Author Archives: Abbie Jury

About Abbie Jury Tikorangi The Jury Garden Taranaki NZ

Banishing large container plants

The stone trough dates back to the 1800s. With Japanese maple and rhodohypoxis

The stone trough dates back to the 1800s. With Japanese maple and rhodohypoxis

I am over big containers of plants. So over them, I got rid of more than 30 medium and large pots this week (proceeds to charity). I have four left with plants in them – at our gateway – and I am wondering whether they are necessary. Oh, and two vintage stone troughs with a pedigree that goes back over 100 years and the poor plants in one of those need urgent attention.

I carefully scrubbed off the carefully cultivated patina of moss and lichen for the new owner

I  scrubbed off the carefully cultivated patina of moss and lichen for the new owner

It is different in a small garden. I know that. And I am not opposed to the modern fashion of having a large number of plants in containers making a flexible display, as long as they are plants in high health. It is just a lot of work and a lot of heavy work to keep those plants worthy of being featured, let alone changing the display. In a very large garden such as we have, I have decided we don’t need them. I found I did not even get around to moving some of the medium sized containers from “out the back” to display at their peak because I could not be bothered manoeuvring them into a wheelbarrow and risking back injury. And I don’t want to be watering in the summer months.

The verandah pots at Jenny Oakley's garden near Manaia in peak health

The verandah pots at Jenny Oakley’s garden near Manaia in peak health

After years of running a commercial container nursery, I know a lot about growing plants in containers. The smaller your pot, the more often you need to repot, water and feed. But even large pots need regular attention and should be repotted entirely at least every two years. The larger the pot and the plant, the harder this becomes so most people avoid doing it, until the day when the poor plant has gone into such major decline that it can no longer be ignored. Or the pot has cracked or broken because of the outward pressure. And you can’t just keep potting permanent container plants to ever larger containers. At some point you have to get into root pruning and all the work that entails.

181I have witnessed many aberrations in good taste in containers and ancillary decoration over the years. Garish blue pots continue to infest the country – particularly Taranaki gardens, due to the high volume sold by a local importer some years ago. Having long rid myself of these lapses in good taste (planted up with burgundy plants, as I recall), close friends live in fear of my sniffy derision at their 1990s blue relics. I maintain a discreet silence unless they are good friends. Similarly, cheap pots adorned with glazed pictures of bamboo or sunflowers left these premises many years ago. I had it down to aged terracotta, neutral shades, hypertufa or stone.

But only the small pots remain. There are a few plants that need to be kept containerised, especially invasive bulbs or vulnerable treasures, but I do not think I will miss the detail of the other plants I had around the garden. I can always go garden visiting and admire them in other people’s gardens.

Beautiful pots don't even need a plant in them - photographed in Lynda Hallinan's garden near Auckland

Beautiful pots don’t even need a plant in them – photographed in Lynda Hallinan’s garden near Auckland

A call for help

collage-of-signs-post-card-1Back in the early 1980s, Mark’s late mother Mimosa was an active supporter of the groups lobbying for clean water in this area of ours. At the time, there were extended hearings into the establishment of the gas to gasoline plant at Motonui – with plans to pipe waste out to sea – and a claim under the Waitangi Treaty regarding discharging of waste to water. In good country-woman style, she would bake food to share at these hearings and on many days she would pack her lunch to head down and sit in support of those speaking out to protect our water.

As can be seen from the photo of all the signage we have now, the need to protect our water has never been greater in this time when “clean and green” is looking increasingly like The Great New Zealand Myth.

Auntie Ivy – Werenia Papakura Kipa. 1982. Photo credit Fiona Clark

Auntie Ivy – Werenia Papakura Kipa. 1982. Photo credit Fiona Clark

I have huge respect for those who continue to battle these issues. Back in the 1980s, visual activist Fiona Clark, did a haunting series of portraits of local kuia (senior Maori women, informally referred to as aunties) in their traditional coastal kaimoana locations (kaimoana – food of the sea). Thirty five years on, she remains resolutely committed to the cause.

To see Fiona and two others being pursued relentlessly by our Taranaki Regional Council for costs related to a consent hearing on discharge of waste to waters around Waitara makes me rage at the injustice. Fiona, Robbie Taylor (son of the hugely respected, late kaumatua, Aila Taylor who led the Waitangi claim back in 1982) and Pikikore Moore are being held personally liable for costs, rather than the group for whom they signed. Friends of Waitara River traces its origins back to those activists of the early 1980s but lacked legal status. By the time the hearing was held, the group was an incorporated society, but when the submission was lodged, they were not. Because of those intervening weeks, the Taranaki Regional Council decided to hold them personally responsible and the law upheld this technicality.

