Summer’s bounty in a bottle

As Colin Hewens delves through his cellar he’s recalling the sights, sounds and taste of the summer just gone, a summer now measured in jars and bottles, kilograms and litres.

For besides preserving fruit and vegetables, Colin and partner Steve Richardson also make wine, cider and perry from their organic garden at Whakamarama, in the foothills of the Kaimai Range near Tauranga, a garden planted with just such an end in mind.

Starkrimson pears were discovered in the early 1950s in Missouri when a branch of red fruit appeared on a green-pear tree. Stark Brothers Nursery patented the variety in 1956. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“People are funny about fruit wine,” Colin says. “They think it should be ‘dry’, they don’t think you should add water or ice – and they don’t think fruit wine is wine, while wittering on about peaches, grass clippings and chocolate! Winemakers routinely add sulphides to grape wine to stop fermentation whereas we don’t add anything chemical. The great thing with home-made wine is that you can make it exactly to suit your palate.”

Colin (left) and Steve toast the fruit of their endeavours with a glass of mixed berry wine. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Colin has been teaching the simple art of making fruit and vegetable wines on and off since about 1976 after making his own feijoa wine. “It was horrible,” he recalls, “but it made me determined to get it right.”

The retired teacher learned his lesson well as some years later a New Zealand wine judge tried his tamarillo bubbly and claimed it was the best wine he’d ever tasted. However, Colin rates strawberry wine as the “elixir of fruit wines” and makes it with berries that are frozen as they’re cropped, keeping them until he has enough to make a batch.

“Berry wine samples nicely at six weeks but is too young to bottle,” Colin says. “We generally leave bottling for at least a year and do it only when we need the flagons. The longer they mature in the flagons, the better they are.”

Steve puts his back into winding the cider press, while Colin holds the table top device, bought from Trade Me, steady. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The couple have their own cider press and still – New Zealand is the only country in the OECD where it’s legal for private citizens to own a still, provided the output is for personal use. The gear for wine-making is straightforward: A food-grade 10 or 20-litre plastic bucket; two 5-litre demijohns or food-grade 5-litre plastic flagons with fitted air locks; siphon tube; screw cap wine bottles; pure water (no chlorine); sugar; acids (including pectolase to break down pectin in fruit to release colour, flavour and improve yield); tannin and wine yeast.

“Good-quality fruit, pure water and cleanliness are the most important things when making wine,” Colin says. “The rest of it is just chemistry.”

The red skin of the Maclear apple ‘bleeds’ into the white flesh. If the apples are refrigerated immediately after picking they make crisper and sweeter eating. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The 0.86ha property, which includes a firewood block, has been planted with modern and heritage varieties of apples, pears, plums, peaches, apricots, berries, feijoas, passionfruit, rhubarb, elder  and grapes, as well as nuts and citrus. Colin also uses vegetables for wine, but says these need longer to mellow, with beetroot, “an earthy red”, needing about 8 years before it’s drinkable!

Billington and Black Doris plums have been struggling against the nearby gums – destined for harvest – but in the kitchen garden are damsons and Louisa, “the queen of plums”.

Hawera plums produce a good-coloured red wine. The variety’s name comes from where the tree was discovered, on a roadside in Taranaki. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A fine crop of pears last year encouraged Colin and Steve to use their cider press to make perry for the first time, a pear drink somewhere between white wine and cider.  Among their trees are Starkrimson, Conference and Bert’s William Bon Chretian, a selection of the more famous variety named for Bert Davies, who planted an orchard at Wellsford in 1917 using scion wood his brothers had brought home from Italy. “It’s guaranteed to bear well,” Colin says, “and it eats and bottles beautifully.”

Bert’s William Bon Chretian. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The couple pick apples for six months – from Maclear, ripe by the end of December, to Tydeman’s Late Orange which has its final pick in June.

In 2015 the trees yielded 33 litres of juice, half kept as juice and the rest turned into cider. Colin and Steve, who has recently completed a permaculture course, have now also planted cider varieties – Yarlington Mill, Kingston Black, Bisquet, and Sidero – with a view to producing about 60 litres of juice a year. “The cider apples are quite sharp,” Colin says, “so blending them with something like Priscilla, which is sweet, will make a nice juice.” Apples are frozen then defrosted before pressing to make it easier to extract the juice, which is pasteurised for keeping.

