Warming winter spices

Once upon a time one of the most valuable objects in a western European household would be the spice box – and these powders and dried pieces of plant imported from tropical lands were used not only to flavour food but also to treat illness.

Today, the cuisines of Asia are considered to use the widest variety of spices with the food of India coming instantly to mind when one thinks of “spicy” food.

“A lot of people think all curries are very hot dishes,” says Anu Bhardwaj, owner of the Spice Trader store in Katikati. “But not all Indian food is hot and spicy and if you make it at home you can decide how much flavouring you want to add.”

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Clockwise from top left, green cardamom (seed pods), cinnamon quills (bark), whole dried chillies, star anise (used in Chinese food, a dried fruit), turmeric (powdered rhizome) and cloves (dried flower buds). Photo: Sandra Simpson

Anus has taught a community class about curries and spices and contributed to a 2016 Harvest exhibition at the Western Bay Museum in Katikati.

“Spices all have health-giving properties too,” she says. “For instance, turmeric, which is one of the main spices used in Indian food, has antibiotic and anti-inflammatory actions, very good in winter.

“Soak a teaspoon of fenugreek seeds in a glass of water and drink the water to help control blood sugar, while black chickpeas are full of iron and good if you’re a vegetarian.”

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Anu Bhardwaj. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Anu, who has lived in Katikati for 16 years and hails from northern India, recommends making garam masala (curry powder) rather than buying one. “Dry roast the spices – which can include mace, black cardamom, green cardamom, black pepper and cloves – on the stove top, let it cool and blend it all together. Dry roasting the spices gives them quite a different flavour to the powdered spices you buy.”

The other main ingredients of any curry are onion, garlic and fresh ginger.


Illustration of Ferula asafoetida from ‘Köhler’s Medicinal Plants’, published in Germany in 1887. Image: Wikimedia

Browsing the shelves of her store is an education in itself – tamarind paste, jaggery (unrefined sugar), chickpea flour, black nigella seeds, black rock salt and asafoetida, which is the dried latex of Ferula root, a member of the celery family.

“Indians use asafoetida a lot but it is becoming better known in the West,” Anu says. “It’s a good flavour substitute for anyone who can’t digest garlic or onions.”

Potty about bulbs

From football-size to those as small as grains of sand, bulb enthusiast Bill Dijk loves them all.

“I call myself a bulbophile,” he laughs. “It’s an addiction and it started with a friend who gave me half-a-dozen daffodil bulbs on condition I entered the flowers in a show. I won a prize and was hooked – and the next year he gave me more.

“It developed to the point where I started to look for something else and got interested in bulbs from South Africa, partly because they suit my local climate.”

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Bill Dijk with a tray of Oxalis massoniana, a bulb native to South Africa. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Bill and wife Willie, both Dutch by birth, moved to the outskirts of Tauranga from the South Island 44 years ago with a plan to start a kiwifruit orchard. Instead, and after working 5 years for someone else, Bill set up Daffodil Acres – about 4 acres growing some 300 to 400 daffodil varieties – that eventually morphed into a mail-order business for rare and unusual bulbs.

Now retired, Bill is enjoying growing simply for pleasure and is indulging his interest in breeding, particularly tall bearded iris and miniature daffodils.

“I started my love of bulbs with daffodils and when you start with daffodils you suffer from yellow fever for the rest of your life,” he says.

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Grown by Bill Dijk, from left, ‘Tweeny’, Narcissus calcicola, ‘Lively Lady’, ‘Little Flik’ (from his own breeding porgramme) and ‘Segovia’. Photo: Bill Dijk

Among his breeding successes are Wilma (named for Willie),  Little Emma and Little Becky (named for granddaughters), Daffy Duck and Dainty Monique.

“The idea is to breed something better than the parents – better form, better colour, a good cut flower,” Bill says. “It’s an exciting hobby because you’re hoping it will be something people will like.”

He’s spent 10 years on a scented, miniature green daffodil and reckons it might need only one more cross with Narcissus viridiflorus, a green species bulb, to have the flower he wants. He’s had a flowering with the scent and size he wants, but only touches of green and wants to make the green stronger.

