Tag Archives: winter flowers

A celebration of bright light and the start of a new year of gardening

Our maunga – Mount Taranaki – on the day before the winter equinox

I have said before that the first flowers on Magnolia campbellii herald the start of a new gardening year for us. But I had not thought before of the bigger picture. On the day before the winter equinox last week, I went out on a clear day to catch the image of our maunga, our mountain, from the path down to our park. It wasn’t until I saw it on my big computer screen that I spotted the bird in the branches. I assumed it was a kereru judging by the size and shape and so did Mark when I showed him. When I zoomed close in on my screen, it is just a thrush.

The first blooms on Magnolia campbellii herald the start of a new garden year – for us, at least.

This week, the first flowers opened. And I made a connection between the first flowers, the winter solstice and Matariki. The last is a traditional Maori celebration now gaining popularity in the wider population. Sometimes referred to as the Maori New Year, its timing is determined by the rise of a cluster of small stars known to Maori as Matariki but commonly called the Pleiades in astronomical circles. The exact date of the appearance of this star cluster varies from year to year, but it is usually soon after the winter solstice. And it occurred to me that the calendar which we all follow where New Year is accepted to be January 1 is, of course, a northern hemisphere creation so everything seasonal is reversed. It makes perfect sense that the first flowers on M. campbellii signal the start of our new year in the garden.

Reaching high into the mid-winter sky, Dahlia imperialis Alba and a bougainvillea shoot

And what a week it has been. Cool nights (which means between about 3° and 8° Celsius where we are), followed by sunny, calm days with a temperature of 14° to 15°. We cannot complain about that in mid-winter, even though we know winter storms will return over the next six weeks before temperatures start rising in August.

The shaggy spires of Jacobinia chrysostephana syn. Justicia aurea in the early morning light

As usual, in this part of the world, we keep that clarity of bright light all year round. Not for us a watery winter sun held low in the sky and lowered light levels of winter gloom. No, we have bright sunshine and clear blue skies on good days where the only difference is the air temperature. And it is not so bad to winter-over in conditions where, even as I type with warm gloves (blood circulation to the arthritic fingers is not what it once was) in my office with the heater on, I know that after my 10am coffee, it will be warm enough outside to head outside and start on today’s project. And still we have a garden full of flowers.

Luculia Fragrant Cloud in full bloom

Luculia Fragrant Cloud with its sweet almond fragrance

Mark’s Daphne Perfume Princess – we have rather a lot of these scattered through the garden

Vireya rhododendrons planted in sheltered positions throughout the top garden flower intermittently through the year but are perhaps most appreciated in mid winter


Winter whites

Ripples on the ice formed on a farm trough

Ripples on the ice formed on a farm trough

July is our bleakest winter month here. We feel the cold, especially this week with three sharp frosts in a row which is unusual for us, but the daytime temperatures rarely drop below double figures (Celsius). The ice photo is from a water trough on the coldest part of the property. Mark was very taken with the patterns.

Early Pearly - the loveliest of sasanqua camellia flower forms

Early Pearly – the loveliest of sasanqua camellia flower forms

But cold is a relative thing and a winter here in Taranaki remains full of flowers. I was playing around with white camellia blooms because I had been reminded of our love affair with white flowers in this country. The ‘any colour is fine as long as it is white” syndrome, perhaps. I am sure gardeners in parts of the world which spend many weeks or months or under snow might find this national obsession with white flowers puzzling. I suspect it may derive from a sense of social envy – Sissinghurst’s white garden has a lot to answer for here in the antipodes.

As I progressed on my white flower assemblages, often having to pick the flowers because it has been raining or windy, I began to feel positively bridal despite the winter chill.
The Montanoa bipinnatifida has passed over and the monarch butterflies have moved onto an obscure michelias species that is flowering. The frosts have dealt to the Dahlia imperialis alba this week and Luculia ‘Fragrant Pearl’ is passing over, but there is plenty of white in evidence. Yes, it is a dead harrier hawk above – killed on the road but passed on to a Maori weaver to use the feathers. In the basket starting at the back is one of the gordonias. They have been particularly good this season. Then the small flowers are Camellia transnokoensis  which we rate highly as a small leaved, miniature flowered species which we are using as hedging. We replaced some buxus hedging with this camellia. For, Mark reasoned, how much better to have a hedge that has pretty flowers which make a contribution to the ecosystem by feeding birds and insects. Next is another species, Camellia gauchowensis, Camellia sasanqua Mine No Yuki, Early Pearly and at the front Camellia drupifera. 

Camellia transnokoensis

Camellia transnokoensis

Picked in the rain today

Picked in the rain today

Daphne bholua

Daphne bholua

At the top we have Mark’s new Daphne Perfume Princess – not pure white by any manner of means but the overall display is more white than coloured. Next to it is one of our favourite species, Camellia yuhsienensis, whose flowers are like the michelias of the camellia world. Below is the Himalayan daphne,  Daphne bholua  , which has the sweetest perfume of any daphne we know but suffers from scruffy growth and badly behaved habits of suckering and seeding. Next is Rose Flower Carpet White (does it ever stop blooming?) and then the pretty bloom of Superstar – another white camellia which we rate highly on garden performance and weather hardiness – at least when compared to most larger flowered whites.


Galanthus - the winter snowdrops
We may not get a long season from the galanthus and they certainly don’t peek through the snow here, but the simple charm is constant. Galanthus elwesii and Galanthus ‘S Arnott’ are the most reliable performers in our conditions. Although we grow some other varieties, these two are our mainstay.

067Finally today, I headed out into the chill to find the white evergreen azaleas, the very first of the new season’s michelias (deliciously fragrant) and white hellebores. By this time, I found my eyes being drawn to colour and red blooms were demanding my attention. I would find a monochromatic garden soon palled but the colours  will have to wait for another day as I end with the simple perfection of Camellia Superstar below.

Superstar (6)

Tikorangi notes: Friday July 20, 2012

The very first flowers of the season on Magnolia campbellii

The very first flowers of the season on Magnolia campbellii

Latest posts:

1) Modern perennial plantings, more in the style of Braque than Mondrian.

2) When only one plant is ever found, it could be said that this is as close to extinct as anything could be – Pennantia baylisiana.

3) Grow it yourself: cauliflower (not that we will be. Growing them, that is)

4) Floods earlier this week – on Monday in fact. These events happen here. It certainly was not the worst flood we have had but these things are still quite exciting when they occur.

Narcissus cyclamineus at the base of Acer griseum

Narcissus cyclamineus at the base of Acer griseum

July is usually the bleakest winter month here, but aside from a few cold days and torrential rain on Sunday and Monday, it has not been too bad at all. Last summer was one of the least memorable ever, but autumn and winter (so far) have been significantly better than usual.

The first magnolia flowers have opened on M. campbellii and on Mark’s earliest flowering hybrids and more will open every day. The snowdrops are flowering and more and more of the narcissi are opening. Last week it was just the hoop petticoats (N. bulbocodium citrinus), this week there are various cyclamineus types opening. More camellias open every day. The cymbidium orchids are in flower (and need staking) and Cyclamen coum blooms on It is a magical time of the year and will just keep getting better as we progress into spring. We could never complain that winter is bleak here.

Lloyd is doing a major reconstruction of our steep path down to the park which has eroded badly with heavy rain. I am nearing the end of the major makeover on the rose garden – after the earlier satisfaction it has morphed into hard graft now. Three more fine days and it should be done.

Officially, we reopen the garden at the beginning of August but wait a few more weeks if you want to see the magnolias in full flight.