Tag Archives: Scadoxus puniceus

In times of trouble, you will find me in the garden

That is an old stone mill wheel from the ninteenth century, repurposed these days as a bird bath

It has been a difficult week in New Zealand. I recall commenting here to an Irish reader (*waving to Paddy*) that if anybody can get rid of Delta, we will. This week brought us the distressing realisation that we almost certainly can’t. Gone is the dream of the return to level one this summer – level one being no restrictions on day-to-day living bar those pesky border controls. Like many others, we were plunged into a state of deep anxiety. All due to just one case entering the country and now spiralling ever larger, creating the whack-a-mole situation we are now in.

I have to grit my teeth with those who declare ‘we just have to learn to live with it’. I don’t think learning to live with Covid looks like they think it does. It does not mean a return to life as it was with some people getting a bit sick and a few dying – but, presumably, nobody known to those advocating this course of action. Learning to live with Covid means living with ongoing anxiety, wearing masks, using sanitiser, scanning, restrictions on movements and gatherings and playing whack-a-mole all the time. Learning to live with Covid means an indefinite extension of the current status quo.

Scadoxus puniceus

The only path out of this is very high vaccination rate. Please, if you haven’t been vaccinated yet, get it done now. Ignore that small group of very loud, insistent anti-vaxxers. Surveys show that there aren’t that many of them, statistically speaking (somewhere between 4 and 7%?) but too many of them seem pretty determined to keep their ‘freedom of choice’ by attempting to abuse and verbally bludgeon everybody else out of exercising their freedom of choice.

Crinum moorei at the front, which will flower white later in the season, dendrobium orchid, clivias, bromeliads, Scadoxus puniceus and the wedding palm – Lytocaryum weddellianum – in a tiered woodland planting beneath giant rimu trees

What does this mean for our garden festival, scheduled to start on October 29? Goodness only knows; we certainly don’t. We were headed for one of the largest attendances ever with coach tours and ticket sales setting new records. That seems unlikely now.

I see three possibilities. The first is the best-case scenario where travel restrictions are lifted to the north of us and we plough ahead but with masks, sanitiser and physical distancing. This is also the least likely scenario.

The second scenario is the border remains in place on our main northern access to Taranaki and numbers are hugely reduced as a result. In which case it will all be much quieter and lower key.

The third is that Covid reaches Taranaki in the next few weeks and all events are cancelled but I figure we cross that bridge if we come to it.

Seedling vireya, very scented, which seems to be predominantly R. konorii growing beneath pine trees
Pleione orchids have a shorter season in bloom but are so pretty

It all makes planning very difficult here. When we know we are opening the garden, there is a lot of extra garden grooming that gets done – titivating, one might call it. It takes a lot of time to titivate a garden the size of ours and we don’t do that final flourish if it is just for our own pleasure.

Colourful woodland on rainy morning this week to lift the spirits

But if it all turns to custard, there are many (many, many) worse places to be than here. The colourful woodland this week soothes my soul and relieves my own anxieties. Woodland gardening does not generally conjure up colourful visions bar maybe a sea of snowdrops beneath bare trees if you are British, or perhaps large drifts of bluebells or hellebores.

Finally getting Mark’s neglected orchids out of his Nova house and into the garden in lengths of tree trunk with the centre rotted out
We are big fans of the dainty dendrobium orchids from the Bardo-Rose group

We like highly detailed woodland and it certainly is looking very pretty this week. We achieve this by lifting the canopy of our tall trees to let filtered light in below. Over the years, low branches have been removed to keep the lower trunks clear for maybe the bottom four metres or so. These days we do more thinning at ground level than planting and we use various strategies to ensure that plants can grow despite the massive root systems on the trees. Zach has been planting out some of Mark’s neglected orchids – mostly dendrobiums in the Bardo-Rose group – in hollowed out tree rings this week. These stump lengths are from the silver birch we dropped a few weeks ago. The rotten heart of the tree tells us we were right to fell it.

We do not get florist-quality blooms outdoors but the cymbidiums last a long time in the garden and add glamour
Cymbidium with Helleborus sternii. I would like more cymbidiums but need plants with smaller flowers. Those bred for cut flowers tend to be larger and can look out of scale in the garden.

Our interest in orchids is basically on plants we can grow outdoors in the garden so mostly pleiones, cymbidiums, calanthes and dendrobiums in practice. I like the little dendrobiums the best but the cymbidiums add a touch of glamour.

Clivias in orange, red and yellow, we have in abundance
Mark’s peach hybrids add variety but this one seems reluctant to hold its flower spikes upwards

Quite a few years ago, Mark did some hybridising with clivias to try and get some peach coloured ones. He rather lost interest but I planted out the best and they are coming in to their own. I wish this one held its flower up better but it is a pretty, pastel variation on the many oranges, reds and yellows we have. Last time I looked, there were quite a few international breeders working on peach tones and then on white and green flowers but I have no idea if these are commercially available here yet.

Wherever you are, stay sane as well as staying safe. These are trying times we are living through. I will be hiding in the garden somewhere, maybe taking photos to share.

