One enchanted evening


Lynda Hallinan enchanted an enthusiastic crowd at Growing Pains in the Tauranga Art Gallery last night – making them laugh with her musings on the best garden tool (a handyman-type husband) and sending several people to their notebooks and phones as she recommended plants and gardening solutions, including:

  • Orlaya grandiflora, the type of plant she says, that people only grow if it’s recommended to them. “You wouldn’t buy it if you saw it in the garden centre, but the bees and the hoverflies love it.”
  • Use aspirin for tomato blight (no, don’t take it, apply it to the plants). Read more here.
  • Only use fresh horse manure if you are completely sure you know what the horse has eaten – for instance, if the animal has recently been given de-worming tablets, the manure will kill earthworms too. Better to compost it for a year.

Lynda Hallinan. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Lynda, who has been a garden writer for 20 years, is a bubbly personality and fun speaker and she had the audience in the palm of her hand as she recounted some of the growing pains she’s had upsizing from a suburban section to a much – much – larger country garden.

The evening was a fundraiser for the Sydenham Botanic Park project and advisory group chairman Brian Hodge opened the evening by talking about the history of the site and future plans. Thanks so much to sponsors GardenPost, Palmers Bethlehem and incredible edibles for making Growing Pains possible.

There were giveaways too, in the form of vouchers for berry plants courtesy of incredible edibles and NZ Gardener magazines, courtesy of Lynda. There were also two great raffles on offer so there were some very happy winners at the end of the evening.


A section of the crowd at the event. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Lynda brought her gardener Fiona Henderson with her and the pair had had some shopping fun in Paeroa on the way south. Not so much fun was discovering a flat tyre as they prepared to leave for home after dinner.

Help was at hand in the form of Geoff Brunsden and Keith Frentz who not only figured out where the spare was kept (under the vehicle) but managed to work out how to free it. That it required them both to roll around on the ground under the jacked-up ute and stretch their problem-solving skills to the max seems to suggest someone at Nissan got a little bored one day. Unfortunately, there are no photos of the knights in shining armour at work as both phones were busy being used as flashlights!

  • Lynda is presenting a new series of Get Growing, which first screens on Choice TV at 7.30pm on Fridays. Next week’s programme (October 24) features Geoff Brunsden talking about wildflowers. The episodes re-screen at various times.

The organisers of Growing Pains would also like to thank Tui Garden Products, Scullys Skin-care Products, Penguin Books NZ and Pak ‘n Save Tauranga for their donations to the raffle prizes.

Catching up with Lynda

Lynda Hallinan hasn’t got much time to talk – a TV crew is coming and she’s got weeds that need pulling.

The well-known garden writer is presenting segments for a new series of Get Growing that will start screening on Choice TV on Friday, October 17, coincidentally the evening she’s speaking at a fundraising event in Tauranga.

“People might be able to get home in time to see me on the telly,” she laughs, “if they haven’t already had enough of me.”

In previous series Lynda has hosted the show, teaching people new to vege gardening but this time that role is taken on by Justin Newcombe while Lynda will talk about seasonal work.

“New gardeners tend to get overwhelmed – choosing a fertiliser at the garden centre shouldn’t be hard. So my advice is to relax and not overthink things.

“Sure, mistakes will be made but a garden is made as much by the mistakes and the successes. And in case anyone thinks I’m some sort of superior gardener, all I can say is that I’m still killing things, lots of them.”

She suggests that mastering the basics will save new gardeners money and be a good learning process – growing from seed, taking cuttings for new plants – and that one of the most important attributes a gardener can have (“and I don’t”) is patience.


Lynda Hallinan. Photo: Supplied


Moving to the Hunua countryside and a 22ha “patch” in 2010 after living in suburban Auckland, everything seemed to happen at once. She had only just moved to her fiance’s home when she:

  • Lost all her possessions, including her collection of gardening books, in a shed fire
  • Then, to her great delight, she discovered she was pregnant
  • The couple decided to stick to the February date they had chosen for their wedding, partly because they needed to build the garden to be married in
  • And Jason, who’s a dab hand with a digger, broke his Achilles tendon, twice, during the work.

