Nga Puawai o Matariki or The Flowers of Matariki

Hippeastrum aulicum

After I posted last week’s piece about Matariki – the Maori new year, the winter solstice and Magnolia campbellii, a loyal reader commented that no magnolias are opening where he lives so he went looking to see what could be his Matariki flower. He settled on Mark’s Camellia ‘Fairy Blush’ which felt like an honour to us.

I like the idea of people determining their Matariki flower. We had our first ever public holiday to mark Matariki last Friday and for many of us, it was special. Not only does it mark a point in time that is significant both spiritually and scientifically to the first people of the land here, it is the only public holiday that has a nation gazing at the stars and taking an interest in astronomy.

Friends invited us to lunch to celebrate the occasion. Home entertaining is back in these Covid times, at least for our demographic. I took a bunch of Hippeastrum aulicum and our hostess commented that she had no flowers in her garden. This wasn’t quite true. She had Alstromeria  ‘Indian Summer’ still blooming but nothing else I could see. It inspired me to come home and walk around the garden with my camera to capture some of the flowers we have in the depths of mid-winter.

A vireya rhododendron seedling

The subtropical rhododendrons are blithely unaware of the seasons, except for frost which makes them turn up their toes, and we have them in flower all year round. We have a mix of species, named hybrids and unnamed seedlings from crosses Mark has made. This is an R. hellwiggi seedling which means it is also sweetly scented.

Constant companion, new dog Ralph

Everywhere I go in the garden, Ralph is at my side. He does not, alas, show any respect for the garden at all and this morning knocked off the first open flower on a dainty dwarf narcissus. We have some work to do teaching him to respect garden boundaries.

Luculia ‘Fragrant Cloud’

It is luculia season and my favourite of these is the almond pink, scented blooms of ‘Fragrant Cloud’ which has a very long flowering season but generally flops if I cut them to bring indoors. I could do without the yellow totara to the left of the scene but the red form of our native cordyline works well. This luculia is rangy, brittle and lacks any merit in its form as a shrub but all is forgiven when it flowers.

Schlumbergera or chain cactus

Right at home under the rimu trees is the schlumbergera, commonly called chain cactus. We have a few different colours but this cerise form is easily the most obliging and showiest of them. These are plants that thrive in dry shade and, despite the cactus reference, have no prickles and spines. They are also dead easy to increase by just snipping off a length and tucking into a crevice with a bit of leaf litter to root into.

Camellia ‘Mine No Yuki’ with hanging tillandsia

It is of course camellia season and this is why I don’t love Camellia sasanqua ‘Mine No Yuki’ at this time of year. It doesn’t shed its spent flowers because the foliage is so dense and they sit around looking brown and sludgy. We only keep the plant because for the rest of the year we clip it tightly into stacked clouds and it justifies its existence for the form of the plant and healthy foliage. The flowers are a disadvantage, not a bonus as far as I am concerned.

That is a fine form of Spanish moss or tillandsia threaded on inverted, old, wire hanging baskets – a trick I learned from an Auckland gardener several years ago. His were more loved than mine but they add a detail suspended from the camellia branches.

Camellia yuhsienensis

We love Camellia yuhsienensis far more, enough to grow a fair number of them as specimen plants, particularly for winter interest in the Summer Gardens. It is meant to be strongly scented but it needs a warm day and a nose stuck right in the flowers to get much of a whiff so that is a bit hyperbolic. However, the bees love it and anything that feeds the bees in midwinter is a good thing.

Dudley and Ralph

I reached the the Summer Gardens and Dudley had risen from his retirement bed to join Ralph and me. Duds is a quiet, old dog and the arrival of Ralph has come as a bit of a shock to him but they co-exist harmoniously. Dudley has made it clear that ALL dog beds are his while Ralph has laid claim to all the dog toys and already destroyed some that had survived years of Dudley’s more gentle play.

The Court Gardens in midwinter

I was focusing on flowers that are coming out or at their peak in midwinter rather than the carryovers from autumn but I made an exception for the yellow Salvia madrensis which makes a great autumn/winter plant for frost-free areas with plenty of space and nothing delicate nearby for it to smother. It is showy but large and rangy.

