Floral tribute to Commonwealth

There was sparkle, there was Markle and there was a beaming Harry. There were hats and horses and trumpets. Did you sit up late and drink champagne and munch on cucumber sandwiches and chocolate eclairs? I did some of that, even though I wasn’t at home but in a hotel room!

I’m sure you have your own opinion of the dress, the hair, the tiara, but I think we’ll probably all agree that Meghan’s veil was stupendous, all 5 metres of it!

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Clare Waight Keller, artistic director at Givenchy and designer of Meghan Markle’s wedding dress, with a sample of the hand-embroidered lace that made up the veil.

According to a press release from Kensington Palace, Ms Markle expressed the wish of having all 53 countries of the Commonwealth with her on her journey through the ceremony with Ms Waight Keller designing a veil that represented the distinctive flora of each Commonwealth country united in one spectacular composition.

“Significant time was spent researching the flora of each Commonwealth country and much care was taken by Ms Waight Keller to ensure that every flower is unique.”

The veil was made from silk tulle with a trim of hand-embroidered flowers in silk threads and organza. Each flower was worked flat, in three dimensions with the embroiderers spending hundreds of hours meticulously sewing – and washing their hands every 30 minutes – to keep the tulle and threads pristine.

In addition to the flora of the Commonwealth, Ms Markle also selected two personal favourites:

Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox), which grows in the grounds of Kensington Palace in front of Nottingham Cottage (where she has been living with Prince Harry), and the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), the state flower from Ms Markle’s place of birth.

Symmetrically placed at the very front of the veil, embroidered crops of wheat symbolised love and charity (and from what I understand are also a motif for fertility!).

New Zealand was represented by the kowhai flower with some others being: African violet (Saintpaulia) from Tanzania; Vanda Miss Joaquim orchid from Singapore; Victoria Regina water lily (Victoria amazonica) from Guyana; Cyclamen cyprium from Cyprus; teuila (Alpinia purpurata) from Samoa; Sepik blue orchid (Dendrobium lasianthera) from Papua New Guinea; bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) from Canada; thistle from Scotland; jasmine (Jasminum officinale) from Pakistan; and the spiral aloe (Aloe polyphylla) from Lesotho. Read the full list here.

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The embroidery can be seen in this photo of the bride entering St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle and, below, as she leaves.

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Despite the extravagant use of flowers at the entry to St George’s Chapel, as can be seen above, the bride carried only a small posy bouquet.

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The bridal bouquet carried by the Duchess of Sussex at her wedding was then laid on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in the west nave of Westminster Abbey in London. 

The Palace press release notes that Prince Harry handpicked several flowers from the couple’s private garden at Kensington Palace to add to the bouquet designed by florist Philippa Craddock.

The spring blooms include forget-me-nots which were the favourite flower of Diana, Princess of Wales. The bouquet also including scented sweet peas, lily of the valley, astilbe, jasmine and astrantia, and sprigs of myrtle, all bound with a naturally dyed, raw silk ribbon.

The myrtle sprigs are from stems planted at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, by Queen Victoria in 1845, and from a plant grown from the myrtle used in The Queen’s wedding bouquet of 1947.

The tradition of carrying myrtle begun after Queen Victoria was given a nosegay containing myrtle by Prince Albert’s grandmother during a visit to Gotha in Germany.  In the same year, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert bought Osborne House as a family retreat, and a sprig from the posy was planted against the terrace walls, where it continues to thrive today.

The myrtle was first carried by Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, Princess Victoria, when she married in 1858.


Art Nouveau orchids

A few little masterpieces to enjoy from the Art Nouveau period (1884-1914) …

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Orchid hair comb by Rene Lalique. Image: Walters Art Museum

Renowned French glassmaker René Lalique (1860-1945), was also a notable jewellery designer of the late 19th century and his ‘Orchid Comb’ is one of the Walters Art Museum’s greatest treasures. Combining materials in unexpected ways, Lalique developed new techniques and revived old ones, blending historical and cultural references.

