Along the verges – midsummer on North Taranaki roadsides

Blue hydrangeas – a common roadside plant

We are very blue along our Taranaki roadsides in midsummer. I meant to get out with my camera a few weeks ago to record the roadside hydrangeas flowering in our area. Many are now passing over so I had to make do with the verge planted by our neighbour across the road. It has been bringing me pleasure for many weeks now.

Basically, hydrangeas are blue in Taranaki. This is to do with available aluminium in our acid soils.  In our warm, temperate climate with adequate summer rain, they can just be planted and left. The many, many roadside hydrangeas will have been planted originally (seeding is minimal) and then left to their own devices. I don’t think anyone ever prunes them. This means that they are generally smothered with smaller flower heads. Pruning controls the size of the shrub and increases the flower size but lessens the number of blooms. Plants can survive quite happily with no pruning at all.

Weed or common wildflower? Agapanthus

It is the season of agapanthus. They are EVERYWHERE in this area, although they generally start from a deliberate planting and they are most often seen as amenity, road verge plantings rather than garden plants. They are controversial here on account of their seeding ways and the fact that they are resistant to the most common weed killer. But our roadsides would be so much the poorer without them.

Thumbs down to woolly nightshade

My definition of a noxious weed is a plant that invades and displaces more desirable native plants and I don’t think the roadside agapanthus are displacing anything more desirable. The seed is not spread by birds and generally falls close to the parent plant so is localised. I would be far more worried about woolly nightshade – Solanum mauritianum – than about agapanthus. It has no redeeming features and is highly invasive. Curiously, by this plant, I saw a small plant of Verbena bonariensis on the verge. As it is at least two kilometres from my garden where it is flowering, I don’t think I am responsible for this plant making its way to the wild. Most of our wildflowers start as garden escapes and this verbena is so light and airy in form, while being popular with bees and butterflies, that I am not convinced that it is going to be a problem in the comparative wasteland of road verges.

Chicory – not as common as I would like it to be

Chicory is another pretty blue that I wouldn’t mind making its home around here. It is a member of the dandelion family and is also used as stock food overseas so I can’t think it would do much harm here. I found this one growing on railway land when I stopped to photograph the red hot pokers.

Kniphofia in Lepperton

Like the hydrangeas, kniphofia generally start from a deliberate planting. Though some forms seed more freely than others in a garden situation, I have never seen them as a weed when on road verges. I once wrote about them – if you want to know why Father was a red hot poker and Mother was a blushing violet. I liked this scene of kniphofia and an old gateway between the state highway and the railway line in Lepperton this week.

Crocosmia – commonly referred to as montbretia

I wrote about crocosmia in my earlier post today. If we are not blue, we are carpets of red around here – or sometimes blue and red. They are just too happy in our conditions though they do look very pretty interspersed with the long grasses on some road verges.

Common fennel

Into the yellows, we have fennel, fennel and more fennel all around the district. I really like it, so much so that I have used it in the summer borders. I like the airy grace of those yellow umbellifers and the fine, ferny foliage. The insects like them too. There is a bronze form more commonly used as an ornamental but I am not willing to spend money buying a fennel and nobody has given it to me yet.

Evening primrose

I am also fond of the wild evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) which is common enough here and certainly common in wilder areas of our property. It doesn’t seem to do any harm and the bees like it.

Thumbs down, also, to convolvulus

Not all of our wild flowers are desirable. Mark keeps out the convolvulus, be it pink or white, though there is so much of it around, I can only conclude that others are less vigilant. It is a smothering plant, hellishly difficult to eradicate once it gets a foothold. This one is climbing up the Bertram Road swing bridge over the Waitara River but will very soon dominate the whole bank and bridge if not kept under control or taken out.

The wasteland of the sprayed road verge

Not all of our wildflowers are noxious weeds. But neither are all of the weeds wildflowers worth tolerating. On the other hand, is there anything much worse than this sprayed wasteland of a road verge? A practice that remains common around here.

Agapanthus a-plenty 

And sometimes agapanthus and crocosmia – one starting from a deliberate planting, the other entirely self-introduced

11 thoughts on “Along the verges – midsummer on North Taranaki roadsides

  1. Marion

    I love roadside flowers. Down here in Canterbury (and I think I also saw it in Marlborough) is a dainty pink flowering pea. I saw a lovely bank of it as we drove down the hill into Akaroa the other day. It obviously thrives in the dry.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      We remember that pea! On one of our family camping trips, our eldest (maybe aged about 12) gathered some seed and brought it home. I think it may still be battling on in the garden on our property across the road. If I recall correctly, she then sourced it for her first real garden in Canberra, for the sake of nostalgia. She must have gathered it from a Marlborough river bed because we never took a summer camping trip south of there when the children were young.

  2. Maureen Forsyth

    Hello Abbie – along the curb side in Mangawhai I spied the attached example of the artistry of Nature – I know you are not keen on Cannas in your own garden, and prefer them in blocks of colour – but, what are we to do when Nature takes matters into it’s own hands?

    Regards, Maureen. [image: Canna 1.jpg]

    On Sat, 26 Jan 2019 at 13:51, Tikorangi The Jury Garden wrote:

    > Abbie Jury posted: ” We are very blue along our Taranaki roadsides in > midsummer. I meant to get out with my camera a few weeks ago to record the > roadside hydrangeas flowering in our area. Many are now passing over so I > had to make do with the verge planted by our neighbou” >

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Can’t see the photo, but I did debate about including a photo of canna lilies growing wild. Quite common around here and I rather think they look better as wildflowers than garden plants.

  3. susurrus

    It is funny what some people see as weeds – I wouldn’t have expected agapanthus to be one! They are vigorous though, so if the climate really suits them… perhaps. Meanwhile UK gardeners will fork out £10.95 for a named one in a 6″ pot, and go to the trouble of lifting and dividing them to try to bulk them up.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      You would be stunned at the sheer quantity in flower in this area. Thousands upon thousands. Our most common roadside plant, also used to retain clay banks. I doubt that anybody every buys any except, maybe, some of the newer dwarf varieties.

  4. Tim Dutton

    We just read your post sitting in our front garden eating ice blocks and looking out at swathes of Crocosmia x crocosmiflora, blue Agapanthus and blue Hydrangeas in our front garden. The Crocosmia have always been there and, as you say, are next to impossible to get rid of. We dead-head all of them every year, but the clumps still expand and we pull out and throw away hundreds of corms every year too. However, I have always loved the colour combination of the blues and the dark orange of them growing with Agapanthus. Yesterday I finally removed a massive clump of a dark blue long-stemmed Agapanthus that was in the way where I am planting a hedge. Took about half an hour, carving off big chunks with a sharp spade, before I was able to dig out the last bit, and three full contractor wheelbarrows of leaf and root bits from a single plant.
    We’ve lots of bronze fennel in the garden Abbie: pity we’re too far away to pop some seedlings in to you :-).

  5. Tim Dutton

    We put them all in an old chook feed sack and every time it is full we take it to the landfill. A few other nasties get treated the same way.

  6. Sandra Melville

    I am passionately opposed to weedkillers, unfortunately it’s become the go to weapon for a lot of ‘she’ll be right’ Kiwis. The destruction it causes needs to be HIGHLIGHTED more and eco-friendly alternatives made known. From cancer to wildlife, pollinators, to the food we eat, it is the GRIM REAPER. We are the kaitiaki o te whenua of our beautiful Aotearoa and we all need to say ‘no’. So much depends on it.

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