Chelsea Flower Show controversy

James Basson, an Englishman domiciled in France, has won Best in Show at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show – and visitors are not impressed!

Plenty of landscape designers were also left scratching their heads over a garden that takes its inspiration from the landscape of Malta, depicting an abandoned quarry being reclaimed by nature. “Each space reflects how that process might take place, with certain plants colonising the drought stricken summits whilst others seek cool shade between the stones,” writes The Frustrated Gardener (Dan Cooper). Read his full summary (well worth it) which also includes plenty of photos and a plant list right at the end.


James Basson with his award-winning garden. Photo: Dan Cooper

Stephen Lacey, meanwhile, offers some background to the garden as in 2015 he travelled to Malta with Basson as the ideas were beginning to take shape. Read more here.

Janna Schrier has taken her time with the garden (and lots of photos). “But those who stopped and looked, those who got their Chelsea Show guide out to seek an understanding of just what this garden was trying to say to them, seemed to go through something of a metamorphosis.” Read her thoughts here.

This year has seen the smallest number of gardens on display at Chelsea.

Our ancient trees: Lemon & pear

Of course, I’m talking about old trees rather than ancient trees – but their assumed ages are still pretty impressive.

In 2009 the Northern Advocate reported that Rolien Elliot, Department of Conservation Bay of Islands area manager, was “pretty certain” a lemon tree found in the area was the country’s oldest, but said the test to confirm its age would kill it.

The tree was growing near the Marsden Cross Historic Memorial Reserve at Rangihoua Bay on the Purerua Peninsula, where missionary the Reverend Samuel Marsden held New Zealand’s first Christian service in 1814.

Two settlers who arrived with Marsden, John and Hannah King, produced the first European baby born in New Zealand and are buried under a memorial at the site. As well, there’s also an anchor at the reserve dedicated to Captain Thomas Hansen, New Zealand’s first non-missionary European settler.

Descendants of Thomas Hansen were doing some maintenance work on the family memorial when they found the “very old” lemon tree bearing fruit. The tree, plus remnants of briar rose, were the only visible reminders of the settlers’ gardens, Kath Hansen said.

Lynda Bayer, who has a degree in horticulture, inspected the tree for the family and identified it as a Lisbon-type lemon or an Australian Bush lemon. Cuttings were taken and grown by Bream Bay Landscapes Ltd and labelled ‘Hansen Lemon’ to mark the family’s 200 years in New Zealand (celebrated in 2014). Read more details and see a photo of where the tree was found (opens as a pdf).

Intriguingly, the newspaper article says: “It wasn’t clear whether it [the lemon] was older than a pear tree at Kerikeri acknowledged as New Zealand’s oldest introduced plant.”

On his blog, The Art and Science of Horticulture and Gardening, Alan Jolliffe records some probable history and his thoughts on the pear tree, which is near the Stone Store.

The Reverend John Butler, who accompanied Marsden, was left in charge of the  mission station at Kerikeri. Records show Butler planted 100 fruit trees on October 5, 1819 and 85 the next day – it is believed the pear tree is the sole survivor of this planting. Alan Jolliffe identifies it as “possibly” a Bon Cretian but does note that although the tree is clearly very old, there’s no knowing if it was one of Butler’s.

Read about some of the other ‘oldest’ exotic trees of their types in the Far North. Read about the garden at The Elms Mission House in Tauranga, New Zealand’s second-most important colonial-era building.

Catching up on the news

Big pile of papers waiting for me when I got home and I’m still only part-way through them and not reading in date order …

The Elms Mission House in Tauranga is planning an ‘iconic heritage garden’ on a corner site that has been designed in collaboration with historians, heritage architects, archaeologists and tangata whenua. At the centre of the garden will be a sheltered visitor pavilion. If funding applications are successful, The Elms Foundation hopes to have the garden done and dusted this year. Read an earlier posting about The Elms and its garden(s).

