Historic garden looks forward

The Elms mission house in Tauranga is one of the most important colonial buildings in New Zealand but it’s not just the house that tells a story – the NZ Gardens Trust last year endorsed the property as a ‘garden of national significance’.

“This is a heritage garden,” volunteer guide Bev Corbett says. “And as such is about unique stories and authenticity. People shouldn’t come expecting a beautifully landscaped garden.”

And come they do, in 2017 almost 13,000, including cruise ship passengers and school groups. Among the highlights of a garden tour – which covers nine eras within the garden –  are heritage roses, king ferns (Ptisana salicina, declining in the wild), mamaku (black tree fern), bunya bunya pine (Araucaria bidwillii, planted in about 1868) and Toona ciliata (red cedar, a type of mahogany).

From small acorns: The Elms manager Andrew Gregg (right) and gardener Troy Edgecombe. In the background is the English oak transplanted in 1838. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Thanks to ground custodians Troy Edgecombe and Rosie Burr the site is an organic workplace, with the 176-year-old shell paths weeded by hand and edging being installed to protect tree roots.

But this is also a story of a family, for The Elms was in private ownership from 1873 to 1997 and the connections haven’t ended – Julie Green, who lived with her Maxwell grandparents at The Elms in the 1960s and 1970s, is a volunteer guide and holds a collection of historical images for The Elms Foundation, while her son was married there in 2018.

Sense of history: Julie Green (left), a descendent of the Maxwell family that owned The Elms, and her fellow volunteer guide Bev Corbett. The women have put together a brief, illustrated history of the heritage garden.

The Reverend Alfred Brown, his wife Charlotte, their 7-year-old son and 8-month-old daughter moved from Matamata to Tauranga in 1838 with three other missionaries and their families. The site had been chosen for a Church Missionary Society (CMS) station in 1835 and it’s believed some sort of productive garden was in place.

Although a CMS schooner came irregularly and trading with Maori took place, being able to grow food was vital. Fortunately, it was said of Alfred “if Brown can’t grow it nobody can”.

His diaries and journals record potatoes, kumara, turnips, carrots, peas, beans, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, corn, wheat, gooseberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, red currants, blackberries, grapes, passionfruit, nut trees (including walnuts, chestnuts, almonds and hazelnuts) and an orchard of 200–300 fruit trees (including apples, pears and peaches) on the original 12ha site.

The family lived in a raupo hut for nine years – the library was finished in 1838 but the home wasn’t completed until 1847. “He clearly had priorities,” Bev says, “but I do wonder how Charlotte felt about it.”

The Elms mission house. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Despite a busy life as a missionary, Alfred also planted many ornamental trees. The garden contains three of Tauranga’s six ‘heritage’ trees with the English oak the oldest – believed to have grown from an acorn Alfred brought from England or Sydney and transplanted as a sapling in 1838. At the same time two Norfolk Island pines went in by the entry gates at the top of the bluff, landmarks both for sailors and the natural crosses at the tree tops marking the property as a mission station.

In 1848 Celia records bulbs, aloes, cabbage and damask roses and sweet peas, while newly arrived seeds included passionfruit, pomegranate, scarlet acacia, Chinese pink, American daisy, lavender and cockscombs.

In 1873 Alfred and his second wife Christina (Charlotte died in 1855) purchased the house and 6.8ha from CMS, renaming it The Elms. At Christina’s death in 1887, the house passed to her niece Alice Maxwell on the condition Alice’s sister Edith and their mother live there also. By 1913 just 1ha was left as the women fought to remain solvent.

Native plants: A shell path leads to what was once the main entry on the seaward side of the house. In the foreground (right) are king ferns. Photo: Sandra Simpson

After their mother’s death in 1919, Alice and Edith visited Motu in the Waioeka Gorge and many of the garden’s native plants were collected there. The women also began opening the house and garden, sharing knowledge gleaned from Archdeacon Brown himself. In turn, Alice passed The Elms to her nephew Duff Maxwell (Julie’s grandfather) who established a trust to preserve the property before his death in 1997.

