Capital plants

Had a few days in Wellington recently, thoroughly pleased to be back in this vibrant, compact city after having to postpone this visit twice due to Covid-related reasons.

On an early evening walk I discovered some Doryanthes palmeri (giant spear lily) flowering away beautifully, tucked in just off Civic Square, itself now mostly a ghost space thanks to earthquake strengthening works.

Doryanthes palmeri is native to a small area in Queensland and New South Wales, Australia. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Once thought to be part of the Agave family, this slow-growing plant – which can take 13 years to come into flower – has since been given its own genus which includes just two species. Read more here.

A ‘ferocious’ lion guards a back entry to the old Government Building, now part of Victoria University. Flowering just inside the gate are rengarenga lilies. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Rengarenga lilies (Arthropodium cirratum) are brilliant when planted en masse and the upright stems of white flowers are a common sight in early summer. They seem to attract slugs and snails though, so control is needed if a planting is to look even passable. Apparently, many are now instead choosing A. bifurcatum, which is less prone to snail and slug damage.

Its native habitat is rocky coastal areas from North Cape to Kaikoura and Greymouth in the south, which gives rise to another common name, the New Zealand rock lily. Read about the significance of rengarenga to Maori here.

Delighted to see that Chatham Island forget-me-nots are still doing well in street plantings in central Wellington. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Eight years ago I wrote about the Myosotidium hortensia I’d seen growing in a street planting in the central city so am pleased to report that not only are they still there, but some of them were showing off their beautiful blue flowers. Read the earlier post here.

This central city treescape includes metal nikau palms (left) and a daring ledge garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The view above caught my attention – a cabbage tree in flower (there were more in the vicinity), a ‘hanging garden’ on the side of an otherwise bland concrete building, and the capital’s iconic metal nikau palms designed by architect Ian Athfield. There are 15 of the nikau, which are 10m tall, and were designed as part of the Central Library project. The library closed in 2019 and is undergoing work for earthquake strengthening.

Tauranga’s heritage store

I was very fortunate a few weeks ago to be invited to join a group touring the Tauranga Heritage Collection at one of its storage sites – for anyone not familiar with Tauranga, we don’t have a museum, but we do have a long-standing museum collection! And, it looks like we will have a museum as earlier this year our commissioners approved plans for a new civic ;precinct, Te Manawataki O Te Papa, that will feature some form of museum.

But for now, and since 1998 when the previous museum at the Historic Village closed, everything’s been in storage, although not in stasis as items are still being donated and actively collected.

What we visited was a storage facility so everything – more than 30,000 things – is wrapped, labelled and safely packed away. However, curators Fiona Keen and Dean Flavell, do have out a few things of interest available to show visitors, plus the museum has a very cool sub-collection that is sent to schools who book it, and about 11,000 items have been digitised and are available to view on Tauranga Heritage Collection website.

This solid piece of rock is a very interesting specimen and known as ‘the peace stone’. It was split by a farmworker wanting a step for his house. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The final peace-making between Te Arawa iwi of Rotorua and Maketu and Ngai Te Rangi of Tauranga took place on September 23, 1845 at Otumoetai pa, after 10 years of bitter warfare. We were told the stone had been brought from Mauao and it is believed that the two chiefs each placed a foot on the stone, performed a hongi and smoked a pipe that they passed between them, thus sealing the deal.

The stone was donated by the late Alister Matheson, a local historian of some note, who had grown up with it on his family farm (originally purchased just 25 years after the peace-making), where it rested underneath an ancient titoki tree. To ensure the protection of the pa site on the land Mr Matheson sold it to the council in 2004 and in 2012 it opened as a public reserve. Read Alister Matheson’s own recollections of the site here.

Some of the items are old, some are newer; some have bigger stories and some have smaller, but they all have stories and all a piece of our story.

