Our neat nikau

Brian Miller’s love affair with nikau palms began as a child when his family travelled from Waikato to the Coromandel Peninsula for holidays. “I don’t know why, but it was the sight of the nikau that always got me excited,” he says.

Brian worked fulltime as a primary teacher for 40 years, as well as having a kiwifruit and avocado orchard, but managed to fit in a nikau nursery too after youngest son Duncan started growing a few while he was in the Scouts and “pestered” Brian to keep them going. “Luckily, they’re a very forgiving plant,” he says.

brian miller - Copy

Brian Miller among his nikau. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Today, 25 years later, all the nikau Brian has grown for his Nikau Grove nursery at Aongatete between Tauranga and Katikati are descended from a palm near his house, which he estimates to be 100 years old.

“I’m guessing it came from the Kaimai Range,” he says of the palm. “All the seed I’ve used has come from that one nikau and I spent years trialling growing from seed. Nikau don’t show a lot of growth until they’re about 7 or 8 and won’t start a trunk until they’re 11 to 15 years old.”


Slender-trunked North Island nikau. Photo: Kahuroa, via Wikimedia

Nikau naturally occur in coastal and lowland forest in the North Island, and as far south as about Greymouth on the West Coast and Banks Peninsula on the east coast. There are separate forms on the Chatham Islands, Great Barrier Island and the Kermadec Islands but although Brian is interested in them all, he doesn’t necessarily love them all.

“The Chatham nikau grow quite fast in the North Island and become bulky – they’re almost grotesque. A nikau as imagined by Peter Jackson. The North Island nikau, on the other hand, is a very graceful and gentle palm, and sits well in the landscape.

“I don’t know why anybody ever planted a phoenix palm when we had these beauties on our doorstep, and don’t get me started on palms from the Middle East and the Mediterranean …”

Brian says there is “almost certainly” genetic variation among nikau within mainland New Zealand, although some differences will be down to growing conditions, such as the ‘spindly’ palms at Maunganui Bluff in Northland. “A pleasant surprise is to find nikau in cooler areas, such as the misty banks of the Whanganui River, where they’ve found microclimates, and they don’t seem to mind Wellington’s wind one bit. It seems if they can be protected from frost when younger they can take most things, including dry, exposed sites.”

nikaubud - Copy

A nikau bud begins to open. Photo: Sandra Simpson

With their delicate root system nikau can be tricky to transplant but Brian offers detailed planting instructions and has few losses. Rather than a central tap root they send out multiple anchor roots with a network of fine feeding roots “evolved to suit a damp, sheltered and shaded bush environment where there’s a lot of decaying wood and leaf litter”.

Brian recommends trying to re-create a bush soil as much as possible for the first 12-18 months to help the trees establish and in his own garden he adds rotted wood to the holes and around the trunk at the surface.

Optimum planting time is from about March to May when the soil is still warm and with a higher chance of rainfall or, second best, September and October.

“The funnel-shape of nikau means as much rain as possible goes down into the trunks so they can’t be over-watered. In that first year they need heaps.”

He says they’re the perfect trees for small gardens, “because you look through them not at them”. Brian suggests planting groups of three or five, combining trees of various ages for a natural look.

IMG_6872 - Copy

Native flies are among the pollinators of nikau. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Nikau Facts:

Rhopalostylis sapida is New Zealand’s only native palm and the world’s southernmost palm.

The Maori name, often translated as ‘without nuts’, is thought to reflect the disappointment of early Polynesian settlers who expected to find coconut palms.

Nikau need a frost-free position that is preferably damp and do best in a subtropical climate.

They are slow-growing, taking about 100 years to reach a maximum height of 10-15m.

They can flower more than once in a season (spring to late autumn) with flowers attractive to birds (including kereru and blackbirds which both spread seeds), bees and native flies.

Read a NZ Geographic article about nikau.

