Waikato Orchid Show

Popped over to the Waikato Orchid Show yesterday which was the main part of the Plant, Garden & Orchid Extravaganza at Hamilton Gardens. The gardens were heaving with people on a beautiful sunny Sunday and a Scarecrow festival to boot – great to see families, often of three generations, enjoying the beautiful surrounds.

Here’s a selection of orchids at the show (I heard from a reliable source that only 1 point separated the Champion and Reserve champion – an amazing couple of plants).

Grand Champion was (deep breath) Vanda Sankamphaeng Chao Phaya x Patcharee Delight grown by Laura Meijer. The flower was much darker than this, far more purple in it – unfortunately, Vandas rarely photograph true to colour. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Reserve champion was this eye-popping Lycaste Shugakuin grown by Bill Pepperill, which was a mass of flowers (and this isn’t all of them). Photo: Sandra Simpson

Champion novice bloom was Cymbidium Bulbarrow ‘Tepus’ grown by Colin Stephens. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Champion cattleya was Epidendrum Pacific Tiki Punch x Pacific Padre grown by Leroy Orchids of west Auckland. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The pretty little Sarchochilus orchids are coming into full bloom right now. This is Karen Ann, grown by M Timm, and First in its class. As well as the sparkling white flowers, it also has red stipples on the flower stems. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Also known as the leopard orchid, Ansellia gigantea is native to tropical and southern Africa. Not many African orchids are seen at shows. The plant, owned by Ron Reeves, was Second in its class. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Tree of the moment: Karaka

My wanderings in the Whanganui River mist took me along the Anzac Parade bank quite close to the Aramoho rail bridge where I found all sorts of interesting trees in the  reserve.

I photographed the tiny flowers and multi-trunks of what was clearly a New Zealand native without being sure of exactly what it was. A look through the Field Guide to New Zealand’s Native Trees by John Dawson and Rob Lucas (Craig Potton Publishing, 2012) gave me the answer –  Corynocarpus laevigatus or karaka. This is a tree well-known by many in its yellow-orange berry phase but I’d never seen its flowers before.

The book tells me that: “Although now thought to have been originally restricted to the northern North Island, karaka is naturalised in many native forests in the southern North Island and northern South Island, and is considered invasive. Its shade tolerant seedlings can be abundant.” In many cases trees were planted by Maori around settlements as a food source with seeds spread naturally by kereru (native pigeon).

The hardy nature of the karaka is shown by this one beside the Whanganui River – the damaged original trunk is now surrounded by about 20 new trunks. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A 2002 article by Graham Harris in the Journal of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture says: “Karaka … is a serious weed pest in Hawaii … The karaka was originally planted in the Hawaiian islands over 100 years ago. It was further spread for re-afforestation purposes, by broadcasting seeds from aircraft over the interior of the island of Kaua’i in 1929. It is now present on four islands and … seeds are being further spread by birds. Of particular concern is the threat that karaka poses to heau (Exocarpus luteolus), a member of the sandalwood family and one of Hawaii’s most endangered plants.”

Karaka can grow up to 20m and features glossy, upright leaves. Some trees have  female flowers, others mostly male (which are larger and open wider) and flowering is from late winter through spring with fruit appearing from mid-summer into autumn.

Karaka flowers – small for a big tree. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The excellent The Meaning of Trees website says karaka means ‘to be orange’ in te reo Maori and that William Colenso recorded karaka as being second only to kumara (sweet potato) as a significant food source for Maori.

The fruit, however, contains the toxin karakin and has to be ‘treated’ before it can be safely consumed – by some alchemy of nature the kereru is immune. A 2007 Government project into looking at karaka for a commercial crop reported that: “The berries contain the sugars sucrose and glucose, the fatty acids stearic and oleic, and six of the eight essential amino acids, while the treated kernels have a food value resembling oatmeal.” Read the report here.

Te Rongoa Maori by retired pharmacist PME Williams (Raupo, 2006) notes that: “Because the seeds are poisonous in their raw state … they are boiled for eight to ten hours then put in a kete or flax kit and left in fresh running water for a couple of days. … When dried, the seeds become quite palatable to chew and are known as Maori peanuts.” The kernels were also ground to make bread and karaka leaves were used as a poultice on wounds.

Karaka berries. Photo: Sandra Simpson

An 1891 article, sourced from the invaluable Papers Past, describes the effects of eating raw karaka berries after the death of a child and how Maori treated cases of poisoning. Read it here. These days cases of dogs dying from eating karaka berries are more common.