But history isn’t standing still –a new, 800 square metre garden, which reclaims an adjacent lot sold in 1926, is under way and there are plans to add a Soldiers’ Garden next to the coach house.

Royal connections: The garden’s hollyhocks are descended from seed said to have come from a Buckingham Palace gardener in the 1920s, sent to his friend working at The Elms. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“Alice and Edith grew a lot of old-fashioned violets and other picking flowers to sell to raise money for soldiers in World War 1,” Bev says. “And in the winter we still enjoy patches of sweet-scented violets. The history here just wraps around you.”

The Elms is open 10am-4pm daily, Mission St, Tauranga. See www.theelms.org.nz or phone 07 577 9772.

This piece was originally published in NZ Gardener and appears here with permission. Read an earlier post about The Elms here.

Name a Rose Competition

In 2020, the New Zealand Rose Society International Trial Ground in Palmerston North – the oldest rose trials in the Southern Hemisphere – celebrates 50 years and to celebrate the Mayor of Palmerston North, Grant Smith, has commissioned a new rose to be named for the city. 

Name this rose! Photo: Hayden Foulds

Donated by its breeder, Rob Somerfield, the medium-growing Hybrid Tea has well-formed blooms of golden yellow with an orange flush to the outer petals. The blooms are slightly fragrant and last well when picked. It is very healthy with glossy green foliage.

There will be a limited first release of the rose at the 2020 National Spring Rose Show and Convention (November 28 and 29) in Palmerston North, which will also celebrate 50 years of the rose trials.

The name of the rose should capture the city that was once known as New Zealand’s Rose City.  The person who comes up with the winning name will receive six different rose varieties bred by Rob Somerfield, including one plant of the competition rose. 

Enter online, post your rose name(s) along with your contact details to Hayden Foulds, 40 Gordon St, Woodville 4920 or email them to Hayden.

The competition closes on September 31 with the winning name announced at the 2019 Rose Trial awards presentation on Sunday, December 1 in Palmerston North.

Terms and Conditions: The prize will consist of six rose plants donated by Rob Somerfield, including one of the competition rose. Plants will be supplied bare root in winter 2020. The prize cannot be redeemed for cash. The winner consents to their name being used for publicity purposes. As the prize cannot be sent overseas, entries will be accepted only from New Zealand residents. 

Names: Names must be three words or less, must not be similar to commercially grown rose varieties in New Zealand, and must not be names of persons or businesses, real or fictional. nor any trademarks.

The winning rose name will be selected by a committee consisting of one representative from the Manawatu Rose Society, one representative from Palmerston North City Council and Rob Somerfield. The committee reserves the right to not use any name entered. The committee reserves the right to modify any submitted name to make it more suitable for the rose.

2019 Waikato Orchid Society Winter Show

Good lot of flowering plants and visitors at yesterday’s winter show in Hamilton Gardens. Hope you enjoy the photos as much as I enjoyed seeing the plants!

Champion plant was Cattleya Chocolate Treats ‘Ross’ grown by Leroy Orchids (Lee and Roy Neale, Waitakere Orchid Society) which had a staggering nine stems in flower. This is a cold-growing plant (formerly Lc) that can bloom twice a year. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Reserve Champion was awarded to Dendrobium Jairak Blue Star, grown by Yvonne Tong of the Waikato Orchid Society. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Cattleya (formerly Slc) Fire Magic, exhibited by Alan and Cheryl Locke of the Waikato Orchid Society. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Vanda Heather’s World was grown by Glenn and Manee Poffley of the Howick Orchid Society. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Sophronitis cernua, a warm-growing orchid from Brazil, was shown by Conrad Coenen of the Tauranga Orchid Society. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Australian native orchid Dendrobium teretifolum var. auerum was grown by Spencer Hillmer of the Waikato Orchid Society. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Rechingerara Leroy’s Wonder ‘Magenta Magic’ was shown by Leroy Orchids. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Cymbidium Mad Pixie ‘Salinas Gift’ x Ben Singer ‘Geyserland’ was shown by Alan Napper of the host society. Photo: Sandra Simpson
This Stenorrhynchos speciosum ‘CH’ x sib, a terrestrial orchid from Mexico and Central America, was grown by Conrad Coenen. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Pterostylis Nodding Grace, another terrestrial orchid, was shown by Ninox Orchids of Whangarei. P. Nodding Grace is a hybrid of two Australian native greenhood orchids. Read more here. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Hothousing 3