Lynda wrote a book about her first year back in the country (she was raised in north Waikato) and Back to the Land is a year-long month by month account of the much-loved flower garden she began in 2011, her regular spot at a farmers’ market and the preserves, pickles and various beverages, including cider and beer, that spring from her produce.

Lynda’s interest in veges and fruit stemmed entirely from a wild New Year’s resolution made in 2007 – she would live off the produce of her 733 square metre Auckland section for the year, with only $10 a week allowed for groceries.

“I think the champagne might have had something to do with it but it was a fun year and I learned heaps, including how to barter, although it was a bit touch and go sometimes too.”

This year she’s photographing a food crop and a flower every day, is preparing her garden to again open to the public – and doesn’t for a moment miss the overseas travel to garden shows, her high heels and handbags or even the Big Smoke’s night-life.

“I’m a gumboots girl now,” she laughs. “A Swanni on a cold day, good garden tools and some beautiful flowers are all I really want.”

Local garden news

Been away for 2 weeks (a postcard arriving shortly) so thought I would catch us all up on some local garden news.

1: Tickets are selling quickly for Lynda Hallinan’s Growing Pains in Tauranga on Friday, October 17. They are now available only from Palmer’s in Bethlehem, $15 each and with all proceeds benefiting the Sydenham Botanic Park project. The event is at 5.30pm in the Tauranga Art Gallery and features a couple of really good raffles and some spot prizes.

2: Tauranga City Council discovers it is responsible for the dying Norfolk Island pines along Pilot Bay and Marine Parade in Mount Maunganui! Independent arborists reckon it is the spray council contractors use to combat Onehunga weed (prickle weed) cause, you know, you wouldn’t want anyone going barefoot to complain about having a few prickles in their feet from crossing a public area. Sheesh, prickles in my feet as a child was part of summer.

3: Liz and Geoff Brunsden of Wildflower World and GardenPost are leading a small-group Gardens of Britain tour next year – leaving June 12 for 13 days. The trip takes in the marvellous RHS Wisley garden, the renowned Breezy Knees garden in Yorkshire, the David Austin rose garden in Shropshire and Hidcote Manor in the Cotswolds.

For more information about the trip, see the Flora Tours website.

4: The latest community garden to spring up in the Western Bay of Plenty is outside the Experience Comvita visitor centre in Paengaroa (south of Te Puke on SH33). The garden provides produce to the Comvita café, as well as to the 14 volunteers who have helped set it up. The garden includes a bug hotel, worm farm and a berry garden with Comvita donating the land and building of the raised beds.

Read more at the Paengaroa Community Garden Facebook page.

News & events

Graeme Platt, who used to hang out of helicopters to collect kauri cones, has been charged by the Ministry of Primary Industries for allegedly illegally importing seed of a Pacific kauri banned in new Zealand. Read all about that here. The 73-year-old isn’t going down without a fight. And here’s a link to the post in early May about the charges against Clive Higgie of Wanganui.

Gardeners in the Tauranga area may be interested to know that the local Riding for the Disabled is offering horse and pony manure for a gold coin donation – take a trailer or help yourself to pre-bagged manure. RDA is open Monday to Saturday, 44 Ngapeke Rd, RD5, Tauranga (Welcome Bay area). For more information phone (07) 544 1899.

Don’t forget to keep an eye on the Events page for things happening in Tauranga, New Zealand and the wider world! It’s updated regularly.

The SwapFest, Lusi and me

A couple of months of planning, lots of phonecalls and emails, a meeting or two and tomorrow’s SwapFest in Sydenham Botanic Park is all set … and along comes tropical cyclone Lusi.

I spent a great deal of last night awake – the Vege Grower and I got up at about 2.30am and moved my small orchids under cover, a task I’d forgotten to do in daylight – and heard the wind building, then a patter or two of rain, and finally got to sleep.