An embroidered butterfly on a cushion cover. It has been padded underneath the stitching to give it a 3D effect. Photo: Tauranga Heritage Collection
Gold silk embroidery of grapevines adorns these 18th century silk shoes. It’s thought the embroidery would have been done by the owner and then given to the shoemaker to use. Photo: Tauranga Heritage Collection

The curators put together a lovely illustrated booklet for this year’s Association of NZ Embroiderers’ Guild Conference in Tauranga. It was their second ‘Glimpses’ booklet, the first done for the Tauranga Arts Festival in 2019 that highlighted Maori artefacts.

A kete made of flax and ribbon wood bark. Photo: Tauranga Heritage Collection
Photo: Tauranga Heritage Collection

A mounted albatross head is one of the stranger things in the collection. The head – just the head, mind you – was gifted to William Soultau Pillans (1849-1915) by well-known ornithologist Walter Buller (1838-1906) as thanks for bird illustrations drawn by Pillans, a fellow of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. This being the 19th century naturalist, ornithologists shot what they wanted to learn about and had the birds stuffed!

The family had it hanging in the house until after Mr Pillan’s death when his widow had it removed because she thought it bad luck. Later, in the 1970s a granddaughter, who was living in the same house and didn’t like the head, donated it to the museum.

Kowhai corridor

I’ve often thought that food corridors or food islands are a great idea to benefit our native birds and here’s a long-term joint project that is doing just that. West Otago Lions and Blue Mountain Nurseries, which is celebrating 90 years in business, in early September planted 55 kowhai trees, adding to the 200 planted in 2015, as part of their project to create a nature corridor at the base of the Blue Mountains in Tapanui.

The trees are a late winter-early spring food source for nectar-eating birds including bellbirds, waxeyes, tui and kereru (wood pigeons). The kowhai (Sophora) have been sourced from all over New Zealand, as well as Chile and Lord Howe Island, so the nature corridor also serves as a genetic library. The various species planted have been catalogued by Denis Hughes, patriarch and plant breeder at Blue Mountain Nurseries, and their locations recorded so plants can be reproduced or selected for future plantings in the district or nationally. Denis is a real expert on this New Zealand native tree and you can read his descriptions of the types that the nursery stocks here.

Sophora godleyi growing beside the Rangitikei River at the historic Springvale Bridge. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Denis’ list includes something called Rangitikei kowhai, which caught my eye, given my connections with that area. A quick Google later had me reading a 2016 Rangitikei District Council newsletter with a section written by the parks and reserves team leader.

This kowhai is one of the last to flower … The hills around Taihape are covered in this plant and it is a real treat to see them in full bloom. Sophora godleyi, also known as Godley’s kowhai, papa kowhai, or Rangitikei kowhai. Grows naturally in the west of the North Island from Te Kuiti to Manawatu … Is named after Dr Eric Godley [1919-2010], former head of the Department and Industrial Research (DSIR) Botany Division. It differs from other kowhai, in that it has a more twisted juvenile appearance which grows out with time. It is an extremely hardy plant that thrives in most areas of our region.

S. godleyi is particularly abundant in the catchments of major south-draining rivers, such as the Pohangina, Rangitikei, Turakina, Whanganui and Mangawhero. Its distribution may have been influenced by the Taupo volcanic eruption some 1,850 years ago, for it isn’t seen on the Central Plateau to the north.

It grows mainly on unstable bluffs, rock outcrops and hillsides so doesn’t have much to compete with and, unusually for a New Zealand native tree, doesn’t have a different juvenile phase which allows for a first flowering just a few years after establishment.

Rangitikei kowhai in flower above a stream in the Taihape area. Photo: Sandra Simpson

In his small book, Bulls: A History of the Township, farmer and naturalist Major R A Wilson (1909-1964) recalled that near the Bulls Bridge over the Rangitikei River was once an extensive flat covered with kowhai trees. In spring, he wrote, these trees were a mass of golden bloom that attracted hundreds of tui.

One year I met a … man and his wife admiring the beautiful sight and on talking to them found that though they lived in a district many miles away they made a special pilgrimage to Bulls each year to see it. There was generally a flood in the river about that time [September] which was known as the kowhai flood. I was a boy at the time and thought it strange to come merely to see the kowhai in bloom but in a later age I feel it was well worth the journey. Alas! Now the whole flat is gone [after flooding] and the kowhai with it.

