Tag Archives: Abbie Jury

Panic in the myrtles

It seems highly unlikely that we will see the end of our coastal pohutukawa to myrtle rust

Myrtle rust – words to strike terror to the heart? We are erring more on the side of a watchful eye at this stage. There is no doubt it is a worry but we have yet to see that it will be a catastrophe that will change our landscape forever, as predicted by some.

The catastrophic predictions are not been helped by the media referring to it as “deadly myrtle rust” and from there, hypothesizing that we could see the manuka honey industry under threat, the loss of our defining landscape pohutukawa trees and, horrors, the ubiquitous home fruit tree, our beloved feijoa. The deadly bit has yet to be proven. But the tone is one of unrelenting high drama. Indeed, the old warhorse, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters wants heads to roll. He has called for the resignation of the Minister of Primary Industries for failing to stop the arrival and spread of myrtle rust.

A future without feijoas seems far-fetched 

The hardy Chilean guava, Psidium littorale, is another myrtle 

A single isolated outbreak in Keri Keri (which is heading up to the most northerly part of New Zealand, for overseas readers) could possibly have been contained. As soon as it was found in nurseries and a garden centre in Taranaki, it raised every red flag for the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and indeed for us. That brings the rust to within 5km of our place. I am sure the first thing MPI did was to find out whether there was any link between the Keri Keri and Taranaki outbreaks. Had any plant material been shared or anybody visited? It appears not.

The discovery of rust at another three locations in Taranaki, including private gardens, changes the picture entirely. There is a lot to find out yet, but odds are that it is widespread and established here already so the possibility of eradication has passed.

Myrtus luma, often grown for its attractive bark, is another member of the large myrtacae family

The fact that the locations include four nurseries and a garden centre has given rise to some downright stupid comments that I have read. It is not the nursery industry spreading the disease. The rust affects juvenile plants with fresh foliage and that is what nursery plants are. It is also a great deal easier for a vigilant nurseryperson to spot the tell-tale signs on plants in tidy rows.

There are equally stupid comments about our border control and not just from the aforementioned political opportunist. Myrtle rust is carried by light-as-air fungal spores. As soon as it got to the eastern seaboard of Australia, New Caledonia and Raoul Island, it was only a matter of time before it reached here. It could presumably be transferred on a traveller’s clothes as well as being blown across. It started in Central and South America but it is also in the Caribbean, Florida and Hawaii so it is not some deadly new phenomenon – just new to this country.

It is early days, but we think it is likely that it is something we will have to learn to live with.

The ever-handy Wikipedia tells me there are nearly 6000 different species spread across over 130 different genera in the myrtacae botanical family. It is really unfortunate that it includes our beloved pōhutukawa and rata and the economically important crop of mānuka along with feijoas and guavas. But all is not lost. The rust does not affect all myrtle family members equally. Nobody has had time to research which of our myrtle members could be badly affected.

There are many variables at stake – whether there are different strains of the rust known as Austropuccinia psidii, which of our core plants it will affect badly enough to impact their growth, flowering and seed set, how it will behave in the range of our climatic conditions here and more.

Backhousia citriodora – the fragrant lemon myrtle

What is known from the Australian experience (and they have a seven year jump-start on us with this unwanted organism) is that it does not appear to have a major impact on mature trees. We are not likely to see the wholesale death of established trees before our very eyes. The impact is on young plants (but only of some myrtle species, as already stated, not all of them) so the long term effect may be the failure of plantings in the wild to regenerate.  If this is the case, then there is hope that over time more resistant specimens can be selected for propagation because there will be variation in how individual plants respond, even within the same species.

The Ministry of Primary Industries is posting information almost daily on myrtle rust and the Department of Conservation is also keeping their website current on this issue. If you want to know more, there is information from Australia. I just scanned the NSW biosecurity site which also points out that “myrtle rust spores require darkness, moisture and temperatures of 15–25°C to germinate. The first symptoms become visible within 3−5 days of initial infection. The new pustules can mature to release spores in 10–12 days. Spores can remain viable for up to three months.” I am no scientist but if that applies in NZ, I would have thought that was a fairly short life expectancy for the spore, especially when combined with a relatively high germination temperature. I note that no country has ever managed to eradicate it.

Of course we could have done without myrtle rust in New Zealand. But maybe it is time to take the finger off the panic button and  stop mourning the impending mass death of huge pōhutukawa trees and the end of feijoas in this country. It is way too early to catastrophise and point fingers of blame.

