Tag Archives: Primula helodoxa

The meadow, as we enter its sixth year

We are now entering our sixth year of managing our park as a meadow. Note the word ‘managing’. This is not just leaving it to its own devices but a much lighter touch than the previous mowing and weed control we used to practice. And in December, as in previous Decembers, my heart just fills with joy at the sight of the Higo iris in bloom. I love all times of the year in the garden – there is always something that delights me – but never more so than the iris meadow in the lead up to Christmas.

We have learned a lot in the five years past and I am sure we will continue learning. I was disconcerted to see cleavers moving in to a couple of areas. I just looked up its botanical name –  Galium aparine, which I have never even heard of before so I assume everybody knows them as cleavers. At least they are an annual weed that can be pulled out.

The tradescantia, pretty enough in flower, but arguably the worst weed of all

More alarming is the incidence of Tradescantia fluminiensis, better known as Wandering Jew. Mark has spent countless hours getting rid of this weed down the years. When we bought the property across the road 25 years ago, we acquired a stand of native tawa (Beilschmiedia tawa for overseas botanists) which was completely carpeted in tradescantia. It was a proud day when Mark announced  he had beaten it with a programme of determined eradication. Alas, he may have beaten it on our properties but every time we get a flood, more washes down from further upstream and every, wretched little bit grows. When we kept the grass short, it was easy to spot and remove immediately but in long grass, it damn well hides until we suddenly find another patch that escaped our notice. This will be an ongoing battle.

Having a stream flowing through brings responsibilities and these are weighing somewhat upon us. We worry that we are likely to be blamed for every escaped ornamental plant that establishes downstream, even if at least some are washed down from further upstream. The shiny leafed angelica, Angelica pachycarpa, somewhat more prized in overseas gardens but seen more as a weed here, has introduced itself from an upstream property.  Don’t believe the website that declares: “This is a bizarre and wonderful species of Angelica from New Zealand, and still fairly new to North American gardens”. It hails from Portugal.

I removed all the flag iris from by the water when I found out what a dangerous weed it is here, capable of forming solid islands of floating vegetation, blocking streams and estuaries.

To be honest, we figure that if the beautiful Higo irises establish themselves downstream, that may not matter. They are no risk that we can see. We worry about the Primula helodoxa, which are enormously rewarding as flowering plants but set prolific amounts of seed. We try and dead head them but there are so many that it is a hit and miss process. We are now thinking we should pull out the ones growing in the stream banks and contain it further back on dry land so the potential to seed down in the water is reduced. I am not getting too obsessed about them though. We have them near where the stream enters our place and while there are a few plants appearing further down (still on our place) it is not such a thick carpet as to shriek ‘noxious weed’. Besides, above our helodoxas, we can see we have seedlings that can only have come down from upstream neighbours.

Wachendorfia thyrsiflora – a triffid

We are, however, worried about the weed potential of Wachendorfia thyrsiflora.  It is very handsome, statuesque, even. There is no doubt about that. But it sets prolific amounts of seed and if you dig the plants out and leave them lying on the ground, they do not die. I discovered this. It is one we think we need to get back from the water. It is one thing managing a triffid of a plant on our place, it is another letting the seed fall into flowing water and potentially establish all the way down to the ocean.

Past experience has taught us that we can not get away with the traditional annual mowing of the meadow, just once a year in autumn. Our grass growth is so rampant that we have to do it twice and it seems that late January (so, mid-summer) and around June (mid-winter) are the optimal times.

Mown paths through the meadow. The clean bark on the right is a crepe myrtle

We have not done much yet to enrich the meadow mix. We are still waiting and watching to see what establishes itself. But Mark mentioned Verbena bonariensis as meadow option. It has light airy growth which would fit the meadow look, flowers for many months and is much loved by the bees. And it is an enthusiastic seeder though it remains to be seen whether it will self-seed in such a competitive environment. And I want more big, white daisies. I am trialling one in another area of the garden to see if it will make a good meadow candidate. I wouldn’t mind if pretty Orlaya grandiflora could get itself established.

Currently, I can be found in the afternoons down by the water, digging out the weedy carex and docks that are shooting up into flower, thinning the primulas and battling the wachendorfias. It is heavy work, sometimes muddy, but the setting is one to gladden my heart.

I have taken to describing our approach to gardening as similar to slow cooking – slow gardening. It is just that we measure it in years, not in hours or overnight.