Tauranga Orchid Show 2022

Part of the series of displays at the Tauranga Orchid Show. Photo: Sandra Simpson

People flooded through the doors of this year’s Tauranga Orchid Show, a wonderful sight for the organisers who no doubt breathed a sigh of relief (I’m a society member but not an organiser, only one of the many volunteers who help out). Plant sales tables were stripped bare over the course of the two days, which means everyone is happy – purchasers and the out-of-town vendors, some of who had travelled from Whangarei and Auckland.

There was a happy buzz in the room, the sort that happens when old friends get together again after a while apart. Food 101 ran a great little cafe during the show and the Racecourse venue was great, as always. Visitors this year though turned left instead of right to find the show and the new room, which is shaped differently to the other, gave the display a fresh look.

Grand Champion orchid was Paphiopedilum Fleuret Isles, grown by Cliff Goodchild, president of the BOP Orchid Society who lives in Whakatane. This plant also won Best Paphiopedilum and Best Specimen Plant. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Reserve Champion was Dendrobium Fortune Lady ‘Muse’ shown by Ninox Orchids of Whangarei. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Tania Langen of Ninox Orchids receives the Reserve Champion trophy from Tauranga Orchid Society president Conrad Coenen. Photo: Sandra Simpson

There were several new trophies awarded this year and the club was delighted that Susan Enticott, daughter of the late Brian Enticott, a Life Member, was present to award the cup donated in Brian’s name.

Susan Enticott (left) with Lee Neale, grower of Laelia jongheana ‘Heart’s Desire’, winner of the Brian Enticott Cup for Best Cattleya. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Odontioda Anna Clare, grown by Pam Signal of the Tauranga society, won the new Barry Curtis bowl for Best Oncidium Alliance. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Jo Dawkins (left) and Deborah Parkinson admire Dendrobium Limelight, grown by Cliff Goodchild, winner of the new Best Australian Dendrobium trophy. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Best Cymbidium was Cym. Fury Land ‘Fortius’ grown by Ninox Orchids.

Me? Well, I got a second place for my Dendrobium Berry x (Aussie Hero x Yondi) but that wasn’t the only warm moment. Turns out a remark I made about the colour of one of Leroy’s gorgeous plants being ‘cheerful’ at a previous show somewhere stuck with Lee Neale and that’s what she’s called the orchid. Talk about honoured!

Rhyncattleyanthe Leroy’s Sunset ‘Cheerful’. Photo: Sandra Simpson
One side of the Tauranga Orchid Society stand. Photo: Sandra Simpson

On the grass

Heather Elliott was working as a landscape designer in Matamata when she heard that a wholesale nursery on the outskirts of Tauranga she often bought plants from was up for sale.

“I used to plant so many liriopes in my designs that I thought I ought to grow them myself – so I bought the business.”

Heather Elliot in her nursery. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Ace Mondo was established at Pyes Pa in 2000 and specialises in mondo grasses and the perennial liriopes (muscari and spicata) that also feature attractive autumn flowers.

“Mondo is a great plant for low-maintenance gardens – no weeds will come through it once it’s established and most varieties look good all the time,” Heather says.

Ophiopogon intermedians ‘Alba Variegata’ is also known as ‘Stripey White’. Photo: Sandra Simpson

For something different in mondo, Heather recommends the “pom-pom” Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Kyoto’, which grows only 5cm high, or Ophiopogon intermedians ‘Alba Variegata’, which has almost white leaves when grown in sun or green with a white edge when grown in shade.

“Mondo has far more potential than people realise,” Heather says. “People tend to put it in containers but it will have a limited life in a pot.”

She also worries that the popular black mondo (Ophiopogon planiscapus Black Dragon) is rarely used in a way that shows it off. “Plant it under silver birches,” Heather suggests. “It looks magnificent against the white trunks, but do try and leave it alone once it’s in. It doesn’t like a lot of fussing.”

