Celebrating roses

Roses may be one of the world’s favourite flowers – and there’s a good reason for that. The blooms seem ultra-luxurious with their silky petals, come in many colours, even multicolours, and can have the most heavenly perfume. And when a garden is full of budding roses, is there anything more exciting? (I have a bias, as perhaps you can tell!)

Freshly planted roses in Bergen, on the west coast of Norway (the statue is of Bergen-born composer Edvard Grieg). This was midsummer, still cool and damp – the municipal gardeners were putting in plants that had been brought into bloom elsewhere. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Once upon a time you could only buy roses in New Zealand in winter with the bare-rooted, heavily pruned plants ready to go in the ground. But things change and with the buying public more likely to buy a plant in bloom, roses are now available in garden centres in spring and summer too.

The NZ Rose Society produces an annual Rose Review, a compilation of how various popular roses do in various places around the country, as well as National Trial Ground reports. The 2020 edition is sold out.

Green with Envy is a striking new release from Tauranga rose breeder Rob Somerfield. Photo: Glenavon Roses

Tauranga rose breeder Rob Somerfield has come up with an unusual plant as one of his 2020 releases. Green with Envy was the NZ Rose Society’s Rose of the Month for October. “It is the culmination of 29 years of breeding by Rob to get a green rose good enough to release to the market,” Rose Review editor Hayden Foulds says.

The blooms, produced in large clusters, are lime-green with the colour intensifying as the flowers age, the opposite to the majority of rose blooms which fade with age. The flower lasts a long time either on the plant or in a vase, Hayden says, and would appeal to those who do floral work. 

The plant won the People’s Choice Award at the 2013 NZ Rose Society International Rose Trials in Palmerston North.

Ruth Dainty (background) at work in the Heritage Rose Garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Also long gone in most home gardens is the style of growing roses alone in beds. When Te Puna Quarry Park volunteer Ruth Dainty took over the Heritage Rose Garden, she decided to surround the roses with annuals and perennials in a bid to cover the fact that many of the old roses flower only once.

“They’re not very interesting before or after they flower,” she says of the roses, “so this garden was filled with colour only for a very short space of time. The other plants I’ve put in help extend the season.”

Ruth has grown many of the plants herself from cuttings and seeds.

Full of promise – the Heritage Rose Garden at the Quarry Park. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Heritage Roses NZ is continuing work on its Rose Register, which aims to record all the roses brought into the country from the earliest days of settlement until, for hybrid teas,1945. Read more here.

Katherine Mansfield, one of New Zealand’s greatest writers, has a rose named for her that was released by the famous French nursery Meilland in 1978 – known as Charles de Gaulle everywhere else in the world – so it seems only fitting to close with a KM quote or two.

The tea roses are in flower. Do you know the peculiar exquisite scent of a tea rose? Do you know how the bud opens – so unlike other roses, and how deep red the thorns are and almost purple the leaves?
– From a letter written at the Isola Bella villa in Menton, France, dated November 10, 1920

As for the roses, you could not help feeling they understood that roses are the only flowers that impress people at garden parties; the only flowers that everyone is certain of knowing. Hundreds, yes, literally hundreds, had come out in a single night; the green bushes bowed down as though they had been visited by archangels.
– From The Garden Party, published 1922

Plant story: Rosa banksiae

Sometimes there are sights that just stop you in your tracks – and here’s one of them, a Banksia rose growing on a back street fence in the Gate Pa area of Tauranga. If I hadn’t been visiting the house across the street, I would have missed it. And that would have been a shame because seeing it brought me a great deal of pleasure.

Rosa banksiae lutea, also known as the Banksia rose and Lady Banks rose. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Named for Dorothea, the wife of botanist Sir Joseph Banks, the first plant to be brought to Britain was the white variety sourced by William Kerr in 1807 from Canton (now Guangzhou) in China. Kerr (died 1814), a Scotsman, was the first professional Western plant collector in China and had been sent by Sir Joseph, director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.

According to the entry for this plant at the Sir Joseph Banks Society website, the true species is thought to be Rosa banksiae ‘normalis’, later found growing through central and western China, which has single, yellow-white flowers, with just 5 petals. However, the more familiar varieties are its offspring ‘Alba Plena’ (white) and ‘Lutea’ (yellow).

The yellow version – which is thornless – arrived in Britain in 1824, collected by J D Parks (John Damper Parks, c1792-1866) for the Royal Horticultural Society in Calcutta’s Botanic Garden, India, and was the first yellow climbing rose to flower in Britain. ‘Lutea’ was given an Award of Garden Merit by the RHS in 1960. 

