National Orchid Expo 2019

All my good intentions to post here during the Expo in Palmerston North last week were dashed when my little laptop went phut on day two! So here’s a round-up of the winning plants.

Displays came from as far afield as Canterbury and Whangarei orchid societies, speakers from Australia and flasks of seedling orchids from Taiwan and Thailand were for sale. The organisers did a marvellous job and some 2,600 people were reported to have visited the show over its three days.

Conrad Coenen (Tauranga Orchid Society) with his Cattleya intermedia variety orlata ‘Rio’, winner of two Champion rosettes. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Orchid Council of NZ awards for individual plants:

  • Champion Australasian native orchid: Dendrobium Jiggi, Bill Liddy (Hawkes Bay).
  • Champion Cattleya alliance & Champion specimen: Cattleya intermedia var. orlata ‘Rio’, Conrad Coenen (Tauranga).
  • Champion Cymbidium: Cym. Ace of Spies, Villa Orchids (Joe & Betty Vance, NZ Orchid Society).
  • Champion Dendrobium: Den. aphyllum, Barry Baxter (Waitakere).
  • Champion hybrid: Paphiopedilum Vogue Wonder ‘Shellnick’, grown by Chris Whitby (Hawkes Bay, but exhibiting on his own stand).
  • Champion miscellaneous genera: Lycaste Auburn, Conrad Coenen (Tauranga).
  • Champion Oncidiinae: Oncidium Golden Rialto, Leroy Orchids (Lee & Roy Neale, Waitakere).
  • Champion Paphiopedilum & Champion species: Phragmepidiumcaudatum ‘Jacqui’s Dream’, Thomas Petrie (Hawkes Bay but exhibiting on Chris Whitby’s commercial stand).
  • Champion Phalaenopsis alliance: Phal. Yu Pin Dream Girl, Gillian Lyster (Nelson).
  • Champion Pleione: Pln. Loulan ‘Elegance’, Graham Jackson (Manawatu).
  • Champion Pleurothallid alliance: Masdevallia Hot Shot ‘Tis Gorgeous’, Paul Topp (Wairoa).
  • Champion Sarcochilus: Sarc. falcatus ‘Ira Butler’, Janice Brown (Wellington).
  • Champion Vandaceous alliance: Aerangis fatuosa, Gillian Lyster (Nelson, a tiny plant).
Grand Champion of the show: Phragmepidium caudatum ‘Jacqui’s Dream’, grown by Thomas Petrie. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Thomas Petrie is only 33 and has been growing orchids for 15 years! He trained at Wellington Botanic Gardens. Read more about Thomas here. The same plant was the 2018 OCNZ Orchid of the Year so it has done well for Thomas.

Reserve champion: Paphiopedilum lowii ‘Katipo’ (Jason Strong, Hawkes Bay but exhibiting on Chris Whitby’s stand). Photo: Sandra Simpson

Display awards: Champion commercial display: Chris Whitby. Champion tabletop display: Nelson Orchid Society. Champion society display, small: NZ Paphiopedilum Alliance. Champion society display, large & Grand Champion display: Waitakere Orchid Society.

Tauranga’s Helen McDonald received a second placing for her table-top display, ‘Memories of Japan’. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Bill Liddy was presented with an Award of Honour for outstanding service to OCNZ, including his decade-long stewardship of the Iwitahi Native Orchid Reserve (on the Napier-Taupo highway), and Colin McKenzie of the Otago Orchid Club, which is in its final year of existence, received a Special Service Award. Colin joined not long after the club was formed in 1976 and has been president for many years. The club had the champion display the last time the Expo was held in Palmerston North (2010).

And don’t forget that the Tauranga Orchid Show is rapidly approaching – October 11-13 at the racecourse, open 10am-4pm daily.

Laughter among the trees

On Monday afternoons there’s plenty of activity at McLaren Falls Park near Tauranga, as Bay of Plenty Tree Society members get stuck in – but there’s plenty of laughter too.

The answer to “what do you do here” comes back as “dig holes”, while another wit chimes in with “give advice on digging holes”.

This light-hearted approach, and a genuine sense of camaraderie, is what’s driven the society for 54 years as it has quietly created one of the best collections of rare and unusual trees in the country.

So far this year 120 trees have gone in, with  many raised from cuttings, some of which will be swapped for trees they’d like to add. “As our inventory’s grown, it gets harder to source new stock,” says John Nicholls, who uses his contacts within the nursery industry to seek new plants.

Some of the Bay of Plenty Tree Society workers at McLaren Falls Park, from left back, Rob Candy, John Nicholls, Geoff Brann, Dave Kershaw, Leo Jensen and John Sich. Front: Gill Nola and Tim Simcock. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Now the park is well-established, volunteers – from all walks of life including farming, forestry and horticulture – are turning to understorey planting and adding colour and smaller trees, although there’s the occasional major specimen to be replaced.

Originally farmland that was purchased as part of an early 20th century hydro-electric scheme (the power station was decommissioned in 1981), the park is owned by Tauranga City Council and attracts steadily growing numbers – 100,000 vehicles in 2017.