Clipping the michelias

Starting on the left – the annual clip

This is what it will like when done – freezing the size of the plants in time with an annual clip

We have a row of lollipop michelias at our entranceway and it is time for their annual clip. Yes, one annual clip is all they get and we are maybe three weeks late on doing them this year. I did not intend to start yesterday, having other things planned. Besides, clipping the michelias feels like a Big Job. Well, it does involve a ladder for the taller ones.

I timed myself yesterday. It takes me 30 minutes a plant to clip with secateurs and to rake up the clippings. That is not long for annual maintenance on what are significant feature plants. You could do it faster with a powered hedge trimmer or even hand clippers but you lose the precision. Besides, I don’t like using the hand clippers because each time they snap shut it jars my wrists and the residual carpel tunnel syndrome I nurse in those joints.

Aesthetically speaking, cutting with secateurs means there is no leaf damage whereas the speedier clippers or hedge trimmer will cut almost every external leaf which will then discolour on the damaged edges. It is also easy to reach in at the time and remove dead wood and do a clean-up of the interior of the ball using secateurs and the finished result is less… brutally shorn, shall I say?

Most michelias can be clipped hard, especially these hybrids of Mark’s. The two smaller ones here are an unnamed hybrid from his breeding programme while the taller ones are Fairy Magnolia Blush. I have planted two Fairy Magnolia Cream in the vehicle entranceway to the left which will, over the next few years, be trained to lollipop standards.

Michelias are magnolias, just a grouping within that wider family. That is why Michelia yunnanensis has been renamed Magnolia laevifolia by the experts. Our position of continuing to refer to them as michelias is on shaky ground botanically but we find it a useful differentiation in common parlance. It is a handy point of difference to the big leather-leafed Magnolia grandiflora types which are what most people think of when evergreen magnolias are mentioned. Our agents chose to brand Mark’s hybrids as “fairy magnolias” to mark out that difference.

Magnolia laevifolia  (aka Michelia yunnanensis) defoliating in wet, cold climate

The aforementioned species, Magnolia laevifolia, is a lovely plant in bloom but not always the best garden plant. It has a tendency to defoliate in a wet spring and we have certainly had that this year. This plant is not in our garden. I photographed it at Pukeiti. It is neither dead nor dying. Nor is it deciduous. It has defoliated in the wet and that is a characteristic of this particular species that is not to its credit. Not far along the same track is a fine specimen of Mark’s Fairy Magnolia ‘Blush’ which, we were pleased to see, shows no tendency whatever to defoliate, even in the hard growing conditions of Pukeiti Gardens.

This is what Magnolia laevifolia looks like at its best, seen here in my friend Lorri’s garden 

As a piece of advice for local gardeners, if you into clipping camellias – and we clip a few now as feature plants as well as camellia hedging – the time to do it is right now. If you leave it much longer, you will be cutting off all next year’s flower buds.

We have renamed the area of our garden we used to refer to as “the park’. It is now The Meadow

Finally, for a spot of colour, may I give you a host of golden primulas (not daffodils) in our meadow garden by the stream. It is just common old Primula helodoxa but so very pretty in its season.

Plant Collector – Higo Iris and Primula helodoxa

Down by the stream

Down by the stream

The prettiest photo moment in the garden this week has been the meeting of Japan and China in the Higo Iris and Primula helodoxa down by our stream. These are conditions where the plants will never dry out. They get plenty of sun but are in heavy soil on the stream bank.

P. helodoxa is one of the more common primulas in this country. It is a candelabra type – layers of flowers perhaps more akin to a tiered cake stand than a candelabra. The flowers are sweetly scented but rather a bright, sulphurous yellow in colour. In the right conditions, it is so easy to grow that it is borderline weedy because it sets seed freely and increases by clumping. We try and deadhead our plants because they are by running water. Helodoxa is one of the Primula prolifera group and is known in some parts of the world as ‘Glory of the Marsh’, which is rather lovely.

The Higo irises are from Japan and sometimes referred to as Japanese water iris. Higo is not a species. It is a particular strain of iris that originated from the species I. ensata. These are from wild collected seed and are proving quite resilient with us. The named Higo hybrids tend to have been bred for cutting and bringing indoors whereas we want garden performance, not floral perfection. We have Higos by the stream and I am also trying some as garden plants amongst other perennials where they are now into their third year of performing well. I am just a bit worried that they may be multiplying too enthusiastically. The foliage is thin and grass-like. They are deciduous whereas the primula is evergreen.

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