Scent of a landscape

Yesterday I was lucky enough to hear some of the story of Queenstown Natural Perfumiers, a business founded by Serena and Harold Jones (she a botanist, he a poet) which has set out to capture some very specific scents from the Queenstown area landscapes and create them as naturally as possible – of the four scents, three are Ecocert-certified as 100% natural, while the fourth uses ‘synthetics’ as an environmentally conscious choice.queenstown

Both Harold and Serena, whom I’ve known for years, are passionate about the wild places of this country and our beautiful landscapes. I was able to sample each of the scents, picking out Lakeland Flora and Wilderness Berries as the two with most ‘nose appeal’ for me.

For a sense of what the perfumes invoke – and for much better writing than you’ll get from me – try these reviews by novelist Laurence Fearnley.

Queenstown Natural Perfumiers’ products are not available in stores or by mail order, just at two outlets, so far, in Queenstown.

Ngāi Tahu has a project under way to re-create a perfume known by the South Island iwi and which used the bayonet-like leaves of the plant known as taramea (Aciphylla spp, Spaniard or speargrass). Leaves were gathered, plaited and heated to extract resin with a fragrant oil made by mixing the resin and animal fat. The perfumed oil was highly valued and used in trade for food, pounamu (greenstone/jade) and as gifts between chiefs. Read more here.

Another ingredient in this ‘grand Māori perfume’, is pātōtara (Leucopogon fraseri, dwarf mingimingi), a prickly, low shrub that grows at altitude throughout New Zealand. According to Te Karaka website, it has been reported that, when the plant was more plentiful, the fragrance of its profuse flowering filled whole alpine valleys – and  with an offshore wind, apparently the perfume was perceptible to mariners, even before land was within sight.

In Traditional Lifeways of the Southern Māori, Ngāi Tahu ethnographer Herries Beattie records that the bark of the mountain toatoa tree (Phyllocladus alpinus) was carried by southern Māori as a scent, with one informant saying the bark was used to make a scent similar to the highly-prized taramea perfume.

The leaves of the lemonwood tree (Pittosporum eugenioides) were bruised and mixed with fat to use as a perfume, as were the scented flowers, and Eldon Best also mentions the resin being used for perfume making.

Read much more on this topic of native perfumes at Forest Lore of the Maori: Various Scents and Gums by Elsdon Best (1856-1931).

Heartfelt hydrangeas

Roger Allen has been involved with growing a commercial crop of hydrangeas for about 18 years, although more recently has taken a step back with his daughter taking charge of the business that grows hydrangeas for export as cut flowers, with one of the biggest markets being Dubai.

Roger’s been involved with growing flowers for a lot longer though, starting out at Whakamarama with mainly carnations and chrysanthemums, before moving to Plummer’s Point about 24 years ago, then moving into hydrangeas.

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Roger Allen with some hydrangea stems. Photo: Sandra Simpson

We’d got talking at a couple of funerals recently (as you do) and Roger invited me to see a some of his new hybrids that he’s so pleased with he will go through the PVR process (plant variety rights) and release them to commercial growers.

“There’s probably three I will release, one of them an improved version of ‘Sensation’, but I haven’t named them yet. I think a flower name has to have a little bit of music in the mouth.”

The business grows all but a few of its hydrangeas in bags and Roger pointed out the difference his aluminium-rich soils make – a vivid pink flower in a grow bag becomes a lustrous purple in the ground. “You can change the colour of a hydrangea by adding aluminium to the soil, but it takes a long time,” he says.”

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One of Roger’s as-yet unnamed seedlings. Photo: Sandra Simpson

In the early days of hydrangea exporting people were picking them from the old bushes that can be found beside many roads in New Zealand. “People were getting good money,” Roger says, “but the flowers looked horrid. We’ve come a long way since then.

“I started with hydrangeas primarily because there was money in it, but now it’s turned into a bit of a love affair. It’s a really nice bloom and I’m absolutely in awe of it – a flower changes on the bush daily until it goes to ‘antique’ and changes completely.”

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Hydrangea ‘Irene’, hybridised by Roger Allen. Photo: Sandra Simpson

He has already released two hybrids – ‘Bush Fire’ and ‘Irene’ – and is thrilled that the latter, a soft pink, has proved so popular exporters now request it by name, rather than colour.

An intriguing note to hydrangea breeding is that seedlings can throw either way – mophead or lacecap – no matter what their parentage, but up until 2 years ago Roger had never had a lacecap result from his work.

Roger is opening his garden for this year’s Bay of Plenty Garden and Artfest from November 15-18. Read about his garden in this earlier post.

