Here we are in midwinter, just past the shortest day, which was last Monday, and in the middle of Matariki, the Maori New Year which is determined by the rise of the Matariki (Pleiades) cluster of stars, so determined by astronomy not the Gregorian calendar.
Our first polar blast of winter is forecast to arrive this week. The golden days of late autumn and early winter are over. Winter, of course, is a relative matter. We have only ever had snow once here in Tikorangi – on August 15, 2011, to be precise. It was a memorable event. Our worst weather here is usually limited to heavy rainfall – which can seem incessant – and sometimes wind. We moan about that but it is more soggy, grey days than months of bleak weather when it is too cold to be outside.
I headed out with my camera before the heavy rain set in this morning. Matariki and the winter solstice are always marked by the early blooms on Magnolia campbellii here. Now I just have to wait for the few days of calm, clear weather over the next six weeks or so when conditions are right to capture our seasonal scene of the magnolia and te mounga.
The luculias are all in bloom and sweetly scented too. ‘Fragrant Cloud’ is my favourite, seen here alongside a typically moth-eaten native red cordyline. Why do I say typically moth-eaten? Because that is literally true. Our native cordylines look much cleaner overseas whereas you would be hard-pressed to find one here that does not have holes in all its leaves on account of a native moth, Epiphryne verriculata. Its common name is the cabbage tree moth – of course it is – and it is only found in NZ. We have to take the rough with the smooth here and at least it is all part of our ecosystem.
Also signs of a climate that is remarkably benign, the Crassula ovata and a tall begonia are also blooming happily in midwinter.
We have Mark’s Daphne ‘Perfume Princess’ well represented in the garden. That is because when he selects a new plant, he carries out propagation trials and we need to build up stock to be able to start the licensed growers with initial material. We gave a certain number of plants to friends but I must have planted out at least fifteen of them around the garden – all by paths or the driveway so we can catch the delicious scent as we pass.
On a gloomy winter’s day, the coloured camellias like ‘Volunteer’ at the top cheer me up more than the white ones, but Camellia yuhsienensis is looking delightful – seen here used on the farthest margins of the summer gardens. Even on a grey day, the flowers are feeding the honey bees at a time of the year when food sources are in limited supply.
Zach cut down all the Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ in the Court Garden last week and lifted the lot. We only replanted around 30% of them at wider spacings. Here’s hoping I have the spacings right this time because it was a big job. Interestingly, it is our native plants that are the winter stars. The form of Chionochloa rubra (red tussock) is a constant source of delight to me and it looks best when it stands in its own space, rather than being hemmed in by other plants. The red and black phormiums (coloured flaxes) have come into their own with a bit more size and the silver Astelia chathamica glows in the lower light levels.
The use of native plants is one aspect that sets of NZ gardens apart and never more so than in winter because, with very few, minor exceptions, they are all evergreen. We don’t have the bare borders in winter that characterise so many northern European gardens in colder climates. A mix of natives and exotics carries us through twelve months of the year.