New gardens in the making

The rest of us may have taken the long, wet winter off from tending our plots but at Hamilton Gardens it was not only business as usual in the public-access areas but also behind the scenes.

On a visit to speak to the Friends of Hamilton Gardens AGM in mid-September I was given a brief peek at some of the yet-to-be-unveiled gardens by the facility’s director Dr Peter Sergel and accompanied by Judy Holdsworth, a Friends committee member.

Meeting in the refurbished Visitor Centre, the first thing to note was the new timelines painted on the walls – one recounts the history of the land the gardens occupy, while the other tells the story of gardening through the ages and as depicted in Hamilton Gardens.

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Since my visit a hole has been cut in the floor below the photo of the dump so visitors may see the layer of refuse beneath their feet. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The earliest re-created garden at present is the Italian Renaissance (dating from about 1500), part of the Paradise Collection, but there are four proposed gardens which takes the timeline back even further – Byzantium Forecourt, Mediaeval Garden, Roman Portico and Ancient Egyptian Garden.

Out in the gardens there is a glimpse of one of the new Fantasy Gardens with tentacle-like arms (that will move) rising over a wall. Peter leads us to a door I’ve always wondered about, unlocks it and takes us into what will be the Surrealist Garden. It’s an Alice moment as suddenly everything is about five times normal size!

Judy Holdsworth, a Friends member, stands in front of the Surrealist door. When the garden opens it’s hoped to show movies on it. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The giant figures, known as the Trons, range in height from 5 to 8m and will be covered in ivy which is busy climbing the base towards the arms. This garden is due to open in January 2019, but it rather depends on how quickly that ivy moves.

The Trons will soon be covered in ivy. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A new courtyard (which I wasn’t allowed to photograph, but trust me, you’ll love the steampunk installation when it opens on January 31) will offer access to the new gardens as they open – Surrealist, Concept (about land-use in New Zealand, due to open on January 31) and Katherine Mansfield.

“Every garden should be a surprise,” Peter says, “hence all the doors, courtyards and hedges. Visitors shouldn’t be able to see what’s coming next.”

The Concept Garden Peter describes as depicting something “not necessarily beautiful or useful but still with a message to it, a message which must be found by the viewer”. This garden will refer to the landscape in which it sits and uses an old whakatauki (proverb) as inspiration: He peke tangata, apa he peke titoki (the human family lives on while the branch of a titoki falls and decays).

The Mansfield Garden, due to open in October 2018, uses descriptions from her short story The Garden Party and comes complete with a colonial home (Judy’s making lace curtains for the windows), a concrete upright piano, tennis court, and a marquee full of sculptural food, as well as extensive plantings. Peter notes that this garden, taking 1907 as its year, has attracted more sponsors than any other in Hamilton Gardens’ history. Thanks to the Friends and the Waikato Veteran and Vintage Car Club, there will also be a specially built replica 1908 Ford Model T parked in the driveway.

The Katherine Mansfield Garden is coming together. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Eventually, there will be nine Fantasy Gardens, all related to an artform. Already open are Tudor (Celtic art) and Chinoiserie while still to come are the Surrealist, Concept, Katherine Mansfield. Further in the future are Mediaeval (poetry), Augmented Reality, Baroque and Picturesque (based on the Mozart opera The Magic Flute).

It will have taken three years – and some $7.2 million – to bring the projects I saw to fruition. Major funding for the current projects comes from Hamilton City Council, the Lotteries Commission and sponsors, but a number of the crowd-pleasing details in the Gardens have been donated by the Friends, including a new scarecrow sculpture in the Kitchen Garden. Friends also work in the Visitor Centre, grow and sell plants to raise funds and the group has been working with Waikato University students on campaigns to raise awareness of Friends and increase membership.

The Friends fundraise for all kinds of things – including this Strawman statue by Lloyd Le Blanc of England which was installed in 2016. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Hamilton Gardens draws many visitors – 4000 a day over summer – and the council continues to raise the vexed question of an entry fee on a regular basis. At present entry is free so if you haven’t been before, put it on your must-do list for this summer.


