Tag Archives: midwinter flowers

Nga Puawai o Matariki or The Flowers of Matariki

Hippeastrum aulicum

After I posted last week’s piece about Matariki – the Maori new year, the winter solstice and Magnolia campbellii, a loyal reader commented that no magnolias are opening where he lives so he went looking to see what could be his Matariki flower. He settled on Mark’s Camellia ‘Fairy Blush’ which felt like an honour to us.

I like the idea of people determining their Matariki flower. We had our first ever public holiday to mark Matariki last Friday and for many of us, it was special. Not only does it mark a point in time that is significant both spiritually and scientifically to the first people of the land here, it is the only public holiday that has a nation gazing at the stars and taking an interest in astronomy.

Friends invited us to lunch to celebrate the occasion. Home entertaining is back in these Covid times, at least for our demographic. I took a bunch of Hippeastrum aulicum and our hostess commented that she had no flowers in her garden. This wasn’t quite true. She had Alstromeria  ‘Indian Summer’ still blooming but nothing else I could see. It inspired me to come home and walk around the garden with my camera to capture some of the flowers we have in the depths of mid-winter.

A vireya rhododendron seedling

The subtropical rhododendrons are blithely unaware of the seasons, except for frost which makes them turn up their toes, and we have them in flower all year round. We have a mix of species, named hybrids and unnamed seedlings from crosses Mark has made. This is an R. hellwiggi seedling which means it is also sweetly scented.

Constant companion, new dog Ralph

Everywhere I go in the garden, Ralph is at my side. He does not, alas, show any respect for the garden at all and this morning knocked off the first open flower on a dainty dwarf narcissus. We have some work to do teaching him to respect garden boundaries.

Luculia ‘Fragrant Cloud’

It is luculia season and my favourite of these is the almond pink, scented blooms of ‘Fragrant Cloud’ which has a very long flowering season but generally flops if I cut them to bring indoors. I could do without the yellow totara to the left of the scene but the red form of our native cordyline works well. This luculia is rangy, brittle and lacks any merit in its form as a shrub but all is forgiven when it flowers.

Schlumbergera or chain cactus

Right at home under the rimu trees is the schlumbergera, commonly called chain cactus. We have a few different colours but this cerise form is easily the most obliging and showiest of them. These are plants that thrive in dry shade and, despite the cactus reference, have no prickles and spines. They are also dead easy to increase by just snipping off a length and tucking into a crevice with a bit of leaf litter to root into.

Camellia ‘Mine No Yuki’ with hanging tillandsia

It is of course camellia season and this is why I don’t love Camellia sasanqua ‘Mine No Yuki’ at this time of year. It doesn’t shed its spent flowers because the foliage is so dense and they sit around looking brown and sludgy. We only keep the plant because for the rest of the year we clip it tightly into stacked clouds and it justifies its existence for the form of the plant and healthy foliage. The flowers are a disadvantage, not a bonus as far as I am concerned.

That is a fine form of Spanish moss or tillandsia threaded on inverted, old, wire hanging baskets – a trick I learned from an Auckland gardener several years ago. His were more loved than mine but they add a detail suspended from the camellia branches.

Camellia yuhsienensis

We love Camellia yuhsienensis far more, enough to grow a fair number of them as specimen plants, particularly for winter interest in the Summer Gardens. It is meant to be strongly scented but it needs a warm day and a nose stuck right in the flowers to get much of a whiff so that is a bit hyperbolic. However, the bees love it and anything that feeds the bees in midwinter is a good thing.

Dudley and Ralph

I reached the the Summer Gardens and Dudley had risen from his retirement bed to join Ralph and me. Duds is a quiet, old dog and the arrival of Ralph has come as a bit of a shock to him but they co-exist harmoniously. Dudley has made it clear that ALL dog beds are his while Ralph has laid claim to all the dog toys and already destroyed some that had survived years of Dudley’s more gentle play.

The Court Gardens in midwinter

I was focusing on flowers that are coming out or at their peak in midwinter rather than the carryovers from autumn but I made an exception for the yellow Salvia madrensis which makes a great autumn/winter plant for frost-free areas with plenty of space and nothing delicate nearby for it to smother. It is showy but large and rangy.

Daphne Perfume Princess

I have to acknowledge Mark’s Daphne ‘Perfume Princess’. Sure, it is just a daphne but what a daphne. Vigorous, reliable, exceptionally large flowers and an exceptionally long flowering season. Very scented, of course, as daphnes should be. We had stock plants left in the nursery that I threaded through the house gardens so it is quite a dominant plant here for us at this time.

