Tag Archives: Rhododendron Festival

The Final Countdown to Festival for 2010, Friday November 5

Jazz in our garden last Friday

Jazz in our garden last Friday

At Te Popo, inland from Stratford, Flynn the Wonder Dog from 2009 (he who excelled at guiding visitors to the extent that he had his very own individual photo in the programme this year) had thrown in the towel by last Sunday. He is just so over it all this year. Apparently he looks down the drive and sees visitors arriving, sighs and goes back to bed. This is a terrible disappointment to his owners, Bruce and Lorri Ellis, but what can you do about a dog with a low boredom threshold?

Also near Stratford, June Lees at Cairnhill Garden knew that her cat Smudge was near delivery and tried to keep her shut away in peace and quiet but Smudge had her own ideas and insisted on company. June moved her bed to the back of their meet and greet area and on Sunday all went well and June and Colin, along with their garden visitors, were delighted at the safe arrival of four lovely kittens during the afternoon.

Still on an animal theme, in Manaia, Irene Taunt was very excited to receive a special feathered visitor. A kereru came to visit and watched her doing her morning clean-up round. In her twenty years of living there, Irene has never seen a native wood pigeon in her garden before and any native bush is many kilometres away. No doubt she is hoping it will find good reason to stick around. Guavas – we swear by guavas which kereru adore eating. They don’t mind if plants are native or not, as long as they are good to eat.

Southwards in Hawera, Jennifer Horner loved the fine weather last weekend and enjoyed the visitors from all round both islands and as far afield as Canada, but she was very pleased that it was the day before Festival that the bee swam passed by. The mind boggles at the potential for complete disaster of a bee swarm meeting a coach tour in a garden…..

A bee swarm, however, was a small concern compared to the potential disasters waiting for Maree Rowe at Havenview Vegetable Garden on Kent Road on the same day before Festival started. The Targa rally car driver who crashed into their barberry hedge was unharmed, as was Maree’s helpful dad who was rolling the driveway to compact the freshly dumped metal fines when his vehicle slipped off the edge, landed in the drain and Maree and her sister had to lean on the side of the ute to stop it rolling on to a particularly large boulder while her dad clambered out the passenger side door. These two minor incidents paled by Maree’s close shave as she was cleaning the stove in her little campground, to see flames and smoke as the califont which supplies the hot water caught fire. With flames coming out the sides, a locked door on the cupboard and no key on her, Maree had to do a superwoman number and pull the door open, only to realise that the gas was still turned on and the gas bottle was still attached in this little inferno. Hosting hundreds of garden visitors was probably a doddle after all that.

In Hawera, Mary Dixon (Mary’s Place) is wondering how one knows when it is time to give in and call it a day. She derives so much pleasure meeting interesting visitors from around the world and from the positive reinforcement they give her but, as with a number of senior gardeners, she worries about whether carrying on may mean that her gardening standards drop without her knowing it. It is perhaps a good reminder why it is important to revere our senior gardeners and to make sure that we visit them this year, rather than assuming they will be around indefinitely.

The final two jazz and wine evenings for this year both take place in New Plymouth – at Wintringham this evening and at Ratanui tomorrow evening. The charming and mellow music from Ross Halliday and Juliet McLean is a real highlight and should not be missed as it makes a wonderful combination with the ambience of gardens in the early evening. It is best to contact TAFT in advance for tickets on 06 759 8412. Garden workshops tomorrow do not need prebooking – catch plantsman Vance Hooper at Magnolia Grove on landscaping with cacti and succulents at 1.00pm or Mark and yours truly here at Tikorangi at 10.00am on using plants as focal points and accents in the garden.

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Countdown to Festival: October 29, 2010

Somebody has already sampled the Moroccan date and spice cake

Somebody has already sampled the Moroccan date and spice cake

• It is here. We have counted down and opening day has arrived. It is too late to do anything but titivate for garden openers who will be out waiting to meet and greet visitors from this morning onwards. Local support is enormously important so I would urge readers to take a leaf from the bridal book and go and see one garden that you have been to previously and enjoyed, one garden that is new to you, one garden that you think may have some really good ideas for you to borrow and presumably one garden that has wisterias for the blue element! Maybe blue Siberian irises or ceanothus would do instead.

