Tag Archives: Abbie Jury

Watching Australia Burn

Midsummer sunrise in Tikorangi on January 2, seen through smoke and ash drift from Australia’s fires

It was probably the smoke and ash clouds floating over New Zealand that shook this country the most. Until then, the bush fires of Australia were at a safe distance. We felt immune to it on our islands isolated by 2000 km of ocean. It was all happening ‘over there’. But on New Year’s Day, the air was so bad in Dunedin that people needed headlights on to drive all day and most stayed indoors with the lights on. In mid summer. In Taranaki, we are the closest land to the east coast of Australia but wind currents meant that all we had was a peculiarly diffuse red sun, lowered light levels and sometimes a whiff of burning. What must it be like in the burning country, we all wondered.

I do not know whose image this is but it came through Bill McKibben on Twitter (@billmckibben) with the caption: These are Australians waiting on the beach to flee into the ocean if the fire keeps coming. It’s the only ‘safe’ place they can find.

Mark and I are more emotionally invested in Australia than some. Our three children live there, we have friends, colleagues and close connections. At times, I have felt like I am watching disaster porn. Six million hectares (fifteen million acres) burned already and no end in sight. An estimated half a billion animals burned. I can’t cope with the stories and images of animal suffering and death. So many of these animals depend on humans to keep them safe or to preserve what remains of their habitats but we have failed them in every way.

The view of Parliament Buildings in Canberra two days ago.

Our children all live inner city so are pretty safe from actual fires. Outer suburbs are not guaranteed. But our only grandchild lives in Canberra – a city that has consistently topped the poll in the past week as having the worst air quality of any city in the world. The air is so bad that it is deemed extremely hazardous and our grandson can’t go outdoors. Our Canberra daughter is struggling with the horrors she sees. She commented a month ago that her garden is now full of birds that she never normally sees because they are countryside birds, not urban ones. This was interesting, she said, but hugely sad because they have flown into the city in search of food because they are starving in the long running drought. She has set up feeding stations and water for desperate birds. This week, with the continued deterioration of air quality, Australian National University, where she works, closed along with some of the commercial city centre. She rang on Thursday and said she was going to do a doomsday prep shop the next day because the chances of Canberra being totally cut off by fire were fairly high. In her practical, down to earth way, she said that for the first time, she and her partner have prepared a list of what to grab just in case they have to be evacuated.

Countless others are in conditions that are so much worse and there is no end in sight. The spring rains never came. There is no guarantee that the autumn rains will arrive and the fires will likely remain uncontrollable until the advent of rain. The hot part of summer is yet to come and already that country is registering temperatures in the 40sC (well over 100F) across the entire continent. My heart goes out to any and all readers currently in Australia.

The iconic photo of 11 year old Finn Burns, taken and shared by his mother, as the family took refuge on the water at Mallacoota Beach.

Australia is not so much the canary in the coalmine when it comes to climate change, although the coal metaphor is accurate.

It is the blazing, burning continent for the rest of the world to see.

It won’t be fire and drought that is the manifestation of climate change for many countries. The Pacific Islands have been begging the world to notice that they are being swamped by rising sea levels. In New Zealand, it is more likely to be torrential rainfall, rising sea levels and what we quaintly call ‘extreme weather events’. Already some coastal settlements are under threat. Europe appears to be on track for both extreme heat waves and flooding.

To climate change deniers (who, I notice, like to call themselves ‘sceptics’ or to claim they have ‘an open mind’) I say: what if you are wrong? What if, in your determined efforts to stonewall or undermine any environmental improvements because you don’t believe in climate change and don’t want to change your comfortable status quo, you are wrong? What if the apocalyptic scenes coming out of Australia are not an isolated, though appalling, situation but rather an indicator of what is coming to the world?  

Postscript: If you clicked on the coal link above, the red-face, self-satisfied bloke to the left of the Prime Minister is one Barnaby Joyce, some time deputy prime minister. Mr Joyce distinguished himself yet again late last year by claiming that the first bushfire fatalities were most likely to be Green voters.  

