Fruit & Vege Wisdom

Scooted off and heard Andrew Boylan of incredible edibles give a talk on Thursday night at Palmer’s and then up to Katikati on Friday morning for some more good advice from Gerard Martin of King’s Seeds at the final open day for the year that had a summer/Christmas theme.

Some of Gerard’s tips for a stress-free summer garden:

Mulch – supresses weeds and retains moisture in the soil (but you can mulch a plant too deeply; keep it at a maximum of about 50cm to allow the soil to breathe).

Water – a plant that keeps flowering will keep fruiting and a mulched plant that is watered regularly is more likely to stay free of disease and insect attack. Water thoroughly in the evening.

Stay on your toes – stake plants before they need it; remove seed heads to avoid treasures becoming weeds; watch for insects on the underside of leaves; remove diseased plants; deadhead to prolong productivity; train plants; sow every 6 weeks for a continuous harvest.

Bolting – some plants naturally bolt. Coriander and watercress won’t be under stress, they’re reacting to day length. Successive sowing will get you over any bolting.

Eggplants (aubergines) – when the plant sets its first fruit, take it off. This encourages other flowers to grow equally and produce better fruit. Put your plants in the hottest part of your garden.

Whitefly – Mix 4 tbspns bicarbonate of soda to 1 litre of water and add a drop of detergent. Spray on plants affected by whitefly, but keep the mix agitated so the bicarb doesn’t sink to the bottom.

Gerard conducts his own germination trials – a current one for beans has seen him remove a line of seeds from the shelf as they didn’t strike well.

And some of Andrew’s advice:

Blueberries – are surface feeders so have a shallow root system. Acidic soil is vital and they don’t like wet feet. Blue Magic will overcrop the first year so you need to remove the emerging fruit. Blue Sapphire, to be released next year, is the same.

Fig – Let the tree grow to the height you want and cut the top off. Keep cutting it back to encourage sideways growth. Mosaic virus (mottled leaves) doesn’t affect fruit but keep the tree fed (especially if it’s in a pot) and it will recover.

Feijoa – Don’t use them as a hedge as they fruit on last year’s wood (or trim alternate sides each year). The flowers are pollinated by big birds such as blackbirds, mynahs and starlings. Waxeyes may be in the tree but they’re not pollinating. In urban areas it’s not necessary to have 2 trees to achieve pollination but in the country it’s probably a good idea.

Passionfruit – Full sun and lots of water. Spray with copper in spring and summer as a curative for greasespot. “The fruit will look awful but it still tastes good,” Andrew says.

Avocado – Never plant another tree where one has died from root rot (Phytophthora). When planting a new tree, carefully extract it from the bag and under no circumstances disturb the root ball. incredible edibles is next year introducing a (they hope) dwarf avocado called Cleopatra that flowers heavily. The Hawke’s Bay breeder has a six-year-old tree that is 3m.

Casimiroa/sapote – Can be planted in the place where an avocado has died.

Pine nuts – It’s 8 years before you get a crop, 18 months before the cones have ripened … and then you have to get the nuts out! Andrew says he has nice, big pine trees.

Chilean guava/NZ cranberry – Keep trimming it and the bush will keep flowering and fruiting. Cut young plants 3-4 times a year to develop their structure.

Coffee – Grow inside in a pot in the hottest place you have. The bushes hate cold wind. Andrew this year cropped 500 beans from a plant in his office. Fiona roasted them in the frying pan, then the oven and smashed them up in a blender. They made a delicious brew, says Andrew.


Chilean guava trained as a topiary. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Pacific Rose Bowl Winners

Rose breeder Rob Somerfield of Te Puna, near Tauranga, has done it again – taking out the Rose of the Year award at the recent Pacific Rose Bowl Festival in Hamilton with Looking Good, a pink floribunda that will go on sale next year and will also support the cancer charity Look Good, Feel Better.