Liriope muscari ‘Gold Band’. Photo: Ace Mondo

Liriope spicata ‘Franklin Mint’, also called ‘Green Carpet’, has more grass-like foliage than other liriopes with the bonus of lilac flowers in summer.

“Liriopes are a great plant to let naturalise on, say, banks or under trees and they can take drought too. People often mistake them for a bulb, but they’re rooting plants that are easy to increase by division.”

Heather has always worked in horticulture – her first job was picking apples in Nelson before heading off to study at Lincoln. Before buying Ace Mondo, she and her husband had a 40.5ha asparagus farm in Waikato.

“A change of pace was required,” she says. “We had a young family and 70 staff at the season’s peak. It was full-on.”

For more information see the Ace Mondo website or phone 027 416 4445.

This article was originally published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission.

Floral Tribute

Evening will come, however determined the late afternoon,
Limes and oaks in their last green flush, pearled in September mist.
I have conjured a lily to light these hours, a token of thanks,
Zones and auras of soft glare framing the brilliant globes.
A promise made and kept for life – that was your gift –
Because of which, here is a gift in return, glovewort to some,
Each shining bonnet guarded by stern lance-like leaves.
The country loaded its whole self into your slender hands,
Hands that can rest, now, relieved of a century’s weight.

Evening has come. Rain on the black lochs and dark Munros.
Lily of the Valley, a namesake almost, a favourite flower
Interlaced with your famous bouquets, the restrained
Zeal and forceful grace of its lanterns, each inflorescence
A silent bell disguising a singular voice. A blurred new day
Breaks uncrowned on remote peaks and public parks, and
Everything turns on these luminous petals and deep roots,
This lily that thrives between spire and tree, whose brightness
Holds and glows beyond the life and border of its bloom.

Simon Armitage, Poet laureate (UK) has written this poem to mark the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Glovewort is an old name for lily of the valley.

Farewell Queen Elizabeth II

There are, and will be, many stories to read and listen to as the 54 countries of the Commonwealth pay tribute to a much-loved long-serving monarch. Here, I thought we might take a look at just a few of the plants that have been named in her honour, a memorial garden if you like.

The ‘Elizabeth’ rose was released this year. Photo: Jonathan Buckley/David Austin Roses

Not surprisingly, the most recent addition to the garden is a rose, ‘Elizabeth’, released earlier this year to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, and showcased at the Chelsea Flower Show. The David Austin-bred rose is described as having a strong and sweet fragrance of Old Rose and lemon sherbet with apple-blossom pink petals, and was created especially to mark Queen’s Elizabeth’s 70 years on the throne. “Exceptionally healthy and versatile of habit, she forms a shapely and commanding shrub.”

Released in 1954, the year after the 25-year-old’s coronation, ‘Queen Elizabeth‘ was bred by Dr Walter Lammerts in the United States. This one is a vivid pink floribunda, described as having long, upright stems and being “very much for the back of the border”. Steven Desmond, writing for Country Life this year, said, “Its perfectly formed flowers were visible from a long way off, not least because of its exceptional height. In summer, I could barely see over it. No less a judge than David Austin described it as ‘indestructible’.” Read the full article here. Among the many awards over the years for ‘Queen Elizabeth’ are the World’s Favourite Rose (1979) and the Award of Excellence for Best Established Rose (2015).

Clematis montana ‘Elizabeth. Photo: Wikipedia

Desmond notes in his article that Clematis montana ‘Elizabeth’ appears to be the first plant named in the Queen’s honour after her coronation, developed by Jackman’s nursery of Woking in Surrey. It was awarded a Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit in 1993. The very pale pink, vanilla-scented flowers have a pretty satin sheen, while the stamens have white filaments and pale yellow anthers. This plant particularly likes having its feet in the shade.

Jackman’s Nursery was a family business from 1810 to 1967, when it was sold. George Jackman, father and son with the same name, together began hybridising clematis in 1858. A garden centre is still in business, but the Jackman name was dropped in 1996.