Being right in law does not mean that such action is fair, just or ethical. Nor did that legal process take into account any of the other failures of process on the part of the Council. In fact even the amount demanded remains a mystery but is likely to be in the mid twenty thousand dollars range.

Fishing at the Waitara river mouth

Fishing at the Waitara river mouth

I am departing from my usual gardening posts to ask New Zealand readers to consider donating a few dollars to the Give A Little page raising money to pay the Council. You just need your credit card to hand.

While the very thought of paying money to an organisation I regard as vindictive (and many other words I cannot use publicly) sticks in my craw, that doesn’t help the three people in the firing line. They need help.

Taranaki Regional Council must be really proud of leading the charge – ensuring that environmental groups or individuals can not afford to become involved in democratic processes under the Resource Management Act. Or indeed the Official Information Act. They have set an important precedent for this area and others and the best way to challenge this precedent is to show them clearly that there is great disquiet at what they have done.

...but take no shellfish from the same area

…but take no shellfish from the same area


The colours of November

Almond Icing - CopyThe deciduous azaleas certainly add vibrancy to the late spring garden as we enter November. They are not all so breathtakingly unsubtle. But I guess, were a plant to think like a human, if you are going to spend 11 months of the year being pretty insignificant, you might as well make a loud statement when it is your time to star.

In a small garden, deciduous azaleas are more back-of-the-border plants than specimen glories. They lack good structure and form and their foliage is rarely remarkable. They are prone to developing mildew on the leaves as summer progresses, certainly here in the mid north and I believe it gets worse the warmer the climate. Then the leaves drop in autumn – giving autumn colour in colder climates but not here – and all winter there is just a very plain, twiggy looking shrub.

They certainly don’t fit into a heavily-styled all year round garden where structure is deemed to be more important than seasonal colour. For these are plants that shout out to be noticed in flower and ignored the rest of the year.

DSC02020R - CopyThe area of our garden that we refer to as ‘the park’ was first planted in the early 1950s, in the style then promoted by the New Zealand Rhododendron Association. Plants stand in solitary splendour which gives them their own space, plenty of air movement and the ability to be viewed from all aspects. While it has changed and matured over the intervening six decades, the deciduous azaleas still thrive in this environment with minimal attention.

We find they are more tolerant of heavier, wetter soils close to the stream than their evergreen rhododendron cousins, which can’t abide wet feet. Equally, we have seen them thriving very close to the coast. And when they bloom, their vibrant colours are surrounded by plenty of green which removes the need to worry about clashes. We do not get the same intensity of yellow, orange, tangerine and plum colours with big floral display in many evergreen rhododendrons.


Many deciduous azaleas are strongly scented and this does not appear to be linked to colour as it often is in the wider rhododendron family where scented varieties are commonly in the whites and paler hues. But for those of more refined sensibilities, not all deciduous azaleas are in bright, unsubtle colours. Mark’s late father liked the softer colours and colour mixes, so we have some lovely varieties in paler apricot, almond and cream or white shades. Every year, we are delighted by the combination of a large old lilac bush that survives and flowers on despite this not being an area renowned for growing the syringia family, its many lilac plumes intermingling with a soft apricot azalea.

unnamed seedling - CopyAzaleas are all part of the wider rhododendron family. Evergreen ones originate from Japan while the deciduous azaleas are much more widespread in the temperate world, being found in China, Japan, Korea, southern Russia and North America. Most of what are grown now are hybrids with very mixed genetics.They are often inaccurately referred to as Ilam azaleas or azalea mollis in this country. “Mollis” refers to a particular cross deriving from A. molle and A. japonicum, originating from early plant breeders in Holland and Belgium. The Ilam azaleas came from the breeding done in Christchurch but have strong links to the Exbury azaleas, also referred to as the Knap Hill hybrids. Then there are the Ghent azaleas, which originated from that area in Belgium. Confused? It is really difficult to disentangle when in fact the most accurate description is simply to refer to them as “deciduous azaleas”.

If you are a keen and patient gardener, you can raise them from fresh seed and you will get variation in the offspring. If you want instant plants, buy them when you see them offered for sale because they are not usually available from garden centres all year round.

Denis Hughes at Blue Mountain Nurseries in Tapanui, Southland, has been breeding, selecting and selling deciduous azaleas for many years. They are grown more widely in the South Island but will flower just as freely in the north. The nursery is now in the hands of his son, Chris, and they continue to offer a mailorder service, including azaleas.

