Jewels of the Rainforest

The theme at the Tauranga Orchid Show this year is that of a Mayan Temple – the display structure will be re-used in the national Orchid + Flower Show in Auckland in a couple of weeks so this is a valuable dress rehearsal when it comes to setting it up and dismantling it. Alec Roy has designed the temple and painted 30m of calico to look like stonework!

But the placement of orchids is also important and it took several hours yesterday and another couple this morning before everyone was satisfied. Judging by comments from today’s crowds, somehow we’ve got it right!

Slipper orchids on the display. I was apparently standing on a lean for most of the day! Photo: Sandra Simpson

The stands in Auckland are judged so society members are keeping their fingers crossed that it works just as well there.

Detail from the display – the ‘temple gods’ have been carved by Barry Curtis from polystyrene. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I’ve got a new calendar hot off the press and spent most of today either selling large cymbidiums or trying to tempt passersby with my calendar. I’ll post about it next week (when I’m recovered from the show) but it will be available through this blog. Many thanks to those today who bought one!

The orchid show is open again tomorrow from 10am-4pm. There are also displays by the BOP Orchid Society and a fantastic Bromeliad Club display, plus sales tables, raffles, potting demos, expert advice and free growing tip sheets, and a cafe.

I’m sitting next to the expert advisor so if you come to the show do come and say hello.

Here are some photos that may tempt you through the door…

Maclellanara Pagan Love Song. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Cattleya Fire Magic ‘Solar Flare’. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Paphiopedilum Hsinying Rujo-Mac. Photo: Sandra Simpson



Tauranga Orchid Show 2016

The first problem that arises when showing orchids is, well, having any orchids to show. Your precious plant may have buds, but Murphy’s Law decrees those buds will open after the show or have already flowered and be past their best by the day of judgement.

A richly scented stem of Stanhopea oculata drew much attention at the April 2014 Bay of Plenty Orchid Show in Te Puke, with plant owner Conrad Coenen of Apata, near Tauranga, saying it was a rare sight.

“Not that I mean it’s a rare plant,” he hastened to add, “just that it’s rare to see it a show as the flowers last for only two or three days. The planets have to align to have it open on just the right day.” He joked that he’d been breathing on the buds to try and hasten their opening!

This month is an especially busy time in the orchid world – the Tauranga show this weekend (September 9-11) is followed by the national Orchid + Flower Show in Auckland (September 22-25). Both shows offer massed displays of flowering plants and the chance to buy plants not seen in garden centres, as well as getting practical advice from experienced growers.

Orchid societies are a wealth of accumulated knowledge and members are only too happy to share what they’ve learned as they have lavished care, attention and patience on their plants, sometimes for decades.

Last year a staff member in the refurbished Peter Black Conservatory in Palmerston North’s Victoria Esplanade casually pointed to a Vanda orchid in a hanging basket and told me it had recently flowered – for the first time in 28 years! He believes better heating, fewer draughts, and new glass in the structure finally provided the right conditions for the warm-growing beauty.

Fortunately, one of the largest families of flowering plants also has members that are decidedly unfussy, and some that are downright tough, including Bifrenaria harrisoniae and the Australian native Dendrobium speciosum (rock orchid).

There are also those that can flower at any time of the year and may flower more than once in a year, including the easy-care Restrepia orchids, Maxillaria variabilis, Coelogyne fimbriata and Cattleya Quinquecolor, while the blooms of the fashionable Phalaenopsis (moth orchid) last for months.

Te Puna Quarry Park near Tauranga has an outstanding display of Cymbidium orchids – on now – thought to the largest outdoor planting of Cymbidiums in the southern hemisphere. They thrive in next-to-no top soil and receive no extra fertiliser or irrigation, beyond guano and rainwater. Volunteers have just rolled them into place among the rocks and left them to get on with it.

Tauranga Orchid Society president Barry Curtis helps look after the orchids at the park and is a keen Cymbidium grower himself, winning the top award at the 2013 national Orchid Expo with the miniature Cymbidium Cricket. His secret to success? One of them is that when Barry puts a ‘Cymbid’ in a new pot, he half fills the pot with bark and adds a handful of crumbly-stage horse manure before topping off the bark. The plant’s roots are fed each time the pot is watered and Barry reckons they lap it up.