This morning it doesn’t seem nearly as bad as has been forecast. The winds aren’t as strong and we haven’t had torrential downpours. Instead the wind is gusty and reasonably strong but we’ve experienced much worse in this house and the rain is intermittent and light – so far.

The NZ Herald website expects the wind and rain to peak later this afternoon but the rain radar isn’t showing heavy falls, only the light end of moderate, which is actually useful in terms of the dry ground we’ve had, and it seems to be moving away from us to the west. Perhaps we’re far enough south to only cop the extreme edge of it; certainly Waikato’s forecast is worse than ours.

Track Lusi’s progress on this rather neat website which has a real-time animated map of the globe’s winds (move the screen image to your part of the world with your mouse so the green circle is over where you want to view, double clicking the circle zooms in, I haven’t discovered how to zoom out). Apparently the cyclone (now an ex-cyclone, but still) met wind-shear in the Pacific and it pushed Lusi, coming to us from Vanuatu, further west.

We’ll make a decision late morning tomorrow as to whether to carry on with the SwapFest – showers won’t deter us but high winds and heavy rain will. Notice of cancellation will be posted to the website and the park’s Facebook page.

I have packets of seeds and boxes of cuttings to sell to raise funds for the park so I’d like to see my hard work made useful. Come along and say hello – we’re open for trading from 1-4pm and Geoff Brunsden will have a backyard bumblebee hive on display, as well as talking at 2pm about attracting pollinators to your garden.

The afternoon is a chance to raise awareness of the Botanic Park project, as well as offering gardeners a chance to get some free or reasonably priced seeds and plants –  and to talk to one another in that all-important exchange of knowledge.

The idea for the SwapFest, which is a bit of a misleading name because traders can do what they like, whether it be give away, exchange or sell or a mix of any or all, came from something I stumbled across online where a woman in suburban California put a stand (something like a meat safe, I’m guessing) on her verge with books in it, inviting people to take one and, if they wanted, put one back. After a bit she started putting seeds in there too.

There are some good ideas here on starting a community seed library and plenty of ideas on the net for starting a seed exchange, whether online or at a meeting place. Here’s a story about a up Seed Swapping Station project that began in Hawaii and a personal view of getting ready to give it a go.

Apparently there is a seed library running out of the Kumeu Library in the greater Auckland area; the Southern Seed Exchange based in Christchurch is well established; and the Symbiosis Seed Exchange covers Otago and Southland.

Sharing seeds is a great way to ensure that heritage varieties survive. Go on, give it a go!

Kauri collector

Graham Dyer reckons he has been the right person to grow the world’s only outdoor collection of kauri trees because he has “two problems” – once he gets hold of an idea he doesn’t let go, and he doesn’t take no for an answer.

The Omanawa kiwifruit orchardist has been collecting kauri (Agathis species) for 12 years after realising the only collection was grown indoors at Amsterdam University’s botanic gardens (Hortus Botanicus, website is in English).

“Tauranga is the southern boundary of where kauri grow naturally in New Zealand,” Graham says, “and Omanawa is pretty much the actual southern boundary. I don’t know whether other people think this makes Tauranga important, but I do.”

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Mavis and Graham Dyer in their home kauri grove. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Graham has gifted a collection of kauri from around the Pacific to the in-development Sydenham Botanic Park in Tauranga.

Kauri grow happily as far south as Stewart Island, he says, but have been planted there and need nurturing in their early years to get them to maturity.

And while tree collecting may sound like a gentleman’s hobby, the reality is that it’s expensive, hard work and fraught with difficulty.

One kauri native to Vanuatu grows in such a remote location that some of the tribes in the area have never seen white people.

Agathis macrophylla is found only in the mountains, and we’re talking serious mountains with high rainfall and cloud peaks. I’m too old to go in where there are no tracks and you only make 2km in a day.”

He and his wife Mavis have made Vanuatu their second home and have an adopted son, Malcolm, from the island of Espiritu Santo. Malcolm has gifted them customary land and Graham has planted kauri there, too.