Bill has noticed that miniature daffodils are especially popular with women, while men prefer big-flowered daffs. “Perhaps men think that because the miniatures are dainty they’re difficult to grow, but they can grow anywhere and are particularly suited to rock gardens and pot culture.”

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Native to South Africa, Massonia pustulata is summer dormant. Photo: Bill Dijk

His extensive collection includes everything from the giant Brunsvigia josephinae (candelabra lily) to, well, several types of Oxalis.

“Collectors love Oxalis but no one else wants to hear about them,” says Bill, a member of the Pacific Bulb Society. “They flower prolifically for months on end, come in every colour, are easy to grow, and the majority aren’t rambling or weedy. I always advise people to put them in a pot and then you won’t lose track of them – and you’ll probably feel better about having them contained.

“Oxalis really would be one of my top recommendations when it comes to bulbs.”

Bill, who “dabbles” in clivia, has become keen on Lachenalias, especially those with interesting foliage – the raised spots of L. pustulata or the types with spotted leaves. He’s trying to add purple spotting to the leaves of L. viridiflora, which blooms with turquoise-coloured flowers in early winter.

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Lachenalia viridiflora or the turquoise hyacinth. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“I’m getting too old to start things from seed – I’m 82 this year. I want to see things flower this year or next.

“But 3 years ago I imported a few seeds of the blue hippeastrum [Worsleya procera], I couldn’t resist. I may have to wait another 2 or 3 years for a flower so I hope to be around to see it.”

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Bill’s Top Bulb Tips:

  • Check how deep the bulbs should be planted – most common spring-flowering bulbs go in about 2.5 times their length, while many South Africa-origin bulbs like their shoulders above ground. However, Bill believes it’s not necessary to be 100% accurate as “nature will correct”.
  • Choose a sunny, well-drained, open situation. If you’re likely to forget where the bulbs are, mark the site, draw a plan, or use bulb baskets.
  • Before planting, dig the ground over and incorporate compost.
  • Never cut off yellowing foliage – it’s feeding next year’s flower. Plant annuals or other, later-flowering bulbs to hide die back.
  • Bulbs in pots are easier to keep track of and, once they’re finished flowering can be moved to hide dying foliage.
  • To keep bulbs flowering well, divide the clump every 3 or 4 years, and keep the site weeded.
  • If you can afford to, repot bulbs every year to keep up flower production. Ensure there is slow-release fertiliser in the new mix, which should be free draining.
  • Bill makes his own planting mix with pumice, compost and sand as the three main ingredients, plus a slow-release fertiliser.

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

Plant stories: Goodale Moir

William Whitmore Goodale Moir (pronounced Moyer) was born in 1896 in Papaikou on the big island, Hawaii, the son of Scottish migrants. As well as being a long-time sugar industry agronomist with Amfax, Mr Moir, was also a noted orchid breeder, developing more than 65 hybrids, giving later hybridisers a much better understanding of the genetic relationships between genera.

Paul Devlin Wood, writing in Hana Hou!, the magazine of Hawaiian Airlines, offered a link for Goodale Moir’s interest: “These first [orchid] collections were stocked by plant hunters, scouts sent by the sugar and pineapple companies to search the Pacific for new genetic material. One of these scouts, John Moir, returned in 1917 from the Philippines with boxes of live orchids. Moir’s son Goodale became a leading figure in the early days of hybridisation …” Read the full article here.

In 2015 the Hawaii Tribune Herald reported: “Early in the 20th century, John Moir of Honolulu and later his son, Goodale, built one of the earliest orchid collections in the state. The Moir collection passed to Herbert Shipman on Hawaii Island just before the outbreak of World War 2.” Mr Shipman then became one of Hawaii’s first commercial growers.

The Spanish Colonial Revival home Goodale built in 1930, known as Lipolani, has been recognised by the Hawaii Historic Foundation. The one-storey home on the outskirts of Honolulu is a significant example of the residential work of architect Louis E. Davis.

Mr Moir  chose the wedge-shaped site at the junction of two streets because it had the best trade wind flow. He was a strong believer in the flow of breezes and their favorable effect on plant growth and health. He built a “puka puka” [vented tile] wall to protect the garden from the full force of the Nu’uanu trades while allowing for good air circulation.