Vincentia beach front in 2014

Post postscript: We had a family Christmas in Vincentia five years ago. Vincentia is still there although included in the mass evacuation of the south eastern coastline because of uncontrolled fires.

These roadsides have all burned.

The road through this forest of Macrozamia communis has been closed for some time because of fires. It is likely this is now all burned. The vegetation should recover if the rains arrive. Much of the Australian bush has evolved to regenerate after fire but it all depends on the rains. It seems unlikely that the wildlife that inhabited this area will ever recover.

As a final comment and so that northern hemisphere readers can understand the sheer scale of the catastrophe unfolding in Australia, I include this map.

The world map we all know does not show actual size relativity. If you look at countries by size (the darker blue), the burning continent of Australia is in fact about the same size as USA and just a little smaller than Russia.

 

 

 

Spot the difference

I was going to write a piece this week shouting that now IS the very time we should be talking about climate change, aimed at the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, who left his burning country to holiday in the cleaner air of Hawaii, declaring that now is not the time for knee-jerk reactions to a major drought and extreme fires and neither is it the time to talk about climate change.

But the majority of Australians voted that man and his government in this very year and I decided that maybe I would leave it to those voters to reflect upon their collective decision and respond to their own environmental crisis. Instead I will focus on flowers.

Hydrangea petiolaris, resplendent in full sun, although it has its roots on the cool side of the fence. Most climbers appreciate a cool root run.

Both the common climbing hydrangea, H. petiolaris, and the less common Schizophragma hydrangeoides are in full bloom here and I have never lined them up side by side to compare them. We produced both commercially in our nursery days but concentrated more on the allegedly more refined and desirable schizophragma. What were the differences, I wondered, in visual terms?

Hydrangea petiolaris to the left and the white and pink forms of Schizophragma hydrangeoides. Petiolaris looks creamier because it is an older flower grown in full sun. 

Not a whole lot, was the answer when I lined them up. The pink form of the schizophragma is  indubitably a different colour – rosy pink sepals, not white. H. petiolaris has more fertile flowers (the central tiny blooms on the lace-cap) and somewhat smaller outer petals (ray florets or sepals). It makes it appear a little bit heavier perhaps, than the light dancing of the sepals on the schizophragma. The hydrangea also has larger leaves overall. All of them have a light scent with a slight variation between the two species but nothing of great note.

Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Roseum’

Botanically, there is a difference. They are distinct species, though from similar parts of the world (woodland Asia, particularly Japan) and liking similar conditions. Schizophragma is nowhere near as common as H. petiolaris and has the reputation of being slow to establish. But I planted that petiolaris many years ago and it took several years to reach its stride, too. Mark reminds me that the reason he went for the schizophragma over petiolaris was because the latter would not set flowers on young plants.

Schizophragma hydrangeoides

Plantspeople and those with refined visual sensibilities will pick the difference. I prefer the lighter, more ethereal look of the schizophragma. But overall, I concluded that Mark’s ‘man on a galloping horse’ analogy applies. A man (or woman, presumably) passing on a galloping horse would not pick the difference. To be honest, most gardeners wouldn’t either. They are both lovely at their peak and well behaved as far as climbers go.

Seasons greetings 2019

Meri Kirihimete

Merry Christmas

As another Christmas arrives, please accept my very best wishes for a safe and happy time to all readers and followers of this page. While we settle in to our version of a New Zealand Christmas (yes, the raspberries will ripen in time and the fresh peas are ready to be harvested for the day), I spent a rainy day this week gathering one of every white flower I could find in the garden to contrast with the homegrown strawberries. I did not feel the need to buy Christmas nuts this year since we have diligently applied ourselves to gathering and drying the macadamia harvest. 

But my heart goes out to our neighbours across the Tasman Sea in Australia. With unprecedented bush fires, drought and extreme temperatures, the simple pleasures of a temperate Christmas – or even a wintry one with or without snow in the northern hemisphere – seem irrelevant. Our three children all live on the east coast of Australia, fortunately in urban areas so not in physical danger except from the appalling air quality in recent weeks. Like many New Zealanders, we are tracking the devastating impact of catastrophic fires and it is so far beyond anything we experience in this country as to be incomprehensible. All we can do is watch from afar and hope that people stay safe. Kia kaha, Australia.

