Getting fruity

Labour Weekend is the traditional time to get tomatoes in, at least in warmer areas of New Zealand. In her Sunday newspaper column this week Lynda Hallinan mentioned Bristol Seeds of Wanganui, stockists of a wide range of heritage tomato seed. So I thought I’d share the link with you. Owners Frank and Joy Bristol have been working with Mark Christensen, the man who discovered Monty’s Surprise apple, on a project to analyse the health benefits of various heritage tomatoes.

Mark is director of the Heritage Food Crops Research Trust which has also been looking at beans and plums and peaches. Hear an April 2015 interview with Mark on National Radio.

Some of the Vege Grower’s 2014/15 crop. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Ecoseeds is another New Zealand company with a list of heritage vegetables, including tomatoes (to see the list, click on the down arrow to the right under ‘Product’). See also the Country Trading Company, King’s Seeds heirloom tomatoes and the list at Koanga Institute (including coloured corn).

Growing from seed isn’t difficult – it just takes some planning to get things in at the right time so they crop when you want them. You can always go to a garden centre and buy a potted plant that is partially grown, but if price is a factor, seeds are definitely a great way to grow food and flowers. And remember to chat to your neighbours. There’s many an excellent seed swap to be made over the fence.

We moved our small Blush Babe apple tree to the back lawn this past winter and are now excited to see more blossom than it’s ever had so hope our busy worker bees are converting flowers to fruit. I mentioned a juicy and delicious apple my dear old great-uncle used to have (both long gone, alas) to a friend last week and in researching the name for her found the terrific website of Mana Whenua Apples. Stayman’s Winesap is the apple Uncle Percy had – a late apple, according to the Mana Whenua list, and a tree that originated from the US in 1866.

Rangpur lime. Photo: Sandra Simpson

My friend showed me an interesting fruit tree in her garden, labelled as ‘Rangpur Lime’ but which has orange skin and orange flesh. A little research reveals that it’s not a lime at all but a cross between a lemon and a mandarin, although because it’s so acidic can be used like a lime. The leaves are scented like kaffir lime leaves and can be used in cooking. The fruit seems to have come from the Indian subcontinent but is also known in China and Japan. Here’s some growing information (remember to alter the months for the southern hemisphere), while this website includes some recipes. It should be noted that the Rangpur lime also grows quite long thorns!

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Purple haze

This year has been one of the best for wisteria for a long time – the strong winds associated with spring have begun only now, some three weeks after our wisteria, which is one of the earlier ones, came into flower.

The scent has been beautiful and I’ve often lingered amid the ‘purple haze’ for no good reason other than the perfume. Last weekend we took our little table and chairs around to the front of the house and set them up under the wisteria and had an afternoon cuppa there, part of the scent, the buzzing of bees and the sunshine.

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Visitors to my home enter under a cloud of purple wisteria at this time of year. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Our vine is just one of the ordinary Wisteria sinensis and is some 20 years old. When the children were younger we realised that it flowered in time with a school holiday and more often than not we left just as it was bursting and came back to find purple blossoms all over the ground – missed it again!

But this year the blossoms have been earlier or the spring winds later than usual and I’ve been enjoying not only our own, but glimpses of wisterias in other gardens as I drive from here to there.

A recent impulse purchase was Wisteria venusta White Silk, described as “a rare Japanese variety with soft, silky foliage and unusually large cream flowers produced on short racemes … plants make excellent container specimens“. As it’s still in its container I certainly hope so! Please note that there is some dispute about the naming of these wisteria and you’ll see both ‘venusta’ and ‘brachybotrys’ used. Apparently, they’re synonymous.

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Photo: Sandra Simpson

Read some good information about Wisteria sinensis here, plus tips on how to prune the vines to improve flowering (remembering to reverse the months for the Southern Hemisphere), and read Abbie Jury’s warnings on where to plant these vigorous growers. Find some basic, but useful, information about the different families of wisteria here.

And here’s an earlier post of mine about John and Christine Nicholls who grow a collection of wisteria as a hobby.

Galloping into spring

Western Bay of Plenty gardener Chloe Wright loves spring and has planted her two properties to mark the change of season, not always easy in a sub-tropical area.

“Perhaps it’s because I grew up in [temperate] Wellington with mad-keen gardeners for parents,” she says, “but I like being able to see the seasons really change.”

Chloe has more opportunity than most to plant for the seasons with a large garden around her Omokoroa home and 16ha of farm at Pahoia. When she and husband Wayne bought the latter property in 1994 it was a rundown kiwifruit orchard with shelterbelts. Since then she has developed the land to indulge her two loves – horses and gardening.

There is a stables, dressage arena, show-jumping arena and a 2.5km cross-country course all designed to fit with the theme of an English parkland, developed with the help of Ginny Clark at Décor Greenworld.

The farm, home to Omokoroa Pony Club and the site of one-day events, now has ponds, hundreds of new trees and it contours reshaped. “My relaxations are horses and gardening,” Chloe says. “Luckily, Wayne relaxes on a digger or bulldozer.”

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A row of Prunus Awanui beside the farm road. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Prunus Awanui has been planted extensively and Chloe thinks there is no better spring-flowering tree. However, there is a small group of Malus floribunda near the stables that may be giving the older trees a run for their money in her affections.

Both trees also give autumn colour, setting the hillsides aflame, along with oaks, maples, liquidambers, claret ash, gingkos and copper beeches, and Chloe has also put in groves of native trees for an evergreen backdrop.

Deciduous magnolias and forsythia add to the colour of spring, as do the hundreds of daffodils planted on hillsides.

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Photo: Sandra Simpson

Bluebells, freesias, tulips, snowdrops and other spring-flowering bulbs dot both the farm and her home garden.

“The riding fraternity says these are the best grounds in New Zealand and it makes me joyful to see the pony club here enjoying it all.”

Chloe, who supports a number of young riders who wouldn’t otherwise be able to enjoy the sport, says there is no issue with the many horses that come through the farm grazing on her trees. “It’s riding etiquette,” she says. “You don’t let your horse eat other people’s trees.”

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Malus floribunda. Photo: Sandra Simpson

At her home, Fallohide, she has a long border of azaleas and rhododendrons on one side of the driveway and a border of mixed bulbs on the other, including many spraxias.

“Every year I think I’ll pull them out,” she says of the spraxias, “but every year when they flower they look lovely so they stay.”

There is a Malus floribunda here too, with its carmine buds that open and pale with age to white blossom, but she’s unsure of the name of a white blossom tree by a stone arch, although believes it to be 30-odd years old.

“Every summer it gets a second blooming when the old-fashioned rose Souvenir de Mme Leonie Viennot scrambles through it and covers it in lovely buff-coloured blooms. I love the generosity and profusion in nature.”

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