Tag Archives: Taranaki gardens

A Mid-Winter’s Day in Tikorangi

IMG_8681Winter can be very pink, here. Or so I have often declared. I hereby move my position. Late winter and early spring can be very pink – all those camellias and magnolias. In late autumn to mid-winter, the dominant colours are more inclined to the oranges and yellows with a smattering of reds.

Having been relatively confined by a combination of wintery, wet weather (Mark says he is consistently tipping 2.5cm or an inch out of the rain gauge each morning) and a bad head cold, I decided I would go and see how many flowers I could find that are in the orange, red, yellow colour range. There is still the last of the autumn colour evident but I figured that I would keep to flowers without adding in coloured foliage. It is probably indicative of our soft climate that I can expect to find a range of different blooms in the depths of winter.

IMG_8669I could of course have added in fruit. The citrus trees add a glorious blaze of colour in the depths of winter – just a common old lemon and a very productive mandarin tree in this photo, but the orange trees we have scattered through the ornamental gardens are also indubitably orange and a very cheerful sight for that.

IMG_8464And it is hard to ignore the glory of the persimmon tree, be the sky grey or blue. It is a feature of our climate that we have high sunshine hours and bright, clear light even in mid-winter, albeit interspersed with the rain. We don’t get many days when it is irredeemably grey and gloomy, without spells of clear skies.

IMG_8673The tamarillos are also hanging decoratively. These used to be known as ‘tree tomatoes’, botanically Solanum betaceum. Apparently the ravages of the potato psyllid have hit commercial production hard, but our plants just continue on in a regime of benign neglect. The fruit is usually stewed with sugar but stewed fruit is not part of our diet. I enjoy them more as a fruit cordial. Mark’s father used to like eating them sliced on wholemeal bread with a little raw, chopped onion. The yellow fruit beneath are windfall grapefruit.

IMG_8684But to the flowers. On the left, we have the vestiges of autumn – salvias, impatiens, tree dahlia hybrids, daisies and Oxalis peduncularis. At the front are a few berries and seeds – baby figs from Ficus antiarus,  Nandina domestica ‘Richmond’ , a small berrying shrub whose name escapes me at the moment and the showy seeds from Arisaema speciosum.

Moving to the middle, the winter bloomers include, excitingly, the first of the bulbs – Lachenalias aloides and reflexa, a brave jonquil and the lesser known Phaedranassa carmioli (both Mark and I had to look that one up). The big yellow candlewick flower is Jacobinia chrysostephana adjacent to the flowers of Ligularia reniformis  and what I think is still classified as a datura, not a brugmansia. Also included is an early flowering clivia and Agapetes serpens.

There is only one red azalea out so far, several red camellias but interestingly, the stars are the vireya rhododendrons – plenty of these frost tender subtropicals flowering their socks off and lighting up the woodlands. I guess they speak volumes about the nature of a Tikorangi winter. We should not be complaining too much.

Hovenia dulcis (1)Finally I offer you… the ‘fruit’ of the Japanese raisin tree, Hovenia dulcis. I am guessing that as our plant is maybe 20 years old and planted in a somewhat out of the way position, we just haven’t noticed these before. They are actually the swollen tips of the stems and are edible. They even taste fruity, in a raisin-ish sort of way. Apparently drying them makes them even more raisin-y. It is more a curiosity than an edible essential, but we like these odd additions to our diet here.

Stumperies – an ecological option

Our Rimu Avenue with its informal raised beds which are essentially a stumpery

Our Rimu Avenue with its informal raised beds which are essentially a stumpery

Stumperies are a thing, overseas if not so much in New Zealand. After all, Prince Charles has one at Highgrove. So has Wisley, the Royal Horticulture Society’s flagship gardens. Indeed, many of the best gardens have a stumpery. The first deliberate construction of old tree roots and stumps is attributed to Biddulph Grange in Britain, where the keen owner wanted to display his fern collection but other shade gardens through history must have had incidental stumperies. They are hailed these days as ecological havens.

When you think about it, the stumpery is basically a naturalistic alternative to trendy insect hotels. But instead of being a confined hotel, it is more like an entire estate.