Daphne Perfume Princess

I have to acknowledge Mark’s Daphne ‘Perfume Princess’. Sure, it is just a daphne but what a daphne. Vigorous, reliable, exceptionally large flowers and an exceptionally long flowering season. Very scented, of course, as daphnes should be. We had stock plants left in the nursery that I threaded through the house gardens so it is quite a dominant plant here for us at this time.

Lobelia physaloides
Look at those big, blue-purple berries on the Lobelia physaloides

Look at this lesser known NZ native – Lobelia physaloides! It is sometimes referred to as the NZ hydrangea, presumably because its lush foliage loosely resembles some of that plant family. To my shame, I missed the flowering on it but the photos on line do not show any resemblance to hydrangeas. It is the berries that are the most extraordinary feature, in both size and colour. It is another rare, endangered plant on our threatened list, mostly from loss of habitat. In the wild it is limited to our offshore, subtropical islands (Three Kings and a few others) and a few mainland spots in the far north. For the botanically inclined, there is a whole lot more information here about this interesting plant. We are very pleased to have three plants of it in the garden.

The early jonquils are promising spring

I didn’t focus on the bulbs this time. We are on the cusp of peak bulb season – the early snowdrops are opening, the first of the narcissi, lachenalias in red, yellow and orange, Cyclamen coum is at its peak. It may be midwinter but we are blessed with conditions that allow plant growth and flowering all year round.

Happy Matariki from Aotearoa.

10 thoughts on “Nga Puawai o Matariki or The Flowers of Matariki

  1. robynkiltygardensnz

    Gosh you have such a variety of winter flowering plants in Taranaki, whereas in the south we do have to hunt them out a bit! But not the Snowdrop (Galanthus) if you are lucky enough to find a spread of it somewhere. As it is a true winter plant i.e. ‘Snow’ drop.

  2. helgaarlington

    Aha, so Fairy Blush is a Jury camellia! I ordered Paradise Blush and was sent it by mistake. It looked so pretty I decided to keep it too – and it’s been flowering madly in its pot where I decided to keep it just for now, for weeks and weeks! So I’m a fan too, though I have quite a few camellias flowering atm – and even a lovely Clivia miniata – so Matariki flowers are quite varied.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Yes, I have seen posts from the gardeners there. It seems that while it is from our subtropical islands, it is tolerant of cooler temperatures (but, presumably, not frosts). I think its problem in the wild is more about loss of habitat than it being pernickety and difficultit to grow.

  3. Paddy Tobin

    Ah, now! You don’t have a winter at all simply a slower season than summer. When I see Schlumbergera growing outdoors I am convinced you have it all so very easy! Enjoy!

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Well, it still feels like winter, Paddy! Though as the temperature today is forecast to be 16 degrees and the sun is out, I am guessing the day will warm up soon and I may shed my thermal tights then.

  4. Tim Dutton

    After saying there was no sign of any flowering Magnolias here last week I have been proven wrong: M. stellata ‘Rosea’ has started to open, a mere two weeks after it shed the last of its autumn leaves. It has never opened flowers in June before and usually gets going a month later. Anyway, your garden is a lot more floriferous than ours at the moment, but we do have a few reliable Matariki flowerers apart from Camelllia ‘Fairy Blush’. Hebe diosmifolia, Colleonema pulchrum and Coleonema album all start by the end of June nowadays and some of the evergreen Azaleas are always out during winter, especially ‘Charlie’. Crocus tommasinianus has started to open too, plus lots of Helleborus hybrids. This year’s biggest surprise is a Hemerocallis that has numerous flower buds on it right now and should be in flower within a few days! That’s climate change for you. Various Salvias just keep on going into winter nowadays too: like you we still have flowers on S. madrensis, plus lots on S. elegans, ‘Black Knight’, confertiflora and ‘Amistad’. All do well and flower on and on when they are planted under tall overhanging trees (mainly Eucalyptus).


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