Waikato Orchid Society 60th jubilee

The rain may have been lashing down on Saturday but there was a cosy atmosphere inside the Pavilion at Hamilton Gardens where a group gathered to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Waikato Orchid Society with a sneak peek at the orchid show, which opened to the public the next day, and a special jubilee lunch.

Two of the founding members were on hand to help cut the cake – Elsie Young and Rae James – and show trophies were handed out, followed by some Orchid Council awards. Having had the event postponed last year, it was lovely just to be together and hear everyone sharing their memories.

Apparently someone (from Auckland) was reported as saying of the first show in 1963, “I never knew orchids could grow so well south of the Bombays”! Waikato Orchid Society hosted National Expos in 2000 and 2005, and another Expo will be held in the area in 2023.

The club opened with 47 members and has about the same membership now, but in the 1980s, in the heyday of commercial Cymbidium growers in New Zealand, had an almost unbelievable 500 financial members.

Grand Champion of the 2021 Waikato Orchid Society winter show was Paphiopedilum rothschildianum ‘New Horizon’ x ‘Raptor’ grown by Jason Strong of Napier. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Grand Champion of the Show was Paphiopedilum rothschildianum ‘New Horizon’ FCC/AOS x Raptor GM/JOGA, grown by Jason Strong of Napier. Reserve Champion was Dendrobium Jairak ‘Blue Star’ grown by Yvonne Tong of the local club who, incidentally, also had Reserve Champion at the 2019 show with the same plant.

Phragmepedium kovachii, native to the cloud forests of northern Peru, was named for science only in 2001. Photo: Sandra Simpson
A novelty prize was awarded to Cattleya Lucy Ingram – the oldest hybrid in the show, registered with the RHS in 1897. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Oncidium Calico Gem, grown by Helen Barrio. Photo: Sandra Simpson

‘Mystery rather than majesty’

I received two books by English gardener Monty Don for Christmas and have been thoroughly enjoying both of them. This extract is from My Garden World: The Natural Year, a lovely ramble through the seasons with short pieces on everything from sheep to floods, by way of birds, flowers, worms, voles and anything else that takes his fancy. It was published in 2020.

Clipped yew trees in the Pillar Garden, created in about 1923, at the famous Hidcote Garden in England. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Yew has become such a feature of European gardens that it is sometimes easy to forget that it is a wild tree – and the oldest, wildest tree that there is. People tend to confuse the incredible age that yew can reach with the speed of its growth. For the first hundred years or so they grow quite fast … After that, it is just a question of keeping them in check by clipping once a year.

But once they get to about 400 years old, their growth rate slows and after 1,000 years, becomes very slow indeed. They take their time because they, above all living things, have time to take. It is appropriate that one of the oldest wooden artefacts in the world is a 250,000-year-old spear found in Essex – made of yew.

It is also easy to misjudge the age of a yew, because height and grandeur do not come with age … Until about 500 years old, it grows in a neat but unremarkable mop-headed shape and then, with true venerability, it sprawls and swells, and the branches grow out and then down to the ground. Age gives it mystery rather than majesty.

Longbowman shown on a sign. Image: Peter Lucas, Wikimedia Commons

Monty goes on to say that the English yew (Taxus baccata) possesses some traits that support longevity to a high degree. One is the ability to regenerate from a bare stump, while the other is that they are made up of two kinds of wood an elastic outer sapwood and a compression-resistant inner heartwood which means that if the interior wood is rotted by fungus, the tree continues to survive thanks to the heartwood which has enough tensile strength to keep the whole thing upright. Yew wood was used to make the famous English longbows that dominated mediaeval warfare because of its rare ability to stretch and compress and then return to its original shape with enormous force. Read more about the longbow.

Yew trees bear female and male flowers on separate trees and, although a conifer, does not bear cones. Instead each seed is enclosed in a red, fleshy, berry-like structure (an aril) which is open at the tip. Image: Didier Decouens, Wikimedia Commons

Fabulous Faberge

Midwinter in the Southern Hemisphere so I thought I’d share photos of some of the fabulous Faberge flowers I came across in Europe in 2018 (thanks to The Antiques Roadshow I had some clue as to what I was looking at).

