Year of the Zinnia

Every year Fleuroselect – which trials new seed varieties in European conditions – names a ‘flower of the year’ and for 2017 the choice is zinnia.

I’ve not had much to do with zinnias until recently, but admired some tall ones in the pool garden of a friend near Santa Rosa in northern California last year and have seen a great swathe of shorter types – all colours – planted in a private garden near Tauranga and recall being struck by their cheerful vibrancy and no apparent clashing even with pink next to orange. So when I saw zinnias on offer as ‘instant colour’ for gap filling before a crowd of visitors came, I couldn’t resist them.

These poolside zinnias (tall variety) were planted with cascading grasses and looked spectacular. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Easier to grow (in my experience anyway) than dahlias they nevertheless have ‘meaty’ flowers like dahlias and are reasonably quick to come back into bloom if you keep an eye on dead-heading.

This story from The English Garden website includes photos of some beautiful flower varieties. The Chicago Botanic Gardens website notes that zinnias are planted in nearly every one of its 27 garden displays – and, because they’re native to the southwestern US and Mexico, they know how to handle hot, dry conditions. Read some more gushing about these stars of the summer garden from The Daily Telegraph (UK).

They are prone to powdery mildew so careful when watering (the Chicago Botanic Gardens piece has tips for this).

In a 2015 piece Jane Wrigglesworth from NZ Gardener examines the new types of zinnias that don’t necessarily look like their forebears and this pdf download (2.56MB) from the National Garden Bureau (US) has some interesting history of the family and its subsequent breeding, including that when the Spanish first saw zinnia species in Mexico, they thought the flower was so unattractive they named it mal de ojos, or “sickness of the eye”!

Plant them around your veges to attract pollinating butterflies and bees, or just plant them for the smile they’ll bring to your face – either way I don’t reckon you can go wrong with zinnias!


Touch of the tropics

A verandah that’s cool on even the hottest days thanks to the shade of palm trees, a garden dotted with bright flowers and bananas fresh every morning – sounds like a tropical paradise, doesn’t it?

This slice of the tropics is, however, on the outskirts of Te Puke, which means the owners are working in a sub-tropical climate that experiences winter frosts. The 0.2ha piece of paradise has been created by Pat and Ron Howie who over the past 14 years have filled their garden with unusual plants – including Ficus dammaropsis, native to Papua New Guinea; a Queensland bottle tree (Brachychiton rupestris); a New Caledonia puka (Meryta denhamii), a Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis), a cassava (Manihot esculenta) and Davidsonia jerseyana, a tree native to New South Wales that has edible ‘plums’ growing directly from the trunk.

Also known as the dinner-plate fig, Ficus dammaropsis is native to the rainforests of Papua New Guinea. The fruit is called a synconium and the flask-shaped floral cavity contains unisexual flowers. A minute wasp pollinates the seed-bearing female flowers. There are up to 1000 different species of Ficus worldwide and virtually each one has its own particular wasp pollinator. Pat loves the sound of rain hitting the large leaves. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A 2-year working holiday in Australia 56 years ago left the couple with a love of tropical plants that has, over the intervening years, been fed by holidays to the Pacific, including Fiji, Rarotonga and Samoa.

After living 213m above sea level in Pongakawa for 30 years, they are thrilled to be able to indulge their interest in tropical plants.

“It’s getting harder to find something different for the garden,” Pat says, although Ron chips in with, “it’s getting harder to find the space for something different”.

Bulbs of Arisaema sikokianum are more recent additions to the garden. The Japanese native can be increased only by growing from seed and differs from many other Arisaema in that it holds its flowers above the foliage. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Pat spent 3 years potting up plants before they moved and all the wooden furniture in the garden has been made by Ron from timber milled on their Pongakawa property, including a version of a Chinese moon-gate.

They’ve been fortunate to have had a micro-climate created by high hedges all round their own property and neighbouring properties, although more recently some of their own hedging has come out but this is a couple that sees gardening as an opportunity so while some beds have had to be remade they are enjoying trying some different plants for their new conditions.

A Brugmansia flower. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The garden features several varieties of perennial hibiscus, night-scented Brugmansia, bromeliads (including Pat’s favourite Acanthostachys strobilacea or pinecone bromeliad), Scadoxus lilies and pineapple lilies (Eucomis).

Grown for their foliage are Hypoestes, Calathea, Ligularia, the striking Euphorbia cotinifolia Artropurpurea (Caribbean copper plant) and Oxalis tetraphylla, known as the iron-cross plant because of the markings on its leaves.

“There was a lot of oxalis when we came here,” Pat laughs, “but those were ones we didn’t want.”

Halimium lasianthum, or woolly rock rose, is native to the southern Iberian peninsula. The family is a cousin to the Cistus family, commonly called rock roses. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Over the years the couple have got to know the best places to source the unusual plants they enjoy – Russell Fransham’s Subtropicals nursery and catalogue being one of their favourites.

And with the recent addition of a spacious, new plastic house you can bet that Pat and Ron will be extending their plant collection even further.

The blooms of a Campsis radicans vine, native to the eastern US. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Go to an earlier Sandra’s Garden posting to read Ron and Pat’s tips for opening a garden to the public.

This article first appeared in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission. It has been updated slightly.

Happy Birthday Quarry Park!

Volunteers old and new gathered for lunch today at Te Puna Quarry Park to mark 20 years since the first work day – with people who were at that first event recalling how daunting the task seemed with blackberry, gorse, pampas grass and wilding pines everywhere (not to mention the goats, rabbits and possums)!

