Chihuly Garden and Glass

In 2012 Dale Chihuly, one of North America’s most respected glass artists, realised his dream of a hometown museum for his work – with, as he always intended, the exhibition flowing into a surrounding, living garden.

Mille Fiori (2003, Italian for ‘A Thousand Flowers’) was inspired by memories of his mother’s garden. About 20m long, the installation takes up a whole room. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Built at the base of Seattle’s iconic Space Needle in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, the museum section of Chihuly Garden and Glass is linked to the outdoors by a double-height 30m-long pavilion known as The Glasshouse. This contains a suspended sculpture of large glass flowers, comprising about 1340 individual pieces – one of his largest suspended sculptures.    

Part of the suspended floral art in The Glasshouse. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Chihuly, by the way, hasn’t been a glassmaker for a while. He lost the sight in his left eye in 1976 after a car crash in England and had to give up full control of his glass-making due to loss of depth perception, becoming a team director. Then, just 3 years later, he dislocated a shoulder while body surfing, and lost the ability to gaffer his work. Since then he’s made drawings to show what he wants and others blow the glass for him.

The garden is built in the shadow of the city’s futuristic symbol, the Space Needle. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Seattle museum’s outdoor garden is also a work of art in terms of its plantings, colour schemes, texture and year-round interest – all carefully chosen to complement the glass art, which has been made thicker and heavier to cope with being outside.

Seattle has a typical maritime climate – wet and cold in winter (but not too cold and, more importantly, no snow) and dry and hot in summer (but not too hot).

Staff gardener Rachel Millard, who was quietly working in the garden during my visit and who landscape designer Richard Hartlage calls “one of the most talented gardeners” he’s ever worked with, had a rocky start when plant growth was affected by the soil which had been compacted during the building’s construction. The solution was a dose of mechanical aerating and today the garden is floriferous enough to attract hummingbirds, butterflies and bees.

A 500-year-old log of Western red cedar, collected from the nearby Olympia Peninsula, is a feature of the garden. The daisy is Osteospermum ‘Blue Eyed Beauty’. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Hartlage says the only dictate from Chihuly was that plant material should not exactly match the colour of an artwork nor completely contrast with it, which means subtle colour combinations pleasing to the eye. Hartlage has been quoted as saying that five and seven changes of colour were wanted in each square foot of bed.

Snapdragons, dahlias and coloured flax with candy-striped orange glass. Photo: Sandra Simpson

There’s also a small bed of the Dale Chihuly rose, the petals of which are streaked yellow and orange to resemble the master’s own use of colour.

Released in 2004, the Dale Chihuly rose was bred by Tom Carruth , one of America’s most successful rose breeders (Fourth of July, Scentimental and Absolutely Fabulous). Tom is now curator of the Rose Collection at the Huntington Library & Botanical Garden, near Los Angeles. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Leading the eye … and the feet!

I don’t have many paths in my garden but I very much like the idea of how a path leads the body and mind on a small, mysterious journey – a path in a garden makes us want to follow it to find out what’s at the other end.

This woodland path at Wairere Nursery is part of a pond-side path. There was nothing in particular at the end but it was a pleasant place to be on a hot day. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Wairere Nursery, near Gordonton in Waikato, is a fun place to visit as the owners – Lloyd Houghton and Harry Janssen – live right next door and open their own garden to customers for ideas, inspiration and sheer enjoyment. They have been developing the 3ha site (which had some serious weed issues when they bought it) for almost 30 years.

It’s all about wanting to go round the next corner. Clipped hedges aren’t really my thing but I always admire them in the gardens of others – someone at Wairere had done a fine job. Photo: Sandra Simpson

If you’re planning a trip to England, be sure to factor in at least one of the famous gardens – a visit to an acknowledged long-established, well-tended garden is heaven! Last year we made definite plans to take in a couple and added a couple more when we realised how close we were going to be and regretted not a moment spent at any of them.

Further pre-trip research will help you decide whether a National Trust Touring Pass is a sensible purchase (note that English Heritage is a different organisation and has a separate pass). We should have bought an NT pass, but didn’t … and then visited more properties than we thought we would, so ended up paying more than necessary in entry and parking fees. Many gardens are, of course, privately owned but a surprising number fall into one of the two categories above.

The hazel arch at Hidcote Manor in Gloucestershire, a National Trust property. Photo: Sandra Simpson
The long border at Levens Hall (Cumbria) and a path through two hedges to … an irresistible path! Photo: Sandra Simpson

Japanese garden pathways are masterful efforts of understatement, while subtly making a statement!