“Fortunately, I understand how Second World people operate,” he says of his seed collecting. “You have to do everything on a person-to-person basis – letters aren’t replied to and phonecalls aren’t returned. You have to do it in person. If you’re standing looking at them, it will work.

“But it’s intimidating to be told the kauri seeds are ready – and they’re 60m up in the tree.”

Timing is everything. “The trees drop their seeds when it’s wet and every country has a different wet season – October in Malaysia, December in Papua New Guinea and March in New Zealand.”

The seed has a maximum viability of three weeks, “which is why rain is so important – the seeds germinate immediately and you can see them in four or five days”.

Graham was one of the original Tauranga Tree Society planters at McLaren Falls Park, responsible for sourcing exotic trees, including importing seed, so when he turned to Agathis he had a head start on knowing where to go to get seeds.


Araucaria hunsteinii is native to the mountains of Papua New Guinea and is a tree threatened by habitat loss. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Araucaria hunsteinii is native to the mountains of Papua New Guinea and is a tree threatened by habitat loss.

He’s also a keen collector of the Araucauria family, which includes Norfolk Island pine (Araucauria heterophylla) and monkey puzzle (Araucauria araucana), but discovered an oddity over the seed of the monkey puzzle tree native to the Andes.

“You can’t bring it in from Chile under Cites regulations [an international embargo on the trade of endangered animals and plants], but traditionally the seed has been used by the Indians as a food source and it turns out you can import it as a food.”

Graham has collected kauri from Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia (where the three varieties are native to Queensland and Agathis atropurpurea grows in a single, small area), New Caledonia and Vanuatu (which also shares a variety with Fiji). There are also kauri native to Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and the Philippines.


Agathis corbassonii is native to New Caledonia. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Despite “an expert” warning Graham that tropical kauri wouldn’t grow here, he’s found they grow faster than they do in their home environments.

He also points out the trees are hardier than we might expect – Agathis robusta (Queensland kauri) seedlings planted in the 1940s in the Waipoua Forest (home to this country’s two largest native kauri, Tane Mahuta and Te Matua Ngahere) never grew because they were covered by undergrowth, particularly manuka.


Tane Mahuta towers over a visitor. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“They went into hibernation for 60 years,” Graham says, “and when that manuka went, away they went. It was like they had been planted yesterday. They will tolerate dark like no other plant because they’ve been through periods of total darkness and they have that genetic memory.

“They have survived long periods of climate change and adapted. Modern plants live by the seasons, while ancient kauri have adapted to the triggers of light and rain. They’re not interested in hot and cold.

“The species is 200 million years old, it’s been through all sorts of climate change – knowing what to do to survive is in their genetic memory.”

Agathis trees:

  • Have been around since the Jurassic period
  • Comprise 21 species; only Agathis australis is native to New Zealand but it is the largest Agathis
  • Are found from Malaysia and the Philippines (north) to New Zealand (south, the only non-tropical site); in Melanesia but not Polynesia
  • Grow from sea-level to 2500m elevation
  • Are evergreen trees with very straight trunks, they lose their lower limbs as they grow (the juvenile stage can last 100 years)
  • Are prized for their timber with many species are now endangered.

Less than 4 per cent of New Zealand’s kauri forest remains, thanks mostly to the logging activities of the 19th and early 20th century, with the trees now under threat from kauri dieback disease. Agathis is Greek for “ball of thread”, referring to the shape of the female cones.

This article was originally published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission. It has been edited slightly.

Daffodil planting

Just back from the Daffodil Planting Day at Sydenham Botanic Park – steady trickle of visitors who looked at and talked about the draft plan for the gardens, planted bulbs, blew bubbles, ate sausages, asked questions and generally had fun.


Steve Webb, TCC’s parks manager, and son Ted lay out bulbs ready for planting. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Bulbs were donated by a garden centre and horticulturalist Howard Martin who knew Frank Sydenham pretty well. In a nice touch, the bulbs Howard donated are descended from those that were grown by Frank on the same land.