Kūmara connection

On a pre-lockdown visit to the Ōhope Beach area we followed the signs to a ‘scenic lookout’ and found ourselves at Kohi Point scenic reserve with magnificent views of both Whale Island (Moutohorā) and Whakatāne. We had planned to take a tour out to the island but, alas, the weather was against us – fine, but windy.

Moutohorā (Whale Island) from the lookout. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A plaque embedded into a rock caught my eye at the lookout, which includes an historic pā  site – one of the oldest settlement sites in New Zealand – and is also known as Toi’s Pā or, more correctly Kaputerangi. The reserve also forms part of the 16km Ngā Tapuwae o Toi Walking Trail

The plaque records that Toi had two names, one of them being Toi-kai-rakau which means ‘wood-eater’ because of the need to eat fern root and forest food – early Polynesian migrants to Aotearoa must have been shocked to find very little growing that they recognised and a much colder climate. 

(Added September 1: I have just read in Witi Ihimaera’s book Navigating the Stars that according to one story Toi had brought only one plant to Aotearoa with him – the hue (gourd) – so when kūmara landed here centuries later, for all that time his progeny had been ‘wood eaters’. However, Ihimaera notes another legend that gives the honour of introducing the kūmara to Toi.)

The plaque said Toi was said to be living at the pā site in 1150 and tradition records the site still in use about 200 years later ‘when a most important event occurred, viz. the introduction of the kūmara or sweet potato’ [to New Zealand]. Concrete details about the arrival of kūmara (Ipomoea batatas) in Aotearoa have necessarily been difficult to establish with hints having to be gleaned from oral histories and archaeology, including that Polynesians obtained the staple crop from South America.

However, it was nice to be standing in a place with a strong link to the story of the vegetable we Kiwis love to love.

A model of traditional kūmara growing. Image: Wikimedia

Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand includes some details around the planting of kūmara, which I share here, click on the link to read the original article for more details.

Māori developed large kūmara gardens, often on sloping, sunny land. They grew the plants in mounds of soil, adding sand and gravel to make it drain better. Fences protected the gardens from wind and pūkeko birds. The plants were sometimes attacked by caterpillars of the kūmara moth, and Māori kept tame black-backed seagulls to eat the caterpillars.

Te Parapara kūmara garden at Hamilton Gardens, New Zealand’s only traditional Māori productive garden. Read more here. Every year the crop is donated to the community. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Tubers were harvested around March and stored in underground pits over winter. Some were eaten and some saved to be planted out the next spring. Kūmara, which were much smaller than the vegetables we know today, were cooked in hāngī (earth ovens), boiled, or steamed. These and fern root were the main sources of carbohydrate for early Māori.

Northland is New Zealand’s biggest kūmara -growing area and where most of the commercial operations are, go here to see some of the modern varieties available.

National Camellia Show 2021

Camellia japonica ‘Roger Hall’, grown by Kathy Phillips of the Western Bay of Plenty Camellia Society, was Grand Champion at the 2021 national show in Tauranga. The plant is not named for the much-loved New Zealand playwright Roger Hall, but for the father of Australian nurseryman Jon Hall. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Kathy Phillips of Rotorua had an ever-present smile at today’s National Camellia Show in Tauranga – and why wouldn’t she? A quick look at array of silverware on the Champions’ Table revealed her name appearing on many of the certificates.

“Bit of a shock really,” she said, “but you never know with exhibiting how things will turn out. We’ve been lucky with the weather this year so that’s helped.”

Kathy and her husband Dave Lowry garden at ‘Camellia Crest’, a 1.4ha property containing about 120 camellias. “We planted it up about 30 years ago,” Kathy said, “before the camellia blight came along.” Cold snaps have kept the blight in check this winter with the result that few blooms on display were showing signs of it. Tomorrow will be a different story, sadly.

Camellia japonica ‘Kathryn Funari’, grown by Kathy Phillips, won the Maureen & Roy Isles Memorial Trophy for three japonica blooms of one variety. Photo: Sandra Simpson

What does she love about camellias? “They’re very hardy plants that range in size from small shrubs with small blooms for small gardens to tree-size camellias with huge flowers. There are even weeping varieties. People think about the bother of dropped blooms but the newer, smaller plants don’t make such a mess.”

Since her retirement 6 years ago Kathy has been getting more serious about showing camellias and says it’s been a learning curve. “It takes time to learn to exhibit and I honestly wouldn’t manage it, or have a garden, without Dave’s help,” she said. “He was out there yesterday in the rain helping me pick flowers for the show.”

This is the first National Camellia Show and Convention in Tauranga for 20 years and with three Western Bay of Plenty members holding national positions it was almost a foregone conclusion it would be here this year. National president Derek Beard (WBOP) formally opened the show with the help of Tauranga MP Simon Bridges. Visit the NZ Camellia Society website.

