An understated beauty – autumn seed heads

Clematis at top, left to right  rhododendron, Schima khasiana, Hibiscus trionum, Schizophragma hydrangeoides

Clematis at top, left to right rhododendron, Schima khasiana, Hibiscus trionum, Schizophragma hydrangeoides

When I was doing my informal census on autumn flowering plants last week, my eye kept being drawn to equally attractive seed heads. I see I recorded some of these last year when I was still writing for the newspaper , but it has taken me quite a few years to get my eye in for these seasonal pictures of understated beauty.

Cardoon!

Cardoon!

It is hard to beat the big fluffy heads of the cardoon. I don’t do dried flower and seed head arrangements for indoors, but if you are thinking that way, be warned that all that soft fluff is designed to detach easily and float away in the lightest breeze to disperse. Indoors this head will fall apart very quickly.
???????????????????????????????The aster to the left has a similar fluffy seed head, as does the pachystegia to the right. Along the bottom are the highly decorative clematis seed heads – in this case C. tangutica.

The lovely Hibiscus trionum seed heads

The lovely Hibiscus trionum seed heads

Rhododendron sino nuttallii seed head

Rhododendron sino nuttallii seed head

Phlomis russeliana at top, one of the echinops below

Phlomis russeliana at top, one of the echinops below


Sedum and miscanthus

Sedum and miscanthus

Francoa and Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowflake'

Francoa and Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’


I have often read advice to leave all seeding plants standing until early spring as they are a valuable food source for birds. This is cold climate advice that is much less of an issue in our temperate climate and our own situation which is rich in food sources all year round. However, we do get a great deal of pleasure watching the quail feeding from an assortment of seed sources. Pansies appear to be a particular favourite. We try and dead head problem plants that seed down far too freely but I am cultivating a more relaxed attitude to others. It is all about the cycle of nature and the change of season.
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Sole survivor – Tecomanthe speciosa

Tecomanthe speciosa - a sole surviving specimen was found in the wild

Tecomanthe speciosa – a sole surviving specimen was found in the wild

Plants cannot come more endangered than our native Tecomanthe speciosa. Only one has ever been found in the wild and that was back in 1945-6 on Manawa Tawhi, the biggest island of the Three Kings group off the northern coast of New Zealand. Blame the goats which were introduced to our offshore islands, as I understand it, to provide food for shipwrecked sailors back in the days when this was a more common event.

I have a fondness for carpets of fallen blooms

I have a fondness for carpets of fallen blooms

Fortunately T. speciosa is not difficult to propagate and it is its use as a garden plant in frost-free areas of the country that has ensured its survival. I usually miss the autumn flowering on our vines because most of it occurs about 10 metres up in the sky where it has clambered its way up to the light on one of our road boundaries. I only noticed it this season because I happened across the flower carpet below and looked more closely. I must admit that I did not realise it put out clusters of blooms on bare wood in its lower reaches too.

Tecomanthe  venusta

Tecomanthe venusta

There aren’t many tecomanthe species, all of which are members of the bignoniaceae family and evergreen. There seems some agreement on the number five, maybe six. There is our T. speciosa, one maybe two from Queensland in Australia (T. hillii is the most recognised) and three from New Guinea. We have two New Guinea forms here. The first is what we call T. venusta (syn dendrophylla).

It is distinctly tropical but shows the same characteristics as T. speciosa when it comes to putting up strong tendrils and flowering in clusters from bare wood.

Tecomanthe montana

Tecomanthe montana

We had T. hillii which was sold commercially in NZ some years ago but it didn’t look like too much of a gem here so we didn’t take care of it and no longer have it. The real gem for us is not even on the usual lists of species but we have it under the name T. montana from New Guinea. It flowers in mid spring and is much finer leafed, finer growing and more floriferous than its larger two cousins we also grow.

Our native speciosa appears to be the giant in the family. The vines on our well established plant are as thick as human limbs. It also has much larger, glossy leaves. The best plants I have seen have been trained and kept pruned along the verandah fronts of houses. You need a very strong structure to hold them and to be consistent on pruning but it does at least get them flowering well at a level where it is visible.

Vines are large as human limbs on our native T. speciosa

Vines are large as human limbs on our native T. speciosa

Vines are large as human limbs on our native T. speciosa[/caption]On the same botanical survey of the Three Kings that the sole tecomanthe plant was found, another sole remaining specimen of a tree species was found – Pennantia balyisiana.

