Tag Archives: Auckland Botanical Gardens

Plant collector: the curious native Muehlenbeckia astonii

An unusual clipped specimen, M. astonii

An unusual clipped specimen, M. astonii

The proper name of this plant is not easy to spell – Muehlenbeckia astonii – but I have never even heard it referred to by its alleged common names of ‘shrubby tororaro’ or ‘wiggy-wig bush’. Not that common, apparently. The plantings in a prominent position at Auckland Botanic Gardens have caught my eye before. I am guessing they are planning to extend the clipping up another layer. In this interim phase. Mark chuckled and suggested they resemble Kim Jong-Un. The hair, dear Reader, the hair.

This is another of our native plants now threatened by loss of habitat. These days it is limited to the eastern coastal lowlands, stretching from Wairarapa to Banks Peninsula but it may have been more widespread in the days before extensive land development. Fortunately, it makes a good garden specimen and it is the ability to integrate into gardens that has saved critically endangered plants like Tecomanthe speciosa, Pennantia baylisiana and the kakabeak (clianthus).

Divaricating plants are not unusual in this country – divaricating being that tight criss crossing of the branches, often combined with tiny leaves. The ever-handy internet advances two botanical theories for the prevalence of divaricating plants here. I like the first theory which is that plants evolved this way to protect themselves from moa grazing on them. The second theory is that the plants have adapted to withstand harsh climatic conditions, particularly wind and dryness found in exposed coastal conditions and maybe hard frosts.
Muehlenbeckia astonii (7)
M. astonii will be deciduous in hard conditions but retains some of its tiny leaves in Auckland. The orange and red tones in the wiry zigzag branches add interest. It clips well and is apparently not difficult to strike from cutting or raise from fresh seed. We don’t have M. astonii in our garden but we do grow a comparable tiny-leafed divaricating coprosma which has a natural form of mounding layers that is often described as cloud form.

Muehlenbeckia astonii, featuring prominently at Auckland Botanic Gardens

Muehlenbeckia astonii, featuring prominently at Auckland Botanic Gardens

Mid summer gardens. Despatches from the Heroic Gardens Festival 1

Cannas - not my favourite plant but they can be used well

Cannas – not my favourite plant but they can be used well

I think I can claim to be a vastly experienced garden opener after more than two decades on the front line. But I am a novice when it comes to being on the other side during a garden festival. There were 26 gardens open for the weekend. I managed ten of them in two and a half days, plus two that were not part of the annual festival. Five a day is plenty.
Eupatorium, salvias and gaura planted in generous swathes

Eupatorium, salvias and gaura planted in generous swathes


I won't be planting Rosa Tropical Delight

I won’t be planting Rosa Tropical Delight

I started at the Auckland Botanical Gardens. I wanted to look at their rose gardens where they are growing them without spraying. I hoped that I might get some ideas on healthier varieties to try here but I realised that their dedicated rose beds are in such an open position with full sun and free air movement that the lessons were not really transferable to my sheltered, confined rose garden area. And, to be honest, traditional rose beds leave me cold and roses are not my favourite flower in their shoulder and off-peak seasons which often last about 49 weeks of the year.
B I G swathes - here of asters, Joe Pye weed and cannas

B I G swathes – here of asters, Joe Pye weed and cannas

Old style amenity strip planting

Old style amenity strip planting

But the perennial beds were a delight. Yes you need space for these. Planting in big swathes is what gives the impact. I am not talking the garish stripes of old-style amenity bedding, although unfortunately that is still in evidence so I guess some people must like it. It was the big beds with voluptuous, billowing plants, carefully selected for flower colour and foliage combinations that are at their peak now. Even the canna lilies, which don’t rank in my personal top ten – or even top one hundred favourite plants, looked splendid as the tall back row of the chorus.

The joyous sight of golden rudbeckia

The joyous sight of golden rudbeckia

Compact, dwarf zinnias do not make my heart sing. Spot the interlopers.

Compact, dwarf zinnias do not make my heart sing. Spot the interlopers.

Mark often despairs that the modern breeding of many annuals and perennials is to get smaller, more compact, tidier plants allegedly better suited to suburban gardens and, I would add, floral clocks and traffic islands. These dwarf plants will never have the impact of a big, bold, swathe of golden rudbeckia. They made my heart sing.
Underplanting on the orchard hillside - rudbeckia again

Underplanting on the orchard hillside – rudbeckia again

???????????????????????????????It was the hillside of rudbeckia in Lynda Hallinan’s garden that I liked the most. She has underplanted her orchard trees with a sea of gold and very lovely it was too. Her planting of a white umbellifer (maybe Ammi majus?) with a semi double golden cosmos was equally gorgeous on a day in high summer. At least, I think it was a cosmos. Annuals are not my area of expertise. Lynda’s scale was of course smaller than the Bot Gardens, showing that it can be done in a mid-sized domestic garden.
White cosmos in a front garden

White cosmos in a front garden

Aside from a rather lovely patch of white cosmos in another garden, that was about as good as it got in the summer garden stakes. Of course it is different in tiny urban gardens on very expensive real estate. When your lot in life in life is limited to square metres, most will opt for year round appeal. In Auckland, this tends to mean palms and bromeliads to the exclusion of seasonal highlights and change. I will return to Auckland tropicana in the future.
The pondside wild garden at Auckland Botanic Gardens

The pondside wild garden at Auckland Botanic Gardens

It was entirely a reflection of my current thinking that I found the wild pondside garden at Auckland Botanic Gardens so deeply appealing. I am sure some will see this sort of gardening as weedy eyesore but they probably like the garish amenity planting in stripes and will whip out the sprayer at the drop of a hat. I applaud Auckland Botanic’s willingness to explore contemporary directions in sustainable gardening and healthy eco-systems which we have yet to see appearing in many private gardens in this country.
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