Tag Archives: Te Henui cemetery

Down amongst the graves

Friends invited me to join them amongst the graves last week. The Te Henui Cemtery in New Plymouth must be the country’s prettiest, most vibrant graveyard. I credit this entirely to the energy and cheerful dedication of the small band of volunteers who tend to a multitude of discrete, grave-sized gardens.

My first sight was a monarch which resolutely refused to oblige by opening its wings, feeding on a shaggy echinacea

It is very seasonal and, on this visit, it was lilies, agapanthus and dahlias that did the heavy lifting in the floral display. The sunlight was so bright and the shadows so deep that I was struggling to get half way decent photos which is why landscape shots are missing. I need to go back on a day when light conditions are more muted. But it is a really interesting place to look at plant detail and planting combinations.

The most startling plant combination of the day, one to make you stop and go ‘wow’, was the dark leafed ligularia with Stipa tenuissima. The stipa is pretty controversial, as I learned a month or two ago, (banned from commercial production but not illegal to have in the garden) but the combination is one that would not look out of place in a super-smart Auckland townhouse.

Mark was not with me on this occasion but I have shared a life with him for so long now that I know what his response will be. And he does not like upward-facing lilies. He holds his opinion so firmly on this matter that it could be described as dismissive. It didn’t stop me photographing this handsome red lily that was looking splendid. I am guessing it is an Oriental hybrid, maybe even what I have just discovered is sometimes called an ‘Orienpet’ which is, the ever-handy internet tells me, a hybrid between and Oriental and a Trumpet lily. Why does Mark reject upward-facing lilies? Leaf and litter gatherers, he calls them. And when a bloom gathers debris, it marks badly and its flowering time is limited as a result. In the Garden of Jury, lily blooms are to be outward-facing, not upward-facing.

The cemetery has a good selection of lilies so locals and visitors may like to check them out from now until early February.

I call it a helichrysum but I think it is actually an anaphaliodes

It is over ten years ago that I wrote up Helichrysum ‘Silver Cushion’ and I have not added anything to my knowledge about what most people know as everlasting strawflowers in the intervening years. All I can say is that this plant is not what we have growing as ‘Silver Cushion’ though it must be related. Those everlasting blooms are larger and clearly hold better over a long period of time. They were dainty and charming, albeit somewhat reminiscent of tarnished tinsel daisy-stars at this time of year.

My best guess is that this and ‘Silver Cushion’ have derived from our native plant Anaphalioides bellidioides (formerly Helichrysum bellidiodes) but I doubt they are species selections and what else is sitting in the genes, I do not know. I would like a piece of this larger form, though.

Any input from readers who know more about anaphalioides is most welcome.

I am not a fan of Dame Edna gladiolus, not at all. I tolerate my vigorous yellow ones that are a legacy from Mark’s mother. But look at the startling colour in these two. Vulgar, yes. Lacking refinement, yes. But vibrant and with a clarity of colour that is not to be derided. Just not in my garden, I think. The foliage gets rusted and unsightly here. That is another good reason to go to the cemetery – to see plants and colours that I do not grow at home.

I do not understand why my dierama – angel’s fishing rod, do not perform as well here as amongst the graves. They flower, but nowhere near as freely. I don’t think it is varietal, it is more likely to be conditions. What am I doing wrong?

Our thanks go to the dedicated volunteers who tend to this particularly cheerful and colourful place which combines delighting the living as much as remembering the dead.  

A simple santolina, I think in the only landscape view I managed in the glare of summer sun


Aurelians, Asiatics, Auratums, Orientals and other flowers of the graveyard

‘High Tea’

‘High Tea’ on the left and a yellow Oriental to the right

I went back to the Te Henui cemetery this week to take my gardening friend some of the giant albuca she wanted. The dedicated volunteers keep the whole place blooming all year round but it was the lilies that caught my eye this week. One lily in particular was standing sturdy and straight with no staking and reaching a heady height of maybe 1.8m. “What is it?” I asked. “It’s an Oriental, she said. “I bought the first one from a bulb outlet and it is called ‘High Tea’ and the rest came in a mix of Orientals that I picked up at The Warehouse.”