Other ‘cool-growing’ orchids (6 degrees C on the coldest night, although may take as low as 2; up to 30 on the hottest day) include Coelogyne, Dendrobium, Epidendrum, Laelia, Masdevallia, Ondontoglossum, Paphiopedilum (slipper orchids), Pleurothallis,  Sarchochilus and Zygopetalum, and within the hybrids of just these few types there are great varieties of flower shape and size, flower colour, and plant size.

There are some useful books by New Zealand authors, keep an eye out at book fairs and in second-hand shops for volumes by Ross Macdonald (including Cool Flowering Orchids Throughout the Year), and the late I D James (including The New Zealand Orchid Grower).

All orchids have the same basic requirements – good air movement, regular water and food, and the right amount of warmth and light. Joining an orchid society means ongoing, free advice as to how to interpret these requirements for your conditions, plus there’s practical help if problems arise, visits to members’ collections, access to a library, guest speakers and the camaraderie of others suffering from the same ‘disease’.

The Tauranga Orchid Show is at the Racecourse (Cameron Rd, Greerton), $3 entry for adults (under-12 free). You’ll see the display we’re entering into the national expo, a mass of flowering plants, there are plants for sale, repotting demonstrations, advice from expert growers and a café and raffles. See you there – do come and say hello!

  • Tauranga Orchid Society meets on the third Tuesday of the month, 7.30pm, Wesley Church Hall, 13th Ave, Tauranga. Visitors always welcome. Contact Sandra.
  • Bay of Plenty Orchid Society meets on the second Sunday of the month, 1.30pm, Masonic Hall, Oxford St, Te Puke. Visitors always welcome. Contact Faye.

Ringmaster Barry back in action

Barry Curtis could be called the voice of the Tauranga Orchid Show, thanks to the popular repotting demonstrations he has been running for several years – and he will be back again at this year’s show from Friday to Sunday at Tauranga Racecourse.

“I saw it as something I could do,” says Barry, who has been president of the Tauranga Orchid Society for about 10 years. “Having been a school principal, I am confident speaking to groups.”

After retiring from teaching in Auckland, Barry and wife Elizabeth moved to Tauranga to run a motel and also grew callas commercially in Pyes Pa. The couple shifted to just south of Katikati about 11 years ago.

Barry Curtis with some of his beloved cymbidiums. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“My Dad grew a few cymbidiums in his tomato house and, when he was no longer able to care for them, I took them on,” Barry says. “I’ve always liked taking a plant and seeing what will come out of it – it doesn’t have to be the biggest or the best to interest me.”

Most hobby orchid growers start with cymbidiums and move on to more exotic plants but Barry has hundreds of the easy-to-grow beauties in his collection.

“The great thing about cymbidiums is that you don’t need an orchid house – they’re happy in the garden, particularly under trees. I keep mine in pots and growing bags so when they flower I can move them to the front door and enjoy them for months.”

Cymbidiums love the outdoor conditions at Te Puna Quarry Park. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Barry, who is also a volunteer in the orchid garden at Te Puna Quarry Park, says that when it comes to growing orchids outside the only no-no is full (burning) sun. Filtered light is perfect.

“Pot them in bark, not soil, and put them in a pot that is only just big enough for the roots, otherwise it takes too long for the plant to feel happy. Orchids need repotting when the bark starts to break down because the soil-like crumbs suffocate the roots – in the wild, the vast majority of orchids don’t grow in soil so need air round their roots.”

In his talks, Barry also shares easy-to-understand information on how a cymbidium grows, including what the pseudo-bulbs do (food storage) and how to split a mature plant.

He says people often worry about which fertiliser to use but “you can use any house plant fertiliser if it is mixed below half the strength it says on the container”. Otherwise, his recommendation is to throw on a handful of slow-release fertiliser twice a year. Barry makes up a special slow-release mix for orchids that is available at the show for a reasonable price.

What: Tauranga Orchid Show – a massed display of plants, plants for sale (orchids, bromeliads, clivias, etc), repotting demonstrations and advice, porcelain painting for sale, café, raffles and spot prizes.
When: September 11-13 (Friday-Sunday), 10am-4pm.
Where: Tauranga Racecourse, Cameron Rd, Greerton.
Cost: $3 for adults.

Read my story about orchid shows from this month’s New Zealand gardener.

To find a New Zealand orchid show in an area near you, go here. September and October are prime months for shows. Orchid shows around the North Island are on the Events page on this website.