Violets – each with a diamond at the centre – in a rock crystal vase that appears to contain water. The flowers are carved from natural amethyst and the leaves from nephrite jade. The stems are gold. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland was a storehouse of tiny Faberge treasures and had lots of these gorgeous little ‘vases of flowers’, as well as carved birds and animals, all by Faberge.

The Faberge Museum in St Petersburg is well worth a visit to see not only some of the beautiful eggs on display, but all the other exquisite pieces too. Apparently, if Carl Faberge didn’t think a piece was up to snuff, he smashed it and sent the workman back to do it again!

A gold basket contains lily of the valley made from pearls and jade, held in the St Petersburg Faberge Museum. Photo: Sandra Simpson

One of the most outstanding versions of this basket of lily of the valley is at the Metropolitan Museum in New York – the 19 individual stems are made of pearls and diamonds (the flowers are different to the basket shown above as they appear to be ‘open’). The Met’s caption says the basket is considered to be the most important Faberge piece in the US.

The Faberge company made 50 eggs for the Russian royal household but perhaps only 43 remain. Along with other treasures, the eggs were looted during the Russian revolution.

But sometimes amazing things happen and in 2012, an egg considered to be lost turned up in the home of an American man who had bought it several years earlier with the intention of selling it for scrap. Fortunately, he never got round to it and one day Googled ‘egg’ and the name engraved on its clock … and discovered the thing sitting on his bench was worth approximately $33 million! Read more here. If you’d like to read some more about Faberge and the eggs in general, please go here.

‘Progress … was really painful’

Welshman William Gilbert Rees (1827-1898) was one of the first Europeans to arrive in the Queenstown Lakes area, searching for pastoral land to realise his dream of being a runholder.

He’d set out with five others from Dunedin in 1860, the party making it through the harsh landscape via Omarama, Lindis and Wanaka. It was a tough journey and by the time the party made it to Cardrona, there were only two men left; Rees and Nicholas von Tunzelmann, said to have been a godson of the Tsar.

There’s a quote from Rees used as a piece of art in Queenstown Gardens: “No fires had cleared the country … progress was not only fatiguing, but really painful, speargrass often more than three feet high and masses of matagouri constantly impeded us…”

Speargrass, or Spaniard, in the Lewis Pass area. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The next part of that quote, not used in the art work, shows just how dedicated Rees and von Tunzlemann were. “Our trousers from the thighs downwards were filled with blood and it was with the greatest difficulty that our poor horses and pack mule could be urged forward.”

Every part of the speargrass is sharp, including the flowers armed with needles! Read more about Aciphylla in an earlier posting. Matagouri is also well armed – the thorns were sometimes used by Maori for tattooing.

After exploring the area for three weeks, the pair took the arduous journey back to Dunedin and lodged a claim for grazing rights.

The Experience Queenstown website uses this quote from King Wakatip by G J Griffiths (1971): “One of the first white men to reach Lake Wakatipu and the founder of what has become the beautiful tourist resort of Queenstown, [Rees] is remembered particularly for his dominant personality at the time of the gold rushes. The picture most New Zealanders have of him is a big bearded run holder, holding off hungry miners with a loaded revolver as he carefully rationed out inadequate supplies of precious flour.”

William Gilbert Rees and a merino stand by the water front in Queenstown. The sculptor is Minhal al-Halabi. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Unfortunately, his dreams of a high-country farm were shortlived as in 1862 gold was discovered in the Arrow River – and Rees found himself at the centre of a rush, even his homestead was declared an official goldfield.

In the early days of the rush Rees was the only source of food for miners around Lake Wakatipu. With a flock of sheep and the Undine, the first boat of any size on the lake, Rees could bring flour and other supplies from the south end of the lake. He was – for a few vital weeks – able to prevent starvation for many miners.

In 1864 he was awarded £10,000 as remuneration for the loss of his 240,000-acre farm and in 1867 moved away from the area.

As a by the by, Rees was an early New Zealand exponent of cricket, having been born into the Grace family and having as a cousin, English cricketing legend W. G. Grace. Rees appeared in one first-class match for New South Wales in 1857; his cousin William Lee Rees played for Victoria in the same match.

