Tag Archives: autumn colour

The colours of late autumn

Persimmons – golden orbs against a clear sky in late autumn. Being an old fashioned, astringent variety, we have to wait until they are very ripe before picking them

Here we are, 23 days off the shortest day of the year and in the late autumn phase. The daytime temperature has dropped to the mid teens celsius and we even had a light frost this week. But we are lucky here that our light levels during the day don’t drop much. It just gets dark earlier.

The first of the sun’s rays hitting the Court Garden this week

We never get that grey, leaden look of spent perennials and patches of dark green that characterise many gardens in colder climates, let alone the blanket of white snow many northern countries experience. But neither are we tropical. I have busted out my thermals already. In self-defence, we do not retire indoors as the temperature drops and we are out and about in the garden in all but the worst weather.

Luculia gratissima ‘Early Dawn’ in sugar pink
Luculia pinceana ‘Fragrant Pearl’ with its white rounded heads
Luculia pinceana ‘Fragrant Cloud’

The luculias are in flower. Rangy and frost tender these plants may be, the scent is divine and the flower heads are large and attractive balls of colour well into winter. My favourite is the almond pink of ‘Fragrant Cloud’. Unfortunately, they don’t hold well when picked but we keep our house at a warm temperature in winter that is not conducive to any garden flowers holding well indoors.

The most enormous of hydrangeas and evergreen, too

Also rangy and frost tender, the enormous, evergreen tree hydrangea is in full bloom. Walking past it on sunny days, the hum of honey bees is not quite deafening but certainly on track in that direction. As the plant is about 5 metres tall and currently sporting so many blooms on the sunny side that the foliage is barely visible, it can accommodate a whole lot of honey bees at a time when other food sources are less abundant. Last I heard, this unusual Chinese hydrangea is thought to be a member of the aspera group.

Nearby, still in the woodland area we call the Avenue Garden, I like this seasonal composition with the red form of Cordyline australis x banksii, the hanging chalices of the tree dahlia D. imperialis (another rangy, frost tender plant), the cerise of the enormous bougainvillea, blue flowered plectranthus and Luculia ‘Fragrant Cloud’ on the right.

Ammi majus

Out in the rather wilder margins of Mark’s vegetable garden (which we never open to public view because while he is a productive gardener, he is also very messy in this area), the Ammi majus flowers on. I liked the mix of wildflower, the cloche and the communion of our two new ladders which Lloyd was using in tandem at the time.

In still wilder margins, this scene was the coming together of a United Nations of self-seeded plants – the nikau palms from NZ, Montanoa bipinnatifida otherwise known as the Mexican tree daisy,and the yellow mahonia which may or may not be Mahonia japonica from Japan.

Vireya rhododendron macgregoriae, this plant defying the odds and still going strong after 64 years

Back in the more cultivated areas of the garden, many vireya rhododendrons are blooming. These are the subtropical rhododendrons – so frost tender and generally pretty sensitive – and tend not to be longlived. Their flowering is triggered by day length, not temperature, so they bloom intermittently but autumn and spring are the main seasons. We have some dead specimens we are removing now and Mark is doing a cuttings round to propagate an ongoing supply. But this specimen, this one is defying that tendency to whiff off and die. It is the very plant that Felix collected from the highlands of New Guinea in 1957 and the start of his breeding programme – R. macgregoriae.

Sasanqua camellia ‘Elfin Rose’ and Nerine bowdenii

Autumn is sasanqua camellia season, now my favourite group of camellias. For years the NZ sasanqua market was completely dominated by consumer demand for white sasanquas – it may still be the case but I am out of touch with commercial production these days. We have plenty of different white sasanqua varieties in the garden but they do not spark joy for me in the way the coloured options do. This one is pretty ‘Elfin Rose’, seen here with the last nerines of the season, N. bowdenii at its feet.

It is not just flowers giving colour. While autumn colour is patchy and extended over a long period of time because we move so gradually from late summer to autumn to winter, the maples and some of the prunus give a pretty display.