Abbie 

Assembling the bits in one place

From the nurseryman’s pen – the yellow pohutukawa

Metrosideros excelsa aurea

The much more common red Metrosideros excelsa

The yellow pohutukawa are flowering in my home town of Waitara. Metrosideros aurea. This is not without a tinge of sadness because the four biggest and best specimens on the bank of the Waitara River were felled – in our opinion unnecessarily – by a stubborn regional council despite a strong community effort to try and save them.

The letter reproduced this year in NZ Gardener

I have written about the yellow pohutukawa before, but my interest was piqued by a 1968 letter reproduced in the September issue of the New Zealand Gardener magazine. The letter writer was Victor Davies, who headed the powerhouse nursery Duncan and Davies and who was responsible for introducing the tree to mainland New Zealand by putting it into commercial production. I think we can take the letter as the most accurate historical record of that process.

It is interesting reading it 50 years later and realising how much times and attitudes have changed. The tone is a bit redolent of the old blankets, beads and muskets method employed by early colonialists to get down on treasures held by indigenous people. That is not a criticism of Sir Victor. It is just the way things were done.

A surviving yellow pohutukawa in Waitara

Sir Victor heard about the tree and was greatly interested because all the known pohutukawa on the mainland were shades of red. He could see the commercial potential of a yellow one so he tried repeatedly to get plant material. He thought he was successful when he managed to get somebody to send him scion wood. When the plants flowered five or six years later, they were all red. This may not be a surprise to many of us. In his own words, “After complaining, the reply I had was that as the tree was tapu they would never get any more material for me.” Personally, I think he was lucky to get a reply but his use of the word ‘tapu’ back in 1968 was interesting because not many Maori words had been incorporated in New Zealand English back then. ‘Tapu’ translates, more or less, to sacred. The yellow pohutukawa were a taonga – a sacred treasure to the original people of the land.

Undeterred, Sir Victor kept trying. Through a third party, a ‘friendly’ Maori was found who supplied material for twelve grafts – six red and six yellow. Allegedly, supplying the mix of red and yellow scions circumvented the tapu restrictions. Hmmm. Pretty dodgy, that.

Sir Victor goes on to say that they raised many thousands of seed and they all flowered true to type without any variation so the yellow form was deduced to be a stable species. I am sure the nursery would have sold thousands of plants too but not a single cent would have been returned to the original owners of the sacred tree.

The red pohutukawa make better landscape trees but the yellow is certainly an interesting variant, plus power lines

Some of those trees were planted in Waitara, the closest town to Duncan and Davies Nursery and the surviving plants are what I photographed yesterday. Victor Davies was renowned for many traits, amongst them his remarkable sales ability. And the 1968 letter is headed “The Golden Pohutukawa” and he describes the flower colour as “dull gold”. There is a marketing ploy. Not gold, pretty lemon yellow. It is certainly lovely viewed close up but it doesn’t show out in the landscape as do the more common red forms, Metrosideros excelsa.

Christmas is coming and the red pohutukawa are widely known as the New Zealand Christmas tree.

Down in the water meadows, the Higo iris bloom

Higo iris float above a sea of dandelions in the Wild North Garden

I really like that the Japanese Higo iris are such a big feature of our December meadows yet they almost certainly descend from the Japanese quest for a perfect, single bloom as a focus for contemplation. It is such a wonderful contradiction – that quiet refinement, simplicity and elegance that the Japanese traditionally bring to flowers generally and the wild abandonment of our Tikorangi meadows.

Smaller flowered, white Higo in the park meadow

Higo are not a separate species of Japanese iris. They are hybrids, bred over 500 years, originating from Iris ensata. There are three groups of iris from these breeding lines – Edo, Higo and Ise but the best known are the Higo. Our Higo were given to us by Auckland plantsman, Terry Hatch of Joy Plants, and apparently originated as wild collected seed. Mark had a discussion with Terry about wanting to try naturalising Higo by the stream but the finely bred, named cultivars were not sufficiently robust to survive in a situation of benign neglect. Terry offered up a tray of about 700 germinated seedlings which seemed a bit of overkill at the time. Now we bless him every year. Not all 700 survived, I hasten to say, but we had plenty to play with.

and a much larger flowered white Higo iris 

The blue is less dominant than the purple shades of Higo 

Because our plants are all seedlings, we have a fairly wide range and some clearly show their I. ensata heritage. Others are pure white, pink, almost pure blue and the whole range of violets, purples and lilac.