Seibel grapes have proved the best in Whakamarama’s high-rainfall, high-humidity climate. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Their grapes have Colin and Steve scratching their heads – some do well and some don’t. Pinot Meunier, one of three varieties used to make Champagne, has adapted to Whakamarama’s fertile soil and hot, humid, sometimes wet, summers, while Tintara, supposedly a variety suited to the Western Bay of Plenty, is only average. “The best one up here would be Siebel, a French-American cross, but in reality we’re too wet for grapes,” Colin says.

This article was originally published in NZ Gardener and appears here with permission.

Something old, something new

Another snippet from my visit to Wellington Botanic Gardens was meeting the lovely rose Madam President.

Madam President rose, the full-bloom has the look of a camellia. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Bred by Sam McGredy and released in 1975, it is as popular today as it was then, according to the Rose Society of South Australia website (read the entry here). Sam had migrated to New Zealand from Northern Ireland in 1972 and was asked to “do” a rose to mark the golden jubilee of the Country Women’s Institute (CWI – now known as WI). The CWI picked the name and Sam’s New Zealand agent Phil Gardner chose the rose.

The colour and shape of the rose really caught my eye. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Georgina Campbell is establishing a collection of McGredy roses in her Cheops Garden near Hastings. Read more here.

Hayden Foulds of the NZ Rose Society has been in touch with a reminder that May, June and July are optimum months to plant new roses. One of his picks from the new releases this winter is Magnifi-scent, a fragrant hybrid tea.

“Not red, but not pink either,” Hayden says. “A great colour to mix with other roses and garden plants. Blooms usually come one to a stem and with a quick repeat, the plant is never without flowers. A bushy, medium-growing plant with glossy disease tolerant foliage.”

Magnifi-scent. Photo: Amore Roses

Hailing from Vancouver, Magnifi-scent is from one of Canada’s leading rose breeders, Brad Jalbert, who says his philosophy is simple: “I listen to my heart, and my rose friends, and I try to breed roses that people will enjoy and can grow easily.”

Magnifi-scent is available in New Zealand through Amore Roses, near Hamilton.

Plant of the moment: Kiwifruit

With the kiwifruit picking and packing season in full swing, I thought I’d feature kiwifruit – this particular one is Actinidia deliciosa ‘Bruno’ and the plants are some 40 years old. I found them growing in a backyard in Brookfield, Tauranga, where the owner had trained a male plant across the bottom of purpose-built pergola and a female plant across the top.

The 2 Bruno kiwifruit plants. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Although you may not have heard of Bruno – Hayward is the dominant green variety – the New Zealand kiwifruit industry uses Bruno widely as a rootstock for both green and gold fruit.

The variety is named for Bruno Just of Palmerston North (1848-1945), one of the nurserymen in New Zealand who recognised the potential of kiwifruit.

From Plant Breeding in New Zealand by GS Wratt and HC Smith (Butterworth-Heineman, 2015): Bruno Just raised larger numbers of seedlings and made selections which he propagated and sold as grafted plants – the cultivar known as Bruno was selected from a group of 30 plants.

The authors say Mr Just sold plants in many parts of the country, including Te Puke (now known as the kiwifruit capital of the world), and it was mainly due to him that kiwifruit became better known.

Bruno is a more reliable cropper than Hayward (which needs management to do well every year) but has elongated fruit that apparently don’t have the keeping qualities of Hayward. Although Bruno was among the first kiwifruit exported, by the 1970s the variety was no longer considered worth growing as a crop.

Flowers on the female vine. Photo: Sandra Simpson

However, in Kiwifruit: The Genus Actinidia (Academic Press, 2016), author Hongwen Huang says: ‘Bruno’ was introduced into China in 1980, and since the fruit have a reasonable storage life and the vines performed well under tough conditions in Zhejiang, it has gradually become one of the widely grown kiwifruit cultivars in China.  

Originally known to New Zealanders as Chinese gooseberries, A. deliciosa came to New Zealand in 1904, thanks to Miss Isabel Fraser, headmistress of Wanganui Girls’ College, who been to visit her missionary sister in China and brought some seeds home with her. She gave some to Alexander Allison who grew the vines on his farm near Wanganui – most of the fruit on these early plants were small and very hairy – and who passed plants on to Bruno Just.

In 1937 Te Puke dairy farmer Jim McLoughlin bought some plants from Bruno Just – and 20 years later, when the vines came into production, he became one of the first exporters of the fruit. Read more about the kiwifruit industry in and around Te Puke in this 2005 NZ Geographic article.

