The winter solstice this year is this coming Tuesday, 21 June. On Wednesday, we can wake in the knowledge that we are past the shortest day of the year. The days will grow longer again, imperceptibly at first but the cumulative effect means we will start to notice soon enough.
Next Friday, on June 24 we celebrate Matariki with a public holiday for the first time. Matariki marks the rising of the Pleiades star formation and the new moon which means that traditionally it covers a longer period but it has been narrowed to the one special day on the calendar of public holidays. It is the Maori new year and it is a source of awe to me that in pre-European settlement days, Maori determined the commencement of a new year which closely corresponds with the seasonality of the European new year with its arbitrary date of January 1.
I regard Matariki as a marker in time which is relevant to our country in a way that the northern new year and Queen’s Birthday are not. Because I am not a fan of winter, the declaration of hope that the year is changing and spring is just around the corner lifts my spirits. And my spirits certainly need lifting in the current run of unrelenting leaden skies punctuated by rain.
On the first cold day of winter here this week – the first day that has seen me needing to wear a coat – I went to town. And yes, right on cue, the campbellii magnolias are indeed in bloom. These are the pink Quaker Mason form of M. campbellii var campbellii which is the most widely grown selection around here. I photograph and write about them every year and I am not at all sure that I have anything new add but the emotional response I have to seeing these magnificent trees coming into bloom on or near the darkest day of the year never dims.
As usual, the three trees on Powderham Street in New Plymouth by the Huatoki Stream have a fair number of blooms already open although they won’t be at their peak until mid July.
I think the tree in the grounds of St John the Baptist Church is Waitara is matching it for open blooms. All these trees are in sheltered positions, very close to the coast and, being urban, surrounded by large amounts of concrete and tarseal which warm the areas they are planted. I like the juxtaposition of the gingko to the left of the church in its golden raiment and the magnolia to the right opening to its pink glory. Autumn meets spring in the churchyard of Waitara.
Our tree in the park is always later. We are about 5km inland and our tree is in a colder position and that can make a difference of ten days or more to the blooming. But we have the first few blooms showing colour although not yet fully open, with the promise of many more to come.
Spring is just around the corner.
Unrelated, but picked up in our park, I like decayed leaf skeletons. In this case I think it is a leaf from Magnolia insignis, formerly Manglietia insignis. The curious pin-wheel item beside it is an immature flower from the Stenocarpus, probably sinuatus, or Queensland Firewheel Tree. To be honest, our specimen of this tree is so tall and the flowers are so high up that we largely notice them only as the fallen red stamens on the leaf litter below. They are sometimes used as street trees in warmer areas both in their homeland of Australia and California and, when pruned and shaped and in a warmer climate, the flowering appears to be showier than here. I assume this flower head was blown off the tree before it could open fully. How amazing is that structure of the flower cluster?