Author Archives: Abbie Jury

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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

Keeping our monarchs at home

Joe Pye weed is a handy source of nectar for the monarch butterflies. We have always known Joe Pye as a eupatorium but it has now been renamed Eutrochium purpureum

Joe Pye weed is a handy source of nectar for the monarch butterflies. We have always known Joe Pye as a eupatorium but it has now been renamed Eutrochium purpureum

March is the month when we become aware that the days are shortening and night temperatures cooling but autumn? Not yet, at least not in North Taranaki where we drift ever so slowly from season to season. But every year, the same pressure comes on – the plight of the monarch butterflies.March is the start of the critical period. We have monarchs on the wing twelve months of the year in our garden. To a large extent, that is because we take active steps to guard the late season caterpillars. These are the ones that will chrysalis and hatch out as conditions for them grow more difficult. Given the short life span of a monarch butterfly – usually only a month, the internet tells me – it is these late season candidates which will winter over and guarantee continuance through next summer.

In North America monarchs migrate vast distances to over-winter in the mountains of Mexico but our monarchs are not as determined and will stay at home. Occasionally we find a tree where many are clustered together and it is truly a small wonder in our world to see them stretching and flexing their wings in what little warmth there is on a sunny winter’s morning. More often, we will see raggedy specimens bravely feeding from seasonal plants. The so-called Edgeworthia papyrifera (yellow daphne) can be an astounding sight in August. The key to keeping our monarchs close to home is year-round food supplies, which means plenty of flowers with visible stamens and pollen which are a fair indicator of available nectar.

Swan plants are the food source for monarch caterpillars

Swan plants are the food source for monarch caterpillars

No doubt many readers are currently suffering the seasonal anxiety of stripped swan plants and a surfeit of caterpillars at all stages of development. The caterpillars are very selective about food sources. Basically they need swan plants. We always knew these as Asclepias fruticosa but I see they have now been reclassified as Gomphocarpus fruticosus for the common one and G. physocarpus for the giant swan plant and I can’t commit either of those names to my memory. You can – and we have in the past – get medium and large caterpillars to chrysalis-size on slices of pumpkin but you have to confine them because they will head off looking for their preferred food source given the opportunity. Is there anything as brave as the sight of a procession of monarch caterpillars heading away in search of more food?

Nowadays we try and reserve plants for late season caterpillars, covering them with netting and taking steps to rid them of the nasty yellow aphid that can decimate the plants. There is a specific aphid spray that does not harm the caterpillars when infestations are really bad. Both Yates and Tui have organic products that target mites, whitefly and aphids. Later in the season, Mark will start his chrysalis rescue programme, carefully tying them with cotton to suspend them safely because they can rarely hatch successfully if lying on the ground.

We are working to establish the admirals in the garden, seen here feeding from Lycoris aurea last autumn

We are working to establish the admirals in the garden, seen here feeding from Lycoris aurea last autumn

We are finally getting patches of stinging nettle established. The only reason for this is to encourage the admirals, both red and yellow, to move into our garden. It is not our large native tree nettle – Urtica ferox – but one of the dwarf ones which has turned up which we are allowing to stay. Unlike the monarchs, which are self-introduced to this country and were first recorded around 1840, our brand of red admirals are truly indigenous and not found anywhere else in the world. Because their host plant is not as obliging and hospitable as the monarch’s swan plant, they need all the help we can give them. That said, there was a news item that came through at the start of this year reporting that the US Fish and Wildlife Service is taking steps to protect the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act. Loss of habitat and modern farming methods have caused a massive drop in the monarch population and there are fears that, without intervention, they may die out.

Some utilitarians may ask what useful contribution butterflies make to human life. It is true that there their direct contribution does not equal that of bees. But as gardeners, most of us set out to cultivate transient and ephemeral blooms for no other reason than that they are beautiful and bring delight. Butterflies are beauties of the insect world and their continued presence is a good indicator of a healthy ecosystem.

New Zealand has an active Monarch Butterfly Trust with a comprehensive website. While the obliging monarch is their main focus, they cover the whole range of butterflies found in New Zealand (which is not large by international standards) and they touch on the moths (which are considerably more numerous here but less appealing to most people). You will find answers to many specific problems on that site. While the obliging monarch is their main focus, the site has information on a whole range of butterflies found in New Zealand, which is not large by international standards, and they touch on the moths, which are considerably more numerous here…but perhaps less appealing to most people.

???????????????????????????????First published in March issue of New Zealand Gardener magazine and reprinted here with their permission.

