Garden festival news

You may remember the postponement last July of the Auckland festival designed to offer a North Island alternative to the in-hiatus Ellerslie International Flower Show – well, the NZ Flower & Garden Show is back on and at a new location.

In her from the Director post at the show’s website, Kate Hillier says “its has taken a few months to find a suitable new home for the flower show” confirming my thoughts that Bastion Point had proved too ‘special’ as a venue. The debut event, from November 29 to December 3, will be at The Trusts Arena in Waitakere, west Auckland. (Kate, by the way, is a member of the famous Hillier Nurseries family in the UK.)

Tickets go on sale on May 1 and start from $24 with children under 12 free.

Sadly, there is no sign of the Ellerslie show, which began in Auckland, making a comeback in the Garden City. Christchurch City Council bought the rights to the show in 2007 for about $3 million. However, the 2011 show was cancelled after earthquakes devastated Christchurch (the show was being built at the time and one of the larger marquees provided shelter for about 1000 people immediately after the February quake) and the last show in 2014 ran at a $325,000 loss and attracted 10,000 fewer visitors than expected. The quakes have left the council in a spending minefield so it’s hardly surprising a garden show is well down the list of priorities.

The biennial Auckland Garden Design Fest is back this year (November 25-26) dovetailing nicely with the NZ Flower & Garden Show for out-of-town visitors. This festival showcases the in-situ work of professional garden designers, many of whom are available in the gardens to talk to visitors.

The biennial Gisborne Garden & Arts Festival has been experiencing some difficulties, according to its Facebook page. The 2015 festival was cancelled because organisers couldn’t find enough “suitable” gardens – it’s hard to convince people to open their private property to hundreds of strangers, even if for a good cause – and this year’s festival was cancelled when drought saw gardeners pulling out. Organisers promise it will be back in 2019. Fingers crossed for them.

The Bay of Plenty Garden & Art Festival (centred on Tauranga) has a new director – John Beech has stepped down after delivering 3 festivals, while stepping up to organise the 2018 festival is Marc Anderson. Marc, a Kiwi who was brought up in Whakatane, has lived most of his adult life in Australia and Ireland where he had strong experience in music and arts festivals. He returned late last year from Ireland to live at Mount Maunganui with his wife and children.

Morrinsville Floral Festival

Popped over to Morrinsville last Saturday to visit the Unforgettable Floral Festival that comprised a large display by floral art groups and individuals from Waikato and Bay of Plenty, plus admission to three local gardens.

Floral art is generally a nightmare to photograph with any justice. However, although the events centre is set up for sport – basketball hoops and electronic timing boards on the walls and the floor marked for various sports – the lighting wasn’t too bad, a pretty good bonus in my book.

The town, sitting in the heart of prime dairying country, celebrates its bovine backbone with a street art exhibition called Herd of Cows. Wasn’t sure about the first cow I came across though – sitting up above the road and with a machine gun on its back! The Vege Grower rightly worked out that it was outside the RSA but the only message I got was: Welcome to Morrinsville … look out!

Fortunately, the cows at the entry to the floral festival were much more benign, made of corrugated iron and ‘chatting’ across a fence.

Members of the local floral art club had worked hard with four groups presenting exhibits, as well displays by clubs from Te Awamutu, Motumaoho (near Morrinsville), Hamilton, Katikati/Waihi, Tauranga, Matamata and Thames.

Little Red Riding Hood from ‘Once Upon a Time’ by Katikati and Waihi Floral Art clubs. Peeking out from under her cape is a miniature scene of a forest home, garden, cow (naturally) and Little Red Riding Hood! Photo: Sandra Simpson

The combined groups mounted a large display – here’s Sleeping Beauty. Photo: Sandra Simpson

It was shame to see flowers on various stands that hadn’t lasted the distance – 4 days on show and one or two more as the pieces were made up. Lilies and roses seemed to be the worst culprits although I spotted some pretty manky looking orchids too (and avoided photographing them). Such a shame for both the floral artists and the paying public, although the use of artificial flowers didn’t feel quite right either.

