Tag Archives: Abbie Jury

Plant collector – Tecoma stans (with an aside on a hot week)

Tecoma stans

How pretty is the yellow tecoma? It must be having a particularly good flowering season because I have never taken much notice of it before though Mark tells me it has bloomed previously. Maybe it is that it is visible from the swimming pool and I have spent a bit of time floating around on the water on my air mattress in this week’s heat.

As an aside, I can not complain to our children about the heat. We have had temperatures in the late twenties (Celsius) all week and NZ has been ‘in the grip of a heatwave’ with temperatures in the early 30s. Our children are currently living in Australia in a heatwave that has seen temperatures well into mid 40s. Sydney daughter has previously commented that the heat only really becomes a big issue when the air temperature is higher than body temperature – above 37 degrees. So, there is the voice of experience. Canberra daughter declared yesterday that our grandson would not be going swimming that day because it was a *cool* day of *only* 26 degrees. We start wilting much above 26 degrees, but let it be known that we have high humidity and particularly bright sunlight which makes moderate temperatures seem much hotter. At least that is our story and we are sticking to it. I have been swimming (or floating in a leisurely fashion) at least three times a day.

Back to the tecoma. It is a plant from south and central America in tropical to sub-tropical areas. We are more warm-temperate than sub-tropical – maybe sub-sub-tropical – but sufficiently frost-free and well drained for it to grow and bloom here. It forms a large shrub to about two metres, somewhat rangy in appearance but I am sure it could be pruned to keep it tidier. Apparently it can be grown as a hedge so it must respond to pruning. The flowers are the giveaway that it is a member of the bignoniacae family – trumpet flowers. It attracts bees and butterflies, as I have observed, but has so far failed to attract any hummingbirds on account of the absence of such feathered delights in this country. It is scented, though not powerfully so.

We only grow it for the flowers and I will start to take note of how long it blooms because it can flower all year round in warm climates. Mind you, it is also becoming a pest weed in parts of Australia and Kenya, I read.

Should Armageddon come, Tecoma stans has some useful properties. Not only is the wood good (though you would need many more plants than our one to start harvesting wood), it has many medicinal properties capable, it is said, of treating diabetes, stomach pains, water retention, syphilis and intestinal worms! I just hope that, in the event of Armageddon, we get to keep the internet. It is rather too easy to get traditional remedies wrong in inexperienced hands. 

Along the verges – midsummer on North Taranaki roadsides

Blue hydrangeas – a common roadside plant

We are very blue along our Taranaki roadsides in midsummer. I meant to get out with my camera a few weeks ago to record the roadside hydrangeas flowering in our area. Many are now passing over so I had to make do with the verge planted by our neighbour across the road. It has been bringing me pleasure for many weeks now.

Basically, hydrangeas are blue in Taranaki. This is to do with available aluminium in our acid soils.  In our warm, temperate climate with adequate summer rain, they can just be planted and left. The many, many roadside hydrangeas will have been planted originally (seeding is minimal) and then left to their own devices. I don’t think anyone ever prunes them. This means that they are generally smothered with smaller flower heads. Pruning controls the size of the shrub and increases the flower size but lessens the number of blooms. Plants can survive quite happily with no pruning at all.

Weed or common wildflower? Agapanthus

It is the season of agapanthus. They are EVERYWHERE in this area, although they generally start from a deliberate planting and they are most often seen as amenity, road verge plantings rather than garden plants. They are controversial here on account of their seeding ways and the fact that they are resistant to the most common weed killer. But our roadsides would be so much the poorer without them.

Thumbs down to woolly nightshade

My definition of a noxious weed is a plant that invades and displaces more desirable native plants and I don’t think the roadside agapanthus are displacing anything more desirable. The seed is not spread by birds and generally falls close to the parent plant so is localised. I would be far more worried about woolly nightshade – Solanum mauritianum – than about agapanthus. It has no redeeming features and is highly invasive. Curiously, by this plant, I saw a small plant of Verbena bonariensis on the verge. As it is at least two kilometres from my garden where it is flowering, I don’t think I am responsible for this plant making its way to the wild. Most of our wildflowers start as garden escapes and this verbena is so light and airy in form, while being popular with bees and butterflies, that I am not convinced that it is going to be a problem in the comparative wasteland of road verges.