According to a collection of karaka references on Landcare Research’s Maori Plant Use Database, Maori told early chroniclers they had brought karaka seeds with them on their migration to Aotearoa New Zealand. The Language Garden website has this to say: “In this case, however, it is the name that came from Hawaiiki, and the tree (known to botanists as Corynocarpus laevigatus) was probably dispersed from around the Bay of Islands.” Read more here.

Robin Atherton studied karaka DNA for her doctoral thesis, concluding that there is a close relationship between northern New Zealand trees and species of Corynocarpus in Vanuatu and New Caledonia. Her thesis is available to read online.

Finally, to link back to Whanganui, here is a piece from a 1913 Journal of the Polynesian Society about the voyaging of the master navigator Kupe, as told by Te Matorohanga. Read the full entry here.

Kupe paddled up the Whanganui River to see if any people lived there; he went as far as Kau-arapawa, so called by him because his servant tried to swim the river there to obtain some korau, or wild cabbage, and was drowned, for the river was in flood. So Pawa was drowned, and his name was applied to that place. (Kau-arapawa is about fifteen miles above the town of Whanganui.) Kupe heard some voices there, but as soon as he found these voices were only from birds (weka, kokako and tiwaiwaka), he returned to the mouth of the river, and then went on to Patea, where he planted some karaka seed of the species called oturu.* While at Patea he tested the soil by smelling it, and found it to be para-umu – a rich black soil – and sweet-scented.

*From the notes of translator S Percy Smith: “The karaka-oturu is described to me as like the ordinary karaka (Corynocarpus levigata), but with smaller leaves and berries and fewer of them, with a low growth. There are some trees of the same species growing at Nuhaka, Hawkes Bay, the seed of which is said to have been brought here by the Kura-haupo canoe, under Whatonga. If this karaka at Patea bore a few fruit on the west side of the tree it denoted a lean year – if on the east, or inland side, it meant a prolific year for all cultivated foods. The Rev. T. G. Hammond, who knows Patea and its history better than any man, does not recognise this tree. It is also related of Turi, who commanded the Aotea canoe, and who settled down at Patea, that he brought the karaka tree with him.”

Pink ragwort

Driving to Wanganui on SH3 on Saturday my eye was caught by vivid roadside displays of pink flowers, particularly from Turakina north – then I saw a valley of colour in farmland by the turnoff to Ratana Pa so began to realise the ‘pretty’ show might not be welcome.

I didn’t really have anywhere to stop so don’t have a shot of a wall of flowers on a road cutting, but on Sunday morning when I was out prowling round the riverbank in the mist, found a plant in flower and photographed that.

Pink ragwort in flower beside the Whanganui River. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A bit of further inquiry from a knowledgeable plantsperson gained the information that it was a “South African daisy”. Turns out its common name in New Zealand is pink ragwort (Senecio glastifolius) – and it is shaping up to be a massive problem in the Wanganui-Manawatu area.

Horizons (regional council) environmental co-ordinator Craig Davey said in 2014 it was a weed that originated from the garden, first reported in the wild in 1963, and that it had spread too far in the region to consider eradication. Given that a single plant can produce 150,000 seeds I would have thought the council would spray the roadsides while it’s in flower in the interests of being a good neighbour!

Pink ragwort was initially seen only in sandy country but is now happily establishing itself further inland. Once I started looking, I saw some on the site where the Criterion Hotel in Bulls was demolished and in long grass beside SH1 just south of Sanson. Some farmers rate this third on their list of hated weeds, behind gorse and broom.

Pink ragwort growing on a demolition site beside SH1 in Bulls. Photo: Sandra Simpson

In 2012 Horizons was asking people to report sightings of it – just 4 years later the plant is highly visible throughout the region.

Hand-pulling (it will grow back from root fragments if mowed) and burning the plant (including flowers to stop any seed from ripening) is one of the only solutions, the other being herbicide application. As with yellow ragwort, the plant is toxic to cattle and horses.

Taranaki is trying to contain the plant south of its regional boundary. Read more here. I could find nothing on the Horizons website about the plant.

New Zealand cattle and dairy farmers have a long history of doing battle with yellow ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris, formerly Senecio jacobaea) which can take over pasture. Read more here and go here to read about the problem 1930s farmers had with exploding trousers (it’s not a joke) when battling ragwort.

The cinnabar moth caterpillar on ragwort. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The caterpillar of the cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae) was introduced to New Zealand in 1929 as a biological control for yellow ragwort. Read more here about the moth caterpillars and how they deal with the plant’s high levels of toxicity.

Plant stories: California poppy

The state flower of California is the somewhat prosaic California poppy, the bright orange self-seeding annual that in that part of the world is a true wildflower. However, the story of how the ‘golden poppy’ attained its high status is thanks in large part to the efforts of a self-taught botanist and botanical artist, Sara Lemmon (1836-1923).

