Tag Archives: camellia hedges

Clip clip clipetty clip. The hedges have been done

Lloyd clipped the Camellia transnokoensis hedges to the left; Zach clipped the feature camellias to the right this year.

We don’t have a lot of clipped hedging here, I am prone to declaring. I may have to amend that. I paced them out and came to a rough estimate of somewhere over 150 metres which seems rather more than I thought. It is probably more accurate to say that we don’t have a lot of garden where the design is defined by clipped hedging. Just the Wave Garden, in fact.

Clipped Camellia minutiflora in the Wave Garden

I have been thinking about hedge trimming because it has taken up almost all of Lloyd’s work hours this week. At the same time, I saw a comment by an English gardener about currently trimming his clients’ hedges and that seemed odd to me because it is autumn there. I am guessing they trim in autumn so that they retain their sharp lines over winter. In colder climates, sharply defined shapes are often what gives winter interest in places where plants don’t flower all year round. Maybe they trim twice a year?

On the left is clipped Camellia Fairy Blush with a low buxus hedge in front. At the back is clipped totara (Podocarpus totara). You too can keep this forest giant to this size over 110 years if you keep it clipped hard!

We cut in spring for two reasons. One is that we want to look sharp for the spring garden festival starting this Friday. The other is that the majority of our clipped hedges are small-leafed camellias. Trimming those in autumn would take all the flower buds off so we trim in spring before the next season’s buds are set.

Hedges of Camellia Fairy Blush provide a demarcation line between the sunken Court Garden and the gardens either side of it.

We only trim once a year and we accept that come next autumn and winter, the hedges will be looking a bit woolly. I seem to remember that if you have hedges of teucrium or lonicera, you need to trim every four to six weeks in the growing season – and we have a growing season that lasts nine months of the year. That does not sound fun to me although maybe some people don’t mind forever trimming their garden hedges.

I can’t help but think that people who are obsessive about sharp hedges all year round might be better to make permanent walls instead – more expensive to erect but a lot lighter in maintenance down the years.

This wave hedge at La Plume was sensational.

The wave hedges we saw at Le Jardin Plume in France still rule supreme for me. I have never seen hedges like them. Alas, I may not see them again in this new world we are in.

Chupa chups to the right, umbrellas to the left

While Lloyd has been trimming hedges, Zach has been clipping feature plants. He pointed out to me that the taller michelias at our entranceway (Fairy Magnolia Blush) are more like chupa chups than lollipops, which is right because they are fully round, not like the two dimensional round lollipop. The small ones to the left we trim to an umbrella shape – so flatter on top than the rounded chupa chups.

No longer a path that terminated in an unattractive building, even if it currently terminates at the raspberry coop

Visitors who have seen our new summer gardens may recall the path that led to nowhere as we airily waved and said that we planned to move the two buildings in the way. Well, it is done. The large propagation house and Mark’s personal botanical treasure house have indeed been moved and we have opened up a new area. True, the path still doesn’t go straight through yet. It now terminates at the raspberry cage. I have served notice that can not be taken down until somebody has built me a new raspberry cage. I love the raspberry harvest more than I love the thought of a long, long vista there.

Zach gave the Podocarpus parlatorei pillars their annual trim and has started training the top over to form the arch Mark envisaged.

This year’s Taranaki Garden Festival was shaping up to be the busiest ever in over 30 years of its life span. Alas, now it is on track to be the quietest ever. The NZ Rhododendron Association were to have their annual conference at the same time and we were expecting four coach loads of rhododendron lovers on the very first morning of festival. It was cancelled this week. Northerners can’t get here, southerners no longer want to come and who can blame them? I am expecting pretty much all our tour bookings to be cancelled in the next few days.

But we will be here, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and all prepared next Friday. It will be down to locals to fly the flag for our gardens and the associated arts trail. It is disappointing but so much of life in this era of pandemic is disappointing. At least with gardens, they will still be here next year.

Out and about, in a very limited, local way

Ixias by the railway track near Lepperton

I flashed past these eye-catching ixias (corn lilies) at speed and promptly thought that I should have stopped and photographed them. I then thought I couldn’t be bothered until a couple of kilometres down the road when I turned and went back. Are they not pretty? They are growing on wasteland beside the railway in Lepperton and the sight of them stopped me being grumpy about something else that had happened.

There is nothing choice or rare about ixias. We have them in the twin borders in several colours and they show up each year on one of the mass bulb suppliers’ catalogues. But as a wildflower, their charm seems greater to me. I was glad I had dug some to put down in the Wild North Garden where they may recreate the simple charm of the railway siding.