To contact Brian Miller phone 07 552 0822 or email.

nikau3 - Copy

Colourful berries follow the flowers. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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


Chelsea Flower Show 2018

Jane Perrone, writing for The Guardian, provides a list of garden trends to take home – including that euphorbias are the star of any sunny border and gravel is on-trend (for design gardens anyway) as a ground cover.

The Telegraph has provided a run-down of all the medal-winning gardens. Read it here.

Embed from Getty Images
Pearlfisher designer John Warland polishes an aquatic tank in the garden which aims to mimic an underwater scene and highlights the problem of plastic in our oceans (Gold in Space to Grow Gardens).

Embed from Getty Images
The David Harber and Savills Garden (Silver Gilt in Show Gardens).

Embed from Getty Images
The Seedlip Garden (Gold in Space to Grow Gardens) celebrates the pea (Pisum sativum).

Embed from Getty Images
The Welcome to Yorkshire garden (Gold in Show Gardens).

Embed from Getty Images
The Urban Flow garden (Gold in Space to Grow Gardens).

Embed from Getty Images
English designer Chris Beardshaw, who had a spectacular garden at Ellerslie in Christchurch in 2010, pictured in his Morgan Stanley garden for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) – Best in Show.

Embed from Getty Images
A visitor with marble sculptures by Paul Vanstone in the Coombe Sculpture Garden.

Embed from Getty Images
Queen Elizabeth inspects the display of Peter Beales Roses.

Embed from Getty Images
A Chelsea pensioner makes a colourful focal point for a commercial stand.

Embed from Getty Images
Flowering Rebutia cacti.

Embed from Getty Images
Simon Lockyer holds two specimens of Primula auricula in front of his stand. W&S Lockyer Nursery was founded by Simon and his dad Bill, who died in 2016. It holds the national collection for Primula auricula doubles.

Embed from Getty Images
A worker adjusts a floral display.

Chelsea also has a Plant of the Year competition – this year choosing Hydrangea Runaway Bride Snow White, a lace cap that flowers all the way along the stems. Graham Rice has written an interesting piece about how the judging is done and why it’s a flawed system.

Floral tribute to Commonwealth

There was sparkle, there was Markle and there was a beaming Harry. There were hats and horses and trumpets. Did you sit up late and drink champagne and munch on cucumber sandwiches and chocolate eclairs? I did some of that, even though I wasn’t at home but in a hotel room!

I’m sure you have your own opinion of the dress, the hair, the tiara, but I think we’ll probably all agree that Meghan’s veil was stupendous, all 5 metres of it!

Embed from Getty Images
Clare Waight Keller, artistic director at Givenchy and designer of Meghan Markle’s wedding dress, with a sample of the hand-embroidered lace that made up the veil.

According to a press release from Kensington Palace, Ms Markle expressed the wish of having all 53 countries of the Commonwealth with her on her journey through the ceremony with Ms Waight Keller designing a veil that represented the distinctive flora of each Commonwealth country united in one spectacular composition.

“Significant time was spent researching the flora of each Commonwealth country and much care was taken by Ms Waight Keller to ensure that every flower is unique.”

The veil was made from silk tulle with a trim of hand-embroidered flowers in silk threads and organza. Each flower was worked flat, in three dimensions with the embroiderers spending hundreds of hours meticulously sewing – and washing their hands every 30 minutes – to keep the tulle and threads pristine.

In addition to the flora of the Commonwealth, Ms Markle also selected two personal favourites:

Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox), which grows in the grounds of Kensington Palace in front of Nottingham Cottage (where she has been living with Prince Harry), and the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), the state flower from Ms Markle’s place of birth.

Symmetrically placed at the very front of the veil, embroidered crops of wheat symbolised love and charity (and from what I understand are also a motif for fertility!).

New Zealand was represented by the kowhai flower with some others being: African violet (Saintpaulia) from Tanzania; Vanda Miss Joaquim orchid from Singapore; Victoria Regina water lily (Victoria amazonica) from Guyana; Cyclamen cyprium from Cyprus; teuila (Alpinia purpurata) from Samoa; Sepik blue orchid (Dendrobium lasianthera) from Papua New Guinea; bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) from Canada; thistle from Scotland; jasmine (Jasminum officinale) from Pakistan; and the spiral aloe (Aloe polyphylla) from Lesotho. Read the full list here.

