Orchid of the Year 2015

The annual Orchid of the Year award was made tonight at the NZ Orchid Show and Conference dinner with the honour going to Masdevallia Otago Gold ‘Screamer’ grown by Maurice Bycroft of Matamata.

A photo of it graces the cover of this year’s Orchid Journal, a publication available to members of all societies affiliated to the New Zealand Orchid Council.

The plant, which has orange flowers, was bred by Ron Maunder of Tauranga and named Otago Gold by Graham Letts, who lives in Alexandra in central Otago. The cultivar ‘Screamer’ was named by the late George Fuller, where this plant originated.

The dinner saw a number of other awards made: Special Service Award to Diana Elfleet of Auckland; Judges’ Long-service Awards (more than 25 years) to Allan Rockell (Bay of Plenty), Mike Davidson (Waikato) and David Turner (Hawkes Bay); and the John Easton Excellence Award to Clive Perry (Taranaki).

The rain arrived today from mid-morning which may have deterred some from attending the show – tomorrow is your last chance. The point was made at tonight’s dinner that the displays in the ASB Showgrounds pavilions are of an international standard … plus there’s the chance to purchase beautiful plants, interesting plants or even beautiful, interesting plants!

The show is open from 10am-4pm, entry $10. See you there! Just to whet your appetite, here are some photos from the last couple of days.

Cattleya Stippled Sunset ‘Sundown’ grown by Lee and Roy Neale is Champion Hybrid Cattleya. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A delightful tableau from the NZ Orchid Society’s display – Dendrobium Teagon’s Delight with a watercolour painting of it. Photo: Sandra Simpson


The NZ branch of the Cymbidium Society of America has pulled two classic cars into its display. This is detail from the 1962 Dodge 330 Dart. Photo: Sandra Simpson

National Orchid Show

Your reporter has spent the day going round and round – the exhibits, the sales stands – and met many orchid enthusiasts who are, well, all enthusing about the flowers on display, the displays themselves and swapping ideas and information, and generally having a whale of a time.

Winners were announced last night so it was great to see the ribbons beside plants and on displays today (one of the rosettes was pinned on to the Leroy Orchids display by yours truly – but just because I happened to be passing!).

Bob Hamilton from northern California was the first speaker and gave a fascinating talk about the history of orchids in cultivation, particularly Odontogloussums, which are his speciality.

But enough from me – I’ll let a few photos do the talking. The expo forms part of the Orchid + Flower Show and is at the ASB Showgrounds in Auckland, finishing on Sunday.

Jenny’s had her champion plant for years and was thrilled with its success, especially as the contingent coming from New Plymouth had to deal with roads blocked by slips!

Jenny had several other plants with prize certificates, among them a ball of Dinema polybulbon (below). She told me some funny stories about transporting oddly shaped plants to shows, including standing a tall plant in the toilet of her motorhome to keep it steady.

Coelogyne lawrenceana (below) won Graham Jackson of the Manawatu Society a Champion species rosette, while the display as a whole took out the under 12 square metre title.

Commercial growers have mounted displays as well – one of the largest is by Tropifolia of Auckland, which had passersby ooh-ing and aah-ing at the banks of Phalaenopsis orchids (below, yellow is apparently the trend of the moment for these flowers).


Phalaenopsis OX Little Moon won the Champion award for its class. Photo: Sandra Simpson




Great Kereru Count & Ozzy the Falcon

The Great New Zealand Kereru Count – billed as the largest national citizen science project – started on September 16 and runs until September 25. If you see one, or more, of our beautiful wood pigeons go to the website and enter as many details as you can. There are apps and everything!

I spotted this pigeon pair of Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae in a Te Puke garden last Friday so was thrilled to take be able to part in the count. Photo: Sandra Simpson

During my stay in Wanaka in April, I was fairly sure I’d seen a native falcon zooming down the main street/lakeshore. It turns out you can log sightings of these amazing birds too. Dave Bell, who runs the website, got back to me and confirmed that it would have been a falcon (karearea; Falco novaeseelandiae).

“We have had a couple of other reports in recently for falcon seen on the lake front, so very much suspect probably a juvenile has taken up residence (plenty of prey) after being moved on from adults’ territory. It’s the time of year when this happens.”

The other place to see a native falcon up close – and in action – is at Wingspan, the national bird of prey centre on the outskirts of Rotorua.