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Goodale and May Moir pictured in their Honolulu garden in 1978. Photo: John A Stevens

Goodale and May Neal were married in 1950 (she had been widowed the previous year) in the Moir Gardens in Po’ipu, Kaua’i. The garden was Goodale’s creation, and was cared for and maintained by his brother Hector and sister-in-law Sandi (Alexandra Liliko’i Knudsen).

For most of Lipolani’s first 18 years the entire garden was given over to orchids in landscape beds – until orchid stem borer reached Hawai’i in the 1950s. In the process of clearing out dead and diseased plants, the Moirs did a major garden renovation, eliminating lawn and replacing it with concrete pavers and basalt stepping stones, while at the same time almost completely enclosing the garden in such a way as to create several courtyards with distinctive characteristics.

After the garden’s orchids were removed, the couple then grew bromeliads on a large scale, although both had grown and loved bromeliads “since they could walk”, and created one of Honolulu’s most celebrated gardens (registered with the Smithsonian Institute). The property was for sale in 2015 – leaving the family for the first time. Read more here.

In his book, Gardens of Hawaii, landscape architect Stephen Haus calls Mrs Moir “the godmother of Hawaii gardeners”. She was visited by garden enthusiasts and landscapers from as far away as Brazil, Bali and Thailand.

A 1979 article in the Journal of the Bromeliad Society by John A Stevens recounts visiting  the Moirs at their home.

“Goodale (as he is known to close friends) has had several hundred articles published on orchids and their hybridising, starting with Dendrobiums, Vandas, Phalaenopsids, Cattleyas, Epidendrums, the Laelinae Tribe, and recently, the Oncidieae. Research and collecting trips for the last-named tribe have taken Goodale to Jamaica and the Caribbean on numerous occasions. His seemingly endless hybridisation of the miniature Oncidiums has been duly recorded in the list of New Orchid Hybrids published regularly by The Orchid Review.

“But … let it be known that Goodale has devoted more and more time in recent years to growing bromeliads, and writing about them, and has possibly 25 or more articles in print on bromeliads, most of them appearing in the Journal of the Bromeliad Society. Goodale’s style has always intrigued me: forceful, concise, sometimes a trifle opinionated.”

Mr Stevens describes Mr Moir as small of stature with a smooth, round face that at times could look “almost Orientally inscrutable”.

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Miltonia Goodale Moir ‘Golden Wonder’ at the 2017 Te Puke Orchid Show. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A note in Mrs Moir’s 1983 book The Garden Watcher said that more new intergeneric orchid species had been created and named in their garden than at any other spot on Earth – interestingly, Mr Moir, who tracked the results of more than 50,000 intergeneric cross attempts that he made over a period of decades, was convinced that the take rates were higher during the two phases of the moon that correspond to rising tides!

In the early 1950s Mr Moir pioneered Tolumnia (equitant Oncidium) orchid breeding when he began crossing species he had collected while on business trips in the West Indies. The first 25 years of activity were dominated by his efforts and by the 1970s the potential he was coaxing out of “Moir’s weeds”, as they were called, encouraged others to join the pursuit. The most active being Richard and Stella Mizuta and Robert and Susan Perreira, also of Hawaii. The foundation Mr Moir had painstakingly laid was about to bear fruit. Tolumnia Golden Sunset (Stanley Smith x Tiny Tim) was made by the Perreiras, and registered by Francis Aisaka in 1975. Read more at the American Orchid Society.

Milton O Carpenter, writing in 2000 in the AOS journal, said: “In recent years, we have witnessed the emergence of temperature-tolerant Oncidiinae, a descriptive term that I apply to those plants that will thrive in temperatures from 45 to 100 F [7C-38C]. Pioneering work … was done by the late W. W. Goodale Moir of Hawaii, who registered 273 Oncidiinae intergeneric hybrids in 46 different combinations. Building on Goodale’s foundation, Helmut Rohrl of California, George Black of England, this writer (all protegés of Goodale), and a few others, have been engaged over the past 30 years or so in a continuing exploration of the limitless possibilities within this alliance.” Read more here.

In his Orchids of Asia book (2005), Eng-Soon Teoh writes “W W Goodale Moir of Honolulu dominated the breeding programme of the Oncidium in a way that no one else has been able to do for any other orchid subtribe or genus.”