Rhododendron ‘Queen Elizabeth II’ is a compact plant bearing masses of primrose yellow-greenish flowers. “As with all yellow rhododendrons, this plant does need good drainage (but not dry conditions!). It also needs some shelter.” The plant won an RHS Award of Garden Merit in 2013.

This gold-dipped stem of the orchid Dendrobium ‘Elizabeth’ was presented to Queen Elizabeth by the President of Singapore in 2002 to mark her Golden Jubilee. The orchid was named in 1972 during a visit by Queen Elizabeth and The Duke of Edinburgh to Singapore. Photo: Royal Collection Trust

Dendrobium ‘Elizabeth’, with twisted Dresden-yellow petals and a uranium-green lip, was named in honour of the Queen when she visited Singapore in 1972, said Whang Lay Keng, curator at Singapore’s National Orchid Garden.

“Dendrobium Elizabeth is a majestic, robust and resilient plant,” she was quoted as saying. “It’s kind of like how Queen Elizabeth carried herself.” After Queen Elizabeth’s death, Singapore’s Botanic Gardens loaned a flowering plant of Dendrobium ‘Elizabeth’ to the British High Commissioner, to be displayed alongside pictures of the monarch in his residence.

The orchid Vanda ‘Platinum Jubilee’ was on show at Chelsea this year and was named by Dr Lawrence W. Zettler to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s milestone. The orchid was created by Robert Fuchs, president of the American Orchid Society and owner of R F Orchids of Florida (click on the link to see photos of the orchid).

“At the conclusion of the show, as we were taking down the display, several people asked if they could buy the orchid on the spot,” Dr Zettler said. “We told them ‘no’ because they were headed to the Queen herself. We then loaded the orchids into a taxi that waited outside the gate, and off it went.” Read an interview with Dr Zettler here.

Bulbs of Narcissus ‘Diamond Jubilee’, named to mark the Queen’s 60 years on the throne, were planted in a grassy area of Buckingham Palace garden in 2011. Given that she has also been the monarch of Wales and the daffodil is the national flower of that country, it should be no surprise that she has a beautiful diamond daffodil brooch. Read more here. It’s thought that in 2012 the Sultan of Oman may have gifted her a set of four brooches, one for each country in the United Kingdom, for her diamond jubilee.

The Regal Hebe range is apparently bred in Waikato, but so far I haven’t found out more than that. A new release is ‘Elizabeth’, which will grow into a small shrub with masses of pink flowers through summer. The plant is happy in full sun to part shade in well-drained soil and is frost hardy. Trimming spent flowers will help keep it compact. See a picture here.

Was Winter 2022 Wet and Cold?

With winter apparently ending on September 1 (try telling that to nature), I thought it might be instructive to consider how wet and cold we’ve really been, given that memory is a tricky thing. At times it’s seemed to be very wet indeed, but has it been all that bad? Well, yes. The information shown below comes from two parts of the North Island – Manawatu (rainfall) and Tauranga (temperature).

Rainfall figures for Manawatu, 2022 in blue. Graphic: Lee Simpson

This graphic was prepared to demonstrate to a business that buys fresh produce why growers in New Zealand have been finding it so difficult this year so far, and this winter in particular. The rainfall pattern has been all over the place, only hitting the average in March and staying well above average almost all winter. Having 61 years of rainfall data collected on a farm near Sanson means there’s a well-established long-term average.

My own attempt at gathering temperature data isn’t quite so flash, but is included for what it’s worth. The information comes from a wireless digital maximum-minimum thermometer kept in an orchid shadehouse in central Tauranga. The shadehouse has a roof but is open at the sides. The day-to-day and night-to-night changes are interesting from a plant-grower’s point of view.

The table covers the period June 1-August 15 for each year (so misses the 2022 ‘atmospheric river’ from the tropics that arrived later in the week starting August 15).