Val's Choice - CopyFirst published in the November issue of New Zealand Gardener and reprinted here with their permission.

Sydney notes: Friday 13 November, 2015

IMG_7117I spent the past week in Sydney, helping our second daughter move into her new apartment. This was a larger task than either she or I had anticipated so left little time for things horticultural. But oh the jacarandas were lovely, used widely as street trees and in front gardens in the eastern suburbs. Sydney is a great deal warmer than Tikorangi – our jacaranda will not bloom here until mid summer. IMG_7111

IMG_7141Daughter’s apartment is on the third floor. No lift. It’s not too bad – the stairs are well designed to make it easy. But I mention the third floor because that is several Magnolia Little Gems and a handsome red bougainvillea growing level with her apartment balcony. I have written about this evergreen magnolia before and have for many years suggested that its name is only ‘Little Gem’ as compared to a hypothetical Extremely Giant Gem. Three stories high so far, and these trees are not fully mature. What is more, whenever you see it photographed, it is usual to see a pristine white bloom and it certainly has a beautiful form. Alas each flower only lasts a day or two so one ends up with brown blooms – still with an attractive form – until they disintegrate, but never a tree covered in a mass of pure white. IMG_7138

IMG_7135Over the years I have seen a number of small English backyards where the only access way is via the house and thought that would be tricky. I can now say that these are eclipsed by apartments with no lift. ‘I will repot her container plants while I am here,’ I thought. Or at least the kentia palm and the tired peace lily which looked as if it was on the point of surrendering. I briefly toyed with carrying the plants down to the potting mix where there was a bit of communal garden so the mess wouldn’t matter, but decided it would be easier to carry the potting mix up and do it on the balcony. I wasn’t sure there was an outdoor tap and the rootballs needed a good soak. Logistically, it is harder than you think. Believe me. I was trying to contain the mess but even so some of the debris and the water went over the edge and I worried about alienating the lower apartment residents. The spent potting mix then had to be carried downstairs to spread. These were new challenges for me and I will look upon apartment gardeners with even greater respect. Undeterred, Daughter reclaimed her closed unit worm farm from a previous dwelling and located it discreetly at the back of the ‘landscaped’ communal area. Her kitchen scraps need to be carried downstairs anyway, so she figured she might as well keep them separate, feed the worms and use the liquid fertiliser they generate. It makes you proud to be the parent.

IMG_7132The kentia palm, I noted, is in fact three kentias (Howea forsteriana from Lord Howe Island) and there were at least five seeds sown in the original pot. That is a nursery technique to get a larger plant in a shorter space of time. Naturally I wondered about separating them but daughter needed one attractive kentia, not three smaller ones going into shock from such brutal treatment.

IMG_7128Greater love hath no mother than shopping for plastic items in Kmart but I did also get to wander through the plant section of a Bunnings store while we were doing a mission in search of home handyperson supplies. For $A26.90, you can buy a novelty houseplant of germinated “Black Bean” seeds. These are Castanospermum australe. I use the word novelty because these are not designed to grow to maturity but to be a disposable houseplant. More gratifyingly, I spotted a stand of small  plants of Mark’s new daphne, Perfume Princess.IMG_7130

There is nothing quite like finding a little bit of home in a Sydney garden centre.

Clivias, with a sidetrack onto green flowers.

IMG_5576Clivias sure do light up a dark spot at this time of the year, for those of us who live in climates where they grow. This is not a family that will take much at all in the way of frost, though their preference for shaded, woodland conditions gives some protection against cold.

I used to quote Mark’s quip that if somebody wanted to be an expert in a particular plant, hellebores would be an easy family to choose. But as long as you are patient, clivias beat them hands down for simplicity. There are only about six different species to learn and they are dead easy to grow and care for, presenting few technical challenges. The drawback is that it takes much patience as they take several years before they reach flowering size. So if you are wanting to try and hybridise for different blooms or even just to raise plants from seed, you need to be prepared to wait.

Most of the plants in our garden are C. miniata seedlings and this is by far the most common type of clivia available. It is what gives the big heads of blooms.  We have quite a few, and almost as many again hanging around in pots waiting to be planted out. Less resilient plants would be dead by now. While I think they are wonderful focal points of colour in shady areas which are lush and green, I think one can have too many orange clivia, even too many clivia. But then we have always gone for the mix and match of a variety of plants to create a more natural effect rather than uniform blocks of one colour as favoured by mass planting landscapers. They combine particularly well with ferns.

