Tag Archives: roadside wild flowers

A moderately controversial opinion, in New Zealand at least

The convolvulus is potentially a bigger problem than the agapanthus

We like roadside agapanthus in our area. The sight of blue and white in abundance is a summer pleasure. It has become one of our wildflowers.

Why controversial? I have watched comments on Twitter in recent weeks, railing against the horrors of agapanthus and what a ghastly plant and flower it is. This happens every summer. One tweeter even declared that ‘nobody born after 1972 can bear agapanthus’. At least, I think it was 1972, or thereabouts – presumably the birth year of the tweeter. Reader, I was born somewhat before 1972 and it felt like an ageist attack.

                I grow old

                I grow old

                I shall watch my agapanthus blooms unfold

I get that some people don’t like agapanthus and that it isn’t the world’s greatest plant to inherit en masse in a garden. What I don’t understand is the level of visceral hostility, the intensity of emotion expended on a plant that is moderately benign and consistently blooms in summer. I don’t engage in these Twitter diatribes but I did want to ask what they would prefer to see – mown or sprayed roadsides bereft of flowering weeds? Did they think agapanthus worse than convolvulus, montbretia, woolly nightshade, fennel, chicory, kniphofia, hydrangeas, canna lilies, pampas grass or many other plants that escaped onto our roadsides? Why single out agapanthus?

These plants are likely to stay on the roadside, rather than moving across the fence onto farmland

Given the huge amount of agapanthus we have naturalised in our area, I can say that I have not seen it invading farmland. It is not like pampas, woolly nightshade or montbretia which will colonise new territory the moment your back is turned. Because the seed is so large, it doesn’t spread itself around on wind and does not appear to be spread by birds. Nor does it spread below ground so it doesn’t tick the invasive boxes in our book. It increases from the base rhizomes and by seed but the heavy seed drops near the plant. It can be spread by water so maybe take care and eliminate by waterways and drains if you are worried about spreading it further. We get out and deadhead our roadside agapanthus.

Agapanthus used to be promoted because it is such an easy-going plant, tolerant of full sun and shade and it is useful in retaining loose soils on banks which could slip if left bare. It is not caustic and it is pest-free. It isn’t an exciting plant when not in flower, but I welcome that expanse of blue and white blooms in summer. I guess it is that very adaptability that has made it a pariah, a noxious weed, some declare, that needs to banned, NZ’s worst weed, even, in some eyes.

Showing my age, apparently, I have agapanthus in the garden

I like it enough to have selected a good dark blue form from the roadside which I brought into an area of the summer gardens where tree roots made the ground somewhat inhospitable for choicer perennials. After all, I was born before 1972. I deadhead after flowering before the seed has ripened, putting the spent flower heads in deep shade (not the compost heap) and we root prune the clumps in winter to stop them getting too large. But then, I also like wild fennel enough to have used that in the summer borders, too.

If you do happen to have giant clumps in your garden that you want to get rid of, you need to understand that it is immune to the common herbicides you can buy over the counter. It is most likely you will need to dig it out but don’t make the mistake of trying to dig it all out in a massive clump. First sharpen your spade. A sharp edge makes a huge difference. Then start slicing through the clump from the outside, removing it in manageable pieces. It is not deep rooted and the base of the clump (the rhizome) and the roots are fleshy, so easy to slice.

Don’t put the bits straight on the compost heap because most will grow again. Cut the leaves off – those can be composted. If you are doing it in high summer – like now – turn the remains of the clump – all the white bits – upside down on a dry surface so the roots face the sun and dry out. In cooler months you can stow it under cover so it dries or pile it in a black bin bag and lie that on concrete in the sun so it heats up and composts.  I have taken all of the above steps and it is not that hard.

Mark has just suggested that he thinks you could get away with slicing it off right at ground level (the rhizomes are usually sitting above the ground) and leaving the roots behind. It is not like alstromeria, tradescantia or montbretia where every piece left behind will grow again. We haven’t tried this approach but if you want to, you may be able to achieve agapanthus elimination with a heavy knife or meat cleaver. Just go back and check from time to time that nothing is sprouting afresh.