More Higo iris

I see the oldest plants are now in their ninth year or so of being planted on the banks by the stream and ponds and they perform reliably every year. Given they have stiff competition and receive absolutely no care or intervention, that makes them very robust plants. I tried some in a mixed border at one stage but they were too strong a grower with leafage that swamped out surrounding plants during summer and autumn so I removed them.

Can we have too many Higo iris?

A few years ago, I planted the last of the neglected pots from the nursery down in the area we call the Wild North Garden and this year, some are starting to bloom. They are much more rewarding than the Louisiana iris we grow where the leaf to bloom ratio is too high.

Seedling variation in the Higo iris

From mid to late November through until Christmas, the flowering of the water iris is such a delight. Like over the top butterflies, they float in the air above a sea of buttercups, dandelions, daisies and wild grasses and they truly make my heart sing.

In the park meadow. The Wachendorfia thyrsiflora with its tall yellow plumes has a death sentence on its head – too free with its seeds to keep it by a waterway 

The Wild North Garden – I am waiting for more Higo iris to bloom

Seven long years to bloom and then it dies – Cardiocrinum giganteum

The giant Himalayan lilies are coming into bloom. Cardiocrinum giganteum. It is the biggest of the lily family, hailing from areas like Tibet, Bhutan, Assam, Myanmar, Nepal and Sikkim.  It feels a bit of a triumph that we now have this bulb naturalised here. We haven’t planted any for many years and just allow them to grow where they pop up from seed.

The largest lily of them all – Cardiocrinum giganteum

These are not lilies for the home gardener on a small urban section. The flower spikes often reach three metres here and have been recorded at up to five metres. Fortunately, the stem is such that they can hold themselves up.

Usually six years of foliage and in the seventh year, it puts up an astounding flower spike

The main obstacle for most gardeners is that the bulb takes about seven years before it flowers and then it dies. Fortunately it makes offshoots around the main bulb as well as setting seed but those offshoots can take another five years minimum before they flower and the seeds take seven years. These are not lilies for the impatient gardener. And, while very fragrant, the flowers are a long way up so unless you have a grove of plants flowering at the same time, you are unlikely to get the benefit of scent. In the intervening years, they just form a clump of large, heavy textured, heart-shaped leaves that are reasonably anonymous.

Typically, these plants need cool, open, woodland conditions with soils which never dry out and are rich in humus. Those are pretty specific conditions.

The top photo is one of those really, seriously peculiar plant combinations that are a characteristic of many New Zealand gardens – a self sown Cardiocrium giganteum from the Himalayas, flanked on the right by Pseudowintera colorata (commonly known here as the mountain horopita or pepper tree) with Dracophyllum latifolium behind (both NZ natives) and then what we know as Aloe bainseii but is now, apparently, Aloidendron barberae – the tree aloe from southern Africa. It is a veritable United Nations of plants here.

Tikorangi Notes: underplanting, gardening with perennials and the magnificent nuttalliis

Pretty Rhododendron Yvonne Scott (nuttallii x lindleyi x dalhousiae) with a named clematis but I have lost its name – relevant to the last para on this post and a prettier photo to lead with than the mishmash of a garden bed below 

Not good at all. The addition of roses was a particularly ill-considered decision

I spent a good four or maybe five days taking this unsuccessful garden bed apart. It was first planted about 14 years ago and the original idea was that it continue the theme of the driveway border – mixed shrubs with predominantly hellebores as underplanting. It has never thrived and over the years, its treatment has followed a pattern that many will recognise – random attempts to spark it up that have made it messier and more disjointed.

