Tag Archives: autumn flowering camellias. Tikorangi The Jury Garden

Casper’s cactus

As it was in better days. It always was a bit motheaten in appearance, being well out of its climatic zone but it persevered down the decades.

It is a cactus. Well, mostly was a cactus now but we will get to that. It is a particularly prickly cactus and we have no idea at all of its name or botanical history. Presumably it came from somewhere dry and desert-y, maybe southern USA? It has sat in the narrow border outside the laundry window as long as Mark can remember and he was born here.

Over the years, his father Felix had tied it to the wooden window frame and festooned it with old horseshoes and stirrups which we left in place – a nod to his history on the farm that he managed with horses, never a tractor.

When we moved into the house in 1997, it was a great puzzle to us how our cat, Casper, was getting onto the roof and in through our upstairs bedroom window.

Generic Jury Ginger Cat (photo credit: Michael Jeans)

Casper – still referred to as Cassy-purr on account of his excessively loud purr – was a characterful little cat. This is not a photo of Casper. He came before digital cameras. This is actually his successor, Buffy, blockading the stairs that the dogs may not pass. But in the days when we still had cats, they were all ginger. As far as I am concerned, cats should be ginger so they were somewhat clonal. Buffy can serve as Generic Jury Ginger Cat.

I walked around the house trying to work out how Casper was climbing onto the roof to get access to our bedroom window but there was nothing that looked climbable. I told the children that I would give five dollars to whomever solved this mystery. Elder daughter was reversing the car out one day and in the mirror she saw Casper, shinning his way up the cactus. To this day, I do not understand how he managed to do it without getting the pads on his paws pierced by the very fine, sharp prickles but he kept using that cactus as his personal access route until he met an untimely end on the road. It has remained Casper’s cactus to us.

Beyond motheaten and shedding sharp spines in abundance

Of late the cactus has been looking sadder and sadder and has become somewhat hazardous, shedding bits of its outer layer, with the fine spines still attached, onto the path below. It always was somewhat dangerous in that location so close to the path, but as I pulled the spines out of my feet whenever I ventured out without shoes on, I decided we needed to clean it up. As we looked closely at it, it was clear that most of it was now dead.

A shadow of its former self and on its last chance to decide if it wants to live or die. At least we can now paint the laundry window frames and wash the windows

Donning leather gloves, I cut it back it back to live stems. There is not much of it left. Some of the tips were still alive and I have put them to one side for Mark to grow again, if he gets around to it. I do not like prickly plants. I do not like them at all. If the rest of the remaining plant dies, I will not mourn its passing. It is only of passing historic interest, really. Besides, the laundry window frames have not been painted since we moved in to the house, and probably not for a long time before that.  Repainting them is on Lloyd’s to-do list at last.

Why is it dying? Mark thinks it likely that one of the stems had grown to a point where it was catching drips from the spouting and channelling the water down the length of the plant to the roots.  Such a death is most likely to be a change in the drainage. Whatever, after about 70 years, it seems to have had enough of us.  

Winter whites

Ripples on the ice formed on a farm trough

Ripples on the ice formed on a farm trough

July is our bleakest winter month here. We feel the cold, especially this week with three sharp frosts in a row which is unusual for us, but the daytime temperatures rarely drop below double figures (Celsius). The ice photo is from a water trough on the coldest part of the property. Mark was very taken with the patterns.

Early Pearly - the loveliest of sasanqua camellia flower forms

Early Pearly – the loveliest of sasanqua camellia flower forms

But cold is a relative thing and a winter here in Taranaki remains full of flowers. I was playing around with white camellia blooms because I had been reminded of our love affair with white flowers in this country. The ‘any colour is fine as long as it is white” syndrome, perhaps. I am sure gardeners in parts of the world which spend many weeks or months or under snow might find this national obsession with white flowers puzzling. I suspect it may derive from a sense of social envy – Sissinghurst’s white garden has a lot to answer for here in the antipodes.