On the road: Hotere Garden Oputae

We stumbled across this small garden by accident while visiting Port Chalmers, near Dunedin. Heading up the hill to see the Robert Scott Memorial (unveiled May 30, 1914), I spotted a sign for ‘Hotere Garden’ and requested a detour.

The garden opened in 2005 ‘fulfilling the wishes of Ralph Hotere‘ (1931-2013) to return four sculptures to Observation Point. They had previously been displayed in Mr Hotere’s nearby studio, but in 1993 it was demolished, along with some of the bluff on which it stood, despite local protests, to make way for port development. Apparently the garden was part of the settlement between the two parties.

In 2008 the garden by Design and Garden Landscapes Ltd won the Landscape Industries Association of NZ premier award for the best use of native plants, a gold award for landscape horticulture and a silver award for landscape design.

Company owner Wayne Butson said the planting had been deliberately kept simple to enhance the sculptures and the views.

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Aramoana, by Chris Booth, was originally constructed in 1982 and decorated with more beach flotsam and jetsam. Aramoana, a beachside settlement south of Port Chalmers, was to be the site of an aluminium smelter – this piece was by way of a protest. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Black Phoenix II by Ralph Hotere uses part of a fishing boat that burned in a yard in 1984. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Another part of the boat’s timber was used in Black Phoenix held at Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand. Renowned actor Sam Neill helped prepare some of the wood for Black Phoenix: Not long after beginning, Ralph said he had to slip away. Something pressing. Three or four hours later, he returned; casually mentioned he was sorry, he’d got caught up in the pub. Read more from Remembering Ralph Hotere.

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Brick Column by Russell Moses is made from a kiln once used by Coromandel potter Barry Brickell, while the iron bar is recycled from the port. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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This photo doesn’t do justice to They do cut down the poles that hold up the sky by Shona Rapira Davies but the vegetation has grown since it was put it place and it wasn’t a sunny day.


Read more about the sculptures here.

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Finally, a bumblebee busy in harakeke (flax) in the garden. Look at that articulation between head and body! Photo: Sandra Simpson



On the road: Otari-Wilton’s Bush

Otari Wilton’s Bush is 5km from the centre of Wellington at 160 Wilton Rd (off-street parking at two spots or take a 14 bus from Lambton Quay). It is open every day, all day and is free. For more information see the website.

A visit to the botanic garden at Otari-Wilton’s Bush in Wellington is a chance to meet some of our native plants that otherwise inhabit remote or difficult locations, or are endangered in the wild.

The 5ha gardens, which comprise several collections numbering about 1200 plants, is the country’s only botanic gardens dedicated to native plants and continues to collect rare and common species, including those from offshore islands.

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A section of the rockery showing Chionochloa flavicans grass. The green-coloured early summer flowers will age to brown. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The gardens form a small, but significant, part of what began as a 7ha bush lot fenced off by Job Wilton but which today is a 105ha reserve that includes some original trees.

Renowned botanist Leonard Cockayne, along with J G McKenzie, established the Otari Open Air Native Plant Museum in 1926 – and Dr Cockayne and his wife  remain there today, buried in the grounds.

Plants are grouped by theme, including plants for the home garden, Wellington coastal plants, threatened species, the rainshadow garden and a fernery.

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Helichrysum bellidioides is a native straw flower found in alpine areas. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The ’38-degree garden’ is named for the latitude which delineates the southern natural range of kauri – Tauranga, more or less. This area is for those plants that naturally grow only in the top half of the North Island, such as taraire and puriri.

There are several fierce Aciphylla plants around the gardens, including the blue-foliaged A. squarrosa and the orange A. ferox, while an area is given over to lancewoods, especially Pseudopanax ferox, named for its ferociously toothed juvenile foliage. The lancewood is probably the native tree that differs most markedly from juvenile to adult forms and seeing a garden of them at their various ages is fascinating.


A white-flowered Chatham Island forget-me-not. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Other plants of interest include white-flowered Chatham Islands forget-me-nots (Myosotidium hortensia),  brown-leafed native dock (Rumex flexuosus), mountain foxglove (Ourisia macrophylla) and a hybrid of what was once the world’s rarest tree, Pennantia baylisiana, from the Three Kings Islands.

Oddly, given that the tree is difficult to pollinate, in cultivation it readily cross-pollinates with its cousin the kaikomako, Pennantia corymbosa, and this garden in 1982 produced a hybrid named Otari Debut.


Pennantia corymbosa Otari Debut. Photo: Sandra Simpson