Garden & Artfest: Day 1

Hard to think how to categorise the weather today – sometimes damp, occasionally sunny, a bit chilly, a little sun. Spring, in other words. I spent the morning at the festival’s Hub at The Lakes, helping out on the Tauranga Orchid Society stand and selling my calendars. One calendar went to a chap from Singapore who was delighted to learn that I’d taken all the photos myself – and promptly got me to autograph it!

The ground is very spongy and soggy at The Hub – a pair of ducks were busy dabbling across the central lawn and its ponds this morning – so festival director John Beech, Roger Allen from the bromeliad stand and a couple of other blokes laid some wood chips on weed matting to create a stable path in front of the marquees where the orchids and bromeliads are sited. And I can report that the ‘luxury’ Portaloos are indeed a cut above!

Zipped off around a few gardens this afternoon and am looking forward to a full day out tomorrow. (The Vege Grower will be at The Hub with my calendars, if you’re interested.)

My Mum, a rose bred by Bob Matthews of Wanganui, is in perfect bloom in the garden of Colleen Thwaites. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The enticing view from the driveway of a Plummer’s Point garden, which reveals itself to be full of flowers and colour against a background of established natives or the estuary. (Note the sky – it was just about to rain, again.) Photo: Sandra Simpson

Echoing detail between the land and the jetty. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Laburnum in flower at Alf Mundt’s garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A Japanese maple (left) provides a good colour foil to native horopito in Alf Mundt’s garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Long-standing love affair

Colleen Thwaites’ garden at Te Puna is a Garden and Artfest stalwart and much loved by the many visitors it attracts. Full of roses and cottage flowers the garden is testament to Colleen’s skill and knowledge.

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Colleen Thwaites admires the blooms of Uetersen, a winner of the Gold Star of the South Pacific at the NZ Rose Society trial grounds in 1980. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The only time in 56 years when she hasn’t had a rose in her garden was when Colleen realised that she would have to grow them in cages to stop them being destroyed by possums. Fortunately, the family moved from that Ngutunui farm, near Kawhia, to a kiwifruit orchard at Te Puna 40 years ago and Colleen’s roses bloomed again.

“I started showing roses when I lived in Fordell, when I was first married,” Colleen says. “The prizes were always rose bushes – some shows I would bring home eight or nine new plants.”

She moved her roses on to Waikato but quickly admitted defeat. “There was a poison drop on the paddock next to the house – they picked up 700 dead possums in one go. The roses were on a hiding to nothing.”

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Kaimai Sunset, a climbing rose by Rob Somerfield. Photo: Sandra Simpson

With its abundance of flowers, including plenty of cottage favourites such as mignonette, foxgloves and poppies, Siesta Orchard is one of the most popular stops in the biennial Tauranga Garden and Artfest and has been so since the first festival, 18 years ago.

“I grow what I like,” Colleen says. “I’m a great seed saver and I scatter them about. I’m not worried if things come up in funny places.”

Colleen, who had a stroke about five years ago, enjoys roses bred by Rob Somerfield, also of Te Puna, and has a good number. “They do so well, are pretty disease free and nice to look at – I’m delighted with Lemon ‘n Lime which I bought unseen when it was first out.”

About seven years ago she decided that she had enough roses – and was promptly given three Blackberry Nip bushes (a Somerfield rose) for her birthday. “Two years ago I said I’d buy only a couple but ended up with about 10 and have more from cuttings.”

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Fourth of July rose. Photo: Sandra Simpson

It takes about three weeks for Colleen to prune her plants – she needs to be finished by mid-July to have them flowering well at festival time, although this year’s festival is a fortnight later than usual to avoid a clash with Taranaki’s premier event.

Apart from a clean-up spray of copper and Conqueror oil after winter pruning, Colleen doesn’t spray her roses. “I feed the waxeyes all winter and see them working on the aphids in spring. When a plant is growing well and is healthy it doesn’t need spraying.”

Colleen’s  top tips to keep your roses looking their best through summer:

  • Mulch to retain soil moisture, compost is ideal as it also feeds the plant
  • Water regularly and thoroughly
  • Feed little and often
  • Dead-head to encourage repeat flowering.


Outlook: Rose-y

The bare-rooted or heavily pruned roses available in garden centres over winter may not look much but now is the time to plant roses for a colourful summer display.

By getting roses in the ground, or shifting existing roses, over the next month, you are giving the plant the best chance possible to establish and do well over summer.

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Kaimai Sunset, a climbing rose bred by Rob Somerfield of Te Puna, mixes with yellow irises, violas and Sedum mexicanum at Siesta Orchard, the garden of Colleen Thwaites. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A clean-up before pruning will also pay dividends – remove dead leaves (which may be harbouring disease) from on and under the plant and if you spray your roses June and July should include something to kill over-wintering eggs of aphids, red spider mite and scale.

If you are planting a new rose in the same place as an old one, the National Rose Society recommends disposing of a decent area of surrounding soil (about two wheelbarrows’ worth) and giving the new rose fresh soil to help it on its way.

Many roses can also be grown from cuttings – although you will wait longer for the plant to be of flowering age, it is a cheaper way to stock your garden.

Helen Polstra, who gardens near Katikati, takes her cuttings at pruning time and plants them beside their “mother”, believing she gets a better strike rate.

Cut straight across the stem immediately below a bud “eye” to form the bottom of the cutting. At least two bud eyes should be above ground (about one-third of the length of the stem). Keep the cuttings well watered through summer and try not to disturb them for a year.

One of Helen’s favourite roses is Martha Ford, which has fragrant, apricot blooms that age to white. After buying a plant from “a little old lady” who had a hand-made sales sign on the highway north of Wellington, Helen has propagated the rose herself from cuttings.

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Martha Ford arrived in Russell in 1837 where her husband, Samuel, was the country’s first resident surgeon. Between October 4 and November 1, 1848, the couple lost four of their 10 children to scarlet fever. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Martha Ford was developed by Ken Nobbs, co-founder of the New Zealand Heritage Rose Society, and is, strictly speaking, a rambler, although Helen uses it as a climber.

“Normally when Thys is driving we go from A to B and that’s it,” Helen says of her husband, “but this day he heard my plea and turned off.”

Although enthusiasts still grow beds of roses, they arguably look best in a mixed border where other plants can come to the fore once the roses have finished flowering and help disguise their less attractive winter stage.

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A Hayley Westenra rose planted in a mixed border in Helen Polstra’s garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The timing of pruning will depend on where you live – in the Tauranga area you should hold off until at least the second half of July.

And this is the last year that you’ll be able to buy Matthews Roses from garden centres. The long-established and well-known Wanganui business – it’s one of the biggest commercial rose growers in the country – is to become mail-order only.

Most of this article was first published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission. It has been updated for this website.