Exotica in the shade

Shade gardens we have a-plenty

Shade gardens we have a-plenty

Glory be, but I do love spring.  This month subtropical bulbs and orchids shout out to be noticed.

We have extensive shade gardens. It is an inevitable result of a large, mature garden with many evergreen trees dating back as far as 1870. We do a lot of what we call lifting and limbing – taking off lower branches and keeping areas open to the light, for there are not a lot of plant options when it comes to deep, dark shade. Beneath the mighty tree canopy, it is dry but frost-free with dappled light. Over the decades there has been much trial and error to find what will thrive in these conditions and the plantings have become increasingly complex.

Dendrobium Bardo Rose

Dendrobium Bardo Rose

By this time in spring, we are over peak season for cymbidium orchids but the Australian dendrobiums are a delight. These are much smaller and more mounded or clumping in appearance and they take care of themselves. We have found the Bardo Rose group to be particularly obliging and free-flowering in woodland conditions. Ours all came from the local Orchid Society, an organisation that we have found combines generosity with superior technical knowledge.

Pleione orchids in the woodland

Pleione orchids in the woodland

Pleione orchids do not last as long in bloom as many of the other orchids. Their flowers are soft rather than waxy but oh my, they make such a pretty carpet. It is easy for them to get swamped so we try and keep the area around them open but beyond lifting and dividing every few years, we just leave them alone. In our experience, the lovely yellow varieties do better in a climate where they get more winter chill. I think all our yellows have died out now but we have plenty in shades of lilac, purple and pure white. Most of our successful varieties came from the late George Fuller, orchid expert and former curator of Pukekura Park, and seem to have formosana in their parentage. If you want to build them up, a single bulb will usually set 2 offsets each season so you can double them every year.

Calanthe orchid - CopyThe calanthes are ground orchids and we have big clumps now because these obliging plants can just be left to quietly increase in size. These are fully evergreen and somewhat frost tender but they are a delightful sight through spring and they combine very well with clivias, ferns and even hostas.

Hippeastrums are a plant family that has been much hybridised but I am not entirely convinced that has been to their advantage. It is two species that we rely on, both South American. It was by chance we found they settled happily into woodland conditions. In full sun, they were ravaged by narcissi fly but in high shade they are fine. Apparently nazi flies, as they are often called, don’t like shade. H. aulicum is one of our early to mid spring mainstays, flowering consistently year in and year out while multiplying most satisfyingly. To me, they look like beautiful Jacobean lilies in the woodland.

Hippeastrum aulicum, one of our woodland mainstays

Hippeastrum aulicum, one of our woodland mainstays

Hippeastrum papilio has been a more recent acquisition for us and it is certainly spectacular, looking more like an orchid than the butterfly for which it was named. It is offered for sale but be prepared to pay a lot for a single bulb – maybe $30 if it is flowering size – because it takes several years to get to that point. I can’t think that we would have started with more than just one or two bulbs at that price. I see with a bit of dividing and replanting we now have about sixty but not all are flowering size yet. Mark has done some hybrids of aulicum x papilio to increase numbers and get some variety, but they have yet to bloom.

Hippeastrum papilio

Hippeastrum papilio

I will have to leave the arisaemas, trilliums and the Paris polyphylla for another time but will finish with Scadoxus puniceus from South Africa. Many readers will be familiar with the summer flowering red S. multiflorus ssp. katherinae, especially in the Auckland area because it was, and maybe still is, much beloved by landscapers. It is a mainstay of our summer woodland, but in spring it is the lesser known S. puniceus that is the showstopper. Growing from large bulbs which are slow to increase, the foliage is lush and the large blooms are curious rather than beautiful. S. puniceus is not widely available, but if you can find somebody with it, it is easy enough to raise from fresh seed as long as you are willing to wait quite a few years to reach flowering size.

The rewards are there for patient gardeners.

The lesser known Scadoxus puniceus

The lesser known Scadoxus puniceus

Text first published in the October issue of NZ Gardener and reprinted here with their permission 

The late spring bulbs


Left to right: Gladious carneus, a dainty allium, Romulea rosea, camassia, Phaedranassa cinerea, Stenomesson miniatum, Gesneria cardinalis, calanthe orchid, Albuca candadensis and spiloxene.

When spring bulbs are mentioned, most people think of daffodils, bluebells and tulips. But when they have been and gone and all that is left is the scruffy foliage, there are the late spring bulbs coming into flower. Most of these are less well known and certainly less celebrated in literature and art. For all that, they are often more interesting, maybe because they are unexpected.

We love bulbs here and with bulbs I include corms, rhizomes and tubers. More than any other type of plant, they seem to mark the passage of the seasons and to create the smaller, detailed pictures that add layers of interest to the garden. Maybe because the perennials and annuals are coming into their own at this time, the late spring bulbs are often ignored and therefore harder to source.

I headed out to the garden to see what was coming into flower. Discounting the earlier bulbs which are still flowering but well past their peak (veltheimias, the late lachenalias, Hippeastrum aulicum and the like), I found about 20 different types of bulbs coming into their own and that is by no means complete. There is little which is duller than endless lists and plant descriptions so I lined a number up for photographs.