*Having just listened to yet another anxious news story about it all, I wonder whether MPI should take responsibility for the tone. In trying to impress upon us all how important it is to identify possible myrtle rust so they can track its spread, have they fed the paranoia and angst? Maybe their comms people could tone it down a little? 

We think it likely that history will prove that these Waitara riverside pohutukawa are at far greater risk from the chainsaws of the Taranaki Regional Council than myrtle rust (a reference to earlier stories). 

 

 

Reinterpreting inspiration. The new garden progresses.

The resident cat at Bury Court in 2014. We plan to visit this garden again next month.

I have been planting what I loosely refer to as “my grass garden”. I wrote about this back in February and progress is being made. I have been asked whether this garden has been planned on paper and for a while I felt somewhat shamefaced to admit that it has not. Now I just think experience and instinct will serve me better than a paper plan. Trained garden designers learn to plan on paper and good ones know how to relate open space and proportions to paper measurements. Amateurs do graph paper gardens and then, when religiously followed outside even though proportions don’t translate well, these remain forever looking like graph paper gardens. I have seen this mistake made in other people’s gardens.

This is part of a much larger area that we are gently bringing in to an entirely new garden and Mark did draw up the entire space to get the proportions right for the separate sections. He also staked out the area with bamboo sticks to define the spaces visually before any earth-moving and planting started. The first plants to go in were the structural ones which will give a formal backbone – Fairy Magnolia White in two rows to be pleached in due course, underplanted with Camellia Fairy Blush to be clipped tightly as a hedge. String lines were used to make sure that this formal green structure was straight.

Work starts. A man with a rotary hoe can be a wonderful thing.

My patch is like passage-way to the side of all this, albeit a passage-way in full sun that is about 10 metres wide by 30 metres long; at around 300sqm it is larger than some urban dwellers get in life.  The idea of a “grass garden” has somewhat morphed into “grasses and other plants with long, narrow foliage and spear-shaped foliage”. The plant palette is broadening substantially as I go but still restrained overall, by our standards. “You are not copying the Bury Court garden, are you?” asked friend and colleague, designer Tony Murrell. Well, no.

The grass garden at Bury Court

The hallmark of Bury Court was the sharp edged, geometric design filled with billowing grasses – a signature style of English designer Christopher Bradley-Hole. No hard-edged design in mine. We want even the path to meander informally without sharp definition.

From memory, Bury Court’s garden is fully deciduous in that English and Northern European style. We just don’t do fully deciduous gardens in New Zealand. Our climate is milder but also our native flora is almost 100% evergreen so we think in terms of foliage and flowers all year round. My ratio is probably closer to 60% evergreen and 40% deciduous.

Not exactly Bury Court but planting has started

Bury Court’s garden was, I am guessing, big budget. What we lack in budget, we have, I hope, made up for in sustained thought and discussion over a fairly long period of time, along with the trialling and analysis of most of the plant material. At the back of my mind, I keep repeating some of the points made by Tim Richardson in the book I reviewed recently. “Immersive, not pictorial”, I say to myself. These are not twin herbaceous borders. They are an antipodean interpretation of the New Perennials movement and I chant like a mantra the words ‘rhythm’, ‘drifts’, ‘billowing’, ‘repeats and echoes’. It is a whole new approach to composing with plants for me.

Because we are not buying in the plants but relocating them from other areas in the garden and from small accumulations in the nursery, it is more work digging and dividing than simply knocking out of pots. But I am also starting with larger plants and with the luxury of plenty of plant material. I repeat again, a lot of thought has gone into the plants to be used – a few years of thought and observation.

We have never seen gardening as instant gratification and there is much work to be done in this new area before we are ready to share it in a few – or maybe several – years’ time.

Radio Live has now set up a separate site with Tony Murrell’s Home and Garden Show audio and photos so it is a whole lot easier to find than before. Last Sunday, Tony and I were talking about hybrids and species. Coming up this Sunday, we are discussing cottage gardening. I tell you, I leap down the stairs as my alarm rings 6.23am, make myself a cup of tea and am sitting wide awake and firing on all cylinders for when the phone rings at about 6.32. These are relatively extended discussions we have and it takes quite a bit of combined concentration, especially at that hour of the morning. For me it is a new skill to be focusing my mental energy on a radio discussion rather than on writing – often the ideas are similar but the process and skills in communicating them are very different. It is probably why I have not been writing as much recently.

