McGredy, a name for roses

Sam McGredy, one of the world’s greatest rose breeders, died in Auckland last weekend, aged 87. The following is a piece I wrote after meeting Sam and his wife Jillian in Tauranga in November 2012, a meeting facilitated by Sam’s friend Ned Nicely who, at Sam’s invitation, named the My Girl rose.

The name Sam McGredy is synonymous with roses and – 21 years after he retired at the age of 60 – the legendary breeder is still taking an active interest in all things rose.

On a recent visit to Tauranga, he caught up with old friend Ned Nicely, parks co-ordinator at Tauranga City Council, who invited Sam to Robbins Rose Gardens to meet the staff.

Sam McGredy in Robbins Rose Gardens, Tauranga. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“This is a lovely garden and there aren’t so many like this left in New Zealand,” Sam said. “I helped start a big one at the Auckland Botanic Gardens but it was dug out because they refused to spray the plants.

“Everybody’s trying to breed 100 per cent disease-resistant roses, but it’s just about impossible.”

Born in Portadown, Northern Ireland, Sam was only 2 when his father died, leaving him heir to the family rose nursery, established by his great-grandfather, the first Samuel McGredy, in 1880.

The nursery was requisitioned during World War 2 for the growing of vegetables and on his return from the United States at the end of the war, the schoolboy found “half a dozen scungy glasshouses filled with tomatoes and no one who knew anything about roses”.

At its peak under his stewardship, the nursery grew one million plants on 120ha and had 160 staff. From about 60,000 seedlings a year, two or three were chosen for release to the market.

Hamilton Gardens, Sam McGredy’s last commercial rose release. Launched at the Pacific Rosebowl Festival (in Hamilton Gardens) in 2007, the rose is a sport of Sam’s popular Paddy Stephens rose. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“You either have the ability to do it or you don’t,” Sam says of rose breeding. “You have to have the eye to see the improvement possible from a cross and to judge the resulting seedlings.”

After several friends and business associates, both Catholic and Protestant, were murdered during the troubles in Northern Ireland, Sam decided to move to another country, preferably one where he wouldn’t be so reliant on greenhouses.

He and his family – daughters Maria and Katherine, who live in Auckland, and Clodagh, who lives in Tauranga – arrived in New Zealand in 1972.

“I hadn’t done any breeding myself for years, not with a business the size I had, so I didn’t know whether I could still be successful.”

His record speaks for itself. New Zealand-bred McGredy roses include Dublin Bay, Bantry Bay, Sexy Rexy, Paddy Stephens, My Girl and Aotearoa (sold as New Zealand overseas).

A fence of Dublin Bay roses. Sam McGredy reckoned this was the best rose he bred in New Zealand ‘and it will still be around long after me’. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The winner of numerous awards from the rose world – he won his first Gold Medal from the World Federation of Rose Societies in 1959 – Sam also has an honorary doctorate from Massey University and a CBE, and takes great pleasure in the McGredy Rose Garden, a collection being developed in Hastings by Georgina Campbell.

“No one else has bothered to do it,” he says. “A lot of the roses have been lost, but every year she finds three or four more, although it’s a bit of a job to get them into the country. It’s a grand thing.”

Sam. who helped establish Plant Variety Rights in New Zealand, regularly complimented Te Puna rose breeder Rob Somerfield and at our meeting in 2012 described Rob as “the pride of New Zealand”.

After this piece appeared in the Bay of Plenty Times, Sam emailed me: All my life every newspaper story was full of errors facts and spelling. Yours was 100% correct in every detail. I loved it … Many, many thanks for your expert, professional journalism. Sláinte, Sam

No, thank you, Sam. Your life’s work has brought and will bring pleasure to so many. RIP.

Fabulous frangipani

Carolyn Leuschke was on honeymoon in Bali when she began a new love affair. Fortunately, husband Mark has been entirely supportive in the decades since as her passion for Plumeria trees has showed no signs of waning.

The couple, both Kiwis, lived in Sydney for a number of years and made regular trips to Bali. “We went back for a wedding anniversary and most nights sat on the beach for dinner under the frangipani trees. It was heaven.”

So when she moved to Tauranga’s coast more than 20 years ago it was natural that Carolyn planted a few frangipani trees and it was in 2017, while looking for another tree for her garden, that this former business manager opted for a major career change and ended up purchasing stock for a collection and small nursery.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

The first plants in her collection originated in Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and the Cook Islands with plants being all cutting-grown. Although frangipani seeds are readily available in New Zealand, trees grown from seed generally don’t flower true to colour.