It’s been nice to think about being in a winter garden in the middle of winter – bathed in sunshine today but a cool edge to the wind and more rain forecast later this week. So, on we go …

Last year was my first chance to visit the Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew Gardens, opened by Princess Diana in 1987, although the glasshouse is actually named for another Princess of Wales, Augusta, mother of George III, who founded the Gardens in 1759.

With a floor space of 4,500 square metres, the glasshouse contains a whopping 10 different climatic zones and a huge variety of plants, from cacti and carnivorous plants to orchids and bromeliads. Each of the zone climates is maintained by a computer which adjusts heat, ventilation and humidity automatically. Hot-water pipes are used for heating.

The Princess of Wales Conservatory sits low in the landscape at Kew Gardens. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Architect Gordon Wilson designed the conservatory for maximum energy efficiency so much of it sits below ground to conserve heat and has a low volume compared to floor space so temperatures can be altered rapidly, while its specially designed stepped glass roof effectively collects solar energy. Rain water is collected and stored in tanks beneath the building before being used for irrigation.

Sir David Attenborough buried a time capsule in the foundation containing seeds of important food crops and several endangered species. It will be opened in 2085, when many of the plants it contains may be rare or extinct.

Kew’s giant (up to 2.8m wide) Victoria amazonica waterlilies are each year grown from seed. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Conservatory is home to the world’s largest water lily (Victoria amazonica) and the smallest and rarest waterlily (Nymphaea thermarum). In 2014 someone decided to help themselves to one of the few examples Kew had of this tiny plant, extinct in its only known location in the wild, a thermal hot spring in Rwanda. Read a long, but very interesting piece, about this case and plant theft in general.

Hailing from tropical Africa is Strophanthus sarmentosus. The plant – which either grows as a tree or a vigorous, woody vine – has medicinal purposes but also produces poison for arrowheads. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Pachypodium lamerei is native to Madagascar. Despite its soft-petalled flowers, the trunk and branches are extremely thorny. This semi-deciduous tree is a member of the succulent family. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Thunbergia laurifolia, native to Asia, has been declared an invasive pest plant in Queensland where it does a bit too well, particularly in the state’s north and concerns have also been raised about its spread in Hawaii. Photo: Sandra Simpson

My only problem with the glasshouse was getting out! My friends were patiently waiting for me to have my fill of taking photos and I decided it was time to get back to them. My first attempt at following the Exit signs took me round in a big circle so I asked an attendant (who, bless her, kept a straight face). I set off again and at a certain point made a left instead of a right and voila, there were some faces I recognised and a door to the outside world. Whew!

Hothousing 2

The Temperate House at Kew Gardens – once the world’s largest glasshouse and now the world’s largest Victorian greenhouse – re-opened last year (in time for my visit!) after 5 years of restoration. It is home to more than 10,000 plants of 1500 species.

The main part of the Temperate House, Kew Gardens in August 2018 (the drought would break during our visit, hence the moody sky but the still-brown grass). Photo: Sandra Simpson

Designed by Decimus Burton, the master of glass and iron who also designed the Palm House, the Temperate House is 4880 square metres, twice the size of the Palm House. It was built between 1859 and 1898.

Burton designed the interior so that plants could be grouped by geographical region and this planting style is still used today. Many of the plants, which need conditions above 10°C to survive, are familiar as New Zealand’s native plants mostly fall into that category.