Taonga. The Yellow Pōhutukawa on the Waitara River Bank

Metrosideros excelsa 'Aurea" or pōhutukawa in Waitara

Metrosideros excelsa ‘Aurea” or pōhutukawa in Waitara


Taonga is a Maori word, enshrined in New Zealand law through the Treaty of Waitangi. At its loosest translation, it means a treasure but more than the European understanding of treasure. It can be tangible or intangible and the transfer of a taonga carries with it great responsibility. It is not to be taken lightly. Unless you are the Taranaki Regional Council in which case you can, apparently, dismiss it out of hand and deny its very existence.

The battle to save the mature pōhutukawa on the bank of the Waitara River has been running for maybe 10 months now. True, the Council has altered its plans. To start with, their consulting engineer said no trees needed to be removed in order to get the flood protection in place. He then changed it to ALL the trees need to be removed – all 125 of the row. The plans changed yet again and the number to be removed was reduced to 23. Such a shame that they are the biggest and best 23 and the reasons for removal are less than clear to most. The Taranaki Regional Council (TRC) has dug their collective toes in, drawn lines not in sand but in concrete and refused all pleas to get a second expert opinion on ways to save the trees while getting effective flood protection in place.

Four of the trees to be removed are yellow – Metrosideros excelsa ‘Aurea’. Pōhutukawa is the Maori name for these trees and the most commonly used. Not only that, but it is widely recognised that these four yellows are of considerable note. Ask any Taranaki horticulturist over a certain age and the first comment they will make is along the lines of: “Aren’t the yellows in that stretch to be felled? Surely they can’t be going to fell those. They are historically very important.”

For it is widely known that the owner of Duncan and Davies (the powerhouse plant nursery of the southern hemisphere from the 1940s to the 1980s), Sir Victor Davies personally organised the planting of those pōhutukawa on the banks of the river and that included the first known planting on mainland New Zealand of the special yellow variety. He was told about the Motiti Island yellow variant in the 1940s. The vast majority are in shades of red and the yellows are a rare sport. His nursery subsequently went on to sell other plants of the yellow selections in later years but it was because they were so special and so unique that Sir Victor Davies approached Sir Thomas Borthwick to plant them in front of the latter’s huge industrial abattoirs (known as freezing works in New Zealand), in order to provide a visual screen to beautify the river and to retain the eroding river bank. That is the Pakeha (European New Zealander) history.
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The Maori history of those trees adds another dimension altogether. For the yellow pōhutukawa originated only on Motiti Island which is the turangawaewae (loosely translated to home territory) of Ngai Te Hapu. They knew those yellow flowered trees were special. The decision to allow Sir Victor Davies access to plant material from these trees was made with hapu (sub-tribe) blessing. This is what makes those yellow specimens a taonga – a valued treasure that was gifted. In so doing, it conferred prestige upon the receiver but also an obligation to respect that taonga down the generations. It is a concept that is part of our New Zealand history. Maori need no explanation of what is a strong and enduring cultural value. An increasing number of non Maori New Zealanders also understand and we have come a long way in the last 30 years incorporating that dual heritage of our country.

Some of us have. In fact many of our institutions recognise and acknowledge that dual heritage and the respect that comes with it. So it was a genuine shock to find that the Taranaki Regional Council does not, even in 2015.

Ngai Te Hapu wrote a letter to support retaining those trees, pointing out the status of taonga. The letter was signed by hapu elder, Buddy Mikaere – a man of huge mana (prestige, authority, influence) widely recognised and respected throughout the country. The letter was hand delivered to the TRC with the request that it be tabled at the Executive Committee meeting in six days time. Not only did the CEO and the committee chair refuse to table the letter (it arrived “too late” for agenda inclusion, they claimed – six days in advance), but they felt it appropriate to have a staff member issue a statement denying the taonga status of the trees.

“However, the regional council remains unmoved by Mikaere’s request and removal of the trees will proceed as planned, according to operations director Stephen Hall. He confirmed the council had received the letter but disputed the significance of the Motiti Island link to the yellow-flowered pohutukawa in Waitara.
“There is clear evidence in Duncan and Davies catalogues that they were available commercially for more than a decade in the 1950s and 1960s.
“The tree has been planted at a number of other locations in Taranaki,” he said.”
(Taranaki Daily News March 31, 2013).

