Tag Archives: Luculia Fragrant Cloud

A celebration of bright light and the start of a new year of gardening

Our maunga – Mount Taranaki – on the day before the winter equinox

I have said before that the first flowers on Magnolia campbellii herald the start of a new gardening year for us. But I had not thought before of the bigger picture. On the day before the winter equinox last week, I went out on a clear day to catch the image of our maunga, our mountain, from the path down to our park. It wasn’t until I saw it on my big computer screen that I spotted the bird in the branches. I assumed it was a kereru judging by the size and shape and so did Mark when I showed him. When I zoomed close in on my screen, it is just a thrush.

The first blooms on Magnolia campbellii herald the start of a new garden year – for us, at least.

This week, the first flowers opened. And I made a connection between the first flowers, the winter solstice and Matariki. The last is a traditional Maori celebration now gaining popularity in the wider population. Sometimes referred to as the Maori New Year, its timing is determined by the rise of a cluster of small stars known to Maori as Matariki but commonly called the Pleiades in astronomical circles. The exact date of the appearance of this star cluster varies from year to year, but it is usually soon after the winter solstice. And it occurred to me that the calendar which we all follow where New Year is accepted to be January 1 is, of course, a northern hemisphere creation so everything seasonal is reversed. It makes perfect sense that the first flowers on M. campbellii signal the start of our new year in the garden.

Reaching high into the mid-winter sky, Dahlia imperialis Alba and a bougainvillea shoot

And what a week it has been. Cool nights (which means between about 3° and 8° Celsius where we are), followed by sunny, calm days with a temperature of 14° to 15°. We cannot complain about that in mid-winter, even though we know winter storms will return over the next six weeks before temperatures start rising in August.

The shaggy spires of Jacobinia chrysostephana syn. Justicia aurea in the early morning light

As usual, in this part of the world, we keep that clarity of bright light all year round. Not for us a watery winter sun held low in the sky and lowered light levels of winter gloom. No, we have bright sunshine and clear blue skies on good days where the only difference is the air temperature. And it is not so bad to winter-over in conditions where, even as I type with warm gloves (blood circulation to the arthritic fingers is not what it once was) in my office with the heater on, I know that after my 10am coffee, it will be warm enough outside to head outside and start on today’s project. And still we have a garden full of flowers.

Luculia Fragrant Cloud in full bloom

Luculia Fragrant Cloud with its sweet almond fragrance

Mark’s Daphne Perfume Princess – we have rather a lot of these scattered through the garden

Vireya rhododendrons planted in sheltered positions throughout the top garden flower intermittently through the year but are perhaps most appreciated in mid winter

 

A week of determined gardening

The first half is now all planted

I have not been shilly-shallying around. The first half of the new court garden is planted and I have started on the second half. This is not light work. Mark has rotary hoed and I follow up with raking the area out and getting clods of roots out, as well as squishing the abundance of grass grubs. It has only just occurred to me that had I transferred all those grubs to a jar instead, we should have had enough for a meal of alternative protein. Whether grass grubs are delicious when tossed in garlic butter in a hot pan will likely remain mystery, however. I am not that intrepid.

Starting on the other half – the pressure is on to get it planted before winter sets in 

I describe this as romantic chat between two wheelbarrows (me being a two barrow gardener)

The rush is on because our soils are still warm and temperatures are mild, despite it being late autumn. I am hoping for a few more weeks of grace so the plants can start forming new roots. You would not want to be doing it this late in the season in colder climates or places with heavy soil where the plants would languish in wet, compacting ground. With our excellent drainage and friable, volcanic soils, we have much more leeway.

My plantings are neither complex nor detailed. This is a novel experience here. Most of our garden is highly detailed so going with sweeping plantings of large growing perennials is very different and way easier to put in. Because I am digging and dividing from other areas to get the plant material, it is heavy work but it means I am able to put in sizeable clumps at finished spacings. Had I bought the plants, it would be different. When you are starting with nursery-grown plants in small 10 cm pots, it is really difficult to envisage their mature size and the instinct, always, is to over-plant to get a quicker effect. That of course makes for more work in the future because that over-planting will need thinning sooner, rather than later.

B I G salvias for autumn colour, though I am having to cut back early because of transplanting them

I planted the waves of foundation plants first, using just seven different plant varieties (5 grasses, Astelia chathamica and Elegia capensis), added the blocks of a few additional plants I wanted to use (two black flaxes or phormium, a block of rushes that I have lost the name of already, the giant Albuca nelsonii and a plant of Carmichaelia williamsii which has had a hard life but I hope will survive and thrive) . Finally, I added the flowers. At this stage just the giant inula (likely Inula magnifica), big salvias for autumn flowering, pale foxgloves and Verbascum creticum. I hope I have at last found the right spot for these botanical thugs. The plant selection is fairly typical of the way we garden in that it will end up around 25% native plants integrated with exotics. We have never gone for the deliberate “native garden” but instead select native plants that will work in a mixed situation.

