New Year New Zealand style – Matariki

Opening right on cue with Matariki and the winter solstice, Magnolia campbellii var campbellii, albeit against a leaden, wintry sky

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.

For me, Matariki is synonymous with the flowering of the campbelliis and the start of a new year of gardening

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.

The Powderham Street campbelliis have a lovely location beside the Huatoki Stream and can be viewed from the road above so the dominant view is looking down or at least across at eye level

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.

The last gasp of autumn – the golden Ginkgo biloba to the left of the church…
and the promise of spring with Magnolia campbellii to the right.

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.

The promise of much to come on our tree of M. campbellii

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.

I managed to line up one of the first blooms just opening on our tree with a rare patch of blue this week

Spring is just around the corner.

The flower to the left is an immature Stenocarpus bloom. When fully open, it has long clusters of red stamens as seen just above

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?

12 thoughts on “New Year New Zealand style – Matariki

  1. tonytomeo

    It is difficult to imagine that, in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are opposite of what they are here. Furthermore, it is amusing to see that autumn foliar color is appreciated in places like New Zealand, South America, Australia and South Africa. I think of that as something of the Northern Hemisphere, and particularly North American. Ginkgos do not need much chill to color well, and are even reliable for autumn foliar color near Los Angeles. However, they do not often last so long. Rain and wind efficiently dislodge all that remarkably colorful foliag.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      We don’t get much autumn colour where we are so we delight in what we do get. Two reasons – NZ’s native flora is 99.9% evergreen and we mostly garden with evergreens. And autumn colour is best in places where there is a distinct change in temperature between seasons and not too much wind. We tend to drift very gradually between seasons so the plants never get that clear signal to colour and prepare to drop and we get plenty of wind – and a whole lot of rain in the last ten days. There are really only a couple of places I can think of in NZ that have anything that resembles the continental climate with clear, crisp autumn days and cold nights and they are a long way from us. So autumn colour is more confined to splashes of colour on individual plants but no less appreciated for that.

      1. tonytomeo

        Well, yes, that is sort of how it is in the Los Angeles region. There is not much autumn foliar color, but some people appreciate what is there. Most people in California are not from here, and most are from regions with more distinct seasons.

  2. Pippa Strong

    Thank you for your uplifting and as always informative article. Such a joy to read, love your writing, something to aspire to. Pippa

  3. Paddy Tobin

    Gardeners mark their seasons by their plants rather than by the calendar. My garden year begins in early October with the first snowdrops of the season.

  4. Tim Dutton

    No Magnolia campbellii for us, but your post made me wonder what we have coming into flower that coincides with Matariki, to mark the end of the days getting shorter and herald the passing of the winter solstice. The best candidate in our garden seems to be Camellia ‘Fairy Blush’, which started flowering about a week ago and is now smothered in buds as well as a fair few flowers already on the hedge outside the dining room window. Thank you Mark. Mind you, we still have some roses in bloom and lots of Salvias too, as we haven’t yet had a proper frost, but they don’t herald a new season, just a prolonged old one.
    Like you I am getting tired of the incessant string of overcast cold wet days. We’ve had 300 mm of rain so far this month and the garden is very soggy.

  5. Sue K

    I fully agree with Pippa. And it is cheering to see your photos of Magnolia campbellii with flowers and swelling buds, with Canberra in winter gloom.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Thank you. Canberra in winter is indeed much colder than we ever get (I have been there in winter several times) but usually much drier which makes it easier to manage. Your summers are also way hotter than ours which may or may not be a good thing.


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