Finally and entirely unrelated, I give you flowers for no reason except to share the pleasure. It is tree dahlia season again.

Pink and white detail – species cyclamen.

It takes a fair number of cyclamen to create a carpet but it can be done over time

Even though we garden on a large scale across 10 acres, the little pictures are as much a delight as the big ones. For many months of the year, the species cyclamen give us charming detail. Over the years, Mark and his father before him gathered up all the different species they could find. When it comes to showy and proven garden performance, we now rely on four different ones which take us through most of the year – C. hederifolium flowers from January to late autumn, C. coum which takes us through winter, C. repandum for spring and C. purpurascens which flowers on and off all year round. C. graecum also flowers well but does not increase readily.

Cyclamen coum

There is a world of difference between the dainty species and the big hybrids which are sold primarily as house plants. Those are mostly bred from C. persicum, which we also grow but in itself it is not a stand-out performer in our conditions. I am not a fan of the hybrids, even less so when they are used as garden plants. To my eyes, they lack the charm and refinement of the species. They have been bred for a different purpose and have flowers which are much larger, often in different hues and sometimes selected for novelty value in flower form. But that is all a matter of taste.

Cyclamen graecum

A key to understanding cyclamen is knowing where they come from. This explains why C. libanoticum failed to establish as a garden plant here. It is native to the mountains of Lebanon – hardly conditions we can replicate. As it has the most beautiful flowers of any cyclamen I have seen, I was disappointed – though Mark tells me he still has it growing in his nova house (best described as his private but chaotic treasure house of obscure and curious plant material which may or may not transition to the garden, eventually).

Naturalising hederafolium by scattering seed

C. hederifolium (formerly known as neapolitanum) has been the easiest to naturalise for us – to the extent that we can even claim that we have carpets of it. It has a wide distribution from southern France through the Mediterranean to western Turkey, growing in range of conditions from rock and scrub cover to woodlands. We find it is happy in both full or partial sun on the edges of woodland areas but it needs good light levels so is not so satisfactory in shade. Some years ago, Mark scattered seed across grassy banks in our park and now we have it naturalised in meadow conditions. C. hederifolium sets lots of seed which is easy to germinate as long as it is sown fresh and not stored. The seed pods form on the end of corkscrew spiral stems. If you know somebody growing it, you may be able to request some seed.

Cyclamen purpurascens

If only C. purpurascens would set seed as freely, we could use it much more extensively. It is one of the more hardy, European species, occurring naturally as far north as Poland. It is also a terrific performer, evergreen and flowering much of the year. But it sets very little seed and that seed does not germinate readily so it is not an easy plant to increase and naturalise, despite its unfussy ways once it is growing.

Cyclamen hederifolium tubers with trowel to give scale

Cyclamen grow from flat, disc-like tubers. While hederifolium tubers can get very large – I have measured up to 15cm across on old specimens – our more delicate coum and repandum stay small. I can’t recall ever seeing a repandum tuber much larger than my little finger nail and they are mostly smaller than that. While they still set good-sized blooms, it does mean that you need a fair number of them to have much impact. Siting is also critical. They are not a suitable option where ground is being cultivated. No matter how careful you are, the tiny corms look too much like soil when they are dormant and are therefore easy to discard or dig in too deep. Nor do they like companions which can overshadow and overpower them. Our main patches are on woodland margins, particularly as ground cover beneath tall, limbed-up evergreen azaleas. We leave them undisturbed and they reward us with low carpets of bloom, sometimes combined with snowdrops (galanthus) or the little, dwarf narcissi.  Excellent drainage is also vital. All tubers will rot out in wet or heavy soils.

Hederifolium again

Generally, cyclamen show the typically heart-shaped leaves, usually marbled white or silver and a distinctive flower with upswept petals. They come in white and all shades of pink from palest through to deep cerise. Almost all of them are fully deciduous and like to sit on or in line with the ground surface, rather than being buried.

 

 

Shades of Cyclamen hederifolium

As to whether  the family name is pronounced “sike-lamen” or “sick-lamen”, we go with the former though Wikipedia tells me that is the American pronunciation whereas the latter is the British version. Take your pick.

First published in the May issue of New Zealand Gardener and reprinted here with their permission. 