Whakatane grower Andy Price specialises in unusually coloured cymbidiums. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Orchid evaporation

Tauranga has this weekend played host to a national seminar for orchid judges, which culminates this afternoon in the annual meeting of the Orchid Council of New Zealand. The Tauranga Orchid Society has organised not only a premises and display plants for the seminar, but also last night organised a dinner at the race-course for seminar registrants, as well as members of both the Tauranga and Bay of Plenty orchid societies, and it was a chance for the Tauranga group to mark its 35th birthday. (The seasoned members of the committee know what they’re about and it’s run like clockwork with very little input from committee newbies needed.)

Judges had come from all over the country – from the Bay of Islands to Otago and all points in between – for the seminar.

Guest speaker was Roy Walker who talked about “evaporation” as it applies to orchid society memberships throughout the country. Too many snowy tops in the room, he reckoned, and went on to challenge the Auckland region societies to increase their membership – having fewer than 1000 combined membership across four societies wasn’t good enough in an area with a population of more than 1 million – and the incoming national councillors to do something about making membership more attractive to younger people.

Roy’s talk caused cheers and, occasionally, jeers and one non-orchid person present commented that “some people in the room were not impressed”. I didn’t think I was hearing anything I hadn’t worked out for myself so maybe it was Roy’s somewhat idiosyncratic approach. Anyway, he did what a guest speaker should do – offered some laughs and was thought-provoking. Here is the evening in a few photos.

Roy Neale introduces guest speaker Roy Walker. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The New Zealand branch of the Cymbidium Society of America (CSA) took the opportunity to hand out awards from the parent organisation.

Joe Vance (left), president of the New Zealand CSA branch, presents an award to Conrad Coenen of Tauranga. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Yvonne and Allan Rae of Palmerston North with their CSA awards. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Susan Tucker accepts two CSA awards from Joe Vance. Ross Tucker was in the audience but told to sit down and let Susan take the limelight for a change! Photo: Sandra Simpson

Betty Vance kisses away the tear that rolled down Joe’s cheek when the couple’s three CSA awards were announced – for orchids they bred themselves. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Lee Neale receives a CSA Award for Leroy Orchids from Joe Vance. Photo: Sandra Simpson

After a delicious roast meal, the Tauranga Orchid Society marked its 35th birthday with the cutting of an enormous carrot cake (in fact, there were two of the delicious things to make sure we had enough to go round) – founding president Ron Maunder did the honours.

Founding president of the Tauranga Orchid Society Ron Maunder (left) with current president Barry Curtis just before the cake cutting. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The final presentation was somewhat spontaneous as the recipient couldn’t be there until just as the evening was ending, but the surprise and delight on his face was lovely to see. Bill Pepperell of the Waikato Orchid Society has grown the bloom named as the New Zealand Orchid of the Year – Fredclarkeara After Dark ‘Toulmx’, a black orchid. See a photo here.

Bill Pepperell with his framed certificate and photo of his orchid, presented by Margaret Lomas of the Orchid Council of New Zealand. Photo: Sandra Simpson

And why were we all there, whether judges or not? For the love of these extraordinary plants and flowers …

Dracula wallisii grown by Audrey Hewson of Tauranga. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Calanthe vestita, a terrestrial orchid that is deciduous, grown by Dennis Chuah of Auckland. Photo: Sandra Simpson

An orchid that looks more like a bromeliad or a hosta – Stenorrhynchos speciosum is native to Mexico and Central America. Photo: Sandra Simpson

This ball of Epidendrum porpax was transported carefully from and to New Plymouth by Joy Wray. Photo: Sandra Simpson

To find out where your nearest orchid society is in New Zealand, click here.

Photos from the Fling

What glorious day it was at Te Puna Quarry Park on Sunday for the second annual Spring Fling – vivid blue sky, sunshine and plants and people galore. When I was going through my photos it seemed as though there were a few useful sub-headings I could use, so here goes …



John Beech, director of November’s Garden and Artfest. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Orchid repotting demos by Barry Curtis are always popular. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Roger Allen grows hydrangeas for the cut-flower market and breeds his own plants. He was also selling protea flowers that went so quickly he had to send for more. Photo: Sandra Simpson



Black Doris plum – from the stall of Brent Tennet. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Brent is the owner of Te Puna Plum Nursery, which specialises in stone fruit. Why can’t we grow apricots here? Because the soil is too rich, Brent told me this morning, and the winters aren’t anywhere near cold enough. Leave apricots to central Otago.


