Tag Archives: Tikorangi: The Jury garden

When your lawnmower is worth more – a lot more – than your car

Out with the old… 

and in with the new. I see Lloyd left it air-drying after its first wash on Friday. He likes to keep a clean machine.

We bought a new lawnmower. This may not seem particularly momentous, unless you have met Walker mowers. We have been a Walker mower establishment for maybe 30 years now and this is our third new machine. Walkers, you understand, are like the Rolls Royce of lawnmowers – with a price tag to match. As the person who pays the bills, I was less than enthusiastic about the move to this brand of lawnmower but I have come to accept that ours is a life where having a lawnmower that costs more than our car is a perfectly logical position.

Walker is an American brand, an evangelical company which fully integrates its faith with its business. We are Walker fans because these machines are much safer, more stable and manoeuvrable than most ride-on mowers. It is capable of turning in its own space and of mowing steep slopes without tipping. It also gives us the option of mulching or catching and gives a good result on the house lawns as well as coping with our rough road verges, grassy slopes and the variety of terrain across our acreage. That is why we have a fancy-pants lawnmower despite its price tag and ongoing maintenance requirements. We have never seen another mower that is capable of doing what a Walker does.

Over the years, the Walker has brought us much amusement. It comes with a certain amount of merchandising – caps, coffee mugs, pads and the like – and every few months we receive a copy of their magazine, Walker Talk. It appears that we became members of the ‘Walker Family’ when we bought the first mower. Were we in USA, we could even attend annual get-togethers of the Walker Family. We used to get a copy of the Walker calendar and we thought maybe we should submit a photo of Lloyd mowing here to see if we could get him as a Walker pin-up boy. The calendars featured photos of garden and park settings, all with somebody on a Walker mower in the foreground. Lloyd has long hair and a bushy beard so he may have looked more Amish than Bible Belt, even had we dressed him in the mandatory white, long sleeved shirt that all these Walker mower operators appear to wear in the US. We never got around to staging a photo shoot and the calendars stopped coming.

When the bank gave way beneath Mark on the machine (22 years ago)

I did find a photo – as in a print photo from pre-digital era – of Lloyd mowing the lawns on the Walker, wearing a Santa hat. But I need his permission before posting his photograph and he does not work on Sunday. He may, after all, be less than enthusiastic about having a photo of himself wearing a Santa hat sitting on the internet. I give you instead a photo of an upside down mower. Very stable, the Walker may be, but even it can not stay upright when the stream bank caves in. I think Mark was responsible for this mishap 22 years ago, cutting in too close to the bank.

What to do with the old machine? We were not going to get a good trade-in price on it so decided that we would try and sell it privately. The lawnmowing here is entirely Lloyd’s domain so he gave the old machine a final wash and clean and I listed it on two local Facebook buy and sell pages. Overall it was in good nick, well maintained but with very high hours on it so we set a price accordingly at $2900, leaving a little room to negotiate.

Well, who would have thought that an old Walker is so very desirable? They are a specialised machine with exacting maintenance requirements and there are much cheaper ride-ons for home gardeners. It had only been on line for a few minutes when the messages started pouring in. I am not exaggerating when I say that in the three hours that followed, I could have sold six of them at that price. Four were people willing to pay immediately, sight unseen, based on the photos. But we only had one to sell and it had been paid for and left the property within three hours. Yes, it is tempting to think that we set the price too low and we could have got more for it. But we set that price at what we thought it was worth and we are fine with that.

Oh look. We are valued customers.

Lloyd is very happy with his new Walker mower. Mark and I are happy that Lloyd is happy, though we hope this machine may see us out. And then we received this little hamper by courier from the salesman. Apparently, Walker mower owners are more craft beer drinkers than wine drinkers. Mark was most delighted by the two little bags of potato crisps which says something about the lack of such taste treats in our household. I could calculate how many bags of potato chips we could have bought for the price of the mower but then they would no longer be a treat. Mark instead calculated what sort of luxury vehicle we could be driving for the price of our three, brand new Walker mowers.

