Gardening with a disability

Had an email recently from Gus Stewart who included a link to his website, GardenAble which he’s set up (with his cousin’s help) to support those with disabilities who would like to garden.

On the About page, Gus says he’s been in a wheelchair most of his life and initially had difficulty finding a hobby that kept him engaged. Gardening started out as a healthy outlet, a way to enjoy the outdoors, but quickly became his favourite activity.

There’s a page of practical Tips and a page of Resources, with two valuable links that offer advice applicable throughout the developed world.The Thrive website offers information about gardening with a wide range of handicaps, including after a stroke, and also includes information on gardening for emotional and mental wellbeing.

“Our research shows that gardening can help people through a specific period of difficulty in their lives. Gardening can help you get back on top of things and restore balance when it feels like your life is veering out of control. Gardening can help you feel happier, more confident and healthier.”

At the Flowerpotman website, there’s information on developing a garden for, or adapting a garden for, people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, while at the Arthritis Research UK website there’s a good page of ideas on how to get around mobility problems covering everything from weeding and mowing to choosing plants and paths. The RNIB website has a some gardening tips for those suffering sight loss.

Over the years I’ve met gardeners who have been wheelchair-bound, have lost a limb or whose sight has been markedly deteriorating. They were all doing what they could with two, in particular, finding ways around their disability so it affected them hardly at all. Inspirational.

Tokyo’s urban forest

In the heart of urban Tokyo is a 70ha forest, a place of peace among all the concrete and bustle. The forest was created using some 100,000 trees of about 365 different species donated from across Japan.

The Japan for Sustainability website includes a fascinating 2005 profile of the forest, which surrounds the Meiji Shrine. The main planners of the forest (from 1915) were Dr Seiroku Honda, Dr Takanori Hongo, and Keiji Uehara, then a student. At the time, most of the site was farms, grasslands and marshes, a far cry from today’s concrete jungle pushing in on all sides. “One of the important roles of the forest was to protect the shrine from dust carried by strong winds blowing off a nearby military drill court … It was also necessary to consider smoke pollution caused by steam locomotives of the Yamanote Line, which had just started operation.”

The planners laid out five main landscape sections, envisaging four 50-year natural stages in the forest as some species were overtaken. In 150 years, the forest was planned to be composed entirely of evergreen broad-leaved trees such as oak, chinquapin (Castanea pumila) and camphor (Cinnamomum camphora), and this is indeed happening.

Japanese cypress wood, 1500 years old and from a mountain in Taiwan, has been used in this torii gate on the way to the Meiji Shrine. A torii gate marks the entry to a sacred space. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Three rules for managing the forest were set: Do not pick any leaves, branches, etc., from the forest; do not walk in the forest; and do not bring out anything from the forest. “Even shrine forest managers are prohibited from picking fruit from the trees or from bringing out even a single dead leaf. And, they have strictly kept these rules,” says Koji Okisawa, a shrine forest manager.

Inside the shrine are a pair of camphor trees, the originals planted in 1920 when the shrine was dedicated. The canopies have been encouraged to grown into one and, as the sign beneath says, the trees have “grown under the protection of the deities to become huge and vivid and are considered sacred”.

The Husband and Wife camphor trees inside the shrine. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The pair of trees is known as ‘Husband and Wife’ (Meoto Kusu) and have become symbols of a happy marriage and harmonious life within the family – and are a popular place for photos.

Every year the Meiji shrine welcomes the largest number of visitors, of any shrine or temple in Japan, making the first shrine visit of the new year, some 3 million people. It’s also a popular spot for weddings – the parties seemed timed to be about 30 minutes apart.

A wedding party at the Meiji Shrine. The bride is wearing a traditional Shinto kimono and head-dress (that is either her mother or mother-in-law in the black kimono). The young women in the red skirts are akin to nuns. The groom is obscured by the priest in the foreground. Photo: Sandra Simpson.

Like almost all history in Tokyo, one must remember that although the shrine was dedicated in 1920 – and will celebrate its centenary next year – it was destroyed during the firebombing of Tokyo at the end of World War 2. The grounds and shrine were rebuilt in 1958. I’m unsure how much of the forest was destroyed and replanted.

