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.

Our native plants: Giant umbrella sedge

I’ve been seeing Cyperus ustulatus around wetland areas in Tauranga for a few years, but was never sure if it was a “desirable” native or a self-seeded weed, maybe a member of the papyrus family.

Turns out I wasn’t far wrong! A profile of the plant on the Tiritiri Matangi website reveals that it is a cousin to Egyptian papyrus and also known as coastal cutty grass.

The clumps are used as habitat by lizards and ground-nesting birds. And yes, the leaves are sharp edged so a planting of these is a horticultural “keep out” sign that is well heeded.

Cyperus ustulatus. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Maori call it upoko-tangata and used the leaves as an outer thatching for their whare (dwellings); or, stripped of their sharp edges, for weaving mats and baskets and for kite making. An upoko-tangata kite featured on a set of matariki (Maori new year) stamps in 2010, given the $2.30 value.

Olga Adams in a 1945 article for the Auckland Botanical Society Bulletin noted that in North Auckland districts the pith was boiled with water, strained and bottled and used to ease kidney trouble.

The word upoko means “head” while tangata is “people” so perhaps Cyperus ustulatus got its te reo name from its use as a thatching material.

As a garden plant, this one comes with a warning as this website notes: “Easily grown from fresh seed, and often self sows in gardens. A quite attractive plant now popular in cultivation. However it should be planted with caution, the leaf, margins are very sharp and can cause very deep cuts.”

It prefers damp areas (hence all the wetland planting), full sun and doesn’t mind a touch of frost. It is described as “vigorous” and certainly looks it.

Our native plants: Hibiscus trionum

I came across this little sweetie in an Omokoroa garden several years ago and was surprised to learn it was a “native hibiscus”  as I always imagine hibiscus as large, tropical shrubs, not front-of-the-border temperate zone plants.

Hibiscus trionum. Photo: Sandra Simpson

It’s generally classified as an annual, although in some places may be a two-year plant.

“Although rare in the wild, it naturalises freely from seeds in warm sites throughout the country, even in the southern South Island,” according to Alison Evans in New Zealand in Flower (get a copy from a book fair near you.)

“There is some evidence that Hibiscus trionum may have been introduced to New Zealand by Maori who used the leaves for cleaning hands and may have cultivated it for this purpose and for its attractive flowers.”

Fiona Eadie, in her book 100 Best Native Plants for New Zealand Gardens, reports that there are two very similar types of H. trionum in the country – one native (and which also occurs in Australia) and one that was introduced by man and has naturalised.

The difference, she says, is that the latter has more finely dissected leaves and an almost maroon centre, so I think I’m right is saying that the one pictured here is the true native … or am I? Keep reading.

Flowering is from late spring into autumn and the plant typically forms a small bush about 50cm high. It can tolerate very dry conditions which may even encourage flowering and doesn’t mind coastal winds – but it doesn’t care for very wet positions and frosts. It sets seed readily. Unfortunately, the flowers are no good for picking as they wilt immediately but the seed heads are liked by floral artists.

However, since the two books I’ve referenced were published (1987 and 2008 respectively) there has been a bit of a rethink on the “native” status of H. trionum, something I was alerted to by a recent post of Abbie Jury’s.

Shirley Stuart, curator of the native plants collection at the Dunedin Botanic Garden, has decided to treat H. trionum it as a “non-indigenous fully naturalised native” after doubts about its origins were raised.

The Oratia Native Plant Nursery website says of Hibiscus richardsonii: “Previously known as Hibiscus trionum this yellow-flowered Mercury Islands form is now recognised as the true native species.” Read a full profile of H. richardsonii which is now accorded the name “puarangi”  previously given to H. trionum and which you’ll see is missing that dark centre.

Native or not, H. trionum is a pretty little thing that grows well and should be appreciated on its merits, not where it hails from.

Sunday digest

Mount Maunganui’s harbourfront Norfolk pines are suffering, possibly from a phytophthora, but the cure looks pretty painful, that is, if bark = skin! See a photo and read more here. Added to the “site disturbances” mentioned at the end of the story would be the swanky new boardwalk that’s gone in around the base of the some of the trees.

