Plant Stories: Golden Queen peach

Watties built an empire on them, late summer wouldn’t be the same without their delights – and Tauranga can lay claim to being the birthplace of the Golden Queen peach.

Edwin Reeve of Greerton, then a separate settlement, quickly spotted the potential of the seedling growing by his pig sty and in April 1909 the Bay of Plenty Times reported on the tree’s superior qualities, including heavy cropping, vigorous growth, a clingstone fruit and a skin that didn’t mind being handled.

Mr Reeve had purchased peaches in Opotiki for customers in Rotorua and among them were some yellow-fleshed peaches which, apparently, had come from trees planted by  missionaries. It is reported that Maori called them paukina pititi, or pumpkin peach. Mr Reeve kept some stones from the Opotiki load and planted them on his 4ha property on Cameron Rd.

Several varieties grew, but one stood out. It was later described as “averaging 8 and a quarter inches in circumference” (22cm in new money). Its “blush” colour and taste were also praised. For more than 100 years, the Golden Queen has been a firm favourite with home preservers.

Golden Queens bottled and ready for eating. Photo: Kings Seeds

Read Karen’s blog about preserving at Kings Seeds.

Originally named Reeve’s Golden Peach, the fruit was developed for the public by Auckland nursery D Hay and Son, which propagated the tree through cuttings – so every Golden Queen has grown on a tree descended from Mr Reeve’s. Although some reports have Mr Reeve receiving as much as £100 for the tree, his family recalled it as being closer to £25.

Mr Reeve, who fought in World War 1 and attained the rank of sergeant – and whose father had fought at the Battle of Gate Pa in 1864, died in 1921 aged 49. His wife Ellen had opened Greerton’s first Post Office from their home in 1904, the first stop on the coach route from Tauranga to Rotorua.

But Tauranga hadn’t quite finished its association with the Golden Queen. The peach’s suitability for canning prompted Major Mayfield and his relative Mr Chater, both orchardists, to open a cannery on the Mayfield orchard on Waihi Rd near Bethlehem just before World War 1.

When war was declared, Major Mayfield returned to England to rejoin his regiment, leaving Mr Chater in sole charge of Hawkridge Orchards.

The Burbury family of Hawke’s Bay have been growing Golden Queen peaches for Watties for three generations. Photo: Watties

Young women travelled to Tauranga for the seasonal work of peeling and preparing the fruit in an open shed (apparently wasps weren’t a problem in New Zealand then). Syrup was added to the cans which were soldered shut apart from one small hole. The cans were then “cooked” by immersion and the steam hole soldered closed.

Hawkridge Orchards canned both peaches and pears but the venture ended after only a few years when crops were destroyed by fire blight (pears) and brown rot (peaches).

The Hawkridge name lives on, chosen by millionaire property developer Paul Adams as the name for his Bethlehem home. His Carrus Corporation bought the Mayfield property in about 1995, donating the homestead to Tauranga Boys’ College where it is used as a sports pavilion on the corner of Cameron Rd and 15th Ave. The orchard and farmland has become the Mayfield housing subdivision in Bethlehem.

The former Mayfield house, now part of Tauranga Boys’ College. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand says: “There is no record of who introduced stone fruit to New Zealand. Groves of wild peaches, known as ‘Māori peaches’, were found growing along several North Island rivers by the first European settlers. They may have been planted by the explorer James Cook and his crew, or by early 19th-century sealing or whaling gangs. The first peach orchard was planted about 1840.”

Here’s a timeline of when and how peaches may have arrived in Northland (the first part of New Zealand to be ‘settled’). It appears Samuel Marsden had sent fruit trees from Australia and by 1817 these were ‘perfection’.

The Golden Queen still forms the vast majority of peaches canned by Watties but there are threats to this business. Read more here. And believe it or not there is an entire blog devoted to labels in New Zealand, including a great section on food can labelling. Long White Kid is well worth a look.

Cherry blossoms open early

Perhaps pushed along by the warmest February in recorded history, Japan’s famous sakura (cherry blossoms) are opening early this year. Read more here.

Kiwi tour guide (and fluent speaker of Japanese) Robyn Laing heads up to Japan with a tour group every year, arriving on or very close to April 1. “It’s likely Tokyo will be just over full bloom, but it looks as though it will be perfect for us in beautiful Kanazawa,” she says of this year’s trip. The secret of such a tour, she says, is to schedule stops in places of varying climates. If you miss the blossoms higher up, then you’ll be likely to see them at sea level, or more northerly versus more southerly.

Japan goes slightly bonkers for the sakura season, but in the nicest possible way. Everyone is so uplifted by the mass blossoming, which is an integral part of the nation’s culture, it’s a lovely time to visit.

Egg-statically Easter!

Wishing all my readers a happy Easter – may you enjoy all the chocolate and gardening you want!

A fun thing to do with youngsters around Easter is decorate the shells of hard-boiled eggs and yes, you can use paint, felt pens and so on … or you can try some natural dyes.