Showtime for Ozzy. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Ozzy the falcon is one of the ‘ambassadors’ at Wingspan and has been trained to free-fly in Wingspan’s daily show at 2pm. However, his handler, and Wingspan founder, Debbie Stewart says that although he climbs on her shoulder and head, it shouldn’t be mistaken for loyalty or affection. “I have the food.”

“It takes 5 days for them to revert to their wild nature,” Debbie says. “After that they won’t recognise their handler or return to them.” Wingspan also has owls and harrier hawks in the viewing aviaries but the falcons are the star of the show. Watching Ozzy zoom up and then fall vertically, make 90-degree turns and ‘sleek down’ ready for take-off was fascinating. We were warned that our seats were in his direct line of flight from the aviary roof to a perching post – but I was startled to hear a ruffle of feathers as he zipped past my ear, close enough to touch! Apparently falcons have eyesight that is 80-times more powerful than ours so I guess he meant to do that!

If you’re looking at the falcon on the back of one of our brand-new ‘brighter’ $20 notes, you’re looking at Ozzy as he was the model for the engraver. See the bank note here. And yes, he was named for Ozzy Osbourne – unsteady on his feet, prone to falling over (he’s had tail feathers glued in more than once to replace broken ones) as he skids to a halt. More than 7800 birds have been released into the wild from Wingspan’s rehabilitation and captive breeding programmes since the centre opened 20 years ago.

Jewels of the Rainforest

The theme at the Tauranga Orchid Show this year is that of a Mayan Temple – the display structure will be re-used in the national Orchid + Flower Show in Auckland in a couple of weeks so this is a valuable dress rehearsal when it comes to setting it up and dismantling it. Alec Roy has designed the temple and painted 30m of calico to look like stonework!

But the placement of orchids is also important and it took several hours yesterday and another couple this morning before everyone was satisfied. Judging by comments from today’s crowds, somehow we’ve got it right!

Slipper orchids on the display. I was apparently standing on a lean for most of the day! Photo: Sandra Simpson

The stands in Auckland are judged so society members are keeping their fingers crossed that it works just as well there.

Detail from the display – the ‘temple gods’ have been carved by Barry Curtis from polystyrene. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I’ve got a new calendar hot off the press and spent most of today either selling large cymbidiums or trying to tempt passersby with my calendar. I’ll post about it next week (when I’m recovered from the show) but it will be available through this blog. Many thanks to those today who bought one!

The orchid show is open again tomorrow from 10am-4pm. There are also displays by the BOP Orchid Society and a fantastic Bromeliad Club display, plus sales tables, raffles, potting demos, expert advice and free growing tip sheets, and a cafe.

I’m sitting next to the expert advisor so if you come to the show do come and say hello.

Here are some photos that may tempt you through the door…

Maclellanara Pagan Love Song. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Cattleya Fire Magic ‘Solar Flare’. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Paphiopedilum Hsinying Rujo-Mac. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Tauranga Orchid Show 2016

The first problem that arises when showing orchids is, well, having any orchids to show. Your precious plant may have buds, but Murphy’s Law decrees those buds will open after the show or have already flowered and be past their best by the day of judgement.

A richly scented stem of Stanhopea oculata drew much attention at the April 2014 Bay of Plenty Orchid Show in Te Puke, with plant owner Conrad Coenen of Apata, near Tauranga, saying it was a rare sight.

“Not that I mean it’s a rare plant,” he hastened to add, “just that it’s rare to see it a show as the flowers last for only two or three days. The planets have to align to have it open on just the right day.” He joked that he’d been breathing on the buds to try and hasten their opening!

This month is an especially busy time in the orchid world – the Tauranga show this weekend (September 9-11) is followed by the national Orchid + Flower Show in Auckland (September 22-25). Both shows offer massed displays of flowering plants and the chance to buy plants not seen in garden centres, as well as getting practical advice from experienced growers.

Orchid societies are a wealth of accumulated knowledge and members are only too happy to share what they’ve learned as they have lavished care, attention and patience on their plants, sometimes for decades.

Last year a staff member in the refurbished Peter Black Conservatory in Palmerston North’s Victoria Esplanade casually pointed to a Vanda orchid in a hanging basket and told me it had recently flowered – for the first time in 28 years! He believes better heating, fewer draughts, and new glass in the structure finally provided the right conditions for the warm-growing beauty.

Fortunately, one of the largest families of flowering plants also has members that are decidedly unfussy, and some that are downright tough, including Bifrenaria harrisoniae and the Australian native Dendrobium speciosum (rock orchid).