As I progressed on my white flower assemblages, often having to pick the flowers because it has been raining or windy, I began to feel positively bridal despite the winter chill.
The Montanoa bipinnatifida has passed over and the monarch butterflies have moved onto an obscure michelias species that is flowering. The frosts have dealt to the Dahlia imperialis alba this week and Luculia ‘Fragrant Pearl’ is passing over, but there is plenty of white in evidence. Yes, it is a dead harrier hawk above – killed on the road but passed on to a Maori weaver to use the feathers. In the basket starting at the back is one of the gordonias. They have been particularly good this season. Then the small flowers are Camellia transnokoensis  which we rate highly as a small leaved, miniature flowered species which we are using as hedging. We replaced some buxus hedging with this camellia. For, Mark reasoned, how much better to have a hedge that has pretty flowers which make a contribution to the ecosystem by feeding birds and insects. Next is another species, Camellia gauchowensis, Camellia sasanqua Mine No Yuki, Early Pearly and at the front Camellia drupifera. 

Camellia transnokoensis

Camellia transnokoensis

Picked in the rain today

Picked in the rain today

Daphne bholua

Daphne bholua

At the top we have Mark’s new Daphne Perfume Princess – not pure white by any manner of means but the overall display is more white than coloured. Next to it is one of our favourite species, Camellia yuhsienensis, whose flowers are like the michelias of the camellia world. Below is the Himalayan daphne,  Daphne bholua  , which has the sweetest perfume of any daphne we know but suffers from scruffy growth and badly behaved habits of suckering and seeding. Next is Rose Flower Carpet White (does it ever stop blooming?) and then the pretty bloom of Superstar – another white camellia which we rate highly on garden performance and weather hardiness – at least when compared to most larger flowered whites.


Galanthus - the winter snowdrops
We may not get a long season from the galanthus and they certainly don’t peek through the snow here, but the simple charm is constant. Galanthus elwesii and Galanthus ‘S Arnott’ are the most reliable performers in our conditions. Although we grow some other varieties, these two are our mainstay.

067Finally today, I headed out into the chill to find the white evergreen azaleas, the very first of the new season’s michelias (deliciously fragrant) and white hellebores. By this time, I found my eyes being drawn to colour and red blooms were demanding my attention. I would find a monochromatic garden soon palled but the colours  will have to wait for another day as I end with the simple perfection of Camellia Superstar below.

Superstar (6)

Camellia diary – the first entry April 7, 2010

Click to see all Camellia diary entries

Click on the Camellia diary logo above to see all diary entries

Crimson King - the first of the season's sasanquas to flower

Crimson King - the first of the season's sasanquas to flower

Our interest is in camellias as good garden plants, not blooms for the show bench or scientific analysis. We remain focused on the garden. The first camellias started to come into flower here about three weeks ago, at a time when we were still reluctant to admit that summer is over for another year. The fact that we can flower camellias from March to November is perhaps one reason why they have been so popular in New Zealand.

At this stage, it is only a few species and the very earliest sasanquas with flowers. Microphylla and brevistyla were the first and while their flowers are soft and easily damaged, there are so many still to open that the simplicity and brevity does not pall. Mark had to get out the hand lens to pick the difference in the flowers of these species but microphylla seems to grow a little larger as a bush. We are raising a batch of microphylla seedlings for use as a hedge in the future, though we wonder whether what we have are natural hybrids between the two – the parent plants are in close proximity.

Punicieflora is also in flower with its tiny little daisy-like pink flowers. These are understated but charming in their own way. The foliage is a bit of a pale olive green in full sun but the upright to arching growth and small leaves mean it is a good subject for clipping as a feature plant. I am gradually shaping ours to resemble a two metre high tiered cake stand.

Sinensis, the tea camellia, is also in flower but these are of little merit despite the form we have being pink. We have tried brewing our own tea and blind taste tests from the tasting panel of two felt it came creditably close to our favoured Earl Grey.

The earliest species to flower for us this season

The earliest species to flower for us this season

Amongst the sasanquas, Crimson King is the most advanced. Mahogany red perhaps a generous descriptor of the shade of red (in the Camellia Nomenclature), it being closer to pink-red but it is an open, graceful shrub that we keep pruned to 2.5 metres. Elfin Rose has her first flowers showing colour.

In the nursery with protected conditions, flowering is usually advanced by a good couple of weeks and lo and behold, we have the first flowers on Mark’s camellia Fairy Blush. This was the first camellia he named, an open pollinated lutchuensis seedling and because it wasn’t a controlled cross, Mark was rather off-hand about it. Now we feel that it is the one that got away from us and we should have protected it with a plant patent. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. We simply did not see that it was going to be such a commercial success but a pretty little scented camellia which flowers in abundance for a good six months is a recipe for good sales. All the same, it can be a little galling when an Australian nurseryman visits and tells you just how well he has done out of Fairy Blush.