We rate the montbretia (Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora) as a worse weed than the agapanthus. It is certainly harder to control, let alone eradicate and it spreads like wildfire

There are many worse plants to eliminate than agapanthus but we are happy to stick with the plants we have and just keep them under control.

Tikorangi Notes: Friday 19 June, 2015

017I have a new camera and while I am still learning to use it, I doubt that I could have captured the monarchs on the montanoa with my old one, even before it decided to shuffle off the mortal coils and go where digital cameras go to die. I mentioned the Mexican tree daisy last week, asking for identification. Such are the wonders of the internet, it took less than 20 minutes for the botanical name to be supplied to me – Montanoa bipinnatifida. I am attempting to commit this to memory, although I keep getting sidetracked onto bipolar manatees which won’t do at all.
024It was a comment left on this site that had me heading down to check out the montanoa on a sunny mid-winter’s day, to find it positively dancing with monarch butterflies. “It’s a natural food source for monarch butterflies, as it also comes from Mexico”, the reader said. Given that monarchs are recorded as self-introducing to this country around 1840 and generally produce two generations a year, that means at least 350 generations have passed since the Mexican connection so I think the montanoa is perhaps better described as being an “indigenous food source for monarch butterflies in Mexico”. But a source of winter nectar, it certainly is. It was a joy to see.

The felling of the Waitara riverside pohutukawa yesterday – the ones that we had fought so hard to save – followed by heavy rain today have thwarted my plans to complete the clean-up on the second block of large Kurume azaleas that I also mentioned last week. But as I hauled away multiple barrow-loads of prunings, it occurred to me that the spending of maybe two weeks’ sustained work to complete a task that nobody else (other than Mark) will even notice has been done, represents fairly high level gardening skills. For much has actually been done. It is greatly improved but there is little evidence to show that.

From the point of view of the gardener, the hard hack and slash approach may be more rewarding in the short term – you can see exactly what you have done and it is a quick result. But as far as the garden goes, a gentler technique which leaves the overall scene refined but visually similar, masking how much has been taken out, is a different skill set. There is “cutting back” and then there is what I have heard called “blind pruning” – which is cutting back without leaving a visible trail of destruction. It takes more time and skill but is worth the effort for intensively managed areas of the garden.
056I was so discouraged when I left the scene of institutional and bureaucratic vandalism that was the Waitara pohutukawa that I had to take refuge in scenes of nature that are beyond the reach of the desecrators. I have been enjoying the sight of red hot pokers (kniphofia) on the road verges. Just an African plant that has adapted to its role as a roadside wild flower in New Zealand – a bright splash of colour in the gloom.
109And at home I raised my eyes upwards to drink in the sights of our trees. We have many large trees here, evergreen and deciduous, native and introduced. While by no means the largest of our trees, this scene of magnolias, silver birch and Queen Palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana) soothed my soul.

I admit I probably took eleventy thousand photos of the monarchs this week

I admit I probably took eleventy thousand photos of the monarchs this week

Tikorangi Notes: Thursday 12 February, 2015 Wildflowers or weeds?

Pretty by the road to town. The convolvulus IS a problem and agapanthus come in for a lot of criticism in NZ.

Pretty by the road to town. The convolvulus IS a problem and agapanthus come in for a lot of criticism in NZ.

Feeling the need to head my site with something more pleasing than the industrialisation of our beloved Tikorangi in my previous post, I flag wildflowers and roadsides. We have been talking about this a great deal over summer and clarifying our thinking. In New Zealand, these are often – in fact usually – seen as weeds for we are still a pastoral countryside where unrelenting green fields are deemed to be the desirable state. And of course our roadside flowers are almost all introduced plants, a few of which run amok.

Who wouldn't covet the oast houses at Bury Court?

Who wouldn’t covet the oast houses at Bury Court?

It was interesting watching BBC Gardeners’ World a few days ago. We seem to run about two years behind here so any UK readers may not remember the episode where Carol Klein visited Bury Court and the owner spoke about how he wanted his garden to echo the nature. The nature to which he referred was the hedgerows, meadows and road verges.

We visited Bury Court late last June. Naturally we coveted the lovely oast houses but the garden was also a delight and we learned a great deal from it. We could see the echoes of the English countryside repeated in a managed fashion.

