Countdown to Festival, April 2010

The Taranaki Rhododendron and Garden Festival is in its 23rd year now and will run from October 29 to November 7 this year.

The late Buffa, on guard here at Tikorangi last year

The late Buffa, on guard here at Tikorangi last year

While it is still six months out from the Rhododendron and Garden Festival, dedicated gardeners around the province are hard at work already. The days when a quick spruce-up a week out from the event could suffice are long gone. The open gardens these days maintain much higher standards which in part explains the longevity of the festival and the high visitor satisfaction rankings.

• At La Rosaleda in New Plymouth, Coleen Peri is one of the younger garden openers (possibly the youngest) and is highly motivated by her large visitor numbers in her first year of opening in 2009. She has been much preoccupied by irises of late, having bought a large range from a mailorder bearded iris business that was closing down. These are all planted out and growing away well at a different location to her garden and she is hoping to have some available for sale during Festival. At home, she is impatiently awaiting the arrival of this year’s rose order in late May or early June so she can start planting out her newest area. While she has other plants awaiting in pots, she likes to place her roses first and build out from there. An avid follower of mailorder catalogues, she is pleased to have sourced at least four different varieties of large headed alliums – yes alliums are the onion family but there are some spectacular ornamental varieties with big, round flower heads usually in purple. We saw these used extensively in English gardens and covet them ourselves.

• At Te Popo, near Stratford, Bruce and Lorri Ellis were delighted to find themselves featured in a six page spread in the January edition of a French magazine, My Garden My House (or, more correctly, Mon Jardin Ma Maison). The cover even included an inset photo of Lorri. There was a slight problem in the Ellis household in that neither of them have any French so what was actually written was a frustrating mystery as they tracked down a translator but it all looked good. Whether this leads to a massive increase in French visitors remains to be seen, but it is certainly good promotion for our festival and gratifying for Bruce and Lorri.

• Festival stalwarts, John Sole and Tony Barnes at Ngamamaku in Oakura are taking a year off. Tony says they weren’t foundation openers but he thinks they have opened without fail for around 19 years. In a garden where they have used box hedging extensively to define areas, they have been hit hard by buxus blight. Indeed, they have already incinerated extensive metreage of affected hedging. It has forced them to review the structure of their garden and it seemed a good time to take a year off while they redevelop.

• In Kakaramea, Jacq Dwyer has been thinking ahead and striking cuttings of her robust lavender. She has a bed of lavender planted under the verandah where it thrives a little too much – the plants are getting trunks which are too large for the situation but she doesn’t want to do anything drastic until she has good sized plants ready as replacements. Jacq also comments that her Boston ivy is the most amazing red now that autumn has come. This is a deciduous ivy and somewhat easier to control than many others but it is the astounding red autumn colour which is its main feature.

• In town, Mary Vinnicomb has been dealing with losses in her small but perfectly formed city garden. Her pachystegia folded its leaves and died, a termination that Mary attributes to the very wet period we had in late November and December. The pachystegia is also referred to as the Marlborough rock daisy where it clings to crevices on coastal cliffs. Its big grey leaves are almost like cardboard with white velvet below and it has white daisies in summer, making it highly prized as a garden plant though not the easiest candidate to keep alive and well. The loss also of a key plant in Clematis montana Freida was overshadowed by the death of the Vinnicomb’s much loved little black 17 year old cat, Misty. Mary comments that many visitors have been enchanted over the years to be greeted at the entry archway to their garden by Misty. Her long life belied an inauspicious arrival as a tiny scrap to be delivered by caesarian and not expected to survive. She defied the odds after being hand reared and is now permanently in the garden, marked by a Chamaecyparis obtusa Lenny’s Star.

• Here at Tikorangi, we too are mourning the loss of characterful cat who has been a part of our daily lives for over a decade. However, we could not pretend that our Buffa waited to delight garden visitors. With her, it was more a case of us having to issue a health and safety warning lest visitors be misled by Buffa’s benign appearance and lulled into thinking she was a nice  cat who would welcome their attention.