• We are a bit worried about potential weight gain here at Tikorangi this week. For the first time we are offering food for sale on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays – courtesy of our neighbour Chris Sorensen. Now, we know from experience that her Greek lemon cake is almost divine (cooked with coconut and almond meal and drowned in lemon syrup and glaced lemon slices) and that her carrot and pineapple cake with pecans is a tour de force. It is a source of some chagrin to me that our Chris is a hugely more talented baker than I am but garden visitors will be the lucky ones to sample her offerings menu this week. The menu includes both hot and cold savouries as well but Mark and I have yet to conduct our quality control survey on these items.

• Near Manaia, Jenny Oakley has had cause to be grateful that they don’t get passers-by or casual evening visitors or she might feel embarrassed to be seen out at night with miner’s lamps strapped to her head as she waters her containers and hanging baskets and ties up her broad beans. The family gave her one as a joke Christmas present one year so that she could continue to garden after dark but they didn’t expect her to actually wear it! Experience has shown her that she needs to wear two at once in order to get enough light, which she says is not a very flattering look.

• In Stratford at Merleswood, Erica Jago has been glorying in some welcome sunshine recently which has her plants making up for the slow and cold start to spring. Being inland, Erica’s wisterias flower a little later than coastal gardens so peak during Festival and she has enormous and well trained specimens. Her Venusta, she says, must be at least 65 years old and is very striking with its strong lemon scent and big, fat, stubby, creamy white racemes. Various other cultivars in blues, lavenders and pink tones festoon their way around her garden. Erica’s rugosa rose hedge is bursting into bloom. The major work she undertook on this hedge over winter, which she says was arduous (syn. a cow of a job!) has paid off with a much better display this year.

• The call is out for anybody interested in opening their garden for the 2011 Festival to contact festival manager (Lisa Haskell) at TAFT on 06 759 8412. While it is undeniably a lot of work to prepare one’s garden, the pleasures and rewards of opening outweigh the labours. It is really affirming to have many hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people come and enjoy your garden and tell you how wonderful it is, though some of us might hide a wry smile at suggestions that we are lucky to live in such a beautiful place. There is not a lot of luck involved.

• Events this weekend include the inimitable Lynda Hallinan (From Chelsea to Chooks – how to be self sufficient in style), floral artist and micro-greens devotee Fionna Hill and our very own Jenny Oakley giving a workshop on hanging baskets. There is, as many of us have found out, a little more to good hanging baskets than plonking in some potting mix and a few pansies. Events kick off this evening with jazz and wine at our garden here at Tikorangi where we are slightly nervous about the number of tickets sold – divide by two and it gives an estimate of the number of cars to expect. Where will we park them?

• And a final word on etiquette for garden visitors although the source wishes to remain anonymous. Even with the best intentions, saying to a garden owner: “I guess the garden looks after itself these days,” is not a compliment. Gardens by definition do not look after themselves (native reserves and national parks do that). Gardens need a lot of looking after and that relaxed and natural look, which has a debt to the English romantic tradition of gardening, takes work.

Countdown to Festival, October 22, 2010

* It is just one week out from Festival this year and John and Phyllis Malcolm at Lockinge Garden near Kapuni have three young black swans in residence on their lake. The wet winter has certainly suited the hostas and Big Daddy, planted around the lake, is looking particularly splendid. Phyllis says that the irises and Rhododendron Lemon Lodge are looking spot on for flowering right on cue and she is really pleased with how the honesty and aquilegias are naturalising and filling in the spaces under their mature trees.