Embed from Getty Images
The embroidery can be seen in this photo of the bride entering St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle and, below, as she leaves.

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

Despite the extravagant use of flowers at the entry to St George’s Chapel, as can be seen above, the bride carried only a small posy bouquet.

Embed from Getty Images
The bridal bouquet carried by the Duchess of Sussex at her wedding was then laid on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in the west nave of Westminster Abbey in London. 

The Palace press release notes that Prince Harry handpicked several flowers from the couple’s private garden at Kensington Palace to add to the bouquet designed by florist Philippa Craddock.

The spring blooms include forget-me-nots which were the favourite flower of Diana, Princess of Wales. The bouquet also including scented sweet peas, lily of the valley, astilbe, jasmine and astrantia, and sprigs of myrtle, all bound with a naturally dyed, raw silk ribbon.

The myrtle sprigs are from stems planted at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, by Queen Victoria in 1845, and from a plant grown from the myrtle used in The Queen’s wedding bouquet of 1947.

The tradition of carrying myrtle begun after Queen Victoria was given a nosegay containing myrtle by Prince Albert’s grandmother during a visit to Gotha in Germany.  In the same year, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert bought Osborne House as a family retreat, and a sprig from the posy was planted against the terrace walls, where it continues to thrive today.

The myrtle was first carried by Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, Princess Victoria, when she married in 1858.

Art Nouveau orchids

A few little masterpieces to enjoy from the Art Nouveau period (1884-1914) …

ochid comb walters museum

Orchid hair comb by Rene Lalique. Image: Walters Art Museum

Renowned French glassmaker René Lalique (1860-1945), was also a notable jewellery designer of the late 19th century and his ‘Orchid Comb’ is one of the Walters Art Museum’s greatest treasures. Combining materials in unexpected ways, Lalique developed new techniques and revived old ones, blending historical and cultural references.

The ‘Orchid Comb’ represents the height of Lalique’s jewellery production. His studio rendered the highly naturalistic orchid out of a single piece of ivory; diamonds play a supporting role, picking out the veins along three slim leaves in glowing plique-à-jour enamel. The stem is attached by a gold hinge to a three-pronged horn comb. This is the most flamboyant of all the pieces purchased by museum founder Henry Walters at the St Louis World’s Fair in 1904. Never intended to be worn, the Orchid Comb entered the collection as a masterpiece of technical accomplishment in the field of the decorative arts. The Walters Art Museum is in Baltimore, Maryland in the United States.

But wait, there’s more … the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, Portugal is home to an orchid comb by Lalique that features not one, but three slipper orchids.

lalique hair comb

This comb features three carved orchids, designed by Rene Lalique. Image: Gulbenkian Museum

The orchids are carved from two different materials – facing forward is an ivory Paphiopedilum, which facing left and right are orchids carved from horn. A small drop-shaped topaz is at the centre of the ivory flower. The comb itself is also in horn and connected to the ornaments by a gold hinge.

“The exotic orchid was one of the flowers that symbolised the aesthetic movement of the late 19th century. Art Nouveau jewellers handled the subject with great realism, which is heightened in this case by Lalique’s technical mastery,” the museum’s website says. “He started from the real flower yet managed to imbue it simultaneously with elegance and a powerful erotic charge.”


Some of the orchid brooches designed by Paulding Farnham exhibited at the 1889 Paris World Fair. Image: nasvete.com

Paulding Farnham (1859-1927) is a name that won’t leap to mind when thinking of fabulous jewellery designers but in the late 19th and early 20th centuries he raised the profile of American company Tiffany & Co – and it was all thanks to his botanical designs, especially orchids.

Farhham joined Tiffany’s in about 1879 and worked for them until 1908, becoming chief designer and director of the jewellery division in 1893.