“A garden is really the gardener”

The woman on the left looked a little underwhelmed by Sissinghurst too

I have always felt I needed to whisper rather than shout that, while we enjoyed our one and only visit to Sissinghurst, it did not inspire us to return. Considering the huge influence this English garden has had throughout both the UK and, more surprisingly, little ol’ New Zealand, I have wondered if we were being overly critical, maybe “gardened-out” when we visited it.

The thyme lawn was not a crowning glory when we visited Sissinghurst

It seems not. I was just going to share the link to English landscape designer Dan Pearson’s latest blog  on our garden Facebook page  but then I thought there is a bigger context for this interesting post of his. Pearson is writing about his advisory work with the head gardener at Sissinghurst to re-personalise that famous garden, restoring some of the energy and also the intimacy of what started out as a very personal garden. Over time, Pearson observes, “The way the garden became was ultimately driven by the need to provide for increasing numbers of visitors and, in so doing, the intimate sense of place was slowly and gradually altered.”

And there is the conundrum when a private garden enters the public domain following the deaths of its creators. If it is successful and well-resourced, the expectations of the visiting public play an ever-larger role in determining how the garden will be presented and maintained.

… but the Sissinghurst tower did not disappoint. However, it is structural and therefore a permanent feature

I had been reading some debate about this in the book by Tim Richardson, “You Should Have Been Here Last Week”. As far back as 2004, he was sounding the alarm bells about Sissinghurst. Writing for the Garden Design Journal, he said: “Every day, coachloads of people turn up at Sissinghurst to experience Vita Sackville-West’s garden, yet what they get bears no relation to the original in terms of content or atmosphere”. Further on in the book is his 2015 update, welcoming the appointment of Troy Scott Smith as new head gardener with Dan Pearson in an advisory role.

We have watched with interest the developments of the “regional gardens” in Taranaki – the ratepayer funded gardens of Tupare and Hollards (both created as very personal visions with owners long dead now) and Pukeiti. When the takeover was first being promoted by the regional council, I wrote several strong pieces for the local paper (see below), frankly alarmed at what was being proposed, let alone the budget. In the years since, we have backed off expressing our views publicly about what is happening in these gardens. All I can say is that in my last visit to Hollards, I felt that the originators, Bernard and Rose Hollard, had pretty much disappeared, bar some faded photographic display cut-outs of Bernie.

The faded life-size cut-out of Bernard Hollard is a little poignant

I don’t think these gardens are a victim so much of their own success – we simply don’t get enough garden visitors to Taranaki to put extreme pressure on gardens. I think they are a victim of the drive to attract numbers of general visitors to justify the expenditure. If that means sacrificing the original ambience and character of these gardens, then so be it.

Matched by faded information boards, purportedly written in the first person. Was the term “food forest” even heard of when Bernard Hollard was still alive?

Mark knew Bernie, as he was known to his family and friends, personally and is adamant that he would never have grown yams in an old tractor tyre and indeed his tidy vegetable garden was hidden away from public view

Pearson captures it in a nutshell, when he writes: “Even when the blueprint is strong, gardens can easily assume a different character, for a garden is really the gardener.”

Hollards’ modest home was demolished to make way for a visitor centre, designed in the style I call “Utility Department of Conservation”

Earlier published columns on the topic of regional gardens:

1) A letter from a ratepayer. Published July 2010 I am not sure I would be brave enough to publish this piece in the newspaper these days. I must have been more fearless back then.
2) A tale of Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust and ratepayer funding Published March 2010.
3) Taranaki Regional Gardens Part 1 – first published late 2004
4) Taranaki Regional Gardens Part 2 – first published, apparently January 2005 – the best piece of writing for those who can’t be bothered wading through the lot.
5) And Taranaki Regional Gardens Part 3 – which rather tells about the treatment of an unsolicited submission. (first published 2005). When in doubt, levy accusations of self interest.

You Should Have Been Here Last Week by Tim Richardson

The subtitle is “Sharp cuttings from a garden writer” but eagle-eyed readers may notice that the secateurs on the front cover look as if they have been through the compost heap and are anything but sharp

Tim Richardson first came to our notice with his lavish book The New English Garden. We used it as a guidebook for our last garden visiting trip in that country because we wanted to see more contemporary work.  “You Should Have Been Here Last Week” is a much more modest publication and as a result, a great deal more convenient for reading. It is a collection of writings for various publications – Country Life, Daily Telegraph, Gardens Illustrated and half a dozen others. And what an interesting collection these are.

