Tree of the moment: Schizolobium parahybum

An almost perfect garden tree in the height of summer, the Brazilian fern tree provides airy, dappled shade and, as a member of the legume family, also handily fixes nitrogen in the soil.

Native from Brazil to southern Mexico, the fern tree is one of the first to grow in the forest after a mature tree falls and doesn’t branch for a few years, allowing it to put on height rapidly (up to 3m a year) and take control of the available light. It is also known as the yellow jacaranda.

Sitting under this tree on a hot day was bliss. Photo: Sandra Simpson

You may have noticed its tall, slender trunks in winter with the spoke-like branches devoid of leaves. The tree hasn’t died but is simply deciduous. New leaves and bright yellow, fragrant flowers appear in spring. (In discussion with the owner it was agreed that the fern tree is nowhere near as messy as the similar-looking silk tree or Albizia julibrissin).

The Wharepuke Tropical Garden website (Kerikeri) suggests that if the tree has got larger than you want, cut it down to ground level and let it come away again.

Mature Schizolobium parahybum trees are hardy to almost -4C.

Plant stories: Beaumontia grandiflora

The synchronicity of the world sometimes surprises me. I had first noticed this vine at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore but couldn’t find a name for it. Last weekend I was visiting the Plummer’s Point (near Tauranga) garden of a friend who loves unusual plants – and not only was it there, but it was named! Well done, that man.

Beaumontia grandiflora is a vigorous, woody vine, sometimes known as the Nepal trumpet flower, Easter lily vine or herald’s trumpet. Apparently the young twigs can be used to make fibre and the young branches for a coarser rope. The seed-pod hairs, meanwhile, are said to be not only the most lustrous and most purely white of all the so-called ‘vegetable silks’, but also possess a remarkable degree of strength.

Beaumontia grandiflora. Photo: Sandra Simpson

And the plant’s roots and leaves can be used in the treatment of fractures and other injuries, while also relieving backache and leg pain caused by rheumatism.

The fragrant white flowers are borne from early spring right through summer and the plant is apparently hardy down to -2C, although may be semi-deciduous in cold years. In the wild, Beaumontia climbs impressively through trees and over rocks and shrubs. Native from India to Vietnam, it grows in the eastern foothills of the Himalayas at altitudes from 150m to 1400m.

Wikipedia tells me that the genus was named for Mrs Diana Beaumont (1765-1831) of Bretton Hall, Yorkshire who was described in the Curtis Botanical Magazine Volume 7 (1833) as “an ardent lover and munificent patroness of Horticulture” (her gardener was one of the few with anything decent to say about her, click on the link to read about her life). It was described by Dr Nathaniel Wallich (1786-1854) in 1824 from plants sent to him from Bretton Hall. Wallich, a Danish surgeon, became superintendent of the botanic garden in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and so the leading botanist in India at the time, having replaced the famed Scottish surgeon and botanist William Roxburgh (1751-1815). Roxburgh had previously named this plant Echites grandiflora from plants found in the forests of Eastern Bengal (India) near Chittagong and Sylhet but it had not been validly published and so Wallich’s name took precedence.

If you are going to grow it, all the advice is to start it off on a strong support – this vine goes for it.

Kaipara Coast Scupture Gardens

Spent Auckland’s Anniversary weekend lazing around at a friend’s home in Murray’s Bay, some very welcome downtime after a few weeks of middling health. Our hostess treated us to a trip to the Kaipara Coast Sculpture Gardens which include a lovely garden centre and cafe.

Owners David and Geraldine Bayly – he is a horticulturalist and she a landscape designer – began planting the extensive gardens in 1994 with the sculpture trail opening in 2008. The exhibition changes in November each year. The gardens are full of interesting plants, including sugar cane, the parapapa or bird-catching tree (Pisonia brunoniana), cork oaks and all sorts of fruit trees. Opening hours and admission charges here.

And with Sculpture in the Gardens on at the Auckland Botanic Gardens until March 1, it’s a good excuse to visit the City of Sails.

My Big Elephant Bum by Auckland artist Christian Nicolson is the first major piece to ‘find’ on the trail. Photo: Sandra Simpson
A favourite for our little group was The Loves of Antheia by Andrew Leary from Kerikeri – interactive and astonishingly beautiful. The central garden can be turned and each viewpiece displays a different kaleidoscopic view using different-shaped prisms and different numbers of prisms. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Another favourite was the lovely surprise of Time and Tide, a wooden bridge that began to ‘make music’ as we walked across it. This permanent installation was made by John Mulholland, Doug Makinson and garden owner David Bayly.

Artistic firewood stacking is an ‘in’ thing. This is styled as a hive (there’s an opening on the other side). Photo: Sandra Simpson
The point of this picture isn’t the metal cow (which comes complete with eyelashes) but the purple pond ‘weed’. A helpful sign noted that Azolla fern can double its biomass every few days, makes its own nitrogen fertiliser, reduces mosquito larvae in ponds, can be used as a nutritious stock food and biofuel and makes a good mulch in the garden. And it captures carbon dioxide from the air! Read more here. Photo: Sandra Simpson
A glimpse of the Kaipara Harbour from the garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Amid the flower garden is The Worker, a metal bee by Glen Colechin, from Hawke’s Bay. Photo: Sandra Simpson