Garden Lore: Another tree falls

Poor old Picea omorika

Poor old Picea omorika

Behold, a fine example of why most trees are best kept to a single leader. A short, fierce storm 10 days ago brought down part of our Picea omorika. This tree is several decades old – five or six maybe  – and is over twelve metres tall.

It reached about four metres before it forked into three trunks so it would have needed a good ladder to deal with the issue then but it is one of those jobs that nobody ever got around to doing. The first trunk was broke out a couple of years ago, having been exposed to wind after damage to a nearby tree. The second trunk has just fallen. Fortunately, while tall and dead straight, the only damage caused was to the flashing on the side of the shed roof. The third trunk is still in place but precariously swaying. It is highly likely it will snap off at some point in the future though we have ascertained the direction it will likely fall and it won’t be too problematic. The loss of the other two trunks leaves it one-sided, exposed and vulnerable.

Some trees have the shrubby habit of branching from the base and putting up multiple leaders. Magnolias Leonard Messell and Apollo are examples of this. Trying to keep these to a single leader is fighting nature. But most trees grow up on a single leader for maximum strength. In terms of long-lived garden specimens, they are stronger structurally and look better if the trunks are not allowed to fork low down. It is a great deal easier to do this when the plants are young than to clean up at the other end of several decades of growth.

The folly of allowing trees to develop multi leaders

The folly of allowing trees to develop multi leaders

Tikorangi Notes: Sunday March 15, 2015 Mostly about saving native trees

Schefflera septulosa in flower

Schefflera septulosa in flower

Without the discipline of a weekly newspaper deadline, it is frankly alarming how quickly I find myself slipping out of the pattern of regular writing. I realise how focussed I was all the time on ideas and images to share, always thinking ahead. But I shall show discipline and application, dear Reader, because otherwise my ideas of writing a book will fade forever into pipe dream territory.

I shall set myself an easy task, I thought, and just rattle off a Plant Collector on Schefflera septulosa for starters. But a quick check shows that I had already done that three years ago. It is the story of my life as the years of writing rack up. What caught my eyes and ears this week was to walk beneath a plant of the aforementioned schefflera and to hear the hum of hundreds of busy honey bees. The flowers are not spectacular and I must admit that, not being the world’s most observant person, I had not noticed them before. As we do not have any beehives around us, we are delighted to see such large populations of bees in residence. It is a sign that we are managing a good ecosystem for them.

Foliage on our own kauri tree

Foliage on our own kauri tree


The felling of mature native trees in urban locations, done in the name of “modern progress” and “economic gain” is big news at the moment. Sustained protests in Auckland have seen the Western Springs pohutukawa (6 large trees) saved from the motorway widening exercise and a reprieve for a mature kauri due to be felled to make way for an outside deck on a new house in the bush-clad suburb of Titirangi. The age of the kauri was declared at 500 years and immediately challenged by those who think any environmental protest undermines economic wealth. Honestly, it becomes academic as to whether it is 200 or 500 years old, but for somebody to describe it as being a “newbie” is just ignorant. It is a significant surviving tree in a rare remnant of forest which pre-dates European settlement. I cannot think that other developed countries – particularly the UK – would countenance a developer cutting down such notable trees.
Our own kauri is but a young tree at 65 years

Our own kauri is but a young tree at 65 years

I headed down to photograph our kauri in our park. It is a juvenile at a mere 65 years old but has achieved a remarkable stature in that time because it was planted in prime conditions without competition from other plants. It would be nice to think that it may survive many generations into the future. The botanical name is Agathis australis but it is usual in New Zealand to refer to these by their Maori name of kauri.
The Waitara #Pohutukawa23

The Waitara #Pohutukawa23


In the meantime, our own battle to save 23 mature pohutukawa on the river bank in our local town continues. The local authorities are less receptive and responsive than in Auckland. Indeed, the Auckland pohutukawa team sent down their banners, bunting and yarn bombing for us to use on our Waitara 23. They survived many weeks in Auckland without mishap but a mere 24 hours in Waitara before the engineer contracted to the Regional Council saw fit to rip them down, damaging many in the process. So much for the right to peaceful, democratic protest in Taranaki. The tattered and damaged “regalia” was eventually returned and will be hung again today as a reminder to the council that this issue is not going to die a quiet death.