Topics range widely and the writer does not hesitate to put forward a measured opinion, at times well apart from the Establishment. People, places, trends, theories – he will analyse the lot. His critique of the New Perennials movement, the Sheffield School and modern directions in planting struck a particular chord with us and conveyed with clarity where he considers it has developed beyond the Northern European/Piet Oudolf movement (‘Immersive not pictorial’ was particularly succinct). But if that is not your interest, maybe the politics of self-sufficiency, gay gardening, the efforts to “Re-Vita-lize” Sissinghurst and the perils of public ownership of formerly private gardens will catch your interest. Those who are aware of my opinions on the matter may laugh when I say I feel totally vindicated by his critique of the stranglehold the Arts and Crafts garden style has held over gardens for too long. Modern design does not escape his scrutiny either – his views on Suburban Modernism (Sub Mod) gives some very good advice to those who live on smaller, town sections.

There is lots of meat (or maybe high quality protein, if you prefer) in these short pieces – plenty to think about, discuss, and to challenge your thinking about gardening. And he is a good writer rich in quotable passages, sometimes cutting, controversial even.

It is worth buying, this book and it is not even expensive. I wish there was more garden writing of this quality. I did a brief search on the author and came up with this gem:

Tim Richardson, author of Sweets: The History of Temptation, is the world’s first international confectionery historian. He also writes about gardens, landscape and theatre and contributes to the Daily Telegraph, Country Life, The Idler, House & Garden, Garden Design Journal and Wallpaper. He lives in North London.”

It is an unverified Wikipedia entry and I understand he no longer writes for the Garden Design Journal – sacked, or “let go” as they say, over a satirical paragraph in a column that was too hot to handle for that publication. If you want to read the previously unpublished column, it is in this new book. Being a bit of a flibbertigibbet, I was entranced to think of him doubling as the first international confectionery historian.  He is clearly a man of many talents.

You Should Have Been Here Last Week by Tim Richardson. Pimpernel Press 2016

The Ballad of Roading Steve

Another post about living in the Tikorangi Gaslands. Not plants and gardening but the other omnipresent aspect to our lives here.

 Three years ago, we were trying so hard to preserve something of old Tikorangi midst the ravages of petrochemical development. That included keeping the rural character of the roads and the immediate environment. Ha! We failed dismally, as witness these roadworks just past our place.

They are a reminder that staff at New Plymouth District Council were mostly just humouring us when they appeared to listen. Except for one memorable staffer who did not make any attempt to humour us. No sirree, he made it clear from the start that he was the boss-man and he did not need to be polite or listen to residents. What could we possibly know? He is not there anymore. He moved on some time ago. Or maybe he was shovelled out? The politer staff would nod and give a credible performance of listening attentively. But, as subsequent actions and policies show, they were not going to deviate from their chosen path.

And so this road *improvement* has gone ahead, no doubt at considerable expense. In vain did we plead for rural amenity to be preserved while meeting the roading needs of petrochemical development. Make no mistake about it. The whole purpose of this super-duper rural road is to service the petrochemical industry, not the locals. Sure, some locals will see a wider, faster, heavily cambered road as “progress”. They don’t care about being able to stand on the side of the road and have a chat to a passing neighbour. I bet they don’t get out of their cars long enough to ever want to walk along the road verge. Presumably they don’t have any children who might, in the past, have biked to school. I am also guessing that they have never lost any dogs to speeding traffic. All they want to do is to get in their vehicles and plant foot, to get to their destination as fast as possible. That is how they see the modern world of progress.

We are living with a soundtrack of constant machinery from 7am until dark, Monday to Saturday. It has been interesting to me for several reasons. It is like a little monument to our failure in trying to make any changes for the better. But I am not feeling blue. It reminds me how successfully I have drawn in my world, circled the wagons, to exclude what goes on beyond our boundaries. And I have coped with the constant noise with equanimity. Some level of mindfulness or just simple inner tranquillity can indeed create a protective cloak.

Roading Steve, the architect of these roadworks, has also gone from Council now. Moved on. But he left a legacy. The road WILL be wider, stronger and faster for this short stretch.

No matter that since those plans were being mooted, the speed limit here has been dropped by the very same council to 80km/h, slowing the traffic overall to a safer speed.

No matter that the petrochemical company has instigated a voluntary speed limit on its heavy transport of 60km/h on that very stretch of road.

No matter that the bottom has fallen out of the Taranaki oil and gas industry and it may never recover to the levels seen when Roading Steve thought this road *upgrade* looked like a good idea. Let us not forget that oil and gas is a twilight industry and public attitudes are changing to be less sympathetic.

