2018 Dahlia of the Year

by Sandra Simpson & Garfield Andrew

In 2018 the New Zealand Dahlia Society celebrates its 80th anniversary with a national show in Blenheim from February 17-18 and has chosen as its 2018 Dahlia of the Year Tauranga Jubilee.

To help celebrate the anniversary, a couple of South Island growers have made sure there has been a stock of Tauranga Jubilee – which, for reasons no one’s quite sure of, has dropped in popularity over the years and isn’t widely available – for NZ Dahlia Society members to plant.

Back in February 1998 – the society’s 60th birthday – the national show was hosted by the Bay of Plenty Dahlia Circle (no longer in existence) and held in Tauranga. An unnamed seedling bred by Elaine Fenton of the South Island was put into competition and won its class.

The flower went to the top table and was named Tauranga Jubilee by the well-known dahlia grower from Britain, Dave Reid, who was visiting the show.

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Tauranga Jubilee. Photo: John McLennan

Mrs Fenton’s success in hybridising began when she obtained seed from Cyril Higgo, a fimbriated dahlia specialist in South Africa. She later honoured Mr Higgo by naming what has become one of the most recognisable large fimbriated dahlias in New Zealand in his honour. Three of her other dahlias are still grown and exhibited by members of the Dahlia Society – Kaka Beacon, Kaka Copper Queen and Kaka Lindy Lou.

Mrs Fenton served the national society for many years, including on the national management committee and as South Island secretary. She is a long-standing member of Christchurch and Districts Dahlia Club and in 2001 received the prestigious National Dahlia Society of New Zealand silver lapel badge.

Now living in aged care in Christchurch, Mrs Fenton still grows a few dahlias.

Bitter oranges

For me, oranges are an apt festive topic as I always received one in my childhood Christmas stocking. Although I’ve never been big on the fruit’s flesh, I have always loved the colour and shine of the skin, as well as the fruit’s scent. And now I have an orange tree in my garden I love the perfumed blossom season as well.

During my visit to Iran earlier this year I noticed a small tree used extensively in the gardens – primarily lining the avenues alongside the long, narrow rectangular pools. At the time we were told it was “a kind of citrus” and further investigation reveals it to be Citrus x aurantium.

But the fruit is sour or bitter, although all citrus were bitter originally. Native to southeast Asia, the trees moved along the trade routes and there is clear written evidence that bitter orange preserves were being made in Persia by about 1300.


Citrus x aurantium. Photo: A Barra

Tim Entwisle, director of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, blogged about the fruit in September this year, saying: This is a hybrid between a pomelo (a large grapefruit-like fruit) and a mandarin … Within this hybrid group are both bitter and sweet oranges. Those at the bitter end have more of the pomelo (C. maxima), and those at the sweet end, more mandarin (C. reticulata) and sometimes called Citrus x sinensis. Read the full post here.

Known as ‘narenj’ in Iran (very close to the Spanish word ‘naranja’), the fruit can be used as a substitute for lemons and limes (salad dressings) and are often paired with fish and rice dishes, to marinate chicken and for pickles.

Sugar was known very early in Persia, having been encountered in about 500BC in India by the soldiers of Darius I, and by those of Alexander the Great (who invaded Persia) in about 300BC. Anne Wilson, in The Book of Marmalade, postulates that “the Persians may have been the first people to have employed sugar as a foodstuff” (as opposed to a medicine). Read more about Scottish marmalade here.

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Sour orange trees flank a pool (empty) at the Eram Garden in  Shiraz, Iran. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The bitter orange tree has long been used in many ways. In Chinese herbal medicine, for instance, preparations made from leaves and fruit rinds were used to treat intestinal problems, including constipation, while in the West the flowers are still used to produce essences for aromatherapy.

Moorish poets from North Africa lauded the tree’s fruit and its blossom during Spain’s Islamic history (711-1492) and this orange has been cultivated around Seville since the end of the 12th century and, yes, this is the orange used in the famous marmalade (read more here) while the flowers are used to make orange-flower water. Bitter oranges – terrible for eating (as I can attest after whipping one from a tree in Seville and trying it) – have a higher pectin content than sweet oranges so are perfect for marmalade.

