Waikato Orchid Society 60th jubilee

The rain may have been lashing down on Saturday but there was a cosy atmosphere inside the Pavilion at Hamilton Gardens where a group gathered to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Waikato Orchid Society with a sneak peek at the orchid show, which opened to the public the next day, and a special jubilee lunch.

Two of the founding members were on hand to help cut the cake – Elsie Young and Rae James – and show trophies were handed out, followed by some Orchid Council awards. Having had the event postponed last year, it was lovely just to be together and hear everyone sharing their memories.

Apparently someone (from Auckland) was reported as saying of the first show in 1963, “I never knew orchids could grow so well south of the Bombays”! Waikato Orchid Society hosted National Expos in 2000 and 2005, and another Expo will be held in the area in 2023.

The club opened with 47 members and has about the same membership now, but in the 1980s, in the heyday of commercial Cymbidium growers in New Zealand, had an almost unbelievable 500 financial members.

Grand Champion of the 2021 Waikato Orchid Society winter show was Paphiopedilum rothschildianum ‘New Horizon’ x ‘Raptor’ grown by Jason Strong of Napier. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Grand Champion of the Show was Paphiopedilum rothschildianum ‘New Horizon’ FCC/AOS x Raptor GM/JOGA, grown by Jason Strong of Napier. Reserve Champion was Dendrobium Jairak ‘Blue Star’ grown by Yvonne Tong of the local club who, incidentally, also had Reserve Champion at the 2019 show with the same plant.

Phragmepedium kovachii, native to the cloud forests of northern Peru, was named for science only in 2001. Photo: Sandra Simpson
A novelty prize was awarded to Cattleya Lucy Ingram – the oldest hybrid in the show, registered with the RHS in 1897. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Oncidium Calico Gem, grown by Helen Barrio. Photo: Sandra Simpson

‘Mystery rather than majesty’

I received two books by English gardener Monty Don for Christmas and have been thoroughly enjoying both of them. This extract is from My Garden World: The Natural Year, a lovely ramble through the seasons with short pieces on everything from sheep to floods, by way of birds, flowers, worms, voles and anything else that takes his fancy. It was published in 2020.

Clipped yew trees in the Pillar Garden, created in about 1923, at the famous Hidcote Garden in England. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Yew has become such a feature of European gardens that it is sometimes easy to forget that it is a wild tree – and the oldest, wildest tree that there is. People tend to confuse the incredible age that yew can reach with the speed of its growth. For the first hundred years or so they grow quite fast … After that, it is just a question of keeping them in check by clipping once a year.

But once they get to about 400 years old, their growth rate slows and after 1,000 years, becomes very slow indeed. They take their time because they, above all living things, have time to take. It is appropriate that one of the oldest wooden artefacts in the world is a 250,000-year-old spear found in Essex – made of yew.

It is also easy to misjudge the age of a yew, because height and grandeur do not come with age … Until about 500 years old, it grows in a neat but unremarkable mop-headed shape and then, with true venerability, it sprawls and swells, and the branches grow out and then down to the ground. Age gives it mystery rather than majesty.

Longbowman shown on a sign. Image: Peter Lucas, Wikimedia Commons

Monty goes on to say that the English yew (Taxus baccata) possesses some traits that support longevity to a high degree. One is the ability to regenerate from a bare stump, while the other is that they are made up of two kinds of wood an elastic outer sapwood and a compression-resistant inner heartwood which means that if the interior wood is rotted by fungus, the tree continues to survive thanks to the heartwood which has enough tensile strength to keep the whole thing upright. Yew wood was used to make the famous English longbows that dominated mediaeval warfare because of its rare ability to stretch and compress and then return to its original shape with enormous force. Read more about the longbow.

Yew trees bear female and male flowers on separate trees and, although a conifer, do not bear cones. Instead each seed is enclosed in a red, fleshy, berry-like structure (an aril) which is open at the tip. Image: Didier Decouens, Wikimedia Commons