Pause for breath.
1) The letter has not at this time been received by elected councillors, let alone discussed.
2) Whether the yellow variety has been planted at other locations in Taranaki is a complete red herring, utterly irrelevant to the historical significance of the four river bank specimens.
3) To have a paid staff member speak to the media denying and refuting taonga status declared by a such a respected Maori leader shows a breathtaking lack of sensitivity and process, along with arrogance that is remarkable.

The final word, perhaps, rests with the Auckland person on Twitter who commented: “If Buddy Mikaere says they are taonga then they are taonga. What is wrong with these people?”

Plenty.
Pohutukawa letter

If you feel strongly about adding your support to this campaign, please go to Action Station and add your email of concern. It ain’t over til the 23rd tree is chainsawed down and chipped to mulch.
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More harvest than festival

???????????????????????????????After picking flowers, I couldn’t resist laying out some samples of the autumn harvest. I didn’t get too obsessive. There is much that I forgot to include – a good potato crop, sweet corn, another year’s supply of dried beans (not sure we have finished the 2013 bean harvest yet) and I forgot entirely about the show-off avocados which we have in such abundance that we are giving them away by the supermarket bag full.

What I can tell you, as we personally move more to a diet dominated by plant-based protein rather than one heavy on animal protein, is that anyone who says that you can be relatively self sufficient in food on a few metre square raised beds and an hour or two of work a week hasn’t actually done it themselves! With a lifetime of experience, it takes Mark a great deal of time and space to generate a wide range of food that we want to eat. Most of it is organic and we are also interested in the whole issue of nutrient density – more on this another time.

We are swapping surplus tomatoes and melons with a friend for eggs and pumpkin and appreciative friends also reciprocate with jars of preserves made from our surplus produce. It is a satisfyingly simple way of life that we followed in our twenties in our hippie days and we are enjoying rediscovering decades down the track.
The melons – both rock and water – take some effort here. Mark starts them early under a cloche in almost pure compost. The cold, wet spring meant that stone crops were sparse this year but the abundant melon crop is an indication of a good summer.

The yellow fruit by the melons are chaenomeles (japonica apples). I have boiled some down and strained off the liquid to use later for some conserve or jelly. The green fruit, for non New Zealanders – is the feijoa, a South American fruit we have almost made our own here. The oranges are one of our staple fruit here – we can harvest all year round, especially from the Lue Gim Gong tree.

Sadly, while we can grow sapotes, macadamia nuts and other marginal crops, mango and papaya are never going to grow here. We do still buy some extra fruit and vegetables.

I have even made Cape gooseberry jam again this year.

I have even made Cape gooseberry jam again this year.

Flowers from an early autumn Easter weekend

???????????????????????????????It is indubitably autumnal, but no sign of the leaves colouring or dropping yet as we gently drift into the cooler seasons. I shall do a survey of the plants that take us through autumn, I thought, and headed out to the garden with snips and a basket.

We love flowers – lots of flowers. Simple blooms, common varieties, oddities and curiosities, anything and most things (though not everything) across the colour spectrum. Some gardeners, presumably of more refined sensibilities, prefer to be restrained and to preach the value of form and foliage. We are happy to value form and foliage but we want the added appeal of flowery fluff softening the austerity.

