Flowering now

Well, flowering recently … the heat and humidity have meant things haven’t lasted that well. Rain today as the tail end of Tropical Cyclone Winston, the one that did so much damage in Fiji, flicks past us. Oh, for a cooler night – the fan’s been working overtime!

Of course, when you’re in the tropics, it’s a another story – different sounds, different smells and scents and generally clever ways of keeping rooms cool, such as deep verandahs. We were very fortunate to stay in the lovely Warwick Ibah Hotel in Ubud, Bali in 2014 where not only was there a huge verandah but a room with one open end that was sort of an entry hall. A large floor vase had been filled with stems of tuberose which gave off a wonderful scent in the evenings.

Of the 4 tuberose bulbs I bought on sale at The Warehouse late last year, 2 have flowered (all have grown) so I’m pretty pleased with that and wonder if I might yet see the other 2 flower (an eternal optimist). I put them into a big pot, mainly so I could keep track of where the bulbs are. Tuberose is native to Mexico but grown widely throughout the tropics.

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The oil of tuberose flowers is used in perfumery. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I bought a bundle of aster seedlings from Bunnings, intending them to provide some colour in a bit of a bare patch for when we had a guest staying in late October. No such luck. The plants seemed to take forever to come into bloom, but when they did – goodness! Covered in flowers.


I was so impressed with the asters – reds, pinks and purples – that I got some more for the front garden. Those ones have turned out to be all blue or purple but did come into flower faster. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Orchids need not be tricky and/or time consuming. Take Epidendrum types as an example. I shoved some bare-rooted plants into a couple of (empty) pots and have ever after left them too it, apart from a squirt with the hose as I water other pots in summer.

Happily growing in a tangle in the pots, the orchids I have flower in yellow, red and purple. I once had a vivid orange type but that was back in my early days of gardening and I think I killed it with kindness.

Epidendrums come in various sizes and the taller ones are sometimes known as reed-cane types, or you may heard of ‘crucifix orchid’. Mine flower off and on throughout the year but have their best flowering in spring and summer.


Photo: Sandra Simpson

Read about how to care for Epidendrums here. If you’re in New Zealand, Lee and Roy Neale at Whenuapai (Auckland) are busy breeding mid-size and miniature-height Epidendrums with beautiful flower colours that form up into large balls on the end of the stem. Look out for their stand at an orchid show near you (and don’t forget the big national expo in Auckland in October) or phone 09 416 6737 or email them.

The little Hoya shown below was an impulse purchase at the Te Puke Orchid Show last year – it’s only a small plant so I was very pleased to see a couple of flower heads forming.


Hoya Bella. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The longer I have my half-dozen Hoya, the more I realise what easy-care plants they are, in this climate anyway. However, just now my Hoya Carnosa plants are suffering from the yellow Oleander aphids that also attack swan plants.

Digital control (squeezing them off with my fingers) seems to work, so long as it’s done regularly. The blighters position themselves on flower stems so there is the chance of wrecking a flower ball by trying to get them off. Mixing up a solution of water and dish-wash liquid and spraying it on, and garlic sprays are said to work too. Here are some suggestions for eradication from someone looking at protecting swan plants for monarch butterflies. Check out whether you have ants in the mix as they will ‘farm’ the aphids for their honeydew secretions so you may need to use ant control too.

Read more about Hoya Bella here – it seems to be a plant that likes a lot of water. (Others don’t seem to mind drying out a bit between waterings.)

What’s blooming? Death Valley!

Parts of Death Valley, the driest place in North America, have exploded in a riot of colour with a rare “superbloom” of millions of wildflowers, a sight that hasn’t been seen to this extent since 2005.

The unusual spectacle has been triggered by a series of storms in October that brought heavy rainfall to parts of the national park in eastern California, including a burst of 7.62cm (3in) in just five hours. Death Valley normally averages just 5.08cm (2in) of rain a year.

Read more here. A park ranger says there are always flowers blooming somewhere in Death Valley but to get so many at once across a large area is special. He’s blown away by the idea of all those seeds, sometimes waiting a decade, for the right conditions to bloom.

Death Valley also holds the record for the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth — 56.7 degrees Celsius (134 degrees Fahrenheit), which was recorded on July 10, 1913. Read more about the record here. And an explanation of Death Valley’s climate may be found here.

Western Australia, however, claims the world record for wildflowers in bloom with more than 12,000 species identified, 60% of which are found nowhere else on Earth.

