As we sink gently further into autumn my roses are definitely past their best but I’ve stopped dead-heading to give them a rest before pruning. However, the lower part of the South Island is a bit behind our warmer climate so it was with delight that last month I found Queenstown Botanical Gardens flush with roses, admittedly not the pristine blooms of early summer but holding out against the dying of the light and still attractive.
The other charming thing to discover about the garden is that all the beds feature roses that were either bred in New Zealand or have a New Zealand connection.
The Kate Sheppard rose was bred by George Sherwood of Manawatu when he started his hobby and of Taranaki when this 2012 interview was conducted. George, a J-Force veteran, died on March 2 this year. He named it for the woman who spearheaded the movement to win New Zealand women the vote.
Earlier in April I spent a week in the Southern Lakes area of the South Island and had my eye caught by the heavy crop of berries on ornamental trees in the area, particularly in and around Te Anau.
Sorbus hupehensis, or Chinese rowan, has deciduous foliage which darkens from pink to red in autumn, but first come the clusters of white-pink berries, lasting well into winter after the leaves have gone. The fluffy white spring flowers are attractive to bees and the pinnate foliage produces dappled shade. The tree can apparently tolerate almost any conditions, which would explain its popularity in this snowfall, sometimes wind-blasted area which, nevertheless, has hot summers.
This tree is native to Hubei (Hupeh) province in Western China, and was introduced to Britain by the renowned plant collector E.H. Wilson in 1910.
Vying for attention with Sorbus hupehensis were the Sorbus aucuparia trees, also known as rowan or mountain ash (though they’re not related to the ash family). The tree has a wide native range in the northern hemisphere – from Madeira (off the west coast of Africa) to Iceland and through Britain and Russia to China.
Rowan was once widely planted by houses as a protection against witches, perhaps because the colour red was considered to be the best colour for fighting evil. In Wales rowan trees were planted in churchyards and in Scotland cutting down a rowan was considered taboo.
The wood was used for stirring milk to prevent the milk curdling, and as a pocket charm against rheumatism. It was also used to make divining rods. Rowan berries are edible and can be used to make a tart jam, rich in Vitamin C. Find a recipe for rowan jelly here.
The second part of its Latin name, aucuparia comes from ‘aucupor’ which means to go bird-catching, a reference to the fruit being used by fowlers (bird catchers) to make birdlime, an adhesive substance spread on a branch or twig, upon which a bird may land and be caught.
Sorbus aucuparia also have fiery autumn foliage and pretty clusters of spring flowers.
I’ve had a few apples turning up on the kitchen bench recently and yesterday picked up some windfalls to add to the pile. Aren’t new season’s apples just the best? I thought I’d share a seasonal poem, a good one to read while munching a crisp apple! Bob Orr, who lives on the Thames Coast, is well known for his water- and ocean-related poetry. This one, set in a Hamilton garden, was published in Bob’s 2008 collection Calypso (AUP) and appeared in the Best New Zealand Poems anthology for that year.
Kiwitahi Way by Bob Orr
An orchard silvery and green as a sunlit breaking sea. The season stands aside to allow my grandfather his harvest. Over seventy he climbs a ladder and disappears into an apple tree. How they bounce into an empty bucket. Like somebody calling my name out in their sleep over and over Robert Robert
Nice busy atmosphere this morning for the opening of the Bay of Plenty Orchid Show in Te Puke’s Memorial Hall – lots of people looking at, talking about and buying orchids. What could be better? Everyone seemed glad to be back after the cancellation of last year’s show.
There’s plenty for visitors to see with displays by the BOP, Tauranga and Whangarei orchid societies, and vendors Leroy Orchids, Ninox Orchids and Bill Liddy. Plenty to buy too, with other vendors including Conrad Coenen, Selwyn Hatrick, Thomas Brown, Philip Zhou, Patricia Hutchins who, having also been in the wars, is accompanied by her daughter, Barry and Averil Baxter (pots, stakes, etc), and Lynn and Greg Barnes (fertiliser).
Visitors had come from as far afield as Auckland and Hamilton, while Lee and Roy Neale had made it ‘come hell or high water’. We’re glad to know they’re both on the mend.
Here’s a selection of some of the smaller treasures on display (there are plenty of big ones too, don’t worry). The show is open again tomorrow (April 10), 10am-4pm, $3 entry.
You may have noticed a sign for Coast Palms & Cycads on the highway between Tauranga and Te Puke. Never been in? Today, we’re going to take a peek over the fence.
Janine Gray spent 20 years as a chef cooking for royalty, rock stars and on superyachts – but says that working with plants “is much nicer”. British singer Seal (Heidi Klum’s ex) was “squatmate” for a couple of years and Janine also cooked professionally for Sir Paul McCartney, Prince Charles and Princess Diana.
When her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Janine moved home to Matapihi, near Tauranga, and, after her mother’s death in 2001 and with her father’s support, opened Coast Palms and Cycads.
With both parents involved in horticulture, it’s no surprise that Janine has green fingers – mum Jan had her own cacti and succulent nursery (Archway Nurseries, becoming El Jakedo after its sale) and dad Peter, who died in 2017, was involved with kiwifruit for more than 35 years.
“Dad was playing round with palms at home and after my sea-change when I came home I just kind of fell into it. Then I had the opportunity to sell a property at Mount Maunganui so had the capital for a business.”
Janine says “trial and error” has honed her product lines and although she stocks the staple bangalow and queen palms is also trying to expand customers’ plant palettes.
“The key thing for a tropical-look garden is planting in layers to create depth,” Janine says, “and palms are ideal for this.” They, like Cycads, also have the advantage of staying green and lush-looking year-round.
Some of her more unusual trees are the big mountain palm or umbrella palm (Hedyscepe canterburyana) which has a silvery crownshaft and one of four palms native to Lord Howe Island (600km off the east coast of Australia); the fine-leaved Atherton palm (Laccospadix australasica) from North Queensland; and the jelly or wine palm (Butia capitata), native to Brazil and Uruguay.
The Quito mountain coconut palm (Parajubaea coccoides) is closely aligned with the true coconut palm. It produces walnut-sized edible seeds (yes, even in New Zealand) that apparently taste just like its tropical ‘sister’. It is thought that Parajubaea and Cocos nucifera were once the same plant which became geographically separated; Cocos remaining in the lowland beach shores of the hot tropics, while Parajubaea slowly and methodically climbed the Andes.
Cycads were around at the time of the dinosaurs and haven’t evolved much since which is part of their charm, according to Janine. They will develop a trunk but that takes many years.
“Encephalartos cycads from Africa are probably considered the Lamborghini of cycads,” Janine says. “They’re still quite rare in New Zealand, highly collectible and highly coveted.” They also sell for tens of thousands of dollars.
Substantially cheaper is the Australian native Lepidozamia peroffskyana, which has softer leaves than most cycads and is reasonably frost tolerant, while Dioon spinulosum is one of the largest cycads in cultivation.
As well as palms and cycads, the nursery also stocks sub-tropical plants and bromeliads.
This piece was originally published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission. It has been updated and added to slightly.