The Hayward variety is named for Hayward Wright, another pioneer in kiwifruit. In a biography of this pioneering plantsman, Ann Chapman writes: … it was in the 1930s that Hayward Wright, an exceptional horticulturist, researcher and an opportunist, saw the potential in this new plant. He pollinated and produced a fruit which was large, flavoursome with exceptional keeping properties. Enter the Hayward strain of kiwifruit, the cultivar which was to become the foundation of our modern industry.

The name Chinese gooseberry was abandoned in 1959 when it was felt that importers didn’t associate the fruit with New Zealand. After trying ‘melonettes’, Auckland fruit-packing company Turner & Growers came up with ‘kiwifruit’.

In 2015/16 Zespri, New Zealand’s single-desk exporter, sold 131 million trays of  kiwifruit to 53 countries.

The Garden Party

Hamilton Gardens recently hosted a Katherine Mansfield Garden Party as part of its Arts Festival and as a way of promoting (and fundraising) for the forthcoming Katherine Mansfield Garden.

The new garden will include elements from Mansfield’s 1921 short story The Garden Party and a recreation of the facade of her childhood home in Tinakori Road, Wellington (she was born Kathleen Beauchamp) – karaka trees, beds of white roses, a lily pond, tennis court and a marquee. I have seen a figure of  $800,000 mentioned in terms of creating this garden. The new Fantasy Collection gardens – Picturesque, Concept, Surrealist and Mansfield – have rolling openings with the Tudor Garden debuting in January 2015.

Waikato Horticultural Society’s meeting on May 25 features an illustrated talk by Bernard Breen about the plants of Katherine Mansfield’s era. He will also talk about the new garden. Visitors are welcome at these meetings for a small charge.

This 2011 article reveals a little about the garden at Katherine Mansfield’s Birthplace in Wellington where the house and garden are open to visit (entry fee).

Although the garden and party are referred to in glorious language in the Mansfield story, the tale has a darker element too – the death of a workman who lives in a cottage near the large Sheridan home.

Here are a couple of photos from the garden party in Hamilton and a passage from the story. Thanks to the Katherine Mansfield Society, the full text of The Garden Party, is available online. Read it here.


Soon after that people began coming in streams. The band struck up; the hired waiters ran from the house to the marquee. Wherever you looked there were couples strolling, bending to the flowers, greeting, moving on over the lawn. They were like bright birds that had alighted in the Sheridans’ garden for this one afternoon on their way to – where? Ah, what happiness it is to be with people who all are happy, to press hands, press cheeks, smile into eyes.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

“Darling Laura, how well you look!”

“What a becoming hat, child!”

“Laura, you look quite Spanish. I’ve never seen you look so striking.”

And Laura, glowing, answered softly, “Have you had tea? Won’t you have an ice? The passion-fruit ices really are rather special.” She ran to her father and begged him. “Daddy darling, can’t the band have something to drink?”

And the perfect afternoon slowly ripened, slowly faded, slowly its petals closed.

“Never a more delightful garden-party …” “The greatest success …” “Quite the most …”

Even the Bicycle Patrol popped in. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Farewell Heather Young

It’s with great sadness that I farewell one of the Western Bay’s champion gardeners – and a great friend.

Heather Young, who for the past few years had been living in suburban Katikati, got to grips with gardening after husband Francis took up a post at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana in the late 1960s. During the Kiwi couple’s stay, Heather gained a bachelor’s degree in ornamental horticulture and a master’s in extension education. After teaching in the university’s plant biology department for 7 years, Heather began teaching ‘master gardeners’ botany and composting.

Although there was only a very short growing season in Illinois, Heather remembered the “jungle-like” growth when it did happen.

When Francis retired in 2000, the couple moved to their harbourside property south of Katikati and began developing the boggy paddock into a garden that, when they sold it, featured five ponds and several dry stream beds (wet in winter), all feeding into the main drain beside the harbour.

“We raised some beds with truck loads of horse manure but anywhere there was a wet patch we made a pond,” Heather told me in 2008. “It’s no use fighting it.”

Heather Young. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The couple ran the garden on sustainable lines but Heather noted that plenty around the garden – which featured many artworks and a palisade-type fence around an extensive vege garden – was there purely for pleasure. They enjoyed planting unusual trees and shrubs, particularly those from the US.

Heather and Francis opened Matangirau for several Tauranga Garden and Artfests, and Heather was also instrumental, while president of the Katikati Herb Society, in opening the (now-gone, sadly) society’s potager at Aongatete, designed to be a teaching place for those interested in herbs.