Magnolia campbellii opening blooms in late May

Finally, in a sign of how our seasons lack the sharp demarcations of colder climates, the first magnolias are already opening. I follow a Facebook page for magnolia enthusiasts that is heavily dominated by mad keen magnoliaphiles from northern Europe. They are still posting photos of late season blooms opening on their spring magnolias. Meanwhile, as far away as we can get across the world, the Magnolia campbellii in the Anglican churchyard of my local town of Waitara is already open with a score or more blooms.

First flowers on ‘Fairy Magnolia White’ in late May

Here, we are looking at the first flowers open already on ‘Fairy Magnolia White’, the first of the michelias of the new season to bloom. As we are in the last gasps of autumn, these early magnolias are a reminder that spring is not far away.

Today is brought to you… by the colour orange

Orange is not my favourite colour. In this, I am unlike the bride who wore an orange wedding gown and themed her wedding on orange and brown.  I mentally walked through every room in our house and there is no orange to be seen. Not a skerrick. And the only orange item in my wardrobe is a faded tee shirt. Clearly, orange is not a colour that I relate to in daily life.

But as late autumn draws in, the orange outside is very cheering. On Monday, I thought I must get out and photograph the dwarf Japanese maple that turns its raiment from modest green to blazing orange as winter approaches.

The day was grey with the sun attempting to break through, a light so unusual here that I also photographed it. I have only been to the UK once in December and I remember a similar light on the day we visited the Russell Page garden at Leeds Castle. The difference is that here, the sun did indeed come out and shine brightly – if intermittently – as the day progressed while my UK family said that was as good as it got there, closing in on the shortest day.

I became entirely focused on orange. Mind you, it is hard to ignore it as the citrus trees flaunt their wares. We are blessed to have a climate where we can grow citrus and also to have inherited a garden where the trees have large been included in the wider garden, rather than confined to an orchard situation. Citrus are both decorative and functional. I  once wrote a fairly lengthy piece on growing citrus in our conditions if any readers in less traditional citrus areas are interested.

Vireya Rhododendron macgregoriae flowers like clockwork, as it has for nigh on sixty years now. That is a seriously advanced age for a vireya, which are not generally long lived, and this particular plant has a place in our family history, having been collected in the wild by Mark’s father, Felix, back in 1957. Orange is a common colour in vireyas and we have a number of other hybrids also in flower at the time. None mass flower like the species R. macgregoriae. It is a trade-off, I think. You can have either prolonged blooming over many months or mass flowering, but not both. At least when it comes to vireyas.

The maples and the flowering cherry trees produce many hues of orange and tend to colour in late autumn for us – or early winter as it is now. June usually feels autumnal for us, July is the bleakest month of winter and by August, we are bursting into spring growth and bloom. We really shouldn’t complain about a winter that is effectively about six or eight weeks in duration.

The first of the clivias are in bloom – looking a bit pink in this image but more soft orange in real life. I asked Mark which one this is and he thinks it is C. gardenii. It is nowhere near as showy as the C. miniata selections and some of the hybrids. But as I think an abundance of bright orange clivias can lead to the NABOC syndrome (Not Another Bloody Orange Clivia), the understated charm of this one pleases me.

The orange tones of autumn shone through the grey day. I looked around and thought yes! There is a time and a place for orange. It is in autumn and winter.

 

 

 

Pensive thoughts on a rainy Saturday

I do not know whether it was the rainy Saturday that made me pensive or whether it was my somewhat melancholy state of mind. Either way, I took a damp walk around the area we call the park. While the autumn colours seem quite striking this year and relatively early considering we have only had two cold days so far, I am not sure that damp autumn days are uplifting to my soul.

But I have been pondering the differences between those of us who see gardening as a process and those who see it as a product. I am happier in the company of the former – those who enjoy the act of gardening and see it as a journey where there may be a destination in mind but experience says that such a goal will be but transient and fleeting and not an end point at all.  For a garden can never be static and frozen in time so will never be finished or full. I suspect these are the characteristics of a gardener.

There are many who see a garden as a product – a particular destination or point of achievement in a creation that can then be frozen in time. This, I think, is probably a viewpoint of a garden owner who is not a gardener by nature. I felt a passing pang of sympathy for landscape designers. I would guess the majority of their paying clients fall into this category. Some may come to understand the whims of nature but many more make a rod for their backs, requiring that a garden be preserved in pristine condition at a certain point of its development.

