Tag Archives: crepe myrtle

From the crowds of WOMAD to the peace at home

The main stage, known as the Bowl of Brooklands. 

There have been a number of different things happening in our lives lately, so gardening has taken something of a back seat. Instead, I thought I would showcase the area of our local gardens that we know as “The Bowl” and Brooklands Park. For those who have been to New Plymouth, these are the upper reaches of Pukekura Park, a wonderful legacy from a much earlier generation,  close to the centre of the city.

This was WOMAD weekend – the world music festival which travels the globe. It is a huge event for our small city and I wanted to share the beauty of the location which accommodates 3 large stages and 3 small stages, plus all the other accoutrements of festivals.

The entrances alone set the scene. That is Mark in the coral pink tee shirt, standing by George’s tree. I wrote a short tribute to George Fuller when he died. A former curator of the park for many years, he set up camp beneath that puriri tree to protest plans to remove it in order to widen the road access. In this, he was successful, as can be seen. George may be dead but his tree lives on.

The entire WOMAD festival takes place within the embrace of trees. I particularly like the small Dell Stage for its intimacy and charm.

Adjacent to The Dell is this lily pond. It is a good exercise in knowing your water lilies. Some lilies S P R E A D to take up all the water, which rather defeats the reflective qualities. If you plan on growing a few water lilies at home, my advice is not to plant these overly strong triffids but to seek out smaller growing, named varieties which may be less inclined to stage a takeover bid. There are easier maintenance tasks than thinning water lilies.

From memory, the white sculpture is based on cloud formations and was placed to be reflected in the water. To me, I fear, they are more evocative of toothy molars but each to their own.

We were at WOMAD this time because I was involved. Nothing musical – I do not have a musical bone in my body, although Mark is an ageing rock and pop drummer from way back. He still has his drum kit, though I banished it to the shed rather than a spare bedroom. I was interviewing winemaker Allan Scott, a leading light in the Marlborough wine industry and one of a fairly small number of independent wineries in an increasingly multinational, corporate industry. The session was accompanied by wine tasting (five wines) and food matching with canapes. It is a situation where I rather regretted my unbreakable rule of never drinking when presenting to an audience. Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay, Gewurtztraminer, Riesling and Pinot noir – but not a drop passed my lips until we had finished.

One of the other aspects of our WOMAD that really impresses me is the zero waste priority. Unlike most events that attract thousands of people, WOMAD is simply remarkable for its total absence of rubbish on the ground and the use of compostable or reusable serving dishes and drinking vessels. It is proof that with a good set-up and plenty of good management, litter and plastic waste can be eliminated.

Our white crepe myrtle

It is a three day festival, but we piked after two days. We are not used to crowds and noise, and come Sunday, we were both happy to have a quiet day in the garden at home. Down in our park the crepe myrtle (lagerstroemia) is like blossom. It does not often bloom like this but this is an indication of the long, hot, summer we had this year. Usually we grow it for its attractive bark and the flowers are sparse and pass without attracting attention.

Colchicums are not the same as autumn crocus

The colchicums are also flowering – in the rockery but also naturalised down in the park area that we now call the meadow. That is surely a sign that autumn is here.

Paradise Found in New South Wales

The quixotic creations of Bob Cherry

The quixotic creations of Bob Cherry

If you ever have any doubts about the quality of service at our local information centres, try going to the tourist information office at The Rocks in Sydney and ask about gardens to visit in the area. If you wandered into our I-sites, it would be reasonable to expect them to come up with maybe six or more options which would include a mix of both private and public gardens. Not so in Sydney. The staffer resorted to Google (which I had already tried at home) and merely pulled up real estate open homes in areas with garden type names. It remains a mystery to us as to whether there are in fact no open garden options beyond the botanic gardens. If there are, we failed to find them.

We did find the Royal Botanic Gardens which are very close to the Sydney Opera House in a magic location. The parking metre fee of about $26 made me wince and the café where we had lunch was downright ordinary. The wonderfully decorative ibis who have clearly adapted to café fare were the best part of lunch. Mark was particularly impressed by the palm collection and chose to linger there, studying mature specimens of varieties he has here to put into his planned Palm Walk but in the end it was the bats which provided the most vivid memory. Many large bats, hanging about in trees. I had been under the misapprehension that bats slept during the day. Not so, at least not these Sydney bats. They merely hang around upside down, bickering, squabbling, fighting and generally making a lot of noise. While the bats are vital for pollinating certain plants in the gardens there, numbers had built up to such a high level that they were also responsible for doing a lot of damage to many trees. I think we were told the current population is estimated to be around 16000, and that was not in a large area. The gardens’ management have permission to try and reduce the population but, this being Australia with a laudable commitment to their indigenous fauna, there is to be no cull. Instead they will attempt to drive the bats out by emitting a particular frequency of sound which only the bats can hear. Lucky neighbours. The bats do not apparently fly very far so upwards of 16000 displaced bats are likely to settle nearby.