Rabbit onslaught

I lack live rabbit photos but ours was a Peter Rabbit household on account of our second born being a huge fan

The rabbits have come to Tikorangi. Not just our garden but the whole area, Cute though Peter, Mopsy and Flopsy may be in Beatrix Potter books, this is one animal the early settlers introduced that this country did not need. That is equally true of rats, possums, mice, stoats, goats, wild pigs and deer but it is the rabbits that I am thinking about today. I guess we should be grateful that we didn’t get moles, squirrels or snakes in that early drive to Englify New Zealand. And would we really have appreciated beavers if they had been introduced?

Every morning, I do a patrol of my new gardens to kick over the rabbit scrapes and to check what the family that appear to live somewhere under the boundary hedge have been eating now. The swimming-pool-deck family like to eat the liriope, but that doesn’t worry me. They do not touch mondo grass so if I really wanted that coarse grass look, I could just replace the lirope with mondo.

I have a block around 4 square metres of this campanula but it did not look like this last spring. In fact it never got past being chewed rosettes of foliage trimmed to the ground.

The hedge family are more problematic. I have put cages made from wire hoops over the perovskia when it looked as though they might eat all the plants to the ground. Their love of campanulas is more problematic. I can garden without the ground-hugging campanula with its mounds of blue flowers. I would prefer to be able to garden with it in that area, but it is not a key plant. The other three I use, I want to keep and I shall be seriously annoyed if they persist with their onslaught. Those areas are too large to cage so I am trying the blood and bone deterrent.

The austroderia and Chionocloa flavicans look even more similar in the juvenile stage when both are heavily chewed by rabbits. Now dusted in blood and bone as deterrent. 

Meantime, Chionochloa rubra is unscathed

In the newly planted grass garden, it appears that native Chionochloa flavicans (often described as dwarf toe toe) is irresistible. Every plant is under siege from the rabbits. So too do they appreciate the proper toe toe – austroderia. It is going to take vigilance and determination to get these plants sufficiently established to withstand the attack. However, they leave C. flavicans relative, Chionochloa rubra alone. I guess wiry red tussock is not as yummy.

I may yet to have cut my losses, move the desirable campanulas to safer areas of the garden, cage the austoderia and find a replacement for C. flavicans but I am not quite at that point yet. In the meantime, I can be found outside after each rain with my bucket of blood and bone and a measuring spoon, sprinkling the lightest layer over the vulnerable plants. It works but it does require vigilance.

Dudley and Spike are line up waiting for breakfast – homekill possum

Rabbits are not easy to eliminate. Mark does a nightly possum round with the dogs and keeps the possum population under control with high velocity lead, as he describes it (shooting, in common parlance). The dogs find this part of their daily routine positively thrilling and hover around in anticipation for a good hour or two before this evening ritual. He maintains some level of rat control all the time. With a stream, bush and a macadamia orchard next door, rats are a part of country life. When the population is small, he uses cage traps but when it explodes, as it has this season, he resorts to bait stations. He is amazed at the amount of bait that has been eaten in recent months. It is really important to secure the baits, as a pest control officer once told me, because if they are loose, the rats will just remove them and store them up against possible future famine.

But rabbits…. They are hard to shoot in heavily planted areas like a garden, being skittery animals who run rather than freeze when they sense danger. They are not a suitable candidate for trapping and they are hard to poison. Despite our dogs being fox terriers, they only catch the occasional one, usually a baby.

So besotted with Peter Rabbit was our second-born that I bought her the Wedgewood teaset

In desperation, I bought some rabbit bait. We are not poison fans here at all and avoid it when we can. We lost our dear little Wilfred dog to secondary poisoning from cholecalciferol (the active ingredient in an over the counter possum poison to which there is no antidote) used by somebody else. Zephyr the sheltie (now deceased from other causes) had to be taken to the vet for a Vitamin K injection when he got into rat bait. So Mark was cautious about the rabbit bait, even laid carefully, following the instructions. It has to be accessible to the rabbits which means it is also accessible to the dogs. He headed out first thing the next morning to gather up the baits so the dogs wouldn’t get them and as he scooped them up, Dudley dog was in like a flash eating one. It put Mark off using poison because we could so easily lose another dog to slow and irreversible poisoning.

