Autumn, the first magnolia bloom of late winter, a bridge and the lovely tree dahlias

Autumn down by our stream 

Metasequoia glyptostroboides or the Dawn Redwood in our park

It is indubitably autumn here. The deciduous plants have coloured and are dropping their leaves. The nights are cool enough for us to have entered the time of the year when we light fires in the evening. True, the daytime temperatures are still around 19 celsius and we are enjoying one of our prolonged calm, mild and dry autumns. But autumn it is.

The first blooms open already on Magnolia campbellii in Waitara! On May 15!

This meant I was a little surprised when I ventured out of our home bubble last Friday to see the first blooms opening on Magnolia campbellii down in our local town of Waitara. The tree hasn’t even dropped all its leaves yet but there are several blooms already open. Being right on the coast and surrounded by urban concrete and seal, the temperature is warmer there than in our garden. We won’t see the first blooms on our M. campbellii, which is the same selected clone, until the start of July. Each year I talk about that as the harbinger of spring and the start of a new gardening year for us. I am not sure I can keep saying that having seen it coming in to bloom so early. This is one of the reasons why M. campbellii is not suitable for cold climates. Certainly it will flower later in colder temperatures but it is still so early in the season that it can be taken out by frosts. Waitara is pretty much frost-free.

The wisteria bridge as it was last November when our little dot of a grandson last came to stay

The big project this week, for Lloyd at least, is replacing the decking and railing on the wisteria bridge. That man is worth his weight in gold, I tell you. The wisterias – white Snow Showers on one side and Blue Sapphire on the other – had grown so gnarly and strong that they finally brought the railings down. Now they are both lying on the ground, I can see how big they are and will reduce them by at least fifty percent before we tie them back in, keeping them to a single old trunk and one or two new replacement whips.

Built on an old truck chassis that is outlasting the macrocarpa decking

Dredging the memory banks, we worked out that it is 25 years since the bridge went in. It was constructed by a visiting German engineer who was odd-jobbing around the place. The structural frame is an old truck chassis that was galvanised before it was put in place. That is still in perfectly good condition. It is the timbers that have finally given up the ghost. Initially Lloyd wondered if we could get away with just replacing the uprights and railings that were clearly rotten, but as he deconstructed the bridge, it became clear that all the timbers needed replacing. The original wood used was all untreated macrocarpa (Monterey cypress or Cupressus macrocarpa) so it has done very well to last 25 years.

Progress is being made with new decking and railing supports

Fortunately, ours is a well-stocked establishment with large sheds filled with many useful resources that we may need one day, so we just happened to have a stock of suitable tanalised pine to replace the timbers. Because of my aversion to the appearance of tanalised pine in the garden, it will be stained dark charcoal and I expect it to look very smart. This may even be by the end of the coming week because Lloyd is a project-oriented person. Once he starts something, he likes to keep to the one task in hand until it is completed. This is not a personality trait either Mark or I have and we recognise the advantages of it in other people.

Dahlia imperialis way up in the sky. The white form comes even later in the season.

The tree dahlias are in bloom. Goodness but these are challenging plants to have in the garden. They are magnificent in bloom, that is true. But placing them in the garden is difficult. They are brittle, rampant in growth, frost tender and way too large to stake. Some of ours can tower up to four or even five metres in the sky so they are dependent on surrounding plants to hold them more or less upright. If they fall over, they then smother everything around them and If I go in to try and support that low growth away from surrounding plants, they snap off in my hand. Then when they are dormant, they leave a big gap.

These are certainly not plants for everybody and every garden and there are good reasons why you rarely, if ever, see them for sale.

From a previous season, ‘Chameleon’ I think at the front and ‘Orchid’ (which I hope we haven’t lost but I can’t see any flowers of it yet where I think it should be) at the top. Both Keith Hammett hybrids.

But is there a lovelier autumn sight than their blooms set against a blue sky? We only have half a dozen different ones – the pink and white forms of the species D.imperialis and four from breeder, Keith Hammett. ‘Chameleon’ is a good performing, more compact hybrid of Keith’s that does not shoot for the sky so is more amenable as a garden plant with pure yellow flowers in abundance but it still needs plenty of space.

One autumnal wind will blow the taller ones over but they are a seasonal delight while they last.

A beautiful deep colour on one of Hammett’s hybrids growing through the raspberry coop.

13 thoughts on “Autumn, the first magnolia bloom of late winter, a bridge and the lovely tree dahlias

  1. robynkiltygardensnz

    I didn’t know there were several varieties of Tree Dahlia. Are they all called Dahlia imperialis, or just the pink one which does flower in the Botanic Gardens in Christchurch once in a blue moon?.
    They usually get frosted here, before they flower. Will look for it on Tuesday – my day in Bot Garden. Your climate is much gentler that ours so can imagine how wonderful it is to be able to grow them in the way you do

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I don’t know much about dahlia species, Robyn. The pink imperialis is the most common species grown. We have a white form of it (D. imperialis Alba) which flowers even later so is even more frost tender. It also grows quite a bit taller than the pink one so is a giant – with a more daisy form than cup. Keith Hammett’s are hybrids and he says on his website what other species he used but you would need to check – I have not committed the other species names to memory.

  2. Angela

    We’ve bought more pails of Wattyl Ebony stain than I dare remember to either smarten up dingy looking fences, sheds retaining walls and anything else that needs to recede or, like you, to tone down useful, though aesthetically unappealing, new pine. I always think plants look so much brighter and fresher with a dark background.

  3. Paddy Tobin

    That bridge was built to last – the framework, at least. A good job. We have had Dahlia imperalis in the garden for about ten years and have yet to see a flower! Our season must not be long enough for it to perform. We live in hope of an exceptional year and we will rejoice then!

  4. tonytomeo

    I would not have guessed that Monterey cypress could be so useful. I just planted on on May 2 as a Memorial Tree. They are native just on the far side of Monterey Bay.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Monterey cypress were one of the few trees that early settlers found would grow on our wild, coastal areas after the original forest had been cleared. They are not exactly loved or admired here but we have some really gnarled old specimens up and down the coastline. I doubt that many, if any, are planted these days but they do have good timber if you can find one with a decent shaped trunk and they make excellent firewood as long as it is in a closed firebox (can spark badly in an open fire). My dendrologist friend Glynn, who has looked at the pines and cypress in the Monterey area reckons that pretty much all the old specimens here would have protection orders slapped on them over there because they are so large, old and gnarly here!

      1. tonytomeo

        Actually, many of the stately old Monterey cypress that I grew up with in Montara were exterminated because so called ‘environmentalists’ insisted that they were an invasive naturalized exotic species! They are less than a hundred miles from their natural range, and have not ventured from where they were planted more than a century ago. However, the invasive blue gum from Tasmania remain!

  5. Jennifer Duval-Smith

    In Mt Eden there is a pink dahlia imperialis on a steep unbuildable bank up the road. I’m sure it is 3 metres high. I go up to gaze at it and it gazes back down upon me.

  6. Pingback: Paint it black – the wisteria bridge | Tikorangi The Jury Garden

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