Flowers fit for a Queen

November 20 marks the 70th wedding anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip – and to mark the occasion we’re looking at the 1947 wedding bouquet of the then Princess Elizabeth.

Martin Longman, a London florist, submitted five designs to Buckingham Palace. The bouquet chosen was all white, was described as “a modern type”, made up of three kinds of British-grown orchids – Cattleya, Odontoglossum and Cypripedium – and was a gift to the bride from the Worshipful Company of Gardeners.

Among the orchids was a sprig of myrtle from a bush at Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s house on the Isle of Wight. The bush had been grown from a piece of myrtle given to Queen Victoria by her husband’s grandmother. A sprig was used in the wedding bouquet of Princess Victoria, Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, thus beginning a tradition that is still followed.

In 2007 Martin Longman’s son David recalled that his father regarded the wedding bouquet as the pinnacle of his career, despite also making the Coronation bouquet and  wedding bouquets for Princess Margaret and the Duchess of Kent.

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Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary on November 20, 2017 – setting a new record for British royals.

Martin made the bouquet overnight in his shop in Ludgate Hill and delivered it personally to Elizabeth’s apartment at Buckingham Palace on the morning of November 20, 1947. (Bouquets for the eight bridesmaids were made by Moyses Stevens florists using white orchids, lily of the valley, gardenias, white bouvardia, white roses and white nerine. They also wore wreaths in their hair made by Jac Ltd of London using miniature white sheaves, lilies and London Pride, modelled in white satin and silver lame.)

In stories about the wedding there has always been an acknowledged hiccup when Princess Elizabeth’s wedding bouquet was misplaced before the Westminster Abbey ceremony – a footman had put it in a cold cupboard and forgotten it before, fortunately, remembering!

Besides that, a frantic dash had to be made for the bride’s pearls which had been left elsewhere and her tiara snapped and needed urgent repairs just before the ceremony so it was an eventful day … and it wasn’t over yet.

Princess Elizabeth and Phillip Mountbatten are photographed leaving the church with the bouquet and in official bride-and-groom photos at Buckingham Palace. However, the bride doesn’t hold a bouquet in the wedding group shots – as apparently it had been lost again, this time for good. And there’s a possibility the portrait photos showing her with the bouquet were taken a week later!

In a 2007 story David said that a week after the wedding his father was asked to make an identical bouquet so the bride and groom could be rephotographed as they passed through London after the first part of their honeymoon. No way of knowing if this is what happened, but it’s a curious story – and apparently since the 1947 wedding Buckingham Palace has always ordered two identical bridal bouquets, which adds some credence.

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The silk replica bouquet made for the 2007 exhibition at Buckingham Palace.

For a display at Buckingham Palace to mark the couple’s 60th wedding anniversary, and just as Longman’s was closing its doors for the last time, the mannequin wearing the wedding dress held a silk bouquet made by Martin Longman’s granddaughter Lottie.

According to Terry Simmons who runs the Flowers for Royal Weddings blog , the 1947 bouquet was made by wiring and taping each individual blossom, and sometimes each leaf, separately so the flowers could be manipulated into the desired placement.  ‘This is a very daunting task considering how many individual blooms may be contained in a royal bouquet … [and] it does present some challenges. For instance, since each flower is cut from its stem before wiring/taping, water supply is cut off to the flower, starting the inevitable “death of the flower” process.  Therefore, these bouquets have to be made as “last minute” as possible to ensure they will last through the wedding day schedule.’

To read more about the wedding dress, which was heavily embroidered, go here.

Who supplied the orchids for this late autumn/early winter wedding? I haven’t been able to find a definitive answer, but have come across some likely candidates.

McBean’s, established in 1879 and claiming the title of Britain’s oldest orchid nursery, says on its website that it ‘has served the British Royal family with orchids for their homes and weddings for many years’.