Update: And let’s not forget South Africa, as kind reader Coralie has pointed out, it too, offers marvellous sights. The main wildflower routes are in Cape province with Namaqualand boasting the richest succulent flora on Earth (in bloom August-September) and the grassland wildflowers in the Drakensburg Mountains (early November and again in late summer).

Here’s an amazing photo of the Namaqualand wildflowers from the South Africa Explored website.



Changes & news

Gardenza Nursery and Gardens is on the market as owner David Brundell, who has been on the property for more than 30 years, prepares to move to Rarotonga and take on the role of curator for a new botanical garden. The 3ha Franklin area garden, near Glenbrook Beach, has been notable for its subtropical, particularly clivia, displays but is being marketed as land only. David has also been a breeder of clivias.

I’m not sure if David’s Cook Islands project is anything to do with Maire Nui (Big Peace) gardens or not, but this ‘botanic’ garden says it has been organic for 20 years. Quite an achievement. And it’s clearly doing its bit as a caretaker for the planet. Kia ora!

Renowned landscape designer Trish Waugh has been learning new skills since closing her business, The Landscape Design Company, in 2013. Trish, and her late husband Doug, were part of the New Zealand gold medal team at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2004 for the 100% Pure NZ Ora – Garden of Wellbeing, which has been reconstructed at Taupo Museum.

Trish has has been studying permaculture and putting theory into practice on her own, large productive garden near Paeroa, as well as being an active member of PermaBlitz, a volunteer organisation in the Western Bay of Plenty that works on backyard projects.

She feels the time is right to begin paid landscape design again and will specialise in design that uses the principles of permaculture. Contact Trish by phoning 07 862 7380.

Bay of Plenty residents should note that the month of March – yes, the entire month – is dedicated to the theme of Sustainable Backyards. I am heading over to my Events page now to add the garden-related activities, but here are the two full events calendars: Western Bay of Plenty and Eastern Bay of Plenty.

Please note the entries for March 4 for Taneatua and Whakatane (Eastern Bay of Plenty) – Pamela Warhurst is a dynamic and entertaining speaker who is behind the transformation of her home town in the north of England through ‘propaganda gardening’ … “and we’ve done it all without a flipping strategy document”. The corner of the railway carpark, outside the police station, beside the canal and in the cemetery. Fruit and veges are growing everywhere. See a 2012 TED talk here (13:13)

And Pam will be at the Historic Village in Tauranga on March 5, speaking at 1pm at the Food Fest.

Shooting stars

Found this interesting little fellow in the display house at Pukekura Park recently. But between the accent of the chap telling me what it was and my note taking, I couldn’t find the darn thing listed anywhere when I got home. Luckily, I decided to flip through my copy of Stirling Macoboy’s What Shrub is That? (1989) – looking for something else – and found the answer.

Pavonia multiflora. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Triplochlamys multiflora, also known as Pavonia multiflora, has the rather lovely common names of Shooting Stars or Brazilian Candles and, yes, its homeland is Brazil and, yes, it does need at least subtropical conditions or, as they have in New Plymouth, grow it in inside in favourable conditions – high temperatures and humidity, good light but no direct sun, and plenty of water year-round. And as its name suggests it bears a multitude of flowers.

My mumbling staffer at Pukekura Park reckoned it was a ‘tropical hibiscus’, whatever that means. But he was sort-of right – both Pavonia multiflora and hibiscus are members of the Malvaceae family (just as bottlebrush and pohutukawa are both members of the Myrtaceae family) and you can see the resemblance.

From what I can see online, the plant is available to those living overseas from specialist nurseries but I can’t track down a seller in New Zealand … although there are still a few, smaller niche nurseries that don’t have a website so it may be possible to find it. If anyone knows, you might like to leave a comment to point others in the right direction.

Monday digest

A tree and plant disease that may make ash dieback “look like a walk in the park” is threatening Britain. Known as ‘phony peach disease’, Xylella fastidiosa has also been found in both South and North America where it has caused severe damage to citrus and coffee plantations. In New Jersey it has attacked more than a third of the state’s urban trees.

First confirmed in Europe three years ago when it ran rampant across olive plantations in southern Italy, a subspecies of Xylella has since been detected in southern France, where it has destroyed vines and lavender plants, and in Corsica. Unfortunately for Britain and Ireland, a cold-hardy strain has been discovered and the UK is on alert. The free movement of people and plants has a lot to answer for! Read more at The Guardian.

Helen McDonald, author of H for Hawk, writes movingly of landscapes changed forever by tree disease.

You’ve heard of the Tree Church in Waikato, well Eastwoodhill Arboretum has begun a tree cathedral. Read about the plans and what’s been planted here.