The rare sight of a camellia hedge in full bloom, though now past its peak

I also stopped to photograph a camellia hedge because a mass flowering camellia hedge is a rare sight for us in these days of the cursed camellia petal blight. This one is down the road from us (in a rural sense – maybe 5km down a different road entirely to the one we live on but still ‘down the road’). We used to have mass displays of larger flowered camellias in informal hedges but they are a thing of the past here. The plants haven’t gone; it is the flowering that is a memory. This particular hedge is in an extremely open situation, exposed to both full sun and wind from every direction. It confirmed for me that the extremely sheltered microclimate we have in our own garden has exacerbated camellia petal blight to be some of the worst in the world. Fungi thrive in a protected situation. It is a trade-off. That microclimate enables us to grow many other plants that would not otherwise thrive but at the expense of the japonica and hybrid camellia flowers.

Camellia ‘Waterlily’
Camellia ‘Les Jury’ to the left and Felix’s ‘Waterlily to the right. Something that had finished flowering but appears to be white at right angles in the centre.

It was Mark who drew my attention to the fact that it is Camellia ‘Waterlily’, one of his father’s early cultivars. We have the original plant in the garden here. Next to it, to the left, is a clipped hedge – now at the end of its flowering season – of Camellia ‘Les Jury’. It is the best red his Uncle Les bred so they have the Jury camellia brothers right and left of the gateway.

Each spike is a cluster of a huge number of individual flowers with long stamens on the xeronema

We don’t have a whole lot of native plants that carry gardeners’ bragging rights with them but the Poor Knights’ lily – Xeronema callistemon – is one. It grows on the rocky cliff faces on the Poor Knights islands, often washed by sea water and never drying out but never getting waterlogged. According to Wikipedia, those offshore islands of New Zealand which few people ever get to visit but are a treasure trove of unique flora, were so-named because their shape reminded the early Europeans of a bread pudding popular at the time, the Poor Knights Pudding.  There is a random piece of information for you.

Xeronema callistemon in the central row on a bank in Waitara, thriving in a regime of benign neglect

Their natural habitat is not easy to re-create in a garden situation which is why they carry some bragging rights. I am pretty sure they are also frost-tender and it takes a long time for them to reach flowering size. Despite all that, there is fine display of huge plants on a shady bank in my local town of Waitara. Prostrate rosemary festoons down the bank below them and they are flanked by some pretty scruffy trachycarpus palms but eat your heart out, gardeners who have failed with the xeronema at home. Finding a suitable spot and then allowing benign neglect seems to work better.

Poor Knights lily and Marlborough rock daisy in our swimming pool garden. Maybe they feel at home because we have a salt water filter on the pool and they can smell the salt? Or maybe not.

Our best plants are just coming in to flower. I admit we groom the plants a bit – removing spent leaves. I like the combination with the Marlborough rock daisy (Pachystegia insignis) – another cliff dweller but this time from a location which must be close to 1000km south of the Poor Knights Islands.

Trimming the hedges here is largely done by Lloyd. If you look carefully, there is tape on the bamboo to mark the desired heights and he also checks with a string line.

Meantime, it is all go on preparing the garden for the Taranaki Garden Festival, opening on October 29. We have our fingers crossed that we stay at level two which enables it to go ahead. We will be awfully miffed if we get Covid Delta in Taranaki with a last-minute cancellation after all this work.

Kia kaha. Stay sane and stay safe in these trying times.  We are living through an event that will become a significant point of history for future generations to study. It is not a comfortable position for anyone.

Plants that do not know their place – high maintenance culprits

Dudley on the bridge amidst 'Snow Showers'

Dudley on the bridge amidst ‘Snow Showers’

You will never see me advocating enthusiastically for low maintenance gardening. It is not our style. But I do think some plants need to know their place in life. Some clamour for way more attention than they deserve. We have been thinking about plants that are unjustifiably high maintenance. First to go here were almost all plants that require chemical intervention (spraying) to keep them looking good – or even alive. Goodbye underperforming roses and badly thrip-infested rhododendrons. These might be great in other climates, but here? No. Next in the spotlight are some of the other high maintenance plant options.

Who doesn’t love wisteria? But unless you are willing to give them the attention they require, they are best admired in somebody else’s garden. More than any other plant I can think of, they cannot just be planted and left. Miss a prune and it only takes one season for them to crack the spouting – I know this from experience. They also put out runners that R U N considerable distances. What is more, if you prune them incorrectly, they don’t flower which really defeats the purpose of growing them.

We dug three wisteria out this winter. Two were not flowering well enough to justify keeping them (not enough light, I think). The third was running amok in a wild area and threatening world domination. We have still kept about seven plants, including two on our bridge which are great performers but I am meticulous about pruning them both in summer and winter. Even so, they can join hands in the middle, trying to block passage through.