Another intriguing reference was to American businessman Clinton McDade. Included in the opening paragraph of a 2012 magazine article about the donation of McDade’s orchid collection, some 5,000 plants, to the College of the Ozarks is: ‘McDade was a successful businessman … [who] became an orchid grower, and his collection grew into two orchid houses, one in England. A selection of his orchids in England were used for the wedding of Queen Elizabeth II.’

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Cattleya Bow Bells. Image: Chadwick’s Orchids

Mr McDade brought the white-flowered Cattleya Bow Bells to the attention of the American Orchid Society in 1945 – he had purchased a number of unflowered seedlings from Black & Flory nursery in Slough, England and when they began to flower the AOS went mad, scattering awards like confetti. (Black & Flory was formed when the famed Veitch nursery sold its orchid section, and operated until the 1960s.)

Why does C. Bow Bells get a mention? Because it is an autumn/winter-flowering plant and it just might have been the white Cattleya used in the royal wedding bouquet.

Plants out of Place

Treated myself to a new book recently – The Wondrous World of Weeds by Pat Collins, a qualified medical herbalist who teaches widely in Australia. The book was published this year by New Holland.

weed bookWhy did I buy it? Well, I have plenty of great plant and garden reference books on my shelf but the cover made me realise I have few books that deal with wild plants and not one that specifically addresses ‘weeds’ – and most of the plants featured are also to be found in New Zealand so it will be a help with identification.

Thanks to Julia Sich and her love of edible weeds I’ve already had my mind opened a little to the fact that weed ≠ useless. They are, as Pat says “a plant out of place” and for millennia traditional societies have known all about the nutritional and medicinal values of wild plants.

I guess we began losing the knowledge about the same time that farming became mechanised and then large-scale, and manufacturing (and its workforce) moved from ‘cottage industry’ to factories in urban centres. Weeds (or plants out of place) can ruin a valuable crop and there probably weren’t many salad greens to be found growing in the cobbles of Manchester.

I’ve just come in from pulling handfuls of newly sprouted Euphorbia peplus (milkweed) from the garden and am delighted to read in Weeds that the milky latex sap the stem exudes is “renowned for its use on suspect sunspots”. This 2011 article details the findings (good) of an Australian dermatological study.

My perennial patch of onion weed (Allium triquetrum) is shooting forth again too – no matter how much I extract bulbs or snap off flower heads I can’t seem to be rid of it. Pat Collins advises me eating the flowers and stems raw in salads and the bulb once the plant has died down. A sweet revenge if ever there was one! Listen to a 2009 RNZ broadcast about foraging for onion weed (12:34) or read this 2015 UK Permaculture article.

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Prickly pear flowers in Wellington Botanic Gardens. Each will turn into a spine-coated fruit. Photo: Sandra Simpson

One weed we thankfully don’t have in New Zealand is prickly pear (Opuntia stricta) but it’s widespread in other parts of the world, including Australia where it was introduced in the 19th century for use as a hedge before “spreading at an alarming rate”. A Prickly Pear Board was tasked with ridding the country’s grazing land of this prickly menace, eventually bringing it to manageable levels with biological controls.

“In Mexico and other countries, it is used for diabetes,” Pat Collins writes. “I have been experimenting with this on diabetics with amazing results. You soak clean pads [sections of the cactus-like plant], scour with a fork, cover in water and bicarbonate of soda and drink the next day. However, the mixture is unpleasant, slimy and I had trouble getting people to take it.”

But another one I have plenty of – and coming through the fences – is Tradescantia fluminensis (wandering Jew, wandering willie). Guess what? The leaves are edible! Pat Collins uses thick mats of the stuff as a living mulch around fruit trees and says “it cuts down watering by 30%” and that the plant itself is more than 90% water.

“Easy to pull up but hard to eradicate as if you leave a small piece of root it will regrow.” And don’t I know it.

Recommended as a fun, informative read.