But start they did, and now – 20 years later – the park is “the jewel in the Western Bay crown”, according to Cr Don Thwaites who was standing in for Mayor Garry Webber, and all built on volunteer labour.

The Vege Grower was the park society’s foundation treasurer and I occasionally help out with publicity so we’ve known the place since its inception. Today, the Vege Grower recalled hearing blasting from his childhood home when the site was still a working quarry and he was also able to clarify why there aren’t many photos from the first work days – there was nowhere to get a shot from, the place was a jungle!

Te Puna Quarry Park Society president Ian Cross and patron Shirley Sparks cut the anniversary cake before lunch. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Shirley Sparks, who got neighbours interested in redeveloping the site as a public park and is now the society’s patron, recalled how she and husband David would often be milking when blasting took place. “You can imagine the animals’ reaction to the noise. Unfortunately for us we were standing below the cows’ tails …”

Society president Ian Cross paid tribute to “the three ladies of the quarry” – Shirley, Jo Dawkins (who seems to spend every waking moment working at the quarry, bar Wednesdays (golf day) and who is a plantswoman par excellence) and Dulcie Artus, longtime secretary, former longtime treasurer, until recently longtime QuarryFest organiser, website worker, brochure designer … what he didn’t mention was writer of funding applications which I know from experience is a tedious, and often thankless, task.

I apologise for the quality of the photos, taken on my phone (won’t do that again).

Amid much banter two kauri trees were planted by Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless (left) and Western Bay of Plenty District councillor (and quarry neighbour) Don Thwaites. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The two council representatives called on 99-year-old Alf Rendall, who is still a regular volunteer, to lend a hand with the second tree. (Photo-bombing the shot at bottom left is Bay of Plenty Times photographer George Novak.) Photo: Sandra Simpson

The formalities concluded with a release of monarch butterflies. Pictured from left are Greg Brownless, Don Thwaites, Jo Dawkins, Mary Parkinson (founder of the butterfly garden, orchid garden and sister to Jo) and George Novak. Photo: Sandra Simpson

To hear an interview with Alf Rendall, a longtime Tauranga photographer, go here. Or go here to read more about his 2015 book Historic Tauranga From Above.

Loving lichen

During a recent visit to the Miranda area we stumbled upon the Waharau Regional Park. We found a map of walks beside the unstaffed visitor centre and chose one of the loop tracks, careful to use the disinfectant and brush on the soles of our shoes as we entered and left the walk (in an effort to prevent the spread of kauri dieback disease).

Not far along the track were ‘fluffy clouds’ of lichen growing on the ground, so I took a photo and in an effort to identify the lichen found a superb NZ Geographic article (undated) by Derek Grzelewski, The microscopic world of lichens.

Cladina confusa in Waharau Regional Park. It’s related to the reindeer lichens of the Arctic Circle. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Writing for Te Ara, Maggy Wassilieff describes a lichen’s unusual parentage: A lichen is an amalgamation of a fungus and one or more photosynthetic organisms (those that make food from sunlight, water and carbon dioxide). No fungi can make their own food, but they have evolved ways to barter or steal it from other living things. A fifth of the world’s fungi do that by partnering with photosynthetic algae and/or cyanobacteria – their partnership is called a lichen. Read more here.

From the Grzelewski article: They not only become soil and humus, they actively create it. In some species the hair-like ‘roots’ can penetrate rock and oxalic acid within them reacts with most minerals and metals until it’s impossible to tell where the lichen ends and rock begins!

Waharau park is in the Hunua district which, as one local resident told me late last year (while it was raining), had a madly wet winter and spring – so wet her seed potatoes had rotted in the ground. The high rainfall may well account for the beautiful crop of lichen growing across, through and around her scoria walls.

Stereocaulon corticatulum envelops the top of a scoria wall. It is the only species of lichen known to occur from sea level to 3000m. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The tiny brown tips are the lichen’s fruiting bodies, called apothecia, which produce spores. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A stroll through the historic Bolton Street Cemetery in Wellington is always worthwhile and on this occasion produced …

Possibly Rimelia reticulata on the railing around Richard John Seddon’s grave. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Last year in southeast Alaska we were told that the ‘beard’ lichens hanging from trees were an indicator the air was 98% pure as these lichens, Usnea species, otherwise won’t grow.

Usnea lichen growing in a Sitka spruce in Wrangell, Alaska. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Read an earlier post about crustose lichen.

Flowering now

The strong winds we’ve had in December and January kind of took the fun and enjoyment out of the summer garden – even the plants have been hunkering down a bit. But some have still been some flowering ….

The first flowering of my Hoya Jungle Garden – had it about 3 years – but it has been worth the wait. Photo: Sandra Simpson

So lucky I photographed this white Oriental lily when I did – a few days later it was suffering from windburn and a day or so after that was flattened by the wind! Photo: Sandra Simpson

Hoya (not fusca, I have been advised) is covering itself in flowers this year … but note the yellow oleander aphid thriving at the heart of the bloom. The plant’s been hanging in the orchid shadehouse for a few months so it’s now back outside where our ‘stiff breezes’ should keep the aphids off. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Every spring the Thunia veitchiana orchid sends up new canes at a great rate of knots with about three of these striking flowers at the top of each cane. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I’ve struggled with my little Promenaea orchids (all divisions of one plant). They seem pretty reluctant to grow so I was thrilled when one actually put up a bud which actually came into flower (the other bud withered). Some people in the Tauranga Orchid Society grow them beautifully! Photo: Sandra Simpson