Tag Archives: Rhododendron cubittii

All I have to offer are flowers

Or the promise of flowers. The morning sun is shining on magnolia buds (or sleeping bags for mice, as our children used to call the bud casings)

All I have to offer this week are flowers.

Just another unnamed seedling – one of the series that saw that only ‘Felix Jury’ named and released

It has been a difficult week in New Zealand. After more than 100 days of a return to Covid-free ‘normal life’, where the only major change has been closed borders and an absence of international travel in or out of the country, we are now on high alert with a fresh outbreak. Auckland is back in level 3 lockdown, the rest of us in level 2. It is a case of déjà vu.

Fallen cherry blossom petals on a pond in the wild North Garden

For overseas readers, our highest level of lockdown, level 4, was one of the tightest lockdowns in the world. Level 3 sits at what most other countries called their lockdown so still stringent. We are in level 2 here which means practicing physical distancing, signing or scanning in and out of shops, adjusting to the thought of wearing masks – and a high level of personal anxiety. So pretty much the state of most of the world. It is tough when only a few days ago, we thought we had left all that behind us.

Floral skypaper

It is still early days in the pandemic. There is so much we do not know. My tolerance for the strident voices calling for opening the border, ‘learning to live with the virus’, returning to the old normality for the sake of businesses and The Economy (caps deliberate) is less than zero. There is no ‘old normality’ anywhere in the world and we had better get used to that for the next year or two at least. It is not locking down that is damaging business; it is Covid19. Business can not thrive in a situation with rampant Covid just as most can not thrive under lockdown. The choice is of an open business environment with uncontrolled community transmission, sickness, death and a very high level of anxiety and fear in the population or going for a safe but limited environment that is Covid-free most of the time. It is a stark choice but we have seen how that latter option works and I am happy to back that as the lesser of two evils.

I wish I could share the scent of Rhododendron cubittii in flower

So, we have battened down the hatches again. Like many around the rest of the country, I am grateful to the people of greater Auckland who are cooperating with efforts to stamp out this latest cluster. As I write this, it does appear to be just a single cluster, all connected to one source.

Just an unnamed seedling in the wilder reaches of the garden

But the seasons and the plants are Covid free. It is wonderfully reassuring that the environment continues on its normal cycle even as the human inhabitants can not.
I brought home samples of three options for laying the paths in our new summer garden. The palest option is crushed limestone. While it is not as starkly white as some I have seen, I think we have decided it will be too bright, given we are going to have large areas of it. I am okay with the darker option which is largely crushed shell, though it is a little darker than I wanted. The middle one is a mix of the two and I think we will try for that one. All will compact down to give a fairly smooth surface. They are used widely on farm tracks and cattle races because they compact and don’t have sharp pieces to damage the hooves of livestock.

Self-sown nikau palm to the left of the vireya rhododendron

I retrieved this vireya rhododendron from a neglected area at the back of Mark’s vegetable garden and moved it into the Avenue Garden, where I was redoing all the underplanting two months ago. Working in our woodland areas, it occurred to me that if this garden is ever abandoned and left to its own devices, it would revert to a forest of nikau palms, puriri, kawakawa (pepper tree), tree ferns (ponga), karaka and seedling prunus, I pull out seedling nikau palms by the score and remove every seedling prunus that I come across.

Pretty calanthe orchids in abundance in the woodland areas

In times of uncertainty, there are still flowers and gardens. Kia kaha, readers. Stay safe and stay sane.

Magnolia Burgundy Star opening its red starry blloms.


Flowering this week: Rhododendron cubittii

Early, frilly and fragrant - Rhododendron cubittii

Early, frilly and fragrant - Rhododendron cubittii

The early rhododendrons are just starting to flower and amongst them is the gorgeous R.cubittii. We tend to take our ability to grow these delights for granted but there are many rhododendron enthusiasts in the world who would sell their soul to be able to have these strongly scented and somewhat exotic types in their gardens. Cubittii hails from Burma, first collected around 1875 – long before that country became renamed Myanmar and shut its borders. Rhododendron buds at the point of opening are a lovely feature in themselves and cubittii has buds in dusky pink which open to big, frilly flowers, mostly white with a yellow throat and pink flush on the backs of the petals. The scent is sufficiently strong to hang in the air around it.

Cubittii is one of the better options for warmer areas because it is largely resistant to the dreaded thrips which turn leaves silver. Grown in full sun, it makes a compact shrub of about 1.5m x 1.5m (the sun encourages bushier, lower growth whereas shrubs tend to stretch and reach for the light in shadier conditions). I have always advised people in cold, frost-prone areas to shy away from this variety but I am told on excellent authority that it does well in Palmerston North in sheltered positions. If it grows well there, it can be grown pretty much anywhere in Taranaki, bar sub alpine areas or the coldest inland valleys. Just plant it in the lea of some trees to protect the early blooms from frosts.