Suddenly it is winter

The first blast of winter arrived yesterday. Camellia sasanqua ‘Crimson King’ in the foreground.

Fallen leaves and a leaden sky

While our climate is generally benign, the first serious winter chill arrived, appropriately enough, on the first calendar day of winter in New Zealand – June 1. The winter fronts come straight up from the Antarctic. Our mellow, extended autumn with calm, sunny weather and temperatures sitting around 18 or 19 degrees Celsius disappeared overnight.

This too will pass. Generally the worst of our winter weather hits after the winter solstice – June 22nd to be precise – and today, June 2, has dawned fine and sunny, albeit with a chilly temperature. Mark is taking heed of this sudden drop. Today’s task, he declared, is to cover the bananas. You can see the semi-permanent bamboo frame in the photo. He needs the extension ladder these days to get the windbreak sheltering cover in place for the bananas have grown to a substantial size. At least we get a crop from them these days but we wouldn’t if he didn’t spend a day shrouding them for winter. That is as far as battening down the hatches goes here. We don’t wrap anything else up for winter.

Camellia sasanqua ‘Elfin Rose’

with Nerine bowdenii at its feet

Winter it may now be, but this does not mean bare branches bereft of leaves and an absence of flowers. The sasanqua camellias are at their peak, many of the species camellias are opening along with the first flowers on the early japonicas and hybrids. ‘Elfin Rose’ has been a particular delight this week, with the colour-toned Nerine bowdenii below. We cloud prune ‘Elfin Rose’ into stacked layers, both to restrict its growth and to make it a feature shape all year round. This annual clipping takes place as it makes its new growth after flowering – so some time between mid winter and mid spring. Clipping later would remove next season’s flower buds and we want both the form and the flowers.

It is perhaps a good indication of our generally mild conditions that vireya rhododendrons also feature large in late autumn and early winter. These are, of course, frost tender. Many are very frost tender – especially the big, scented cultivars with heavy, felted foliage. The one above, where we have a bank of maybe five of them beneath the mandarin tree, is ‘Jiminy Cricket’. It was bred by the late Os Blumhardt and is a full sister seedling to the more widely marketed ‘Saxon Glow’ and ‘Saxon Blush’ (not marketed by us). In our opinion, it is also superior to those two but all of them show more hardiness than most vireyas on account of having the relatively hardy species R. saxifragoides as one breeder parent

Vireya rhododendron ‘Sweet Vanilla’ with ‘Golden Charm’ in the background

We place the more tender vireyas with greater care, on the margins where they get plenty of light but adjacent overhead cover will give them protection from most frost damage. This is one of Mark’s breeding  which we released as “Sweet Vanilla”. Big flowers and exotic fragrance to delight, even on the coldest days. We have no idea if it is still in production and commercially available – it is not a plant we kept under our management with intellectual property rights so anybody can produce it if they wish – but I hope it is because it has stood the test of time as a garden plant.

Daphne ‘Perfume Princess’

Also hitting its stride is Mark’s Daphne ‘Perfume Princess’, aka Mark’s Retirement Fund. It was opening its first flowers at the end of March but they were just a teaser. As we enter winter, it will bloom through until early spring and bring us scented pleasure all that time. It is not big and showy like most of his deciduous magnolias, but it is a cracker of a plant in the smaller world of daphnes.

A seedling clematis at our entrance way having a late season revival this week

While we are not expecting the full onslaught of winter until June 22 – give or take a few warning episodes prior to that – by late July, the first of the magnolias will be opening along with the snowdrops. Temperatures will start to rise in August. Our winters are not as long and bleak as experienced in many other places but human nature being what it is, we probably moan just as much about the cold and winter storms.


15 thoughts on “Suddenly it is winter

  1. dinahmow

    And here, 30kms north of Capricorn, Winter slammed into us, too, right on the official First Day.
    We will not see frosts on the coast, but nor are we likely to see much bare flesh!

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I had to look up where the Tropic of Capricorn passes through. And here I was thinking that many of those areas were forever warm.

  2. tonytomeo

    Well, I knew winter had to go ‘somewhere’.
    Is autumn color scarce there? I get the impression that it is popular in Australia, South Africa and Argentina, but that the colorful trees are exotic. For us, autumn color lasts until the foliage gets knocked down by winter weather.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      New Zealand’s native flora is over 99% evergreen so all autumn colour is from exotics. We get some from the taxodiums, prunus, metasequoia, Japanese maples and grape vines but the best autumn colour occurs in areas with drier climates and sharp seasonal change. That slow drift of mild, autumnal weather that we enjoy is not so conducive to good autumn colour. There is always a trade-off.

  3. Eileen O'Sullivan

    It was lovely to se Perfume Princess at Wellington Botanic Gardens today.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      This would gladden our hearts. It really is a big leap in terms of lifting Daphne odora performance and reliability.

  4. Lynne

    That camellia is beautiful! I’ve pinned it to my Want-It board on pinterest. I hope that is alright. If not please tell me and I will remove it ☺

  5. Paddy Tobin

    The only place I have seen any Sasanqua camellias growing here in Ireland is in Mount Congreve Garden which is only ten minutes away from us. They are generally not regarded as hardy enough to make reliable garden plants here. However, over the past few years, they have added to their number in Mount Congreve with a good number being planted as wall shrubs – trained, almost like a fan-trained fruit tree, against the wall. ‘Narumigata’ is the cultivar they have used.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I think they might be a big marginal in the coldest parts of the South Island but we never worry about their hardiness. They have come into their own here since petal blight has ravaged the japonicas.

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