Another sour orange, Bergamot (Citrus bergamia, which confusingly turns yellow when ripe), is primarily grown for its essential oil which is used in natural medicines and perfumes and to flavour Earl Gray and Lady Gray teas. According to legend, Christopher Columbus introduced this tree to Italy from either the Canary Islands or the West Indies. While many believe the common name is linked to the Italian city of Bergamo in Lombardy, Pierre Laszlo in his 2008 book Citrus: A history, reckons it derives from a Turkish word, ‘beg-armudi’, which means ‘lord’s pear’ and adds that the French word ‘bergamotte’ was first used in 1536 for a variety of pear, before being applied to a citrus variety in 1699.

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The lovely Narenjestan Garden (or The Orangery) in Shiraz. The trees lining either side of the walkway are bitter oranges. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Sir Walter Raleigh took sour orange seeds to England; they were planted in Surrey and the trees began bearing regular crops in 1595, but were unfortunately (or predictably) killed by cold in 1739.

For 500 years, the bitter orange was the only orange known in Europe and was the first orange to reach the New World, being naturalised in Mexico in the mid-16th century.

But in the first half of the 17th century, sweet orange trees arrived in Portugal by ship and these quickly superseded the bitter ones.

Yet another bitter orange, the deciduous Poncirus trifoliata (or Citrus trifoliata) which is  native to China and Korea and sometimes called the Chinese or Japanese bitter orange, has been one of New Zealand’s favourite citrus rootstock trees for decades.

One nurseryman told me that it can stand 3°C more cold than any other rootstock, and it seems to help produce high-quality fruit that don’t dry out – but it is thorny.

NSW Christmas Bush

Until they flower I don’t ‘see’ my local Ceratopetalum gummiferum trees but every summer they cover themselves in the colours of Christmas – the profuse flowers are white (if you scrinch your eyes it could be snow), followed by red calyx that change hue as they age.

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One of my neighbourhood Ceratopetalum gummiferum trees. First it’s white …

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…  then it’s red. Photos: Sandra Simpson

Also known as the NSW Christmas bush, this plant can grow to 12m in its native range so ‘bush’ is a bit of a trap for the unwary. The ever-reliable Stirling Macoboy reports that the small genus is native to eastern Australia and New Guinea.

In the coastal bushlands of New South Wales, and in many gardens of Australia, the summer Christmas season is announced by a small, slender tree, Ceratopetalum gummiferum, he writes in ‘What Tree is That?’ (1979). Although it has no practical use, it is beloved throughout its home state and picked lavishly for Christmas decoration.

He goes on to note that the slender tree is hardly noticeable without its flower colour (whew, I haven’t been inattentive). The tree is hardy to -2C. Read more here.

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Photo: Sandra Simpson

Clean sweep of rose trials

by Hayden Foulds

Tauranga rose breeder Rob Somerfield has swept the awards at the New Zealand Rose Society International Rose Trial Grounds in Palmerston North. This is the second year Mr Somerfield has taken all the awards presented, the first was in 2009 and both are the only occasions of a clean sweep taking place in the trials’ 47-year history.

Mr Somerfield was presented with the Gold Star of the South Pacific for Love Bug, the highest scoring rose in the trial. Described as a cardinal red rose with dark glossy foliage and a strong, vigorous growing plant, Love Bug wins Somerfield’s eighth Gold Star and confirms his place as New Zealand’s leading rose breeder.

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Rob Somerfield in the Palmerston North Trial Grounds with his award-winning rose Love Bug. Photo: Hayden Foulds

Certificates of Merit were presented to the pale yellow Night Light, the orange-red Tabasco and the apricot Strawberry Blonde. All of Mr Somerfield’s winning varieties will be released on to the New Zealand market in the next couple of years.

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Strawberry Blonde was one of three Rob Somerfield roses to win a Certificate of Merit. Photo: Hayden Foulds

The New Zealand Rose Society trials test new varieties from New Zealand and international rose breeders and are assessed over two years by a panel of 20 judges with categories including freedom of flowering, health, plant quality, flower quality and fragrance. This year more than 40 entries were judged.

At the conclusion of each trial, those roses which have gained an average 70% are recognised with awards to reflect the consistently high performance they have achieved during trial – the Gold Star of the South Pacific goes to the highest-scoring rose.