Lobelia physaloides
Look at those big, blue-purple berries on the Lobelia physaloides

Look at this lesser known NZ native – Lobelia physaloides! It is sometimes referred to as the NZ hydrangea, presumably because its lush foliage loosely resembles some of that plant family. To my shame, I missed the flowering on it but the photos on line do not show any resemblance to hydrangeas. It is the berries that are the most extraordinary feature, in both size and colour. It is another rare, endangered plant on our threatened list, mostly from loss of habitat. In the wild it is limited to our offshore, subtropical islands (Three Kings and a few others) and a few mainland spots in the far north. For the botanically inclined, there is a whole lot more information here about this interesting plant. We are very pleased to have three plants of it in the garden.

The early jonquils are promising spring

I didn’t focus on the bulbs this time. We are on the cusp of peak bulb season – the early snowdrops are opening, the first of the narcissi, lachenalias in red, yellow and orange, Cyclamen coum is at its peak. It may be midwinter but we are blessed with conditions that allow plant growth and flowering all year round.

Happy Matariki from Aotearoa.

The summer gardens in midwinter, Boris Johnson and pineapple lumps.

‘the english/european “dead stuff” look’

I was casting around for topics this week when a gardening friend emailed: “Was wondering if you could post on your website a couple of shots of the grasses at this time of year – interesting to see the “winter look” – will you be cutting them back or going for the english/european “dead stuff” look?” I see she is not that keen on using capital letters.

As with everybody else, my world has shrunk to be very home-based in this time of pandemic. This is the week that Mark and I were meant to be looking at the summer wildflowers of the Pindos Mountains of Greece and I had thought I would be sharing photos of Lilium chalcedonicum (the beautiful red Turk’s cap lily with reflexed petals) in its natural environment. So disappointed was I, that I looked out the times we were to be making our journey and marked my Monday to Wednesday with the progress of our journey that wasn’t – flying to Auckland on Monday, leaving Auckland for the long haul to Doha (very long at 17 hours 40 minutes non-stop because we New Zealanders do very long hauls), the layover in Doha and then the quick 5 hour leg to land in Thessaloniki in the early afternoon. But if one is going to be confined to home, I am deeply relieved that life dealt me a hand that sees me living in what is currently one of the safest countries in the world with the greatest level of personal freedoms restored.  Life is back to normal here, except for the absence of international visitors and the sanctions on overseas travel.

The court garden right on midwinter in the morning light at 8am

So back to the mid-winter garden. We refer to the new perennial gardens as our ‘summer gardens’ though really they are the spring, summer and autumn gardens. There isn’t a whole lot happening in them in winter but they are not bare.

Planted June 2019 – this garden is just ending its first year

We will go through the Court Garden in the next week or two and cut down all the miscanthus, the six remaining Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ and the salvias. A frost this week finally hit the foliage of the salvias the day after I took these photos. The calamagrostis is evergreen but very scruffy at this time of the year and I think it will look better in spring with all fresh foliage.

Mark has offered to cut the grasses down. He can do it in a jiffy, he tells me, with the chainsaw. He wants to keep some of the grass for his strawberry patch and is making his annual jokes about taking up thatching. Would I like a thatched shelter in the garden he asks, and we laugh merrily while knowing that the chances of him ever whipping up a little thatched shelter are nil.

The twin borders in midwinter

The twin borders are a good example at this time of year of how gardening here differs from the northern hemisphere. So much of the plant material we use is evergreen. Not for us the garden beds which are levelled to the ground with a strimmer or weed-eater and then covered in a blanket of mulch.

Lily border to the right, caterpillar garden to the left

The lily border is the only garden bed we have devoted to a single plant family that disappears entirely in winter. Well, almost limited to one plant. Fairy Magnolia White forms the backdrop to the border and is in bloom while Camellia yuhsienensis is placed at wide intervals to give some winter interest and is coming into flower.

Looking back from the other end of the caterpillar garden

The caterpillar garden is a mix of evergreen and deciduous perennials. We have just given the Camellia microphylla hedging a heavy prune and shape now that its short flowering season is all but over. And I did a full dig and divide on several of the bays. We have to dig, divide and thin in our conditions and the asters and ox-eye daisy were too congested. I also cast out entirely the Eupatorium sordidum I had used in a central enclosure. It was growing well and its blue flowers fitted the colour theme but overall it was just too big and strong in foliage and flower and looked out of scale with the other plants. I have replaced it with hydrangeas, mostly serrata, which are finer in appearance.