Visitors driving, walking or picnicking among the 1600 or so different taxa of trees may be surprised to know that every one has been planted by members of the Bay of Plenty Tree Society – which for many years also purchased the trees, with the council coming on board with funding only about 9 years ago.

As well as planting, volunteers also build and install protection for young trees and have a programme for naming specimen trees.

The reward for their endeavours? “The enjoyment every visitor, no matter what age, gets from being out here among the trees,” president Dave Kershaw says. “It’s so peaceful we sometimes forget we’re working.” Cue more laughter amid comments that “it must be time for a lie down”.

Anyone interested in joining the Tree Society should inquire at the park’s Information Centre or phone 07 577 7000 and ask for the McLaren Falls ranger.

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

A healing garden

Inspired by a former grand London department store, Tauranga boasts the only hospital rooftop garden in New Zealand.

According to the 2017 official history of Tauranga Hospital, A Century on Cameron Road, in 1970 the managing secretary of the Tauranga Hospital Board, who’d come across a pamphlet about the famous Derry & Tom’s roof garden in Kensington, wrote seeking information, with “the reply most helpful”.

The 6070 square metre London gardens cost £25,000 and took two years to build, opening to the public in 1938 – and remaining open, free of charge, until early 2018 when the private club, owned by Sir Richard Branson, on the roof top closed.

Tauranga Hospital’s 2486 square metre roof garden opened in 1982 after 7 years of work and is also free to visit, although one has to be an inpatient or a staff member to access the L-shaped first-floor space which offers a green oasis in a busy campus.

Head gardener Alan Buckborough. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Head gardener Alan Buckborough has worked in the garden for 22 years and is full of admiration for the foresight of the architects who designed a drainage system that still meets earthquake building standards. “We never have a problem,” Alan says, “even in the heaviest downpour.”

Because the building below was designed to carry another storey the garden’s weight isn’t an issue – the deepest areas of topsoil are 90cm and placed over load-bearing beams. In other areas the topsoil may be as little as 30cm deep.

“About 15 years ago they looked briefly at putting a helipad here,” Alan says, “but it didn’t meet safety standards being so close to the other buildings so the garden remained.”

Beneath the topsoil are layers of straw and pumice, then waterproof lining on marine ply which is laid on concrete. Two stylish air-conditioning towers each carry a mosaic panel made by elderly patients.

Part of Tauranga Hospital’s roof garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Some original trees remain, although several large conifers were removed in a makeover in 2010. “We use only shallow-rooted trees like puka, bottlebrush, Queensland frangipani, Melia and Albizia but it’s a little microclimate and everything grows faster up here,” Alan says.

Planting is a mix of native and exotic, chosen to provide a green backdrop year-round, plus some accent colour in each season. Included are the white-flowered Luminis rose released to mark the 125th anniversary of St John in New Zealand, native tussocks, a white Loropetalum original to the garden, a pair of weeping silver birches, kowhai, rhododendrons, hebes, aloes, pohutukawa and codylines.

There are also three commemorative plaques – two mark official hospital visits by former Health Ministers while the third marks the death of James Lynch in 2001, New Zealand’s longest-stay permanent patient. Left paralysed after being electrocuted in 1957 aged 14, James was, the plaque says, “our patient, inspiration and friend”.

An ornamental heron has been installed in the pond to deter live birds. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The garden’s pond recently gained an ornamental heron in an effort to protect the goldfish. “We couldn’t work out why the fish were disappearing,” Alan says, “until we saw a heron swooping across the road and helping itself.”

Alan and Pete Maxwell look after 7ha of hospital grounds, including offsite staff housing and clinics. “But this garden,” says Alan, “this is the jewel in the crown.”

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

Love for flesh-eating flora

A love of plants often passes down through the generations but for Ross Taylor his love of carnivorous plants began with a schoolboy yearning for a female more than twice his age!

Ten-year-old Ross had talked his way on to a night computer course at Nelson Polytechnic and was delighted when “corporate goddess” Helen, 24, took the next-door terminal – and even more thrilled when she offered him a ride home on a rainy night. Making conversation, he asked about her interests. An invitation to see her collection of carnivorous plants  altered the direction of his life.

Ross recalls the visit in vivid detail. “Helen lived up a long, steep driveway. I was frightfully unfit, and stopped to compose myself on several occasions, so I wouldn’t look like a sweaty school-boy. Finally, I made it to the top but she was nowhere to be found and instead there was a tall, dark-haired man, wearing a black leather jacket.”

On learning this was Don, Helen’s husband, Ross says, “my heart crumbled”.

Ross Taylor, doing his best impression of Hannibal Lecter, in his new Geraldine greenhouse. Photo: Ross Taylor

However, in the greenhouse the boy was “transfixed” by the sight of a collection of endangered North American Sarracenia (pitcher plants). “They were like nothing I had ever seen – they had a ‘wow’ factor that has never left me,” Ross says. “Suddenly, my infatuation with the blonde goddess took a back seat, and the plants stepped into the driving seat.” Helen, Don and Ross, by the way, are still good friends 31 years later.