NZFGS 2017: A last look

During my visit to the inaugural NZ Flower and Garden Show earlier this week I got chatting to a chap standing beside a garden and quickly realised it was the site planned by inmates from Paremoremo Prison in Auckland.

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The stepping stones represent the chance of a new beginning, although the ‘jail’ character from Monopoly is watching. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The men, with the help of designer Adam Shuter, had grown the plants (all natives), welded the sculptures, woven 8000m of twine for the lovely seat, and created the striking 3D head sculptures … but the only way they were going to see it was via video. The Corrections Department and NZFGS kindly provided two whanau tickets per inmate so at least family members had the chance to have a look.

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The garden included two Coreten flax sculptures and a stainless steel cabbage tree. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Auckland Prison manager industries David Grear was my informant at ‘Redemption’ and you can read more about the development of the garden here. The use of Monopoly-type posters in the garden was at once both witty and rather sad. As I said to David, I’m never likely to visit a prison, I don’t know what’s available to inmates or how they system runs – the garden was, in a way, the prison coming to me. And I was rather impressed.

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The seat was handmade with the covering woven from 8000m of twine. The three heads in the garden were based on relatives of inmates. Photo: Sandra Simpson

One of the other gardens that gave me great joy was by Kiwi designer Bayley LuuTomes and South African designer Leon Kluge, ‘Trouville: Something Lovely Discovered by Chance’ (they also teamed up to represent New Zealand at the 2016 Singapore Garden Festival, winning Gold and Best in Show for its outdoor lighting).

The garden won a Gold medal and a Design Excellence award.

This extensive garden had a bit of everything, yet felt a harmonious whole. From soft ‘wildflowers’ planted on parts of the sloping grass sides, to the shipping container-like cabin with its origami-like exterior walls, and the maple-surrounded pool the garden was enchanting. My only criticism is that the pool area could be fully appreciated only from inside the cabin, which was off-limits to the general public but (ahem) not to this member of the media (I do it for you, dear readers)! Follow me in …

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Gaura, salvia and statice, among others, soften the exterior of the site. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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I love the grass growing up and over those beautiful wooden walls. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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More wilderness planting at the front of the cabin, letting us peek inside (well, if you’re already partway up the steps!). Photo: Sandra Simpson

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A deck extends over the black-water pool. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Australian designer Christian Jenkins was on the phone when I asked to enter his Balinese-style garden, ‘Nature and Nurture’ so his mum gave me the nod. The bonus about being inside was seeing the reflections in the black-water pool (years ago Ben Hoyle told me he used coffee grounds to create his black water for show gardens). And how great that among the palms he used was our very own nikau palm.

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The judges deliberate – ‘Nature and Nurture’ won a Gold medal. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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A ‘floating island’ in each side of the pond added extra interest. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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The boardwalk deck was too inviting to resist! Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Reflections in the black-water pond plus a pop of vivid colour from some of the poolside bromeliads. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Go Timandra!

Although she’s been working in floristry for 16 years, Timandra Houltram of Tauranga is still an apprentice, albeit a senior apprentice, and is competing in the five-day Interflora Apprentice Florist of the Year competition at the NZ Flower and Garden Show in Auckland.

Competitors are given 18 different design tasks over the five days – including a bridal bouquet and a Christmas wreath – and work in their own 4m by 4m space. The theme of the floral tent is this country’s multicultural society and the apprentices were able to choose their own backdrop for their stand from a selection provided – Timandra picked a large-scale photo ‘curtain’ that shows a 1950s ship arriving in Auckland, saying she enjoyed the retro vibe it gives her stand.

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Timandra  Houltram in her stand. The hand-tied bouquet was one of the first challenges – the brief was to use a supermarket shopping bag as the base. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“We all have the same materials to work with so it comes down to how we interpret each challenge,” Timandra told me on Tuesday. The florists were able to take their own items to accessorise a tailor’s dummy for which they created a floral skirt but had to judge carefully how much floral material they used on each challenge as their reserves of flowers and foliage were finite.

Working at FreshFlowers in Bethlehem’s Countdown supermarket, Timandra holds NZQA Level 3 in floristry and has previously been Florist of the Year for Fresh Direct. She started her week of competition well, being awarded a NZFGS Silver medal for her stand.