Flowering now

Some photos from a wander round my garden this week – having planted some seedling annuals at the weekend I can say that last night’s rain was timely but now we’ve had a day of good soaking rain, that’s probably enough!

Several Tillandsias (air plants – cousins to bromeliads) are offering some bright and unusual flowers.

Tillandsia heliconoides. Photo: Sandra Simpson

This pretty little Tillandsia above has green foliage (the vast majority have silvery-grey foliage) and may be one of the most neglected plants in my garden. It sits in an ornamental pottery bowl (no planting medium) and I leave it alone, apart from occasionally spraying it with the hose in summer!

But I reckon the most neglected plant in my garden may be this bromeliad below. The plants were in another (better) place until I got sick of the way they’d spread so were divided up and put under the oak tree – low light in summer, pretty dry all year round and no protection from the cold. And yet … they still flower.

Aechmea gamosepala, a bromeliad. I’m pretty sure the original plant was from Andrew Steens when he was selling through garden centres. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The alien-looking flower of Tillandsia punctulata, which will last for many months. Photo: Sandra Simpson

If a Tillandsia breaks or falls apart, don’t worry. You’ve now got two (or more) plants. They really are fool proof!

My friend Audrey has done something nifty with her beautifully grown collection (inside a small plant house) – recycled a greetings card sales stand to a Tillandsia plant stand.

A recycled card stand makes a nifty stand for Tillandsias. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Went up the back of Pahoia on Tuesday afternoon and passed a property that’s growing a commercial quantity of Phylica plumosa (among other things all in neat rows) – the tall plants looked lovely with the sunlight catching the fluffy flowers.

Phylica plumosa Golden Plume in my garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Phylica is native to South Africa where there are two types that look pretty much the same – Phylica plumosa and Phylica pubescens . Read more at this informative website.

Tree of the moment: Puriri

Although puriri trees (Vitex luscens) can flower and fruit off and on all year round, winter is the start of the main flowering season, and while visiting Te Puna Quarry Park at the weekend I finally got my first decent shots of puriri flowers – relative to the size of the tree the flowers are small and often hidden underneath the spreading canopy.

The tree is naturally found in roughly the top-third of the North Island. Its pretty flowers provide nectar for birds, while the fruit is an important food source too. The birds return the favour by spreading puriri seed with a helpful little dollop of fertiliser to start them off.


Puriri flowers. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Lawrie Metcalfe (The Cultivation of NZ Trees and Shrubs, 2011) calls the puriri a “large, handsome tree” and says it grows rapidly when young to a mature height of 12-20m or more. Young trees are frost tender. In Tauranga we have an avenue of mature puriri trees outside the Domain on Cameron Rd, where they don’t seem to mind vehicles being parked on their roots day in and day out!

Alison Evans in New Zealand in Flower (1987) notes that puriri are distantly related to the teak trees of Burma and Southeast Asia, and have one of the longest flowering periods of any native plant.

European settlers used the hardwood for fence posts, railway sleepers, house piles, bridge building and furniture (the veneers have a walnut-like finish), while Maori used the timber for garden tools and weapons. The timber, “very hard, dense and heavy and of great strength” (Metcalfe), is no longer used commercially. The green puriri moth (Aenetus virescens) tunnels through the tree causing much damage, although I’ve seen a magnificent table top that made a feature of the moth’s handiwork. See an unusual cabinet made from puriri here, along with some interesting information about the tree, including that it was traditionally used for eel traps because it sank and that the bark makes a yellow dye.

In the charming small book, Te Rongoa Maori (Maori Medicine, 1996), author PME Williams says the liquor from boiling leaves was used to relieve sprains, backache and ulcers, and he had also heard of an infusion of leaves being taken as a drink to relieve kidney complaints.

Puriri were also used as burial trees by Maori and there is a venerable example, Taketakerau, at Hukutaia Domain near Opotiki in the eastern Bay of Plenty. The Meaning of Trees website offers an age of about 2000 years old, and says: “After the death of a chief or person of high mana, the body would be adorned with a coronet of puriri leaves, and washed with an infusion of the leaves and water.” The website is well worth a visit.

Part of the tree known as Taketakerau in Hukutaia Domain. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A sign by the tree says: “The bones of the distinguished dead some years after burial, were with much ritual, including on occasion the sacrifice of slaves, dug up, scraped, painted with oxide of iron and deposited in a cave or hollow tree where they could not be found and put to base purposes by tribal enemies.

“A tree such as this was highly tapu [taboo] and any desecration of such tapu was a deadly matter and an affront to the tribal atua (ancestral gods). The offender’s death would surely follow.”

Flowering now

Not in my garden, alas, but Te Puna Quarry Park yesterday. I hope you like the photo gallery (which seemed to sort itself into colours).

The park’s Cymbidium orchids are flowering, always a gorgeous sight. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A monarch butterfly basking on a still-to-open flower on a tree grevillea. The park was full of butterflies enjoying the sun and the opening flowers. Photo: Sandra Simpson

And now for the pinks …

The only redeeming features of the seedy and weedy Prunus campanulata (Taiwanese cherry) – many would say – are its colour and being a food source for birds, like this one-eyed tui. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The park’s magnolia garden is starting to come into its own – and the trees are still young enough so the flowers are at eye level. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A stellata-type magnolia. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The pretty flowers of a Dombeya tree, native to Africa. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Te Puna Quarry Park is off State Highway 2, about 15 minutes north of central Tauranga. It’s open seven days from early to dusk and admission is free, although donations for the volunteer project are always welcome (donation bin is by the main entry gate) – as are helping hands. If you’d like to meet new people and are reasonably active (age no barrier), volunteers work on Tuesdays from 9am (take morning tea) on various tasks, but weeders are always welcome, and quit at noon. To find out more  phone Ian Cross, 07 578 8735, or email society secretary Dulcie Artus.

Tied up in trees

A serious snowfall in both islands of New Zealand over the past few days has spurred me into posting about some garden work I saw in Japan last year.

Every year on November 1 workmen begin tying ropes to the pines in the famous Kenrokuen garden in Kanazawa (on Japan’s west coast). Yukizuri, which literally means snow hanging, helps the branches bear the weight of Kanazawa’s ‘heavy’ (moisture-laden) snow and have become a symbol for the city. The work always begins on the same date and so has become a ‘seasonal marker’ for the city’s inhabitants, even though snow generally doesn’t fall until January.


Yukizuri work is labour intensive with hundreds of ropes attached to a single tree. Not sure if there’s a health and safety officer present! Photo: Sandra Simpson

We saw yukizuri used in other places and on other types of tree, but it is something particularly associated with the pines of Kanazawa. One online source says the method was adapted from the practice of supporting  apple tree branches laden with fruit. Pines have a special place in the symbolism of Japan as the tree is among the many signifiers for long life, as well as good fortune and virtue. Read more about its symbolism here.

The Kenrokuen yukizuri trees are lit at night and look spectacular. The garden was started in about 1676 as a Chinese-style stroll garden, destroyed by fire in 1759 and restored from 1774 before opening its 11.4ha to the public in 1874.


Yukizuri detail. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Kenrokuen literally means combining (ken) – six (roku) – garden (en) with the ‘six attributes that make up a perfect garden’ being grandness, seclusion, artificiality, antiquity, waterways (water is piped from a river 11km away) and lookout views. It is considered one of the three best gardens in Japan.

Read more about the garden here.


Souvenir biscuits: The top one shows yukizuri and the bottom Kotoji-toro,  the stone lantern in Kenrokuen famous for its two legs of different length. Photo: Sandra Simpson