A new, multi-million dollar art garden has opened at Matakana, north of Auckland – Sculptureum is on a 25ha site developed by Anthony and Sandra Grant and includes three gardens, six galleries and a café. One of the pieces on show is a glass chandelier by Dale Chihuly of Seattle (if you’re going that way be sure to visit Chihuly Garden and Glass). Sculptureum is open to visitors Thursday-Monday with no cellphone conversations allowed in the gardens and galleries! What a brilliant ban to put in place.

Australian biosecurity officials are getting a name for themselves – after incinerating  irreplaceable 19th century plant specimens sent from France to the Queensland Herbarium to aid research (read the full story), oops, they did it again!

Border officials destroyed six lichen specimens, owned by Landcare Research in New Zealand and including a lichen classified as of special scientific value, which were being sent to the National Herbarium in Canberra. Landcare has suspended loans to Australia until protocols are sorted out, although the Australian officials have already admitted the specimens should not have been destroyed and their actions contravened their own procedures! Duh! Read more here.

Sadly, for growers in New Zealand, myrtle rust has been discovered this month at a nursery and adjoining property in Kerikeri. This serious fungal disease has been unknown in the country until now but is wind borne and prevalent in Australia to the west, New Caledonia to the northwest and Raoul Island to the northeast so I suppose it was only a matter of time. Austropuccinia psidii is also known as guava rust and eucalyptus rust.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) website says: “Myrtle rust could affect iconic New Zealand plants including pōhutukawa, mānuka, rātā, kānuka, swamp maire and ramarama, as well as commercially-grown species such as eucalyptus, feijoa and guava.

Photo: Ministry for Primary Industries

“Severe infestations can kill affected plants and have long-term impacts on the regeneration of young plants and seedlings. It is not known how this disease will affect New Zealand species. Overseas its impacts have varied widely from country to country and plant species to species.”

The Kerikeri property is in lockdown and movement restrictions are in place but it’s going to be difficult containing something windborne. If you think you’ve seen myrtle rust, phone the MPI hotline 0800 80 99 66 (photos appreciated but don’t try and collect a specimen).

Writing on the NZ Farm Forestry website in 2015, Lindsay Bulman offers some background to the disease: First described in Brazil in 1884, the rust was recorded from Central America, Florida and Mexico by the 1970s. There has been a rapid expansion over the past 10 years, primarily through the live plant trade. Myrtle rust has been recorded from Hawaii (2005), Japan (2007), southern China (2009), Australia (2010) in NSW and then Queensland in the same year, followed by Victoria in 2011 and most recently Tasmania in February 2015. In 2013, it was reported from both South Africa and New Caledonia.

“While the disease rarely kills adult plants, extremely susceptible species may be threatened. For instance the Malabar plum, or rose apple, Syzygium jambo, which is exotic in Hawaii, suffered widespread dieback and death following the introduction of myrtle rust.”

Read more myrtle rust articles from the NZFF website.

A Stuff report quotes Northland nurseryman Russell Fransham as saying a friend of his, a nursery owner in Queensland, reports that the impact is highly variable between species, and some appear to be more resistant than others.

“He said the first year or two was devastating, there was so much carnage among the myrtles, but some were virtually unaffected even though they are surrounded by it. Now where he is in Brisbane, he says it’s hard to see much evidence of it so it sounds quite hopeful.”

But in the meantime it’s a stack of worry for everyone.

Update May 23: Myrtle rust has now been confirmed in nurseries in Taranaki and Te Kuiti which means that it’s probably too late to do too much. In a comment attached to this post from Catherine Stewart of the GardenDrum website, she says: While the effect of myrtle rust on Australian nursery stock seems to have diminished over the past couple of years, I think this is because many are no longer propagating the most affected plants, such as Austromyrtus ‘Blushing Beauty’. Certainly Brett Summerell at Sydney’s RBG thinks that several of our iconic plants, such as the biggest of the paperbarks (Melaleuca quinqenervia) is on a “100-year extinction curve”.

Postcard from Singapore

Spent a few days in Singapore, mostly visiting the city state’s superb public gardens. Singapore’s national flower is the orchid, Papilionanthe Miss Joaquim (formerly Vanda Miss Joaquim).