???????????????????????????????Despite that slight sense of mournful decay that can characterise the autumnal garden, there was so much flying the flag for flowers that I had to group them. It is still early for the autumn bulbs. There is a whole lot more to come but the nine in bloom at least indicate that not all bulbs belong to spring. Starting with the white flower at the top of the photo, going clockwise, these are: Crinum moorei, belladonna, Colchicum autumnale, one of the autumn crocus (could be C. serotinus), Moraea polystachya which is an unsung star amongst the autumn bulbs, Cyclamen hederafolium both pink and white, the dainty little Leucojum autumnale, the earliest of the oxalis (hirta, luteola, massoniana and lobata) and the first of the nerines that will become the rockery stars over the next few weeks.
???????????????????????????????Climbers can be a little bothersome to place. Too many are strangling, invasive things, smothering their host as they scramble to the top, or, like the Rhodochiton atrosanguineus, seeding down in perpetuity. Others are such retiring little dainties that they can be difficult to keep going. Flowering for us at the moment are the bougainvillea (very much in the rampant camp) and one of the more garden-friendly jasmines at the top but we have lost track of which one it is. It has good fragrance, flowers pretty much all the time and is strong growing – bordering on rampant – but not as aggressive as the weedy jasmines. It is planted on the corner of the bedroom once inhabited by our daughter of the same name. Immediately below, the purple flower like a mini streptocarpus is on a soft vine, but its name escapes us at the moment. Well, I have never known it and Mark thinks he raised it from commercial seed but has yet to recall what it is. To the right are the lapagerias – Chilean bell flowers – with their wonderfully long blooming season and obliging habits. Sure it can take several – many, even – years to get a vine established but once there, these are rewarding plants for the shaded side of the house.
???????????????????????????????The flowering shrubs and trees are not so numerous at this time of the year. Top row left, we have Radermachera sinica (more on this below), Hydrangea Immaculata which is still at peak rather than that fading over to dusky spent flowerheads, next row down is the fragrant osmanthus (though not sure which one) and the so-called African butter knife plant or Cunonia capensis. Then comes the white flowered tibouchina which seeds down far too freely here but does compensate by flowering pretty much all the time in semi woodland conditions. Fuchsias are not a strong point for us, but the one on the left has been here forever it seems, surviving even falling over, splitting apart and drought. The one on the right is the attractive but dangerously weedy Fuchsia boliviana. Second row from the bottom is a sampling of vireya rhododendrons – have enough of these around the place and there are always some in flower, 52 weeks of the year. In the bottom row are the first of the evergreen azaleas embarking on their marathon blooming from early autumn right through to mid spring and the first camellia.
???????????????????????????????Camellia sinensis will no doubt be of interest to some. It is always the first to flower though with such insignificant blooms that they are easy to miss. This is the tea camellia, and yes, sometimes we do harvest the young leaves to make green tea. White flowered tea camellias are more common and we have a plant somewhere – in the “plant out” area, I think, waiting to get out of its pot.
???????????????????????????????I was pretty thrilled by the Radermachera sinica when Mark alerted me to it in bloom. It has a divine and heady fragrance. The trouble is that it is sub tropical to tropical so treated as a house plant in the temperate world. But it is a tree and ours is shooting skywards. Besides, we don’t do houseplants so we are yet to decide what to do with this plant besides enjoying its current flowering.
???????????????????????????????Finally there are the perennials and annuals still in full bloom. In brief in the yellow tones, we start with a damn big yellow salvia at the base and head around clockwise: kniphofia species, one of the gesneriad family whose name we have currently forgotten but which makes an excellent woodland plant, datura, dahlias, simple little autumn zinnias (none of the over-bred, bushy, compact, modern hybrid bedding plants), a handy yellow ground cover which flowers for a very long time and whose name will come back to us at some point, Hibiscus trionum and the common wildflower oenothera which is remarkably rewarding when it comes to blooming on and on.
???????????????????????????????In the pinks and whites, we start at the top with the under-sung white plumes of Actaea racemosa (syn Cimcifuga racemosa) whose fairy candles light up a woodland area, a simple dahlia seedling, the annual Amaranthus caudatus which is self sown, the lovely wind anemones, assorted daisies, streptocarpus (bit of one-upmanship here – we use these as permanent bedding plants in frost-free locations), one of the saponarias, a really old, self-maintaining strain of impatiens that has naturalised in our woodland, a self-seeded abutilon which should have been amongst the shrubs and some rather large and resilient begonias.

While others may find that buxus balls and refined plantings soothe their souls and give order to their lives, we like vibrancy to gladden our hearts. Besides, with flowers we get butterflies, bees and birds to enrich the scene further and we take delight in gardening to sustain a lively eco-system. That said, I gathered these flowers across a few acres, not from a few square metres in a back garden. I might feel differently with a more limited area. In the current situation, I can satisfy any need for more restrained style indoors.
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Postscript: Many of these plants have more detailed articles from earlier writing. Rather than clutter up the post with multiple links, if you want to know more about most, type the plant name in the search engine box on the right of the screen.

From foxgloves* to foxtail lilies – eremurus

Eremurus - but in Yorkshire not Tikorangi

Eremurus – but in Yorkshire not Tikorangi

We don’t have foxes in New Zealand. In that huge modification of our environment that took place with the early settlers in the 1800s, we were at least spared those. True, we could have done without the bunny rabbits, the possums, deer, goats, many common
garden slugs and snails and assorted other introductions, but foxes we did not get.