I’ve always lived in places where people mow their own berms so the whining from central Auckland hasn’t been very impressive and I suspect a lot of New Zealanders have been shaking their heads at the fuss. Some newspaper letter writers, columnists and talking heads on TV have suggested planting the grass verges in food crops. Abbie Jury has some sensible things to say, as always.

Abbie and husband Mark, a renowned plant breeder, have taken the sad step of deciding to close their Tikorangi garden to the public until further notice, feeling the intrusion of the petrochemical industry in their area is just too great.

The lecture programme of the World Federation of Rose Societies (WFRS) Regional Convention – being held in Palmerston North next month – is a good chance to hear international and New Zealand rosarians talk about what they love.

The programme, being organised by Hayden Foulds, comprises (click here for photos and short biographies):

  • WFRS president Steve Jones of the US who will speak on the history of American rose breeding
  • American Rose Society president Jolene Adams on the movement of roses between hemispheres
  • Irish rose breeder David Kenny on amateur rose breeding in the UK and Europe
  • Thomas Proll, from the famous Kordes rose company in Germany, on work to breed disease-resistant roses
  • Kelvin Trimper from Adelaide on maintaining the popularity of the rose
  • Anthony Tesselaar, the man behind the very successful Flower Carpet roses
  • John Ford, the nephew of noted Palmerston North rosarian and breeder Nola Simpson,on her life and work
  • Doug Grant, New Zealand Rose Society vice-president, on the roses of Dr Sam McGredy
  • Heritage rose enthusiast Fiona Hyland of Dunedin will speak on conserving old roses in New Zealand
  • Otaki rosarian and author Ann Chapman will speak about significant rose breeders and rosarians from New Zealand
  • Wanganui rose grower Bob Matthews
  • Panel discussion on “Where Roses are Heading” featuring Rob Somerfield (NZ), Matthias Meilland (France), Richard Walsh (Australia) and Murray Radka (NZ).

Tickets for the lecture programme are on sale until November 18. They are $30 each, including morning and afternoon teas. No door sales will be available. Purchase tickets here. The event will be held at the Palmerston North Convention Centre, Main St West on Monday, November 25, from 8.30am-5pm, and on Tuesday, November 26, from 8.30am to 12.15pm.

Someone else who dislikes variegated plants (yes, like me!) is Dr Tim Entwisle, director and chief executive of Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens.

Ellerslie International Flower Show is moving forward on the calendar, a little – next year’s show will be from February 26 to March 2, a fortnight earlier than usual.

“Even though we’re moving the event less than a fortnight, we’re on the cusp of the seasons and the difference is quite dramatic. It will give designers a wider range of flowers to choose from, while the new date also boosts the already high chance of Christchurch turning on dry, sunny weather,” says Richard Stokes, Christchurch City Council’s marketing and events unit manager.

There will be 16 exhibition gardens – the most in the show’s 21-year history – of a minimum 100 square metres, compared with seven show gardens this year.

Jenny Gillies, an internationally renowned costume and fabric artist, will stage a new “Naughty by Nature” show featuring sumptuous floral artwear.

Tickets go on sale next month.

The Gardening World Cup in Nagasaki, Japan is on again and Kiwi designer Xanthe White has returned to try and emulate her success from last year – Best Design Award and a Gold Medal. Good luck!

Sunday digest

Thomas Woltz, who spoke at the Garden and Landscape Design conference in Auckland in 2009, has won the George Malcom Supreme Award from the New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects (plus two other awards) for his work on Nick’s Head Station (Orongo Station) in Poverty Bay.

Thomas Woltz, pictured in 2009, during a conference break.

Thomas is a partner in Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, an American firm. Read a recent profile of Thomas here.

The project had earlier won a New York American Society of Landscape Architects Honour Award. Read more about the work at Nick’s Head Station here.

I was at the Auckland conference and impressed by everything I heard Thomas say. His designs are extraordinarily thoughtful.

An edible garden around a major sports venue – what a cracker of an idea. The home of the San Francisco Giants (a baseball team, I looked it up) will next northern spring have a new garden around it, full of tomatoes, scallopini, lettuce, silverbeet and bok choy. The story and an idea of the design are here.

Hmm, the Cake-tin, Eden Park, the new Dunedin stadium, Baypark … all ripe for a garden or three.