Climbing roses are another plant that I personally think are best admired in somebody else’s garden. I once planted ‘Albertine’ over an arch in the vegetable garden. It looked lovely in flower but then it produced many long whips covered in fierce thorns. Not only were they waving away waiting to ensnare anyone who walked down the path, pruning was a Major Mission. When it took me the better part of a day to prune it and tie it in, I decided that the rewards did not justify the effort. The advice often seen in English media about letting climbing roses scramble through trees and not worrying about pruning them at all does not translate to our gardening conditions. Any rose that strong is more likely to collapse the host tree, or swamp it at least. We are trialling some semi-thornless pillar roses but rampant, thorny climbers – no thanks.

magnolia-little-gemAny potentially large tree planted in the wrong place is going to be high maintenance. Vegetable time bombs, we call them. I see it with Magnolia grandiflora “Little Gem” in urban gardens more than any other plant I can think of. Aforementioned “Little Gem” is only little by comparison with something that might equally be called “Extremely Giant Gem”. It is not a dwarf tree. Plant it in a confined space – I know of a twin row of five or six aside lining a very narrow driveway in town – and it will either be high maintenance on an ongoing basis to keep it confined or an expensive removal job when it becomes a major problem.

Clipped hedges can give great definition in a garden – green walls, really. But I rate any hedge that needs trimming more than once or twice a year as high maintenance. While some people are quite happy to trim hedges frequently to keep sharp-edged definition, I see that activity as being like vacuuming the house. There is nothing creative about such a repetitious activity. To me, hedges are   utility tools, a background, not the centre of attention so they shouldn’t be demanding as much or more attention as the foreground stars of the garden. I would not plant any in teucrium or lonicera for these reasons.

A blight upon your buxus!

A blight upon your buxus!

Buxus used to be infinitely useful and undemanding hedging plant. But with the advent of buxus blight in many areas, that status has changed. I know of gardeners who are spraying their buxus hedges every few weeks, just to keep them leafy and to hold blight at bay. Woah there! Aside from environmental considerations (even if it is just a copper spray, the long term use of that is not good), it turns a handy, low maintenance plant into a high maintenance option.

Camellia Fairy Blush

Camellia Fairy Blush

Give me our small leafed camellia hedges any day. A hard prune in early spring followed by a light tidy-up in autumn is all they need. Also they light up a winter’s day while feeding the birds and over-wintering monarch butterflies. Camellias ‘Fairy Blush’, transnokoensis and microphylla are our preferred options.

We can and do fuss over some plants but utility plants? No. They need to know their place in life and that means not being so demanding.

First published in the September issue of NZ Gardener and reprinted here with their permission. 



Garden lore: July 20, 2015 Petal blight, white camellia hedges and winter pruning

“One has a lot, an endless lot, to learn when one sets out to be a gardener.”

Vita Sackville-West, A Joy of Gardening (1958)


Petal blight

Petal blight

After writing about Winter Whites last week, referencing the ubiquitous white camellia hedges, of course I noticed this hedge on my way to town. My eye was drawn to the composition of brown and white flowers. It is a japonica camellia, though which one I am not sure. Closer examination revealed a bad case of petal blight, even this early in the season. There are two main giveaway signs. The first is the brown flowers hanging on to the bush. Most modern camellias are what is called self-grooming. They are bred to drop their spent blooms but those affected by petal blight hang on. The blighters. The second sign is shown by turning over a brown bloom and removing the calyx that holds the petals together. There is the tell-tale white ring of death – fungal spores. There is no remedy. You either live with it or you remove the plants.

I have never been a fan of japonica camellias for hedging. The foliage can go a bit yellow in full sun and both leaves and blooms are too big. Smaller leafed camellias, seen in the sasanquas, some of the species and the hybrids look much better. Miniature single flowers usually fall cleanly and disintegrate quickly, avoiding the sludgy brown effect below.

Camellia transnokoensis

Camellia transnokoensis

While our C. transnokoensis hedge needs to thicken up yet, we are charmed by its floral display. The sasanqua ‘Silver Dollar’ is also an excellent hedging choice. While the small flowers are nothing special viewed close-up, it is one of the first sasanquas to bloom for us and one of the last so it has exceptionally long season allied to compact growth and small leaves which are a good, dark green.

Camellia sasanqua Silver Dollar - an excellent hedging option

Camellia sasanqua Silver Dollar – an excellent hedging option 

While some claim that sasanquas can get petal blight, we haven’t seen it on our plants. And although the single flowered species and hybrids are not necessarily resistant, most set large numbers of flowers but each bloom only lasts a few days so they fall before blight takes hold.