BOP gardening news

Nice to see a name I personally know among the Queen’s Birthday Honours announced last week. Shirley Kerr (pictured below) has become a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to mycology. Read my 2013 profile of her here (she has since moved to Rotorua).

Her award citation says: “Mrs Kerr has a background in education, teaching at several secondary schools between 1973 and 2017, specialising in biology. She has been a driving force for mycological exploration and education in the Bay of Plenty area. She has built a database of species on her website Kaimai Bush and in 2019 published A Field Guide to New Zealand Fungi, which has been highly acclaimed nationally and internationally for its accessibility. She has found at least five previously undescribed species and recorded in excess of 600 different species. She served on the council of the Fungal Network of New Zealand (FUNNZ) for 15 years, was Treasurer from 2009 to 2011, and played a key role in organising four annual New Zealand Fungi Forays. The Fungal Forays attract scientists from New Zealand and overseas. Mrs Kerr’s voluntary education efforts in mycology have included running workshops for upskilling in macro photography for botanical work, fostering children’s interest at national forays, organising field trips, public speaking engagements, and providing samples of Landcare New Zealand’s Herbarium or for overseas examination.”

Today’s Bay of Plenty Times reports on plans to restore the habitat around a stream on the flanks of Mauao (Mt Maunganui) which will see the felling of four oak trees, believed to be 80to 100 years old, and the site re-established as a place for flax weaving. Some of the oak wood will be carved and returned as taonga (treasures).

Above: The stream’s name is Waipatukakahu which translates as “the stream where the flax garments are made”. Oak and other leaves block the stream every year for several months. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The area will be planted with several local types of harakeke (flax) used for weaving. Hopefully, the administration board and council have taken into account that flax is a notorious haven for rats and step up predator control as the flax goes in – the maunga is also home to plenty of birds which enhance any walk there. In fact, we recently stood and watched fantails having a grand old time flitting in and around this stream (with signs about the plans nearby).

A belated Happy Birthday to the Tauriko Garden Club, which this year has celebrated its 60th birthday. I was honoured to attend a recent meeting as a guest speaker, so much accumulated wisdom in the room!

Taste of Japan

Visiting Japan in autumn is a sublime treat with the season celebrated in clothing, food, outings to view coloured leaves and plant displays. While our borders are still, in effect, closed, I thought we might enjoy some glimpses of autumn in Japan.

This is likely one plant that has been expertly trained to provide a sensational half-orb of blooms. The display of chrysanthemums at Izumo Grand Shrine was delightful. Photo: Sandra Simpson

American chrysanthemum enthusiast Matt Mattus has posted a step-by-step guide, with photos, on training chrysanthemum plants as a cascade, a traditional Japanese form. Read it here.

One corner of the shrine’s flower display. Photo: Sandra Simpson
A beautifully presented autumnal meal at a hotel in Kinosaki Onsen, which went on to feature several snow crab dishes. The thermal resort is renowned for its snow crab. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Hanami, picnics under the trees, are a way of celebrating spring blossom, momijigari (red leaf hunting) is traditional in autumn. And, thanks to the country’s climate, what a display it is.

Coloured leaves at Eikando Temple in Kyoto. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Peeled persimmons drying on a balcony in Takayama. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Read more about how dried persimmons are used in Japan in this earlier post.

Taste of Australia

As Melbourne in Australia goes into another 7-day lockdown, I’ve been thinking about my lovely holiday in Victoria last year – a couple of weeks before our part of the world went mad – and have been wondering when it might be ‘safe’ to return to tripping across the Tasman Sea to visit loved ones. So I thought it would be nice to share some images from that driving holiday and remember a happy family time.

