Tikorangi Notes – of earthquakes, tree ferns and a meadow experiment

I think the Americans will like our sino nuttallii rhododendrons in bloom (and we won't mention their new president)

I think the Americans will like our sino nuttallii rhododendrons in bloom (and we won’t mention their new president)

It has been a discombobulating week. For overseas readers, I should explain it started with another major earthquake. Despite the quake being centred on the east coast of the South Island (we are the west coast of the North Island), it was the worst one Mark and I have ever felt. And I say that as inhabitants of what are sometimes called the shaky isles where we have all been raised with advice and practice at school on how to behave in an earthquake. Even here, the rocking ground was enough to significantly drop the water level in the swimming pool and to have the water sloshing out of the upstairs toilet cistern. Fortunately, after the Christchurch earthquakes, we had secured our tall pieces of furniture and bookcases.

Further south the damage has been huge and the enormity of this event is still being revealed. It is major and will take years to repair – damaged townships and settlements but also the main trunk road and rail services are completely out of commission and it is difficult to see how and when repairs will be possible. Being a sparsely populated area of this country, there is very little in the way of alternative routes available. Our hearts go out to the people so badly affected.

Closer to home, we have been sprucing up for a small American tour due on Wednesday. This is the first tour we have accepted since we closed the garden three years ago and there is nothing like knowing you will be hosting an overseas group to focus one’s eyes differently. We will not be raising the topic of their recent presidential elections (I think there may be a huge gap – a chasm, even – between how much of the world views that event and how it is seen internally by too many in the USA, so best avoided).

New shoot on black mamaku

New shoot on black mamaku

I expect they will notice our tree ferns. Here they just seed down and we cut them out (eventually) if they are in the wrong place. I cut all the fronds off the wheki (Dicksonia squarrosa) and the black mamaku (Cyathea medullaris) in preparation for the chainsaw. I have no intention of ever learning to use the chainsaw myself. It terrifies me. It is one job I leave for the men in my life. The new shoots on the denuded trunks are wonderfully decorative – icons, even, of New Zealand design. We also have plenty silver ferns (Cyathea dealbata) popping up around the place.

I think it is a wheki (Dicksonia squarrosa)

I think it is a wheki (Dicksonia squarrosa)

While tree ferns, or pongas as we call them here (pronounced ‘punga’) are closely associated with New Zealand, the most common form grown with care – bordering on reverence, almost – in Europe and the UK is actually an Australian native, Dicksonia antarctica. Visitors from the northern hemisphere are usually in awe of them occurring naturally here and being seen as expendable when they pop up in the wrong place.

Tomorrow morning on Radio Live’s Home and Garden Show, Tony Murrell and I will be discussing meadow gardens. **** Given that these discussions take place between 6.30 and 7.00 in the morning, it is always something of a surprise to me when people comment that they listen. But it is quite liberating to be chatting that early because it gives a certain freedom in these extended conversations which both Tony and I enjoy a great deal. If you are interested in listening later, the link gets posted on both Radio Live’s Facebook page and, I think, their website. Last week we were talking about Piet Oudolf and the new perennials style.

Buttercups and daisies - weeds or a meadow?

Buttercups and daisies – weeds or a meadow?

We are into our fourth spring season of experimenting with letting much of the park develop into a meadow. At this stage, our meadow is a mix of naturally occurring plants with the addition of bulbs, irises and primulas, managed with minimal intervention.  It is a challenging process in terms of how we view weeds. Certainly it is looking very pretty at the moment with carpets of buttercups and daisies and even the dandelions look colourful. I am okay with some pink Herb Robert getting away, also monarda (bergamot or bee balm) but I draw the line at docks. Mark’s particular hate is the plant he refers to as ‘stinking billy goat weed’ but the internet does not appear to agree with him on the name. Also, it is not to be confused with horny goat weed or blue billygoat weed. He is right that it is a stachys and a stinky stachys at that. It is the smell that he hates so we are generally pulling it out. I did a search and the photos seem to correlate with Stachys macrantha. If that is correct, it is a great deal more appreciated overseas than in our park. Maybe a reader can enlighten me whether S. macrantha has a pungent odour when disturbed?

A wheki which still has its old foliage undisturbed

A wheki which still has its old foliage undisturbed

*** Update: No discussion on meadows this morning on Radio Live, due to circumstances beyond everybody’s control. Instead I discussed outdoor furniture with Hamish Dodd. Meadows with Tony Murrell next Sunday at 6.35am.

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6 thoughts on “Tikorangi Notes – of earthquakes, tree ferns and a meadow experiment

  1. Lizzie Bedwell

    Could it be S Sylvatica, Abbie? Said to have a strong unpleasant smell when disturbed or crushed.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      The smell would fit but the leaf of ours appears to be more rounded than the pictures is sylvatica which show an elongated leaf form. Keeping an open mind here but thank you for adding that as a possibility.

  2. Sandy pratten

    I did enjoy reading this article. Wish I could have found the radio station. I was up. We ventured around the west coast finally. Impressive. NZ gardens are on a grand scale. I started in Auckland was in Blenheim for the earthquake and left from Christchurch after viewing over 60 gardens!!! Will be difficucilt to choose. Perhaps u might think about having my group next year from Australia even though I couldn’t see ur garden on my reconnaissance trip. I know it’s brilliant. Everyone tells me so.
    I noted u are having the Americans. May the sun shine on that day. We sadly didn’t see it much. regards Sandy Pratten. Guide Royal B G Sydney. Instagram sandyptravel

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      60 gardens! Wow. Did you take notes on each? They must start to meld in the memory after about 15 or so! We think we are doing well when we get to over 20 on overseas trips. Email me about your tour when you firm up some plans. We are accepting a few overseas special interest tours but it all depends on the timing and the package. Wettest spring ever here for us and for some other parts of the country. Very dreary. But at least we had four days of sunshine this week and yes, the sun did shine for the folk from Tennessee!

  3. Nick Miller

    I enjoyed your notes on tree ferns, and they reminded me of a visit we had several years back from a couple of fern enthusuasts from San Diego, California. Apparently San Diego is rather hot and dry and you have to work hard to grow ferns there. We took them down though our hillside grove of mamaku (Cyathea medullaris) which I had estimated, using triangulation, at up to 16 metres high. The husband stopped dead, gazed upwards in silence, then said to his wife “I think I’ve died and gone to heaven….”

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