Rocket stove

A Katikati gardener recently introduced me to this amazing construction – so simple, yet so effective.

Four breeze blocks, some chicken wire and voila! A rocket stove. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Apparently these kind of concrete blocks aren’t being made any more but a friend was demolishing an outdoor barbecue and asked if they had any use for them. A couple of paving slabs keep the hot-burning stove off the ground. The gardeners use twigs, prunings and even rolled up, dry banana palm fronds as fuel and cook on top using either a saucepan, lidded casserole dish or flat tray.

Pip magazine, quoted on the Permaculture Principles website, explains the concept much better than I ever could:

The main difference between a normal fireplace or woodstove and a rocket stove is that rocket combustion is close to complete. When wood is burned it releases volatile compounds that we recognise as smoke or soot or creosote. In a rocket stove these compounds are sucked into the insulated and very hot ‘burn tunnel’ of the unit where they combust, releasing even more heat energy to drive the rocket process, unlike a normal fire where they are blown out the chimney.

This distinctive sucking of the flames down into the burn tunnel, and the resultant ‘roar’ is what gives rocket stoves their name. This is also a part of their magic. Rocket stoves are open where the wood is fed in, allowing lots of oxygen to be drawn into the unit. As the fire starts, and the burn tunnel heats up, the rising hot air races up the heat riser, drawing lots of air behind it. This incoming air flows into the feed tube and across the burning wood – creating the same effect as pointing a big air-blower at your fire. It gets really hot, the wood burns beautifully, and you hear the air roaring as it charges through the system. Read the full article here.

So simple, why haven’t we all got one? There are plans for all kinds of simple rocket stoves all over the net, enjoy!

Glories of the season

Autumn-flowering bulbs are to be treasured, adding splashes of colour and interest to a garden when almost everything else is either beginning to, or has the feeling of, winding down.

Sternbergia lutea at Eastwoodhill Arboretum, near Gisborne. Photo: Sandra Simpson

It’s easy to see why Sternbergia lutea, a bulb native to the Northern Hemisphere, is sometimes called the autumn daffodil or yellow autumn crocus. The only essential is good drainage and Jack Hobbs and Terry Hatch, authors of Bulbs for New Zealand Gardeners and Collectors (Godwit, 1994), say Sternbergia lutea is a good substitute for Crocus in warmer regions. Bulbs should be planted in late summer.

Cyclamen growing wild in a grassed area at Eastwoodhill. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The first time I came across Cyclamen growing wild was in the autumnal mountains of Cyprus, a sight gorgeous enough that we stopped the car and wandered about enjoying the carpet of flowers. In fact, the autumn-flowering species, Cyclamen cyprium, is the Mediterranean island’s national plant. I’ve had a few Cyclamen in my garden for many years, but the plants need replacing regularly. Species, I’m reliably informed, would last from year to year.

Here’s an Abbie Jury piece about Cyclamens from 2017. Abbie has her own blog which is always well worth a look. Find it here.

Haemanthus coccineus is also known as the blood lily. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I have two pots of Haemanthis coccineus and have now taken the unprecedented step of noting in this year’s diary when the best time is to divide and re-pot! It’s a wonder these striking plants have lasted as long with me as they have.

The flat leaves appear separately to the flowers which, while technically blooming in late summer, I always associate with the coming of autumn. I grow them in a pot because a) I know where they are and b) it makes them easy to move for floral impact or to hide the dying foliage. Find more information about these South African bulbs on the Auckland Botanic Gardens website.

Time to choose your roses

The best time to plant roses is during winter so now is the time to start planning! The NZ Rose Society’s Rose Review is a handy reference tool with its candid reviews of newer roses by growers from around the country. The most recent (2022) edition also includes New Zealand’s favourite roses as voted by members. Purchase details here.

‘Paddy Stephens’ has been the Favourite Hybrid Tea rose for a whopping 18 consecutive years – and also again tops the Favourite Healthy Rose category. Breeder Sam McGredy named this plant for Waikato rosarian Paddy Stephens, who died in 2012 aged 95. Interestingly, second on the Favourite HT list is ‘Hamilton Gardens’, a sport of ‘Paddy Stephens’.

