Tag Archives: shade plants

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.

Plant Collector: Jade Cascade

Meet ‘Jade Cascade’. It has an appealing name though, to be honest, there is nothing jade about it. It really is a plain, somewhat dull green though it has attractive long ribs running the length of the leaf. It does at least cascade, or maybe it fountains, from its central point. And it is simply a terrific and eye-catching performer in the garden.

When we used to grow hostas commercially, we had maybe 40 different varieties in production. ‘Jade Cascade’ was over-shadowed by the showier members of its family and it did not sell well. Most customers did not want to buy a plain green hosta. No, they wanted the big, showy, variegated ones and the new releases. I would counsel that it is the plainer hostas that show the fancy ones off to better advantage and that planting a whole mass of striking variegated ones looks a mishmash. My wisdom was not totally ignored – customers would buy the solid coloured gold or blue ones but green varieties? Rarely.

When we went out of production, I planted many of them out in the garden and that is a very interesting exercise. Some, like ‘Jade Cascade’, have romped away and gone from strength to strength. But not that many. Of the newer varieties we had in the nursery, many have just quietly languished, doing very little. The greatest disappointment of all was ‘Great Expectations’. Aptly named, Mark says. We had great expectations of this showy, variegated variety though we had decided it was too slow to be commercially viable for us, even in optimal nursery conditions. It became Unfulfilled Expectations before transitioning to Disappointed Acceptance. Despite being given optimal conditions (well cultivated soil, plenty of compost and humus, little direct competition, summer moisture and semi shade), the plants have languished. They are still there after many years but have failed to do anything of note, let alone increase and thrive.

Pot culture in nursery conditions is one thing. Hostas are a really easy nursery crop to get looking large, lush and enticing given the controlled conditions of a production nursery. We came to the conclusion that in the quest for the new and the novelty, hosta sports were being separated off and trialled but only in nursery conditions. Garden performance is very different. We have seen the same thing with hellebores and have even bought some which looked simply terrific in the garden centre but failed to replicate that performance once put into garden conditions. Consumers can’t generally tell whether the plants they are looking at in a garden centre have been rigorously trialled so it becomes a case of win some, lose some. Were we ever to go back into business, I think I would sort out a range of tried and true performers.

‘Jade Cascade’ would earn a place close to the top of such a list. Plain green it may be, but it has a most graceful form, good slug and snail resistance and a robust disposition. In its quiet little way, I find it draws my eye every time I walk past the area where it is growing. That is a good plant.

Jade Cascade now occupies a similar amount of garden space to the established vireya rhododendron behind it