Ozothamnus turbinatus, or coast everlasting, is found from South Australia to New
South Wales and including Tasmania. The leaves are aromatic when crushed. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Billardiera longiflora, or purple apple-berry, is a small evergreen vine found in cool, moist forests from southern New South Wales to Tasmania. The berry is edible, although some say the flesh is best for jams and chutneys. Photo: Sandra Simpson
A ghost forest on the Cape Otway road. A few years ago the koala population in the area was slowly starving to death, after the animals literally ate themselves out of a home – the dead trees are Eucalyptus viminalis (manna gums), native to southeast Australia including Tasmania, killed by hungry koalas. Read more here. Photo: Sandra Simpson
To finish, let’s celebrate these living eucalyptus trees in the Otway National Park, a lush rainforest. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Plant Stories: Aranda Peter Ewart

In 1934 25-year-old New Zealander John Ewart went to Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in England to train and 3 years later was posted with the Colonial Agricultural Service to Singapore, a place that became the focus of his working life for many years – and where he became involved with orchids.

It’s a bit of a story, especially with the outbreak of World War 2, so get comfy.

John started as the renowned Singapore Botanic Gardens as assistant curator but after only 12 months was assigned to the Straits Settlement Botanic Gardens in Penang (Malaysia) for a year, before returning to Singapore. Fortunately, he was on leave in New Zealand when Singapore fell to the Japanese in 1942, and was posted to Ghana with the task of increasing cocoa production there. Two years later he joined the British Army and served in India before returning to Malaya at the end of the war.

Aranda Peter Ewart is a cross of Arachnis hookeriana and Vanda Kapoho (Vanda tricolor x Vanda lamellata). Photo: Jennifer Ewart

The Gardens had been pitted with shell craters and trenches during the fall of Singapore but fighting had spared the priceless Herbarium (where specimens are stored for scientific research). Despite the well-documented terrible conditions in Singapore during the Japanese occupation, the invading force did look after the Gardens, mostly thanks to the quick-thinking Professor Hidezo Tanakadate of Tohoku University, a volcanologist, who immediately assumed control of the Gardens and evicted the military. Prof. Tanakadate, one of whose fellow officers was related to the Emperor, retained the British directors to administer and assist in repairs. Other staff members were not as fortunate, sent to work on the Siam-Burma Railway, where many lost their lives.

After nearly a month’s reparation work on houses and grounds after the invasion, “the Gardens regained its calm centre of research activity”.

Botany professor Kwan Koriba, from the Imperial University of Kyoto, took over as director in December 1942, immersing himself in research on the growth habits of selected Malayan trees and producing a scientific paper on the topic. Eric Holttum and E J H Corner, previously in charge of the Gardens and who remained at liberty throughout the war, also devoted their time to research.

Mr Corner had chosen to stay in Singapore (although his wife and son had escaped) seeing it as his duty to protect the Gardens’ scientific collections. Just five days after the fall of Singapore, he was appointed secretary and interpreter to Prof Tanakadate. Read more about this period of Mr Corner’s life here (he has sometimes been accused of collaboration).

After demob, John Ewart was one of the first to return to Singapore Botanic Gardens and was in charge of the gardens until the director, Murray Henderson, returned in 1946. John then assumed responsibility for the day-to-day running of the gardens, including making collections for the Herbarium and advising the City Parks Department. In 1946 he was also appointed Agricultural Officer for Singapore (increasing crop production to feed the colony) and carried out those duties alongside his work at the gardens. For a short period in 1954 he was acting Director of the gardens. Under moves to nationalisation he was compulsorily retired in 1957.

When he and his wife Mary and their family came to Tauranga, John grew carnations and chrysanthemums for the cut flower market for a time, as well as avocados. He was also a well-respected member of the International Dendrology Society. John, who returned to Singapore in 1986 for the 50th anniversary of the Singapore Gardening Society, died in Tauranga in 2001 and Mary in 2010.

Peter Ewart in the Singapore Botanic Gardens with the orchid named for him. Photo: Jennifer Ewart

John’s son Peter, who lives at Omokoroa, has been trying to find out if Aranda Peter Ewart, named for him by his father and registered by Singapore Botanic Gardens in 1951, is available in New Zealand, or if he is able to conform to MPI rules to be able to import it.

The Malayan Orchid Hybrids book by M R Henderson and G H Addison (1956) records that the cross was made in 1944, so during the Japanese occupation. The plant was described as free flowering with up to four flower spikes at a time, ‘but not very robust vegetatively’.

