Fabulous Faberge

Midwinter in the Southern Hemisphere so I thought I’d share photos of some of the fabulous Faberge flowers I came across in Europe in 2018 (thanks to The Antiques Roadshow I had some clue as to what I was looking at).

Violets – each with a diamond at the centre – in a rock crystal vase that appears to contain water. The flowers are carved from natural amethyst and the leaves from nephrite jade. The stems are gold. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland was a storehouse of tiny Faberge treasures and had lots of these gorgeous little ‘vases of flowers’, as well as carved birds and animals, all by Faberge.

The Faberge Museum in St Petersburg is well worth a visit to see not only some of the beautiful eggs on display, but all the other exquisite pieces too. Apparently, if Carl Faberge didn’t think a piece was up to snuff, he smashed it and sent the workman back to do it again!

A gold basket contains lily of the valley made from pearls and jade, held in the St Petersburg Faberge Museum. Photo: Sandra Simpson

One of the most outstanding versions of this basket of lily of the valley is at the Metropolitan Museum in New York – the 19 individual stems are made of pearls and diamonds (the flowers are different to the basket shown above as they appear to be ‘open’). The Met’s caption says the basket is considered to be the most important Faberge piece in the US.

The Faberge company made 50 eggs for the Russian royal household but perhaps only 43 remain. Along with other treasures, the eggs were looted during the Russian revolution.

But sometimes amazing things happen and in 2012, an egg considered to be lost turned up in the home of an American man who had bought it several years earlier with the intention of selling it for scrap. Fortunately, he never got round to it and one day Googled ‘egg’ and the name engraved on its clock … and discovered the thing sitting on his bench was worth approximately $33 million! Read more here. If you’d like to read some more about Faberge and the eggs in general, please go here.

‘Progress … was really painful’

Welshman William Gilbert Rees (1827-1898) was one of the first Europeans to arrive in the Queenstown Lakes area, searching for pastoral land to realise his dream of being a runholder.

He’d set out with five others from Dunedin in 1860, the party making it through the harsh landscape via Omarama, Lindis and Wanaka. It was a tough journey and by the time the party made it to Cardrona, there were only two men left; Rees and Nicholas von Tunzelmann, said to have been a godson of the Tsar.

There’s a quote from Rees used as a piece of art in Queenstown Gardens: “No fires had cleared the country … progress was not only fatiguing, but really painful, speargrass often more than three feet high and masses of matagouri constantly impeded us…”

Speargrass, or Spaniard, in the Lewis Pass area. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The next part of that quote, not used in the art work, shows just how dedicated Rees and von Tunzlemann were. “Our trousers from the thighs downwards were filled with blood and it was with the greatest difficulty that our poor horses and pack mule could be urged forward.”

Every part of the speargrass is sharp, including the flowers armed with needles! Read more about Aciphylla in an earlier posting. Matagouri is also well armed – the thorns were sometimes used by Maori for tattooing.

After exploring the area for three weeks, the pair took the arduous journey back to Dunedin and lodged a claim for grazing rights.

The Experience Queenstown website uses this quote from King Wakatip by G J Griffiths (1971): “One of the first white men to reach Lake Wakatipu and the founder of what has become the beautiful tourist resort of Queenstown, [Rees] is remembered particularly for his dominant personality at the time of the gold rushes. The picture most New Zealanders have of him is a big bearded run holder, holding off hungry miners with a loaded revolver as he carefully rationed out inadequate supplies of precious flour.”

William Gilbert Rees and a merino stand by the water front in Queenstown. The sculptor is Minhal al-Halabi. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Unfortunately, his dreams of a high-country farm were shortlived as in 1862 gold was discovered in the Arrow River – and Rees found himself at the centre of a rush, even his homestead was declared an official goldfield.

In the early days of the rush Rees was the only source of food for miners around Lake Wakatipu. With a flock of sheep and the Undine, the first boat of any size on the lake, Rees could bring flour and other supplies from the south end of the lake. He was – for a few vital weeks – able to prevent starvation for many miners.

In 1864 he was awarded £10,000 as remuneration for the loss of his 240,000-acre farm and in 1867 moved away from the area.

As a by the by, Rees was an early New Zealand exponent of cricket, having been born into the Grace family and having as a cousin, English cricketing legend W. G. Grace. Rees appeared in one first-class match for New South Wales in 1857; his cousin William Lee Rees played for Victoria in the same match.

BOP gardening news

Nice to see a name I personally know among the Queen’s Birthday Honours announced last week. Shirley Kerr (pictured below) has become a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to mycology. Read my 2013 profile of her here (she has since moved to Rotorua).

Her award citation says: “Mrs Kerr has a background in education, teaching at several secondary schools between 1973 and 2017, specialising in biology. She has been a driving force for mycological exploration and education in the Bay of Plenty area. She has built a database of species on her website Kaimai Bush and in 2019 published A Field Guide to New Zealand Fungi, which has been highly acclaimed nationally and internationally for its accessibility. She has found at least five previously undescribed species and recorded in excess of 600 different species. She served on the council of the Fungal Network of New Zealand (FUNNZ) for 15 years, was Treasurer from 2009 to 2011, and played a key role in organising four annual New Zealand Fungi Forays. The Fungal Forays attract scientists from New Zealand and overseas. Mrs Kerr’s voluntary education efforts in mycology have included running workshops for upskilling in macro photography for botanical work, fostering children’s interest at national forays, organising field trips, public speaking engagements, and providing samples of Landcare New Zealand’s Herbarium or for overseas examination.”

Today’s Bay of Plenty Times reports on plans to restore the habitat around a stream on the flanks of Mauao (Mt Maunganui) which will see the felling of four oak trees, believed to be 80to 100 years old, and the site re-established as a place for flax weaving. Some of the oak wood will be carved and returned as taonga (treasures).

Above: The stream’s name is Waipatukakahu which translates as “the stream where the flax garments are made”. Oak and other leaves block the stream every year for several months. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The area will be planted with several local types of harakeke (flax) used for weaving. Hopefully, the administration board and council have taken into account that flax is a notorious haven for rats and step up predator control as the flax goes in – the maunga is also home to plenty of birds which enhance any walk there. In fact, we recently stood and watched fantails having a grand old time flitting in and around this stream (with signs about the plans nearby).

A belated Happy Birthday to the Tauriko Garden Club, which this year has celebrated its 60th birthday. I was honoured to attend a recent meeting as a guest speaker, so much accumulated wisdom in the room!

Taste of Japan

Visiting Japan in autumn is a sublime treat with the season celebrated in clothing, food, outings to view coloured leaves and plant displays. While our borders are still, in effect, closed, I thought we might enjoy some glimpses of autumn in Japan.

This is likely one plant that has been expertly trained to provide a sensational half-orb of blooms. The display of chrysanthemums at Izumo Grand Shrine was delightful. Photo: Sandra Simpson

American chrysanthemum enthusiast Matt Mattus has posted a step-by-step guide, with photos, on training chrysanthemum plants as a cascade, a traditional Japanese form. Read it here.

One corner of the shrine’s flower display. Photo: Sandra Simpson
A beautifully presented autumnal meal at a hotel in Kinosaki Onsen, which went on to feature several snow crab dishes. The thermal resort is renowned for its snow crab. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Hanami, picnics under the trees, are a way of celebrating spring blossom, momijigari (red leaf hunting) is traditional in autumn. And, thanks to the country’s climate, what a display it is.

Coloured leaves at Eikando Temple in Kyoto. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Peeled persimmons drying on a balcony in Takayama. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Read more about how dried persimmons are used in Japan in this earlier post.