Happy May Day!

Two great deals around for a short time …

Tauranga’s Garden and Artfest is offering a Mothers’ Day special – buy a 4-day pass before May 13 for only $50 (normally $65). The ticket also includes unlimited entry to Bloom in the Bay which will be at the new Festival Hub at the Historic Village. The festival is from November 15-18. Full details here.

The New Zealand Flower & Garden Show, which debuted in Auckland last year, has opened its earlybird ticket purchase today ($28/$26) – tickets valid for ‘any day’ entry. Purchase before May 18 and go into a draw to win a lunch out. The show is from November 28-December 2. Full details here.

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A young woman offers a bouquet of lily of the valley to a police officer during the traditional May Day demonstration in Toulouse, southern France, on May 1, 2016. 

And we can’t let May 1 go by without noting a lovely tradition in France – it’s a public holiday celebrating the nation’s workers (La Fête du Travail) but is also known as La Fête du Muguet (Lily-of-the-valley Festival).

The floral tradition is supposed to have begun when King Charles IX of France was presented with a posy of lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) on May 1, 1561 as a token of luck and prosperity for the coming year. He liked the idea so much he decided to present the fragrant flowers to the ladies of his court each year on May 1.

There was also an old European tradition of “bals de muguet” or Lily-of-the-Valley dances; once a year, this was a chance for young singles to meet without having their parents’ permission. The girls would dress in white and the boys wear a sprig of muguet as a buttonhole. In about 1900, men started to present the flowers to women to express their affection, although these days they are a more general token of appreciation between close friends and family members.

Families in country areas get up early and go into the woods to pick the flowers.  Individuals and labour organizations are able to sell bouquets of lily-of-the-valley on the street on May 1 without paying tax or complying with retail regulations! Read more about May Day celebrations in France.

Some good growing advice here (northern seasons) from Carol Klein, who notes that like many prolific plants, lily-of-the-valley can be difficult to establish.

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Beloved of spring brides – remember Kate Middleton’s lovely bouquet?

If you live in the Tauranga area and would like to learn French, have a look at the French with Shelley website. She’s a great teacher and will immerse you in French culture too (how do you think I know about La Fête du Muguet?).

Joyeux le premier Mai!

Richard Orjis at The Apron garden

Tauranga Art Gallery brought Auckland artist Richard to Orjis to the city on January 21 to give a free talk about The Apron, an installation garden for the Tauranga Garden and Artfest in November, commissioned by the gallery and the festival.

As you may recall, I visited the garden – planted on a lawn in front of Baycourt Theatre (hence the name, The Apron) – the day the festival closed and wasn’t mightily impressed but am always open to learning more and maybe having my opinion changed. Having the chance to hear an artist talk about his/her work is always valuable.

Richard walked our small group up to The Apron for his talk – being on site was a great way for us all to understand his vision, ask questions and learn more.

Richard Orjis. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The brief was wide open but he felt an area near the gallery would be good [Baycourt is a 2-minute walk from the gallery]. He wanted the garden to be “authentic”, make people think about the everyday and communicate something a traditional garden designer wouldn’t necessarily think about.

He believes the project should be considered land art or environmental art rather than gardening, but for ease of description I will call it a garden here.

Richard has used what most people would think of as weeds (he calls them wildflowers) and describes them as “international citizens that are robust and hardy, part of an ecosystem that’s too complex for scientists to understand”.

“They provide food and habitat in the most unpromising places – the side of the road, empty lots – and establish quickly, much faster than our native plants can.”

Wild verbena. Photo: Sandra Simpson

He has a “genuine love” of pastures and meadows and wanted to develop something that was in the context of Tauranga – seeds were all sourced locally – and the age in which we live.

Richard chose to have subtle paths mown through the garden, liking the idea of not using any hard landscaping, partly because it is a temporary site.

“There’s a feeling that urban is bad and rural good, and people in a city romanticise about living in the country when the reality of rural life is quite different – the traditional chocolate box meadow we all know has been created by agriculture, not nature.

“The Apron offers a comparison of urban gardens right in the middle of town – this looks unkempt and messy but it changes fortnightly as it grows.

A bumblebee feeds on red clover. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“There are so many lessons from a garden – nothing will stay the same, no matter how much you trim and prune. The idea of controlling a plant or garden is pointless.”

