Tag Archives: Taranaki Rhododendron and Garden Festival

Tikorangi Notes: Friday 21 October, 2011

There is nothing subtle about the orange clivias at this time of the year

There is nothing subtle about the orange clivias at this time of the year

Latest posts:
1) Simple ideas to import (from Spain and Portugal).
2) Bring back plants! Please. Abbie’s column.
3) Arisaema sikokianum in Plant Collector this week.
4) Grow it yourself: gherkins and cucumbers.

Just another seedling of Mark's - R. metternichii x Susan

Just another seedling of Mark's - R. metternichii x Susan

Tikorangi Notes: Friday October 21, 2011

With just a week until our annual garden festival, now styled the Powerco Taranaki Garden Spectacular (but formerly the Rhododendron and Garden Festival), it is a time of high pressure here as we primp and preen the garden in preparation for the 10 days that delivers up two thirds of our visitor numbers in one hit. It is all about leaf rakes, trimming, clipping, edges and the like – what we call garden grooming. While we work to maintain standards all year with regard to weeding, mulching, feeding and general maintenance, this is presentation with sharp edges.

The flowering this year is a week to maybe 10 days later than normal, but as we garden for year round interest, it does not matter if the usual candidates have not yet bloomed. There will always be something else in flower. The clivias are looking very showy. There is nothing subtle about the strident orange and red hybrids but they certainly light up darker areas and they are a tolerant and forgiving garden plant for relatively frost-free conditions. As the magnolias finish their season, the rhododendrons are coming into their own. We would not be without them for the spring display. Besides named cultivars, both hybrids and species, we have a fair number of hybrids from Mark’s breeding programme. The average to poor cultivars get discarded, but there are many which are good garden plants, even if they are not sufficiently sensational to name.

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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.

Plant Collector: Rhododendron Floral Legacy

Floral Legacy - aptly named, perhaps

Floral Legacy - aptly named, perhaps

Even the buds are spectacular

Even the buds are spectacular

In honour of our Taranaki Rhododendron and Garden Festival which starts today, I had to choose a rhododendron this week and could there be a more splendid choice than the elite nuttallii family? This is like the Rolls Royce of the rhododendron world – a spectacular statement of style. The flowers are the largest of any rhododendron – each flower being about 15cm long, tubular with frilly edges and very fragrant. The leaves are large and what is called bullate – heavily textured and veined, like stiff corduroy fabric. Even the massive flower buds are spectacular. The nuttalliis come from that northern band from Upper Burma across Tibet and India, the sinonuttalliis from China (sino means Chinese in the plant world). This form is a cross between the two, which means technically it still a species and it was done here by the late Felix Jury to get better garden forms. It is quite a legacy.

The nuttallii family have been used in breeding to give cultivars like White Waves, Lady Dorothy Ella, Mi Amor and Yvonne Scott although none of the hybrids I have seen keep the size of the parent flowers and leaves. Both the species and the hybrids have a tendency to rangy, open growth but the beautiful peeling bark and cinnamon colour compensate because this is yet another feature for this handsome family. We are completely besotted with them and luckily we have very good conditions for growing them. There are large parts of the world where it is just too cold to grow these handsome plants.

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 17, 2010

  • Southwards in Hawera at Puketarata, Jennifer Horner has been looking on the positive side and enjoying those spring days which have been lovely (as opposed to sodden). While the early daffodils and Magnolia Vulcan are looking a little weather beaten, (though Jen says Vulcan has been spectacular this year), Rhododendron Bibiani is in full flower and has escaped damage and the pretty Prunus Awanuis are just opening. The lawns have responded most gratifyingly to an application of potash and Jennifer is feeling that she is on top of the pruning, fertilizing and mulching but the vegetable garden is calling.
  • Also down in Hawera, one of Festival’s most experienced openers, Mary Dixon is dashing out in between the showers trying to get jobs done – weeding, moving plants, deadheading and getting rid of the winter moss buildup. She is still worried about the possibility of late frosts, so is cautious about rushing to fill the gaps left by earlier frost damage. However the delight of the early spring display of magnolias, flowering cherries, daffodils, violas and pansies, different hellebores and primulas more than compensates. Mary gardens for twelve months of the year but likes to have her garden peaking to perfection for Festival at the end of October.
  • Moving northwards, June Lees of Cairnhill Garden, Stratford has been waging war on liverwort, the bane of all our lives in our climate. She is hoping it will be invisible by the time Festival opens. June is also having fun with her new playhouse, as she calls her tunnel house. It may seem an extravagant home for her hanging baskets, but it has made life much easier for both June and said baskets. In the past she has had to house them in her glasshouse where she kept bumping into them so leading her to move them out too early to the patio. So at this stage, her new tunnel house gives room for a glorious line of hanging baskets and no doubt, over time, June will find a whole host of other uses for her tunnel house and she will wonder how she ever managed without it.
  • Joyce Young has been in Festival for a very long time indeed but more recently has moved to a small garden in town – a mere 480 square metres, she says. This is an interesting opportunity for Joyce to manage a sustainable gardening model from scratch. She has installed a rain water tank with gravity fed soak hoses to water her vegetable garden – the gentle soaking is far kinder and does not lead to as many mildew problems as overhead watering. Her worm farm has been in operation for a full two years and while her three bin compost system is a commercial structure, it is an efficient and simple option for a retired person for whom the manual labour of a more traditional compost system is a challenge. Joyce is well known for her pottery (particularly pukekos) but of late she has been really enjoying getting to grips with painting with pastels and has just moved on to flower subjects – magnolias, this week.
  • Also in New Plymouth, David Clarkson and Valda Poletti at Te Kainga Marire are despairing at the damage being wrought on the black mamaku (ponga) tree ferns, they say by the dreaded Indian mynah birds. Apparently they eat the unfurling leaf buds and the neighbours’ pongas have already succumbed to sustained attack. David and Valda are fighting off the mynahs to try and save their 30 year old pongas, moving Valda to express the wish that people would stop encouraging these pest birds by feeding them household scraps.
  • Here at Tikorangi, the mynah birds are a minor issue and the pongas are perhaps too plentiful but we could have done without the ginormous Lombardy poplar that crashed to the ground without warning in our park. At about 80 years old and 80 feet tall, it was perhaps fortunate that it fell inwards to our property and not outwards to the road. It is such a shame that poplar wood of no value either for firewood or timber but in its descent to ground level, it clipped the Magnolia campbellii which is now about half of its former size and magnolia is a good timber. Our rhododendron Loderi King George also bit the dust but considering the size of the tree, the damage was not too bad overall. Now that it is all cleaned up, we are looking at an unexpected new area to plant up.