The 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle marked Farnham’s first major display of work, which included his enamelled and jewelled orchids. Each orchid was drawn from life after blooms were sent from places such as Guatemala, the Philippines, Colombia, India, Mexico and Brazil with the individual blooms “coated in copper to preserve [them] for study”, according to Kristin Edrington in her 2012 Master’s thesis and quoting from Jeweled Garden by Suzanne Tennenbaum and Janet Zapata (Vendome Press, 2006).

The 24 Tiffany brooches caused a stir at the Exposition, Edrington says. “The public was stunned and fascinated with the fact that the orchids were so life-like, and the actual species of orchid could be matched with the jeweled orchid. While many French jewelers … had captured the floral form and stylized it, Farnham was able to recreate the flowers’ very essence of realism and life. He took floral jewelry design to an entirely new level of naturalism.”

The company won a silver medal, among other awards, for Farnham’s orchid designs. Seven of the brooches remain in the Tiffany Archive.

Newsy bits

Nineteen institutions, including a large number of botanical gardens, are collaborating in the three-year-long EU Horizon 2020 project, BigPicnic. Scientists, politicians, industry and the public will be brought together to start a conversation about worldwide food security – that sufficient healthy food should always be available to everyone without causing damage to the planet.

Botanic gardens, with help from other partners, will co-create a range of exhibitions and participatory events to generate dialogue and build greater understanding of food security. The collaborative approach aims to give a voice to adults and young people, communicating their views to policy-makers, sharing ideas, encouraging debate on the future of our food and achieving Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI).

Co-ordinated by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), BigPicnic Partners span 12 countries across Europe and one in Uganda. Read more about BigPicnic and ongoing events (from 2018) here.

New Zealand science writer Bob Brockie looks at giant timber bamboo – a plant that flowers only once every 120 years, last blooming in 1845. Once it’s flowered, Phyllostachys bambusoides​, which has edible shoots and tips, dies.

He also mentions a different bamboo in India that when it flowers is known as causing a Bamboo Death Year for local inhabitants. Read more here.

We’ve all seen those beautiful photos of food decorated with real flowers – quite a thing on Instagram apparently. Well, botanist James Wong is over it, especially when the food is decorated with toxic flowers! Read more here.

Can’t make the Chelsea Flower Show in London? Treat yourself to a preview of the May 22-26 event. Cheers!

Happy May Day!

Two great deals around for a short time …

Tauranga’s Garden and Artfest is offering a Mothers’ Day special – buy a 4-day pass before May 13 for only $50 (normally $65). The ticket also includes unlimited entry to Bloom in the Bay which will be at the new Festival Hub at the Historic Village. The festival is from November 15-18. Full details here.

The New Zealand Flower & Garden Show, which debuted in Auckland last year, has opened its earlybird ticket purchase today ($28/$26) – tickets valid for ‘any day’ entry. Purchase before May 18 and go into a draw to win a lunch out. The show is from November 28-December 2. Full details here.

Embed from Getty Images

A young woman offers a bouquet of lily of the valley to a police officer during the traditional May Day demonstration in Toulouse, southern France, on May 1, 2016. 

And we can’t let May 1 go by without noting a lovely tradition in France – it’s a public holiday celebrating the nation’s workers (La Fête du Travail) but is also known as La Fête du Muguet (Lily-of-the-valley Festival).

The floral tradition is supposed to have begun when King Charles IX of France was presented with a posy of lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) on May 1, 1561 as a token of luck and prosperity for the coming year. He liked the idea so much he decided to present the fragrant flowers to the ladies of his court each year on May 1.

There was also an old European tradition of “bals de muguet” or Lily-of-the-Valley dances; once a year, this was a chance for young singles to meet without having their parents’ permission. The girls would dress in white and the boys wear a sprig of muguet as a buttonhole. In about 1900, men started to present the flowers to women to express their affection, although these days they are a more general token of appreciation between close friends and family members.

Families in country areas get up early and go into the woods to pick the flowers.  Individuals and labour organizations are able to sell bouquets of lily-of-the-valley on the street on May 1 without paying tax or complying with retail regulations! Read more about May Day celebrations in France.