Looking Good, bred by Rob Somerfield, and winner of the Rose of the Year award at the 2015 Pacific Rose Bowl Festival. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Looking Good also won the Best Floribunda, Best New Zealand Raised Rose and Children’s Choice awards, the last a favourite of Rob’s because he reckons youngsters judge in a very “pure” way. They like what they like. Read an interview with Rob about his win here. As you may recall, Rob won the top award at the Rose Bowl last year with Love Heart.

Best Fragrance: Caroline Bay by Mike Athy (Gisborne), another of his purple-hued blooms. Read an interview with Mike here.

The Pacific Rose Bowl Festival is decided entirely by public vote. Early next month the results from the National Rose Trial Grounds in Palmerston North will be announced; these are decided by a panel of rose judges.

Curious plants: Colletia paradoxa

I first ran into this plant (not literally, and you’ll understand why I didn’t want that to be the case when you see the photo) in Clive Higgie’s Paloma gardens near Wanganui but had my interest pricked (if you’ll excuse the pun) after seeing it again in the Auckland Regional Botanic Gardens.

Native to Uruguay, western Argentina and southern Brazil, Colletia paradoxa is an autumn-flowering plant that, as you might guess, doesn’t have any trouble from browsing animals and grows slowly to 2m to 3m tall. The genus name honors French botanist Philibert Collet (1643-1718), while ‘paradoxa’ is from the Greek and means ‘unexpected’ or ‘strange’. The flowers have a sweet scent.

Colletia paradoxa. Photo: Sandra Simpson

What appear to be leaves are actually flattened stems which do the photosynthesis for the plant. It does have leaves but they’re not particularly noticeable and are deciduous.

The plant has many common names including Thorn of the Cross, Anchor Plant and Jet Plane Plant.

Read some growing details here.

Unusual flowers

Lorraine Cox gave me a call last week to let me know she had some interesting plants in flower and would I like to come and take some photos? Lorraine keeps a beautiful garden in central Tauranga and knows her plants so, needless to say, I accepted her kind offer.

Possibly Echium simplex (White Tower of Jewels). Photo: Sandra Simpson

She has had her Echium pininana alba (Echium Snow Tower) plants for 4 years and despite being told they would flower after 2 years, it has taken them this long to come into bloom. These echiums have one towering flower spike per plant.

Described as ‘rare’, this echium is native to the island of Guernsey in the English Channel and prefers a cooler, moist position which, Lorraine believes, may explain why she’s had to wait so long for flowers as most of her plants are in full sun. The plant that has done the best this year (pictured above) is in semi-shade.

She found her bundle of plants at Bunnings (coming from Hamlin Nurseries in Papakura), proving it’s always worth keeping your eyes open.

Update, January 9, 2016: After some research, Lorraine now believes her white echium to be Echium simplex (White Tower of Jewels) from the mountains of Tenerife in the Canary Islands and described as being drought tolerant. Read more here.

Although her next treasure flowers only every 7 years it was to be found in a pot well away from the house – and for a very good reason. Her Amorphophallus konjac bulb, a gift from her son, emits the scent of rotting meat (to attract pollinators) as the flower unfurls. I couldn’t detect any scent the morning I took these photos, but by early afternoon Lorraine had emailed to say ‘Stinky’ was doing its thing.

Amorphophallus konjac in flower – there is no foliage at this stage, that comes later. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Read more about this interesting plant here. Among its common names are voodoo lily,  corpse flower and devil’s tongue arum. Read a Sandra’s Garden post on the 2013 flowering in Auckland of this plant’s larger cousin Amorphophallus titanium.

Petrea volubilis isn’t particularly rare or unusual but what you may not know about this vine is that its true flowers are the tiny ones with a splash of white at the centre – the rest of the purple ‘stars’ are calices (I didn’t either until Lorraine told me).

The true flowers are the ‘doubles’ with a white centre. Photo: Sandra Simpson

It gets its common name, sandpaper vine, from the harsh surface of its leaves, which are in such contrast to the soft racemes of flowers.