But Sunday dawned fine and dry which meant my usual cheerful disposition was restored. We cannot complain about an autumn which delivers us a  daytime temperature of 24 degrees Celsius and night time temperature still well into double figures. Behold Mark’s pride and joy – his luverly bunches o’ bananas. Several lovely bunches. We are super marginal when it comes to growing bananas for tropical we are not. These are the only plants we cover for winter – festooned in protective shade cloth suspended on a giant bamboo frame.

Drying and then cleaning the soy bean crop before weighing and storing

An unusually warm and long summer may well have helped. It has certainly given us the best ever second crop of figs with which we are barely keeping pace eating fresh. And a bumper soy bean crop. I mean, what are we meant to do with 20 kg of soy beans when there are only two of us? I have made the first batch of soy milk to see if we will enjoy using it as a dairy substitute and I am even contemplating trying my hand at making tofu. Readers who have met Mark may be amused to hear that he calculated his 20 kg of cleaned soy beans as a yield of 3.6 tonnes to the hectare and was gratified to find from a net search that this is on the good side when it comes to commercial yields. I admit that I am grateful that he only flirted briefly with the idea of growing lentils. Considering how cheap these are to buy, the potential yield per hectare seems remarkably low. But I did not realise that Canada is the main global producer of lentils until I did a did a net search.

Persimmons are probably more decorative than a must-have harvest

Otherwise, the autumn harvest here is all about avocados, yet more avocados (guacamole, anybody?), seemingly endless feijoas, the aforementioned figs and the impending deluge of persimmons. Dudley dog is looking so plump from his excessive consumption of avocados that his flesh how has ripples of fat and his ongoing issues with eczema have disappeared – quite possibly due to the high oil content of the avocados. Mark checks several times a day for windfalls in an attempt to outwit this dog thief.

It seems churlish to bemoan the occasional rainy autumn day.

A fossil, but very much alive – Ginkgo biloba

At the front of the Cambrian Lodge Motel in Cambridge on the main road to Hamilton, this ginkgo has been a remarkable sight for many years. Its wide spreading habit of growth belies the usual pyramidal form and may possibly be a result of having been topped and trimmed over several years earlier in its life.

At the front of the Cambrian Lodge Motel in Cambridge on the main road to Hamilton, this ginkgo has been a remarkable sight for many years. Its wide spreading habit of growth belies the usual pyramidal form and may possibly be a result of having been topped and trimmed over several years earlier in its life.

Ginkgos are remarkable trees – botanically, in the landscape and in traditional medicine. They are spectacular at this time of year with their pure golden colour and must be one of the showiest stars of autumn. I am assuming the common name of “maidenhair tree” has come about because of the resemblance of leaf shape to the common maidenhair ferns. The leaves are flat, neat little fans

I say they are remarkable botanically because they are a living fossil and in a family of one. In the kingdom of plants, tracing down from the highest order – the division of Ginkophyta – all the separate classifications descend to one solitary species, Ginkgo biloba. Mind you, it is dioecious which means that specimens are gender specific and both male and female are needed to get viable seed. It is called a living fossil, because it has been around for a length of time variously estimated between 160 and 270 million years. That is such a huge time span that it is a bit irrelevant whether the lower or upper figure is more accurate. Suffice to say, the dinosaurs may have browsed on ginkgo trees and they have outlived all their botanical relatives, surviving not only the dinosaurs but also climate changes and all diseases. That is pretty remarkable.

Ginkgo leaves have a distinctive fan shape. These are on a tree in the Gil Lumb Park in Leamington. The foliage has long been used in traditional Asian medicine, particularly for its alleged memory enhancing benefits.

Ginkgo leaves have a distinctive fan shape. These are on a tree in the Gil Lumb Park in Leamington. The foliage has long been used in traditional Asian medicine, particularly for its alleged memory enhancing benefits.

If I hadn’t looked up the tree bible, The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs, I would not have realised they are classified with conifers even though they produce seed, not cones. They are at the primitive end of the evolution of conifers.