Ron Finley is genuine agent of change in South Central Los Angeles, one of the city’s poorer areas. He decided to turn his street verge (owned by the council but which he’s responsible for maintaining) into a food garden – and got a warrant for it! He fought City Hall and won. Here is a TED video about his thoughts on why growing food is so important for the impoverished and the use of vacant public land (10mins46sec).

Waiting for the Daughter to do the scary rides at Disneyland last month had an upside – I got to have a close look at some of the gardens. Our first stop was Tomorrowland so she could scratch a 14-year-old itch and ride Space Mountain (she was too short all those years ago).

Outside, I stopped gazing and started looking – lettuces, low hedges of rosemary, Asian greens, chillies and, hey, aren’t those pomegranates? Other fruiting trees in the area included mango, guava, persimmon, date palm, fig, avocado and babaco (star fruit). The olives had been sprayed, so a staffer informed me, so they didn’t fruit, too messy.

Chilli peppers in Tomorrowland, hedged in by rosemary. Photo: Sandra Simpson

In fact, all the gardens in Disneyland and Californialand were amazing – impeccably kept, full of colour and lush. And they do all the work when the park’s closed. Read more about the gardens here (choose an area on the left-hand menu).

Aren’t the magnolias looking magnificent just now? On her blog Abbie Jury tells the story of red magnolias – one that is, she says, a New Zealand story and a Jury family story.

Camellia petal blight

Someone asked me today if the local camellia show was on for two days – it used to be, but the ravages of camellia petal blight (Ciborinia camelliae) convinced the organisers a couple of years ago that a single day was preferable.

“People come to see the best flowers we have,” Western BOP Camellia Society president Caroll Anderton said. “They don’t want to see flowers that have ‘gone off’ and neither do we. The flowers look good for the first day, but not great on the second.”

A society member who used to live on the Kapiti Coast, which had the fungal disease, said that when he moved up this way to retire, he checked whether the airborne blight had reached the Western Bay of Plenty. When he found out it hadn’t, he responsibly left all his camellias behind and started again.

There’s nothing much to be done once you’ve got the the blight that creates brown splotches on camellia petals and shortens the life of the flower, although I’ve heard that some research is going on in New Zealand.

It was first described in Japan in 1919, the United States (1939), New Zealand (in Wellington in 1993) and parts of mainland Europe. It was found in Britain in 1999 and is now present in southern England, including at RHS Garden Wisley. Read more from the RHS here. Apparently Australia does not have it.

The American Camellia Society is downbeat about the problem and besides recommending exclusion (not very practical) offers a couple of other suggestions. Remember that the seasons are reversed. This website offers some organic treatments. There are no fungicides available to treat the problem.

Abbie Jury has some background on the arrival of the blight and its consequences for New Zealand and the Science Behind Your Garden website digs a bit deeper again.

Sunday digest

It’s Sunday, the weather seems to be warming up, the wheelbarrow’s squeaky wheel has been oiled, we’ve been pruning and trimming away the last of the old summer growth, the garden centres are filling up with plants again … and it’s about now that we start planning something “new” for the garden, ignoring the fact we hardly ever have “enough time” to keep what we do have under control.

Sigh, so I’ll read about gardening instead …

Abbie Jury has been thinking about the trend for “food forests”. Read her conclusions here. While here is a short piece on swapping in productive plants to a garden. And here’s a handy set of “modules” from BBC Gardening on how to plan a productive garden (remember it’s the northern hemisphere so swap everything round).

Lia Leendertz at The Guardian wishes for nothing more than a badly made garden path – so she can plant in and around it, although her throwaway line that she wears slippers to bring in the washing was perhaps more interesting! Anyway, her plan sounds like a poor man’s version of Prince Charles’ Thyme Walk at Highgrove – here’s a photo; the caption witters on about the organic garden but we’re looking at the Thyme Walk.

And while we’re over at National Geographic, here’s an article about an ancient, and giant, sequoia, the President – the second-largest tree on the planet. I read the original article in a battered magazine while waiting at the barber’s this week and was blown away by the photos.

Judy Horton is a Los Angeles garden designer who likes to stand inside a house and look out before planting anything. Read more about her approach here.

