Fluttering by

UK conservationist Steve Wheatley has landed at Te Puna Quarry Park to work with Katikati entomologist Peter Maddison and Tauranga butterfly expert Norm Twigge on an investigation of the rare native forest ringlet butterfly.

Norm Tiwgge (left) and Steve Wheatley enjoy a cuppa at Te Puna Quarry Park this morning. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Monarch Butterfly NZ Trust has brought out Steve, who works for the Butterfly Conservation Trust and is on a 3-month sabbatical, especially for the project. He will be based in the Tauranga area until Christmas, then moves on to Auckland and the South Island.

Norm has been recording forest ringlet sightings in the Mt Ruapehu area for 20 years and says there are six or seven areas nationwide where the butterfly is found but not a lot is known about breeding patterns or why Dodonidia helmsii is declining in numbers in lowland areas, so it’s hoped this project will fill in some of those gaps. According to the Nature Watch website, the butterfly has become “significantly rarer over the last 50 years”.

The park’s butterfly garden features in the December issue of NZ Gardener and includes interviews with the garden’s founder Mary Parkinson and, since he moved to Tauranga from Whakatane a year ago, her right-hand man Norm.

Tree of the moment: Melia azedarach

When we moved in to our home 26 years ago there was a Melia tree in the back corner but the poor old thing was past its use-by date so not too much later we had it removed. I’ve been enjoying getting to re-know it, in the gardens of others, in the past few weeks, my attention piqued by its spring flowering.


Photo: Sandra Simpson

Known as white cedar in Australia and Chinaberry in the US, Melia azedarach also has several other common names, including umbrella tree, bead tree, Indian lilac and Persian lilac. It is native to parts of Australia (and in other parts is considered a weed), as well as the Middle East, India, China and South East Asia. Drought tolerant, it reaches a height of 6-12m with a wide canopy.

The tree has fragrant flowers in spring, offers shade in summer and is deciduous in winter when the yellow berries (containing seeds) hang on the branches like so many small moons. The berries, I’ve read, are liked by our native word pigeon (kereru) – in this 2005 article, author Russell Fransham says he planted the trees specifically to attract those birds. The hard seeds, toxic when consumed in large amounts, were once commonly used to make rosaries.

A Melia tree covered in seeds in the Imperial Palace Garden, Kyoto, Japan. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Melia azedarach is a member of the mahogany family although its timber isn’t considered particularly valuable.

Read more about the tree here.

Garden & Artfest: Day 4

There we are, all over for another 2 years! Director of this 10th biennial festival, John Beech, can heave a sigh of relief – apart from some strong winds today, the weather’s been pretty good. This was John’s last festival so I hope he’s being properly feted by his board of trustees for delivering 3 Garden and Artfests. Festivals aren’t the easiest thing to put on and one that’s at the vagaries of the weather (not to mention roadworks) is fraught with peril.

My thanks to all the gardeners who agreed to have hundreds of people tramp through their plots – I was impressed by how many were immaculate. Such effort and thoroughly appreciated.

There will always be niggles – the map is a perennial one and I heard grumbles again this time – but what could have been the biggest problem, the swampy ground at The Hub, just saw people accept it and get on. Sadly for Geoff Brunsden, his wildflowers were blooming at the original Hub site, a few blocks up the road, but he shrugged and grinned. Gardeners know the weather is a fickle companion.

After leaving The Hub this afternoon my final stop was at The Apron, a garden put into Baycourt’s lawn and commissioned by the festival from artist Richard Orjis. The programme blurb says: “… this project explores our everyday green spaces. It makes reference to our local landscape and the flora that resides on the boundary …”. I walked around it and through it but couldn’t quite grasp what was being presented. Could ‘flora on the boundary’ be a euphemism for ‘weeds’?

A view of The Apron garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Two ‘lawn’ circles have been cut, as well as a curving path between the flowering ‘beds’. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I only had time today for a country garden and a few city gardens before I was due back at The Hub to help out on a stand. Here are a few photos.

Not only was the front garden of this Brookfield home full of roses – every one was clearly named! Such a help. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’ makes a bold statement. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I was so excited to be out early this morning that when I arrived at the first garden I leapt out of the car and set off round the extensive grounds, meeting the owner part-way. She looked me up and down and asked if I was there for the ramble. Horrors, I’d left my neck tag in the car! I must have passed muster because she accepted my apologies without query. Later, I heard her husband on the phone saying that yesterday they’d had 15-20 people trying it on (hadn’t bought a ticket)! I scuttled back to the car, put my tag on and stayed legal for the rest of the day.

Garden & Artfest: Day 3

A gallery of photos from today, in no particular order.