I lifted everything except the Queen palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana), an attractive Viburnum sargentii ‘Onondaga’ and Camellia minutiflora. The location is too sunny for the hellebores and they were not thriving, so I planted them elsewhere. And I found why the plants at one end had never thrived. I could only get the spade half way in before I hit what might as well be bedrock. It was the old driveway with very heavily compacted road metal. I recalled that Mark had got the nursery staff to plant that bed when it first went in. Now, our nursery staff were whizzybang at speed-potting plants and doing the hard graft of keeping a production nursery going but gardeners, they were not. I am guessing they chiselled holes just large enough to fit the plants in. No wonder so many failed to thrive. There was nowhere for them to get their roots down.

The aim is to have a carpet of harmonious under planting by the end of summer

I took out any larger stones and rocks I could get out, dug the soil and incorporated compost at a rate of a small barrow-load per square metre. There is still not a great depth of soil but what is there should be better and I won’t try growing any more deeper-rooted plants at that end. When it came to choosing what to replant, I fell back on my mixed border philosophy. When there is a mixture of shrubs in the upper layer, it is better to choose some uniformity in the ground cover layer. The opposite is also true: where there is uniformity in the upper layer of shrubs and trees, it is more interesting to use a mixture of plants at the ground level. It may be a sweeping statement (well, it is) to say that only landscapers, non-gardeners and novices go for regimented simplicity of matching upper layer plants and a single choice ground cover – tidy, visually effective in the immediate stage but essentially dull.

A totally reliable stoeksia that is particularly amenable to being divided and transplanted

Given the feature shrubs and palm are interesting in their own right and the presence of assorted seasonal bulbs, I chose to replant at ground level with the reliable, long flowering blue stokesia which thrives with us, a ground-hugging blue campanula and two forms of our native brown carex grass.  The upright form is Carex buchananii , I think, but I am not sure what the fountaining version of it is called. They are to form the carpet. I like the combination of blue and the mid-brown carex. Then I mulched it all. Now all it has to do is to grow.

May 2019

November 2019

It is quite gratifying to see how much the grass garden has grown since I planted it at the end of May. I am hoping that it will have closed up quite a bit by the time autumn comes. There have only been a small number of deaths amongst the plants – all were  Astelia chathamica and fortunately, I have more plants to hand that I can move to the gaps. The advice from colder climates is not to move perennials in winter because they are not growing and the risk is that the roots will rot out over winter. With our mild winters, this advice does not generally apply here but that may be the case with the astelia. The divisions all had roots when they went in but it may be that some did indeed just rot out before they came back into growth in spring.

My main task in this new garden is staying on top of the weeds. Considering it is new ground, there is not a big weed problem at all and I am determined to keep it that way as it gets established. Weeds getting a hold amongst the fibrous roots systems of perennials and grasses can be a maintenance nightmare. It is better by far to keep them out from the start, as far as humanly possible. Because it is all ground that has been freshly dug this year, it is easy to hand pull those pesky weeds that do try and make an appearance.

Eighteen months to fill in seems a quick result

Even more rewarding is to see the caterpillar garden hitting its stride – nicely filled out, floriferous already, weed-free and colour-toned as I want it. It has taken about eighteen months to get it to this stage. Gardening with perennials is very different to gardening with trees and shrubs. As long as you have plenty of divisions and the ground is well-prepared, the plants can rocket away and fill spaces quickly.

Species selection of R. sino nuttallii, singled out for its unusual pink flush

However, no perennial can compete with the sheer magnificence and stature of the nuttallii rhododendrons that flower for us at this time of the year. These are not often commercially available – at least not the sino nuttallii species. You may sometimes find some of the hybrids around that are nuttallii crossed with lindleyi, sometimes with the addition of dalhousiae. If you find ‘White Waves’ on offer in New Zealand, it is proving to be one of the best of the hybrids we grow – reliable and a good survivor as well as very showy indeed. “Mi Amor’ is also available for sale. The hybrids have smaller leaves than the nuttallii species and are not all as strongly scented  but you may just have to take what you can find if you want to try growing these choice rhododendrons.

Rhododendron nuttallii x sino nuttallii – so the Tibetan form crossed with the showier Chinese form