As well as co-writing a handbook on Hawaiian soils (published in 1936), Mr Moir also contributed to Variegata Oncidiums (1970), Breeding Variegata Oncidiums (1980 – read the chapter on the culture of these plants), Creating Oncidiinae Intergenerics (1982) and Laeliinae Intergenerics (1982), as well as publishing many hundreds of articles on orchids.

Among his awards: Fellowship of the Orchid Society of South East Asia (at the 1966 World Orchid Conference in Los Angeles); Garden Club of America Medal (1973), AOS Silver Medal of Achievement (1982).

Among the orchids he registered with the Royal Horticultural Society were: Cattleya Memoria Goldie C. Moir (1948), Tolumnia lalita Pia (1950), Cattleya Peggy Moir (1951), Tapropapilanthera May Moir (1953), Miltonia Goodale Moir (1954), Oncidium Twinkle (1958), Miltonia May Moir (1959), Vanda Charm (1960), Miltonia Sunset (1961), Miltonia Purple Queen (1961), Vandachostylis Lilac Blossom (1963), Brassia Rex (1964), Miltonia Guanabara (1964), Stanhopea Memoria Paul Allen (1968), Eipcattleya Yucatan ‘Richella’ (1969), Catasetum (Clowesia) Rebecca Northern (1971), Bratonia (Miltonia) Olmec (1975), Bratonia (Miltonia) Aztec (1976), Aliceara Dorothy Oka (1976), Tolumnia Henemoir (1977), Oncidium Gypsy Beauty (1978), Aliceara Tropic Splendor (1981) and Aliceara La Jolla (1983).

Mr Moir died in 1985 and Mrs Moir in 2001, aged 93. Read an obituary for her here.

Plantswomen honoured

Three plantswomen were recognised in the latest Queen’s Birthday Honours list, all with Queen’s Service Medals. I note that a letter writer to the NZ Herald disputed one of these awards – but I wonder why he picked on that one and not, for instance, services to wrestling, horse racing or even politics!

The details below have been taken from the official citations at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Mrs Helen Guthrie of Waikanae, for services to music and horticulture:

She has been president and branch secretary of the New Zealand Camellia Society for 14 years and organised the National Camellia Show in Waikanae in 2009. She was membership secretary on the National Council of the Camellia Society, has judged throughout the North Island, and won several awards at national and local shows. She has been a member of the New Zealand Rose Society since 1984 and was president of the Kapiti Rose Society when Kapiti hosted the 1992 National Autumn Rose Show. Mrs Guthrie has been a national judge of roses for 25 years.

Ms Avis Leeson of Hamilton, for services to horticultural education:

Ms Leeson has donated her time to creating vegetable gardens and orchards at more than 300 schools in the Waikato region, and from Northland to Invercargill.

As a hospice volunteer Ms Leeson fell ill in 2007 and while recovering developed a project to teach children how to grow food. She initiated the project at her former primary school in Morrinsville and her gardens have since spread to schools from Karapiro to Hamilton North. Her project has reconnected children with the facts of how food is produced and in many of the schools this teaching is now accompanied by cooking classes for students to experience the process from garden to plate. Her project has been sponsored entirely by businesses and is staffed by volunteers.

For health reasons Ms Leeson, now 88, stepped down from active participation in 2014, with the project now continued through the Avis Leeson Fruit Tree Trust. The Trust secured an ongoing commitment from McGrath Nurseries to supply 1000 fruit trees per year until 2024. Ms Leeson continues to assist the Trust and is producing a gardening manual for the schools involved. Watch a 2016 Seven Sharp clip (3:33).

Mrs Beverley Van of Christchurch, for services to bonsai:

Mrs Van has grown bonsai since the 1970s and first initiated bonsai beginners’ classes at the Avice Hill Centre in 1992, which led to the formation of the Avon Bonsai Society in 1993.

Since 1993 Mrs Van has served as either a committee member or president of the Avon Bonsai Society and has made her home available for committee meetings and workshops. She was made an Honorary Life Member of the Society. She delivered talks on growing bonsai to garden clubs in Christchurch and further afield. She has mounted individual bonsai displays in addition to displays for the Christchurch Festival of Flowers and participated in and judged club displays.