* Nearer Opunake, Sheryl and Geoff Campbell on Patiki Road are nearly through the last round of preparation (most of us work our way right round our gardens more than once in ever increasing detail as we prepare). The roses put on tremendous new growth in the few sunny days we have had, the clematis are coming into flower and the white wisteria is promising to be spectacular next week.

* Moving around towards Warea, Maria van der Poel is looking forward to her second year of opening. She has been like a big kid playing with a new toy in her recently erected hot house and, with assistance from a friend, has plenty of plants potted up for sale to garden visitors. The wood pigeons have returned to her garden for spring time and the roses have responded to some special TLC and are rocketing away despite recent coastal winds buffeting them around. Maria has her fingers crossed for good weather and a great festival for all her fellow garden openers.

* Inland from Stratford, Lorri and Bruce Ellis have one of the largest private gardens in the Festival and Lorri plans her preparation from six months out. Even so, she wryly notes, she has a tendency to underestimate the vagaries of the spring weather. The recent winds have hurled branches all round the place and the horrendous September rains (324ml of the stuff at their place) saw her and Bruce wading through sticky mud and papa up to the tops of their gumboots as they worked to complete the new trail through their dell. On the bright side, she is enjoying the blues in her garden – a sea of bluebells complemented by a bank of purple ajuga which is alive with busy bumblebees, the mauve pawlonia and the purple sparaxias completing the picture.

* Down the road, more or less, and around a few corners at Gordon Dale Gardens near Toko,
Jan Worthington agrees that timing is all important in the lead-up to Festival. Did she prune the standard photinias at the right time so that they will be glowing red balls at the start of November? Will there be any roses in flower, given the cold spring? How quickly will the vegetables grow so that they look strong, healthy and nearly ready for harvest? Will the bare patches in the garden be filled out with the annuals and perennials over the next week? A few days of sun and warmer weather will make Jan breathe more easily.

* Near Hawera, at Puketarata, Jennifer Horner is irritated by the rabbits nibbling at the new growth on her pinks and tiarellas. Other than that, she is hoping that winds will not return after the mess left last week. They are busy enough with the final round of weeding and tidying and can do without the extra work.

* The unusually wet spring is a recurring theme and Vance Hooper at Magnolia Grove says that at least they have seen the worst case scenario for springs and groundwater on their property after five years of living there. It is so bad in one area that he and Kathryn have decided that best solution will be develop some permanent ponds there in the near future (after Festival, no doubt). However, even the few days of fine weather recently has made a big difference, getting the roses and perennials moving into growth. The pink floribunda wisteria is promising its best display yet.

* It is many years since Josephine and Quinton Reeves at Wintringham in New Plymouth have opened for Festival and they are making a welcome return this year. Josephine says that their blue clematis are rocketing into flower but her Cornus controversa variegata is threatening to become The Wedding Cake Tree of Pisa as it has developed a significant lean in a quest to get away from the domineering influence of the adjacent 80 year old golden elm. It is not the pesky mynah birds that are visiting their ponga trees (as mentioned recently at Te Kainga Marire) but visiting doves who come to sojourn daily and carry out their courting rituals. More decorative, at least, than the mynahs.

* Festival newcomers, Alan and Cath Morris at Pukemara (also in New Plymouth) have been feeling tested by the wind and rain but are well on top of the final preparation work. They are hoping for more sunshine and warmth to hurry along the flower buds on the vireya rhododendrons, but the roses are opening their first buds and the hostas are rocketing away and filling the spaces. They are really looking forward to opening day next Friday.

Countdown to Festival: October 15, 2010

• With only two weeks left before Festival starts, I am sure we could all have done without the savage winds early this week. In our case it felled yet another massive Lombardy poplar along with the power lines which service a fair number of properties along the road. We are desperately hoping that is the end of any of our trees committing hari-kari before the chainsaw wielding men get to the vulnerable ones straight after Festival. But as we waited for the Powerco crew to arrive, our trees festooned in broken power lines, Mark and I were deeply shocked to see a pair of visitors come out from the garden. They had found the honesty box and the directions and taken themselves around, presumably stepping over and under power lines. We have informed our two dogs that they failed entirely as an early warning system when it could have really mattered.

