The Big Dry

Xeriscaping – or landscapes that need little water – is a trend that’s well-established across the Tasman and is something that Kiwis living in the northern half of the North Island should consider as climate patterns change.

Melbourne has recently come out of a 10-year drought but, experts say, the respite is the anomaly and residents should get used to the idea of water conservation as a way of life.

The city’s renowned Royal Botanic Gardens, rated among the top five in the world, is restoring and expanding upon a water recycling system that was established in 1876 with “Guilfoyle’s volcano”, a reservoir that gravity feeds irrigation systems that run into wetlands and lakes before water is pumped back to the reservoir.

The Victorian folly is now the centrepiece of an “arid garden” that includes cacti, succulents and bromeliads mass planted, some of them to resemble flowing lava down the lower slopes of the volcano.


A Crassula succulent flowers madly on a scree slope of Guilfoyle’s volcano in the Melbourne Botanic Gardens. Photo: Sandra Simpson

For home gardeners the trick is to select plants that will withstand everything your climate can throw at them – from frosts to drought and from strong winds to a high winter rainfall – and still bring you pleasure.

Group plants together that have similar water requirements and get serious about mulching as this will help the soil retain its moisture.

There’s no point creating a cactus garden if your heart isn’t in it, but there’s no harm in doing some research to extend your plant horizons.

The well-illustrated Succulents by Wanganui plantswoman Yvonne Cave (2002, revised in 2009 published by Godwit) is a good place to start or if you’re in the Tauranga area schedule a visit to El Jakedo Cactus Nursery and Garden in the Welcome Bay Hills (phone 07-544 1178) or Paloma Gardens near Wanganui to see how plants can be used.


Eremophila glabra pictured in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne. Commonly known as tar bush, the plant is native to Australia. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Award-winning Kiwi landscape designer Xanthe White includes a chapter on dry gardens in her 2012 book The Natural Garden (published by Godwit) and she makes the good point that “a dry garden does not need to resemble a desert”. At the end of the chapter is a series of design considerations that include water storage and distribution and shade, as well as a plant list.

“Closed rooms can become sensual sanctuaries from a harsh environment,” she writes. “Colour, fragrance and water are all carefully embraced as essential elements. Efficiency is paramount, though. Where water is scarce, not a drop should be wasted, nor used but once.”

Hear Xanthe talking about the book (9 minutes, 44 seconds).

Renowned English gardener Beth Chatto has created a gravel garden in harmony with the environment – Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden was published in 2000 or visit her website for a plant list. Here is a little more about the gravel garden from a knowledgeable visitor.


The flowers of a Libertia – the plants are more commonly grown for their strappy, golden foliage. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Plenty of New Zealand natives are drought-tolerant – among them cordylines, flax, astelias, corokias, lancewoods, pohutukawa and the native iris (Libertia) – and there is a wide choice of tough Australian and South African natives, including Eremophilia glabra (red flowers or the yellow-flowered Kalbarri Carpet), kangaroo paws (use full-sized Anigozanthos for a longer-lasting plant) ti-trees, Oldenbergia grandis with its outstanding foliage and clivia, which are also shade tolerant. The plants of the coastline of Chile, Peru and Brazil might be worth investigating too.


The new growth of Banksia speciosa is striking. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The palette is widened by plants from similar Northern Hemisphere climates such as the shores of the Mediterranean, Canary Islands, California (southern California has a dry climate, while northern California is a bit wetter) and Mexico.

  • Further reading: Colorado State University’s useful website on xeriscaping.

Some of this article was first published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission.

World Gardening Cup roundup

Thought I’d catch you up on the results from the Gardening World Cup in Japan. A blogger for The Guardian (UK) newspaper reckons it’s a tougher proposition than Chelsea – however, the two New Zealand designers there this year, Bayley LuuTomes (Home Garden) and Xanthe White (Show Garden), both won silver medals.



Read about Bayley, who will be at Ellerslie next year, and his garden here.

Leon Kluge of South Africa won Gold in the Home Garden section – see photos of his garden here.

Best in Show (and Gold in Show Garden) went to a duo from Singapore, John Tan and Raymond Toh – see photos of that garden here (text is in Japanese).

Leon has also written about the whole experience and the nice relationships that develop between designers. Read that pieces (with lots of photos) here.