Born in Maine, Sara Plummer moved to Santa Barbara in California in 1869 for a better climate for her health, opening a lending library and stationery store in 1871. As well, she founded the Santa Barbara Natural History Society in 1876, the same year she met John Lemmon, who was collecting plants for the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and giving lectures. John, who had been a Civil War prisoner, an experience that affected his health for the rest of his life, was also self-taught.

They married in 1880 and spent an extended honeymoon in southern Arizona looking for new plants – it was during this trip that Mt Lemmon in southern Arizona was named in her honour. Read more about her exploration of southern Arizona here.

Later in the 1880s, the couple were living in the Oakland area, near San Francisco and both working for the California State Board of Forestry. Sara delivered a lecture on forest conservation at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, an event that fostered discussion about choosing national and state flowers, leading to the creation of the National Floral Emblem Society.

In 1890 three candidates were put forward to members of the California State Floral Society  – the golden poppy, Romneya coulteri (a shrub with large, silky flowers commonly called Matilija poppy in California), and the Mariposa lily. The golden poppy won by a landslide.

California poppy. Photo: Sandra Simpson

As chairwoman of the California State Committee of the National Floral Emblem Society, Sara had the task of persuading the California Legislature to declare a state flower. Three times a bill was introduced and three times it failed to pass into law. However, on the fourth attempt in 1903 it finally succeeded and was signed into law. Sara was officially rewarded with a gold-mounted eagle’s quill that had been used to sign the bill into law. Read the full story here.

Although Sara was an equal partner in collecting and researching plant specimens, the scientific papers and articles published by John credit “J.G. Lemmon & Wife”. They are both buried in Oakland, near San Francisco, with a poppy engraved on their headstone.

In 1974, April 6 was officially designated as California Poppy Day and in 1996 May 13-18 was named as Poppy Week.

Ancient bug trap

Wandering through the Hamarikyu Garden in Tokyo last year I noticed that many pine trees had straw sleeves tied around the branches. A bit more inquiry turned up the information that they are put on in autumn and used to trap pests (which snuggle into the straw for winter) before being taken off and burned in spring.

Komomaki. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Komomaki were developed in Japan during the Edo Period (1603-1867) to combat a pine moth (Dendrolimus spectabilis) known in Japanese as matsugareha. The sleeve provides an overwintering site for the pest, which  does its damage in spring when the caterpillars are hungry for pine needles. The attack continues through to early summer, leaving the tree unable to feed itself and making it vulnerable to parasites.

As with everything in Japan, great attention is paid to detail. The komomaki could have been tied on with plastic strips (probably cheaper) but straw ropes look so much better. Photo: Sandra Simpson

This excellent 2012 article from The Japan Times notes that komomaki have been researched and aren’t as effective as once thought – in 5 years of study they trapped more beneficial insects than harmful ones! The sleeves are now most likely used to convey a sense of season, especially in Tokyo where winters aren’t nearly as cold as they once were.

However, the komomaki concept has proved successful at helping to protect Tokyo’s Zelkova serrata street trees from beetle attack (Pyrrhalta maculicollis).

Floral fun

Took myself off yesterday to Life’s a Circus, a piece of ‘floral theatre’ by Francine Thomas. I’d heard about these productions before but had never been able to attend one – all I can say is, my goodness!

Baycourt Theatre was pretty full and the audience lapped up the event which comprised Francine’s musings on life while creating outstanding floral art quick-snap in front of our eyes (as well as what seemed to be zillions of pre-prepared pieces). The stage slowly filled with groups or single pieces with breaks for a small story to be acted out, dancing or circus-type performance (La Dominique Zirkus, an aerial hoop gymnast, and Libby Winehouse, a pole fitness exponent – and accountant!).

No photos allowed during the show, but we were welcome to take snaps after the house lights came up at the end.

Yes, that is a ‘pole dancer’ (Libby Winehouse is more of acrobat or gymnast really) who was part of the show. Looking on is one of the young dancers. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Just part of the stage at the end of the performance – the piece on the far right was hoisted up during the show to reveal the pole and performer. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Francine acknowledged her Aunty Betty, down from Whangarei for the show, who had a florist shop where Francine and her mum helped out (her mother was also in the audience). Francine’s husband Ashley makes many of her props and was a stagehand, while other assistance came from members of the Tauranga Floral Art Group. The show was filmed and DVDs may be ordered, $30 each, email Fay.

Francine was the New Zealand demonstrator at the 2014 World Association of Floral Artists in Dublin, won the 2016 Designer of the Year title from the Floral Art Society of NZ, and next year is heading to the US where she has been invited to teach and demonstrate.