Photo: Wikimedia/Ikonact

Onion skins, turmeric, red cabbage leaves, coffee, blueberries, tamarillo juice, beetroot juice – I think the list is probably only limited by your imagination. However if, like me, you feel more comfortable with a recipe, here’s a link to Megan Anderson’s website where she’s done the experimentation, made recipe cards for each colour and put some great photos with them.

The Waldorf Today site draws on a number of sources for further ideas for dyes and  how to create patterns on the eggshell using flowers and leaves, while Big Sis, Lil Sis has step by step photos of how to make these patterns.

An Easter egg of a very different kind is the one now known as the Rose Trellis Egg. It was made by Henrik Wigström (1862-1923), under the supervision of renowned Russian jeweller Peter Carl Faberge (1846-1920).

Tsar Nicholas II in 1907 presented this egg to his wife, Alexandra Fedorovna, to commemorate the birth of the tsarevich, Alexei Nicholaievich, three years earlier. Because of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05, no Imperial Easter eggs had been produced for two years. The egg contained a diamond necklace and an ivory miniature portrait of the tsarevich framed in diamonds (now lost).

Photo: Wikimedia/Walters Art Museum

The eggs were made for the Imperial family between 1885 and 1916. Read more at the Faberge website (the Hen Egg of 1885 must have created a wonderful reaction after she opened the plain exterior).

By 1920 the Rose Trellis Egg had made it to Paris and in 1930 it was acquired by American Henry Walters who, a year later, bequeathed it to the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.

Although it sounds unlikely, a real Faberge egg made in 1887 was discovered in the American Midwest in 2012 where a fellow who had bought the item for its scrap gold suddenly realised what he’d been looking at “for years” on his kitchen bench – £20 million worth of egg! Read more here.

But Queen Elizabeth (and her staff) is also guilty of not knowing what she owns – an automaton elephant decorated with diamonds and rubies was last year authenticated as being the “surprise” from the Diamond Trellis Egg (1892). The egg itself resides in the United States. Read more here.

So I’ll be enjoying my chocolate eggs (or scrambled eggs) while watching Antiques Roadshow and dreaming … here’s the list of the whereabouts (including the known unknowns) of the surviving Faberge eggs.

Our native plants: Pennantia baylisiana

Pennantia baylisiana once held the dubious title of being the rarest plant in the world with only one female tree in its native Three Kings Islands. This dire state of affairs began to be remedied in 1945 when Professor Geoff Baylis (1913-2003) of Otago University took six cuttings from the (then) goat-ravaged islands to be grown on at the Government research station at Mt Albert. Three survived and more cuttings were taken from them and then, glory be, one plant spontaneously produced female and male flowers! It is thought that the one surviving tree, while “fundamentally female”, also has some “low-level” male characteristics.

Pennantia baylisiana, complete with berries, photographed in Wellington Botanic Gardens last weekend. Apparently the berries ripen to blue. There is also a specimen growing in the Auckland Regional Botanic Gardens. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Terrain website says: “The single tree known in the wild grows on a scree slope on the northern face of Great Island in the Three Kings group off Cape Reinga, New Zealand. It is still alive today some 65 years later, and has not produced any seedlings on the islands. Forty years after the Pennantia was found Ross Beever (1946-2010), a scientist with Landcare Research, tried to see if he could induce it to produce seed. He was successful and the resulting seedlings have proved to be more fertile than their mother.”

Oratia Native Plant Nursery which assisted Ross in his project, donates all proceeds from the sale of Pennantias to help fund botanical research and to minimise the risk of extinction of other species.

It should be noted that Professor Baylis took some drastic action to try and save the tree (Journal of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture, Vol. 2, No. 1, March 1997, pp. 12–13). Read the entire article here.

“Propagating this lone and sterile tree, not in the best of health because of insect damage, seemed urgent. There was a detachable shoot at its base, which took root in a damp sheltered place in my Dunedin garden and is now very like its parent with four slender trunks. But its canopy trimmed by occasional frost rather than repeated salty gales is taller (7m),” Prof. Baylis wrote.

“While I was unsure that this shoot had really rooted, I was worried by failure both at the Plant Diseases Division at Mt Albert and at Duncan and Davies, New Plymouth, to strike cuttings from the crown. I asked George Smith, the chief propagator at New Plymouth, what I might do to provide better cuttings. ‘Cut the tree down,’ he said, and while I shuddered at the thought, he explained that he was confident about rooting shoots from the stump. But would there be any? Well, the tree had four trunks so I dared to sever one. A year later, the shoots were there. The naval launch on which I was a guest gave them a quick passage to New Plymouth, which happened to be its next port, and Mr Smith soon placed the survival of [the tree] beyond doubt.”

Brave man!

In 2010 New Zealand scientists took 1600 seeds back to the islands to plant. Read more here. The tree’s status today is described as ‘nationally critical’.

