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).

Meri Kirihimete to readers near & far

  • The natural range of pohutukawa is from New Plymouth and Gisborne north.
  • The trees that grow around lakes Rotoiti, Tarawera and Okataina  in the central North Island are the only natural inland populations.
  • The largest pohutukawa forest in the world is on Rangitoto Island.
  • The oldest and largest tree in the Tauranga area is at the Pitau Rd reserve in Mount Maunganui, believed to be 400 to 500 years old.
  • The variety Metrosideros excelsa Mt Maunganui are all cutting-grown descendants of this tree.

Nothing says Christmas in New Zealand like our very own Christmas tree decorated in red and green – and in 2014, thanks perhaps to our cold, extended spring, many will be at peak blooming for Christmas Day.

The pohutukawa (po-hoot-oo-car-wah) is part of the Metrosideros family that includes 12 species native to New Zealand, most of them rata (a name applied to vines, shrubs and trees). There are also Metrosideros native to the Pacific islands, including New Caledonia, Samoa, Fiji and the Kermadec Islands.

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Nothing says summer more than pohutukawa in flower at the beach. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Metrosideros excelsa is the most common tree in New Zealand and is a vigorous plant with tenacious seedlings that will even grow in cracks in concrete. It’s also popular in parts of South Africa but is now regarded as an invasive species, while street plantings in San Francisco ended up causing expensive damage to pavements and pipes.

There are many forms of M. excelsa available, including Aurea (note that the date of discovery quoted in the link is more likely to be 1940, not 1840) and Moon Maiden (both with yellow-ish flowers), Gala (variegated leaves), Pink Lady (pink flowers), Octopussy (weeping habit), Maori Princess (dark red flowers, often single trunked and all descended from a single tree in New Plymouth), and Vibrance (bright red flowers, often single trunked with a spreading canopy).

Here in Tauranga, the City Council uses big trees in reserves (M. excelsa, for instance, can grow to 20m high and 20m wide) and smaller varieties on streets and verges with the slower-growing “compact” Scarlet Pimpernel preferred for under power lines.

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Metrosideros Maori Princess is used as a street tree in parts of Tauranga. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Lighthouse is a variety from the lava flows of Rangitoto Island in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf and is another “compact, erect” tree to 5m, while Mistral is a natural hybrid of M. excelsa and the northern rata, Metrosideros robusta, discovered on Great Barrier Island and described as slow-growing to 4m.

Maungapiko is a cross between M. excelsa and southern rata, Metrosideros umbellata, and is described as slow-growing to 5m.

If you hanker after pohutukawa flowers but not the size of the tree, you could try the small, shrub-like Tahiti which flowers from winter into spring, or Spring Fire (based on a plant native to Hawaii) that flowers from spring into summer.

Generally, though, pohutukawa from other places tend to flower off and on throughout the year rather than putting on a massed display in summer.

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Some pohutukawa grow red-tinged aerial roots. This is the oldest tree in the Tauranga area, dating to pre-European times. The multi-trunked tree can be found in Pitau Road, Mt Maunganui. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Although pohutukawa have now been planted widely throughout the country by Project Crimson, southern rata may be a better bet for readers further south in New Zealand.

Read a Sandra’s Garden story about specialist Tauranga area growers, Pohutukawas a Plenty.

Our Christmas tree, part I

Keeping up the Christmas theme …
  • Pohutukawa means “drenched with mist”, while the tree’s botanical name, Metrosideros excelsa, can loosely be translated as “tall ironwood”. The trees are members of the myrtle family.
  • The first recorded reference to pohutukawa as a Christmas tree was in 1867 when settlers were noted using branches to decorate churches and homes.

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    A tui digs in. This photo was taken in July on the waterfront at Russell. Photo: Sandra Simpson

  • Maori legend tells of a young warrior, Tawhaki, who attempted to find heaven. He fell to earth and the crimson flowers are said to represent his blood.
  • Te Reinga is a gnarled pohutukawa on the cliff top at Cape Reinga where spirits of the dead are said to begin their journey to Hawaiiki by climbing down the roots of the 800-year-old tree.
  • Te Waha o Rerekohu at Te Araroa (22m high with branches spreading over 40m) also claims the title of oldest tree, being about 600 years old. Some at Manukau Heads are thought to be older.
  • The tree’s wood is hard and strong and was used in ship building by whalers and sealers. Maori used it for tools such as fern-root beaters, paddles, weapons and spade blades, while bark and nectar were used as medicines.
  • Originally, the trees grew only from Gisborne north, although thanks to Project Crimson they can now be found as far south as Otago Harbour.

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    Pohutukawa are a feature of New Zealand’s coastline. Photo: Sandra Simpson