I wasn’t the only one enjoying the mass of flowers. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Banksia roses were distributed around the British Empire reasonably early with the William Hayes Nursery in Nelson, New Zealand, listing both the white and yellow forms in their 1860 catalogue, while an 1862 plant auction in Wellington also offered both forms.

The world’s largest rose bush (Guinness-certified) is in Tombstone, Arizona and is a white Banksia rose that arrived as a cutting from Scotland and was planted at a boarding house in 1885. The boarding house became a hotel (Rose Tree Inn) and then a private residence in 1954, although the patio and backyard remained open to the public. The building and yard are now the Rose Tree Museum, celebrating the aged plant, and there’s a viewing platform to appreciate the blooming canopy.

The world’s largest rose bush flowers on a man-made canopy. Photo: Wikimedia

The rose covers nearly 743 square metres and the town holds an annual Rose Festival to celebrate the plant’s flowering. Read more of the story here.

Newsy bits

Fungus enthusiast Shirley Kerr, who lives near Athenree in the Western Bay of Plenty, has made full use of her lockdown and published A Field Guide to New Zealand Fungi, which identifies more than 600 species, all illustrated with her gorgeous photos. Read more about the book and how to order it here.

The Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture has announced its awards for 2020.
Louise Beaumont (Havelock North) receives the Award in Garden History. Russell Lowe (Te Puke) receives the Plant Raisers’ Award for his work with kiwifruit. Bill Steans (Timaru), Clare Shearman (Wellington), George Tregidga (Whangaparaoa), Penny Zino (North Canterbury), and Yvonne Baker (Auckland) are the newest Fellows of the RNZIH. Alan Jolliffe (Christchurch), Bill Brett (Nelson), and Dr John Liddle (Waikanae) received Associates of Honour (AHRIH), the highest award conferred by the RNZIH.

Russell Lowe, who recently retired from Plant & Food Research in Te Puke, has also been awarded the Kiwifruit Innovation Award for his work in developing a red kiwifruit – and he was the man who spotted the new gold variety to replace the previous gold variety hit by Psa. Read more about Russell and his work.

Other news from the RNZIH journal is that botanical writer Philip Simpson (no relation) has been awarded the Peter Skellerup Plant Conservation Scholarship to support his research for a new book on our remarkable native plants. Philip’s previous books have included ‘biographies’ of the totara and pohutukawa trees. Watch a 3m video of him talking about his love for our native trees.

Ever thought about chucking it all in and living your dream? Nicky Brzeska, South Africa-born ex-Londoner and now resident of Raglan in the Waikato, has done just that and become a flower farmer. Read more here.

Someone has uploaded the 2020 series of Gardeners’ World to Youtube. This episode caught my fancy as it revisits some inspirational gardens in the UK, including Packwood House (Warwickshire), a green-theme garden in west London and Painswick Rococo Garden (Gloucestershire). Watch it here (almost 1 hour).

And, finally, it’s not often one gets to plant a tree in a famous garden but, thanks to the efforts of Shelley Dean, that’s exactly what I and other Francophiles in Tauranga have just done, adding an elm tree to the Grande Allée in Le Jardin des Tuileries, Paris.

The project is being run by the Louvre Museum, which anchors one end of the park. “The Tuileries Garden was the first part of the Louvre and Tuileries National Estate to reopen following the lockdown, on May 31, 2020 – an event that echoes its history as it was the very first garden in the city to be made public. It is now time to bring it back to its former glory, to restore the trees along the Grande Allée that were in André Le Nôtre’s original designs but were torn down during the French Revolution, leaving an uninviting path devoid of vegetation.”

The elms will re-establish the layout of the 17th-century garden, “thereby spotlighting the grand historical axis of Paris”, as well as providing more shade and greenery for visitors and boosting biodiversity. As of mid-week there were still 15 trees left to sponsor. See more here.

The tree my family has contributed to purchasing will bear a plaque, unless there are any other suggestions, that says: Francophiles de Tauranga Nouvelle-Zélande.

Now all that has to happen is for the world to become a safer place and then one day I will be able to stand in the shade of ‘my’ tree in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Oudolf Field

Hauser & Wirth is a commercial art gallery with branches in Zurich, New York, London, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Gstaad and … Somerset! On the outskirts of the village of Bruton, to be exact, which has probably done quite nicely out of people beating a path to the gallery to see the garden created by renowned Dutch landscaper Piet Oudolf.

When Iwan and Mauela Wirth saw the Oudolf garden at the 2011 Serpentine Pavilion (the pavilion is constructed anew annually in London’s Hyde Park), they decided to commission one of his distinctive prairie-style gardens for their West Country contemporary art gallery.