The interior of the main Temperate House. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Kew is one of the world’s leading conservation organisations and ‘home base’ is a chance to share some of the successes and challenges the world’s plants face.

Cylindrocline lorencei (Mauritius tree daisy) “must be one of the most extreme cases of recovering a species from the brink of extinction”, says Carlos Magdalena, a Kew scientist. “It was not achieved from the last plant, nor the last seeds, but from the last living cells of the organism on earth.”

The seed which had been stored could not be germinated and the species was only saved by staff at Brest Botanic Gardens in France who successfully carried out in vitro culture of a viable part of a seed embryo. The shrubs are now flourishing at Brest and Kew and it’s hoped to re-establish a population in its native habitat. Read more here.

Cylindrocline lorencei in the Temperate House at Kew. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The friends who took us to Kew decided that day to sign up as Friends and have been back several times since for special events and just to wander. I well remember what a treat it was having Kew Gardens within striking distance of home with something different to see on every visit.

Sparmannia africana (African hemp or house lime) is native to South Africa and a member of the mallow family. Read more here. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Hedychium coccineum (scarlet ginger lily) is native to southern China, the Himalayas, India and Indochina. Read more about the Hedychium family. Photo: Sandra Simpson
The long needles of Pinus roxburghii (chir pine) help it survive fires, common in its native habitat of the Himalayan foothills, by drawing the flames away from the stem. Photo: Sandra Simpson
As part of the refit, viewing galleries have opened right around the Temperate House ceiling area, accessed by ornate spiral staircases. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Hothousing 1

During my tour of England last year I visited Cragside, the former home of a Victorian munitions millionaire in Northumberland and now a National Trust property. The huge grounds concealed several different types of garden, including a formal garden of several terraces.

The Top Terrace was once dominated by a great glasshouse, divided internally to create different environments – palm house, ferneries and an orchid house. The glass superstructures were demolished in the 1920s but the area is planted in summer as though it still is a conservatory.

“One day it will be possible to restore the conservatories, and to bring back the spirit of the great plant-hunting age,” the guidebook says. I like the optimism and would love to go back and spend more time in the gardens and, particularly, the striking home that we didn’t have time to enter.

Cragside, the first home in England to be lit by hydro-electricity. Owner William Armstrong also used water to power a sawmill on the estate, power hydraulic pumps to provide water to the house, and for ornamental purposes. Photo: Robin Drayton (Wikimedia Commons)

The Orchard House is the largest-surviving glasshouse and dates from the 1870s (restored 1992-94). It had a boiler in the basement and an elaborate heating system to beat the cooler Northumberland climate and produce fruit for the house.

The Orchard House at Cragside. Photo: Sandra Simpson
The ‘mousehole’ on the left was a duct for hot air. The grape vine pots sit on turntables to allow the plants to be turned to ensure even ripening, a system thought to be unique to Cragside. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The east wing features grapes and figs, the west wing peaches and nectarines, and the centre has pears, mulberries, apricots, plums, gages and citrus of all sorts. “It is intended that the Orchard House should reflect the glories of the Victoria fruit growers’ high art of cultivation.” The trees are all pre-1900 cultivars.

Pears in The Orchard House. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Heloniopsis orientalis

The flowers of this plant caught my eye in Japan recently – thanks to Bill Dijk who almost instantly named it for me! I have now learned this evergreen perennial likes a reliably moist soil in part shade, which would explain why I saw it growing beside water in the garden of Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) in Kyoto.

Spring-flowering Heloniopsis orientalis is native to Japan and Korea. Photo: Sandra Simpson

There seems to be a few colours, ranging from white to purple, and some named hybrids available. However, the plant appears not to be for sale in New Zealand!

Photo: Sandra Simpson

For those in New Zealand, English garden broadcaster Monty Don is currently exploring Japanese gardens, screening on Choice TV on Fridays at 9.30pm or watch it on demand.