The yellow one next to it was clearly an Oriental – and a very pretty one at that with good yellow colouring for one with Japanese auratum lily in its parentage. ‘High Tea’ had me puzzled and then I realised it was very similar to one we had at home that I relocated last year. I hadn’t noticed it before the previous summer but Mark and I had discussed it when it suddenly produced a fairly spectacular performance. Neither of us have any recollection at all of acquiring it in the first place or planting it in its original location. Mark took one look at it this morning and said, “It is an Aurelian”.

This took me down the rabbit hole of looking at lilium groups. Does this matter to the home gardener? Not at all. You can happily grow plants without knowing anything at all about their origins or relatives. But it is a bit like doing crosswords – some of us like the challenge and find it interesting trying to work out the genetic lines and the different groups.

Left to right: a typical Aurelian trumpet in soft orange, one of Mark’s Aurelians in yellow with larger flowers and better scent, an early auratum bloom at the back with its flatter flower, in front the Asiatic which resembles ‘High Tea’, and late blooms of Lilium regale on the right with a deep pink form which may or may not be regale but is an Asiatic.

We grow a lot of Aurelians and auratum lilies and they are a strong feature of our summer gardens. But neither of us were at all sure what the definition of an Oriental lily was. It turns out that Oriental is a broad term that takes in a whole lot of hybrids between different species but the dominant genes come from Japanese lilies. They flower a little later in the season and they usually have the best fragrance. L. auratum that Mark and his father before him have done quite a bit of work on to get a range of good garden plants here would be classified as falling within the Oriental group even though they are just variations on the one species.

What makes the cemetery yellow Oriental interesting is that it the result of an effort to get yellow auratum hybrids. Auratums come in shades of pink, white and red so the yellow has been introduced from a different species and will have involved some sophisticated hybridising techniques.

A very good yellow as far as auratum hybrids or Orientals go

Trumpet lilies from the wider Asian area have the catch-all term of Asiatics. They are not renowned for their scent, but we have a lot that are scented. They also have finer foliage and flower a little earlier in the season.

The Aurelian group is a blanket term for hybrids with L. henryii in their parentage. So all Aurelians are Asiatics, but not all Asiatics are Aurelian. Once you get into these larger groupings, the breeding can be very complicated involving several different species and hybrids.

So Mark was right that ‘High Tea’ is not an Oriental and it may indeed be an Aurelian. It is certainly an Asiatic.


The graveyard is a splendid backdrop for plants. Lots of framing of small pictures that are a delight. Flowers this week included Dierama pulcherrimum which the internet and I know also as angel’s fishing rod but a social media follower declared was in fact fairy’s fishing rod on account of Tinkerbell but the detail eludes me. I like the graceful form and the gentle way the blooms age.

What we call calla lilies are not lilies at all. They are zantedeschia from Africa. I pulled most of mine out because they were too shy on flowering and not worth the space in the garden but this patch was doing well in the graveyard. The gardener in me wanted to rogue out the stray orange one. If the flowers look familiar, it is because they are the same family as the common arum which is a noxious weed in New Zealand.

Romneya couteri

The beautiful white flower that looks as though it is tissue paper is the Californian tree poppy, Romneya coulteri. It is one of those plants that is either extremely happy and inclined to become rampantly invasive or it is unhappy and it dies. Our attempts to grow it resulted in its death.

Beautiful, ethereal gaura floating like butterflies.

I assume this is false valerian (Centranthus ruber) but I will stand corrected if my assumption is wrong.

This local graveyard remains one of the very best places to see a huge range of flowers and some charming and well thought out combinations.


Out and about

I must get out more. Well, I say that but truth is that there is nowhere I would rather be than in the garden here. What I miss is the outside stimulation of looking at different ideas and the absence of a Big Trip this year. The only travel we have done has been to see our children in Australia.  I am contemplating something more adventurous next year. In the meantime, a trip to town must suffice.

Van Nes Sensation

When I say a trip to town, I mean New Plymouth. It is a small city of 75 000 people, 22km away from where we live. I was in town yesterday on a more leisurely schedule than usual so stopped to take a few photos. Behold Rhododendron Van Nes Sensation, looking, well, sensational on a suburban street.