• Chris Goodin, who gardens around Pungarehu way on Mirihau Road, is very excited about the exhibition of flower paintings by Auckland artist Karl Maughan which she is having in her home this festival. Because the artist will be overseas during the event, they are planning a small exhibition opening at daughter Nicci’s florist premises in town this coming Wednesday, 20 October when the artist can be present. If you are interested in attending, call Chris on 7828 160 or Nicci Goodin on 757 2233. The paintings have all been inspired by Taranaki with a particular link to Pukeiti.

• At La Rosaleda in New Plymouth, Coleen Peri’s best laid plans have been disrupted. She had been feeling confident and well on track until the really awful early spring. She lost two weeping silver pears in one gale and has had to resort to some reasonably expensive, specialised metal staking for her tall standard roses as she feared they could snap in the wind. However, despite the cold, wet and windy conditions, her roses are well advanced and she says most will be flowering for festival. While Coleen describes herself as an impatient gardener, her delight that her Phlomis tuberosa is about to bloom after about three years would suggest that she has more patience than some. She is hoping the Crambe cordifolia will follow suit and finally flower.

• In Waitara, Margaret Goble reports that her roses are already starting to show colour so there should be a splendid display from this experienced rosarian during festival. She is really pleased with how her window boxes are looking – a froth of lobelia and pansies – but her hanging baskets are letting the side down and languishing behind. They need some warmer weather to hurry them along in time. The bearded irises (Margaret has a substantial planting of these and was kind enough to give me some of a pure blue one I admired greatly) are spiking up right on cue this year. Margaret is keeping mum on the design changes she has made in her garden this year (though she did let me into one secret) – you will just have to visit and see for yourself.

• At the time of writing, it seems like a distant memory but Maree Rowe had the sunblock out last week after she unwittingly burned herself the previous day. Weeding has been keeping her very busy. As a certified organic property, she does not use weedkillers but does it all by hand. Readers of the Weekend Gardener should have spotted the feature on Havenview Vegetable Garden in the issue which came out last week.

• How apt to see that the winner of the Early Bird Prize Package (that is the garden visitor’s equivalent of a goody bag) is none other than Stratford’s Shirley Greenhill. Shirley is a renowned gardener herself who opened her large garden as part of the Festival for many years before she retired and downsized. Those of us who know Shirley will be looking forward to seeing her out and about the gardens wearing her complimentary hot pink and white festival tee shirts.

Countdown to Festival, September 10, 2010

  • Mary Vinnicombe is not alone, I am sure, in being heartily sick of the recent rains. While Mary and Barry’s town garden, Thorveton, has just enough change of level within it to add interest, it is located on a hill. In one of the recent downpours, Mary felt considerable chagrin to watch her topsoil, mulch and Bioboost washing down into the neighbour’s property and she wondered why she had bothered feeding all her garden beds. If only the next neighbour up the hill had been as dedicated, then the Vinnicombe’s garden would have maintained its status quo despite the water flow. The heavy rains we experience here, combined with our light volcanic soils, make gardening easier in many ways but also leach out valuable nutrients from the soil which is why continuing to add compost, humus and some sort of fertiliser is an important part of the gardening cycle.
  • Out at Gordon Dale Gardens on the Forgotten World Highway, Jan Worthington says there is a life beyond the garden. She went out to a golf meeting and then lunch with a friend, arriving home later in the day to find her daughter, Amy, had done the hanging baskets and planted out the flower seedlings in the garden. Jan is looking forward to seeing how a border of dwarf cinerarias combines with her roses, heucheras and aquilegias. Alas this wonderfully cooperative daughter is headed off overseas next week so the extra pair of hands is of very limited duration.
  • While on a golf theme, the appropriately named Manaia gardener, Margaret Putt, has been dividing her time between her twin loves of golf and gardening. She was in Dunedin with her junior golf team last week and, with hindsight, felt great relief that it was earlier on Saturday night when they transited Christchurch airport on the way home so the quake did not affect their travel. Margaret is well into her major first round on the garden, getting all the rough stuff out before she does the intensive final grooming circuit on her hands and knees. She was, however, complaining about the cold wind last Sunday afternoon when she was out weeding amongst the self seeded Livingston daisies around her letterbox.
  • Around the coast, Chris and Steak Goodin have netted in the wisteria. The Attack of the Sparrows last year was so bad that Chris’s wisteria had next to no flowers left. At the time she was thinking that a return of sparrow salmonella might not be a bad thing, even if they had to gather up the little corpses, but she is not leaving it to nature this year. Chris thinks that the white netting will be less noticeable than the black bird netting they have used previously. Steak has also affixed chains along the pergola which makes tying in the climbers much easier.
  • In at Festival HQ, Lisa Haskell is pleased with the strong interest coming from Australia this year. TAFT representatives have been at the Melbourne Flower Show promoting our festival for the last couple of years but it was a talkback radio garden host from Brisbane who interviewed Lisa about our event last week. It takes repeated efforts to get into new markets and Australia is a big one for us. Ironically, it is just as cheap for people to fly in from the east coast of Australia as from down south. In the interests of being their usual wonderful hosts, Festival gardeners are practicing leaving their Aussie jokes for the privacy of their own homes behind locked doors and closed curtains.

