Tag Archives: pongas

Tikorangi Notes – of earthquakes, tree ferns and a meadow experiment

I think the Americans will like our sino nuttallii rhododendrons in bloom (and we won't mention their new president)

I think the Americans will like our sino nuttallii rhododendrons in bloom (and we won’t mention their new president)

It has been a discombobulating week. For overseas readers, I should explain it started with another major earthquake. Despite the quake being centred on the east coast of the South Island (we are the west coast of the North Island), it was the worst one Mark and I have ever felt. And I say that as inhabitants of what are sometimes called the shaky isles where we have all been raised with advice and practice at school on how to behave in an earthquake. Even here, the rocking ground was enough to significantly drop the water level in the swimming pool and to have the water sloshing out of the upstairs toilet cistern. Fortunately, after the Christchurch earthquakes, we had secured our tall pieces of furniture and bookcases.

Further south the damage has been huge and the enormity of this event is still being revealed. It is major and will take years to repair – damaged townships and settlements but also the main trunk road and rail services are completely out of commission and it is difficult to see how and when repairs will be possible. Being a sparsely populated area of this country, there is very little in the way of alternative routes available. Our hearts go out to the people so badly affected.

Closer to home, we have been sprucing up for a small American tour due on Wednesday. This is the first tour we have accepted since we closed the garden three years ago and there is nothing like knowing you will be hosting an overseas group to focus one’s eyes differently. We will not be raising the topic of their recent presidential elections (I think there may be a huge gap – a chasm, even – between how much of the world views that event and how it is seen internally by too many in the USA, so best avoided).

New shoot on black mamaku

New shoot on black mamaku

I expect they will notice our tree ferns. Here they just seed down and we cut them out (eventually) if they are in the wrong place. I cut all the fronds off the wheki (Dicksonia squarrosa) and the black mamaku (Cyathea medullaris) in preparation for the chainsaw. I have no intention of ever learning to use the chainsaw myself. It terrifies me. It is one job I leave for the men in my life. The new shoots on the denuded trunks are wonderfully decorative – icons, even, of New Zealand design. We also have plenty silver ferns (Cyathea dealbata) popping up around the place.

I think it is a wheki (Dicksonia squarrosa)

I think it is a wheki (Dicksonia squarrosa)

While tree ferns, or pongas as we call them here (pronounced ‘punga’) are closely associated with New Zealand, the most common form grown with care – bordering on reverence, almost – in Europe and the UK is actually an Australian native, Dicksonia antarctica. Visitors from the northern hemisphere are usually in awe of them occurring naturally here and being seen as expendable when they pop up in the wrong place.

Tomorrow morning on Radio Live’s Home and Garden Show, Tony Murrell and I will be discussing meadow gardens. **** Given that these discussions take place between 6.30 and 7.00 in the morning, it is always something of a surprise to me when people comment that they listen. But it is quite liberating to be chatting that early because it gives a certain freedom in these extended conversations which both Tony and I enjoy a great deal. If you are interested in listening later, the link gets posted on both Radio Live’s Facebook page and, I think, their website. Last week we were talking about Piet Oudolf and the new perennials style.

Buttercups and daisies - weeds or a meadow?

Buttercups and daisies – weeds or a meadow?

We are into our fourth spring season of experimenting with letting much of the park develop into a meadow. At this stage, our meadow is a mix of naturally occurring plants with the addition of bulbs, irises and primulas, managed with minimal intervention.  It is a challenging process in terms of how we view weeds. Certainly it is looking very pretty at the moment with carpets of buttercups and daisies and even the dandelions look colourful. I am okay with some pink Herb Robert getting away, also monarda (bergamot or bee balm) but I draw the line at docks. Mark’s particular hate is the plant he refers to as ‘stinking billy goat weed’ but the internet does not appear to agree with him on the name. Also, it is not to be confused with horny goat weed or blue billygoat weed. He is right that it is a stachys and a stinky stachys at that. It is the smell that he hates so we are generally pulling it out. I did a search and the photos seem to correlate with Stachys macrantha. If that is correct, it is a great deal more appreciated overseas than in our park. Maybe a reader can enlighten me whether S. macrantha has a pungent odour when disturbed?

A wheki which still has its old foliage undisturbed

A wheki which still has its old foliage undisturbed

*** Update: No discussion on meadows this morning on Radio Live, due to circumstances beyond everybody’s control. Instead I discussed outdoor furniture with Hamish Dodd. Meadows with Tony Murrell next Sunday at 6.35am.

The silver fern

IMG_3735IMG_3738 - CopyAll New Zealanders know the silver fern, but usually as the logo or motif, not the real thing. Sure it is closely associated with our national rugby and netball teams, but how many realise it is a ponga? A native tree fern.

Botanically it is Cyathea dealbata. New Zealand doesn’t have a world monopoly on tree ferns but we do have some special ones which are native only to our lands and the silver fern is one. It has a wide distribution through the North Island and in the north and east of the South Island. We have it seeding down in our garden in that wonderfully casual way that pongas do. It can reach as high as 10 metres but it takes a while to get there, at which point it may also measure a huge 8 metres across.

It is only silver – or white, really – on the underside of the leaf and it takes about two years for that white colouring to develop. Maori were reputed to use the white undersides to mark tracks for travelling at night although they also stand out during the day and bush walkers often know this trick.

It was TV gardening host and now National Government minister, Maggie Barry, who presented a little piece many years ago on the silver fern which falls into the “once seen, never forgotten” category. Surrounding herself with a circle of cut fronds placed pale side up, she advised us that if you are ever lost in the wild then using this technique makes you easy to spot from the air. So there you have it – a survival strategy from Maggie.

Maggie Barry's tip, my gardening shoes

Maggie Barry’s tip, my gardening shoes