A bridge made of two stone slabs in Rikugien Garden in Tokyo adds the fascination of a mid-bridge step-change. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Or what about this tempting ‘bridge’ of stepping stones in the Heian Shrine Garden, Kyoto? Photo: Sandra Simpson

Rare bulb flowers

One of the rarest bulbs in cultivation is Worsleya rayneri (also known as Worsleya procera), the Empress of Brazil. A very green-fingered gardener in Omokoroa, near Tauranga, has recently had it in flower but says she doesn’t do anything special to encourage it.

Worsleya rayneri in flower in an Omokoroa garden. Photo: Barry Curtis

Jean Richardson has a garden full of interesting plants, and this one is no exception. In fact, she has two sets of bulbs, both sourced from Auckland plantsman Terry Hatch (Joy Plants). “My mother bought the first one about 30 years ago and she had that for 10 years but unfortunately didn’t live long enough to see it flower,” Jean says. She took that bulb on and the very next year it came into bloom – and has been flowering ever since.

Abbie Jury has written that it took her bulbs 13 years to come into flower, so not a plant for the impatient. The largest plant in the Amaryllis family, Worsleya rayneri is unfortunately disappearing rapidly in Brazil, according to the Strange Wonderful Things website.

Jean later bought her own Worsleya rayneri bulb, so has two tubs of them. She keeps the bulbs in a warm spot “under a roof”, either in the open end of a shed or under eaves.

This year the mother plant in the tub pictured above had 10 trumpets on one stem while the ‘pup’ that’s pictured had 5 trumpets. “I had one large bulb that never flowered,” Jean says, “but it made lots of little plantlets so I took them all off – but it killed the main bulb. So that was a hard lesson learned. Apparently, you can take one or two of the pups off, but not the whole lot.”

In their native Brazil, the bulbs grow on steep granite cliffs (ie, well drained), fully exposed to wind, rain and sun, and constantly subjected to mist from waterfalls. It produces large clusters of gorgeous lilac-blue flowers, speckled mauve within, blooming in mid-summer on stems up to 1.5m tall with flowers lasting up to 10 days if not pollinated. Read more at the Pacific Bulb Society website. Tauranga plantsman Bill Dijk notes that Worsleya rayneri is very exacting in its requirements, which makes it rare in cultivation.

Jean has read all this but modestly describes her own care of the bulbs as minimal, feeding and watering them “when I’m passing or remember to”. They get a handful of what everything else gets, generally blood and bone or Nitrophoska Blue. “Occasionally I’ll throw water over them to try and mimic nature and so far, it hasn’t done them any harm.” When the bulbs are almost in flower, she moves the tubs more into the open.

The book, Bulbs for NZ Gardeners and Collectors by Jack Hobbs and Terry Hatch, recommends watering sparingly in winter, gradually increasing moisture as temperatures rise until flooding regularly in midsummer before the bulbs flower in late summer. “This will produce rapid growth and one, occasionally two, flower spikes per bulb.” An annual application of acid fertiliser in spring is recommended.

Established plants will produce a few offshoots each year but these are slow growing. Root rot can be a problem if the bulbs get too wet in winter and the greater bulb fly will hollow out larger bulbs causing them to produce offsets but reducing flower production.

Hoya names in a tangle

Nick Lloyd from Auckland Domain’s Winter Gardens gave a talk to the Tauranga Orchid Society in March and at the end of the evening had a quiet word asking if I could please change the name of a photo I’d published on this blog.

NOT Hoya fusca, more likely Hoya pubicalyx ‘Red Button’. Whatever it’s name, the flower colour is dramatic! Photo: Sandra Simpson

My image of what I’d labelled Hoya fusca was, he said, not that plant and a grower was using my photo as evidence that they too had H. fusca when, like me, they’ve got something else. Problem is, that grower is supplying plants to a garden centre and so the error is being perpetuated. I’d got my plant from a knowledgeable enthusiast so trusted the label – the problem was most likely, as Nick said, where she’d got it from …

“I’m actually wondering if at some stage someone has had a seed pod and grown them from seed, resulting in a mish-mash of different clones, none of which should ever be labelled with a variety,” Nick emailed me later.

He sent me to the internet to try and find an image that’s close to the colour of my plant’s flowers, suggesting I start with a look at Hoya pubicalyx ‘Pink Silver’.

Nope, definitely not that. But going by the growing and flower description of H. pubicalyx ‘Red Button‘ that sounds far more likely.

Hoya pubicalyx ‘Jungle Garden’ is a more recent addition to my small collection (but the more I have, the more I like them). Photo: Sandra Simpson

Hoyas appear to be having something of a moment – I’ve had a few inquiries lately about where people might find some particular types, and I’m seeing them more often for sale in garden centres.

Here’s a link to the International Hoya Society, and there are some great photos at Vermont Hoyas, an American site.

Hoya serpens is a miniature type. Photo: Sandra Simpson

BOP Orchid Show 2019

The Bay of Plenty Orchid Society’s annual show was held on Friday and Saturday. Champion plant (and an Orchid Council of NZ Award of Merit) went to Brascidostele Gilded Treasure ‘Mystic Maze’ grown by Jeanette Hewer of the Waikato Orchid Society.