Countdown to Festival, September 3

• Down in Kakaramea, the self-styled Angelina Jolies of the chicken world (that is Jacq and Mich Dwyer of Te Rata) are pleased that their now pampered chickies are starting to lay again. These are 10 rescue birds – hence the Angelina reference – poor featherless things when adopted, who now live in the lap of luxury and fortunately know how to show their appreciation. Jacq reports that Mich has planted three types of potatoes so far. She splits the bags with neighbour Emma who reciprocates later in the season when they plant the next crop. Jacq has enclosed her rose garden in an electric fence as a temporary measure to keep out the marauding possums which are capable of taking off every new shoot overnight.

• Te Popo gardeners, Lorri and Bruce Ellis have been making paths safe. First up, the attractive but dangerously slippery brick path from the back door had to be lifted. Lorri says the gravel may not look quite as pleasing aesthetically but it is at least safe. In a damp climate, anything that becomes slippery when moss grows is a hazard – Lorri notes that they have also learned that large river stone steps are very treacherous. With a very steep section linking the bottom of their dell to a bridge constructed from wharf piles, Bruce has had to use a plastic product recommended for cattle races and also recently installed on the track from the car park at Dawson Falls to Wilkes Pool. The material is laid down, secured and then the cavities are filled with fine stones and gravel. Lorri is pleased with the result. She says it is hardly visible but your feet feel very secure and it stops the surface from scouring out when it rains.

• At Havenview Vegetable Garden, Maree Rowe is fed up with the rain but at least she has managed to get her Jerusalem artichokes and yacon dug up and the best tubers replanted. I had to look up yacon – a starchy root vegetable prized in the Andes. I had mentally placed it as Japanese but that of course is the daikon which is something radish-y, not to be confused with a brand of heat pump. The yacon sounds more interesting. Maree’s garden is to be featured in the Weekend Gardener soon as part of the lead-in to this year’s festival. She just wishes her potager had more to show but it is at least weed-free and tidy and by the time the actual event arrives, the seeds should be sprouting in abundance.

• In Hawera at Puketarata, Jennifer Horner has been worried about her lawns and about getting the timing right for doing work on them so they look improved by the end of October. She was disconcerted to see the tops of her pohutakawas down the driveway get tickled up by frost this year but they will be flushing with new growth shortly. Apparently Hawera received a doozy of a frost this year which more northerly gardeners escaped entirely.