We may just have to learn to live with the rabbits, especially as other neighbours in the district are complaining about the rabbit population. When there appeared to be a dip in the population last year, we found ourselves hoping that a feral cat or stoat had moved into the area and that is a real compromise of principles.

How much easier life would be in NZ had it only been colonised with domestic and farm animals. It is really unusual to live in a country with absolutely zero native animals of the furred or hairy variety. When it comes to mammals, we only have two, very small, native bats that almost nobody has seen. In the short space of time since the arrival of all the introduced animals, we are nowhere near achieving any balance within nature to keep numbers in check.

When I looked, we still seem to have quite a lot of Beatrix Potter memorabilia, waiting to be reclaimed by our second-born.

Waiting for hippeastrum flowers

We only have two species of hippeastrum in the garden. And one hybrid that bravely lives on in the rockery despite never receiving any praise and I don’t even appear to have photographed it. Most people probably grow the hybrids rather than the species and they are a genus that lends itself to novelty status – enormous flowers and some odd variations that are not necessarily creations of beauty.

Hippeastrum aulicum in the garden

Hippeastrum aulicum in particular is a mainstay of our early spring woodland. I have always described it as looking more like a Jacobean lily. Because it thrives with us, we have a lot of aulicum though we don’t get seed on the plants in the garden. Mark says this is because we are not hot enough but it will set seed if brought under cover.

Hippeastrum papilio. It has taken a while to increase it from a single bulb but we now have two patches like this.

It has taken a while to build up H. papilio but we are on track now with quite a few flowering in the same woodland conditions that suit H.aulicum. They certainly have a wow factor as a garden plant but we don’t get seed. Whether this is temperature related or they are not self-fertile, we do not know.

Mark wondered if we would get any interesting variations if he crossed the two species, while acknowledging that it was more a cross of convenience rather than one based on using the best possible parents. He did it so long ago that he can’t remember now which species he used as the seed-setter. Nor can I remember how many years it is since I grew tired of the pots of seedlings kicking around the nursery so took it upon myself to plant them out. Maybe about eight years?

The plants have done absolutely nothing in the garden except grow larger in the intervening years. Until this week! Two are flowering, well over a decade after the cross was made. Curiously, they are flowering before either of their parents: H. aulicum is only just putting its flower spikes up and is still some way off showing colour and it will be October before H. papilio blooms. I probably planted out a tray of 40 pots all up so there are a whole lot more to come. Eventually.

Nothing to get excited about

So what did we get? I was a bit underwhelmed by the first one. It only has two flowers to the stem and really just resembles a larger version of H. aulicum, maybe with more prominent green veining. I prefer the original species at this stage.

It is big – much bigger than its parents. And showy. But is it an improvement as a garden plant?

The second one is certainly larger, showing considerable hybrid vigour. The flower spike is over a metre tall and the spike has five big blooms opening on it. It is another red with green veining. So it looks as though it will be big and showy, if big and showy is how you like your bulbs. We would be happy with smaller and more interesting. Mark’s only comment so far has been that it never was a brilliant cross in the first place but it was just to get some variation in the garden.

Maybe the other 38 or so will show more interesting variations over the next few years? A large part of gardening is optimism.

I see there are about 90 species of hippeastrum though most of the hybrids are from just six of the species – including H. aulicum which surprised us, but not H. papilio.

Epiphytes and ponga logs

It took Lloyd 10 days of determined work to clear up after the fallen tawa tree. It was a big job. He has hauled out many trailer loads of firewood and dispersed most of the vegetation. What is left now will stay in situ and we will work around it. The trunk will outlive us.