Memories of midsummer

On a lighter note, I offer you a clip of UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. Shocked I was, I tell you, shocked by this blatant product placement of Tim Tams. But then I discovered that *Penguins* were not, as I thought, paperback books from a respected publisher. NO! THEY ARE A CHEAP CHOCOLATE CANDY. Given that penguins are a southern hemisphere bird (bar the Galapagos few), it felt like cultural appropriation – or maybe, as one wit suggested, ‘faunal appropriation’ to purloin our southern penguins to brand a chocolate candy biscuit. If the future of post-Brexit Britain is dependent on exporting Marmite and Penguins to the Antipodes, it does not look bright.

The NZ pineapple lump, now manufactured in Australia. It seems unlikely that any actual pineapples were harmed in the making of this confection

Tim Tams may be Australian, but I understand the pineapple lump is a New Zealand confection, in origin at least. For readers in other parts of the world, this is a pineapple-flavoured chewy centre coated in chocolate. Regular reader, Tim, who expressed a sudden desire for marshmallows after last week’s post, motivated me to repeat the exercise but in yellow and brown. Inspired by the pineapple lump, on a bed of spent magnolia leaves we have yellow blooms of midwinter. Left to right: calendula, some yellow leafed shrubby plant I have little interest in so do not know the name, the first jonquil, corydalis, ligularia, salvia, primrose, the last of the dahlias, tubes of kniphofia, clivia seed, hemerocallis and vireya rhododendrons.

Next week may bring to you the delights of the jaffa, chocolate fish or maybe the endangered snifter. Other suggestions from NZ citizens are welcome.

The marshmallow hues of midwinter flowers

Following on from my post last week on the rainbow colours of midwinter,  I did indeed buy a packet of marshmallows. To focus my thoughts on the pretty pale pinks and whites, you understand.

Flowers listed in the footnote below

A bleak day on Thursday had me out picking flowers in marshmallow hues. I was going to aim for a comprehensive representation of all candidates but decided part way through that this was unnecessary. Suffice to say, there was plenty to choose from and that right on mid-winter.

The centrepiece, I decided should be three of Mark’s cultivars. Fairy Magnolia White is well into bloom and a delight to us. We are proud of this one. Daphne Perfume Princess is in its full glory and the scent as we walk along our driveway is a pleasure. Camellia Fairy Blush never fails to please us, even after many years. It was one of the earliest plants Mark selected, named and released, if not the very first.

Fairy Magnolia White

Daphne Perfume Princess

Camellia Fairy Blush

I separated the named camellias from the seedlings. We use many unnamed seedlings in the garden because we raise most of our own plant material here and always have done. It is how we can afford to garden on the scale we do.

The named ones from left to right are C. gauchowensis, C. transnokoensis, Fairy Blush, Silver Dollar, Tiny Star, C. yuhsienensis Sweet Jane, Superstar and Showgirl.

The bloom shown face down is from Silver Dollar – one of the best, compact white sasanquas we know. Sometimes, both Mark and I get assailed by memories of our years retailing plants from here. Anybody who knows camellias will also know that many of the excellent white camellias open from a pink bud. Back in the days when ‘ladies who lunch’ (better known these days as ‘Karens’) were all madly planting their clichéd white gardens, I met more than I care to remember who wanted white camellias. Pretty much any white camellia would do but woe betide a pink bud. In vain would I assure them that the display was totally white, there was not to be a hint of pink in their pristine white garden.

We do not miss retail. In hindsight, I am somewhat surprised at the courtesy and politeness we maintained in the face of severe provocation.

Magnolia campbellii

Thinking marshmallow hues, I photographed the Magnolia campbellii by St John the Baptist Anglican Church in Waitara. Is there anything more pink and white than this sight? Our plant here has yet to open its first bloom for the season.

That starter pack of marshmallows is going rather a long way. Mark and I are still eating our way through them a week later, even though they are sitting in glass jar on the bench tempting us each time we pass. I can report that marshmallows last longer than chocolate in this house.

Footnote: The plant list in paler pinks and whites shown above includes the following: luculia pink and white, Primula obconica, polyanthus, gordonia, Crassula ovata, daphnes, montanoa, ox-eye daisy, Cyclamen hederafolium, galanthus (snowdrop), leucojum (snowflake), rose, nicotiana, vireya rhododendrons, azaleas, hellebores, begonia, Japanese anemone, michelia and camellias.