Catherine Stewart, at Garden Drum, warns that we mass plant at our peril as pests and diseases ravage everything from impatiens to horse chestnuts. Read more here.

Did you know there was a Rose Hall of Fame? Neither did I, until I stumbled on it – Cocktail is the most recent inductee. See the flowers here. And there’s an Old Rose Hall of Fame too with Charles de Mills the most recent addition.

2016 is the tercentenary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, and among the many walks, talks and events planned to celebrate this most English of landscapers, the Historic Houses Association (HHA) has launched an online Capability Brown Trail. Go and have an explore – there are more than 250 known landscapes/gardens across Britain. The Daily Telegraph has compiled a list of events so if you’re heading to the UK (or live there) have a look and see what’s available.

Bromeliad display

Just back from the annual BOP Bromeliad Group Show – lovely display as always, and this time a separate table for some of the smaller tillandsias, plus plenty of plants for sale. Among those enjoying the afternoon were Jocelyn and Peter Coyle of Totara Waters garden in Whenuapai, Auckland. (In fact, Peter talked me into a purchase, reckoning the plant should have been double the price!)

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No, Cryptanthus ‘Maggie’ hasn’t passed on to the great plant heap in the sky, this is a plant in peak condition! Photo: Sandra Simpson

Cryptanthus ‘Maggie’ was a subtle eye-catcher in the main display – my photo doesn’t do justice to the colour though, somewhere between grey, chocolate brown and silver. The Cryptanthus bromeliads are commonly called ‘earth stars’ because of their shape. Read more about them here. Note the saw-tooth edges to Maggie’s leaves!

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Everyone wanted a piece of Tillandsia mallemontii. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Tillandsia mallemontii hails from Brazil’s Atlantic coast rainforest and has lightly fragrant flowers. Peter Coyle recommends foliar feeding (spray on half-strength fertiliser) for tillandsias.

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Tillandsia imperialis is a real show stopper – one of the soft-leaved tillandsias that look more like a bromeliad. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Society president Lynley Breeze told me Tillandsia imperialis, native to Mexico, flowers reliably around Christmas every year with the ‘pagoda’-like flower lasting for 3 or 4 months. In the wild, they grow in trees in cloudforest regions, must be quite a sight.

The BOP Bromeliad Group meets on the second Wednesday of the month, 12.30pm at the Yacht Club, Sulphur Point, Tauranga. Visitors welcome. For more information phone 576 7711.

A garden through time

The Elms mission house is one of the most important colonial buildings in New Zealand, second only to the Treaty House at Waitangi – but it’s not only the building that tells a story, the garden does too.

Unfortunately, the garden isn’t obviously exciting, although there are good reasons for that. As the late historian and long-time member of The Elms Trust Jinty Rorke would ask, “which garden do you want to see?” – the Browns’ mission station garden of the 19th century, the early 20th century garden of the Maxwell women, or the late 20th century garden of Duff Maxwell. Read more about the historic property.

“And,” Jinty would say, “the trees have kept on growing. Even the garden that the Browns had couldn’t be replicated now because the trees are all a century older.”

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The Elms mission house from the seaward side – the replanted elm is on the right and on the left near the house is a cairn marking the spot of the original raupo hut. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The towering English elm Ulmus procera on the seward lawn is a sucker from one of the trees that gave the property its name in 1873. The last of the original elms was felled in 1952, with this tree planted in 1945. The oldest tree on the property is however, the oak at the corner of the north lawn – grown from an acorn brought from England in 1829 by the Reverend Alfred Nesbit Brown (1803-84) and transplanted here in 1838.


The Reverend Brown’s oak dates back to an 1829 acorn. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Dr James Beattie, associate professor at Waikato University’s History Department, and Margie Smith, who completed a directed study of The Elms for a Bachelor of Arts degree under the guidance of Dr Beattie, say mission gardens were important repositories of meaning and sources of identity – and were often used to introduce Maori to European agriculture as a prelude to introducing them to European religion.

The Elms was home to Mr Brown, his first wife Charlotte (1795/6-1855) and second wife Christina. They, and others such as the Christian Mission Society catechist John Flatt, all played a part in establishing the garden from the mid-1830s.

“Along with whaling stations, missionary gardens had some of the earliest and most important introductions of Eurasian species into New Zealand,” Dr Beattie says.

The first plants to go in at The Elms from 1836 were fruit trees – the house we see today wasn’t finished until 1847 – and from Mr Brown’s permanent arrival in 1838 he threw himself into gardening, a survival skill as much as a creative one, and quickly created a nursery, with seeds, cuttings and plants seemingly freely exchanged between mission stations and other settlers. Figs, grapes, peaches and roses all made their way around the country via the mission stations (as did grass seed – ryegrass seed, for instance, arrived in Hawke’s Bay in 1834 or 1835 from the Bay of Islands).