To New Zealanders, nature is more likely to evoke images of our verdant and dense native forests and bush. It is a different perception of the environment altogether and it is taking some thinking to move preconceptions away from weeds to valued wildflowers that contribute to the eco system. Of course the pasture grass that we value so highly for our grass-fed stock is no more native than the wildflowers that grace our verges but the latter still get a bad rap here. I will return to this topic.

More Bury Court. Is this not lovely? I think so.

More Bury Court. Is this not lovely? I think so.

Windflower romance

Wind flowers are a personal marker of our wedding anniversary

Wind flowers are a personal marker of our wedding anniversary

On the evening before we married, Mark turned up with an armful of Japanese anemones that he had gathered from the Taihape roadside. Don’t even ask why we got married in Taihape when we neither lived there nor came from there. It’s a complicated story. Wind flowers, he called the anemones and believe me, although back in the mists of time, it was a romantic gesture I have never forgotten.

Every year the wind flowers bloom on our wedding anniversary and he often brings some indoors. Last week he followed the old cut flower wisdom – re-cut the stems and burned the ends and they have lasted a full week in water.

We have three different Japanese anemones, in light pink, white and a semi double dark pink which is more compact in growth. It seems that the first two are the straight species, A. hupehensis. Although known throughout the world as Japanese anemones, they are originally Chinese – from the eastern province of Hupeh, in fact. They have been grown so widely in Japan for so long that common parlance attributes them to that country. It is no surprise that the Japanese, with their cultural penchant for simplicity and natural form, took a liking to them.

Japanese anemones are commonly found in pinks and white although selections are being made to extend the colour range into lilac blues

Japanese anemones are commonly found in pinks and white although selections are being made to extend the colour range into lilac blues

The semi-double darker one will be a hybrid and a named form that was purchased. Mark commented vaguely that he thought it may carry a woman’s name but I see that this plant family is more highly prized overseas than in New Zealand and there are a fair number of named forms, several of them named after women. For the botanically inclined, the Japanese anemones classified as A. hybrida are likely to be mixes of A. hupehenis with A. elegans and A. vitifolia. This is a plant family that crosses readily – though to get a cross you generally need plants that flower around the same time.

Weeds, I hear some readers saying. Weeds. Yes they can be overly vigorous, given the right conditions and become rampant, bordering on invasive because they spread below ground. You probably don’t want to unleash them in areas with plant treasures which they may out-compete. Lovely though they are in flower, you can have too many of them.

That said, I see that there is general agreement that they are not always easy to establish which made me feel better about our meagre showing of white ones in the woodland garden. I had spotted a pretty patch down the road, growing as a roadside wild flower and it is those I photographed. I love the combination of the single, white flowers dancing above the dried grasses.

 The white Japanese anemone down the road looks better than the patch we have in our garden

The white Japanese anemone down the road looks better than the patch we have in our garden

Our pink ones are planted on our roadside and come into flower after the summer colour has largely faded. We have designated our rural road verges no-spray zones with the local council so we carry out our own maintenance. We mow a grassy strip immediately beside the road, get rid of noxious weeds like the dreaded bristle grass and we can do what we like with the rest. And what we like are roadside wild flowers – agapanthus, hydrangeas, robust begonia species, oenothera (evening primrose), belladonnas, crocosmia and the like. It is not just for passing motorists. It is also to feed the bees and to keep some roadside cover in an intensive dairying area which can otherwise resemble a green grass desert.

There are actually somewhere over 120 different anemone species. By far the most common in gardens are A. coronaria. These are the spring flowering corms that you buy as de Caen (the singles, mainly in blue and red but also in pinks and whites) and St Brigid (the doubles). They are very cheerful and cheap to buy. If you get a bulk pack, split it into four and soak one batch at a time overnight before planting. Done at weekly intervals, you can extend the flowering for the first season.

A. blanda is a little Greek species with predominantly blue flowers, more like a carpet if mass planted. A. nemerosa is the European wood anemone. We would like both of these dainty species to naturalise far more widely in our garden than we have achieved so far. They are transient early spring delights.

But in autumn it is time for the wind flowers to star.

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