The ‘Orchid Comb’ represents the height of Lalique’s jewellery production. His studio rendered the highly naturalistic orchid out of a single piece of ivory; diamonds play a supporting role, picking out the veins along three slim leaves in glowing plique-à-jour enamel. The stem is attached by a gold hinge to a three-pronged horn comb. This is the most flamboyant of all the pieces purchased by museum founder Henry Walters at the St Louis World’s Fair in 1904. Never intended to be worn, the Orchid Comb entered the collection as a masterpiece of technical accomplishment in the field of the decorative arts. The Walters Art Museum is in Baltimore, Maryland in the United States.

But wait, there’s more … the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, Portugal is home to an orchid comb by Lalique that features not one, but three slipper orchids.

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This comb features three carved orchids, designed by Rene Lalique. Image: Gulbenkian Museum

The orchids are carved from two different materials – facing forward is an ivory Paphiopedilum, which facing left and right are orchids carved from horn. A small drop-shaped topaz is at the centre of the ivory flower. The comb itself is also in horn and connected to the ornaments by a gold hinge.

“The exotic orchid was one of the flowers that symbolised the aesthetic movement of the late 19th century. Art Nouveau jewellers handled the subject with great realism, which is heightened in this case by Lalique’s technical mastery,” the museum’s website says. “He started from the real flower yet managed to imbue it simultaneously with elegance and a powerful erotic charge.”


Some of the orchid brooches designed by Paulding Farnham exhibited at the 1889 Paris World Fair. Image: nasvete.com

Paulding Farnham (1859-1927) is a name that won’t leap to mind when thinking of fabulous jewellery designers but in the late 19th and early 20th centuries he raised the profile of American company Tiffany & Co – and it was all thanks to his botanical designs, especially orchids.

Farhham joined Tiffany’s in about 1879 and worked for them until 1908, becoming chief designer and director of the jewellery division in 1893.

The 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle marked Farnham’s first major display of work, which included his enamelled and jewelled orchids. Each orchid was drawn from life after blooms were sent from places such as Guatemala, the Philippines, Colombia, India, Mexico and Brazil with the individual blooms “coated in copper to preserve [them] for study”, according to Kristin Edrington in her 2012 Master’s thesis and quoting from Jeweled Garden by Suzanne Tennenbaum and Janet Zapata (Vendome Press, 2006).

The 24 Tiffany brooches caused a stir at the Exposition, Edrington says. “The public was stunned and fascinated with the fact that the orchids were so life-like, and the actual species of orchid could be matched with the jeweled orchid. While many French jewelers … had captured the floral form and stylized it, Farnham was able to recreate the flowers’ very essence of realism and life. He took floral jewelry design to an entirely new level of naturalism.”

The company won a silver medal, among other awards, for Farnham’s orchid designs. Seven of the brooches remain in the Tiffany Archive.

Newsy bits

Nineteen institutions, including a large number of botanical gardens, are collaborating in the three-year-long EU Horizon 2020 project, BigPicnic. Scientists, politicians, industry and the public will be brought together to start a conversation about worldwide food security – that sufficient healthy food should always be available to everyone without causing damage to the planet.

Botanic gardens, with help from other partners, will co-create a range of exhibitions and participatory events to generate dialogue and build greater understanding of food security. The collaborative approach aims to give a voice to adults and young people, communicating their views to policy-makers, sharing ideas, encouraging debate on the future of our food and achieving Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI).

Co-ordinated by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), BigPicnic Partners span 12 countries across Europe and one in Uganda. Read more about BigPicnic and ongoing events (from 2018) here.

New Zealand science writer Bob Brockie looks at giant timber bamboo – a plant that flowers only once every 120 years, last blooming in 1845. Once it’s flowered, Phyllostachys bambusoides​, which has edible shoots and tips, dies.

He also mentions a different bamboo in India that when it flowers is known as causing a Bamboo Death Year for local inhabitants. Read more here.