Francis and Heather both volunteered at Te Puna Quarry Park for a number of years before stepping away to pursue other interests.

This is only a once-over-lightly of a busy life that included preserving, amateur theatre and generally having fun. Heather was unflappable, always smiling, a wealth of knowledge and will be much missed. Kia kaha Francis and family.

Te Puke Orchid Show

Just back from the first day of the BOP Orchid Society Show in Te Puke – beautiful flowers and plenty of plants for sale. It was great to bump into people I know from Rotorua, Tauranga and Katikati, all enjoying the beautiful blooms.

The Grand champion and Reserve champion plant will be named tomorrow morning but in the meantime, here are a few photos of the plants on display. As well as a display by the BOP Orchid Society, there are also stands from the Tauranga Orchid Society, the Whangarei Orchid Society, Leroy Orchids (Auckland) and Carl Christensen (Napier).

The show is in the War Memorial Hall in Te Puke’s main street and is open from 10am to 4pm with a $3 entry charge (under 12 free).

Ascocenda Nong Nutch x Betty May Steel. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Dendrobium Lori’s Star. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Cattleya Brownlee ‘Riga’ x Chocolate Drop ‘Waki’. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The flowers of Stanhopea wardii var citrine are strongly scented and appear through the bottom of the plant basket. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Afternoon sun lights up a stem of Oncidioda Charlesworthii. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Paphiopedilum Gary Romagna ‘Palm Beach’ grown by Brian Enticott of Tauranga was Grand champion of the show. Photo: Sandra Simpson


A selection of autumn-flowering bulbs

Don’t know about you, but when I think of bulbs I think of spring – yet there are plenty of bulbs that flower at other times of the year too. And although the title of this post says ‘autumn’, in mid- to late March we’ve experienced hot, humid days and I’d have called it late summer, despite what the calendar says.

Wandering through a lovely garden in Morrinsville I came across a flowering clump of Colchicum speciosum. Commonly called autumn crocus, “they are among the few autumn-flowering bulbs that are sufficiently vigorous to thrive in normal garden situations”, according to Jack Hobbs and Terry Hatch in Bulbs for NZ Gardeners (Godwit, 1994), who go on to add that C. speciosum is “delightfully fragrant”.

Colchicum speciosum. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The bulbs are native to northern Turkey, northern Iran and the Caucasus region and are named after Colchis, an area on the Black Sea in Georgia. They are related to crocus but not closely – one way to tell them apart, besides the autumn flowering, is that crocuses have three stamens and Colchicums six.

The Telegraph’s garden archive says Colchicums need moisture-retentive, fertile soil to flower well and are best grown in a sheltered spot that enjoys afternoon sun (which encourages a good succession of flowers). Plant  7.5cm to 10cm deep.

Enrich poorer soils by adding good, friable compost. However, if your soil tends to heavy, improve drainage by adding coarse grit. Top dress with well-rotted manure or garden compost during dormancy and use a foliar feed, such as seaweed extract, in spring. Don’t cut off unsightly leaves; they need to die down naturally to replenish the corm.

The trick for good flowering, as with many of these ‘naked’ blooms (they flower before foliage appears), is to leave the bulbs undisturbed, letting them naturalise and clump up – so if you can’t stand the sight of the dying foliage it might be best to plant them behind something low-growing to disguise the worst of it.

In case you think the advice to leave these bulbs undisturbed is a bit dramatic, learn from my mistake. About 4 years ago I divided a large group of white Amaryllis belladonna … and am still waiting for them to come back into flower!

A. belladonna is the true ‘naked lady’ and hails from the Cape Province of South Africa. These bulbs love good drainage and being sun-baked through the summer (plant with the necks above ground).

A mass flowering of Amaryllis belladonna in Wellington’s historic Bolton Street Cemetery. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The name Amaryllis is derived from the Greek ‘to sparkle’, while the Latin belladonna means ‘beautiful lady’. A pretty name for a flower that is particularly striking en masse.

Native to South America, Zephyranthes candida (rain lily) flowers in late summer after rain (or watering) with several flushes often occurring until late autumn. This is another crocus-type flower, although a much smaller plant than Colchicum speciosum at about 30cm high. Everything I read about Z. candida, which flowers with its erect, grassy foliage in place, says it ‘multiplies rapidly’ (so consider yourself warned).

Rain sparks Zephyranthes candida into flower. This photo was taken in Eden Garden, Auckland, where the bulbs were planted under big trees. Photo: Sandra Simpson