Last Sunday I popped into the Tauranga Clivia Show at Te Puna Quarry Park where business was brisk as visitors were thrilled by the colours on offer from local breeders Ian Duncalf (Plant Struck) and Judy Shapland Coenen (Pixie Clivias). [Apologies to Judy, I hadn’t realised she changed her name after her marriage.]

Clivia breeder Ian Duncalf was thrilled with the show. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Clivia Diana, one of Ian’s breeding successes. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Tip-toe Through the Tulips …

Off to Rotorua yesterday to attend Michael van de Elzen’s cooking demonstration, one of the inaugural events of the week-long Tulip Festival (see the Events page for garden-related happenings still to come).

A young visitor is all concentration as she gets a great shot of Rotorua’s tulips. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The words “celebrity chef” send a chill down my spine but Michael turned out to be charming, funny, inventive, down-to-earth, and generous with his food and time.

The son of Dutch migrants, he grew up on a poultry farm in west Auckland and while his parents wanted him to take over the business, he followed his sisters into weekend work at Tony’s, a steak restaurant and Auckland institution but – unlike his sisters – wanted to work in the kitchen.

“We were doing 500 covers a night and I was the dishwasher,” he recalls. “I looked at the line of chefs all working in harmony to put the plates up. It was addictive and I wanted it.”

He worked his way up to head chef at Tony’s by the tender age of 23 and then headed to London where he got a job as a commis chef (“the bottom of the bottom”) at Bluebird, one of Sir Terence Conran’s “gastrodomes” that seats 500 – and at that time had 140 chefs to make the food! He reckons he went home in tears every night.

His mother urged him to stick at it and 2 years later he was running the kitchen – minus the 70 or so French chefs who, it turned out, didn’t want to listen to a “little Kiwi”. Within 2 months all the French chefs had gone and Michael had 140 chefs from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa working for him.

Michael van de Elzen. Photo: Sandra Simpson

One of the highlights of his time in London was cooking for Queen Elizabeth II (and 6000 other people) for the opening of the Tate Modern gallery on May 11, 2000. Each of the six floors had a different cuisine theme – the stress went up a notch when Michael and his catering team, arriving at 5am, discovered the lift wasn’t working and wouldn’t be for the rest of the event!

He came home to open his own restaurant, Molten, in Auckland in 2004, selling it in 2011 – along the way becoming a “celebrity chef” thanks to The Food Truck programmes (he believes he barely survived Episode 1 after being stranded amid a starving, drunk crowd) and now Kiwi Living.

Floral art for the evening was courtesy of Sally Ah Chan. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Coincidentally, we sat next to the charming Sally Ah Chan. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Michael, his wife Belinda and two daughters, aged 5 and 3, have recently moved to a lifestyle block in Muriwai where he is building a cookschool that will focus on “old-fashioned” methods such as curing, smoking and preserving – with the animals coming from his own farm.

He’s also got a project nearing fruition, 2 years in the making so far. “Mike’s Mission” will be a national trailer-tour teaching schoolchildren to cook (including, he says, how to use left-overs).

Besides a quick and easy demonstration for creating a healthy dip, Michael also talked us through curing a side of salmon and then every table received two platters crammed with goodies from local producers – many of whom were among the stalls at Rotorua’s inaugural Farmers’ Market this morning (October 2). The market will be held every Sunday, from 9am-1pm at the corner of Hinemoa and Tutanekai streets.

A scrumptious platter of food from, mainly, Rotorua-area artisans and including Michael’s superb cured salmon, as well as his roasted carrot, macadamia and honey dip. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The food was delicious and Michael was keen to acknowledge his two assistants from Waiariki Polytechnic who quietly worked in the Bowling Club kitchen throughout the show.

Although this morning was as wet as could be, the warmth and enthusiasm of everyone we got chatting to (last night as well) really helped brighten our day. The tulips looked fantastic, even in this weather, with more ready to burst into bloom as the week progresses – the plantings in Government Gardens are gorgeous, but there are also median strips, hanging baskets, roundabouts and so on, plus “plantings” of wooden tulips, knitted tulips …

A tub of Tulip Lily Schreyer in the foreground with the mock Tudor Bath House Museum at rear and Art Deco Blue Baths to the right. Photo: Sandra Simpson

We heard today that after it’s all over Rotorua Lakes Council sells bulbs for 10c each, thereby ensuring private gardens are starting to fill with tulips too. What a great idea!

In fact, the council really got behind the festival this year planting 100,000 bulbs in public spaces, so good on them. Unfortunately, a large proportion of the bulbs planted on Hospital Hill rotted (that’s gardening for you) but hopefully next year will be a success. What a welcoming sight the tulip-filled hillsides would be.

A glorious bed in Government Gardens. Photo: Sandra Simpson