Chicory – not as common as I would like it to be

Chicory is another pretty blue that I wouldn’t mind making its home around here. It is a member of the dandelion family and is also used as stock food overseas so I can’t think it would do much harm here. I found this one growing on railway land when I stopped to photograph the red hot pokers.

Kniphofia in Lepperton

Like the hydrangeas, kniphofia generally start from a deliberate planting. Though some forms seed more freely than others in a garden situation, I have never seen them as a weed when on road verges. I once wrote about them – if you want to know why Father was a red hot poker and Mother was a blushing violet. I liked this scene of kniphofia and an old gateway between the state highway and the railway line in Lepperton this week.

Crocosmia – commonly referred to as montbretia

I wrote about crocosmia in my earlier post today. If we are not blue, we are carpets of red around here – or sometimes blue and red. They are just too happy in our conditions though they do look very pretty interspersed with the long grasses on some road verges.

Common fennel

Into the yellows, we have fennel, fennel and more fennel all around the district. I really like it, so much so that I have used it in the summer borders. I like the airy grace of those yellow umbellifers and the fine, ferny foliage. The insects like them too. There is a bronze form more commonly used as an ornamental but I am not willing to spend money buying a fennel and nobody has given it to me yet.

Evening primrose

I am also fond of the wild evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) which is common enough here and certainly common in wilder areas of our property. It doesn’t seem to do any harm and the bees like it.

Thumbs down, also, to convolvulus

Not all of our wild flowers are desirable. Mark keeps out the convolvulus, be it pink or white, though there is so much of it around, I can only conclude that others are less vigilant. It is a smothering plant, hellishly difficult to eradicate once it gets a foothold. This one is climbing up the Bertram Road swing bridge over the Waitara River but will very soon dominate the whole bank and bridge if not kept under control or taken out.

The wasteland of the sprayed road verge

Not all of our wildflowers are noxious weeds. But neither are all of the weeds wildflowers worth tolerating. On the other hand, is there anything much worse than this sprayed wasteland of a road verge? A practice that remains common around here.

Agapanthus a-plenty 

And sometimes agapanthus and crocosmia – one starting from a deliberate planting, the other entirely self-introduced

Summer flowers – tigridias and crocosmias

I started by thinking I would do a comparison of tigridias. And then crocosmias. It was too hot to be out in the garden and I couldn’t go down to the shaded areas of the stream in the park to clear weeds on the banks and free up the water from some of the choking weeds on account of having stuffed my dodgy wrist doing this heavy work the day before.

But really, it is that I like making flower boards. If I had my life again, maybe I would consider textile design as a career. I could do lovely floral confections, taking inspiration from flowers from my garden.

I have spent some time separating the tigridias by colour into separate blocks in two different garden borders. There are many more colours out there but I am not so keen as to want to collect them all. A fair number of them seem to be leaning towards brown hues. This is probably what happens when the pinks cross with the yellows. I am okay with white, all the hues of palest pink through to deepest pink, pure red and bright yellow.

What I would like is forms of the yellow and the red without spots – or freckles as they are often called. It appears that the dominant freckled forms can throw the occasional seedling that lacks them entirely. I have separated off the pure white and mid to dark pinks that hatched sans freckles and last year I found a single bulb with palest pink, freckle-free status. It hasn’t yet flowered this year so I couldn’t include it and, to be honest, it is a bit insipid. But it adds a link to the chain. Over time, I would prefer to mass the freckle-free ones and just add some spotties for variation. I do not know why we have never had a red or a yellow without the spots, but I will continue to watch.

Commonly referred to as montbretia, the weedy crocosmia growing wild all round North Taranaki roadsides

And crocosmias. They turned out to be more interesting than I thought, though we only have four different ones. Crocosmia are better known as montbretia when they are a roadside weed. Or maybe now a wildflower rather than a weed. A weed suggests they can be eliminated but this east African corm has made itself so much at home now that we literally have carpets of them on the road verges around here. We try and keep it out of our park but every time we get heavy rains that cause flooding, more wash down from upstream. They are at least pretty in flower.