There are also those that can flower at any time of the year and may flower more than once in a year, including the easy-care Restrepia orchids, Maxillaria variabilis, Coelogyne fimbriata and Cattleya Quinquecolor, while the blooms of the fashionable Phalaenopsis (moth orchid) last for months.

Te Puna Quarry Park near Tauranga has an outstanding display of Cymbidium orchids – on now – thought to the largest outdoor planting of Cymbidiums in the southern hemisphere. They thrive in next-to-no top soil and receive no extra fertiliser or irrigation, beyond guano and rainwater. Volunteers have just rolled them into place among the rocks and left them to get on with it.

Tauranga Orchid Society president Barry Curtis helps look after the orchids at the park and is a keen Cymbidium grower himself, winning the top award at the 2013 national Orchid Expo with the miniature Cymbidium Cricket. His secret to success? One of them is that when Barry puts a ‘Cymbid’ in a new pot, he half fills the pot with bark and adds a handful of crumbly-stage horse manure before topping off the bark. The plant’s roots are fed each time the pot is watered and Barry reckons they lap it up.

Other ‘cool-growing’ orchids (6 degrees C on the coldest night, although may take as low as 2; up to 30 on the hottest day) include Coelogyne, Dendrobium, Epidendrum, Laelia, Masdevallia, Ondontoglossum, Paphiopedilum (slipper orchids), Pleurothallis,  Sarchochilus and Zygopetalum, and within the hybrids of just these few types there are great varieties of flower shape and size, flower colour, and plant size.

There are some useful books by New Zealand authors, keep an eye out at book fairs and in second-hand shops for volumes by Ross Macdonald (including Cool Flowering Orchids Throughout the Year), and the late I D James (including The New Zealand Orchid Grower).

All orchids have the same basic requirements – good air movement, regular water and food, and the right amount of warmth and light. Joining an orchid society means ongoing, free advice as to how to interpret these requirements for your conditions, plus there’s practical help if problems arise, visits to members’ collections, access to a library, guest speakers and the camaraderie of others suffering from the same ‘disease’.

The Tauranga Orchid Show is at the Racecourse (Cameron Rd, Greerton), $3 entry for adults (under-12 free). You’ll see the display we’re entering into the national expo, a mass of flowering plants, there are plants for sale, repotting demonstrations, advice from expert growers and a café and raffles. See you there – do come and say hello!

  • Tauranga Orchid Society meets on the third Tuesday of the month, 7.30pm, Wesley Church Hall, 13th Ave, Tauranga. Visitors always welcome. Contact Sandra.
  • Bay of Plenty Orchid Society meets on the second Sunday of the month, 1.30pm, Masonic Hall, Oxford St, Te Puke. Visitors always welcome. Contact Faye.

News Digest

2016 could be the worst year on record for British butterflies – and no one’s entirely sure why. The weather (mild winter followed by a sunless summer)? Agricultural practices? Read more here. So last month Butterfly Conservation in the UK organised a public Big Butterfly Count, see the results here.

In New Zealand, meanwhile, NZ Gardener magazine is urging its readers to take part throughout September in The Great Kiwi Bee Count.

Stop press: From this morning’s UK Guardian – the insecticide being used in the US to combat zika-carrying mosquitoes also kills bees! (Now there’s a surprise.) Read the story here.

Daniel Mount was feeling jaded when he took a trip to the wildflowers of Washington state but then began to remember why he became a landscape gardener. Read the article here.

Bob Berry, who turned 100 in June, has written a book cataloguing all the trees (more than 3000) at Hackfalls Arboretum near Gisborne. The book was launched in May at the annual conference of the International Dendrology Society NZ in Gisborne.

Mr Berry, who created Hackfalls Arboretum, has also catalogued the national arboretum at Eastwoodhill. Any profits from the book will go to Hackfalls.

Growing anything in a drought is a thankless task, but some Californians reckon they may have the answer – dry farming. One says that last year he grew over a ton of quinoa per acre without a single drop of water, during the worst drought in 600 years. Read more here.

New York Botanical Gardens is marking its 125th birthday with a series of events and celebrations. Don’t forget the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney is celebrating its 200th birthday – find a list of special events here. And we mustn’t forget what’s being recorded as the world’s newest botanical garden in Laos, scheduled to open in November. Read more here.

Australia-born (as Michael White) Bali-resident garden designer Made Wijaya died last month suddenly in Sydney. Read a recap of his life here and a more personal obituary here.

And finally, the award winners from this year’s US Association of Professional Landscape Designers – enjoy!