This is by way of introducing the so-called foxtail lily, which we don’t have here in the warmer north although plants are sold and no doubt perform well the further south one gardens. I imagine they are perfect in Central Otago. I photographed these in the cutting garden at Mount St John in Yorkshire last June, so in early summer. I had not seen them before and I wondered why we were not growing them. Having Mark at my side is akin to a resident technical advisor and he immediately commented that he had tried growing them (of course he had, how could I have doubted that?) but they don’t like our conditions.

The reason eremurus don’t like our conditions is that in their native habitat, stretching from north eastern Europe across western and central Asia to China, they have good drainage, especially in winter and winter chill. They also need full sun. These are areas we might describe as cold climate deserts and the other common name for eremurus is desert candles. No desert here in Tikorangi.

Eremurus are deciduous perennials in the asphodeloideae family, growing from fleshy root systems. Their growth is rapid and their season is short – again indications of a harsh climate. There are a fair number of different species which I have not unravelled (somewhere over 60 of them, according to Wiki) as well as hybrids. Some will put up flower spikes to 3 metres of more, so as a cut flower they might be better suited to the baronial hall than the domestic living room. I would hazard a guess that modern hybridists have set about breeding more compact forms, allegedly better suited to edging suburban gardens in the same manner that handsome alstromeria, eryngiums, zinnias and many other plants have been scaled down to compact little clumps. I have yet to see any that are improved by this treatment but if you have the right conditions, full-sized eremurus are a handsome delight. They also come in white and pink and any number of colour combinations between those and the oranges and yellows.

The cutting or picking garden at Mount St John in Yorkshire

The cutting or picking garden at Mount St John in Yorkshire

* The foxglove reference is to the post immediately preceding this one.

Schooling the foxgloves

White foxgloves, though at Tikorangi, not Hidcote

White foxgloves, though at Tikorangi, not Hidcote

An enduring memory of our visit to Hidcote Manor Garden in Gloucestershire was a simple planting of white foxgloves. They stood like grand white sentinels, belying their humble botanical status. A packet of white foxglove seed was top of the list on our next seed order.

Common foxgloves – and the white is just a form of the common Digitalis purpurea – are not difficult to grow. Not at all. We let some pink ones seed down through the park and in outlying garden areas. I think our widespread, dismissive attitude to foxgloves has to do with an earlier rural orientation in this country where such plants are seen as noxious weeds. But we are not farmers, so some seeding wildflowers naturalised on our property are not a problem, adding to biodiversity and providing a food source for insects.

Common Digitalis purpurea seen here with Rhododendron Caroline Allbrook

Common Digitalis purpurea seen here with Rhododendron Caroline Allbrook

???????????????????????????????The whites I wanted for my rose and perennial garden. After a few years, I am now moving them. They are too big and choke and swamp the smaller perennials I have in that area. I have found a couple of spots which they can have all to themselves. I was amused to see English gardener, Keith Wiley – for whom we have huge respect – on TV talking about growing plants in colonies but noting that some plants are so dominant that they do not want to grow in colonies. He cited foxgloves as an example. They are way too thuggish to co-exist happily with many other plants.

I could have saved myself a lot of trial and error if I had looked to the ground where the Hidcote foxgloves grew and taken note of what else did or did not grow there and how much space each huge rosette of leaves occupied. Instead, I was so enchanted by the summer display at eye level that I failed to observe further.

???????????????????????????????Carol Klein on BBC’s Gardeners’ World, once said that she sorted her foxgloves as juvenile plants – the pink ones had pink veining in the leaves and the crown whereas the white ones were all green. I am not convinced she is right though I went through a stage of culling all pink-veined seedlings. I am happy to stand corrected if somebody has been more systematic in assessing this, but I am pretty sure that I have pink-veined ones flowering white and vice versa.

What I can tell you from experience is that foxgloves have very large tops but small root systems so are easy to transplant even when quite large, as long as I reduce the foliage by anything up to 75%. They are tough. I am hoping by next year to have my white Hidcote sentinels flowering in abundance in positions where they can be glorious without smothering other plants.

Seedling variation showing a white centre to the common purple

Seedling variation showing a white centre to the common purple