We had to drive upstate to find a garden – in this case, one created by leading Australian plantsman, Bob Cherry. The garden he and his wife, Derelie, own is called Paradise and is located in Kulnura. Readers may not know the name Bob Cherry but many will know of Paradise camellias, particularly the Paradise sasanquas which completely dominate the markets both in Australia and New Zealand. However his interests go well beyond camellias and he was working with bidens, amongst many other plants, in search of new garden varieties. What is a bidens, you may ask? Closely related to cosmos and the orange and yellow so-called cosmos that turned up in a packet of pink and white cosmos seed here are in fact bidens. There are also common weeds that are bidens. Beyond bidens, begonias, Camellia sinensis, michelias, polyanthus and many other plant varieties were undergoing the Cherry touch in the quest for better garden plants.

Camellia changii - reputed to flower throughout the better part of the year

Camellia changii - reputed to flower throughout the better part of the year

Bob has made over 40 trips to China since it opened up to the west in the early 1980s and has been responsible for introducing a wide range of new species and plants to the west. We were fascinated to see Camellia changii in flower – in early March. Apparently it flowers all year round and its March flowers were certainly eyecatching, being a true scarlet red with no pink tones at all. Camellia changii is also sometimes referred to as Camellia azalea, although I have failed to find any explanation for that name. In the wild, changii is rated as extremely endangered but it has been distributed around the world and it opens up possibilities for breeding a new race of camellias that flower outside the time when petal blight hits. Of course they don’t have petal blight in Australia. Yet. Bob told us that he point blank refuses to visit New Zealand during camellia season. He thinks it is probably only a matter of time before petal blight reaches Australia but there is no way that he wants anybody to be able to claim that it was first found in his garden or nursery.

Bob and Derelie garden on a pretty grand scale and, typical of most Australasian gardens, they do it themselves with minimal input from outside labour. We didn’t even look at Derelie’s extensive rose gardens, but there is an extraordinary range of woody trees and shrubs, including some of the best foliaged Michelia yunnanensis (syn. Magnolia laevifolia) that we have seen. But the other stand out features of this garden called Paradise were Bob’s structures. I am not sure I can convey the full scale of these. We built a pretty large brick wall here in our garden and it took 16000 bricks. Bob has so far used an estimated half a million bricks on his structures. And that does not include the extensive stonework and ironwork. He gets in a brickie whenever his budget allows but he does all the stonework himself. We are not talking brick paths and dinky little structures here. This is grand vision stuff. The pillared walkway shown in the photograph is as yet unfinished. There are now 50 of these massive brick columns and it is to be an extension of the wisteria walkway. There is something bravely compulsive about some of the constructions – a vision the creator is determined to get well underway, knowing that he may never see completion. His property is on the market and he yearns for retirement to a smaller piece of land in Tasmania. Bob Cherry is one of the gardening world’s modern quixotic gems.

Derelie has published a book on the garden which is available in New Zealand. “Two Dogs and a Garden” is a beautifully produced book, full of pretty photographs (very pink, but how could it be otherwise when camellias play a large role in their lives?) and a personal interpretation of the lives they lead in their own piece of paradise.

Finally back to Sydney, we were delighted by the crepe myrtles used as street trees and in full flower in Chinatown. The crepe myrtle or lagerstroemia is a small tree, mainly from Asia, with beautiful bark. They can look remarkably dead when they are dormant in winter. We saw some in northern Italy, completely dormant, with bark which resembled piebald ponies. They will grow here, but they rarely flower well. We are just a bit too wet and lush for them. They tend to do better in drier climates with hot summers and more seasonal variation than we can give. Being a small tree with a light structure, they make a well behaved street specimen. In flower, they look a little like trees covered in crepe paper blossoms which seemed entirely appropriate to the ambience of Chinatown.

Crepe myrtles in Sydneys Chinatown

Crepe myrtles in Sydneys Chinatown