Some good growing advice here (northern seasons) from Carol Klein, who notes that like many prolific plants, lily-of-the-valley can be difficult to establish.

lily of the valley

Beloved of spring brides – remember Kate Middleton’s lovely bouquet?

If you live in the Tauranga area and would like to learn French, have a look at the French with Shelley website. She’s a great teacher and will immerse you in French culture too (how do you think I know about La Fête du Muguet?).

Joyeux le premier Mai!

BOP Orchid Show 2018

Congratulations to Barry Curtis (Tauranga) and Bob Parsons (BOP) who respectively won the Grand Champion and Reserve Champion titles at the Bay of Plenty Orchid Society Show. Despite a somewhat difficult growing season – although not for everyone, clearly – there was a nice range of orchids to look at in the Te Puke War Memorial Hall last Friday and Saturday.

bulbophyllum elizabeth ann buckleberry4 - Copy

Grand Champion plant: Bulbophyllum Elizabeth Ann ‘Buckleberry’ grown by Barry Curtis of the Tauranga Orchid Society. Photo: Sandra Simpson

bulbophyllum elizabeth ann buckleberry6 - Copy

A closer look at one of the many dozens of flowers on the plant – and more buds were still forming! Photo: Sandra Simpson

Many people find Elizabeth Ann ‘Buckleberry’ easy to grow but difficult to flower. I didn’t run across Barry at the show to find out what his secret might be!

Onc psychosis papilio2 - Copy

Reserve Champion plant: Psychopsis papilio, grown by Bob Parsons of the Bay of Plenty Orchid Society. This plant, sometimes called the butterfly orchid, had about five blooms. Photo: Sandra Simpson

dendrobium cuthbertsonii - Copy

A basket of Dendrobium cuthbertsonii was a winner for Pat Hutchins, owner of Sunvale Orchids in Gisborne and a member of the Tauranga society. These little orchids grow epiphytically at up to 3000m above sea level in New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago. Photo: Sandra Simpson

mini paph no name - Copy

A delightful mini-Paphiopedilum displayed on the Bay of Plenty society’s stand. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Paph Ruby Leopard x Marie Joyes - Copy

Paph Ruby Leopard x Marie Joyes, grown by Selwyn Hatrick of Rotorua. The pouch appeared almost black, much darker than the camera recorded. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Catt Gila Wilderness 'Nippon Treasure' - Copy

The striking Cattleya Gila Wilderness ‘Nippon Treasure’ belongs to Bob Parsons. He was given the plant by Andy Easton as that orchid grower and breeder made the move from Rotorua to Colombia. The label may also have a bit more name on the end, but it’s become very hard to read. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Rlc Village Chief North 'Green Genius'2 - Copy

Rhyncholaeliocattleya (Rlc)Village Chief North ‘Green Genius’ was shown by Leroy Orchids of Auckland. Do you like the green petals? Photo: Sandra Simpson

Warczewiczella Amazon Beauty - Copy

Warczewiczella Amazon Beauty was shown on the Whangarei Orchid Society stand. As part of the name suggests, the plant is native to the Amazon basin. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Masdevallia herradurae - Copy

Masdevallia herradurae, or the horse-shoe Masdevallia, was shown by Diane Hintz on the BOP stand. Found in Colombia and Ecuador, this orchid grows at elevations of 500 to 2100m on mossy trees. Photo: Sandra Simpson

habenaria rhodocheila - Copy

Habenaria rhodocheila is a southeast Asian orchid that grows in deciduous forests. This plant with the striking orange flowers was shown on the Whangarei stand. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Read more about the care of Harbenaria orchids, which have tubers and so are terrestrial growing. The Pacific Bulb Society website includes a page on these orchids.

Habenaria myriotricha - Copy

The amazing flowers of Habenaria myriotricha, grown by Carl Christensen of Napier. (And thanks to the kind gent who held a black chair in the background while I took the photo.) Photo: Sandra Simpson