdrawal from Gallipoli … Sergeant Keith McDowell, picked up a pine cone from the original Lone Pine and placed it in his haversack as a souvenir. Sergeant McDowell carried the cone for the remainder of the war and when he returned to Australia, gave it to his aunt, Mrs Emma Gray … ‘Here Aunty, you’ve got a green thumb, see if you can grow something out of this,’ the late Mrs Gray’s son Alexander recalled. But it wasn’t until some 12 years later that Mrs Gray planted the few seeds from the cone, four of which sprouted and grew … One was planted in Wattle Park, Melbourne in 1933, another at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, another at the Soldiers Memorial Hall … just north-east of Warrnambool, and the fourth, on 23 January, 1934, in the Warrnambool Botanic Gardens.”

Wilcox and Spencer relate the story that the seeds of the Paeroa tree came from Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens from a tree descended from the original Lone Pine – and although there is no record of one of Mrs Gray’s trees being planted there, the story may simply have become muddled over time. A Melbourne park mixed up with Warrnambool Botanic Gardens perhaps. We’ll never know the truth about these trees but the sentiment is surely in the right place.

Secret in the soil

David Walpole is a gardener who likes to know what’s going on in the soil and has made a particular study of the trace elements selenium and boron.

“I was having trouble with my vege garden and my sister who was visiting from Western Australia and had read about the work of Dr Rex Newnham recommended boron,” David says. “So I scattered around a teaspoon for every 10 square metres and everything came away. Not every plant needs it but the brassicas do, rhubarb, silverbeet and beetroot.” It is also beneficial for strawberries, apples, pears and avocados.

“Beans don’t like it though,” says David, “and boron is also a weedkiller so it has a range of properties.”

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David Walpole covers his seedlings to protect them from neighbourhood cats. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Boron is one of the most common soil deficiencies worldwide, says David who was an industrial chemist for 10 years before becoming a sheep and beef farmer on the outskirts of Tauranga for 40 years. It is available as borax, a compound of boron, and in commercial mixes of trace elements.

Selenium, a mineral largely missing in New Zealand soils, has interested David for the past 12 years, his study including a trip to Finland where by law farmers must add selenium to fertilisers.

“A study in the United States found that those in a control group given selenium had half the rate of lung, bowel and prostate cancer of the general population – but there had been no change in the cancer rates in Finland.

“I contacted the professor who had done the US study, Dr Gerhard Schrauzer, and he said the difference was the dose – the study had used 1.7 micromolar of selenium per litre of blood but in Finland the level was about 1.4. New Zealanders have a level of about 1.0.”

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Since adding boron and selenium to the soil in his Tauranga garden, David Walpole has had increased crop yields. Pictured here are broccoli (front) and curly-leafed kale. Photo: Sandra Simpson

David, who runs the Tauranga U3A health group, says  selenium added to the soil will also result in an increased crop yield.

He and wife Erica retired to the Tauranga home of her late parents, Jay and Eric Naumann, in 2005. Eric was a long-time principal at Pillan’s Point School. When the Walpoles arrived there were a couple of old citrus trees in the front lawn, and David has added more for year-round fruit.

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Tangelos are just one of the many types the provide David and Erica Walpole with year-round citrus. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“We start with the Harwood Late orange in April and May, then mandarins in June and July, the Clementine and Satsuma varieties, navel oranges in August and September, prolific tangelos from October to December and Encore mandarins from December to March.

“I wasn’t getting many flowers on the Encore until a mate told me a bird should be able to fly through it so I thinned the branches and now it’s covered in fruit.”

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

Read an interview with Dr Gerhard Schrauzer.

Read a paper by Dr Rex Newnham on the links between boron and arthritis.