We’ve all seen those beautiful photos of food decorated with real flowers – quite a thing on Instagram apparently. Well, botanist James Wong is over it, especially when the food is decorated with toxic flowers! Read more here.

Can’t make the Chelsea Flower Show in London? Treat yourself to a preview of the May 22-26 event. Cheers!

Happy May Day!

Two great deals around for a short time …

Tauranga’s Garden and Artfest is offering a Mothers’ Day special – buy a 4-day pass before May 13 for only $50 (normally $65). The ticket also includes unlimited entry to Bloom in the Bay which will be at the new Festival Hub at the Historic Village. The festival is from November 15-18. Full details here.

The New Zealand Flower & Garden Show, which debuted in Auckland last year, has opened its earlybird ticket purchase today ($28/$26) – tickets valid for ‘any day’ entry. Purchase before May 18 and go into a draw to win a lunch out. The show is from November 28-December 2. Full details here.

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A young woman offers a bouquet of lily of the valley to a police officer during the traditional May Day demonstration in Toulouse, southern France, on May 1, 2016. 

And we can’t let May 1 go by without noting a lovely tradition in France – it’s a public holiday celebrating the nation’s workers (La Fête du Travail) but is also known as La Fête du Muguet (Lily-of-the-valley Festival).

The floral tradition is supposed to have begun when King Charles IX of France was presented with a posy of lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) on May 1, 1561 as a token of luck and prosperity for the coming year. He liked the idea so much he decided to present the fragrant flowers to the ladies of his court each year on May 1.

There was also an old European tradition of “bals de muguet” or Lily-of-the-Valley dances; once a year, this was a chance for young singles to meet without having their parents’ permission. The girls would dress in white and the boys wear a sprig of muguet as a buttonhole. In about 1900, men started to present the flowers to women to express their affection, although these days they are a more general token of appreciation between close friends and family members.

Families in country areas get up early and go into the woods to pick the flowers.  Individuals and labour organizations are able to sell bouquets of lily-of-the-valley on the street on May 1 without paying tax or complying with retail regulations! Read more about May Day celebrations in France.

Some good growing advice here (northern seasons) from Carol Klein, who notes that like many prolific plants, lily-of-the-valley can be difficult to establish.

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Beloved of spring brides – remember Kate Middleton’s lovely bouquet?

If you live in the Tauranga area and would like to learn French, have a look at the French with Shelley website. She’s a great teacher and will immerse you in French culture too (how do you think I know about La Fête du Muguet?).

Joyeux le premier Mai!

BOP Orchid Show 2018

Congratulations to Barry Curtis (Tauranga) and Bob Parsons (BOP) who respectively won the Grand Champion and Reserve Champion titles at the Bay of Plenty Orchid Society Show. Despite a somewhat difficult growing season – although not for everyone, clearly – there was a nice range of orchids to look at in the Te Puke War Memorial Hall last Friday and Saturday.

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Grand Champion plant: Bulbophyllum Elizabeth Ann ‘Buckleberry’ grown by Barry Curtis of the Tauranga Orchid Society. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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A closer look at one of the many dozens of flowers on the plant – and more buds were still forming! Photo: Sandra Simpson

Many people find Elizabeth Ann ‘Buckleberry’ easy to grow but difficult to flower. I didn’t run across Barry at the show to find out what his secret might be!