One path is still blocked unless you are of small stature and willing to crouch to pass beneath the trunk. It is likely that it will be left like that. Mark and I will continue to use the path but others will take the easier route. You can see the epiphytes still clinging on to the fallen trunk.

When I wrote about the weight of the tree coming down, Canadian gardener, Pat Webster, commented: “To think that the weight of epiphytes could contribute to its demise makes my head reel… this is not something I experience in Canada.” It hadn’t really occurred to me that this is a distinguishing feature of mature trees in this country but of course it is. The collospermums are not referred to as widow-makers for nothing. You would not want to be beneath a falling cluster but apparently a number of the early pioneers and bushmen were.

In New Zealand, we usually refer to our remnants of original vegetation as ‘native bush’. Sometimes ‘native forest’ but commonly ‘the bush’. Even forest may be misleading. It is more like cool climate jungle in reality – near impenetrable at times, almost entirely evergreen and layer upon layer of vegetation. Perfect conditions for epiphytes to get established and a frightening experience for those early settlers who arrived expecting something more resembling England’s rolling fields and rather sparse woodland.

I was thinking of Pat’s comment when I came upon another clump of collospermum that is waiting to be dismantled and removed from a path. This fell off the stem of a tree fern – the very one in this photo which still has several remaining. The abundance of epiphytes is presumably an indication of our high humidity, regular rainfall, absence of both extreme cold and extended dry periods and the predominance of evergreens giving shelter.

The demise of the tawa tree brought down several self-sown tree ferns (known here as pongas). One or two it uprooted and launched into the air as spears – or maybe javelins. They embedded themselves into the soft ground and stream bed by their crowns. Lloyd asked me if I had plans for the ponga stems, which can last for many years in some situations. Well yes, I did.

Very smart edging in an English garden

The new lily border needs an edging to keep the mulch on the bed despite the birds and rabbits scratching. I had wondered using the rusted steel edging, often referred to as Corten steel. I really like the look and it weathers gracefully, while, I understand, being flexible enough to bend around curves. I did a quick calculation of how many hundred metres I needed to edge the new Court Garden and to highlight the curves of the lily border and the caterpillar garden and looked on line. Yes, I really like the unobtrusive crispness of Corten steel edging but I don’t love it several thousand dollars’ worth.  That is a lot of money that I could spend on an overseas trip that will inspire me and bring me memories. Garden edging may please me but it is never going to inspire me.

When the compromise is tree fern or punga lengths

The ponga lengths will have to do and are arguably more suitable for our relaxed style. They come already furnished with an abundance of softening epiphytes and they are free. I will get over my passing disappointment at taking the easy option over expensive aesthetics.

Pong lengths softened with existing epipyhtes for added interest

Of gnomes and statues

Context matters. I photographed this in a garden on a country estate in England. And it did not seem out of place at all there, to my eyes. But is it just a classier form of the garden gnome? 

There I was, bereft of ideas for a post this weekend when a visiting colleague gave me the best quote, which he attributed to the renowned Irish gardener, the inimitable Helen Dillon.

“Statues are just the gnomes of the upper classes.”

We laughed out loud. Of course we did. I did a quick search on line and I see Helen Dillon attributes that statement first, in 2004, to a garden visitor commenting on an aged statue in her garden – a semi clothed woman of Victorian vintage. More recently, she reportedly ascribed the comment “to a friend”. Maybe the visitor went on to become a friend?

We lack both gnomes and statues in our own garden but I have always had some fascination for a good gnome garden. There is one down the way, in my local town of Waitara. I have wondered about calling in and asking permission to photograph it but I just don’t think my motives are sufficiently pure and that makes it discourteous and lacking in respect on my part. You will have to imagine it, instead. It is a much-loved garden and were there a National Collection for gnomes and ornaments, this one would almost certainly qualify. I noticed it one time when the son of the house had carefully cleaned and repainted the entire population and that would be no mean feat, believe me. They gleamed in the sunlight.

