BOP Orchid Show 2018

Congratulations to Barry Curtis (Tauranga) and Bob Parsons (BOP) who respectively won the Grand Champion and Reserve Champion titles at the Bay of Plenty Orchid Society Show. Despite a somewhat difficult growing season – although not for everyone, clearly – there was a nice range of orchids to look at in the Te Puke War Memorial Hall last Friday and Saturday.

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Grand Champion plant: Bulbophyllum Elizabeth Ann ‘Buckleberry’ grown by Barry Curtis of the Tauranga Orchid Society. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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A closer look at one of the many dozens of flowers on the plant – and more buds were still forming! Photo: Sandra Simpson

Many people find Elizabeth Ann ‘Buckleberry’ easy to grow but difficult to flower. I didn’t run across Barry at the show to find out what his secret might be!

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Reserve Champion plant: Psychopsis papilio, grown by Bob Parsons of the Bay of Plenty Orchid Society. This plant, sometimes called the butterfly orchid, had about five blooms. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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A basket of Dendrobium cuthbertsonii was a winner for Pat Hutchins, owner of Sunvale Orchids in Gisborne and a member of the Tauranga society. These little orchids grow epiphytically at up to 3000m above sea level in New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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A delightful mini-Paphiopedilum displayed on the Bay of Plenty society’s stand. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Paph Ruby Leopard x Marie Joyes, grown by Selwyn Hatrick of Rotorua. The pouch appeared almost black, much darker than the camera recorded. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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The striking Cattleya Gila Wilderness ‘Nippon Treasure’ belongs to Bob Parsons. He was given the plant by Andy Easton as that orchid grower and breeder made the move from Rotorua to Colombia. The label may also have a bit more name on the end, but it’s become very hard to read. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Rhyncholaeliocattleya (Rlc)Village Chief North ‘Green Genius’ was shown by Leroy Orchids of Auckland. Do you like the green petals? Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Warczewiczella Amazon Beauty was shown on the Whangarei Orchid Society stand. As part of the name suggests, the plant is native to the Amazon basin. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Masdevallia herradurae, or the horse-shoe Masdevallia, was shown by Diane Hintz on the BOP stand. Found in Colombia and Ecuador, this orchid grows at elevations of 500 to 2100m on mossy trees. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Habenaria rhodocheila is a southeast Asian orchid that grows in deciduous forests. This plant with the striking orange flowers was shown on the Whangarei stand. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Read more about the care of Harbenaria orchids, which have tubers and so are terrestrial growing. The Pacific Bulb Society website includes a page on these orchids.

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The amazing flowers of Habenaria myriotricha, grown by Carl Christensen of Napier. (And thanks to the kind gent who held a black chair in the background while I took the photo.) Photo: Sandra Simpson

Tree of the moment: Olive

An olive branch has long been a symbol of peace so today, Anzac Day, is a good chance to find out more.

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The olive tree in Yatton Park, Tauranga was planted on May 20, 1971 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Battle of Crete in World War 2 (May 20-30, 1941).  It was donated as a ‘symbol of love and warm connections’ by the people of Galatas. More olive trees have been planted nearby to create a grove. Photo: Sandra Simpson

In the Bible Noah sends out a dove from the ark to have the bird return with an olive twig in its beak – his third attempt at trying to discover if the waters were receding. The flood (and God’s anger) had apparently abated enough that at least one olive tree had begin sprouting foliage again.

In Greek mythology Athena caused an olive tree to spring up on the land that would become Athens, a “better gift” than her rival Poseidon’s well of sea-water, and supposedly the parent of all the olive trees to come. Brides in ancient Greece wore wreaths of olive leaves, as did Olympic victors.

Mars, the Roman god of war, was also the god of peace and on ancient coins was shown carrying an olive branch. An olive branch was added to the Great Seal of the United States in 1780. It has 13 olives and 13 olive leaves to represent the 13 original colonies, while the flag of the United Nations shows Earth surrounded by olive branches.

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An olive tree in flower in Yazd, Iran. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Olive trees (Olea europaea) are legendary for their long lives – but no one knows for sure which the oldest is as olive trees are dated by their girth, not by rings and over the centuries – and millennia – this becomes at best a rough guide. West Bank Palestinians reckon the al Badawi tree in Bethlehem is the world’s oldest at 4,000 to 5,000 years, while the Olive Tree of Vouves in Crete is thought to be at least 3,000 years old.

In 2014 archaeologists believed they uncovered 8,000-year-old evidence of the production of olive oil in what is today northern Israel.

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An olive tree growing inside the Flowerdome at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore. In 2015 one of the trees, originally from Spain and more than 1,000 years old, fruited. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Organic olive grower (and former actress) Carol Drinkwater has written several books about her life with the trees and decided to try and find some of the oldest in The Olive Route, finding success in Lebanon. Read the rest of her entry here.