If you feel like adding your voice, to tell the Taranaki Regional Council that felling mature native trees is not just a local issue and that people beyond are watching, please visit our on-line email campaign and add your voice. Numbers matter and your support will be much appreciated.
???????????????????????????????We are inching gently into autumn and the under-rated belladonnas are in bloom. I am looking at these with new respect and thinking that they may warrant bringing in from the roadside to some of the areas of naturalistic garden. I dislike the descriptor “naturalistic gardening”, which seems clumsy to my eyes, but it is more accurate than “wild gardening” which may suggest weedy chaos to some.
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???????????????????????????????And finally, I leave you with Man, Planet Junior and Dogs this quiet Sunday morning – Mark heading over to his vegetable patch with a treasured implement from times past which he still uses on a regular basis.

Bamboo but where are the panda bears?

Phyllostachys edulis but, alas, no panda bears

Phyllostachys edulis but, alas, no panda bears

We have the odd stand of bamboo around the place. This giant form is Phyllostachys edulis.

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There are no fewer than 42 different species that giant pandas eat. Mark told me that P. edulis is one of them so I briefly entertained the cargo cult dream – grow the food and wait for them to arrive – but sadly that seems unlikely. A net search does not highlight P. edulis as one of the pandas’ preferred species so maybe that is the problem? We have
tried harvesting the young shoots to eat and they were fine, if n???????????????????????????????ot sufficiently inspiring to ensure that they became a dietary staple. It is, however, a useful source of very long and remarkably stable poles. One is a prop for the washing line. Mark uses it to build shelter frames for his bananas and even to make super long handles for the rake he uses to clean out our ponds. Inspired by our awe of bamboo scaffolding in Hong Kong, seen on high-rise buildings, he threatens to construct our own scaffolding but I think it is all talk.
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I photographed this bamboo screen in a Herne Bay garden during the recent Heroic Gardens Festival. It was a lovely small town garden which successfully utilised pretty much every bit of available space to integrate the indoors and outdoors as living space. I really liked the informality of the screen, with the varied lengths of bamboo rather than forcing them into uniformity and the natural weathering process. Mark was particularly taken by the close-up photo showing how the lengths were held in place. Cable ties – a wonderfully simple idea.
??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Also seen at Heroic was this crafted bamboo gate in a Mount Eden garden, which was beautifully executed and appropriate to the restrained, immaculately maintained sub-tropical back garden. This is located in the heart of a densely populated urban area but the garden gives no hint of that. The gate has clearly been coated, presumably both to prolong its life but also to stop the weathering process and preserve the smart, new appearance. Sealing the bamboo will also stop the growth of lichens.

 

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???????????????????????????????At the other end of the sophistication scale, I photographed these two bamboo gates in an Okato garden last spring. These have been added on to existing gate frames in a garden where many different bamboos are grown, and then left to weather over many years. You can see the high humidity environment and clean atmosphere in our coastal Taranaki that encourages such abundant lichen growth. As long as the bamboo is kept off the ground, it can last a surprisingly long time.

The best bamboo collection we know is at Paloma, Clive and Nicki Higgie’s garden at Fordell, near Whanganui. Bamboo enthusiasts will find much of interest there. But no panda bears, alas.

Paloma Garden

Paloma Garden

Garden lore: The Agapanthus Conundrum

???????????????????????????????Overseas gardeners find our attitude to agapanthus perplexing. These plants are much more prized elsewhere, whereas we largely consign them to roadsides. It is much rarer to see them used as garden plants in New Zealand, even though there are some very good named cultivars which are sterile, so don’t set seed. Their future is sometimes under threat as they are seen by some to be noxious weeds. And they are very difficult to get rid of if you no longer want them.

But I think our summer roadsides would be dull without them. While they set prodigious amounts of seed, these do not appear to spread far and certainly the birds are not expanding the range. But such is the concern, that we try and get round to removing the spent flower heads and we feel obliged to stop them from encroaching on the neighbours’ boundaries.

???????????????????????????????This leaves the problem of what do with the seed heads. While we make a hot compost mix, it is not always hot enough to destroy viable seed. In the past, I have been guilty of putting seed and noxious weeds out for rubbish collection but we now think that sending even very limited amounts of green waste to landfill is not justifiable.

This year Mark has set up large barrels into which unwanted seeds and bulbs are put to soak in water until they rot down. It would give a valuable liquid fertiliser but liquid feed has not been part of our routine so it is more likely to all end up in the compost heap eventually. Allow at least a month for the rotting process to take place.

If you want to get rid of clumps of agapanthus, most people will have to get digging. The most common weedkiller, glyphosate (Round Up) is largely ineffective. To spray, you have to resort to heavier duty, controlled brush killers like Grazon and few people have access to these. It may be the difficulty of eradicating existing plants that puts most people off the plant, more than their seeding ways.
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