Reserve champion was Miltonopsis Linda Lingle ‘Pink Cadillac’, grown by Leroy Orchids of Auckland (sadly, I don’t appear to have a photo of that plant, my error). Leroy Orchids’ display is, however, always eye-catching with its bursts of colour.

Brascidostele Gilded Tower 'Mystic Maze-hewer - Copy
Champion: Brascidostele Gilded Treasure ‘Mystic Maze’, grown by Jeanette Hewer. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Miltonopsis Linda Lingle 'Pink Cadillac'-leroy2 - Copy
Cattleya Lucy Chua, grown by Leroy Orchids of Auckland. Photo: Sandra Simpson
C Itsa Blue 'Moonwalker'-leroy - Copy
Cattleya Itsa Blue ‘Moonwalker’, displayed by Leroy Orchids. Photo: Sandra Simpson
C Mahuea 'Lee's Baby'-leroy - Copy
Cattleya Mahuea ‘Lee’s Baby’, displayed by Leroy Orchids. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Something unusual from the show was an OCNZ Award of Distinction (AD) made to an orchid without a flower! Judges say this colour combination on the foliage is rarely seen and were impressed enough to make the award to grower Carl Christensen of Napier.

macodes petola-christensen - Copy
Macodes petola is one of the ‘jewel’ orchids grown primarily for their foliage. Photo: Sandra Simpson
doritis pulcherrima-christensen - Copy
Carl also showed this Doritis pulcherrima with its delicate flowers. Photo: Sandra Simpson
aliceara sweetheart jewel 'everglades'-curtis - Copy
Barry Curtis of the Tauranga Orchid Society brought along his Aliceara Sweetheart Jewel ‘Everglades’ that had long, swooping spikes of flowers. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Oncda Volcano Hula Halau 'Volcano Queen'-McDonald - Copy
The eye-catching colour combination of Oncda. Volcano Hula Halau ‘Volcano Queen’, grown by Helen McDonald. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Miltonia Mayflower Maymour x Goodvale Moir 'Golden Wonder' - Copy
Miltonia Mayflower Maymour x Goodvale Moir ‘Golden Wonder, grown by Elizabeth Bailey’. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Paph Wossner Rothperle - Copy
Paphiopedilum Wossner Rothperle, shown by Diane Hintz on the BOP display. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Onc Irish Mist 'Greenish'-ninox - Copy
Oncidium Irish Mist ‘Greenish’, shown by Ninox Orchids of Whangarei. Photo: Sandra Simpson

One man went to mow …

Got a bit of lawn that’s hard to mow? You might like to have some fun with the grass, perhaps inspired by these photos taken at last year’s BOP Garden and Artfest.

Peter Blair has some fun with visitors to his urban Tauranga garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson
A beautifully mown edge draws the eye to this ‘patch of weeds’ … which every spring is a riot of bulb flowers. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Putting aside an area for beneficial insects? The McGarva garden in central Tauranga includes a small orchard where the grass is allowed to grow – and two Buxus ‘sheep’. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Going nuts for gingko

The former Tauranga city arborist once let me into a secret – the tree his staff received the most complaints about was the elegant Gingko biloba or maidenhair fern tree, the leaves of which turn golden yellow in autumn.

The complaints didn’t stem from the tree’s leaves or its growing habit but about the female trees during nut-bearing. Apparently the nuts stink! Badly. So the council now plants only cloned male gingkos to avoid the problem. These trees, by the way, have been around on the planet so long, they’re often referred to as living fossils.

Gingko nuts ripening on the tree. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The nuts are considered a seasonal delicacy in Asia – despite the smell of the outer skin, despite the sometimes allergy-inducing chemicals in the outer skin, and despite the fact the nuts are toxic until cooked and that eating too many of them can make you ill!

Omanawa kiwifruit orchardist (and before that dairy farmer) and kauri collector Graham Dyer, after observing Chinese migrants foraging for gingko nuts in 1990, decided to plant a gingko orchard on his property near Tauranga.

In 2005 he sourced graftwood from Japan and was able to import it, grafted his 2000 gingko trees which produced their first nuts in 2015. As far as Graham knows, he has the largest gingko nut orchard in the southern hemisphere.

Gingko nuts on a Manawatu tree. Photo: Sandra Simpson

As described in his 2017 privately published memoir, the nuts have to be left to ferment for a couple of weeks, then the pungent outer flesh is washed off. The blonde hard-shell nut that emerges can be stored in a fridge. Graham’s had the help of his sons, one of whom has designed and built a grader, and his wife Mavis.

They’re competing against an imported, inferior product locally and batting to export to Asia. Graham reckons the project has a 50% chance of success!