The discards of earlier generations to the left, our plastic generation to the right

There are times when working in the garden here takes on the flavour of an archaeological dig. This used to be a farm and farmers were not exactly renowned for taking their rubbish to the dump. It then became an outlying area of the garden in Mark’s father time, before becoming nursery in our time. I always gather up all the non-biodegradable rubbish as I garden and this haul interested me. Given that our nursery years coincided with the widespread switch to plastics, I was surprised that the volume of modern plastics and synthetics (on the right) was not greater. We must have been tidier than I thought. On the left is the older rubbish. Metal, glass, broken china and some pieces of clay pots, basically. There is quite a lot of broken horticultural glass there. Felix was doing his home propagation back in the days of terracotta pots and wooden seed trays covered with sheets of glass. While the broken glass would have been hazardous in the beginning, time has dulled the edges. Unlike modern plastics, I don’t think there is evidence that glass and shards of pottery enter the food chain and pollute the oceans. In this time when there is growing concern at plastics in the environment, we are relieved to be out of the nursery industry – a business that is now built on extensive use of plastics, some of which may be reused but precious little of it will ever be recycled.

Dahlia imperialis towers some 3 to 4 metres high against the autumn sky

Finally, because I read a brave comment in a southern blog this week boldly declaring, “Even though it’s May, that most dire of months for gardens in the southern hemisphere…” (waving to my friend, Robyn Kilty) , I offer you three flowering plants this week. All are big, rangy, brittle, frost tender and come into their own just as the autumn storms hit. But are they not lovely?

This evergreen tree hydrangea is even larger. Now, I understand classified as a form of H. aspera

And the luculia season has started, bring us sweet scent. Luculia pinceana ‘Fragrant Cloud’.

 

 

 

 

Tikorangi Notes: Flowers great and small. With added lemons.

Doryanthes palmeri or giant spear lily. Certainly shaping up to be giant

Behold Doryanthes palmeri! The giant spear lily from eastern Australia. It has never flowered for us before so the three metre, sturdy flower spike is a thrill even though it has yet to open. This particular plant is a nursery relic, by which I mean that it was not planted in this position. More, cast aside from nursery crops (we once produced a few to sell) and left to its own devices. Now the grass garden is planted beside it and it looks quite at home. This is just as well; each pleated leaf is about one and a half metres long and I don’t fancy moving it. I am hoping the flowers will open in the next week or so.

Snowdrop season! Galanthus S. Arnott

From the massive to the tiny, it is snowdrop season here. We are not really-o truly-o good snowdrop territory and Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’ and G. elwesii are the two main varieties that perform consistently well and multiply for us. Mark would dearly love some later flowering ones to extend the rather short season but while he went through a stage of gathering various different varieties, none of the later ones have thrived. Undeterred, he is trying some hybridising to see if he can get some variety but these projects, you understand, never yield instant results. It is more like a ten or twenty year plan, all to get the extended snowdrop season.

Luculia Fragrant Cloud keeps on flowering this season

It was a full month ago that I wrote about luculias. The bright pink ‘Early Dawn’ is well finished, white ‘Fragrant Pearl’ still has a few blooms but the main specimen plant needs some attention (a bit more judicious pruning and more light – it has flowered better in the past). But ‘Fragrant Cloud’ has been in full flight ever since and still looks good. This is the very best I have ever seen it and the scent is divine.

Daphne Perfume Princess

Equally fragrant are the daphnes in full bloom. We grow a number of different daphnes but a fair amount of them are our own ‘Perfume Princess’. Mark has bred other plants that are showier and more spectacular (especially the magnolias), but this obliging daphne represents a breeding breakthrough in some aspects and may well end up as the one he is best known for internationally. It is certainly the one that enabled us to retire early. Given that, we are deeply relieved as each year it proves itself again as a garden plant and a superior daphne which will stand the test of time.

I admit that as this post goes live, we are far from Tikorangi. Well, not that far. Just ‘across the ditch’, as we say, in Australia. While we need passports to travel to Australia it never feels overseas as further, oft more exotic, destinations do. It is just that all three of our children live in Australia these days and we are all joining the celebration of the second birthday of our only grandchild. So not a garden or plants-focused visit but I am sure we will find matters botanical of interest on the way. While I love the place we live, I have been missing the stimulus of travel this year. I need to find somewhere interesting and new for a trip next winter. By the time we arrive home, we should have the first colour showing on Magnolia Vulcan and M. campbellii should be in full bloom in the park. Winter will feel as though it is on the wane.

Preserved lemons – the liquid is opaque because some of the salt has yet to fully dissolve

Before we left, I made another jar of salted lemons, having noticed a heavy crop and smaller fruit on our main tree. Smaller fruit fit in the jar better. I prefer to make salted limes but the lime tree is having a year (or two) off fruiting. They are dead easy to do, store for many months in the fridge and are very tasty as a flavour addition. They can make couscous flavourful (though I have gone off couscous since I realised how highly processed this product is), add taste to rice and all manner of stuffings or savoury dishes. I resorted to buying lemons one year, in the absence of a good lemon crop at home, but if you are buying fruit, pour boiling water over them and stand them for a few minutes first. Some are, I read, coated (in wax?) to help their storage life and you need to get rid of any coating or spray residues before preserving them.

Just looking at the jar is like looking at a ray of Italian sunshine on a winter’s day in Tikorangi.