Van Nes Sensation was one of the big trussed rhododendrons that was very popular here in the late 1980s and early 90s. I had assumed it was one of the big, showy hybrids out of USA from that era but the ever-handy Greer’s Guidebook to Available Rhododendrons tells me that it dates back to 1925 and was the work of C.B van Nes & Sons so it is of Dutch origin. There are prettier pink rhododendrons but it is hard to beat this display on its day. It was a nicely pruned and shaped specimen, too. 

As I was photographing from the footpath, the neighbour was washing her car in a very tidy front yard. “Lovely, isn’t it,” she said before adding, “shame it makes such a mess”. And there were a few pretty pink florets that had blown on her drive. A mess? I wasn’t sure how to reply.

Down near one of the city beaches, I saw this very colourful front garden on a steep slope. I wrote a piece back in early 2013 about city gardening on a steep slope and I see it still comes up in internet searches. This one is clearly a big challenge, right by the beach, so subject to salt winds and the house is at the top of the section. The access driveway was so steep that it had steps up the centre of it, between the wheel tracks. It is also what I describe as a generous garden. It is not as though the owners will use this outdoor space for recreation. It exists primarily to bring pleasure to passers-by and the owners have worked very hard to achieve this colourful and lush view. The section has been terraced, retained and permanent steps made to give access. It may not to be everybody’s taste but it takes a keen gardener to create and present a garden well in such an exposed and unpromising situation. And it certainly eclipsed the hanging garden of Strandon on the neighbouring property.

Purple and acid yellow atop a substantial, unadorned concrete block retaining wall.

There was another scene of a very tidy, pretty, palest yellow front fence with a roadside planting of nasturtiums but my photos in full sun do not do it justice. I had seen it first in the soft gold of early evening light and it caught my eye.  I have never seen common nasturtiums used in a bedding plant setting before, but it was very pretty. I have been wondering about growing nasturtiums again because I once followed the advice to pickle the seed heads and buds as a substitute for capers. It worked brilliantly though it takes a long time to pick a jar full of nasturtium seeds. They are just a bit … determined, are nasturtiums, when it comes to having them in the garden.

Finally, it was back to the graveyard (aka Te Henui Cemetery) because Sydney-based daughter was with me and she expressed a desire to see it. It is so pretty, so vibrant, and so unexpected. It is part of the garden festival this week. I asked one of the volunteers yesterday how it was going with garden visitors. “They seem to like it,” she said, in a self-deprecating way. “They arrive with very low expectations since it is a cemetery, so it is not hard to please them.” It is better than that. Do visit, if you are in the area.

A graveyard and memories of miniature gardens and sand saucers

The yellow ixia flowers pick up the colour of the lichen

I was feeling a little discombobulated this week so I dropped in to the Te Henui cemetery to restore some energy and good humour. I have lauded this place before and it did not let me down. I was chatting to a couple of the volunteers who garden the place and mentioned that I saw it as the grown-up version of miniature gardens.

The spires of echium

The thought of miniature gardens brings back memories from our children’s primary school years and Volunteer Mary mentioned sand saucers in the same nostalgic tone. I was an urban child and the sand saucer and miniature garden competition experiences passed me by. They are an integral part of the rural school experience, formerly known as Calf Day but more often Show Day now, albeit playing about third fiddle. First violin was played by the calves, for this is a dairy farming area. The best and biggest silver cups went to such things as best leading calf (walking amenably beside the child on a rope), best groomed and best of breed. Second fiddle was played by the lambs – harder to lead and over time it became a disqualifiable matter to launder your lamb in Persil to get it fluffy white. The Greedy Guzzler award went to the first lamb to drink its bottle at speed. When you think about it, that award was always going to be taken out by the biggest lamb.

I am not a great fan of tulips but the effect of this multi coloured display was very painterly

Third fiddle: goats and activities for children without animals. While we flirted with the occasional lamb or baby goat, our children were particularly skilled at the sand saucer and miniature garden categories. I used to feel a bit guilty about them winning because they had an unfair advantage with access to a far superior range of plant material and appropriate flowers. But then I looked at the animal cups and clearly the kids who came from farming families with superior breeding lines were similarly advantaged.