Ginkgos originated in China and have long been regarded as sacred trees. This is just as well because they are pretty much extinct in the wild so if they hadn’t been cultivated for thousands of years in Asia and hundreds of years in Europe and North America, they may have been lost to the modern world. They are long-lived and can last well past 1000 years, though not so much in this country where any tree is lucky to last past a few decades at most. In other parts of the world, the populace are not quite so chainsaw-mad and even venerate old trees. The only tree accorded that status in NZ is Tane Mahuta.

With so many ginkgos planted in the area, there are sufficient specimens of both male and female trees to get consistent crops of the nuts. While the outer casing emits a deeply unpleasant odour, the inner kernel is prized in traditional Chinese cuisine.

With so many ginkgos planted in the area, there are sufficient specimens of both male and female trees to get consistent crops of the nuts. While the outer casing emits a deeply unpleasant odour, the inner kernel is prized in traditional Chinese cuisine.

Despite the unmistakeable aroma of the fallen seed (variously described as ‘malodorous’ or smelling like vomit), once the soft casing has been removed, the seed inside is a traditional food in China and other parts of Asia. The smell is apparently in the fleshy casing, not the seed.

More interestingly, ginkgo leaves have long played a part in Chinese herbalism. The science on their effectiveness in slowing memory loss has yielded mixed results but research continues. At this stage, it is not looking as if ginkgo offers a magic bullet to reverse or even slow Alzheimers. Even now, most of our modern medications still orginate from plants. It is one reason why maintaining global bio-diversity is so important.

What started me on ginkgos was the sight of some leaves Mark had harvested and left on the back doorstep. I laughed because I knew instantly that he was curious about their memory enhancing reputation. But he forgot to bring them indoors and the wind blew them away.

Trees take a while to mature and take on their final form but the usual conical shape can be seen developing in this tree which is in Lindsay Park in Leamington

Trees take a while to mature and take on their final form but the usual conical shape can be seen developing in this tree which is in Lindsay Park in Leamington

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.
All photographs courtesy of my friend Michael Jeans, Photographer, Cambridge.

Autumn hues

012Autumn colour occurs when deciduous trees shut down the chlorophyll which is what makes most leaves green. It is chlorophyll which enables the plant to combine sunshine, water and carbon dioxide, making the simple sugars that sustain the plant (a process called photosynthesis). Once the green colouring disappears from the leaves, the other colours already in the leaf become obvious.
001 grapeYou can see in this grape leaf that the chlorophyll is still alive in parts, particularly the veins but other colours dominate in the body of the leaf. Not all grapes colour the same way. Our Albany Surprise grape becomes brilliant yellow, making it appear as if the sun is shining, even on a grey day.
002 prunusSome of our flowering cherries (prunus) turn yellow but this one is notable for its red colouring, caused apparently by anthocyanins which are what give the red and purple tones. Bright light in autumn helps the anthocyanins and bright sunlight is one thing we do well in most of this country.
005 patio mapleMaples, particularly the Japanese varieties, are one of the most reliable plants for autumn colour and the brilliant hues occur even in milder areas where some other plants will just skip the colouring step and turn brown. What is more, there are many petite maples (often sold as patio varieties) which will fit in even the smallest garden.
004 taxodiumWe find the deciduous conifers colour well for us. This is a taxodium but the metasequoia and glyptostrobus are also good. However these are large trees, unsuitable for small urban sections. There are many smaller growing options like the koelreuteria or parrotia.
005 Soloman SealJust to prove it is not only the woody trees and shrubs that can flaunt their autumn raiment, Soloman Seal (Polygonatum multiflorum) grows from rhizomes below ground. A common enough plant which fills a role in semi shade conditions, it can startle with its golden foliage as it prepares to hibernate for winter.
006 Fairy Magnolia BlushMany folk never consider that evergreen plants also drop leaves (do they think that foliage is permanently attached for the life of the plant?). All evergreens drop a full set of foliage every year. It is just that they don’t drop them all at once. However some plants, like this Fairy Magnolia Blush, have a tendency for some leaves to colour and then drop in autumn. It is not a bad sign, it is just part of the plant’s cycle.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.