On another topic, winter is pruning time. I did the wisterias on Friday. This is one plant family I recommend removing totally if you are not willing to prune them. They have dangerous proclivities. Most of the roses are done and I have started on the hydrangeas. Those in colder climates may be better to wait another month before tackling the last two because pruning encourages new growth which is vulnerable to frosts. The pruning guides I did several years ago as part of my Outdoor Classroom series give step by step instructions if you are not sure where to start – wisteria, hydrangeas, roses.

My favourite white camellias

Left to right: C. microphylla,  sasanqua Silver Dollar, transnokoensis, drupifera, gauchowensis, yuhsienensis

Left to right: C. microphylla, sasanqua Silver Dollar, transnokoensis, drupifera, gauchowensis, yuhsienensis

When you think about it, it is likely that at least two thirds of camellias are pink with the remaining third shared by red and white. In this country, we have a passion for white flowers. Indeed it is seen as a mark of sophistication in some quarters to create a garden with only white flowered plants (Sissinghurst’s famed white garden meets new-age minimalism in the far flung colony), perhaps alleviated by the occasional addition of one extra colour – touches of red maybe, or black for the ultra sophisticates.

That love affair with white extends to camellias, especially where hedges are concerned. I would guess there are many more white camellia hedges than pink or red ones. While I don’t put the whites on a pedestal above their coloured cousins, there is a charm in pristine, white flowers – though not if they then turn to sludge brown and stay on the bush.

I mentioned Camellia gauchowensis last week. After many weeks, it is still looking splendid and has plenty of flower buds yet to open. We think this is a sasanqua – the Japanese camellias which start flowering in autumn. Many sasanquas have a sort of mossy, earthy scent which is peculiar to this family and C. gauchowensis certainly has it. Some optimists on overseas websites refer to its wonderful fragrance but it is just that typical wet moss sasanqua smell.

The sasanquas bring us the greatest range of good performing pure whites. Pretty much everybody knows Setsugekka with its medium to large semi double flowers and golden stamens. In fact it is not dissimilar to C. gauchowensis, or Weeping Maiden for that matter. There is a whole string of them that are similar, varying more in habit of growth than in flower. C. gauchowensis is probably my favourite only because that is the one I have planted in a prominent spot where I see it frequently.

Early Pearly, one of the loveliest white sasanquas of them all

Early Pearly, one of the loveliest white sasanquas of them all

For beauty of white bloom in the sasanquas, it is hard to go past Early Pearly. It has what is described as a formal flower (a full set of petals with no visible stamens, held in tidy, overlaying circles). If I were to go for a white sasanqua hedge, I would probably pick Early Pearly but it is a matter of taste (and availability). It is the only white sasanqua I know with that flower form.

Away from the sasanquas, there are a fairly large number of species with small, white, single or semi double flowers. Tsaii is well known, though not my favourite. I think as it gets ever larger, it can be a little sparse in the foliage department. I have commented before about our choice of C. microphylla as both hedging and specimen plant. It has all but finished flowering for the season. We are also fans of C. transnokoensis (colloquially abbreviated to ‘transnok’) which has good dark foliage and masses of tiny white single flowers. In fact we are so keen on it that we have just planted two lengths of hedging and it is starting to open its flowers now. We are impressed by the somewhat obscure C. drupifera with its compact habit, dark foliage and plenty of mid-sized pure white flowers.

These single and semi double types have two big advantages. Many feed the birds in winter because the pollen and nectar are readily available in the visible stamens. They also fall and disintegrate quickly, so there is no sludge of spent blooms below. Most have blooms which are pretty short lived but to compensate for that, they set masses of flower buds so there are fresh flowers opening as the spent ones fall.

Whites are far more problematic in the japonica and hybrid camellias. These types tend to have flowers with much more substance – stiffer, more solid. This is where the show blooms come from and there is a wider range of flower form and blooms are often much larger. They also hang on to the bush for longer and the problem with white and pale blooms is that they show all weather damage and then hang about for longer in a brown and white state on the bush.

This one is Superstar. We can't pick it from Lily Pons

This one is Superstar. We can’t pick it from Lily Pons

The only ones I can honestly recommend in these larger flowered, mid season blooming types are Lily Pons or its twin sister, Superstar. We have never been able to pick the difference between the two. They are more semi doubles with fluted petals and golden stamens, showing better weather tolerance and more graceful ageing than other large whites of this type. We have never found a top performing, formal white japonica which doesn’t show every blemish.

In the end, it will come down to availability these days. The range of camellias offered for sale in this country has contracted dramatically. You may have to settle for what you can find, but take heart. There is a fairly high degree of flexibility possible because many actually look similar. In the end, choose on overall performance as a garden plant, not on the beauty of a single bloom.

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