Our stumperies have rather more pragmatic origins than caring for the under-appreciated critters of the garden. In the area we call the rimu avenue, it has evolved over decades. The rimus are so grand and large now that they suck all the goodness and moisture from the ground around them. Our stump and log constructions are a means of getting informal raised beds so we can establish underplantings, including epiphytic plants like vireya rhododendron species and zygocactus, the so-called chain cactus. It adds a lot more interest and gardening potential to have these elevated areas and pockets for planting amongst the tree stumps and trunks.

When we have dug out the stumps of larger plants, these are re-sited to shade areas, sometimes placed upside down so the roots give more visual interest. There they can gently decay, but in the process they add some structure and height to otherwise flat areas dominated by very tall trees.

Allowing nature to create a stumpery – two pine logs left where they fell

Allowing nature to create a stumpery – two pine logs left where they fell

The more substantial stumpery efforts come on the other side of the garden where we have venerable old pine trees. As with the rimus, they are up to 140 years old. Unlike the rimus, they lack a good grip below ground and from time to time, one falls. Four plus a gum tree of the same age have done so in recent years. They cause surprisingly little damage when they fall but were we to try and extract the enormous trunks, it would create a swathe of destruction. We do a cleanup of the foliage, the side branches and the prodigious quantities of pine cones but leave the main trunk where it fell and simply work around it, chainsawing back to clear paths where we need to.

A naturally developing ecological haven on fallen poplar logs

A naturally developing ecological haven on fallen poplar logs

When our instant stumpery installations arrive, they are invariably covered in epiphytes – native astelias and collospermums in particular. We thin these if required but basically leave it to nature to colonise these new areas, adding in special plants to add interest. The ferns just arrive. Dendrobium and cymbidium orchids add seasonal colour and settle in readily. Clivias are often happy at the base. Hostas tend to need more soil than is offered in these situations, but rogersias and farfugiums have settled in well. Hippeastrums and scadoxus are bulbs that we find are happy in this environment and common old impatiens seeds down and adds some summer blooms.

A small stumpery (or stumpette) in a narrow, shaded border in Pat and Brian Woods garden in Waitara

A small stumpery (or stumpette) in a narrow, shaded border in Pat and Brian Woods garden in Waitara

You don’t need a large area to establish a stumpery. Many suburban homes will have a dark and narrow back border (usually the home of the wheelie and recycling bins and the garden hose). As long as you have half or metre or more in width and are not scared of wetas, you can bring in a smaller stump or length of tree trunk and start establishing shade loving plants around it. A little shade garden will contribute far more to a healthy eco-system than gravelling or paving and can be genuinely low maintenance. Fewer weeds grow in shade and once plants are established, it becomes a self maintaining system with the falling leaf litter and gently decaying wood feeding the soil. I did pause to wonder if a very small stumpery became stumperesque in style, or maybe a stumpette?

Amusingly, according to the information board on Wisley’s stumpery, “Not everyone appreciates an artistic garden feature. When the Duke of Edinburgh first laid eyes on the Highgrove stumpery, he allegedly turned to Prince Charles and said, ‘When are you going to set fire to this lot?’”

A natural-formed seat in the stumpery at Wisley, though it would look better without the dedication plaque

A natural-formed seat in the stumpery at Wisley, though it would look better without the dedication plaque

First published in the May issue of NZ Gardener and reprinted here with their permission.

Rock on – our rockery in autumn

Nerine sarniensis hybrids blooming in the rockery

Nerine sarniensis hybrids blooming in the rockery

When I am old and maybe decrepit, needing to draw in the boundaries of the garden, I shall fluff around in the rockery. I really enjoy this area and, as we enter autumn, my heart sings with the new season blooms.

Traditionally, rockeries are for growing alpines and sometimes retaining banks. However, we can’t grow alpines in our climate and our rockery is on the flat. It is pure 1950s vintage, built from a combination of rocks of various sizes, concrete and some brick, with sunken paths and raised beds divided into many hundreds of little pockets of soil. It is designed for highly detailed gardening and at about 20 metres by 10 metres, it is relatively large.