The orchid was chosen as the national flower in 1981, selected from 40 other blooms, of which 30 were orchids. The National Orchid Garden website says that there are several varieties of Vanda Miss Joaquim with ‘Agnes’ chosen for its “vibrant colours, hardiness and resilience – qualities that reflect the Singapore spirit”.

vanda Miss J

Papilionanthe Miss Joaquim in the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Photo: Sandra Simpson

It became the symbol of the Malay Orchid Society since 1957, appears on Singapore’s currency and stamps, and is widely grown on the peninsula, in The Philippines and Hawaii.

The orchid was bred by Agnes Joaquim, a well-known horticulturalist in Singapore, who crossed Vanda Hookeriana and V. teres, “two plants cultivated in almost every garden in Singapore”, according to an 1893 article by H N Ridley (first director of Singapore Botanic Gardens), which described the plant for readers of The Gardeners’ Chronicle. Read the full article here.

Miss Joaquim (1854-99) was a second-generation Singaporean of Armenian descent (her Armenian name was Ashkhen Hovakimian). Read more about her life and keen interest in gardening here. The article also mentions later aspersions cast on the claim that she bred the orchid rather than simply discovering a natural hybrid. An excellent post about the plant at Singapore Infopedia notes that in March 2016, Linda Locke, a great-great-grandniece of Miss Joaquim, began approaching public agencies with research proving that V. Miss Joaquim had been bred by her forebear. On September 7 2016, the National Parks Board and the National Heritage Board officially recognised Miss Joaquim as the breeder.

V. Miss Joaquim was displayed publicly for the first time in Europe at the Royal Horticultural Society show in London in 1897. The RHS awarded a First Class Certificate to Trevor Lawrence, the owner of the plant, which had been grown by his gardener W H White from a cutting sent by Mr Ridley. In 1898, the orchid also gained a Cultural Commendation Certificate.

The flower debuted in Singapore at the annual Flower Show in April 1899, where Miss Joaquim won first prize for  “rarest orchid”.

Before World War 2, V. Miss Joaquim was the mainstay of Singapore’s cut-flower exports and in 1938 a crate of the orchids was flown to Amsterdam for Queen Wilhelmina’s 40th Jubilee.

Summer’s bounty in a bottle

As Colin Hewens delves through his cellar he’s recalling the sights, sounds and taste of the summer just gone, a summer now measured in jars and bottles, kilograms and litres.

For besides preserving fruit and vegetables, Colin and partner Steve Richardson also make wine, cider and perry from their organic garden at Whakamarama, in the foothills of the Kaimai Range near Tauranga, a garden planted with just such an end in mind.

Starkrimson pears were discovered in the early 1950s in Missouri when a branch of red fruit appeared on a green-pear tree. Stark Brothers Nursery patented the variety in 1956. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“People are funny about fruit wine,” Colin says. “They think it should be ‘dry’, they don’t think you should add water or ice – and they don’t think fruit wine is wine, while wittering on about peaches, grass clippings and chocolate! Winemakers routinely add sulphides to grape wine to stop fermentation whereas we don’t add anything chemical. The great thing with home-made wine is that you can make it exactly to suit your palate.”

Colin (left) and Steve toast the fruit of their endeavours with a glass of mixed berry wine. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Colin has been teaching the simple art of making fruit and vegetable wines on and off since about 1976 after making his own feijoa wine. “It was horrible,” he recalls, “but it made me determined to get it right.”

The retired teacher learned his lesson well as some years later a New Zealand wine judge tried his tamarillo bubbly and claimed it was the best wine he’d ever tasted. However, Colin rates strawberry wine as the “elixir of fruit wines” and makes it with berries that are frozen as they’re cropped, keeping them until he has enough to make a batch.

“Berry wine samples nicely at six weeks but is too young to bottle,” Colin says. “We generally leave bottling for at least a year and do it only when we need the flagons. The longer they mature in the flagons, the better they are.”

The couple have their own cider press and still – New Zealand is the only country in the OECD where it’s legal for private citizens to own a still, provided the output is for personal use. The gear for wine-making is straightforward: A food-grade 10 or 20-litre plastic bucket; two 5-litre demijohns or food-grade 5-litre plastic flagons with fitted air locks; siphon tube; screw cap wine bottles; pure water (no chlorine); sugar; acids (including pectolase to break down pectin in fruit to release colour, flavour and improve yield); tannin and wine yeast.