Lawrie Metcalfe in The Cultivation of NZ Trees and Shrubs (Raupo, 2011) says in the garden P. baylisiana will grow to 3-4m. “Where a large-leafed tree is required for effect, this magnificent foliage plant is ideal.”

A cross of P. baylisiana with P. carymbosa seen growing at Otari Wilton’s Bush in Wellington. The hybrid has been named Otari Debut. Photo: Sandra Simpson

P. corymbosa (kaikomako) is a relatively common forest tree of mainland New Zealand. Apparently it hybridises quite easily with P. baylisiana. P. cunninghamii (brown beech) is a rainforest tree of eastern Australia. The final tree in the family is P. endlicheri, native to Norfolk Island, once thought to be identical to P. baylisiana but now proved not to be.

The same day Prof. Baylis found P. baylisiana, he also came across the woody vine, Tecomanthe speciosa and managed to save that from extinction too, but that’s another story.

Our native plants: Kamahi Harlequin

Our most common forest tree kamahi (Weinmannia racemosa) has given rise to Weinmannia Harlequin, a sport of W. racemosa. It’s a bushy plant that features long stems with some leaves that are lime green edged with cream and some that are darker green edged with pink.

Weinmannia Harlequin pictured in Pukekura Park’s magnificent display house. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The PVR (plant variety right) for Harlequin is held by David and Noeline Sampson who in 1974 founded Cedar Lodge nursery on the outskirts of New Plymouth, the country’s only specialist conifer nursery. Read more about Cedar Lodge in an earlier post.

I gave David a call hoping to find out a bit more and he was kind enough to share the story. The plant was discovered about 25 years ago by Noeline on a property, which is still in family ownership, close to the famous Pukeiti Rhododendron Gardens in the foothills of Mt Taranaki. The couple was establishing a pinetum on the land and Noeline spotted the bright foliage on the edge of some native bush (forest) while clearing grass from around young fir trees.

“I was there that day but she never said anything to me,” David says. “She took some cuttings and gave them to staff at Cedar Lodge to see if they could propagate them. The plant was in the nursery for 3 years and I never knew anything about it until Noeline said, ‘what do you think of this?’. My eyes nearly popped out of my head.”

The next step was to discover if there was anything else similar on the market. “I thought we would find that there’d be quite a lot of it about [commercially],” David says, “but when I made some inquiries I found it wasn’t the case.”

Naturally Native, near Tauranga, has the license to propagate Harlequin but David admits it’s no easy task, cuttings taking many months to root. The plant is also quite slow growing. He believes it may be selling “in small numbers”. Harlequin should be trimmed to promote growth of the brightly coloured fresh foliage.

The genus is named for Johann Wilhelm Weinmann (1683-1741) who was a German apothecary and botanist. Weinmann’s major work was Phytanthoza iconographia (1737-1745), which comprised eight folio volumes with more than 1000 hand-coloured engravings of several thousand plants. The first artist employed by Weinmann was Georg Dionysius Ehret (1708-1770) who would become one of the foremost floral illustrators of the 18th century. Read more here.

Tree of the Moment: Crepe myrtle

A few years ago when I was asking about the tree with the lovely flowers, I heard ‘Cape Myrtle’ and figured this must be a tree native to somewhere like South Africa or India as the name sounded like a good colonial one.

I wasn’t too far wrong – even though the common name of the Lagerstroemia family is Crepe Myrtle (because of the crinkled, crepe-like look to the flowers). There are around 50 species in the family, some deciduous, and they are native to the Indian subcontinent and southeast Asia, plus there’s one native to northern Australia (Lagerstroemia archeriana, also found in parts of New Guinea).


Spotted next to an office in Te Puke was a tree covered in flowers. I took it to be Lagerstroemia fauriei (or a hybrid of it), native to Japan, and the palest in flower colour. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The botanical name comes from Magnus von Lagerström (1696-1759), director of the Swedish East India Company (although he never went to Asia), who supplied plants to his friend Carl Linnaeus (1707-78), known as the father of modern taxonomy.

The trees shed bark year-round, which creates an attractive mottling effect, their leaves change colour in autumn and they flower profusely in summer and autumn – and by ‘profusely’ I mean you can’t see the tree for the flowers! But they have to have full sun to perform at their best. Trees vary in height from dwarf to 10m so select carefully, although if need be, they can be hard pruned each year to keep to size as they flower on new wood.

The peeling bark of Lagerstroemia indica Muskogee in the Central Garden at the Getty Centre, Los Angeles. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Burke’s Backyard says that the ‘Indian Summer’ range of Lagerstroemia has been specially bred to resist powdery mildew, a fungal disease that’s hard to control with spray. Read more here. (Unfortunately, it doesn’t look as though these trees are available in New Zealand.)

The US National Arboretum website has a great guide to growing Crepe Myrtles in a Q&A format. See it here. The trees are particularly popular in California, Texas and the ‘Deep South’.

The vibrant flowers of Lagerstroemia indica. As its name suggests, this tree is native to the Indian subcontinent (as well as China and Japan). Photo: Sandra Simpson