Sunday digest

Mount Maunganui’s harbourfront Norfolk pines are suffering, possibly from a phytophthora, but the cure looks pretty painful, that is, if bark = skin! See a photo and read more here. Added to the “site disturbances” mentioned at the end of the story would be the swanky new boardwalk that’s gone in around the base of the some of the trees.

I’ve always lived in places where people mow their own berms so the whining from central Auckland hasn’t been very impressive and I suspect a lot of New Zealanders have been shaking their heads at the fuss. Some newspaper letter writers, columnists and talking heads on TV have suggested planting the grass verges in food crops. Abbie Jury has some sensible things to say, as always.

Abbie and husband Mark, a renowned plant breeder, have taken the sad step of deciding to close their Tikorangi garden to the public until further notice, feeling the intrusion of the petrochemical industry in their area is just too great.

The lecture programme of the World Federation of Rose Societies (WFRS) Regional Convention – being held in Palmerston North next month – is a good chance to hear international and New Zealand rosarians talk about what they love.

The programme, being organised by Hayden Foulds, comprises (click here for photos and short biographies):

  • WFRS president Steve Jones of the US who will speak on the history of American rose breeding
  • American Rose Society president Jolene Adams on the movement of roses between hemispheres
  • Irish rose breeder David Kenny on amateur rose breeding in the UK and Europe
  • Thomas Proll, from the famous Kordes rose company in Germany, on work to breed disease-resistant roses
  • Kelvin Trimper from Adelaide on maintaining the popularity of the rose
  • Anthony Tesselaar, the man behind the very successful Flower Carpet roses
  • John Ford, the nephew of noted Palmerston North rosarian and breeder Nola Simpson,on her life and work
  • Doug Grant, New Zealand Rose Society vice-president, on the roses of Dr Sam McGredy
  • Heritage rose enthusiast Fiona Hyland of Dunedin will speak on conserving old roses in New Zealand
  • Otaki rosarian and author Ann Chapman will speak about significant rose breeders and rosarians from New Zealand
  • Wanganui rose grower Bob Matthews
  • Panel discussion on “Where Roses are Heading” featuring Rob Somerfield (NZ), Matthias Meilland (France), Richard Walsh (Australia) and Murray Radka (NZ).

Tickets for the lecture programme are on sale until November 18. They are $30 each, including morning and afternoon teas. No door sales will be available. Purchase tickets here. The event will be held at the Palmerston North Convention Centre, Main St West on Monday, November 25, from 8.30am-5pm, and on Tuesday, November 26, from 8.30am to 12.15pm.

Someone else who dislikes variegated plants (yes, like me!) is Dr Tim Entwisle, director and chief executive of Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens.

Ellerslie International Flower Show is moving forward on the calendar, a little – next year’s show will be from February 26 to March 2, a fortnight earlier than usual.

“Even though we’re moving the event less than a fortnight, we’re on the cusp of the seasons and the difference is quite dramatic. It will give designers a wider range of flowers to choose from, while the new date also boosts the already high chance of Christchurch turning on dry, sunny weather,” says Richard Stokes, Christchurch City Council’s marketing and events unit manager.

There will be 16 exhibition gardens – the most in the show’s 21-year history – of a minimum 100 square metres, compared with seven show gardens this year.

Jenny Gillies, an internationally renowned costume and fabric artist, will stage a new “Naughty by Nature” show featuring sumptuous floral artwear.

Tickets go on sale next month.

The Gardening World Cup in Nagasaki, Japan is on again and Kiwi designer Xanthe White has returned to try and emulate her success from last year – Best Design Award and a Gold Medal. Good luck!

Gardening World Cup

No sooner do I mention the Gardening World Cup (in a Sunday Digest) than Auckland landscape designer Xanthe White goes and wins the Best Design award at this year’s event in Japan which had the theme Gardens for World Peace.

Read all about it, and see some pictures, here or at the official website. Xanthe has used plants from Aotearoa and included a green wall.

Other results: Best In Show – Lim in Chong (Malaysia); Peace and Flowers Award – James Basson (France); Gold Medal – Lim in Chong, James Basson, Xanthe White, Kazuyuki Ishihara (Japan), Hiroshi Terashita (Japan); Silver Medal – Jo Thompson (France), Gabino Carballo (Spain), Karen Stefonick (USA), David Davidson and Leon Kluge (South Africa); Bronze Medal – Richard Miers (England), Jihae Hwang (South Korea), Haruko Seki (Japan).