I don’t have any photos of sand saucers but if you Google images, you will find a resurgence on Pinterest. Where else? For anyone with a deprived childhood, it involves filling a saucer with wet sand and sticking the flowers into that to anchor them. The scope for imagination is limited. One memorable year, a junior teacher at the school our children attended – a woman who was not one for expending unnecessary effort – decided sand saucers were ‘messy’ so they decreed Vaseline saucers instead. For this, the saucer is used face down and coated in Vaseline with flowers stuck to it. This was a travesty of an idea, I tell you. Not the same at all.

Miniature gardens were constructed in a tray with sides and most children used flowers and stems of foliage. Our children had access to suitable trays, potting mix and interesting small plants of a suitable scale, including miniature bulbs in flower. They often won.

Calendulas and bluebells – not an obvious combination but so irrepressibly cheerful

When I describe the cemetery gardens as the grown-ups version of these childhood activities, I mean that it is managed as a vast canvas of small, stand-alone gardens as opposed to a landscaped whole. This is how they manage to keep flowers all year round. As one grave space passes its best, another nearby is starting to bloom. It is a large part of the charm of the area. And the volunteers make a real effort to get harmonious colour and plant combinations. I would guess that this is a large part of the fun for them.

Planning colours and textures for a small area

Volunteer Susan took me over to see a space she had planted which she thought should work well when she held the flowers and foliage in her hand but has not translated on the ground. What did I think? It wasn’t the colour combination that was the problem, it was the arrangement of the plants on the site, I suggested. Too regimented and in equal quantities whereas one plant could be lifted and divided to fill the space and be a unifying factor. That is the charm of the grown-up miniature garden – dealing with a self-contained space in isolation without having to consider a multitude of other factors in the surrounding area.

The meadow look

And areas that are more landscaped in appearance than meadow

Besides the goal of having flowers all year round, these little gardens have to be low maintenance. The area is large and the team of volunteers, though dedicated and skilled, is small in number. There is a gentle abandon feel of wildflower meadows in some small areas, vibrant, concentrated colour in others and a delightful seasonality to how the place is managed. Gardening visitors may like to look at some of the plant combinations – they are working with a very large range of different plant material – and colour combinations. They are all there in small pictures amongst the whole.

Ajuga and bluebells softening the austerity of large blocks of unadorned concrete

I was amused when I read the description in in the garden festival programme*. It uses words like “lost oved ones”, “peace and tranquillity”, “serenity”, “lovingly tended” and “respectful”. This is proof that you can find what you want in some places. I would use words like joyous, a celebration of life and flowers amongst the headstones, sometimes witty and full of vibrant energy. It makes me smile and that is no mean feat for a graveyard. Some may find solace in quiet contemplation amongst the graves while others, like me, may in fact recharge their batteries by delighting in the whole ambience and contrast.

I quite like watching English real estate programmes (Kirstie and Phil assisting escapes to the country come to mind). They have many more little country churches complete with old graveyards surplus to requirements than we have. It is too late for me – and the wrong country – but the idea of creating a home within a traditionally sombre setting and a garden with all the hard landscaping features already in situ sounds appealing. These places may be there to remember the dead, but it does not mean that they must be sombre, morbid and gloomy. Death and taxes may be two of life’s certainties, but there can be life and colour wrapping around death and softening its raw finality, even if the same can not be said for taxes.

The one remaining mystery for me is why some families prefer to adorn their graves with fake flowers. It is a timely reminder, however, that some of these graves are intensely personal memorials with living descendants who choose to maintain the connection and to personalise the grave in their own way. It is just as well the volunteers are there to tend to the vast majority which would otherwise be largely forgotten and uncared for.

* Powerco Taranaki Garden Festival, to give the annual event its full name, runs from 26 October to 4 November this year. The Te Henui cemetery is included as one of the gardens to visit this year.

Late summer inspirations from the graveyard

I returned to the main cemetery of New Plymouth yesterday. As the season advances inexorably into what is already showing signs of late summer, I wanted to see what was in bloom. “Was She who is the Phantom of the Graveyard there?” Mark asked. He had a personalised tour last month from the bright and bubbly person who wishes to remain anonymous and unacknowledged but who has beavered away there for many years now. These days more volunteers have come forward to join her and it is a lovely place to visit.