I began my seventeen-month quest in Beirut … Serendipity put wind in my sails and within my first two or three weeks on the road I had discovered in the mountains up behind the ancient port city of Byblos, two tiny groves of 6000-year-old olive trees. They are not wild trees, these are cultivated trees, and still fruiting.

They were planted on man-made terraces bolstered by dry stone walls, which is a very common sight around the Mediterranean and is one of this region’s oldest methods for preserving water, for keeping the soil irrigated. Standing alongside these sprawling ancients was an epiphanous moment for me. I had been hoping that my quest might unveil clues, facts, witness statements that would take my story back 2,000 years, but SIX thousand… This put a whole new perspective on history. These trees were planted by someone or a group of farmers before Western man had an alphabet, before we could read or write. None of the three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity or Islam – had come into being. Those trees gave me a benchmark. What if they could talk, I asked myself. What stories could they tell me? The history of the Mediterranean, was my answer.

Read more about these trees – which have their own support group, The Sisters Olive Trees of Noah.

Some 99% of olive trees are grown for their drupes (fruit) which contain 20% oil. The fruit is macerated, the stone removed and the pulp pressed cold to yield ‘virgin’ olive oil with low acidity and good taste. Secondary, hot pressings produce lower-grade oils and a secondary oil called pomace, used in soap and cosmetics.

Moving olive oil around in the ancient world led to new crafts and technologies, including amphora storage vessels. Although it’s thought the olive tree didn’t arrive in Greece until 700BC, that empire than shipped it around the western Mediterranean.

Olive tree wood – generally from fallen branches and prunings rather than felled timber – is sought after for its attractive grain and also for its religious significance.

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The olive trees in Yatton Park are fruiting in April, 2018. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Although Charles Darwin noticed olive trees growing at a Bay of Islands mission station in 1835, they were ornamental and it wasn’t until 1990 that New Zealand had its first pressing of olive oil, thanks to retired Israeli scientist Gideon Blumenfeld.

Dr Blumenfeld had spent most of his working life with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation; the last 13 as Horticultural Representative in the South Pacific. Through his friendship with Shimon Lavee (the Israeli professor who cloned a new olive cultivar he named Barnea), Dr Blumenfeld imported the Barnea cultivar and established an olive grove and nursery – by 1990 his business also included stock from the International Olive Council’s tree bank in Cordoba in Spain. Sadly, Dr Blumenfeld died in 1991.

Olives New Zealand, the industry body, has some 200 members, including growers, processors and suppliers and groves range in size from fewer than 100 trees (hobbyists) to 40,000 trees (commercial growers).

Urban farmers

Note: Farmster closed in July 2018 after just 7 months for several reasons, read them here, among them the fact the founder didn’t know much about growing veges. It’s harder than it looks, folks!

Aucklander Ben Mayson is turning lawns and garden beds into ‘micro-farms’ – in return for giving him access to crop parts of their yard, Ben gives the land owners discounted  produce, from their patch or elsewhere.

Ben, his wife and three children returned home from overseas last year and in January he launched Farmster which has about 500 square metres of urban land to be cropped and with the first deliveries due on April 25.

Plots, with a minimum size of 12 square metres, need to have good soil and plenty of sun. Ben will do the preparation, planting and harvesting with the land owner in charge of watering. In return, the land owner receives a weekly box of veges, delivered, for $15, a $10 discount on the normal price.

Ben’s already planning on taking the concept nationwide. Read a recent article about Farmster.

Canada is full of such ideas, including the well-established organic Green City Acres in Kelowna, British Columbia which in 2012 grew more than 22.7 tonnes of food on less than 0.4 ha (1 acre) on multiple sites and used only 80 litres of petrol. Founder Curtis Stone says he earns $C75,000 a year from his produce – and all without owning any land.

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Part of Sole Food Street Farms in Vancouver, pictured in 2016. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Another well-established urban farming project in Vancouver began in an area almost entirely inhabited by those dealing with long-term addiction, mental illness and poverty – and the soil’s not great. Read more about Michael Ableman and his organic Sole Food Street Farms.

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Another view of the Sole Food Street Farms, now moved. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Now, the organisation – North America’s largest urban farm project – has lots all over Vancouver. The one I saw in 2016 was the original site, beside the city’s BC Place sports stadium. The area has been opened up to the public with cycle paths and walkways – and developers moved in last year so the farm had to move.

Fortunately, Sole Food was already using stackable plastic boxes to grow in and these can be easily moved using a forklift. Visit the Sole Food Street Farms website.

The city of Toronto is providing a global model for urban farming and last year inaugurated the first  official Urban Agriculture Day on September 15. The urban farming community there includes traditional backyard gardens, community gardens, school gardens, rooftop farms and backyard chickens, as well as the Ripple aquaculture pilot project. Read more about Ripple, along with some of the challenges facing urban farming in Canada’s largest city.