Left to right: the roadside weed, a selected yellow form of same, ‘Severn Sunrise’ and ‘Lucifer’

There are about nine species of crocosmia in the wild. The common roadside one is C. crocosmia x C. crocosmiiflora and it increases both from the bulb and from seed. The most common garden form is the larger-flowered, red ‘Lucifer’  which, it turns out, is a different line altogether, being  C. masoniorum × C. paniculata. I deadhead it because it sets prodigious amounts of seed and there is a limit to how many I want in the garden.

The pretty yellow form is simply a variation on the wild roadside one that Mark dug up and moved into the garden because it caught his eye. It has stayed true and also has the advantage of being either sterile or not setting much seed at all. I must take closer note this year, now that I have it well established in the new borders, and see if it is truly sterile. It is a worthwhile addition if it is.

Mark actually bought Crocosmia ‘Severn Sunrise’ from a well-known perennial nursery. All we can say is that it is either not true to the original or it performs much better in the UK, where it has been given an Award of Garden Merit from the RHS. It is so disappointing here that I plan to dig it up and dump it (but not on the roadside). Its foliage is not a good colour, the flowers are small and not displayed well AND it sets seed. I could make better selections from the wild ones along our frontage. I failed to find the species description for ‘Severn Sunrise’ but I wasn’t that interested, to be honest. Some plants just don’t justify their place even if they come with impeccable pedigrees.

The transient pleasure of a colour toned flower board to finish

 

Found! Our summer garden.

Gardening is usually a gentle activity in emotional terms. We may feel irritation, pleasure, satisfaction, disappointment or similar feelings. The feeling of sheer panic is probably largely limited to those gardening to deadlines with either an opening date for the public or a garden-based event. Occasionally, I feel real joy. I wrote about the feeling of joy in December 2016, down in our meadow. By joy, I mean the rare times when my heart sings.

It was back in 2009 when I wrote about our quest to get to grips with summer gardens. We do very good spring gardens throughout New Zealand but by summer, most people’s thoughts turn to beaches and barbeques. With a predominantly woodland garden here, our garden in summer was certainly lush, green and restful but not exactly vibrant.

A decade on and I looked at my herbaceous borders this week, and my heart sang. “Yessss!” I thought. “We do actually have a summer garden at last.” A colleague and friend visited this week and was suitably gobsmacked. “When you said you wanted to do herbaceous borders,” he said, “I thought …” I can’t remember what he said he thought but it was along the ‘yeah nah. Unlikely. They’ll learn. It’ll never happen,’ sort of thing. It was very affirming to impress a professional colleague of similar experience level to us. These borders are now at what I call the ‘tweaking stage’. Altering the bits that don’t quite work. Were I more high-falutin’, I would describe this as ‘editing’ (the current term) or maybe fine tuning. But every day, these borders bring me great personal pleasure.

Lily border to the left, caterpillar garden metamorphosing to the right

On the other side of this area (with the yet to be planted Court Garden in between) is what Mark calls the caterpillar garden. That is because he drew inspiration from a piece on BBC Gardeners’ World where leading UK designer, Tom Stuart Smith, was clipping established buxus plants into his trademark undulating forms redolent of a caterpillar. We don’t do buxus here, so Mark planted out the basic structure in the dwarf camellia species C. minutiflora. For the shape, he drew inspiration from the basket fungus which is based on five-sided shapes. So what we have are eight enclosed pentagons with bays to the side, making 23 different garden sections. Mark’s vision was of tall plants billowing out of the enclosed centres with lower plants filling all the side sections – all in shades of blues, whites and lilacs. It fell to me to fill in all the blank spaces. It is coming together. Most of the planting was done by last summer but because the camellias giving the basic form were poor, hungry specimens kept too long in the nursery (I have no idea how many – well over 100 of them?) they are taking time to recover and flourish. And the perennials with which I am painting are smaller growers than those I used in the new summer borders so it is taking longer for them to fill in the spaces. It is block planting – generally only one or two different plants per section – so a whole lot depends on the selections made at the start.

Today, I will strip out the deep pink phlox in one section – too pink. It was a mistake. Fortunately, Mark raised some perovskia seed – Russian sage with blue flowers and grey foliage. It is unproven in our conditions but will be ideal if it works and way more harmonious than the pink phlox.

