Patchwork memories

If you were to represent the place you were raised by creating a garden bed, what would you use?

Ever since I saw Anne Larking’s homage to her birthplace of Canterbury at last year’s Garden and Artfest, I’ve been thinking about it, although have come up with no useful ideas yet.

Homage to Canterbury in the Western Bay of Plenty: In the gravel bed are white clover, tussock grass, dianthus, Shirley poppies (derived from a wild field poppy), foxgloves and Gaura. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Only some of these plants – the clover and tussock – are truly ‘of Canterbury’ but it’s a pretty patch that is intriguing for visitors. I didn’t see any lupins but they may not have been in flower.

What would you plant to represent your gardening roots?

Tauranga Orchid Auction


Tauranga Orchid Society is pleased to announce its annual auction.

When: 7pm on Tuesday, February 19.

Where: St Enoch’s Church Hall, 16th Ave, Tauranga (in the block between Fraser St and Cameron Rd).

What: A lively and fun auction of orchids of all sorts, other plants, orchid books, preserves, fruit, etc. A chance to pick up plants at bargain prices.

Everyone welcome – whether a member or not. Cash only. Please bring boxes and bags to take home your new treasures. Queries to 07 577 6676.

Our native trees: Lancewood

Of all our native trees the lancewood (Pseudopanax crassifolius or P. ferox, horoeka) has to be the most unusual. Many New Zealand trees exhibit differences in their juvenile and mature foliage but are any of them as extreme as the lancewood?

Young lancewoods in suburban Taupo. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Beloved of urban landscape designers, juvenile lancewoods (generally P. crassifolius) are tall, slim and striking for about 15 years, before dropping all their toothed foliage and developing a mop-top of softer green leaves. In fact, the two stages are so distinct that early botanists classified the juvenile and mature lancewoods as two separate species. (And the seedling stage is different again!)

A mature stage Pseudopanax ferox at Otari Wilton’s Bush in Wellington. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Department of Conservation website says there’s no general agreement about why the growth stages are so different (heteromorphy), but there are theories:

  • Evolved as a response to moa browsing – once trees grew above moa height, they no longer needed defences
  • A response to the growing trees moving from an understorey climate to a sub-canopy climate
  • A reallocation of resources as the tree grows – young plants need to gain height to prevent being shaded, while adults devote more energy to making leaves and branches.

The trees carry insignificant greenish flowers from mid-summer into autumn, followed by berry-like fruit. In Māori lore, the flowering of lancewood was an indication birds would be plentiful the following year, because the fruit takes a year to ripen.

The sharp hooks on the leaves of a juvenile Pseudopanax ferox. Photo: Sandra Simpson

P. ferox (fierce lancewood) is the less common species and has juvenile foliage that is wider and more heavily ‘toothed’ with a sharp hook at the end of each tooth. It can grow to about 4m in cultivation. P. crassifolius, which grows to about 6m in cultivation, doesn’t always have toothed foliage.

According to DOC, Māori used juvenile tree stems to spear kererū (wood pigeons) and South Island Māori pounded the leaves to extract long ‘hairs’ for use as a kind of brush in making rock paintings.

European settlers used the midribs of young leaves, which are strong and supple, as bootlaces and for mending bridles and harnesses. The straight, flexible trunks were sometimes used as whips. Lancewood was occasionally used as timber, mostly in Otago, but the wood is not as durable as some other species.

NZ Flower & Garden Show postponed

In a surprise annoucement NZ Flower & Garden Show director Kate Hillier said yesterday that there will be no show in November 2019, instead the event will take a year’s hiatus and be back in 2020.

She noted the concept of the show included alternating between different cities and venues – it has been staged twice in west Auckland – and while the show had seen significant support from Auckland residents, the NZFGS team wished to explore other locations.

“The New Zealand Flower and Garden Show takes at least 12 months to plan, and rather than rushing to secure a location we have decided to take a year out, to be 100% certain of future plans,” Kate said.

Maybe it means that Hamilton Gardens, which would be a perfect venue and still close enough to Auckland to draw visitors from there, is in the mix. However, the rest of the press release was somewhat opaque.

“The flower show team and I would like to sincerely thank those that have offered their support, our wonderful sponsors and exhibitors that created such spectacular displays and of course our show visitors. Please be assured that Auckland will always be a likely venue for future shows.”

So, is it Auckland, or isn’t it? Those who have followed the NZFGS will remember that its debut was also postponed by a year when in 2016 the first venue, Bastion Point, proved unworkable. The grounds and buildings of the The Trusts Arena in West Auckland have been good, though I’m not sure how good parking is on public days as I’ve only been to media days and it’s been pretty tight then.

Cranesbill Geraniums

I was lucky enough recently to have a reason to visit renowned plantsman and gardener Gordon Collier in his Taupo home, Anacapri. It’s an inspiration for those of us with suburban-size plots and a desire for a larger garden – throw away the lawn and fill every inch with plants, winding paths and a pond or two!

As you might have seen in the latest NZ Gardener magazine (February), Gordon has written a book about his Taupo garden, made on a flat, pumice site after he and his wife Annette retired from their Taihape-area farm – and the well-known Titoki Point garden – in 2001. Anacapri, named after a village on the Amalfi coast in Italy, has recently been judged a 5-star garden by the NZ Gardens Trust.

Geranium Annette in Gordon Collier’s garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Gordon freely admits he always wanted to garden and not sheep farm but the farm gave him the space, if not necessarily the time or income, to start realising his dreams. Titoki Point became a destination for garden buffs and just before he left was attracting 5000 visitors a year. (The garden has since closed to the public.)

Several years ago, Gordon says, he noticed a Geranium seedling in the Anacapri garden that he thought was worth keeping. “A visiting nurseryman took it back to Auckland and eventually patented it.” It has been named ‘Annette’ in honour of Gordon’s wife who died in 2014.

Geranium Philippa (smaller, mauve flowers) growing in amongst Geranium Annette. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Gordon caught the Geranium (as opposed to Pelargonium) bug when he came across a catalogue put out by Philippa Foes-Lamb of the Heirloom Perennial Plant Nursery in Nelson – and another interesting plant in his garden apparently arrived by mistake and is not available at present.

Geranium Philippa “starts off as a pale grey hassock of pleasantly scented leaves; come summer, it literally erupts into a cloud of foliage with myriads of pale lilac flowers”, he says. “In season this plant will measure a metre across and as much high. It’s a stunning sight with, I believe, a great future as a garden plant.” Apparently it’s a chance hybrid between two uncommon species from South Africa which are growing in Philippa’s garden.

Geranium traversii growing in Otari Wilton’s Bush, Wellington. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Did you know we have a couple of native cranesbills? Geranium traversii is endemic to the Chatham Islands. Flowers are most often pink, but occasionally white or purple forms are seen. According to Shirley Stuart, NZ native curator at Dunedin Botanic Gardens, it’s one of the few Chathams plants which are relatively easy to grow throughout the country, although doesn’t like high humidity.

Geranium solanderi was among the plants collected by botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander (a Swede) on their first day ashore in New Zealand in 1769 (East Cape). These days it’s a rare plant and is often found on cliffs, out of reach of introduced herbivores.

Geranium retrorsum looks very similar to G. solanderi and both plants can apparently be found in a remnant of a lava field in one of Auckland’s most intensely populated industrial areas!