Super-size pine nuts

Finally met my first bunya cone recently and was mightily impressed. There’s a sign on the tree at Yatton Park warning of falling cones but I’ve never seen a cone on the ground there (tidied away quickly I expect or perhaps an aborist goes up and harvests them all at once). The park’s bunya pine, planted in 1860, is thought to be the tallest in New Zealand at 38.4m.

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As the cones are large and solid (up to 10kg each), it’s good to be warned. Oh, and they have spines on them too. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The ‘pine nuts’ inside the female cone are edible and the edible culture website has a detailed description of not only how to remove the nuts but how to prepare the nuts and some recipes! The tree carries male and female cones at the same time.

The bunya pina (Araucaria bidwillii), native to Queensland in Australia, can reach 45m and live for 500 years – seedlings don’t grow far from the parent tree, about as far as the heavy cone rolls when it falls.

The bunya pine at The Elms in Tauranga, where I ‘met’ the cones, only fruits every other year. In their native habitat, according to this excellent website, the trees cone perhaps every 3 years.

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Bunya pine cones. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Despite its common name, the tree isn’t a conifer but a member of  the Araucariaceae family, trees that were widespread in the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods in both hemispheres (alive at the time of dinosaurs which is perhaps why they have sharpish foliage and cones). The trees ended up however, being ‘native’ to only the southern hemisphere.

According to the NZ Tree Register, a bunya at Tamahere in Waikato is thought to be the largest in the country with a girth of 5.71m.

10 years ago, autumn

Ten years ago I spent 10 days of autumn (September-October) in northern Italy. Here are some photos.


That’s our front door in the background, part of the converted stable block. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Home base for our 5 days in Tuscany was the delightful Ancora del Chianti B&B run by Laura, while her husband Filippo tends an organic olive plantation and vineyard (his organic red wine wasn’t half bad!).


Growing under some of the old olive trees on the property were these crocus-like bulbs, Sternbergia lutea. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Sternbergia lutea are found all the way from the western Mediterranean and North Africa to Takijistan and are one of the world’s oldest of cultivated flowers. Some historians believe they are the “Lily of the Field” referred to in the Bible. Read more about all the Sternbergia bulbs here.


Some of the surrounding vineyards. Photo: Sandra Simpson


The nearest town is Greve – here’s a selection of seasonal produce, including chestnuts, fungi and prickly pear (bottom left). Photo: Sandra Simpson

Prickly pears, the fruit of a cactus, are called “fichi d’India” or Indian figs – the story goes that when the navigationally challenged Christopher Columbus first saw the strange fruit, he thought he’d arrived in India. Read more here.

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Villa Vignamaggio, half-way between Siena and Florence. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Chestnut trees in Siena. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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The gardens of Villa di Castello, near Florence. The process of moving the famous potted citrus trees into the orangery for winter was just about to begin. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Villa di Castello is now just about on the outskirts of Florence but when it was built was the “country” residence of Cosimo de Medici (1519-74), the first Duke of Tuscany. The gardens are said to have had a major impact on the design of French formal gardens. Read more here.

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Villa di Castello.

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The main square of San Gimigano, a Tuscan hill town whose name is well-known to wine drinkers, but is equally famous for its medieval architecture and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Seasonal food, by the way, was excellent – air-dried wild boar (from at least the previous year if not longer), air-dried ham (ditto), shavings of raw zucchini served with pecorino cheese and olive oil, pasta with truffle, ravioli filled with sheep’s milk cheese and walnuts and served with sage butter, ribollita soup (Tuscan bean soup, the link takes you to a River Cottage version) … and we weren’t even really trying!

Little critters

On a visit to Te Puna Quarry Park I sneaked around to have a look at the nettle patch – unceremoniously sprayed at the beginning of summer by an over-zealous worker – wanting to see if it had recovered (it had) and if there were any signs of admiral butterflies (they lay their eggs and make their chrysalis on nettles).

While I couldn’t see any evidence of butterflies, I did spot one, then two, then heaps of these critters (Conocephalus spp).

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Field grasshopper with very long antennae. Photo: Sandra Simpson

There was no mistaking this critter (below) when I saw it on the garage wall.

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A ground weta, possibly, and likely a young one going by size, not much bigger than my little finger. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Not too large, thank goodness. There are about 60 species of armoured weta insects native to New Zealand and they vary in size enormously – the giant weta of Little Barrier Island can weigh up to 35g, while the Nelson alpine weta is about 7g. Read a NZ Geographic article about weta here.

This past summer has apparently seen an “invasion” of black crickets into homes and businesses. We always have a few inside which we try to trap and release. Boy, is the male’s chirp loud! There’s often one in the laundry and that’s generally the one we never find (presumably, it dies of dehydration).

‘Bugman’ Ruud Kleinpaste notes: “If you’ve 10 crickets to the square metre … it’s equivalent to having an extra stock unit on your property. That is how much grass they eat. So yes, they are a pest.”

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Likely a garden soldier fly, introduced from Australia.  Adults probably feed on pollen and nectar, Photo: Sandra Simpson