Leigh Nicholas is showing an exhibition of her stunning flower photos in her Papamoa garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Clare Trott has ‘boxed clever’ by using Japanese box for her hedging – no problems with blight, whereas her two English box balls need constant spraying. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The view across the harbour from Pete’s Retreat at Mataphi (No 52). The peacock isn’t real. Photo: Sandra Simpson

This surprisingly large and well tended suburban Te Puke garden was full of sophisticated detail, such as this deck dresser. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Liz Clark in her Ohauiti pottery studio. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Claudia Gorringe (Standards of Excellence) was in a Japanese-inspired, high in the Ohauiti hills, chatting to the owner (far right). Photo: Sandra Simpson

Thankfully, after a long trip into the Ohauiti hills, there was a another garden open right next door. The giant gerbera makes a nice focal point at the end of this rustic pergola. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Garden & Artfest: Day 2


River Cottage’s pop-up café. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Vege Grower held the calendar fort at The Hub today, allowing me to do a bit more roaming and, with an errand in Katikati, I decided to start at Garden 1, River Cottage. Wise choice, particularly as it was time for elevenses! What a welcoming sight on the front lawn and in the kitchen.


The sensational staff hard at work. Photo: Sandra Simpson

And the equally sensational strawberry sponge (with green tea). Photo: Sandra Simpson

Beautiful weather today and there seemed to be plenty of people taking advantage of it. Fingers crossed the weekend will be just as nice. Here are some photos from some of the other gardens I wandered around.

The cat may be called Bernie. Whatever, he’s very friendly and was enjoying the sun in the Italian-style garden at Earthforce (garden 5), occasionally drinking from the pool. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Even looking at a photo of a wasp makes my scalp crawl, but I couldn’t resist this colour combination. The bearded iris is Golden Panther and grows at the Amazing Iris Garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The southern view from a well-thought-out garden at Omokoroa Point. Photo: Sandra Simpson

And if that wasn’t enough, here’s the view to the east with Mauao showing above the horizon. The large ceramic jug in front is by potter Murray Garner who is showing in this garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Garden & Artfest: Day 1

Hard to think how to categorise the weather today – sometimes damp, occasionally sunny, a bit chilly, a little sun. Spring, in other words. I spent the morning at the festival’s Hub at The Lakes, helping out on the Tauranga Orchid Society stand and selling my calendars. One calendar went to a chap from Singapore who was delighted to learn that I’d taken all the photos myself – and promptly got me to autograph it!

The ground is very spongy and soggy at The Hub – a pair of ducks were busy dabbling across the central lawn and its ponds this morning – so festival director John Beech, Roger Allen from the bromeliad stand and a couple of other blokes laid some wood chips on weed matting to create a stable path in front of the marquees where the orchids and bromeliads are sited. And I can report that the ‘luxury’ Portaloos are indeed a cut above!

Zipped off around a few gardens this afternoon and am looking forward to a full day out tomorrow. (The Vege Grower will be at The Hub with my calendars, if you’re interested.)

My Mum, a rose bred by Bob Matthews of Wanganui, is in perfect bloom in the garden of Colleen Thwaites. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The enticing view from the driveway of a Plummer’s Point garden, which reveals itself to be full of flowers and colour against a background of established natives or the estuary. (Note the sky – it was just about to rain, again.) Photo: Sandra Simpson

Echoing detail between the land and the jetty. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Laburnum in flower at Alf Mundt’s garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A Japanese maple (left) provides a good colour foil to native horopito in Alf Mundt’s garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Pacific Rosebowl 2016

Just back from an afternoon in Hamilton, helping judge the Pacific Rosebowl entries in the Rogers Rose Garden, and then attending the afternoon tea and prizegiving – and would like to thank those I sat with for making feel so welcome.

Best Hybrid Tea: Sunline, bred by Rob Somerfield (Glenavon Roses, NZ). Sunline (1995-2009) was the world’s highest-earning racing mare of her time. She retired from racing in 2002 and was put down in 2009 after suffering a debilitating hoof disease. Some months later, Rob said, her owner phoned asking if it would be possible to have a rose named for the horse.

Sunline in Rogers Rose Garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Best climber: Indigo Knights, bred by Chris Warner (UK). Accepting the prize was Ben Pratt of Tasman Bay Roses, the New Zealand agent for Warner-bred plants. Tasman Bay Roses was started by Ben’s parents, Nigel and Judy, in 1966.

Most Fragrant: Double Fragrance, selected by Rob Somerfield (a climbing sport of Deep Secret).

And then came …

Best Floribunda, Children’s Choice, Best NZ-Raised Rose & NZ Rose of the Year: Christchurch Remembers, bred by Rob Somerfield.

Christchurch Remembers. The rose will be widely available next winter. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Rob wanted to name a rose for the city but didn’t want to do it too soon after the fatalities in the 2011 earthquake. He also sought – and was given – permission by Mayor Lianne Dalziel to name the rose, which won a Gold Star of the South Pacific at the National Trial Grounds in 2014, as a memorial to the 185 people who died in the February 22 quake.

The Grand Old Man of Roses, Sam McGredy, was in attendance, tootling about in a golf cart to view the blooms. Daughter Kathryn McGredy presented the Sam McGredy Award for the Best NZ-Raised Rose, while another daughter, Clodagh McGredy, presented the Pacific Rosebowl for the NZ Rose of the Year.

Kathryn McGredy presents Rob Somerfield with the Sam McGredy Award. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Rob Somerfield receives the Pacific Rosebowl trophy for NZ Rose of the Year from Clodagh McGredy. Photo: Sandra Simpson