Tag Archives: chicory

Along the verges – midsummer on North Taranaki roadsides

Blue hydrangeas – a common roadside plant

We are very blue along our Taranaki roadsides in midsummer. I meant to get out with my camera a few weeks ago to record the roadside hydrangeas flowering in our area. Many are now passing over so I had to make do with the verge planted by our neighbour across the road. It has been bringing me pleasure for many weeks now.

Basically, hydrangeas are blue in Taranaki. This is to do with available aluminium in our acid soils.  In our warm, temperate climate with adequate summer rain, they can just be planted and left. The many, many roadside hydrangeas will have been planted originally (seeding is minimal) and then left to their own devices. I don’t think anyone ever prunes them. This means that they are generally smothered with smaller flower heads. Pruning controls the size of the shrub and increases the flower size but lessens the number of blooms. Plants can survive quite happily with no pruning at all.

Weed or common wildflower? Agapanthus

It is the season of agapanthus. They are EVERYWHERE in this area, although they generally start from a deliberate planting and they are most often seen as amenity, road verge plantings rather than garden plants. They are controversial here on account of their seeding ways and the fact that they are resistant to the most common weed killer. But our roadsides would be so much the poorer without them.

Thumbs down to woolly nightshade

My definition of a noxious weed is a plant that invades and displaces more desirable native plants and I don’t think the roadside agapanthus are displacing anything more desirable. The seed is not spread by birds and generally falls close to the parent plant so is localised. I would be far more worried about woolly nightshade – Solanum mauritianum – than about agapanthus. It has no redeeming features and is highly invasive. Curiously, by this plant, I saw a small plant of Verbena bonariensis on the verge. As it is at least two kilometres from my garden where it is flowering, I don’t think I am responsible for this plant making its way to the wild. Most of our wildflowers start as garden escapes and this verbena is so light and airy in form, while being popular with bees and butterflies, that I am not convinced that it is going to be a problem in the comparative wasteland of road verges.

Chicory – not as common as I would like it to be

Chicory is another pretty blue that I wouldn’t mind making its home around here. It is a member of the dandelion family and is also used as stock food overseas so I can’t think it would do much harm here. I found this one growing on railway land when I stopped to photograph the red hot pokers.

Kniphofia in Lepperton

Like the hydrangeas, kniphofia generally start from a deliberate planting. Though some forms seed more freely than others in a garden situation, I have never seen them as a weed when on road verges. I once wrote about them – if you want to know why Father was a red hot poker and Mother was a blushing violet. I liked this scene of kniphofia and an old gateway between the state highway and the railway line in Lepperton this week.

Crocosmia – commonly referred to as montbretia

I wrote about crocosmia in my earlier post today. If we are not blue, we are carpets of red around here – or sometimes blue and red. They are just too happy in our conditions though they do look very pretty interspersed with the long grasses on some road verges.

Common fennel

Into the yellows, we have fennel, fennel and more fennel all around the district. I really like it, so much so that I have used it in the summer borders. I like the airy grace of those yellow umbellifers and the fine, ferny foliage. The insects like them too. There is a bronze form more commonly used as an ornamental but I am not willing to spend money buying a fennel and nobody has given it to me yet.

Evening primrose

I am also fond of the wild evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) which is common enough here and certainly common in wilder areas of our property. It doesn’t seem to do any harm and the bees like it.

Thumbs down, also, to convolvulus

Not all of our wild flowers are desirable. Mark keeps out the convolvulus, be it pink or white, though there is so much of it around, I can only conclude that others are less vigilant. It is a smothering plant, hellishly difficult to eradicate once it gets a foothold. This one is climbing up the Bertram Road swing bridge over the Waitara River but will very soon dominate the whole bank and bridge if not kept under control or taken out.

The wasteland of the sprayed road verge

Not all of our wildflowers are noxious weeds. But neither are all of the weeds wildflowers worth tolerating. On the other hand, is there anything much worse than this sprayed wasteland of a road verge? A practice that remains common around here.

Agapanthus a-plenty 

And sometimes agapanthus and crocosmia – one starting from a deliberate planting, the other entirely self-introduced

Blue sky gardening rather than feeling blue

Weeds maybe, but pretty on summer roadsides - agapanthus

Weeds maybe, but pretty on summer roadsides – agapanthus

There I was, having decided to write about blue flowers this week, when I opened the latest issue of NZ Gardener and Lynda Hallinan had beaten me to it. But that’s all right. She was mainly looking at annuals with just a few perennials and one shrub.

It is the sight of the blue jacaranda in full flower which makes me fall in love with blue blooms all over again. It is the first thing I see out the window every morning and I sit and drink my early morning tea admiring it and reflecting on how much I love the colour.

Where we live, blue is the dominant colour of the roadside flowers in summer. I know agapanthus is a weed and difficult to eradicate but our verges would be the poorer for its absence. Plants have to be tough in that situation and the agapanthus is a showy survivor. Beacons of summer, here.

The simplicity of chicory

The simplicity of chicory

The wild chicory is pretty as a picture with its soft blue daisies. In the garden we grow blue asters with a similar flower but in long grass, the simplicity of the chicory is more fitting.

We are blue hydrangea territory, being acidic in soils. With regular summer rain and mild, humid conditions, the blocks of blue flowered hydrangeas tend to mean we take this plant for granted. Go to more alkaline territory and they turn pink as readers may have noticed in other areas, but they add to our blue palette here. As we fluff around our garden hydrangeas, pruning each year to tidy them up and promote good flowering, it is interesting to reflect that those roadside wildflowers are never touched yet bloom faithfully. As a general rule, if you don’t prune a hydrangea, you get more flowers but they are smaller.

Impressed by the garden performance of the You-Me hydrangea series

Impressed by the garden performance of the You-Me hydrangea series

When it comes to the garden, those big blue moptop hydrangeas (the macrophyllas) are okay as a backdrop but they lack refinement as garden plants. We have been most impressed with the more delicate appearance of the recent introductions from Japan in the You-Me series. We collected several from hydrangea expert Glyn Church a few years ago and have lost the names but they are all quite similar so I’m not sure that any one is better than the others. Look for them branded under the You-Me group and they carry individual names like “Forever” and “Eternity”. If you can’t find them in your local garden centre, then you can get them on line from Woodleigh Nursery. Be warned, however, that they are apparently not colour stable so if your soils are more alkaline, they won’t be the pretty blues we have here. Presumably they will be pretty pinks instead.

What is it about blue? For me, I think it is that the blue as blue skies are such a mood enhancer. It may have something to do with the dreaded holes in the ozone layer (though I hope it has more to do with our isolation and low population) but we have a clarity and intensity of light in this country that most of us take for granted until we travel overseas.

I have commented before on the fact that we treat green as colour neutral in the garden. All those monochromatic garden schemes are in fact bichromatic because they are one colour plus green.

Nigella damascena - a personal favourite

Nigella damascena – a personal favourite

Blue is not colour neutral as such, but it sits happily in any colour combination. So if your garden bed is hot colours of reds, yellows and oranges, blue will sit in that mix quite happily. In you have gone instead for pretty pastel pinks and whites, blue does not shout when included. Of the primary colours, it is the easiest to blend. It can lift a tightly controlled, colour managed garden out of the blandness that sometimes afflicts them, by adding just a little zing.

I don’t understand why “feeling blue” is a reference to feeling sad. In my books, you can never have too much blue in a garden and lifting one’s eyes to the blue sky above is a celebration of life.

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