Gnome gardens do tend to associate with succulents. I have no idea if this is by choice or chance on the part of the gnomes.

I could only find a single photo of a gnome in my extensive photo files. Clearly I need to rectify this.

Gnomes have a long and somewhat more celebrated history than their current position in gardens suggests. There is a wealth of information on line, should you feel compelled to find out more about gnome history. But there is no denying that their slide in social status has seen them end up pretty close to the lower end, if not right at the bottom.

Classical statuary in NZ gardens is more commonly of this ilk

Which brings us to the statues. New Zealand is no longer the egalitarian society many of us like to pretend but the differences are not so much one of social class as economic status. We are somewhat lacking in the upper classes in this country. Our colonial forebears were more interested in shaking free from the shackles of the class system back in the Old Country and few of the early settlers came from the gentry. There are a few aspirants that linger on, but they are more a curious sub-group than a social and political force. I am pretty sure that if you took a census of New Zealanders and asked what social class they see themselves in, over 90% would declare themselves as middle class. Just as ethnic affiliation is a matter of personal choice in this country (as in, people define which ethnic groups they identify with and there is no reliance on blood quantum), so too is social class. I think it is one of the nicer aspects of living in New Zealand.

Saint Fiacre, I think, again in a grand English garden but by no means uncommon in a miniature form in NZ gardens

But does a reproduction classical statue, or even a figure of Saint Fiacre, make you more middle class than a gnome? That is the question. Many people who would shun Snow White, Grumpy, Sleepy, Dozy, Mick and Titch in the garden clearly believe so. The evidence is there in many, many gardens. What it doesn’t do, in this far-flung island nation of the South Pacific, is make you upper class and that has nothing to do with the dollar price-tag on the statue. Wealth and class should not be confused.

I would suggest that the downward slide in social status of classical statuary continues to take place (prole drift!), just at a slower speed than the rapid descent of the gnome. In this country at least.

We don’t have gnomes in our garden because they only amuse us in other people’s gardens. We don’t have classical statuary because it seems irrelevant to the context of our garden. Each to their own. But we are still chuckling at the Dillon quote

Thugs in the garden

I am surprised by how strongly Iris sibirica grows in well cutivated soils and full sun. I have moved the discoloured Xeronema callistemon behind the iris to the right to a more protected position 

Thugs. Not trugs.

We are cautious here. We do not want to unleash plants that threaten to become weeds and therefore become maintenance nightmares. Some plants that set seed rather too freely (like Orlaya grandiflora, Verbena bonariensis and the perennial forget-me-not, Myosotis scorpioides) fall into this category, but they are easy to pull out if they are seeding in the wrong places. Other plants are far more difficult because they wriggle their roots below ground to entwine anything in their way – not unlike couch grass but considerably more decorative. The pretty, blue Salvia uliginosa and Japanese anemones are examples. These are the plants that we are really cautious about placing and controlling.

And then there are the thugs that stand four square and strong and will swamp anything in their way. Thugs need space of their own. Preferably permanent space because some of those thugs can get too large to handle easily in a short space of time. Learning to garden with sunny perennials is teaching me quite a bit about thugs.

Chionochloa rubra, not a thug but seen to best advantage when allowed to stand in its own space

When I planted up the new Court Garden a few weeks ago, I removed such thugs from the herbaceous borders to relocate in the bigger space of the new garden. They are all good plants but way too strong for the congeniality of an herbaceous border. Calamagrostris ‘Karl Foerster’, Elegia capensis and the large growing salvias were the main thugs that I had used extensively. I also relocated all the Chionochloa rubra, not because it is a thug but because it needed more space to allow it to star in its graceful glory. And Stipa gigantea because it was underperforming in the herbaceous borders and I thought it might be better en masse in its own space.

Raiding the borders left some big gaps, and indeed some large holes. No problem, I thought. I had additional top soil to fill the holes and plenty of plant material to fill the spaces and it seemed a good opportunity to tweak a few areas in the borders which I felt were a bit messy – more messy-matrix than dramatic swathes of plants. I figured all I had to do was to consolidate the areas where I had tried to fill in spaces with additional material. A bit of fine-tuning.