IMG_5596I headed out with my flower basket to gather a single flower from a range of plants around the garden, feeling a little as if I was doing a geriatric Milly-Molly-Mandy impersonation. Given that ours are almost all seedlings, I was a little surprised at how consistent the flowers are when I started sorting them by colour. The variations are… subtle, shall we say?

IMG_5601IMG_5598To the right, we have the ones that age to red. Do not be like the novice gardener I heard of who ordered a swag of expensive red clivia for a mass planting in her ‘designed’ garden. They opened orange, so she dug them all back up again, complained and wanted them replaced. We have not seen clivia that actually open to pure red – some age to red.

IMG_5597On the left, very battered by bad weather, are a couple of examples of blooms heading to what are called the peach tones. Like many other clivia enthusiasts, Mark has been playing around crossing different plants to try and extend the colour range and the peachy ones are certainly different to the yellows which are the comparator. We have yet to acquire any of the green throated clivia which would add a worthwhile variant.

A recent newspaper article referencing the very recent green clivias had Mark snorting. He is not a fan of green flowers at all, but a net search for images shows that they are more white clivias with green markings which is a great deal more interesting.

Satyrium odorum - green flower insignificance

Satyrium odorum – green flower insignificance

Why is Mark sniffy about green flowers? It is because he is first and foremost a gardener so he assesses plants on garden performance and appearance. And when the most dominant colour in a garden is invariably green, he sees no merit in green flowers. They meld into the surroundings. Take the green orchid, Satyrium odorum. I had to pick them because I had no hope of getting a clear photo of them in the garden. They have an interesting, strong, cinnamon scent but are insignificant as garden plants. If we hadn’t been given a whole lot of them, I wouldn’t be bothering with them.

068Earlier articles include a step by step guide to how to dig and divide clivias and a short piece on seed colour and future flower colour. To save you having to google the basic details, clivias are native to southern Africa and Swaziland, evergreen, used to growing with low light levels and belong to the Amaryllidaceae family. Over time (many years), they can get quite large – well over a metre in diameter and the same in height. Clive-ea or clivvia? We pronounce it clive-ea because it was named for a member of the Clive family, but it is probably optional.




TV gardening

Filming Gardeners' World for the BBC (photo credit: Andy Mabbett)

Filming Gardeners’ World for the BBC (photo credit: Andy Mabbett)

Mark coined a new word for our gardening lexicon – to monty, a verb meaning to fluff around in one’s own garden with more pleasure than urgency. I do a lot of montying.

British gardeners will recognise instantly that this is a tribute to Monty Don, the lead presenter of BBC’s long-running Gardeners’ World. Sure we are watching the 2013 series on NZ television (Choice TV, Fridays at 10pm) but eventually we may catch up? Unlikely. It took us a while to warm to Monty who is quintessentially British. We felt very sorry for poor Toby Buckland, the previous lead host, when he was axed. Toby had earned our respect with the depth of his knowledge and his ability to convey sound information in an unhurried manner. But it appears he lacked the class craved by the audience and, we must admit, the episode involving peeing on your compost heap may have been a step too far. Now we have settled into the groove of watching Monty who so clearly enjoys pottering around in his own garden called Longmeadow, and he is backed up by very capable and knowledgeable co-presenters from around the country. It is light years ahead of any home-grown gardening programmes here. Sure vegetable growing features, but so does aspirational, higher level gardening that is concerned with aesthetics, the environment, interesting plants and design. And Monty is a dedicated organic gardener.

Monty's outfit, via Twitter

Monty’s outfit, via Twitter

While there is a great deal of critiquing that goes on about Gardeners’ World in the UK and on social media, I just think the Brits do not know how lucky they are. The running commentary on each programme (the 2015 series has just finished) often appears on my Twitter feed under #shoutyhalfhour. It was here I picked up the very funny series of tweets about Monty’s recent attire. My prize for the best tweet went to @milominder: “Monty Don wardrobe update: nonchalant actor in relaxed interval mode at a production of The Three Musketeers”. Monty’s dog Nigel is also a huge hit.

But the viewer who tweeted: “I like Monty Don but with my small garden most items from his vast plot just do not translate. Time for a change?” should consider moving to New Zealand where our only TV gardening is aimed at the lowest common denominator, pretty much lacking in anything of interest to more experienced gardeners.