Best hybrid bloom was Camellia Mimosa Jury, grown by Derek and Jenny Beard of Mt Maunganui. The plant was bred by Felix Jury of Taranaki and named for his wife. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Camellia ‘Virginia Franca Rosea’ won the Founder’s Trophy (best bloom of a camellia introduced into New Zealand before 1910) for Nyrene and Rex McLeod of Matamata. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Three hybrid blooms, one variety (Os Blumhardt Memorial Trophy): Kathy Phillips, Western Bay of Plenty, ‘Jamie’.
One bloom introduced into New Zealand before 1910 (Founder’s Trophy): N & R McLeod, Matamata, ‘Virginia Franco Rosea’.
One bloom of New Zealand origin (Edith Mazzei Trophy): Kerry & Alan Upson, Whangarei, ‘Peggy Burton’.
Three blooms of New Zealand origin, different varieties (Duncan & Davies Trophy): Kathy Phillips.
One bloom of Australian origin (Colin Elliot Trophy): Roger Aitchison, Kapiti, ‘John Hunt’.
Three blooms of Australian origin, different varieties (Rhea Egg Trophy): Kerry & Alan Upson.
One bloom of American origin (America Camellia Society Trophy): Blanche & Ray Lauridsen, Manawatu, ‘Guilio Nuccio’.
One bloom of a Neville Haydon camellia (Neville Haydon Trophy): Rita Verry, Hawke’s Bay, ‘Peggy Burton’.
One Yunnan reticulata bloom (Durrant Trophy): N & R McLeod, ‘Purple Gown’.
Three reticulata blooms, different varieties (Des & Joyce Crowley Trophy): Kathy Phillips.
Six reticulata blooms, different varieties (Les & Ida Berg Trophy): D & J Beard, Western Bay of Plenty.
One reticulata or reticulata hybrid seedling (Clark Cup): N & R McLeod.
One bloom of a japonica seedling (Clark Cup): Rita Verry.
Three japonica blooms, same variety (Maureen & Roy Isles Memorial Trophy): Kathy Phillips, ‘Kathryn Funari’.
Three japonica blooms, different varieties (Boon Trophy): Kerry & Alan Upson.
One miniature bloom (Clere Memorial Trophy): Pat Flockhart, Gisborne, ‘Koto-no-Kaori’.
Three small or miniature hybrid blooms, different varieties (B & J Warsaw Trophy): D & J Beard.
Twelve small or miniature hybrid blooms, different varieties (H & V Cave Trophy): Kathy Phillips.
Six hybrid blooms, different varieties (Sir Victor & Lady Davies Trophy): D & J Beard.
One white bloom (Rayner Memorial Trophy): Kathy Phillips, ‘Lily Pons’.
Best Doak hybrid bloom (Doak Memorial Trophy): Tony Barnes & John Sole, North Taranaki, ‘Barbara Clark’.
Best seedling bloom (Maire Trophy): Kathy Phillips.
Best novice bloom (Iris Gittings Trophy): Carol Shaw, Western Bay of Plenty, ‘Ballet Queen’.
Best small bloom (Harold Austin Memorial Trophy): Ailsa James, Western Bay of Plenty, ‘Maroon and Gold’.
Best reticulata or reticulata hybrid bloom (Roland Young Memorial Trophy): Kathy Phillips, ‘S P Dunn’.
Best hybrid bloom (Council Trophy): D & J Beard, ‘Mimosa Jury’.
Champion bloom (Bethwaite Memorial Trophy) & Best japonica bloom (McLisky Trophy): Kathy Phillips, ‘Roger Hall’.

Camellia ‘Maroon and Gold’, grown by Ailsa James of the Western Bay of Plenty Society, was judged the best small bloom in the show. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The answer, naturally

Karen Shirley’s journey from having a severe skin complaint to developing her own successful natural treatment and becoming a businesswoman has all been based on one thing – herbs.

“In 2002 my face started to become inflamed,” she says, “and it was steadily getting worse. I believe it was a side effect of dairy farming for 20 years, all the chemicals that were around me, but no root cause was ever diagnosed.”

She found the creams prescribed by her GP made it worse so decided to try and treat herself using plant-based remedies.

“Our skin sucks in as much as it pushes out and things will just sit there if we don’t cleanse properly. I think it’s really important to be as gentle on our skin as we can. No woman, or man for that matter, wants an unsightly rash.”

Karen Shirley with some of her products in her garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Karen decided her best weapon was knowledge so, knowing nothing about herbs or how to make creams, lotions and soaps, she enrolled with the Naturopathic College of New Zealand and also took courses in remedial therapies, including massage.

“When I started I was doing it for myself and my family,” she says. “I had no intention of selling what I was making.” However, word about her products spread and demand was such that Karen found she couldn’t afford to keep giving things away.

She began her business in 2005, changing the name to Myaura Naturals in about 2012, by which time she was already looking for more flat land to grow herbs on, supplying her products into three local pharmacies, and had just started a website.

“I enjoy gardening too much to grow things in neat rows like a market garden,” Karen says. “The nettles are in buckets, the lavender down the drive, the lemongrass tucked in here and there … a few things are grown inside a possum-proof cage but I definitely need more room.”

Her knowledge of herbs has grown alongside the business and Karen credits Tauranga Herb Society members as a big part of that. “Members have such a wealth of knowledge, and they’re all willing to share.”

Rose petals drying before use. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Her products, which include soaps, skin balms, shampoo bars and deodorants, are as pure as possible (and cruelty-free), although, to keep costs down, Karen hasn’t obtained organic certification.

The shampoo bar was developed after her distress at seeing her elderly father’s dry, flaky scalp during his last few months in a rest-home before he died. “A lot of older people suffer the same way. We had tried all the medicated shampoos and there was no change so I made a shampoo bar for him and it worked a treat.”

Rainwater harvested at her 2ha Te Puna property, tucked into the bush line, is filtered and distilled twice before being used, and dried flowers and leaves are stored in glass and cardboard. All products are made from scratch.

Air drying her soaps, which takes a minimum of 4 to 6 weeks, means there is no need for the chemical present in many commercial soaps that helps it dry more quickly.

Although there are many natural ranges available, Karen believes there is room for them all, her own experience being that consumers often have something from one brand and other things from other brands, after having discovered what works best for them and sticking with it.

This article first appeared in the Bay of Plenty Times and is published here with permission.