Where the new road has to narrow to meet the old, down the dip and on an intersection

No matter that this bright, shiny, new bit of road will encourage traffic to speed up coming down the hill until it terminates on a relatively risky intersection and narrows to the old width to climb the hill outside our place.

The work must go on.  For such is the inexorable process of local body government. Once initiated, a project cannot, apparently, be stopped. And progress can be measured by wider, stronger roads to accommodate faster vehicles. For which we all pay through local and national taxes. It is why I have circled the wagons.

Our side of the hill remains untouched. For now.

The slow autumn fade

As the nights cool and day length shortens, there is no denying that autumn is here. Coastal Taranaki is not renowned for autumn colour. It is generally drier climates with sharp seasonal changes of temperature that get the showiest displays. The trees we have that do change won’t be showing much until the end of May and into June. In our climate, the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn are extended in time but at least it means the depths of winter are but brief.

I did a round-up of flowers one year to see what was actually in bloom at this time. We think mainly of our rockery which has a second peak with the showy autumn bulbs (those that are triggered into growth by summer rain) but I see I managed to gather flowers from 40 different plant genera across trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and bulbs and that wasn’t including the last gasp of plants well past their peak season. We are blessed to live in a mild climate where plants grow and flower all year round.

Despite all that, it is a time of year that brings out the Squirrel Nutkin in me. Or is that the Laura Ingalls Wilder of The Little House on the Prairie fame? There is something visceral in preparing for cooler months and achieving a state where I know there is enough firewood to keep us warm and food supplies stockpiled against winter famine. Not that I grow the food crops – that is Mark’s domain. And indeed, the supermarket is only 10 minutes’ drive away but that is never going to be as satisfying as seeing the home produce rolling in. April is all about chestnuts, gathering walnuts, drying beans, sorting the apples and pears, gorging on rock and water melons, freezing tomatoes and corn, harvesting grapes and the like.

Miscanthus

In recent years, I have turned my attention towards the quiet charm of seed heads. This is the influence of British gardening media. They come from harsher climatic conditions where growth stops in winter and a preponderance of deciduous material means that the winter garden often looks, well, let’s be honest – dead. Their gardeners are urged to leave seed heads in place until spring as a major source of food for birds and wildlife. Dying of starvation is apparently an issue in colder climates.

There is far more discussion about the contribution domestic gardening can make to sound eco-systems and environmental management in British garden media. It is a conversation I have yet to see in this country where we are more likely to assume that any form of gardening makes a worthwhile contribution to nature – which is not necessarily true at all. It is time we questioned some of our practices like pouring on fertilisers, routine spraying, irrigation and lawn management but we can at least let some of our plants go to seed for the birds.

Hibiscus trionum

Not all seed heads are precious, I admit. I try and dead head our roadside agapanthus in the interests of public reputation (though as they are heavy seeds, they don’t spread far from the parent plant). There is a limit to how many crocosmia and tigridias we want so I dead head those. Some rhododendrons will seed themselves to death if not dead headed after flowering. And some simply have no aesthetic merit. Given that our feathered friends have enough food all year round here and many of our native birds are fruit and nectar feeders, I don’t feel obliged to keep everything intact for them in situ.

Rhododendron – one of the sino nuttalliis

When I analyse the seed heads I have photographed over the years, it is the perennials, including the grasses, that are the highlights. A few of the trees and shrubs are exceptional – particularly rhododendrons. But the graceful plumes, the fluffy pompoms, the flat heads that create silhouettes against the sky, the swept-back hairdos mostly come from perennials. The silky seed heads of the clematis are often as pretty – in an understated sort of way – as the flowers themselves. Hibiscus trionum also has exquisite seed pods with a beauty all of their own. I leave the tiered phlomis blooms on the plants until early spring because they keep their form and hold themselves erect.

Clematis tangutica

Sometimes I cut a few seed heads to bring indoors but, like hydrangea heads, they soon start to look somewhat forlorn and dusty to my eyes. Autumn can be melancholy enough without bringing it inside. But in the right place, these attempts by the plants to ensure their survival into the future can also create little cameos of detail which are delightful to look at.

Clematis tangutica at top, left to right: rhododendron, Schima khasiana, Hibiscus trionum and schizophragma

First published in the April issue of New Zealand Gardener and reproduced here with their permission.