In fact, I could suggest that we have the Tui Garden infomercial vs the Yates Garden infomercial. How many of the sponsors’ products can be worked into each short segment? The focus morphs into an exercise where the selling of branded product to a gullible public with deep purses takes precedence over fostering good gardening.

I don’t blame the presenters at all. I have met both Lynda Hallinan and Tony Murrell and have a great deal of respect for them. Both are genuinely keen, knowledgeable, experienced and professional. I would love to see them given the freedom to generate quality content that goes beyond that most basic level and using the sponsors’ branded products.

I blame the producers who have kowtowed to horticultural supply merchants, apparently with unsophisticated marketing staff who think endless repetition of the company name and hawking of often unnecessary product will increase their sales and profile. It makes me flick the channel switch to escape.

Tui is arguably the worst of the two.  Kiwi Living on Friday evening on TV1 is quite an engaging lifestyle programme. The fashion makeovers, food and architecture sections are interesting. So too is the interior design, even if it is not to my personal taste. The continuity scenes with the hosts, sitting chatting on the couches, are not too embarrassing or forced. And then there is the Tui Gardening Infomercial, masquerading as the garden segment. In case you miss the Tui product when it is mentioned, it is also flashed up on the screen for you to see. So too with the Yates products on the Get Growing Roadshow, but they also work on prominent product placement in the filming and they have a wider portfolio of sponsors to serve.

Mustard, in lieu of kale here

Mustard, in lieu of kale here

We gardeners deserve better and these presenters could certainly give us better if the shackles of the sponsors were loosened. There are folk who garden outside Auckland, who are not absolute beginners under the age of 40 and who do not wish to grow tomatoes, basil or kale.

You don’t see Monty Don and his team of highly professional presenters forever promoting the sponsors’ products. I like the gentle pace of BBC Gardeners’ World. It suits my montyesque gardening style.



An abundance of spring bloom

IMG_5588Starting with a small brag photo: michelias used to be white, in the main. At least the hardier varieties are generally white. Sure the tropical M. champaca is orange and M. alba is creamy yellow, but they have not shown compatibility with the hardier varieties and don’t have enough virtues to warrant using them as breeder parents. I did a little round-up of Mark’s current seedlings that we have flowering here. It has taken him 20 years of work to get to this colour range and there is a long way to go yet. A good garden plant is much more than just an interesting bloom. There are a huge number of variables when it comes to selecting a new variety for commercial release. But even I was impressed by the range of colour, flower shape and flower size that he has achieved in this line up.
I see I optimistically posted in August on the early blooming lachenalias. I may at the time have thought there would be two or three posts charting the lachenalia season, but we are now entering the final stage so I thought I had better do a round up. From left to right we have arbuthnotiae, pallida, contaminata, orchioides var glaucina (2) and the attractive end one we have as rosea. I missed several varieties during the mid season, but one reason I missed them is that they are not fantastic performers in our conditions.
IMG_5434Glaucina is our stand-out blue, and we once gathered as many different blues as we could. It is variable in colour and somewhat frost tender, but it does at least stay within the blue spectrum (some of the other alleged blues faded out to cream or very pastelle mauve) and it increases well for us.

Lachenalia contaminata with the rockery behind

Lachenalia contaminata with the rockery behind

L. contaminata is one of the last in the season to bloom, very easy to naturalise, scented, feeds the bees (I have personally observed this) and generally under-rated.

Earlier season L. aloides and aloides quadricolor

Earlier season L. aloides and aloides quadricolor

L. aloides tricolor

L. aloides tricolor






L. aloides var. vanzyliae

L. aloides var. vanzyliae

L. aloides is pretty interesting as a species. I mentioned aloides quadricolor and the common form in New Zealand which may be aloides bicolor in my earlier post. Aloides tricolor then comes in much later, predominantly green but with enough red and yellow to make it visible. When these three forms of the species are so easy and reliable for us, why oh why is the most striking L. aloides var. vanzyliae so very difficult? It is a mystery to me and it was a bit of a surprise I managed to catch the small patch (which does not get any larger) when it was in flower.

Quite how I achieved this stylish, albeit over exposed image, I am not sure.

Quite how I achieved this stylish, albeit over exposed image, I am not sure.

We are big fans of the Australian dendrobium orchids and they are at their peak right now in the woodland areas of our garden. I did a little round up of the different ones in the garden and was surprised to find the range was somewhat greater than I had thought. Somehow we do not think of Australia having such pretty and delicate wildflowers.
Tomorrow, if the rain continues, I shall return with… clivias. Big, bright and bold.