Clockwise from top – Soloman Seal (Polygonatum multiflorum), tritonia, babiana, Satyrium odorum (orchid), rhodohypoxis, Watsonia brevifolia, tulbaghias – probably comminsii and possibly simmleri

I featured the rhodohypoxis in Plant Collector a fortnight ago. These are relatively common and form attractive carpets in pinks, whites and carmine red with their mass of star flowers. There is nothing rare or exclusive about Soloman Seal (Polygonatum multiflorum) either. It was common in the gardens of grandparents and is perhaps undergoing a surge of discovery amongst newer generations of gardeners. It is particularly handy for semi shade positions and, after battling a near impenetrable mass of entangled rhizomes, I decided it may well have some merit as a natural stabiliser for an eroding bank. I will report back in three years about the success or otherwise of this venture but as it will grow pretty much on top of the ground and grip hard, I am optimistic. As a bonus, the foliage turns golden in autumn – an unexpected source of autumn colour for us.

Hippeastrum papilio

Hippeastrum papilio

For sheer exotica, it is hard to beat Hippeastrum papilio which is just opening. Papilio means butterfly though I think it is more orchid-like really. This is a spectacular bulb from Brazil which is offered for sale from time to time. It is more expensive than rare. We had to try a couple of different places in the garden before we found a spot where it was happy but we now have it thriving in open woodland conditions.

Scadoxus puniceus

Scadoxus puniceus

While on the big bulbs, Scadoxus puniceusis one of our showiest but I won’t dwell too long on it because it is rather too frost tender for inland areas and rare in this country. Its cousin, Scadoxus katherinae, is a better bet for frosty areas because it is dormant in winter and doesn’t start moving until spring, flowering in summer. Similarly, our love affair with the arisaema family (sometimes called snake’s head lilies though they aren’t lilies) is of limited value because our showiest ones are Mark’s hybrids which we have never sold so they can’t be seen anywhere but in our garden. Given time, we may put them on the market but that is a way off. Most of the arisaema family hide their flowers below the foliage but Mark has managed to breed with varieties to bring out the desirable trait of holding their flowers above the leaves, making them much showier as well as being easy garden plants. You may, however, find Arisaema speciosum which is easy to grow and Arisaema ringens is relatively common. If you have a bank that you look up to, the flowers are little more obvious without having to part the leaves to see them. We describe A. speciosum as the closest thing to a cobra you would want in the garden.

If you are getting frustrated trying to find more unusual plants, there are good reasons why. Many if not most of the specialist nurseries throughout the country have closed down over the last decade as have most mail order nurseries. Treasure the ones that are left because there are few new plant businesses opening. However, bulbs are perhaps a little easier than trees and shrubs and I occasionally look at the bulbs section of Trade Me and see some interesting and less common material offered for sale there. Beyond that, you may have to start haunting your local horticultural society or keen gardening groups where there are likely to be one or two people who know their bulbs from their onions.

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

Plant Collector: Scadoxus puniceus

Scadoxus puniceus - another gem from the bulb wonderland of southern Africa

Scadoxus puniceus - another gem from the bulb wonderland of southern Africa

The bulb wonderland of southern Africa gives us this mid to late spring flowering treasure from Natal. Scadoxus puniceus is not often seen in the country and rarely offered for sale but well worth having if you find it. The bulbs are large fist-sized affairs and slow to increase, but if you find somebody with a plant, it sets seed and as long as you are working with fresh seed, it germinates readily.

Usually the flower stem appears first in late winter, followed soon after by the lush pale lettuce green foliage. The relatively large flowers consist of a mass of orange stamens surrounded by a maroon outer petal casing, which is not a common colour combination in any plant. It is happy in woodland or semi shade conditions which never get hot and dry in summer or cold and wet in winter. The former will force it into early dormancy whereas the latter will rot out the bulb.

It is the same family as Scadoxus multiflorus ssp. katherinae which is far more readily available. Katherinae has large spherical flower heads in red which look like a mass of spidery stamens and runs about three months behind puniceus. It is just coming into growth now and will flower in mid to late summer making a real feature in the summer garden.

Flowering this week: Scadoxus multiflorus ssp. katherinae

Scadoxus ssp. katherinae is very happy in dry shade

Scadoxus ssp. katherinae is very happy in dry shade

This particular patch of scadoxus is looking very fine this week and stands around 140cm tall which is fairly remarkable given that it is growing in quite hard condtions. But then, scadoxus like dry shade and that is one thing we have in abundance in our garden.

These are very large bulbs, hailing yet again from the bulb wonderland of Zimbabwe and South Africa. Mark has always described the flowers as being like the chimney brush of the bulb world because they resemble the round brushes used by old fashioned chimney sweeps. Katherinae flowers red in mid summer. Her cousin from Natal, Scadoxus puniceus, flowers orange in spring with a similar flower form. The foliage of both is large and lush. If you know of anybody with either variety, the seed will germinate readily. It is very slow to increase from the bulb (no doubt you could twin scale it) so it is normally done from seed. You are more likely to find bulbs of katherinae for sale rather than the rarer puniceus.