The site, Durslade Farm, was a collection of 18th century listed buildings that had fallen into disrepair. They hired Luis Laplace, an architect based in Paris, to renovate the entire site with the gardens always to be an integral part of the overall plan.

Looking across Oudolf Field to the restored farm buildings with the new ‘cloister’ in the foreground. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Gallery director Alice Workman introduced Oudolf to Laplace, collecting the latter from his Paris base and travelling together by train to The Netherlands to Oudolf’s home, “where the relationship was cemented with long conversations over cheese sandwiches — which continued throughout the process”.

Oudolf Field opened in late summer 2014, after England’s wettest winter on record — we visited in August 2018, after one of the hottest summers on record. It was a thrill to find the garden was more or less on our meandering route, especially as the great man closed his private garden to visitors the year before we arrived in The Netherlands, darn. But can you wonder? I’m not sure I’d want busloads of people roaming through my garden, no matter how short the visitor season.

The entry to the Field is through an enclosed ‘cloister’ garden, one not visible from the other. The Field is described as a perennial meadow with Oudolf a famed practitioner of the New Perennial movement. What is the New Perennial movement? The short answer is, it’s about mimicking nature and creating communities within the planting. A longer, and more erudite answer, is here.

The view in the other direction. The ‘spaceship’ anchors one end of the garden and is a viewing platform. Photo: Sandra Simpson

With 3,000 square metres of flowerbeds (17 in total), all edged with metal (Coreten steel?, anyway there’s more than 1km of it) that follows the flowing contours, Oudolf had plenty of room to flex his muscles and the result was planting more than 26,000 herbaceous perennials in signature drifts, plus a small pond. Many of the wildflower seeds are gathered locally.

Despite looking pretty good, there had clearly been a few failures in the extended heatwave of 2018. The dense planting, however, gives a look of abundance and there are plenty of airy grasses for movement when the wind blows. Oudolf chooses plants for texture and foliage, he says, before he thinks about flowers and their colour, but there was still plenty to delight the flower-lover’s eye.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

This is a garden that changes with the season, especially as many perennials have been chosen for their longevity of flowering, changing the colour palette and points of emphasis as it goes.

I’d love to go back and see it in spring or autumn …

Photo: Sandra Simpson
Photo: Sandra Simpson

The man with the golden totara

By Ata Ellery

Every time I drive through the Te Puna Quarry Park gates, I see the golden totaras shining brightly in the sun and I remember my father, James Yates, who discovered and nurtured the sickly yellow seedling he brought home from the local bush, with other native hardwood seedlings in the 1920-30s.

He grew the seedlings on to plant out in mixed plantations on the farm he was developing at Aotearoa (near Wharepuhunga), southeast of Te Awamutu. The yellow seedling totara didn’t thrive for a couple of years, but eventually it started to grow and was planted at the northern end of a plantation near the cottage he had built with pit sawn timber.

In 1937, Jim thought the golden totara, growing well and very colourful, was worthy of recognition and wrote to Wellington to inquire what should be done. Two horticulturists from Massey College (now University) came to view the tree in 1938 and returned to Massey with cuttings for propagation.

A pair of golden totara growing at Bason Botanical Reserve near Whangaui. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The trees, given the botanical name Podocarpus totara Aurea, have slowly spread around New Zealand, and are very noticeable in winter. The first tree is still growing on the farm, shining gold and can be seen from a long distance. Up close it’s not a spectacular specimen however, as it grows sandwiched between other trees.

It will be one hundred years in 2021 since James Yates pack-horsed from Te Awamutu, into the wilderness, along the Maori track from Waikato to Taupo to find his survey pegs. He was an early conservationist, and grew New Zealand natives (hardwoods) to give to friends and societies to plant around Te Awamutu. His philosophy was ‘cut a tree, plant a tree’.

When James arrived at his block, so the story goes, he patted his horse on the rump and let it go as there was no grass – only fern and trees. He and a bushman cleared two-thirds of the site and left one-third in standing bush.

This story first appeared in the Te Puna Quarry Park newsletter and is published here with the permission of the author.

Editor’s note: In the 1975 book Ornamental Conifers (Reed), general editor Julie Grace notes that the entry for golden totara may be the first of its kind and that the tree has been ‘around in New Zealand for probably 20 years and is now obtainable from most nurseries’.

The Te Ara Encyclopedia of NZ‘s entry for golden totara says it originates from a natural hybrid of totara (Podocarpus totara) and needle-leaved totara (Podocarpus acutifolius). All golden totara plants are male and propagated from cuttings. However, other sources say the tree is a hybrid between P. totara and Hall’s totara (Podocarpus hallii).

It grows more slowly than its parents and can be happily trimmed as a hedge.