A stokesia! We were both wrong.

An American visitor this week set us right on the plant that I was sure was a scabious but Mark kept referring to as a centaurea. It is in fact a stokesia and is a wildflower where he lives so we defer to his superior knowledge on this matter. He said he didn’t know which stokesia it is but as we know it dates back to Mark’s mother, it is almost certainly one that was sold in the 1960s. It has stood the test of time, I can tell you that.

Many of us covet those gorgeous big blue-lilac alliums that are seen widely in UK gardens. I was a bit shocked to find they usually treat them like tulips – disposable, one-season wonders. But then I looked at some bulb catalogues there and they are cheap as chips to buy. If we are paying anything up to $15 a bulb here, we are not going to be treating them as annuals. I decided this spring that the easy to grow blue brodiaeas – particularly Brodiaea ‘Queen Fabiola’ (also known as a tritelia) are not bad substitutes for we poor, colonial gardeners. I am drifting these bulbs along one side and very pretty they looked in spring with the white iberis. And they are perennial, not one-season wonders.

I am looking forward to autumn to start planting the central court area. I am mentally prepared for this large planting project. I have most of the plants needed at hand, not all, but most. It will be a quick turnaround, immersive grass garden – big grasses at shoulder height or taller, mostly. A prairie on steroids, perhaps?

I think it bears repeating: if you want a summer garden it needs to be close to all-day sun and start with the perennials, not trees and shrubs. Think of it like painting with flowers because it is those which give the seasonality. Form and foliage are important but they are not the foremost defining factor for a summer garden. 

 

I cannae do cannas, myself

I am really not a fan of canna lilies. We only have one in our garden, which I assume is Canna Tropicana but I don’t love it enough to give it a prized position in order to star. I find them a bit coarse, lacking any element of refinement. And they don’t die down gracefully at the end of the season. There are many other plants we prefer that we can use for the tropical look in our climate.

But the fact that I don’t want to grow them myself does not stop me from seeing their merits elsewhere. Down the road, so to speak – as in maybe 5km and a couple of road changes down the road – is a fine patch of red cannas that I admired all last summer each time I passed. They are very… bold. And undeniably cheerful. When passing in a car, they are bright enough to catch my eye every time and they do appear to have a long season in flower. Pat, who owns these, offered me some when I stopped to photograph them yesterday, but I declined. I get my pleasure from looking at them in her garden.

If you are going to grow them, my advice would be to plant them in blocks of a single colour for maximum effect. I did not realise until I looked them up to get their species name that they are edible. My cursory study of them indicated that it is the tubers you eat, not the flowers. They are Canna indica, not lilies at all, but that is probably no surprise. Their widespread natural habitat takes in large parts of South and Central America, stretching up into the southern states of USA.

Cannas are a mainstay of the summer plantings at the Te Henui cemetery. Mercifully, Cemetery Sue who leads the team of volunteers who tend those gardens, has kept the colours separate.

Auckland Regional Botanic Gardens also uses big plantings of cannas in their summer herbaceous displays. Some of these are better than others. The symphony in pink was, I thought, charming on the day. The garish stripes in primary colours, not so much. 

 

I have measured out my year in flowers, not my life in coffee spoons (as did J Alfred Prufrock)

As 2018 draws to a close, I decided that I do not have anything to say on new year gardening resolutions that I have not said before. At a personal level, I am resolved to finally complete the two gardening books that have been percolating in my head for several years. This is the first time I have stated that intention publicly. One is at the point of being ready to hand over to an external editor, the other is still in progress. More on them, I hope, as they near publication.

Then the latest posts from a Canadian gardener, Pat Webster, landed in my inbox, charting her garden through the year. I was a bit gobsmacked at four months of snow on the ground. It snowed here once. That is once in recorded history.  I am not sure what I would do in a climate with months of snow. I guess one switches to indoor pursuits.