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Reserve Champion plant: Psychopsis papilio, grown by Bob Parsons of the Bay of Plenty Orchid Society. This plant, sometimes called the butterfly orchid, had about five blooms. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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A basket of Dendrobium cuthbertsonii was a winner for Pat Hutchins, owner of Sunvale Orchids in Gisborne and a member of the Tauranga society. These little orchids grow epiphytically at up to 3000m above sea level in New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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A delightful mini-Paphiopedilum displayed on the Bay of Plenty society’s stand. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Paph Ruby Leopard x Marie Joyes, grown by Selwyn Hatrick of Rotorua. The pouch appeared almost black, much darker than the camera recorded. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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The striking Cattleya Gila Wilderness ‘Nippon Treasure’ belongs to Bob Parsons. He was given the plant by Andy Easton as that orchid grower and breeder made the move from Rotorua to Colombia. The label may also have a bit more name on the end, but it’s become very hard to read. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Rhyncholaeliocattleya (Rlc)Village Chief North ‘Green Genius’ was shown by Leroy Orchids of Auckland. Do you like the green petals? Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Warczewiczella Amazon Beauty was shown on the Whangarei Orchid Society stand. As part of the name suggests, the plant is native to the Amazon basin. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Masdevallia herradurae, or the horse-shoe Masdevallia, was shown by Diane Hintz on the BOP stand. Found in Colombia and Ecuador, this orchid grows at elevations of 500 to 2100m on mossy trees. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Habenaria rhodocheila is a southeast Asian orchid that grows in deciduous forests. This plant with the striking orange flowers was shown on the Whangarei stand. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Read more about the care of Harbenaria orchids, which have tubers and so are terrestrial growing. The Pacific Bulb Society website includes a page on these orchids.

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The amazing flowers of Habenaria myriotricha, grown by Carl Christensen of Napier. (And thanks to the kind gent who held a black chair in the background while I took the photo.) Photo: Sandra Simpson

Tree of the moment: Olive

An olive branch has long been a symbol of peace so today, Anzac Day, is a good chance to find out more.

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The olive tree in Yatton Park, Tauranga was planted on May 20, 1971 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Battle of Crete in World War 2 (May 20-30, 1941).  It was donated as a ‘symbol of love and warm connections’ by the people of Galatas. More olive trees have been planted nearby to create a grove. Photo: Sandra Simpson

In the Bible Noah sends out a dove from the ark to have the bird return with an olive twig in its beak – his third attempt at trying to discover if the waters were receding. The flood (and God’s anger) had apparently abated enough that at least one olive tree had begin sprouting foliage again.

In Greek mythology Athena caused an olive tree to spring up on the land that would become Athens, a “better gift” than her rival Poseidon’s well of sea-water, and supposedly the parent of all the olive trees to come. Brides in ancient Greece wore wreaths of olive leaves, as did Olympic victors.

Mars, the Roman god of war, was also the god of peace and on ancient coins was shown carrying an olive branch. An olive branch was added to the Great Seal of the United States in 1780. It has 13 olives and 13 olive leaves to represent the 13 original colonies, while the flag of the United Nations shows Earth surrounded by olive branches.

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An olive tree in flower in Yazd, Iran. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Olive trees (Olea europaea) are legendary for their long lives – but no one knows for sure which the oldest is as olive trees are dated by their girth, not by rings and over the centuries – and millennia – this becomes at best a rough guide. West Bank Palestinians reckon the al Badawi tree in Bethlehem is the world’s oldest at 4,000 to 5,000 years, while the Olive Tree of Vouves in Crete is thought to be at least 3,000 years old.

In 2014 archaeologists believed they uncovered 8,000-year-old evidence of the production of olive oil in what is today northern Israel.

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An olive tree growing inside the Flowerdome at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore. In 2015 one of the trees, originally from Spain and more than 1,000 years old, fruited. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Organic olive grower (and former actress) Carol Drinkwater has written several books about her life with the trees and decided to try and find some of the oldest in The Olive Route, finding success in Lebanon. Read the rest of her entry here.

I began my seventeen-month quest in Beirut … Serendipity put wind in my sails and within my first two or three weeks on the road I had discovered in the mountains up behind the ancient port city of Byblos, two tiny groves of 6000-year-old olive trees. They are not wild trees, these are cultivated trees, and still fruiting.

They were planted on man-made terraces bolstered by dry stone walls, which is a very common sight around the Mediterranean and is one of this region’s oldest methods for preserving water, for keeping the soil irrigated. Standing alongside these sprawling ancients was an epiphanous moment for me. I had been hoping that my quest might unveil clues, facts, witness statements that would take my story back 2,000 years, but SIX thousand… This put a whole new perspective on history. These trees were planted by someone or a group of farmers before Western man had an alphabet, before we could read or write. None of the three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity or Islam – had come into being. Those trees gave me a benchmark. What if they could talk, I asked myself. What stories could they tell me? The history of the Mediterranean, was my answer.