2017 Pacific Rosebowl Winners

You know what they say about making plans? Something along the lines of Robbie Burns’ gang aft agley … Thrilled to have been invited to judge at yesterday’s Pacific Rosebowl Festival in Hamilton but the Norovirus that made itself known on Friday night put paid to that. Finally back on my feet today, although still tired (The Vege Grower and The Lawn Mower both went down with it last night, despite our best efforts to contain it to me and Visiting Daughter).

So it was lovely to have a message from Emma Reynolds, the festival director, with a list of the beautiful roses that took out this year’s prizes.

New Zealand Rose of the Year; Children’s Choice Award: Best Wishes (yellow), bred by Colin Dickson (Northern Ireland). Best New Zealand-Raised Rose: Little Miss Perfect (coral), bred by Rob Somerfield (Te Puna, Tauranga). Best Hybrid Tea Rose; Most Fragrant Rose (tie): St Margaret’s Gold (pink/yellow), bred by Tantau (Germany). Most Fragrant Rose (tie): Magnifi-scent (red), bred by Brad Jalbert (Canada). Best Climbing Rose: All My Love (pink), bred by Doug Grant (Pukekohe, Auckland). Best Floribunda Rose: Scott Base (white), bred by Rob Somerfield (Te Puna). Best Shrub Rose: Strawberry Hill (pink), bred by David Austin (England).

How nice to see a yellow rose as the winner!

Best Wishes is available to order from Matthews Nurseries (Whanganui) and is described as “a stunning display of deep rich yellow flowers on a plant that is super healthy and quick to repeat. Upright growth to 1.4m.”


St Margaret’s Gold. Image: Tasman Nurseries

Another rose in yellow tones took out the Best Hybrid Tea and tied for the Most Fragrant award – St Margaret’s Gold is a sport of Hayley Westenra. The rose is available to order through Tasman Nurseries (Nelson).

Our native plants: Whau

Entelea arborescens is a large shrub or small tree, the only one in its genus, and is part of the mallow family, which includes hibiscus, lacebarks and ribbon wood. The trunks of some members have tough fibres as a layer under the bark and these fibres have been used in many countries to make ropes, hats, mats and fishing nets, with the most important fibre in this family being the cotton plant.

Whau has large, soft leaves and is found where it doesn’t get browsed, which in my case meant the base track of Mauao (Mt Maunganui), although I’d seen the spiky, brown seedpods before and wondered what the plant might be. This particular day my attention was caught by the pretty, white flowers on a plant.

The flowers of whau have attractive crinkled petals and resemble a single rose. Photo: Sandra Simpson, taken on Mauao base track

Years ago I’d been told by someone who made wooden jewellery that not only was whau a very light wood, it also had an interesting green tinge to it. In fact, the wood is so light it was used by Maori as fishing floats, while long fibres from the trunk were used as fishing lines. (I’ve read that, when dry, whau in comparison to cork is no more than half the weight.)

The Meaning of Trees website entry says seasoned trunks were also lashed together with supplejack to construct small rafts for hunting crayfish and the plant was of such value to Māori that in some places it was actively cultivated. The Māori name of Auckland’s dormant volcano Mt Eden is Maungawhau (Mountain of the Whau Tree) so its slopes would likely once have been covered in whau, providing a constant supply of fishing material.

The NZ Plant Conservation Network entry says whau is found on Three Kings Islands, North (including Little and Great Barrier Islands) and South Islands. In the North Island, whau is locally common from Te Paki to about Kawhia and Mahia Peninsula, south of there it is known from a few sites in the eastern Wairarapa, at Paekakariki and Wellington. In the South Island it is confined to the Golden Bay area of northwest Nelson.

“Recent field work gathering samples for a Marsden study into the possible past use of whau by Maori indicates it is much less common in the North Island than it once was. Browsing pressure from cattle, goats and horses, clearance of coastal scrub of housing and the spread of invasive woody shrubs and trees into many northern coastal areas may be threatening some populations.”