Recent Plant Honours

Chelsea Flower Show’s Plant of the Year for 2019 is Sedum takesimense Atlantis, discovered as a sport (naturally occurring hybrid) by Hortech’s Dave Mackenzie, who specialises in plants for ground cover, green roofs and walls, in a nursery on the shores of Lake Michigan.

It’s the first time in 10 years that a variegated plant has won the top honour. Sedum takesimense grows only on Ulleungdo Island (Squid Island), a volcanic outcrop 150km off the coast of South Korea. This is not a desert plant and it won’t take full sun in hot climates.

Runner-up to the low-growing sedum with yellow flowers was the hybrid foxglove Digitalis x valinii Firebird with “90cm high flowering spikes of warm reddish-pink with apricot tones”. Bred by UK plantsman John Fielding, Firebird is more winter hardy and generally a stronger garden plant than previous varieties

In third place was a miniature agapanthus, Fireworks which has flowers that are blue at the base and white on the ends. Fireworks is said to be the first reblooming evergreen bicoloured agapanthus in the world! In 2008 Quinton Bean and Andy De Wet from De Wet Plant Breeders in South Africa germinated 12,000 seeds and in 2010 picked out Fireworks because it was already showing its first flowers.

The three plants were honoured from a shortlist of 20. See photos of the winners here.

The rose Knock Out – hybridised by William Radler of the US and introduced in 2000 – was last year inducted into the Hall of Fame of the World Federation of Rose Societies.

Blooming every 5-6 weeks, from spring to frost, it creates a stunning show of cherry red flowers that do well in most climates. “The Knock Out roses are the most disease-resistant on the market,” the notes with the rose say. “All of the Knock Out roses are self-cleaning so there is no need to deadhead.” See the Hall of Fame here.

Last year Britons voted for their Tree of the Year in each of the four countries. Here are the results.

Each year the National Garden Bureau in the US designates various ‘Year of’ categories. For 2019 it’s the Year of the Snapdragon (annual); Year of the Dahlia (bulb); Salvia nemorosa (perennial) and Year of the Pumpkin (edible).

Chelsea Flower Show 2019

The Best in Show at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show in London has attraced the usual sort of controversy – too green and not enough flowers! It wouldn’t be Chelsea without some disagreement, though, would it?

Designer Andy Sturgeon – one of Britain’s top garden designers – says of his 2m x 1m Gold medal garden: “Inspired by nature’s power to regenerate, this woodland landscape will be interspersed with stone platforms and huge burnt timber sculptures representing natural rock formations. Populated by pioneering plants and jewel-like flowers, the landscape has been colonised by trees, ferns, primordial horsetails (Equisetum) and restios giving the garden an ancient quality.” See the planting plan here. Read what the naysayers think (although the author still likes the garden). Another Gold went to the Resilience garden, celebrating the Forestry Commission’s centenary, which also won the Best Construction award for the Show Garden category.

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Above: The Savills and David Harber Garden won the show’s only Bronze medal. Pictured are garden designer Andrew Duff and sculptor David Harber.

Designer Chris Beardshaw tried to get real about sustainability – a lot of money and effort is spent creating these gardens that are then demolished after a few days. He used an electric-powered excavator and grew plants in recyclable (non-plastic) pots. He has taken home one of the 12 Gold medals awarded this year. Read about some of the trends spotted at this year’s show.

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Above: The Art of the Viking garden and its firewood wall. No idea why ‘Picasso’ was there!

Other Gold medal gardens include The Art of the Viking garden, all about wetlands and water meadows and including a magnificent garden wall made from stacked firewood; Beyond the Screen, a coastal-theme garden, features plants from New Zealand, Scotland, Mexico and New England (which sounds like an unlikely combination) but this also won its category (Best Space to Grow) and the Best Construction award for its category; and two Asian-theme gardens also took Gold – one with a Japanese theme and the other with a Chinese medicine theme. The Best Artisan Garden is Family Monsters. See all the winning gardens here.

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Above: ‘Granny’ and Wills visit the garden co-created by the Duchess of Cambridge. While giving Chelsea marvellous publicity this year, it was unplaced.

Please note that I can access only those Getty images from Chelsea which are free to use, hence the lack of photos of the winning gardens – hopefully they will be added to the ‘free list’ soon. At present it’s a lot of ‘celebs’ on the opening evening.

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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.