She produced a book with her late husband, Bonsai Growing in New Zealand for the Absolute Beginner (and others), and currently runs a bonsai website. Mrs Van has also developed her skills as a potter, studying traditional Japanese and Chinese bonsai pots, and regularly produces high-quality ceramics for all styles of bonsai presentation.


Our neat nikau

Brian Miller’s love affair with nikau palms began as a child when his family travelled from Waikato to the Coromandel Peninsula for holidays. “I don’t know why, but it was the sight of the nikau that always got me excited,” he says.

Brian worked fulltime as a primary teacher for 40 years, as well as having a kiwifruit and avocado orchard, but managed to fit in a nikau nursery too after youngest son Duncan started growing a few while he was in the Scouts and “pestered” Brian to keep them going. “Luckily, they’re a very forgiving plant,” he says.

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Brian Miller among his nikau. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Today, 25 years later, all the nikau Brian has grown for his Nikau Grove nursery at Aongatete between Tauranga and Katikati are descended from a palm near his house, which he estimates to be 100 years old.

“I’m guessing it came from the Kaimai Range,” he says of the palm. “All the seed I’ve used has come from that one nikau and I spent years trialling growing from seed. Nikau don’t show a lot of growth until they’re about 7 or 8 and won’t start a trunk until they’re 11 to 15 years old.”


Slender-trunked North Island nikau. Photo: Kahuroa, via Wikimedia

Nikau naturally occur in coastal and lowland forest in the North Island, and as far south as about Greymouth on the West Coast and Banks Peninsula on the east coast. There are separate forms on the Chatham Islands, Great Barrier Island and the Kermadec Islands but although Brian is interested in them all, he doesn’t necessarily love them all.

“The Chatham nikau grow quite fast in the North Island and become bulky – they’re almost grotesque. A nikau as imagined by Peter Jackson. The North Island nikau, on the other hand, is a very graceful and gentle palm, and sits well in the landscape.

“I don’t know why anybody ever planted a phoenix palm when we had these beauties on our doorstep, and don’t get me started on palms from the Middle East and the Mediterranean …”

Brian says there is “almost certainly” genetic variation among nikau within mainland New Zealand, although some differences will be down to growing conditions, such as the ‘spindly’ palms at Maunganui Bluff in Northland. “A pleasant surprise is to find nikau in cooler areas, such as the misty banks of the Whanganui River, where they’ve found microclimates, and they don’t seem to mind Wellington’s wind one bit. It seems if they can be protected from frost when younger they can take most things, including dry, exposed sites.”

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A nikau bud begins to open. Photo: Sandra Simpson

With their delicate root system nikau can be tricky to transplant but Brian offers detailed planting instructions and has few losses. Rather than a central tap root they send out multiple anchor roots with a network of fine feeding roots “evolved to suit a damp, sheltered and shaded bush environment where there’s a lot of decaying wood and leaf litter”.

Brian recommends trying to re-create a bush soil as much as possible for the first 12-18 months to help the trees establish and in his own garden he adds rotted wood to the holes and around the trunk at the surface.

Optimum planting time is from about March to May when the soil is still warm and with a higher chance of rainfall or, second best, September and October.

“The funnel-shape of nikau means as much rain as possible goes down into the trunks so they can’t be over-watered. In that first year they need heaps.”

He says they’re the perfect trees for small gardens, “because you look through them not at them”. Brian suggests planting groups of three or five, combining trees of various ages for a natural look.

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Native flies are among the pollinators of nikau. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Nikau Facts:

Rhopalostylis sapida is New Zealand’s only native palm and the world’s southernmost palm.

The Maori name, often translated as ‘without nuts’, is thought to reflect the disappointment of early Polynesian settlers who expected to find coconut palms.

Nikau need a frost-free position that is preferably damp and do best in a subtropical climate.

They are slow-growing, taking about 100 years to reach a maximum height of 10-15m.

They can flower more than once in a season (spring to late autumn) with flowers attractive to birds (including kereru and blackbirds which both spread seeds), bees and native flies.

Read a NZ Geographic article about nikau.

To contact Brian Miller phone 07 552 0822 or email.

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Colourful berries follow the flowers. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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