The tree’s spiky seedpods, pictured at Zealandia in Wellington. Photo: Sandra Simpson

This pioneer species tree is short-lived, surviving for between 10 and 15 years, although easily grows from seed and cuttings. Laurie Metcalfe in The Cultivation of NZ Trees and Shrubs (Raupo, 2011) says the tree grows rapidly, is frost tender and once established can endure dry spells.

PME Williams is his book Te Rongoa Maori (Raupo, 1996) reports that leaves, heated in water, were made into a poultice for treating wounds and sores.

Coming up from Tesselaar

One fine day and the world’s gone to the garden centre! If one of the big box stores was anything to go by yesterday – carpark packed, people loading up potting mix, plants, pots, stakes, etc – we’ve all been busting to get into the garden.

The Vege Grower and I were surprised to be stopped by a woman who opened with “you two look like serious gardeners” and followed up with a really surprising question – how do I get rid of the barley that’s come up in what was my strawberry patch? She reckons the (well-known brand) barley straw she used as mulch has seeded all through her raised bed! She seemed intent on ‘dabbing’ on a poison so our advice to hand pull it or dig it over probably fell on deaf ears.

We weren’t immune to the bursting out of spring either, coming away with a glazed pot (been promising to repot a wisteria for a year!), a white Cosmos (99c and just the thing to set off some terracotta marigolds I got from another big box store this past week), a supposedly-dwarf Grevillea, Ignite, and another Osteospermum Blue-eyed Beauty to join last year’s plant which has got a bit leggy. And I finally got the zinnia seeds out, bit late I know, but better than never.

At the Tesselaar-hosted lunch in Auckland at the beginning of the month, we were not only treated to delicious food and the Flower Carpet Pink story to celebrate its 25th anniversary, we also got to hear about some new plants that are coming through the trial system, including one from Auckland plantsman and head of the Auckland Botanic Gardens, Jack Hobbs.

He’s crossed a pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa) with the dwarf M. ‘Tahiti’ to create something with felted new growth, a bright flower with deep-red stamens that will bloom at a different time to our native trees. Jack says it looks like it’s going to be sterile.

Volcano Phlox. Photo: Anthony Tesselaar International

As well as two new Flower Carpet roses (which we were sworn to secrecy over), Anthony Tesselaar was also singing the praises of Volcano Phlox, developed from an old species found in Siberia, one of the only phlox species not from North America. The plants are proving to be disease free (no powdery mildew), tolerant of a wide temperature range (they’re being trialled in the northern US, as well as Australia) and are scented. The first plants in the range are already available in the US with more coming through.

Tuxedo is a line of dark-foliage hydrangeas – the images I’ve seen show a deep purple-bronze leaf – that grow 1m x 1m. “We want to create excitement to get people into gardening,” Anthony said. “This has a very distinct colour and will be a sensation.” Tuxedo hydrangeas are about 3 years away for New Zealand.

Something else that’s about 3 years away here – but will undoubtedly be a sensation when it lands – is a rose with the working title All in One. From Noacken Roses in Germany, which produced Flower Carpet, All in One is a compact bush that is disease resistant, has glossy foliage and covers itself in scented flowers.

The combination of disease resistance and perfumed flowers is a major breakthrough in rose breeding as genetically one has generally precluded the other.

Anthony saw field trials of the rose 5 weeks ago in Germany and was delighted. “The buds open like a Hybrid Tea rose, become more full and by the time they’re in full bloom look like a David Austin flower – and you see them concurrently all over the bush.”

He says the bushes are “a bit bigger” than a patio rose and that the flowers easily last 10 days in a vase.

“We’ve always said Flower Carpet are roses without the work, this new rose will be a garden rose without the work.”

Sweet Spot ‘Calypso’. Photo: Anthony Tesselaar International

Finally – and available now – is the Sweet Spot rose, part of The Decorator Rose stable. Single flowers with a colourful ‘eye’, the roses have been developed from work started by the renowned English rose-breeder Jack Harkness and completed by Dutch rose-breeder G Pieter Ilsink of Interplant Nurseries. Here’s a 2014 post I wrote about Helthemia persica, one of the parents used in the breeding of such roses.