The trees, which have many common names including everlasting tree and temple flower, bloom from about mid-November to about mid-March with the cream-yellow flower being the most common and the most fragrant.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

“Most people probably think they don’t look much when they’re dormant but I love seeing the sculptural shape of the tree revealed,” says Carolyn. “I love them at every stage and in every season.”

The Frangipani Hut is not open to the public. For more information see the website or phone 027 391 6321.

Focus on Frangipani:

  • Planting a tree or putting a pot against a north-facing brick wall in free-draining medium is ideal – the bricks will provide heat release through winter.
  • Trees respond well to pruning in late winter, but remember flowering doesn’t occur on new wood.
  • Sunlight hours – at least 6 a day – trigger flowering.
  • Frangipani hate wet feet. If planting in heavy soil add gravel/stones to the hole to help drainage.
  • Water well over summer but rarely during winter, only starting again as new leaves appear.
  • Don’t fertilise during dormancy (see below). During growth, diluted liquid fish fertiliser or seaweed solution is good. 
  • Mulch around the trunk (but not right up to the truck) to keep roots cool in summer and warm in winter and help retain moisture.
  • The trees like to be in a breeze but not strong winds. They may need staking.
  • Some trees produce aerial roots – when these are established prune the branch below the roots and pot up the cutting.
  • Trees go into dormancy by shedding their leaves and must be protected from frost. Move potted trees into shelter in autumn.
A Balinese man wears a frangipani flower for a religious procession. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Although we associate frangipani flowers with the Pacific, the trees are native to Mexico and Central America. The tree’s Latin name comes from 17th century botanist and French monk Charles Plumier, while its common name recognises 16th century Italian nobleman Marquis Frangipani, who was known for a perfume he created to scent gloves.

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

Historic garden looks forward

The Elms mission house in Tauranga is one of the most important colonial buildings in New Zealand but it’s not just the house that tells a story – the NZ Gardens Trust last year endorsed the property as a ‘garden of national significance’.

“This is a heritage garden,” volunteer guide Bev Corbett says. “And as such is about unique stories and authenticity. People shouldn’t come expecting a beautifully landscaped garden.”

And come they do, in 2017 almost 13,000, including cruise ship passengers and school groups. Among the highlights of a garden tour – which covers nine eras within the garden –  are heritage roses, king ferns (Ptisana salicina, declining in the wild), mamaku (black tree fern), bunya bunya pine (Araucaria bidwillii, planted in about 1868) and Toona ciliata (red cedar, a type of mahogany).

From small acorns: The Elms manager Andrew Gregg (right) and gardener Troy Edgecombe. In the background is the English oak transplanted in 1838. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Thanks to ground custodians Troy Edgecombe and Rosie Burr the site is an organic workplace, with the 176-year-old shell paths weeded by hand and edging being installed to protect tree roots.

But this is also a story of a family, for The Elms was in private ownership from 1873 to 1997 and the connections haven’t ended – Julie Green, who lived with her Maxwell grandparents at The Elms in the 1960s and 1970s, is a volunteer guide and holds a collection of historical images for The Elms Foundation, while her son was married there in 2018.

Sense of history: Julie Green (left), a descendent of the Maxwell family that owned The Elms, and her fellow volunteer guide Bev Corbett. The women have put together a brief, illustrated history of the heritage garden.

The Reverend Alfred Brown, his wife Charlotte, their 7-year-old son and 8-month-old daughter moved from Matamata to Tauranga in 1838 with three other missionaries and their families. The site had been chosen for a Church Missionary Society (CMS) station in 1835 and it’s believed some sort of productive garden was in place.

Although a CMS schooner came irregularly and trading with Maori took place, being able to grow food was vital. Fortunately, it was said of Alfred “if Brown can’t grow it nobody can”.

His diaries and journals record potatoes, kumara, turnips, carrots, peas, beans, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, corn, wheat, gooseberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, red currants, blackberries, grapes, passionfruit, nut trees (including walnuts, chestnuts, almonds and hazelnuts) and an orchard of 200–300 fruit trees (including apples, pears and peaches) on the original 12ha site.