I am sure most gardeners will understand that situation where what we think will be a relatively small project escalates into a major operation. This is one of that ilk. For I found the second tier thugs. These plants have only been in two and a half years and for the first two years, I was simply delighted at the quick result achieved in these borders started from scratch. Gardening with sunny perennials was a completely new experience and so rewarding. Yes, well….

Phlomis russeliana to the left, Elegia capensis to the right with Lomandra ‘Tanika’ in the middle

I am now looking in askance at some of the plant selections. Great plants, but they are going to take a bit more work to keep them that way than I had anticipated because, boy, are they strong growers in this situation. Phlomis russeliana – Turkish sage – with its attractive, tiered yellow flower spikes, has quietly flowered away in our woodland without problems for decades. Moved into full sun and well cultivated soil, it has formed massive underground root systems and overgrown tops in a very short space of time. Iris sibirica – wow. Admittedly, I planted large chunks of it in the first place rather than separating the rhizomes and in springtime, it is simply glorious – so much so that I wanted to add new varieties and colours. Hmmm. All that foliage flops over in autumn, smothering nearby plants and it has to be cut back eventually because it doesn’t even pull off easily. I thought it would be a good time to dig and divide them. It took all my strength to get these plants out of the ground and I ended up with mountains of them. I replanted them as individual rhizomes and mulched with compost. In replanting the same area, I ended up scrapping at least two thirds of them as surplus. And each patch of maybe three or four square metres takes about a day and half to do. I have done four blocks, I have two left to do and I got rid of the seventh block entirely. That is a lot of labour input and time to just one plant type.

And the lomandras. These are tidy, Australian evergreen grasses. We only have two different ones and probably started with a single specimen of each because Mark never buys the same plant in multiples. They kicked around the old nursery area for years, unloved, uncared for, waiting for someone to find them a forever home. That should be a clue as to how tough they are.

The compact dark green lomandra (with freshly divided phlomis to the left). It will be a named clone; it is just that we lost the name

The compact, forest green variety (name has been lost in the mists of time) is very good. And very well behaved. The very dark green colour contrasts well with everything, really. I wouldn’t mind it growing a little taller in this situation – it is only knee high – but it is very tidy. Not a wow sort of plant but excellent in the chorus line of back up vocals.

Too much Lomandra ‘Tanika’

The other one we have is Lomandra ‘Tanika’ which is widely marketed in this country. It is larger growing, sort of anonymous mid-green and what is called a reliable performer. It is one of those bullet-proof plants where you start, as we did, with one, put it in good conditions and next thing you know, you have eleventy thousand of it if you want to divide it. Enough to fill a traffic island or a motorway siding, even. It looks attractive in form for the first couple of years but if you don’t lift and divide it, it threatens to become an overgrown, overblown thug.

The autumn hues of our native Anemanthele lessoniana – also evergreen

I can’t get too excited about the lomandras. While they can be tidy plants, they lack the flower power of showier grasses and they are bit, well, utility. Space fillers. Evergreen and they stay looking the same all year round, which, I admit, some people see as a desirable trait. I am scaling back ‘Tanika’ – composting about 80% of it. It has another two years to win me over but at this stage, I think I would prefer to replace it with our native Anemanthele lessoniana which fills a similar niche but with more foliar interest and lower maintenance requirements.

What I thought would take maybe four or five days’ work – filling the gaps in the herbaceous borders created by my earlier raid – has turned into several weeks. I am quite happy doing this because it is an active learning exercise but I don’t think I want to be doing it as routine maintenance.

The lesson is that there is no substitute for trialling plants in situ and making some major calls when it comes to swapping some selections out for others.  It is why other people’s plant lists are a guide, not a manual, especially if they are overseas recommendations. There is fine line between plants that are sufficiently strong growing to hold their own in herbaceous plantings and plants that are too strong to grow in happy congeniality.