It’s not a struggle, he says, to consider a garden as art, although the ones we’re used to seeing in traditional art are frozen in time – paintings, sculpture, video etc.

“With the garden we have here we’re working with the elements and have to let go that sense of freezing.” Richard mentioned the founder of the Arts and Crafts  movement, William Morris, as having a looser idea of what a garden might be.

Plants in The Apron include Verbena bonariensis (several common names), red clover, barley, rye, Achillea millefolium (yarrow), Anthriscus sylvestris (cow parsley, Queen Anne’s lace), Sinapis arvensis (wild mustard), Leucanthemum vulgare (oxeye daisy) and Oenothera biennis (evening primrose).

“There were things I was not permitted to use because of their weed status,” Richard said, “and at times it got really tense in our discussions with the Tauranga City Council. I love wild carrot and wild fennel but wasn’t permitted to use them. The irony is that there are a couple of things in here that weren’t planted – they’ve blown in and established themselves.

Several chicory plants have self-established in the garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“We can have wildness even in the most built-up areas by letting things go and trusting in the intelligence of nature, a stance that might be interesting for urban planners to pick up. It’s a cheaper option for councils to leave certain areas to their own devices but the city’s residents have to get behind it and signage is key to letting people know what’s going on.”

The gallery is taking school groups through The Apron in February, something that Richard considered, thinking about the height of young children when he was planning the planting.

He’s thrilled with the many seed heads, saying that although people might dismiss the garden as dead and dying, it’s providing food to wildlife and is full of movement thanks to our constant winds.

A mustard seed-head. Photo: Sandra Simpson

He’s also enjoyed the change of colour in the garden since flowering began – first it was the yellow of mustard and white daisies, moving into reds and now purple is dominant, thanks to wild verbena.

Richard has undertaken “plant projects” before, including creating a garden of native and exotic medicinal plants, and constructing a scaffolding bridge between two large Moreton Bay figs so people could experience the canopy.

“You can create art just by the way you mow your lawn.” Read about Richard’s 2011 grass art project.

He is taking up an arts residency in Malaysia at the end of this month and will be looking at green spaces there, planning a publication that will also include a photo record of The Apron.

Richard has a garden at his home that he says is closely planted so weeds aren’t a problem. “It looks wild, but it’s structured,” he said.

The Apron will be mowed at the end of February and the Baycourt lawn reinstated.

Dying or full of life? Messy or a welcome relief from a strictly controlled garden? Photo: Sandra Simpson



Fantastica Botanica

For the month of November – and in conjunction with the Tauranga Garden and Artfest – Graham Crow is showing his Fantastica Botanica in the foyer of the city’s Trinity Wharf Hotel.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

Graham has revisited his hydrangea exhibition from the last Garden and Artfest and now presents his hand-cut and hand-coloured paper petals as a wall, plus three hydrangea domes in various shades. The petals are amazingly textured and the nuances of colour astounding.

Graham also has an exhibition of new works at Zeus Gallery until November 17 – Blue Shift.

A card arrived in the post yesterday from Leigh Nicholas, reminding me she’s part of the Art Trail for the Garden and Artfest and inviting me to drop in to her Papamoa exhibition. Will do!

Leigh is one half of Evergreen Landscapes but is now as much at home behind the camera as she is the design table. In capturing the beauty of our natural world with her camera she demonstrates a keen artistic eye and works in a very natural way. Recommended.

The Garden and Artfest runs from November 17-20.

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.


First strawberries …

Wish I could say they were sweet and delicious, but they were tart and a bit flavourless.  It’s pretty early and they haven’t had enough heat on them yet to bring up the sugar levels, but still … our first strawberries!

I’ll update on all the wonderful things I saw and hear at the Speaker and Workshop series as I’m able … but tomorrow I’m off on the first garden trail (between Katikati and Omokoroa) and tomorrow evening have a meeting of the Sydenham Botanic Park funding trust. So in a little while, is what I’m saying – the delay also gives me a chance to let it all settle so I can pick out the things that really made me sit up and take notice.

I’m keeping the Events page updated to reflect the depth of what’s on and have also updated the Visit page to show an entry charge against Dalton’s Plantation, something the website doesn’t show but that I heard about today from a recent visitor.