The purpose of the multitude of small beds is to keep bulbs separate and to confine the more invasive ones. Most of the pockets have two or three different types of bulbs in them to give seasonal interest.

There is always something to see, though summer is the toughest season. Because there is so much stone and the beds are elevated, parts of it dry out almost to dust. We have dwarf conifers, cycads, and a few other small shrubs to give both all year round structure and summer shade. There are a few smaller perennials and a limited range of annuals and biennials but generally, the rockery is about the bulb collection.

The range of nerine colours at one time

The range of nerine colours at one time

As we enter autumn, it is as if the rockery heaves a sigh of relief and leaps back into life. All the bulbs whose growth is triggered by autumn rains start to move.

As a general rule, we find that the species bulbs look better. They are usually smaller flowered and more delicate in appearance than the showy hybrids which can look out of scale and even vulgar in this particular context. The exception is the nerines which peak this month. While we grow some nerine species, it is the sarniensis hybrids that dominate. A few of these are of Exbury origin but most are the result of breeding efforts by both Felix and Mark Jury. The colour range is delightful – from white, through every shade of pink including near iridescent highlighter pink, to purple, corals, almost apricot, oranges and reds. Unlike the floristry business, we want shorter, squatter stems so that the heavy heads are held upright even through autumnal weather.

Cyclamen hederafolium

Cyclamen hederafolium

Also lighting up the autumn is Cyclamen hederafolium (formerly known as C. neapolitanum) which hails from southern Europe and Turkey. This is the easiest of the dainty species cyclamen to grow and it has gently naturalised itself here. It throws its first brave flowers up in January but peaks this month. It is one of a number of autumn bulbs that bloom first before the leaves appear. Others are most of the nerines, colchicums and Haemanthus coccineus.

Moraea polystachya

Moraea polystachya

The pretty autumn flowering peacock iris, Moraea polystachya, outdoes almost every other bulb with its long flowering season. It seeds down gently into the cracks between the rocks without becoming an invasive menace. Some of the ornamental oxalis also give extended displays of colour but not all oxalis are born equal and neither are they all born with good manners. The most reliable performers in our rockery are O. purpurea ‘Alba’, O. luteola and O. lobata. They have been here for decades and never looked threatening.

O. luteola and purpurea 'Alba'

O. luteola and purpurea ‘Alba’

Colchicum autumnale

Colchicum autumnale

Then there are the bulbs with a much shorter season. Colchicum autumnale makes a bold statement with its big lilac chalices held above bare soil. Hippeastrum bifida is a transient delight for us. We have it in both pink and red and the blooms look as if they have been touched with gold leaf when the sun shines through. The autumn flowering leucojum is one of the daintiest and prettiest of tiny blooms and the crocus also delight.

Autumn crocus (species unknown) with cyclamen hederafolium

Autumn crocus (species unknown) with cyclamen hederafolium

The rockery is not what I would call low maintenance. The more time I put into it, the better it looks. In spring I completely replaced the soil in maybe a dozen pockets in my efforts to eradicate the pretty but invasive Geissorhiza aspera. I do not lie when I tell you that we have battling it for well over 25 years, hence my extreme action in replacing the soil in the worst affected areas. We have to be vigilant on weeds, slugs, snails, narcissi fly and weevils. I wire brush the rocks from time to time to stop the moss growth from hiding their shapes. There is plenty there to keep me busy in my dotage and, with the raised beds, I can do a lot of it sitting on a stool. Sometimes it is the detail and the little pictures in the garden that delight.

024First published in the NZ Gardener April edition and reprinted here with their permission. 

Flowers from an early autumn Easter weekend

???????????????????????????????It is indubitably autumnal, but no sign of the leaves colouring or dropping yet as we gently drift into the cooler seasons. I shall do a survey of the plants that take us through autumn, I thought, and headed out to the garden with snips and a basket.

We love flowers – lots of flowers. Simple blooms, common varieties, oddities and curiosities, anything and most things (though not everything) across the colour spectrum. Some gardeners, presumably of more refined sensibilities, prefer to be restrained and to preach the value of form and foliage. We are happy to value form and foliage but we want the added appeal of flowery fluff softening the austerity.