‘My Mum’. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Favourite Floribunda is ‘My Mum’ (bred by Bob Matthews, Whanganui) for the second consecutive year; Favourite Modern Shrub Rose is ‘Sally Holmes; Favourite Miniature/Patio Rose is ‘Irresistible’ “by a considerable margin”; Favourite Large-Flowering Climber is ‘Red Flame’, regaining first place from second; Favourite Small-Flowering Climber is ‘Dusky Dancer’; Favourite Fragrant Rose is ‘Margaret Merrill’; and Favourite Heritage Rose is ‘Mutabilis’.

Looking for something different?

‘Green with Envy’ is the culmination of 29 years’ work for breeder Rob Somerfield. Photo: Glenavon Roses

‘Green with Envy’ (bred by Rob Somerfield, Te Puna) gathered plenty of comment from reviewers with the upshot being that the blooms are great for floral work, and last well on the plant or in a vase, and people didn’t mind swapping scent for novelty value. Not all reviewers, however, were sold on the colour. ‘Green with Envy’ won the World Federation of Rose Societies People’s Choice Award at the NZRS Trials in Palmerston North in 2013.

‘Thunderstruck’ was loved by reviewers in Northland, Waikato and Southland. Photo: Hayden Foulds

Released in 2020 by its French breeder, ‘Thunderstruck’ is something different with its blooms being a blend of chocolate orange with cream stripes. It makes for a great display and the dark burgundy-red colour of the new foliage contrasts well with the blooms. It will reach about 1.3m high.

‘Lights up the garden with its colour,’ the Gisborne reviewer said. Photo: Amore Roses

Another unusually coloured rose is Amore Espresso, bred in The Netherlands and available in New Zealand through Amore Roses in Waikato. New Zealand reviewers liked the plant’s good health and that the leaves stay on well into autumn. The flowers are said to have a spicy clove scent.

‘Eye Spy’ is a climbing rose from Rob Somerfield. Photo: Glenavon Roses

Persica, or Hulthemia, roses are being used more widely by breeders, resulting in better freedom of flowering, improved health and a range of flower colours.‘Eye Spy’ is a vigorous climber with blooms, larger than other Persica varieties, of peach aging to honey with a dark red ‘eye’. Read an earlier posting about Persica roses

Other unusual roses that got the thumbs up from most reviewers included ‘Midnight Rambler’, a dark-purple flowered climber; ‘Trish’s Rose’, a shrub rose with a flower that resembles a peony; and the lavender-blue flowered floribunda ‘Forget Me Not’. Happy planning!


Came upon a delightful idea in the Gisborne Botanical Gardens with a children’s story mounted on to signboards and unfolding as you wend your way along the path.

The book, Taniwha, written and illustrated by Robyn Kahukiwa, was first used in this way for the Te Tairawhiti Arts Festival in 2021, although sited elsewhere along the city’s river, and proved so popular the signboards were re-installed for Parks Week 2022 (March 5-13) in the Botanical Gardens.

The story, first published in 1987 and translated into te reo Maori for the festival, makes a fun family read alongside the Taruheru River. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The StoryWalk Project, which is one of those simple but good ideas, is the brainchild of (and trademarked to) Anne Ferguson of Montpelier in Vermont in the United States and was developed with the help of Rachel Senechal, formerly of the Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier. Read about the history of the project here.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

Overseas readers may wonder what a taniwha is. Te Ara Encyclopaedia of New Zealand explains it like this: Taniwha are supernatural creatures in Māori tradition, similar to serpents and dragons in other cultures. They were said to hide in the ocean, rivers, lakes or caves. Some taniwha would eat and kill people, or kidnap women. Others were believed to be guardians for a tribe, and people would offer them gifts and say a karakia (a spell). Some [looked] like giant lizards, sometimes with wings. Others were reptile-like sea creatures. Or they took the shape of sharks or whales, or even logs of wood in the river. Some could change their shape. Read more here.

Imagine a story for adults posted like this, say The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield. Could be a way of combining two healthy activities – reading and walking (possibly for miles, depending on the length of the story).