“Good-quality fruit, pure water and cleanliness are the most important things when making wine,” Colin says. “The rest of it is just chemistry.”

The red skin of the Maclear apple ‘bleeds’ into the white flesh. If the apples are refrigerated immediately after picking they make crisper and sweeter eating. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The 0.86ha property, which includes a firewood block, has been planted with modern and heritage varieties of apples, pears, plums, peaches, apricots, berries, feijoas, passionfruit, rhubarb, elder  and grapes, as well as nuts and citrus. Colin also uses vegetables for wine, but says these need longer to mellow, with beetroot, “an earthy red”, needing about 8 years before it’s drinkable!

Billington and Black Doris plums have been struggling against the nearby gums – destined for harvest – but in the kitchen garden are damsons and Louisa, “the queen of plums”.

Hawera plums produce a good-coloured red wine. The variety’s name comes from where the tree was discovered, on a roadside in Taranaki. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A fine crop of pears last year encouraged Colin and Steve to use their cider press to make perry for the first time, a pear drink somewhere between white wine and cider.  Among their trees are Starkrimson, Conference and Bert’s William Bon Chretian, a selection of the more famous variety named for Bert Davies, who planted an orchard at Wellsford in 1917 using scion wood his brothers had brought home from Italy. “It’s guaranteed to bear well,” Colin says, “and it eats and bottles beautifully.”

Bert’s William Bon Chretian. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The couple pick apples for six months – from Maclear, ripe by the end of December, to Tydeman’s Late Orange which has its final pick in June.

In 2015 the trees yielded 33 litres of juice, half kept as juice and the rest turned into cider. Colin and Steve, who has recently completed a permaculture course, have now also planted cider varieties – Yarlington Mill, Kingston Black, Bisquet, and Sidero – with a view to producing about 60 litres of juice a year. “The cider apples are quite sharp,” Colin says, “so blending them with something like Priscilla, which is sweet, will make a nice juice.” Apples are frozen then defrosted before pressing to make it easier to extract the juice, which is pasteurised for keeping.

Their grapes have Colin and Steve scratching their heads – some do well and some don’t. Pinot Meunier, one of three varieties used to make Champagne, has adapted to Whakamarama’s fertile soil and hot, humid, sometimes wet, summers, while Tintara, supposedly a variety suited to the Western Bay of Plenty, is only average. “The best one up here would be Siebel, a French-American cross, but in reality we’re too wet for grapes,” Colin says.

This article was originally published in NZ Gardener and appears here with permission.

Something old, something new

Another snippet from my visit to Wellington Botanic Gardens was meeting the lovely rose Madam President.


Madam President rose, the full-bloom has the look of a camellia. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Bred by Sam McGredy and released in 1975, it is as popular today as it was then, according to the Rose Society of South Australia website (read the entry here). Sam had migrated to New Zealand from Northern Ireland in 1972 and was asked to “do” a rose to mark the golden jubilee of the Country Women’s Institute (CWI – now known as WI). The CWI picked the name and Sam’s New Zealand agent Phil Gardner chose the rose.

Georgina Campbell is establishing a collection of McGredy roses in her Cheops Garden near Hastings. Read more here.Hayden Foulds of the NZ Rose Society has been in touch with a reminder that May, June and July are optimum months to plant new roses. One of his picks from the new releases this winter is Magnifi-scent, a fragrant hybrid tea.

“Not red, but not pink either,” Hayden says. “A great colour to mix with other roses and garden plants. Blooms usually come one to a stem and with a quick repeat, the plant is never without flowers. A bushy, medium-growing plant with glossy disease tolerant foliage.”

Magnifi-scent. Photo: Amore Roses

Hailing from Vancouver, Magnifi-scent is from one of Canada’s leading rose breeders, Brad Jalbert, who says his philosophy is simple: “I listen to my heart, and my rose friends, and I try to breed roses that people will enjoy and can grow easily.”

Magnifi-scent is available in New Zealand through Amore Roses, near Hamilton.