• At La Rosaleda in New Plymouth, Collen Peri is a great deal more relaxed about opening this year now that she knows what to expect. She has done her first round of fertilising – mostly blood and bone and Bioboost, following up with a mulch of Grunt. None of her plants should feel hard done by after that lot. She says she is a novice when it comes to her little vegetable patch but she does like to grow strawberries and cherry tomatoes for her little fellow Will to pick and her Moneymaker tomatoes astonished her last year with their ability to thrive and crop despite complete neglect. This spring will be an exciting one for Coleen at her iris patch which is located away from her garden. She bought a large (very large, actually) collection of bearded irises from a mail order nursery closing down and this spring, she will get to see the whole range in flower.

Countdown to Festival: August 13, 2010

  • Quinton Reeves from Wintringham in New Plymouth describes his lawn as currently looking like army jungle camouflage if viewed from above. This is because he took advice from an expert and used Cold Water Surf sprinkled in powder form to kill out the unwanted mosses. It has apparently worked a treat and he is now waiting for the grasses to come away with renewed vigour. We have never heard of this simple remedy before but plan to experiment with moss in other areas. The trick, Quinton says, is to apply it after a rainy period (no problem there) and the lawn has had a day to dry out and it must be Cold Water Surf which is alleged to have an ingredient which is missing from other brands. So now you know.
  • Also in town, La Rosaleda’s Coleen Peri was shocked to find her renga renga lilies (arthropodium) sporting their own form of acne (orange blotches due to rust), giving lie to the belief that these tough plants are maintenance free and indestructible, bar heavy frosts. Coleen treated the rust but also chopped the plants back hard and disposed of the affected foliage. This may stop the cycle of rust continuing and the plants will have recovered with fresh foliage by festival time. Coleen’s little fellow, Will, discovered to his cost that hurtling down a garden path between rose bushes on his scooter was fraught with danger when he canned out and landed in a rose, embedding a thorn in his cheek. The rose bush fared worse, being snapped off entirely, but Will has made a good recovery.
  • Jan and Graeme Worthington of Gordon Dale Gardens are fresh back from their tour of Britain and Ireland. They were enormously impressed by Beth Chatto’s garden near Colchester (her garden is a magnificent example of how to manage large scale herbaceous plantings over time and her dry garden is magic) but equally impressed by the sight of Mrs Chatto herself, now at a very advanced age, climbing up a red brick wall to water some plants. They will hardly be emulating her dry garden at Toko, but Jan says her first task on return is to prune her 200 roses and to try and salvage the sweet pea babies which have been swamped by weeds in their absence.
  • In Manaia, Jenny Oakley has taken advantage of the presence of a couple of strong and willing young men to spread the contents of four large compost bins across her vegetable and perennial beds. In the process they also uncovered two pairs of secateurs and one Niwashi hand hoe, despite Jenny’s best efforts to keep garden tools to hand and to mark them with ribbon and insulation tape. Any synthetic, fluorescent type of colour is going to stand out best in an outdoor setting because these are not the colours of nature. Jenny, by the way, votes her Niwashi as her most favourite garden tool.
  • In Kakaramea at Te Rata, Jacq Dwyer is delighting in the fragrance of her Daphne bholua. This is the upright Himalayan daphne. It can get a bit scruffy with age and does have a few bad personal habits but we are in complete agreement with Jacq that its perfume is the best and the strongest of any of the daphnes. While on scented plants, Jacq says she has just bought a wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) and is looking for the best position in the garden where its scent can be enjoyed. As she has already moved her davidia (ghost tree) twice in search of its permanent home, the chimonanthus may be in for a period of slight instability in its life. There are gardeners who only buy plants for specific garden positions or gaps and there are gardeners, like Jacq, who buy plants because they love them and who then set about finding the right spot.
  • At Paradiso Vegetable Garden, Denise Wood is delighting in the simple sight of her lemon tree underplanted with white primulas and looking very fetching. Her broad beans have been a success at previous festivals so she is pleased to see them growing well and already a metre tall. The sweet peas are also coming along well. By the time she has done her round freshening up the paintwork this month, she feels that she will have done most of her preparations.