The family lived in a raupo hut for nine years – the library was finished in 1838 but the home wasn’t completed until 1847. “He clearly had priorities,” Bev says, “but I do wonder how Charlotte felt about it.”

The Elms mission house. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Despite a busy life as a missionary, Alfred also planted many ornamental trees. The garden contains three of Tauranga’s six ‘heritage’ trees with the English oak the oldest – believed to have grown from an acorn Alfred brought from England or Sydney and transplanted as a sapling in 1838. At the same time two Norfolk Island pines went in by the entry gates at the top of the bluff, landmarks both for sailors and the natural crosses at the tree tops marking the property as a mission station.

In 1848 Celia records bulbs, aloes, cabbage and damask roses and sweet peas, while newly arrived seeds included passionfruit, pomegranate, scarlet acacia, Chinese pink, American daisy, lavender and cockscombs.

In 1873 Alfred and his second wife Christina (Charlotte died in 1855) purchased the house and 6.8ha from CMS, renaming it The Elms. At Christina’s death in 1887, the house passed to her niece Alice Maxwell on the condition Alice’s sister Edith and their mother live there also. By 1913 just 1ha was left as the women fought to remain solvent.

Native plants: A shell path leads to what was once the main entry on the seaward side of the house. In the foreground (right) are king ferns. Photo: Sandra Simpson

After their mother’s death in 1919, Alice and Edith visited Motu in the Waioeka Gorge and many of the garden’s native plants were collected there. The women also began opening the house and garden, sharing knowledge gleaned from Archdeacon Brown himself. In turn, Alice passed The Elms to her nephew Duff Maxwell (Julie’s grandfather) who established a trust to preserve the property before his death in 1997.

But history isn’t standing still –a new, 800 square metre garden, which reclaims an adjacent lot sold in 1926, is under way and there are plans to add a Soldiers’ Garden next to the coach house.

Royal connections: The garden’s hollyhocks are descended from seed said to have come from a Buckingham Palace gardener in the 1920s, sent to his friend working at The Elms. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“Alice and Edith grew a lot of old-fashioned violets and other picking flowers to sell to raise money for soldiers in World War 1,” Bev says. “And in the winter we still enjoy patches of sweet-scented violets. The history here just wraps around you.”

The Elms is open 10am-4pm daily, Mission St, Tauranga. See or phone 07 577 9772.

This piece was originally published in NZ Gardener and appears here with permission. Read an earlier post about The Elms here.

Name a Rose Competition

In 2020, the New Zealand Rose Society International Trial Ground in Palmerston North – the oldest rose trials in the Southern Hemisphere – celebrates 50 years and to celebrate the Mayor of Palmerston North, Grant Smith, has commissioned a new rose to be named for the city. 

Name this rose! Photo: Hayden Foulds

Donated by its breeder, Rob Somerfield, the medium-growing Hybrid Tea has well-formed blooms of golden yellow with an orange flush to the outer petals. The blooms are slightly fragrant and last well when picked. It is very healthy with glossy green foliage.

There will be a limited first release of the rose at the 2020 National Spring Rose Show and Convention (November 28 and 29) in Palmerston North, which will also celebrate 50 years of the rose trials.

The name of the rose should capture the city that was once known as New Zealand’s Rose City.  The person who comes up with the winning name will receive six different rose varieties bred by Rob Somerfield, including one plant of the competition rose. 

Enter online, post your rose name(s) along with your contact details to Hayden Foulds, 40 Gordon St, Woodville 4920 or email them to Hayden.

The competition closes on September 31 with the winning name announced at the 2019 Rose Trial awards presentation on Sunday, December 1 in Palmerston North.

Terms and Conditions: The prize will consist of six rose plants donated by Rob Somerfield, including one of the competition rose. Plants will be supplied bare root in winter 2020. The prize cannot be redeemed for cash. The winner consents to their name being used for publicity purposes. As the prize cannot be sent overseas, entries will be accepted only from New Zealand residents. 

Names: Names must be three words or less, must not be similar to commercially grown rose varieties in New Zealand, and must not be names of persons or businesses, real or fictional. nor any trademarks.

The winning rose name will be selected by a committee consisting of one representative from the Manawatu Rose Society, one representative from Palmerston North City Council and Rob Somerfield. The committee reserves the right to not use any name entered. The committee reserves the right to modify any submitted name to make it more suitable for the rose.