Why go there rather than our public gardens to see what is in flower? I am delighted by what is the grown ups’ version of the miniature gardens our children used to make for Show Day in their junior school years. Grave-sized gardens, in fact, which are styled individually, often from donated plants. It is an interesting place to look at plant combinations, plant performance under a light maintenance regime (the area is huge) and incidents of serendipity.

I am planning a meadow for our new Court Garden but, influenced by the Pictorial Meadows excellence in the UK, I want to select plants that will bloom in succession from spring to autumn. At this time of summer, we are not as flowery here as earlier in the season and I was wondering what we could consider. There weren’t many answers for me as far as the proposed meadow is concerned because I think I want to at least start that with mostly annuals and biennials rather than perennials and bulbs in order to achieve the meadow look as opposed to herbaceous plantings. But there was plenty of other interest amongst the graves.

Canna liles star in these small, grave-sized gardens

Cannas and dahlias were the stars yesterday morning. I am not a fan of cannas. They are too big, dominant and blobby for our tastes here and they don’t die down gracefully. But they are certainly showy and the colour range surprised me – from whites and pale lemons through paler pinks to bright, vibrant showstopper blooms. I can admire them without needing to grow them. In fact, I prefer to admire them elsewhere.

Gaura – they do indeed dance like butterfies in the breeze

The gaura looked terrific. Ethereal even, waving in the light breeze like clouds of butterflies. I must try again with these now we have more open areas of garden in full sun. And as I admired the combination of pink lavatera and tall cosmos, I realised again that it is the lightness and movement that I want in our newer meadow and perennial plantings. The romantic prairie look, Mark just called it. That is why I am not so keen on the ponderous cannas.

Hibiscus trionum

One grave was covered in Hibiscus trionum and it was the most eye-catching display of this pretty plant that I have seen.

Lilium formasanum reaching two metres tall

We had been talking about Lilium formasanum the previous day. While it is regarded as a weed in this country and banned from sale, we are quite happy to let it pop up around our place. It is one of those plants that I think in time we may come to accept as a permanent addition to our environment. I assume its weed status is on account of its seeding ways and its ability to pop up in all sorts of situations. We are increasingly of the view that we must learn to live with many of these interlopers and only wage chemical warfare on those that endanger our natural flora – the likes of Clematis vitalba (old man’s beard), Japanese knot weed and, in the area where we live, giant gunnera and pampas grass. The Formosan lily was looking right at home and picture perfect amongst the graves. It is a beautiful flower, though without the heady fragrance of many other lilies.

The belladonnas were also in bloom, as they are on our road verges and wilder margins of the garden here. They are so common we take them for granted, but if you look afresh at them each season, they are a lovely late summer bloom.

Alstomeria flower on and on, seen here with plumbago

In terms of bangs for the buck, alstromerias work hard. I need more of these. Not for the meadow but for my hot summer border. And definitely not the modern over-bred varieties that have been shrunk down to be bedding plants. I want more of the big, tall ones in clear reds, yellows and orange colour mixes. They seem to bloom from spring to autumn and that is not to be sniffed at, as long as you can contain their wandering ways.


All I came up with for my meadow in the end were rudbeckias to go with the amaranthus that has already established itself as a naturalised wildflower here. I may use the Lilium formasanum, despite it being a bulb and I had already decided I wanted the white Japanese anemone in big swathes, despite it being perennial. I simply love the romance of the windflowers. They need to be managed. In a garden situation they can be thuggish and invasive but I think I can mange them in the meadow.

Butterflies, bees and no doubt a host of other insect and bird life inhabit these gardens

Graveyards can be austere, grim places and parts of the Te Henui are of this stark nature, maintained only by weed spray and lawn mowing. But the areas full of these small gardens, flowers and trees lift the spirits and it is clear the public love walking through. Each tap has a little watering receptacle for dogs which was an endearing sight. It is worth a visit and I hope our elected Council officers and paid staff appreciate the special character that the volunteers, led by the dedicated Phantom of the Graveyard, have bestowed upon this place of memories. Some of us even go there for inspiration. Life, growth, flowers and community engagement in amongst death.

Windflower romance – the white Japanese anemones