 202220212020
Coldest Day11.7C          
June 29
12.9C        
July 10 & 11
11.4C          
July 2 & 9
Warmest Day20.5C           
June 1
22.0C
July 22 & Aug 11
19.0C       
Aug 12
Coldest Night1.5C             
Aug 12
1.0C                
June 29
0.5C          
July 9 & 10
Warmest Night13.6C           
July 8
14.3C              
June 8
13.1C             
June 20
Max. Day to Day Drop18.6 – 13.5C
July 13-14
20.1 – 14.3C
July 24-25
18.4 – 13.1C
July 21-22
Max. Night to Night Drop11.1 – 4.8C                
July 28-29
8.6 – 1.0C
June 28-29
9.6 – 1.3C      
July 7-8
Max. Day to Day Rise11.9 – 17.1C                  
Aug 9-10
12.8 – 19.1C
Aug 5-6
13.7 – 18.4C 
 Aug 6-7
Max. Night to Night Rise4.8 – 12.6C                
July 18-19
3.0 – 12.3C
July 16-17
3.8 – 11.3C
July 12-13

Dyed in the wool

Following on from last week’s post about the mediaeval wool trade, we now look at some of the plant-based dyes that have been used since ancient times to colour wool – woad, madder and weld were often described as the ‘holy trinity’ for dyers.

The leaves of woad (Isatis tinctoria, a yellow-flowered member of the mustard family and also a medicinal plant) produce blue. It is a biennial that flowers and seeds in its second year with the leaves of plants grown in fertile soil apparently producing the bluest colour. The term ‘Pictish’ to describe the ancient inhabitants of northern Britain comes from the Latin term for ‘painted’, which is how the Romans described these people who used woad on their skin.

This illustration of a woad mill in Germany is from a 1752 book by Daniel Gottfried Schreber’s. Image: Wikipedia

In mediaeval times there were important woad-growing regions in England, Germany and France, where Toulouse became prosperous from the woad trade. Woad was eventually replaced by the more colour-fast indigo and in the early 20th century, both were replaced by synthetic dyes. Read more about woad in Britain. Or go here to read more about woad in France.

Featuring the colours of woad (blue), madder (red) and weld (yellow) is The Unicorn is Killed and Brought to the Castle, one of a series of seven tapestries making up The Hunt of the Unicorn, woven between 1495 and 1505 (about). The tapestry is at the Cloisters Museum, New York. Image: Wikipedia

The leaves of the indigo plant (Indigofera tinctoria) are soaked and fermented to produce the brilliant blue dye that has been popular for some 4,000 years. A legume plant (nitrogen-fixing), Indigofera tinctoria may be an annual, perennial or biennial, depending upon the climate. Dyeing with indigo is an intriguing process as cloth removed from the dye pot looks yellow, but rapidly turns blue when exposed to the air.

Skeins of wool dyed with varying shades of madder. Photo: Wikipedia

Madder (Rubia tinctorum) is a hardy perennial that spreads easily, so should only be grown with care and in confinement. The plant should be left for 3 years before roots are harvested. Apparently, adding lime to the soil in autumn or winter will produce a deeper red from the root. Cloth dyed with madder tended to fade so the European discovery of cochineal insects in Mexico, and the red dye they produce, was a revolution.

Wool dyed with weld for tapestries woven at the Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Centre, Giza, Egypt. Photo: Wikipedia

Weld (Reseda luteola, dyer’s weed) is another ancient dye, this one producing yellow from its leaves – brighter from fresh leaves and softer from dried leaves. The Romans used weld to dye the tunics of the Vestal Virgins. When over-dyed with woad, it produces ‘Lincoln Green’, which is supposed to have been used to dye the clothes worn by Robin Hood and his band in the 13th century. Used with madder it produces an orange. The biennial plant prefers to grow in limestone or chalk soil.

Just to note that ‘Lincoln Grayne’ originally referred to a high-quality red cloth, the word ‘scarlet’ then meaning not a colour but a cloth, while the ‘green’ was cloth of a lesser quality. Since at least the Elizabethan period, however, ‘Lincoln Green’ has meant a shade of green.

Other English towns also had specialty dyes, including “Coventry blue”, with the renowned permanence of the colour leading to the phrase “as true as Coventry blue” or “true blue”. Sadly, the recipe for Coventry Blue was apparently lost in the 17th century during the reign of the Puritans.