In the garden 18/12/2009

Often called the New Zealand Christmas tree, the pohutakawa or Metrosideros excelsa is flowering right on cue

Often called the New Zealand Christmas tree, the pohutakawa or Metrosideros excelsa is flowering right on cue

In our local city of New Plymouth this week, the sight of the flowering pohutakawa on Currie Street which should gladden the hearts of all but the most determined haters of this wonderful coastal genus. They are flowering right on cue for Christmas. This should mean that both the Patea and Waitara plantings are coming in to their own – well worth an annual trip around to admire this plant which has become an icon of our area.

Got it - Gladiolus papilio

Got it - Gladiolus papilio

Update: By 7.30am this morning, I had received the first phone call after this item appeared in our local paper: If anybody can name this species gladiolus, we would be pleased to hear. It is indubitably beige in colour with a burgundy flare edged in gold inside the bell flower, very pretty and a million miles from Dame Edna’s gladdies. Despite spending some time on Google, we still have not managed to identify it.

So now we know it is Gladiolus papilio, syn. G. purpurea-auratus, also referred to as the butterfly gladiolus from the Cape of Africa. It is a variable species but we seem to have two distinct forms in NZ – the one shown above and a two-toned red form. A kind reader has promised to send me the red form.

A cautionary tale from a disappointed neighbour who tied up his tomatoes with the stretchy stockinette bought in rolls – the wet weather kept the tie so wet that the poor tomato stems rotted off. A timely copper spray may have helped. Tying more loosely, using freezer twists or nylon string instead could have avoided the constant damp.

If you are feeling a tad discouraged by the weather, you are not alone. While it was brilliant during early November, the past month has been all downhill and everybody else is probably suffering similarly. Friends report roses turned to slush, buxus blight spreading rampantly along with blights and mildews on anything and many things. The good news is that we probably will not have a drought this season and the bushfire risk is non existent.

Weeds are the number one priority. It is much easier to kill them while they are small and conditions mean that they are fair rocketing away at the moment. Make the push hoe your friend and keep it at the ready. We shouldn’t need to mention it, but push hoes are better for the environment than glyphosate and if you don’t have one or more, ask for one from Santa.

In the veg garden you can sow most crops but lay off the brassicas until later in the season. It is not worth the battle with the white butterfly. You can still get tomatoes in for a late crop, but use plants now, not seed. Last chance for planting water melons. Keep successional sowings of corn, beans, peas and salad vegetables going. Thin earlier crops and eat the thinning as micro veg.

As Christmas Day falls next Friday, we will not be back for a fortnight which sees us into the New Year. May we wish all readers a happy and safe festive season. If visitors outstay their welcome, you can always head out to the garden with your secateurs and push hoe. There is something infinitely restful and soothing about the repetitive tasks of gardening.