???????????????????????????????Despite that slight sense of mournful decay that can characterise the autumnal garden, there was so much flying the flag for flowers that I had to group them. It is still early for the autumn bulbs. There is a whole lot more to come but the nine in bloom at least indicate that not all bulbs belong to spring. Starting with the white flower at the top of the photo, going clockwise, these are: Crinum moorei, belladonna, Colchicum autumnale, one of the autumn crocus (could be C. serotinus), Moraea polystachya which is an unsung star amongst the autumn bulbs, Cyclamen hederafolium both pink and white, the dainty little Leucojum autumnale, the earliest of the oxalis (hirta, luteola, massoniana and lobata) and the first of the nerines that will become the rockery stars over the next few weeks.
???????????????????????????????Climbers can be a little bothersome to place. Too many are strangling, invasive things, smothering their host as they scramble to the top, or, like the Rhodochiton atrosanguineus, seeding down in perpetuity. Others are such retiring little dainties that they can be difficult to keep going. Flowering for us at the moment are the bougainvillea (very much in the rampant camp) and one of the more garden-friendly jasmines at the top but we have lost track of which one it is. It has good fragrance, flowers pretty much all the time and is strong growing – bordering on rampant – but not as aggressive as the weedy jasmines. It is planted on the corner of the bedroom once inhabited by our daughter of the same name. Immediately below, the purple flower like a mini streptocarpus is on a soft vine, but its name escapes us at the moment. Well, I have never known it and Mark thinks he raised it from commercial seed but has yet to recall what it is. To the right are the lapagerias – Chilean bell flowers – with their wonderfully long blooming season and obliging habits. Sure it can take several – many, even – years to get a vine established but once there, these are rewarding plants for the shaded side of the house.
???????????????????????????????The flowering shrubs and trees are not so numerous at this time of the year. Top row left, we have Radermachera sinica (more on this below), Hydrangea Immaculata which is still at peak rather than that fading over to dusky spent flowerheads, next row down is the fragrant osmanthus (though not sure which one) and the so-called African butter knife plant or Cunonia capensis. Then comes the white flowered tibouchina which seeds down far too freely here but does compensate by flowering pretty much all the time in semi woodland conditions. Fuchsias are not a strong point for us, but the one on the left has been here forever it seems, surviving even falling over, splitting apart and drought. The one on the right is the attractive but dangerously weedy Fuchsia boliviana. Second row from the bottom is a sampling of vireya rhododendrons – have enough of these around the place and there are always some in flower, 52 weeks of the year. In the bottom row are the first of the evergreen azaleas embarking on their marathon blooming from early autumn right through to mid spring and the first camellia.
???????????????????????????????Camellia sinensis will no doubt be of interest to some. It is always the first to flower though with such insignificant blooms that they are easy to miss. This is the tea camellia, and yes, sometimes we do harvest the young leaves to make green tea. White flowered tea camellias are more common and we have a plant somewhere – in the “plant out” area, I think, waiting to get out of its pot.
???????????????????????????????I was pretty thrilled by the Radermachera sinica when Mark alerted me to it in bloom. It has a divine and heady fragrance. The trouble is that it is sub tropical to tropical so treated as a house plant in the temperate world. But it is a tree and ours is shooting skywards. Besides, we don’t do houseplants so we are yet to decide what to do with this plant besides enjoying its current flowering.
???????????????????????????????Finally there are the perennials and annuals still in full bloom. In brief in the yellow tones, we start with a damn big yellow salvia at the base and head around clockwise: kniphofia species, one of the gesneriad family whose name we have currently forgotten but which makes an excellent woodland plant, datura, dahlias, simple little autumn zinnias (none of the over-bred, bushy, compact, modern hybrid bedding plants), a handy yellow ground cover which flowers for a very long time and whose name will come back to us at some point, Hibiscus trionum and the common wildflower oenothera which is remarkably rewarding when it comes to blooming on and on.
???????????????????????????????In the pinks and whites, we start at the top with the under-sung white plumes of Actaea racemosa (syn Cimcifuga racemosa) whose fairy candles light up a woodland area, a simple dahlia seedling, the annual Amaranthus caudatus which is self sown, the lovely wind anemones, assorted daisies, streptocarpus (bit of one-upmanship here – we use these as permanent bedding plants in frost-free locations), one of the saponarias, a really old, self-maintaining strain of impatiens that has naturalised in our woodland, a self-seeded abutilon which should have been amongst the shrubs and some rather large and resilient begonias.

