Tag Archives: Podocarpus henkelii

The good and the bad of gardening suburbia

Even Magnolia Little Gem drops leaves

Even Magnolia Little Gem drops leaves

I like walking in city suburbia. This is not only because I live in the country so it has a certain novelty value. In our younger days, I dragged Mark southwards to live in Dunedin for three years and we would often walk for many kilometres through our surrounding suburbs. They are rich sources of ideas for both what to do and what not to do. With the right walking companion, they can also be a source of amusement and astonishment and occasional interesting encounters.

Mind you, nothing is likely to eclipse the time an elderly woman asked our help to get her equally elderly and very drunk husband up the path and into their bright strawberry pink house. As we obliged, she said, “I can’t help. I have no hands,” and held out both her arms. Indeed there were no hands at the end of the arms. On a grey Dunedin evening, it was like a scene from a Gothic horror. But I digress.

Being in the gardening and nursery scene, we are used to being asked for landscape advice. We very rarely give any, being aware of our own limitations. We are neither landscapers nor designers. For people with a small budget and no ideas who live in town, our advice has long been to take up walking. It is a case of getting your eye in and starting to analyse what is to your personal taste, style and circumstances. With just a little more experience, you will start to recognise the plants that are doing well and that you like the look of. Walking around your own suburb and then expanding outwards, you will see more useful ideas and good and bad examples than you will ever see in books, on line or even a garden festival.

Where the budget is tight – or non-existent – there is no substitute for upskilling yourself. If you have more money, you can pay someone to do it for you. Free advice is fraught. Retailers will give free advice that ranges from excellent to appalling but is usually predicated on selling you product. If you have a particularly good plant retailer whose advice you trust, then that is great. Odds on, however, if you have built up a good personal relationship with your plant retailer, it is because you have some experience and are not an absolute beginner. Going in cold to just any garden centre and expecting to get good landscape advice is a tad optimistic.

Mind you, as my perambulations around Mount Eden at the weekend showed, having a bigger budget does not guarantee success. I saw one of the worst examples of planting around an expensive new townhouse. I should have photographed it but I felt it was an imposition, given that it is somebody’s private home so you will just have to imagine it. Clearly the owners like greenery and I would guess had trotted down to a garden centre. Given the price on the labels left on the plants and the nature of what they bought, I could probably even name the retailer with a high degree of accuracy.

Alas, the Podocarpus henkelii I saw have no chance of ever reaching this stature

Alas, the Podocarpus henkelii I saw have no chance of ever reaching this stature

Picture a compound of expensive Auckland townhouses, each with a private courtyard not much larger in area than two average sized internal rooms – maybe 10 metres by 4 metres in total. The perimeter was planted with Podocarpus henkelii at 30cm spacings. I am very fond of P. henkelii which is a handsome, African podocarpus (totara). True, it is very slow growing and well suited to the climate in Auckland. But its beauty lies in its lovely shape and habit of growth. Our handsome specimen here measures at least 7 metres across and 8 metres high. I almost wept for those plants at 30cm spacings which are destined either for removal long before they reach anything near maturity or forever to be hacked into submission at 2 metres high by 50cm wide.

The owner of the neighbouring townhouse was most inclined to chat and proudly told my walking companion and me that he had paid $1.8 million for it. He was keen to plant his area and declared that he liked the existing specimen of Magnolia Little Gem in the corner of his courtyard but it was very messy because it dropped leaves. I did not point out that all plants drop leaves and that his tree was going to grow quite a lot larger than he anticipated. But as soon as he ascertained that I knew something about plants and gardening, he wanted to whip me in to his locked compound and pick my brains. I politely declined. You can afford to pay $1.8mill for your house, I thought, but you want free advice from a passing stranger? Pay a professional!

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

Plant Collector: Podocarpus henkelii

Podocarpus henkelii looks handsome all 12 months of the year

Podocarpus henkelii looks handsome all 12 months of the year

One of my favourite trees here is this African podocarpus. It must be fifty years old by now and stands some 8 metres high. About 25 years ago, we built part of our nursery around it but we made sure it remained unaffected. Now, as we turn that nursery area into garden, we are really pleased that we kept it as a feature tree for our planned Palm Walk. You can’t hurry up maturity on slow growing trees. Not that it has any connection to palms but it fits right in to that slightly exotic theme.

Henkelii comes from the Eastern Cape and Kwazulu-Natal area of South Africa. In the wild, it now has protected status but it is common as a garden plant in its homeland because it is an elegant, slow growing evergreen tree. It is commonly referred to as the Yellowwood because its timber is apparently yellow and excellent for making furniture. This may account for it needing to be protected. The narrow leaves measure over 20cm long and hang in a sickle shape. We know ours is a female because it produces plenty of seed which looks like green olives but as henkelii is dioecious, it needs both male and female plants to get fertile seed. In other words, the seed from our tree is sterile because it is a solitary specimen.

The podocarps are a big family and widespread, though mostly from milder areas south of the equator. Our native totara is a member.

Tikorangi notes: Friday 16 July

Latest posts
1) Early, frilly and fragrant – one of the first rhododendrons for this season is R. cubittii.
2) Exotic trees versus native plants – Abbie’s column (spare me from politically correct ignorance).
3) Cranberry update
4) In the garden – tasks for this week.

Our magnificent Podocarpus henkelii will see the nursery capillary beds surrounding it both come and go in its lifetime

Tikorangi update:
I was listening to a radio interview last weekend with Peter Arthur, a keen dendrologist and NZ’s foremost retailer of garden and plant books. In a country where it is currently quite difficult to sell any plant which is not a vegetable or a fruit tree, he was asked to predict what the next big gardening craze will be. He didn’t hesitate: trees. A return to trees.

I thought of Peter’s comment as I looked at a beautiful specimen of Podocarpus henkelii. When Mark established the nursery here, he worked around existing trees on site so we have tended to have obstacles – a citrus tree amongst the vireya rhododendrons with the overhead shade cloth cut around to fit, an eriobotrya in the hosta block – and this magnificent African podocarpus set amongst the capillary beds. Now the day has come, as we wind up the nursery, that the capillary beds will go and the P. henkelii will be accorded the status it deserves as part of a planned new garden. It will have to share the limelight with the planned Palm Walk but it has at least four decades on the palms and will no doubt retain its status as the senior plant in this new area for our lifetime. I hope Peter Arthur is right and we will see a wider appreciation of the magnificence of trees. A utility apple tree is not, I think, a match for our P. Henkelii.