Iris unguicularis on the stand of Bill and Willie Dijk. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Commonly known as the Algerian iris, this little plant flowers in winter. Read more about it here.


A ranuncula in a kokedama hanging made by Coraleigh Parker. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Read more about Coraleigh Parker and kokedama here. Read how to make a moss-covered kokedama here.


Francine Thomas gets emphatic during a floral art demonstration. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Francine’s tea cup and saucer. Photo: Sandra Simpson

See Francine’s website. She’s an enormously talented individual, and a real hoot!


Shona Purves reckons that she made about 200 scones for Devonshire teas last year – I’ll be sure to ask her this week what her estimate is for 2014. The women were busy all day and sometimes had lines of up to 20 people waiting, and no wonder. The scones were fluffy, delicious and fresh from the gallery’s oven … and they had jam and whipped cream on top! What’s not to like?


Lynne Avery (left), baker Shona Purves in the background, and Lois Galbraith. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Update: Shona says that more than 300 scones were baked and sold on the day … and they went through 8 litres of cream, whipped for the crowning glory.


Quarry Park visionary and society patron Shirley Sparks (right) takes a tea break with Pauline McCowan, who brought her red MGBGT along for the day. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Spring Fling

Te Puna Quarry Park volunteers have been getting the place gussied up for Sunday’s Spring Fling – gates open at 10am and if you’re the least bit interested in gardening I would suggest that you bring yourself along. The forecast for Sunday looks good so fingers crossed.

Man at work: Ray Oakly shifts some mulch. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Spring Fling is a chance for gardeners to talk directly to growers, a bit like a farmers’ market. There are more stallholders than last year, plus some garden art on offer. Specialist growers include clivia, topiary, fruit trees, rare bulbs and bearded iris, plus there will be some garden centre retailers there too and Kings Seeds. Four talented people who will be presenting interesting demonstrations that are entirely free (your $2 admission at the gate gets you to all these):

  • Coraleigh Parker will show how to make kokedama
  • The always-popular Francine Thomas and her floral art (Francine was the official New Zealand demonstrator at the recent Floral Art World Cup in Dublin)
  • Roger Allen on pruning
  • Barry Curtis on dividing and repotting orchids.

Geoff Brunsden and a bumblebee hive. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Visitors will also have the chance to chat to Geoff Brunsden about bumblebee hives, Judy Knipmeijer about honeybees and Mary Parkinson about butterflies – and all of them about creating habitat for pollinating insects. Shona Purves and her helpers will again be baking scones for Devonshire teas on site – last year she reckons they baked well over 200 scones through the day, “so we’ve well and truly ironed out any kinks in the process”. The teas are served in the gallery building at the far end of the car park, which is also where visitors will find a display of entries in the competitions for children – sand saucers (up to 20cm in diameter) by youngsters aged up to 7, and miniature gardens (up to 30cm in diameter) from 8 to 13-year-olds. Entry to the competitions is free and there are prizes in both categories. Entries must be delivered to the gallery by midday on Sunday 7.

Winners – orchids

Members of the Tauranga and Bay of Plenty orchid societies have returned triumphant from the recent national Orchid Expo in New Plymouth.

Barry Curtis, president of the Tauranga society, won grand champion of the show with his miniature Cymbidium Cricket, a plant he says always covers itself in flowers – this year it has produced 20-plus spikes with 40 flowers on each spike.

Barry Curtis and his Grand Champion plant, the miniature Cymbidium Cricket. Photo: Dennis Chuah.

Cricket, which has brown-toned flowers, also picked up the show’s champion hybrid title.

From the photo you can see what an effort Barry must have made to get the hanging flowers from his home near Katikati to New Plymouth in superb condition (I’ve been told he hung it from his caravan’s ceiling for the journey).

Erica Cowdell of Omokoroa won a section champion with Paphiopedilum hirsutissimum var. esquirolei, plus three first prizes with other slipper orchids.

Champion in the Vanda section went to Vanda Princess Mikasa Sapphire owned by Diane Hintz of Te Puke, who received placings for other orchids.

Others who had plants placed in their section were Trevor and Pam Signal (who have recently moved to Papamoa), Elizabeth Bailey, Natalie and Brian Simmonds, Ron Maunder and Laurie Dawbin. Conrad Coenen won a certificate of culture.

The three-yearly expo sees orchid societies from around the country mount large displays which are judged as a whole, while the individual plants are also judged in their respective categories. The next expo is in Auckland in 2016.