Read more about these trees – which have their own support group, The Sisters Olive Trees of Noah.

Some 99% of olive trees are grown for their drupes (fruit) which contain 20% oil. The fruit is macerated, the stone removed and the pulp pressed cold to yield ‘virgin’ olive oil with low acidity and good taste. Secondary, hot pressings produce lower-grade oils and a secondary oil called pomace, used in soap and cosmetics.

Moving olive oil around in the ancient world led to new crafts and technologies, including amphora storage vessels. Although it’s thought the olive tree didn’t arrive in Greece until 700BC, that empire than shipped it around the western Mediterranean.

Olive tree wood – generally from fallen branches and prunings rather than felled timber – is sought after for its attractive grain and also for its religious significance.

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The olive trees in Yatton Park are fruiting in April, 2018. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Although Charles Darwin noticed olive trees growing at a Bay of Islands mission station in 1835, they were ornamental and it wasn’t until 1990 that New Zealand had its first pressing of olive oil, thanks to retired Israeli scientist Gideon Blumenfeld.

Dr Blumenfeld had spent most of his working life with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation; the last 13 as Horticultural Representative in the South Pacific. Through his friendship with Shimon Lavee (the Israeli professor who cloned a new olive cultivar he named Barnea), Dr Blumenfeld imported the Barnea cultivar and established an olive grove and nursery – by 1990 his business also included stock from the International Olive Council’s tree bank in Cordoba in Spain. Sadly, Dr Blumenfeld died in 1991.

Olives New Zealand, the industry body, has some 200 members, including growers, processors and suppliers and groves range in size from fewer than 100 trees (hobbyists) to 40,000 trees (commercial growers).

Urban farmers

Aucklander Ben Mayson is turning lawns and garden beds into ‘micro-farms’ – in return for giving him access to crop parts of their yard, Ben gives the land owners discounted  produce, from their patch or elsewhere.

Ben, his wife and three children returned home from overseas last year and in January he launched Farmster which has about 500 square metres of urban land to be cropped and with the first deliveries due on April 25.

Plots, with a minimum size of 12 square metres, need to have good soil and plenty of sun. Ben will do the preparation, planting and harvesting with the land owner in charge of watering. In return, the land owner receives a weekly box of veges, delivered, for $15, a $10 discount on the normal price.

Ben’s already planning on taking the concept nationwide. Read a recent article about Farmster.

Canada is full of such ideas, including the well-established organic Green City Acres in Kelowna, British Columbia which in 2012 grew more than 22.7 tonnes of food on less than 0.4 ha (1 acre) on multiple sites and used only 80 litres of petrol. Founder Curtis Stone says he earns $C75,000 a year from his produce – and all without owning any land.

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Part of Sole Food Street Farms in Vancouver, pictured in 2016. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Another well-established urban farming project in Vancouver began in an area almost entirely inhabited by those dealing with long-term addiction, mental illness and poverty – and the soil’s not great. Read more about Michael Ableman and his organic Sole Food Street Farms.

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Another view of the Sole Food Street Farms, now moved. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Now, the organisation – North America’s largest urban farm project – has lots all over Vancouver. The one I saw in 2016 was the original site, beside the city’s BC Place sports stadium. The area has been opened up to the public with cycle paths and walkways – and developers moved in last year so the farm had to move.

Fortunately, Sole Food was already using stackable plastic boxes to grow in and these can be easily moved using a forklift. Visit the Sole Food Street Farms website.

The city of Toronto is providing a global model for urban farming and last year inaugurated the first  official Urban Agriculture Day on September 15. The urban farming community there includes traditional backyard gardens, community gardens, school gardens, rooftop farms and backyard chickens, as well as the Ripple aquaculture pilot project. Read more about Ripple, along with some of the challenges facing urban farming in Canada’s largest city.