It is different here where we garden all year round and can expect flowers every day of the year. I have thousands of photographs so finding 12 different garden scenes representing a month each took a bit of effort. It would have been much easier had I just gone for flower close-ups but some readers may like to see the different contexts. Best viewed on a larger screen, of course…

Firstly, January is for lilies. We like our lilies, a whole range of different types, but none more so than the golden Aurelians opening now, to be followed by the OTT auratums which we have in abundance. The new lily border should be a show-stopper this year after our concerted efforts to outwit Peter Rabbit and his extended family, but in the meantime, I give you the auratums in the woodland – planted maybe two decades ago and left entirely to their own devices in the time since.

February is peak summer here, when we get the most settled and warmest weather. And the Scadoxus multiflorus ssp katherinae are just astounding in the same woodland area as the previous photo.  We never planted anywhere near this number. Over the years, they have just gently seeded down and taken over an entire area, so happy are they in our conditions. There aren’t too many people around this country who have scadoxus naturalised in their garden.

March is still summer here although the day length is shortening and the nights noticeably cooler. It used to be a very green time for us, because we have so much woodland garden and there is not a whole lot of high impact flowering in later summer woodland. We went to England three times to look at summer gardens and it is the sunny perennials that flower into this time. It has been really exciting putting in a large summer garden in full sun. I am extremely impressed by the echinaceas which flower from December to April and I have a very soft spot for the blue eryngium, even if I often need to put a stake in to hold them upright.

By April, we can no longer pretend that summer will go on forever. The flowering of the Nerine sarniensis hybrids, the Cyclamen hederafolium and other autumn bulbs in the rockery tell us that time waits for no gardener and early autumn is upon us. We have long spring and autumn seasons in our part of the country.

May brings us the early camellias in bloom, in this case Camellia sasanqua ‘Crimson King’ at the mill wheel bird bath just out from the back door. So too do the months right through to early October bring us camellias, but with advent of camellia petal blight, it is the early flowers that are the showiest, most abundant and the most charming now, which mostly means the sasanquas and quite a few of the species.

June is early winter here. Definitely winter. I could have chosen Mark’s Daphne ‘Perfume Princess’ which flowers on and on through the winter months, but instead I picked Vireya Rhododendron macgregoriae.  This particular plant has a special history for us and, unusually for a vireya, it flowers like clockwork every June and July. Most of this plant genus are less predictable in their flowering times, despite their trigger being day length, not temperature. As a result, we have vireyas flowering twelve months of the year, though we do have to place them in frost-free locations on account of them being subtropical.

July is our bleakest, coldest month. But there is light ahead. July brings us snowdrops and by the end of the month, we have the earliest blooms opening on both the deciduous magnolias and the early michelias. Nothing shouts spring more than the earliest spring blooms. Mark would like some galanthus varieties that flowered later in the season as well and he has tried all that are available, but none of them compete with Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’ for showy and reliable performance and the ability to naturalise in his bulb meadows that are a long-term project.

August – yes there is a lot of snow on our Mount Taranaki. All the better to frame our Magnolia campbellii. There is well over 30km between the maunga (as we call the mountain) and our tree but each year I get out with my camera to close up the gap, as viewed from the path down to the park.

I gave September to the prunus, the flowering cherries. It is probably the campanulatas that are the showiest and they flower in August and I had already allocated that month to magnolias. But we grow quite a range of flowering cherries and this one is down in our wild North Garden, an area that we find particularly charming at this time of the year.

October is mid spring. And for October, I chose the clivias yellow, orange and red, seen here with Hippeastrum papilio and dendrobium orchids in the Rimu Avenue. As I selected photos, I realised I was leaning to what we might call our backbone flowering plants – the ones we have a-plenty. Not all of them. I had to skip the azaleas, the michelias, the campanulatas and the hydrangeas owing to my self-imposed restrictions of one per month.

November brings us peak nuttallii and maddenii rhododendrons. The rhododendrons start in August, sometimes the first blooms as early as July, and flower well into December. But the beautiful nuttallis and maddeniis peak in November and are a source of great delight.

Finally, December is marked by the Higo iris down in the meadow in our park. What prettier way to end the calendar year? And gardening being what gardening is, we start the cycle again with a new year. Best wishes to all readers for a happy and rewarding 2019.