While others may find that buxus balls and refined plantings soothe their souls and give order to their lives, we like vibrancy to gladden our hearts. Besides, with flowers we get butterflies, bees and birds to enrich the scene further and we take delight in gardening to sustain a lively eco-system. That said, I gathered these flowers across a few acres, not from a few square metres in a back garden. I might feel differently with a more limited area. In the current situation, I can satisfy any need for more restrained style indoors.
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Postscript: Many of these plants have more detailed articles from earlier writing. Rather than clutter up the post with multiple links, if you want to know more about most, type the plant name in the search engine box on the right of the screen.

The October Garden

The glory of the sino nuttallii rhododendrons

The glory of the sino nuttallii rhododendrons

Floral Legacy in bud

Floral Legacy in bud

Rhododendons may no longer be the elite fashion item they were for so many decades, but we still love them.

When we started in the plant business back in the early 80s, rhododendrons were a hot ticket item. We were but one of several rhododendron nurseries in Taranaki and to survive, we needed to find our own niche. To this end, we grew a different range, specialising in varieties that would perform well in warmer climates – like Auckland. After all, even back then, one in four New Zealanders lived in greater Auckland and we figured that if we were going to sell them rhododendrons, we might as well sell them ones that would do better for them. Mark’s father just happened to have done some breeding to find varieties that were more resistant to thrips, didn’t get that burned and crispy edging to their foliage and were predominantly fragrant as well as floriferous. It gave us a good place to start.

Nowadays there are no specialist rhododendron growers in Taranaki at all and the demand has melted away. I no longer have to try and convince people that not all rhododendrons have a big full truss in the shape of a ball but many have loose trumpets in curtains of bloom instead.

Rhododendrons are one of the backbones of our garden and we wouldn’t have it any other way. While they have a relatively short season in full bloom, the anticipation of fattening buds stretches out the weeks with the promise of delights to come. They are as fine a shrub as any we grow here and a great deal more spectacular than most.

The nuttalliis! Oh the nuttalliis!

The nuttalliis! Oh the nuttalliis!

The nuttalliis. Oh the nuttalliis. Peak nuttallii season doesn’t start until closer to the end of the month, taking us into November but some varieties have already done their dash for this year. If we could grow only one type of rhododendron, we’d choose a nuttallii and even more specifically, the sino nuttallii from China. You can keep your big red rhodos (most people’s favourite pick). We love the fragrant, long, white trumpets which look as if they are made from waxed fabric, the lovely peeling bark and the heavy textured foliage. These are rarely offered commercially now so grab one if you ever find it for sale.

Thrips!

Thrips!

It is, by the way, nasty little leaf-sucking thrips that turn foliage silver and no, you can never turn those silver leaves green again. If you look at the underside of the leaf, you can see dark thread-like marks – these are the critters that do the damage. All you can do is to try and prevent the new season’s growth from getting similarly infested. We are not at all keen on spraying insecticide these days and you need a systemic insecticide that the plant absorbs into its system to get a thorough kill. If you must go down this path, spray in mid November, early January and late February for maximum effect. Others praise Neem oil instead but we haven’t tried it.

We favour choosing more thrip-resistant varieties, keeping them growing strongly and opening up around them to let more air and light in. Thrips prefer shade and shelter. Unless it is really
special, if it is badly thrip-prone, we replace it with a better variety. Not every plant is precious.

In the longer term, plants come and go in the fashion stakes. Goodness, even red hot pokers are having a resurgence of popularity. We don’t worry about the fashion status of the rhododendron and Mark continues hybridising for better performing cultivars. If there is no commercial market for the results, it doesn’t matter. We will continue to enjoy them in our own garden.

First published in the New Zealand Gardener and reprinted here with their permission.

Rhododendron Barbara Jury - one of Felix's  hybrids

Rhododendron Barbara Jury – one of Felix’s hybrids