The next year Ross started his own carnivorous plant nursery in Nelson and by the age of 15 was supplying eight or nine garden centres in the district.

“They’re great plants for children to grow,” he says. “as they demonstrate how plants survive in a competitive world – carnivorous plants naturally grow in poor soil and take few nutrients from the ground – and they’re an organic form of fly control which is very, very effective.”

Sarracenia are commonly known as pitcher plants. Photo: Ross Taylor

By the time of another major upheaval – this time of the planet, not the soul – Ross was well-established in Christchurch, supplying plants by mail order in limited numbers all over the country, selling at markets and opening his nursery to the public by arrangement. The devastation of the Canterbury earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, although enormous, triggered an unusual reaction in him.

“Many of the tray-like benches in my 50m-long glasshouses collapsed and none were able to hold water, with most being damaged beyond repair. I had 15,000 plants, a lot of which were tipped all over the place, and seeing my life’s work reduced to chaos was heartbreaking.”

But, despite all that, Ross was oddly relieved. “Growing carnivorous plants had originally been a hobby, but became more of a commercial endeavour to try and cover costs and with the intention of making a dollar. But standing in the mess, I realised it wasn’t fun at all. When I should have been enjoying the plants, I was working my insides out, just to recover from the earthquakes and cover costs. The thought of rebuilding didn’t make me happy and I decided to change direction.”

With his ground lease about to expire, Ross came across a property in Geraldine that was perfect. “The size of it required me to streamline and I decided to go back and focus on the North American pitcher plants that had first taken my breath away. Over the years I had ended up growing a bit of everything because that’s what people wanted, but this was my chance to purge the collection, to retain the best of the best, to specialise in what I love – and I took it. It is the best thing I’ve ever done.”

The attractive, nodding Sarracenia flowers are borne on tall stems. Photo: Ross Taylor

Thinning his collection and relocating has taken 3 years but he believes he now has one of the best Sarracenia collections in the world. “There’s probably only one other grower in New Zealand who has a collection as complete as mine, and there are a few noteworthy international growers, especially in Britain. We’re all friends and like to help each other.

“I spend a lot of time ensuring the very rare forms are kept alive through my personal collection and while I think I have almost everything I want now, it has taken 30 years to achieve this – and there are always new varieties to tantalise the senses.”

As Sarracenia are herbaceous perennials, similar in growth habit to peonies, every June Ross uses an electric hedge trimmer to cut down old pitchers. “In their natural snowbelt habitat, the weight of the snow crushes the old growth so the new can come up unimpeded. I’m just imitating that to keep the plants tidy and free of disease.”

He is equally ruthless when it comes to his cross-breeding – invariably, out of 1000 seedlings, 950 are immediately culled, then another 45 a year later. The rest are grown on for 4-5 years … and often none will be kept. If he decides to keep one, it “may” be named.

Photo: Ross Taylor

Ross has been working with his friend, Don Gray of Auckland, another hobbyist with an excellent collection, to selectively breed Sarracenia and to preserve endangered species. Between them, in 30 years the pair have registered only one or two new plants with the International Carnivorous Plant Society. “For us to name something, it has to be exceptional,” Ross says. “We are both motivated to grow the finest forms and see little point in growing anything that doesn’t express excellence and the best characteristics inherent in the species.”

Sarracenia primarily trap flies – houseflies and blowflies – but at various times their diets change slightly. People with one or two plants may think that because the pitcher is always open nothing has been caught but, Ross says, unlike Venus flytraps and sundews, the pitchers don’t have to do anything except be open. Nectar around the neck of the trap attracts insects which then slip and fall in to the stomach of the hungry plant. Slippery sides and downward-facing hairs prevent prey from climbing back out.

“If you autopsy a plant’s pitchers you’ll find that by mid-season, the pitchers are full – even in a greenhouse. They’re very efficient at what they do. Even when there are 15,000 plants, each with between six and 10 traps, the vast majority of traps will be full.”

“For a plant to be truly carnivorous, it must be able to attract prey, catch it, and then to digest it. We’re incredibly fortunate to be alive at a time when they’re working perfectly and to be able to enjoy them in action.”

Sarracenia synopsis:

  • Native to North America with the main areas being Mississippi through to the Carolinas and the Florida panhandle.
  • Cool-growing, ground-dwelling plants that naturally die down in winter with new pitchers (traps) emerging in spring.
  • Plant in sphagnum moss (live is best but rehydrated dried sphagnum will do) or peat moss.
  • No fertiliser needed (they catch their own food), nor misting or heat. Can be grown inside or outside and will do well on a sunny windowsill.
  • Sit the pot in 2cm of water year round, tap water is fine but rain water is better.
  • Plants range in height from 12cm-1.1m, depending on the species. There are only 8 species but numerous sub-species, hundreds of hybrids and probably thousands of cultivars.
  • Plants flower in spring but only when mature (about 8 -12 years on average in Geraldine, less in the upper North Island). In nature different species flower at slightly different times to prevent cross-pollination.
  • Poaching from the wild is a major problem, as is the loss of natural habitat to agriculture and concrete.
  • The first Sarracenias arrived in New Zealand in the 1970s.

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