Fruit trees are still part of the garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Responsible for preserving the produce, whether by bottling or jam-making, the women probably worked in the gardens as well.

There were flowers, planted in a fashionable round bed at the front of the house, as well as exotic trees and shrubs sourced from around the world, and including the many elms that in 1873 saw the property renamed. The Browns also brought with them New Zealand’s first piano.

May 20, 1842: 114 bags of potatoes brought by the Natives from Maungatapu in payment for testaments supplied to them some months since. – Brown’s diary

Believe it or not (and perhaps Mrs Brown didn’t) the family lived in a raupo hut, a common building material for Maori and something like a bulrush, as first a free-standing library was built in 1839 to house Mr Brown’s many books, then a chapel for his converted natives, European helpers and frequent visitors to the mission … and then a timber home for himself and his family. The mission house was finished in 1847.

A diary entry by young Celia Brown, the daughter of Alfred and Charlotte, in 1848 records bulbs, aloes, cabbage roses and sweet peas, while new seeds had arrived from a friend – passion fruit, pomegranate, scarlet acacia, Chinese pink, American daisy, lavender, cockscombs and princess feathers.

“More eloquent than words, the garden remains as a statement of the accumulation of many centuries of history to which the Brown years contributed an important and significant part,” Dr Beattie says.

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The cones of Araucaria bidwillii, or bunya pune, are so heavy (up to 18kg) that the tree is taped off when they begin to ripen and fall. Photo: Sandra Simpson

There have been three or four distinct gardens – that started by Mr Brown in the mid-1830s; that dating from about 1887 when Euphemia Maxwell, sister and heir to Mr Brown’s second wife, and her daughters Alice and Edith were in residence; the native New Zealand theme from about 1919; and that dating from the residency of Duff Maxwell, nephew of Alice and Edith, who lived at The Elms from 1949 to 1992 and who added many of the more unusual plants.

Euphemia inherited the property from her sister on the condition that she live at The Elms and that it would pass to Alice and this was honoured. Read the biography of Alice Heron Maxwell. Alice and Edith sold flowers from the garden to raise money for troops going to World War 1 and, after their mother’s death, Alice began to plant native tree seedlings she had obtained from the East Coast, changing the character of the garden.

Jinty, who first visited the garden in 1976 when it was “quite different”, tried to bring a sense of order to the garden as per a landscape plan prepared in 2004 by Richard Hart.

“For a long time the council has cared for the grounds and the reality is that it’s faster and easier to mow grass than it is to prune roses or have flower beds,” she said. “But we know from visitor comments that people would like to see more colour.”


Waxeyes enjoy magnolia buds. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The garden’s age, particularly the age and size of some of the trees, makes re-creation a moot point.

“Early photos show a circular shell walk around the front lawn but it would be difficult to reinstate because of the size of the trees,” Jinty said. “And because of the size of the trees, this has now become a shaded garden.

“We can’t go back to Brown’s time because the trees would only have been a metre tall – but the structure we enjoy today is his legacy.”

Some garden history:

The original site was staked out in 1834 with the Browns taking up permanent residence in 1838, the same year Brown purchased from Maori 12.5ha, an area that has been greatly reduced by succeeding generations. Today, The Elms sits on a generously sized urban section.

January 27, 1837 Brown recorded in his diary that My lads commenced raising the fencing around my garden.

In 1841 a visitor records … the Church mission-station surrounded with gardens and a planted shrubbery of acacias, ricinus [castor-oil plant] and peaches which was almost the only vegetation in the shape of trees we saw, as for several miles round the station there is no wood.

Mr Brown introduced wheat into the area and taught Maori how to grow it and mill it.

In 1857 a visitor described yellow Cape jasmine reaching the height of a tree, 3.6m-high rose hedges, and a home orchard including apples and peaches.

Hollyhock seed obtained from Buckingham Palace was planted in the 1930s and re-used for many years.

The garden in front of the library was destroyed by fire in the 1950s.


The original gate to the property for visitors arriving by sea. Thanks to reclamation, the harbour is now some distance from The Elms, but still visible. The stump in the foreground was one of the pair of Norfolk Island pines planted at the gate (the tree was removed after being struck by lightning). Norfolk Island pines (Araucaria heterophylla) were favoured by missionaries for the Christian cross, renewed in each year’s new growth. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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