From the front: ‘A Penny for your Thoughts’ by Matamata Floral Art Group. Photo: Sandra Simpson

And its reverse which uses astelia leaves (I think) to good effect. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Peacock feathers were also used – this time on a peacock – for Monkey Business, a stand-out display by one of the Morrinsville groups.

One of two peacocks featured in ‘Monkey Business’, a Thai-themed exhibit. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I want one! This gorgeous elephant has a wooden frame covered in wire netting which was then covered in papier mache. Her toes are lotus pods and her tusks loofahs. How do I know she’s a she? Because she had a baby nearby. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Fun with flowers in ‘Backyard Memories’ by a Morrinsville group. The skirt and bra both use hydrangea petals. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Let’s finish with a flourish, shall we?

‘Cats’ by the Te Awamutu Floral Art Club brought back fond memories of seeing this show – twice – in London during its 21-year run. Photo: Sandra Simpson


To find a floral art group near you in New Zealand, go here.

Our native plants: Elingamita johnsonii

A quick update to a posting made on April 25, 2013 – strolling through Wellington Botanic Gardens recently I was excited to see Elingamita johnsonii in flower. However, as you’ll read if you go back to the first posting, the drupes can take anything from 12 months to 2 years to ripen!

The shrubby tree is another of the unusual plants from Three Kings Islands, 50km northwest of New Zealand. The tiny flowers produce surprisingly large fruit.

The flowers of Elingamita johnsonii. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Plant of the Year 2

The Garden Club of America has chosen its 2017 Plant of the Year – the native Magnolia ashei.

Commonly known as the Ashe magnolia, the plant is a deciduous understory shrub or small tree native to the Florida panhandle that blooms in spring. It has large glossy leaves  and large citrus-scented, creamy white flowers with purple stains at the interior base. The Florida Department of Agriculture lists the Ashe magnolia, also known as the big-leafed magnolia, as endangered due to its restricted area of growth and a small population in the wild.

“Long-lived, tolerant of heat and resistant to diseases, deer and insects, this magnolia is an ideal specimen tree for the small garden,” says Lucy Rhame of the GCA.

Magnolia ashei. Photo: Wikipedia

The Ashe magnolia was named for US Forest Service forester and lifelong botanist William Willard Ashe (1872-1932). Read more about his life here. Ashe also created herbariums in Raleigh (North Carolina) and Washington DC. He died following the third operation for a hernia contracted on a field trip. Find a few more biographical details here.

Since 1995 the Montine McDaniel Freeman Horticulture Medal has been awarded annually by the Garden Club of America to acknowledge the cultivation and use of North American native plants that are little known but deemed worthy to be preserved, propagated, promoted and planted.

Other plants honoured for 2017 are: Carpinus caroliniana (American hornbeam) and Halesia carolina (Carolina silverbell), both honourable mentions; and Aristolochia californica (California pipevine) which received special recognition.

Read more about all four plants here, plus see GCA winners from years past.

Our ancient trees: Kaiaua puriri

Just north of the Miranda Shorebird Centre is the settlement of Kaiaua, home to a renowned fish and chip shop – and a puriri tree (Vitex lucens) estimated to be 800 years old. Not surprisingly, the tree is found at the end of Puriri Ave in the Domain.

The puriri tree at Kaiaua. Two human males at right for size comparison. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Unfortunately, I can’t find much more about the tree than that – a brief mention in the North Island volume of The Penguin New Zealand Travel Guide by Diana and Jeremy Pope (2009), an invaluable touring companion, seems to be all that there is (the entry is copied into the online Te Ara Encyclopaedia of New Zealand) and was what drew me there in the first place.

How do we know how old the tree is? What stories are associated with it? How’s its health holding up? An email request for information to the Hauraki District Council resulted in the Parks and Reserves manager saying: “It is not listed in our significant tree register, nor does it appear in the Franklin tree register (Franklin District Council had control of the Kaiaua area prior to Hauraki DC).”

At some point metal hawsers have been wrapped around the two main trunks in an effort to support one of them. Unfortunately, the cable is cutting into the tree. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Read more about puriri in general at the excellent website, The Meaning of Trees.