A midwinter rainbow of flowers (and a couple of colourful fruits)

Left to right: a camellia seedling beloved by a tui, Nandina domestica berries, Salvia madrensis, parsley, perennial forget me not, Ajuga reptans, stokesia and a late campanula flower spike

It was a throwaway comment from Mark that started me on my solstice rainbow. “Really, June is the month that we have the least colour in the garden,” he said as we stood looking at some bloom or other. And he is right. Come July, we have early magnolias and michelias, a whole lot of camellias, snowdrops and early narcissi are opening and there is plenty to keep our spirits high in the coldest month of winter.

We like flowers. Yes foliage and form are important in the garden. Of course they are but for us, they are the backdrop for flowers not an end in themselves. We prefer to be surrounded by colour.

I may have been listening to the Rolling Stones “She’s a Rainbow’ for a touch of nostalgia. I mention this in case you want a sound track for this post.

ROY G BIV as many of us learned in our childhood.

Tamarillos ripening on the bush

For red, may I give you the tamarillo plant – self-seeded but cropping very generously. It is another of those fruits from South America that we have taken over. Botanically Solanum betaceum, some of us are old enough to remember when they were still called tree tomatoes. True to form, it was a New Zealander who dreamed up the name tamarillo back in the late 1960s. I did not know until now that the wild forms are commonly yellow or purple and the red form we regard as the norm is another NZ creation dating back to the 1920s. I feel we may have hijacked this fruit in a manner similar to the kiwifruit which is actually Chinese. So now you know, too.

There were many other reds including camellias, vireya rhododendrons and the eyecatching red seedheads of both the arisaemas and clivias but I will stay the course with just the tamarillo.

Orange – it was a close-run thing with the kniphofia (red hot pokers) and the nandina berries but for a big hit of orange, it is impossible to beat the mandarin tree. Okay, so the photo of the tui in the mandarin tree with the starburst of Cordyline australis ‘Albertii’ is an old image but it is still one I love and have so far failed to capture again since I upgraded my camera.


Yellow I will give to the kniphofia. This one, Mark retrieved from one of our fenced shelter belts where a neighbour had been dumping his garden rubbish so that was a find. I like the clarity of the yellow as a garden plant, maybe even more than the orange forms.

Green. Where to start? In our climate we are green all year round. Not for us the white of snowbound winters, nor the unrelenting grey of climates where the sunshine hours plummet in winter and the sun barely rises over the horizon. Nor the soft beige-golden tones of a dry climate like Canberra. We are verdant green all year round. It is why dairying is so successful in this area. You are meant to be looking at the green lawn, not the late flowering of Nerine bowdeni. Unlike colder and drier climates, lawnmowing continues all year round here, though once a fortnight suffices on the house lawns in mid winter.

Some scilla, or squill, with a ratio of foliage to flower that is too high to make it a great garden plant

I struggled somewhat with the blue, indigo and violet end of the rainbow colours. Much as I love blues in the garden, there aren’t too many at this time of the year and it seemed a bit taunting to feature our blue-as-blue winter sky on a sunny day. Instead, one of the early scillas is already in flower. It is one of the obscure species where the foliage to flower ratio is somewhat too high. I once unravelled the different species we grow but failed to commit the details to memory. I failed even to remember where I recorded the details. I see there are anything up to 90 different scilla species and all I can say is that a fair few of them seem to be more showy than this one.

Indigo – just the ajuga which is perhaps an under-rated groundcover for woodland areas. The deep blue is a bonus with the dark burgundy foliage. What is indigo even doing as a colour of the rainbow when you think about it?

And finally to violet and while I entertained the violet hues of the stokesia that flowers all year round for us, I settled on a bromeliad with an indubitably lilac centre at this time of the season. Is it a neoreglia? Feel free to correct me. Bromeliads are not my forte.

Confining myself to the rainbow hues left out all the pink and white blooms. We have a lot of pink and white in mid-winter but my foray into the pretty world of marshmallow tones will have to wait for another week. I may buy a packet of marshmallows to focus my thoughts on this very topic. I can not think that I have bought marshmallows since our children grew past the age of toasting them over a fire and that is a long time ago.

A midwinter view from an upstairs window. Azaleas, a vireya rhododendron, cyclamen and herbaceous begonia all in flower and camellias coming into bloom.