A midwinter rainbow of flowers (and a couple of colourful fruits)

Left to right: a camellia seedling beloved by a tui, Nandina domestica berries, Salvia madrensis, parsley, perennial forget me not, Ajuga reptans, stokesia and a late campanula flower spike

It was a throwaway comment from Mark that started me on my solstice rainbow. “Really, June is the month that we have the least colour in the garden,” he said as we stood looking at some bloom or other. And he is right. Come July, we have early magnolias and michelias, a whole lot of camellias, snowdrops and early narcissi are opening and there is plenty to keep our spirits high in the coldest month of winter.

We like flowers. Yes foliage and form are important in the garden. Of course they are but for us, they are the backdrop for flowers not an end in themselves. We prefer to be surrounded by colour.

I may have been listening to the Rolling Stones “She’s a Rainbow’ for a touch of nostalgia. I mention this in case you want a sound track for this post.

ROY G BIV as many of us learned in our childhood.

Tamarillos ripening on the bush

For red, may I give you the tamarillo plant – self-seeded but cropping very generously. It is another of those fruits from South America that we have taken over. Botanically Solanum betaceum, some of us are old enough to remember when they were still called tree tomatoes. True to form, it was a New Zealander who dreamed up the name tamarillo back in the late 1960s. I did not know until now that the wild forms are commonly yellow or purple and the red form we regard as the norm is another NZ creation dating back to the 1920s. I feel we may have hijacked this fruit in a manner similar to the kiwifruit which is actually Chinese. So now you know, too.

There were many other reds including camellias, vireya rhododendrons and the eyecatching red seedheads of both the arisaemas and clivias but I will stay the course with just the tamarillo.

Orange – it was a close-run thing with the kniphofia (red hot pokers) and the nandina berries but for a big hit of orange, it is impossible to beat the mandarin tree. Okay, so the photo of the tui in the mandarin tree with the starburst of Cordyline australis ‘Albertii’ is an old image but it is still one I love and have so far failed to capture again since I upgraded my camera.


Yellow I will give to the kniphofia. This one, Mark retrieved from one of our fenced shelter belts where a neighbour had been dumping his garden rubbish so that was a find. I like the clarity of the yellow as a garden plant, maybe even more than the orange forms.

Green. Where to start? In our climate we are green all year round. Not for us the white of snowbound winters, nor the unrelenting grey of climates where the sunshine hours plummet in winter and the sun barely rises over the horizon. Nor the soft beige-golden tones of a dry climate like Canberra. We are verdant green all year round. It is why dairying is so successful in this area. You are meant to be looking at the green lawn, not the late flowering of Nerine bowdeni. Unlike colder and drier climates, lawnmowing continues all year round here, though once a fortnight suffices on the house lawns in mid winter.

Some scilla, or squill, with a ratio of foliage to flower that is too high to make it a great garden plant

I struggled somewhat with the blue, indigo and violet end of the rainbow colours. Much as I love blues in the garden, there aren’t too many at this time of the year and it seemed a bit taunting to feature our blue-as-blue winter sky on a sunny day. Instead, one of the early scillas is already in flower. It is one of the obscure species where the foliage to flower ratio is somewhat too high. I once unravelled the different species we grow but failed to commit the details to memory. I failed even to remember where I recorded the details. I see there are anything up to 90 different scilla species and all I can say is that a fair few of them seem to be more showy than this one.

Indigo – just the ajuga which is perhaps an under-rated groundcover for woodland areas. The deep blue is a bonus with the dark burgundy foliage. What is indigo even doing as a colour of the rainbow when you think about it?

And finally to violet and while I entertained the violet hues of the stokesia that flowers all year round for us, I settled on a bromeliad with an indubitably lilac centre at this time of the season. Is it a neoreglia? Feel free to correct me. Bromeliads are not my forte.

Confining myself to the rainbow hues left out all the pink and white blooms. We have a lot of pink and white in mid-winter but my foray into the pretty world of marshmallow tones will have to wait for another week. I may buy a packet of marshmallows to focus my thoughts on this very topic. I can not think that I have bought marshmallows since our children grew past the age of toasting them over a fire and that is a long time ago.

A midwinter view from an upstairs window. Azaleas, a vireya rhododendron, cyclamen and herbaceous begonia all in flower and camellias coming into bloom.

18 thoughts on “A midwinter rainbow of flowers (and a couple of colourful fruits)

  1. Margaret Nelson

    Beautiful, interesting and always informative. Look forward to your columns, thankyou

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      It is a bit grey and chilly outside right at this moment and colours certainly lift the spirits more than unrelenting greys and neutrals (and greens, in the case of the garden).

      1. Patricia Deveraux

        Very grey and damp here in the Wairarapa, so I’m really appreciating my little collection of “instant colour” on my potting bench that I can see from my armchair!

  2. Elaine Bolitho

    Lovely rainbow Abbie to cheer our dark grey wet Wellington mid winter day thank you.

  3. Paddy Tobin

    Your winter is wonderful; such a kind climate and so many things in flower. The yellow Salvia madrensis caught my eye especially but tamarillos ripening in the winter boggles my poor mind. One could enjoy your winters with great ease – far better than those dry, cold, harsh winters which feature those dried grasses. Better the mildness of the New Zealand winter any day!

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Ah, but still we complain about how wet it can be and how cold the wind can be. But yes, the plants do not lie. Our winters are mild compared to many climates.

  4. Mark Boyd

    I’ve got Magnolias Vulcan and Deryk already flowering and next door Denudata and Michelia Fairy White. All seem at least a month earlier than usual !!??

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      You are further north to have Vulcan flowering already? In the decade after we first released it, we used to be able to track its blooming from the far north down to Invercargill by the phone calls. And it certainly opens earlier in the north and not until well into August down south. Fairy Magnolia White is in bloom here though. It has a very long flowering season.

      1. Mark Boyd

        Yes I am in South Auckland. Last time I remember taking pics of first Vulcan blooms it was dated mid July. Yes Fairy white is a fantastic performer.

  5. Jenny Williams

    Our large melia, though a nuisance, has spread the lawn with gold over the last two days. Beautiful! I’ve never before seen it lose so many leaves at once.

  6. robynkiltygardensnz

    What luxury Abbie!! Not a skerrick of colour to be seen here in my garden in Christchurch. It’s all brown, bare and grey after a week of frosts and since the once golden carpet of autumn leaves has now turned to brown mush!!

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Oh Robyn! I try to be mindful at all times that by no means is our experience the same for all NZers, let alone people overseas!

  7. Pingback: The marshmallow hues of midwinter flowers | Tikorangi The Jury Garden

Comments are closed.