And don’t forget there are some great local events coming up, I know you’ll kick yourself if you miss them:

August 3:
Western BOP Camellia Society Show: 9.30am-4pm, Arts & Crafts Centre, Elizabeth St West, Tauranga (near the Takitimu Expressway). Besides the cut blooms on display, the show also features plant sales, many of the camellias unavailable elsewhere. Novice entrants welcome and you don’t have to know the names of your flowers to enter. Staging is on the Friday. For more information contact Janette, phone 544 5279.

Winter Warming Curries & Spices: 10am-3pm, Katikati Resource Centre, $5 (includes lunch). The annual Katikati Herb Society Midwinter Seminar includes a hands-on vegetarian curry workshop courtesy of Anu from Spice Traders. For more information phone Jenny Ager-Pratt, 552-0697.

August 7:
Te Awamutu Floral Art Club 45th Birthday, from noon, Te Awamutu Bible Chapel, Chapel Drive. The event includes a demonstration by Francine Thomas from 1pm. Tickets $15.

August 31:
Te Awamutu Daffodil Show, St Pat’s Hall, Alexandra St, noon-4pm.

Friday digest

For your weekend reading pleasure …

Local: Food Foragers Initiative is a new project in Katikati, based at Te Runanga O Ngai Tamawhariua (22-24 Waterford Rd, just off the main road) that stems from frustration at seeing so much food go to waste – rotting in gardens, orchards and at businesses. If you have something to donate to the group  phone Maria 549 1270, Elizabeth 027 768 8987 or Karen 549 0760.  Alternatively, if you know of someone who is in need of additional fresh food, head along to the Runanga and see what is available.

National: Loved this column by Abbie Jury on why lawns are bad for the environment. I’ve been muttering about lawns for years after hearing Trish Waugh on the subject of sustainability, but people don’t seem to get it. Have a lawn by all means, but at least know what it’s costing the environment.

Global: The World Landscape Art Exposition alongside Longqi Bay in Jinzhou, China  opened this month with two New Zealand companies involved in an ambitious project that runs until October and expects to attract 10 million visitors! (Surely, a case for an exclamation mark.) The exhibition covers 7 square kilometres and each design area runs about 3000sqm!

Prorata Landscape Architecture of Palmerston North has created the Aotearoa Park and Bespoke Landscape Architects of Howick, Auckland, the Waka Wetland

Read more about the expo here.

Listening: National Radio’s Katherine Ryan this week interviewed John Bunker, a nurseryman from Maine and the founder of Fedco Seeds Trees. John is trying to save heirloom apple varieties and over the last 30 years, estimates he’s rescued some 100 varieties from oblivion. He also talks about the old apples being often not good eating apples but perfect for cooking, preserving and making cider – and how modern consumers don’t “get” that. (The broadcast is 28 minutes, 12 seconds.)

Sunday digest

Powdery mildew is annual foe and for gardeners keen not to use chemical sprays there are some ideas for effective alternatives in this RNZIH article.

If you think it all sounds a bit airy-fairy, this article from the Royal Society of New Zealand looks at the commercial use of a milk spray.

The bush fires in Australia are a terrible thing in human terms … but at the botanical level they can be a wondrous thing, as this article about a native orchid shows. Endangered eastern spider orchids (Caladenia orientalis) began to sprout and bloom after the 2009 fires in Victoria – as a direct consequence of the flames.

Why do we garden? English writer Francine Raymond offers a few thoughts. One of them – healing – is one I have come across regularly from people I interview. When life gets a bit tough they head into the garden, not to escape so much as to calm themselves.

Heidi Herrmann is a German-born natural beekeeper in England, a “heroine” of the movement there, it seems. According to Heidi, one of the reasons for the decline of bees is that conventional beekeepers suppress the swarming urge which, she says, is a strategy for survival and diversifying the gene pool. Read some of her thoughts here, as well as about her “sun hive” structure which is taken apart and refreshed (with resident bees) in an 11-minute video here.

The documentary film Queen of the Sun showed in New Zealand a couple of years ago. An interview the director and producer may be seen here (8 mins).

Go here to read a great piece by Abbie Jury on the importance of soil to gardens.

And for all those who think February has rolled around a bit quick … this brilliantly funny column by Toby Manhire appeared in Friday’s NZ Herald (no gardening content).