The meadow, as we enter its sixth year

We are now entering our sixth year of managing our park as a meadow. Note the word ‘managing’. This is not just leaving it to its own devices but a much lighter touch than the previous mowing and weed control we used to practice. And in December, as in previous Decembers, my heart just fills with joy at the sight of the Higo iris in bloom. I love all times of the year in the garden – there is always something that delights me – but never more so than the iris meadow in the lead up to Christmas.

We have learned a lot in the five years past and I am sure we will continue learning. I was disconcerted to see cleavers moving in to a couple of areas. I just looked up its botanical name –  Galium aparine, which I have never even heard of before so I assume everybody knows them as cleavers. At least they are an annual weed that can be pulled out.

The tradescantia, pretty enough in flower, but arguably the worst weed of all

More alarming is the incidence of Tradescantia fluminiensis, better known as Wandering Jew. Mark has spent countless hours getting rid of this weed down the years. When we bought the property across the road 25 years ago, we acquired a stand of native tawa (Beilschmiedia tawa for overseas botanists) which was completely carpeted in tradescantia. It was a proud day when Mark announced  he had beaten it with a programme of determined eradication. Alas, he may have beaten it on our properties but every time we get a flood, more washes down from further upstream and every, wretched little bit grows. When we kept the grass short, it was easy to spot and remove immediately but in long grass, it damn well hides until we suddenly find another patch that escaped our notice. This will be an ongoing battle.

Having a stream flowing through brings responsibilities and these are weighing somewhat upon us. We worry that we are likely to be blamed for every escaped ornamental plant that establishes downstream, even if at least some are washed down from further upstream. The shiny leafed angelica, Angelica pachycarpa, somewhat more prized in overseas gardens but seen more as a weed here, has introduced itself from an upstream property.  Don’t believe the website that declares: “This is a bizarre and wonderful species of Angelica from New Zealand, and still fairly new to North American gardens”. It hails from Portugal.

I removed all the flag iris from by the water when I found out what a dangerous weed it is here, capable of forming solid islands of floating vegetation, blocking streams and estuaries.

To be honest, we figure that if the beautiful Higo irises establish themselves downstream, that may not matter. They are no risk that we can see. We worry about the Primula helodoxa, which are enormously rewarding as flowering plants but set prolific amounts of seed. We try and dead head them but there are so many that it is a hit and miss process. We are now thinking we should pull out the ones growing in the stream banks and contain it further back on dry land so the potential to seed down in the water is reduced. I am not getting too obsessed about them though. We have them near where the stream enters our place and while there are a few plants appearing further down (still on our place) it is not such a thick carpet as to shriek ‘noxious weed’. Besides, above our helodoxas, we can see we have seedlings that can only have come down from upstream neighbours.

Wachendorfia thyrsiflora – a triffid

We are, however, worried about the weed potential of Wachendorfia thyrsiflora.  It is very handsome, statuesque, even. There is no doubt about that. But it sets prolific amounts of seed and if you dig the plants out and leave them lying on the ground, they do not die. I discovered this. It is one we think we need to get back from the water. It is one thing managing a triffid of a plant on our place, it is another letting the seed fall into flowing water and potentially establish all the way down to the ocean.

Past experience has taught us that we can not get away with the traditional annual mowing of the meadow, just once a year in autumn. Our grass growth is so rampant that we have to do it twice and it seems that late January (so, mid-summer) and around June (mid-winter) are the optimal times.

Mown paths through the meadow. The clean bark on the right is a crepe myrtle

We have not done much yet to enrich the meadow mix. We are still waiting and watching to see what establishes itself. But Mark mentioned Verbena bonariensis as meadow option. It has light airy growth which would fit the meadow look, flowers for many months and is much loved by the bees. And it is an enthusiastic seeder though it remains to be seen whether it will self-seed in such a competitive environment. And I want more big, white daisies. I am trialling one in another area of the garden to see if it will make a good meadow candidate. I wouldn’t mind if pretty Orlaya grandiflora could get itself established.

Currently, I can be found in the afternoons down by the water, digging out the weedy carex and docks that are shooting up into flower, thinning the primulas and battling the wachendorfias. It is heavy work, sometimes muddy, but the setting is one to gladden my heart.

I have taken to describing our approach to gardening as similar to slow cooking – slow gardening. It is just that we measure it in years, not in hours or overnight.