“It seems my father was responsible for the plant from after the war,” Peter says. “He was also responsible for a couple of other orchid hybrids at least, which he named after his other children, Gillian and Andrew, but those flowers did not enjoy commercial success.”

If Peter is able to import the plant, he intends to present one to Auckland City Council for their Wintergarden heated house under the custodianship of Nick Lloyd. “They already have two of its species parents in their collection.”

Our native plants: Toetoe

South American pampas grasses (Cortaderia) are often mistaken for native toetoe and vice-versa. But what is ‘toetoe’? According to Lawrie Metcalfe in his 2008 book, The Cultivation of New Zealand Native Grasses, there are five distinct species called ‘toetoe’ (in fact, in this book they are all listed as Cortaderia but were reclassified as Austroderia in 2011).

The North Island species are Austroderia fulvida (also in the Golden Bay area of the South Island), Austroderia splendens (Northland only), Austroderia toetoe (from about Tauranga to Wellington). In the South Island there is Austroderia richardii (also Stewart Island), and on the Chatham Islands Austroderia turbaria.

Austroderia richardii growing at Milford Sound in the South Island. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The South Island toetoe (Austroderia richardii) is smaller than the most commonly seen North Island plants and doesn’t develop the large base of their cousins (and pampas). The plant will also grow almost anywhere in all soil types and is particularly effective in massed plantings. I saw a fenceline or three planted with this toetoe in the Domes area of Southland and they looked fantastic.

Toetoe growing in Tauranga, possibly Austroderia toetoe. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Maori used the plants in various ways, including for baskets and mats (leaves), to line the walls of their homes (stems), to make kite frames (stems) and to staunch bleeding (seed heads).

Toetoe is also known as ‘cutty grass’ as the serrated leaf edge can easily cut the skin so careful handling is required.

How do you tell the difference between the exotic weed pampas and native toetoe?

  • Pampas leaves snap readily when given a sharp tug. Toetoe leaves do not.
  • Native toetoe, which have arching or drooping golden-creamy flowers and are much less promiscuous in spreading seed, flower in spring and summer (September-January). Pampas flowers in late summer and autumn (January-June) on tall, stiffly erect flower stems, looking like a fluffy duster on a wooden rod. Flowers are white-pinkish or tinged with purple.
  • The surface of a toetoe leaf is dark, shiny green and smooth, it has a distinctive secondary vein between the midrib and margin of the leaf and when the leaves die they hang down flat. Pampas has leaves that are dull and rough to touch and only have a single midrib. One of the easiest ways to identify this weed from our native plant is when pampas leaves die they curl up like wood shavings at the base of the plant.

Pampas seed carries great distances in strong wind, and was one of the weeds found invading the Poor Knights islands, 3km off the New Zealand coast!

A Garden of NZ Roses

As we sink gently further into autumn my roses are definitely past their best but I’ve stopped dead-heading to give them a rest before pruning. However, the lower part of the South Island is a bit behind our warmer climate so it was with delight that last month I found Queenstown Botanical Gardens flush with roses, admittedly not the pristine blooms of early summer but holding out against the dying of the light and still attractive.

The other charming thing to discover about the garden is that all the beds feature roses that were either bred in New Zealand or have a New Zealand connection.

Wise Woman, bred by Bob Matthews of Whanganui, was named to mark the 2004 centenary of midwifery registration in New Zealand. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Scent to Remember was released by Rob Somerfield of Tauranga in 2006 as a Hospice NZ fundraiser. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Aotearoa – known as New Zealand everywhere else – was released by Sam McGredy in 1990 to mark this country’s 150th anniversary. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Nelson Girls was bred by Chris Warner of England and named in 2006 by importer Tasman Bay Roses to mark the 125th anniversary of the school. In Australia, it’s known as Serenity. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Kate Sheppard was released in 1993 to mark the centenary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Kate Sheppard rose was bred by George Sherwood of Manawatu when he started his hobby and of Taranaki when this 2012 interview was conducted. George, a J-Force veteran, died on March 2 this year. He named it for the woman who spearheaded the movement to win New Zealand women the vote.