Oh, and give plant thugs the space they need or don’t use them at all. Otherwise they will swamp out other plants of a more refined disposition.

At least the Iris sibirica star in spring, even if they are going to take ongoing work to keep them from smothering their neighbours

The early camellias

49 different cultivars in bloom at this early time of the season

It was a bit bleak outdoors today and I could not find the motivation to grub around in the soil so I entertained myself looking at the camellias in bloom. It is very early in the season for us and most are still in tight bud but I found 49 different ones with open flowers.

A collection of sasanquas

The early sasanquas are past their peak now but still very pretty. All the above are different named cultivars and typical, with their rather loose form and a readiness to shatter when they fall. This is helpful because it means the mass of fallen blooms break down quickly. Sasanquas used to be somewhat spurned as lacking flower form, useful mostly for hedges and sunny positions but fashions change. They are not afflicted by petal blight here which is a huge plus and these days, we find we prefer those looser flowers which have a pretty charm of their own.

Show Girl!

I didn’t add Show Girl to the sasanqua flower ring because it is so out of scale. It is a most unusual cross between a sasanqua and a reticulata and it comes into full flower early, with the sasanquas. The individual blooms are nothing special but it is lovely both on the tree or falling to a carpet of petals beneath.

The earliest flowering species

We have gathered up a reasonable collection of camellia species over the years – most of what has been available in this country. But it appears that this early in the season, you can have any colour you like as long as it is white. Or the one, minuscule pink C. puniceiflora. In the centre is C. yunnanensis already showing its unfortunate trait of the stamens turning black with age. Camellias where the stamens stay yellow are far more desirable.

Three different species or all variants of the one?

These three species came to us under the names of C. brevistyla (left), C. microphylla (right) and C. puniceiflora (top). Australian camellia expert, Bob Cherry, advanced the theory to Mark that they are all just different forms of the same species and Mark has come to the conclusion that he is probably right after several seasons of examining them with his hand lens. Species in the wild can vary considerably. In time, DNA testing will prove it either way. Of these three camellias, the form of C. microphylla that we have is easily the best as a garden plant.

Hybrids, seedlings and a few japonicas

These are a mix, some named cultivars and some seedlings. Mark has used camellias extensively for hedging and shelter around the perimeters of the garden, on our roadside and separating different areas. You can see how desirable it is for the stamens to stay yellow as they age. Generally, it is the ones with visible stamens that provide an important source of food for the birds and the bees through winter. The fully double, frilly blooms are purely ornamental. The majority of the japonicas and all the reticulatas are still just at bud stage and, alas, will be hit by camellia petal blight when they do come into bloom.

There is a whole lot more to choosing a camellia than just a pretty flower. The habit of growth, ultimate size, length of time in flower, how the blooms age and fall, colour of the foliage, reliability and more come in to play as well.  Sometimes everything else is so good that a pretty ordinary flower is still acceptable. One of the red singles above is worth its place simply because it feeds our native tui (birds) – a sight that brings us pleasure every year.

We have literally hundreds, if not into the thousands camellias all over the property. Some are named, many more are just seedlings from the breeding programme. But they are almost all just one-off plants. I can think of only four that we have planted in quantity. The three bottom ones above, we have used as hedging. From left to right, they are Mark’s first named cultivar, ‘Fairy Blush’, C. transnokoensis and C. minutiflora. All three have small leaves that respond well to clipping, good foliage colour, dense growth and masses of dainty flowers.

The flower in the top centre is C. yuhsienensis – not a hedging camellia but one we like so much that we have chosen to feature it repeatedly in two different areas of the garden. In bloom, at its best, it resembles a pretty michelia but with bullate (heavy textured) foliage.

Mark says he found the first incidence of camellia petal blight today. This is later than usual, which we put down to a drier than usual autumn. I admit I lose enthusiasm for camellias as the season progresses and blight hits badly but these early season bloomers gladden my heart on a winter’s day.