I notice that the accompanying information suggests the roses will need to be sprayed to perform at their best.

“Young people aren’t buying plants, they’re buying decoration,” Anthony said. “They could just as easily buy a cushion so we have to give them a good reason to buy a plant.”

He has a theory that women become gardeners a year after the birth of their first child – and, as couples have delayed having their first child, this has meant a loss of some 10 years to the gardening industry (ie, women start gardening at 32 not 22).

Flower Carpet Silver Anniversary

A lunch in Auckland last week put on by Anthony and Sheryl Tesselaar celebrated 25 years since Anthony Tesselaar International of Australia introduced the world to Flower Carpet Pink rose.

From left, Justin Cartmel, Sheryl Tesselaar and Anthony Tesselaar. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The couple, along with production co-ordinator Justin Cartmel, were in New Zealand to meet growers and breeders and to host the lunch to tell the Flower Carpet story and tantalise guests, a mix of media and plantspeople, about some forthcoming releases, including two new Flower Carpet colours due here within 2 to 3 years. I’m sworn to secrecy but as everyone at the table reacted the same way to one of the colours I guarantee you’ll be bowled over too.

Anthony had been working with tulips for 25 years when he was told about a rose so good “that it should be put on a pedestal”. (The family is still involved with tulips and Anthony reckons their annual Tulip Festival in Victoria could be the largest, by visitor numbers, flower event in the southern hemisphere.)

Werner Noack in Germany had been breeding roses since 1957 when, in 1988, he developed what he’d been trying for, a robust garden rose, later called Flower Carpet Pink. His son Reinhard continues to breed Flower Carpet roses and has introduced ‘second-generation’ colours such as Amber, Scarlet and Coral – and developed the two new colours, likely available in New Zealand in 2018 and 2020.

“I was told that this rose of Werner’s was an opportunity that shouldn’t be put in the stream and be allowed to pass by,” Anthony said. Still, he thought long and hard before taking it on but when he did go for it knew it would need a special marketing campaign – after all, it was a rose that wasn’t aimed at rose growers.

“We put it in a pink pot so it was eye-catching,” he said. “You’re selling them when they’re not in flower so it was important to attract attention and in those days everything  was in black or green pots. But we had one buyer for a group of independent garden centres in Australia who hated the pink pot so much he cut his order for 30,000 plants to 6,000.

“Guess what? Those 6,000 plants sold out in a week! We got him another 6,000 and they went just as fast and that was all we had. He later told me changing the order was the biggest mistake of his career.

“It was the biggest plant promotion ever seen in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK and the US, and at the same time we re-introduced the rose to Holland, Germany and France. No one had seen a plant advertised on television before; a lot of garden centre managers didn’t get it.”

Flower Carpet Pink. Photo: Anthony Tesselaar International

Gardeners got it though – a tough rose that covers itself in flowers, doesn’t need spraying, is quick to repeat flower and (but only if you want to prune it at all) can be pruned with hedge clippers. Or, as the slogan had, “roses without the work”.

(Sheryl: “Ask Anthony about the time he cut his tie in half with the hedge clippers when he was doing a demonstration.”)

Flower Carpet Pink has won three prestigious international gold awards, including one in the All-Deutsche Rose Trial (ADR), notable for its rigorous three-year performance test conducted with absolutely no spraying. When first released it was the only rose out of 43 entered to obtain ADR approval. All others failed to qualify.

To date, more than 80 million Flower Carpet roses have been sold internationally and in New Zealand we buy more per capita than anywhere else. Our favourite? Flower Carpet White (the general agreement is that it’s our bright light that makes white more popular).

Flower Carpet White. Photo: Anthony Tesselaar International

The company trials all its plants around the world – including in places with short growing seasons and cold winters and in places with long growing seasons and hot summers – to try and get an accurate a picture as possible about how a plant performs.

Flower Carpet roses do as well in Minnesota as they do in Perth making them a favourite for public landscaping and – 25 years on – still a favourite with home gardeners.