Monday, December 11, 2006

Jungle beauties

A recent return trip from Rotorua saw me making a slight detour on the way home – I decided to take advantage of having a little extra time to make a trip through to New Plymouth, to visit to the garden of Andrew and Yvonne Brunton. Their fabulous garden Rosedale at Bell Block will be well-known to many of you who travel to the Taranaki Rhododendron Festival as it features a very attractive enclosed garden, formed behind high confer hedges, and a stunning river-side walk lined with Rhododendrons and camellias as well as other precious gems. It is one of Taranaki’s best gardens and always a favourite.
But it wasn’t the gardens I was going out of my way to see - it was the enormous shed on the side of the rose-lined driveway that leads to the garden. Within this growing shed the Bruntons grow over 1000 varieties of jungle cactus, Epihyllum, and it was these cactus I was making my way to New Plymouth to see. I had visited the nursery before, during the lead up to the festival, and was entranced by the display of the thousands of plants growing in the Brunton’s growing shed. I had visited too early in the season to see them at their flowering best though. I knew I should be right this time though as my epiphyllums as my were flowering in the glasshouse at home.
I had an interesting journey through the Forgotten Highway from Taumarunui to Stratford, through some of the most isolated country in the North Island, and some of the most scenic country as well. It was raining when I got to Stratford and the green pastures all the way through the journey made it obvious that Taranaki was not suffering from drought.
When I made it through to Manutahi Road, and up the colourful driveway I was expecting to see a great display of Epiphyllum flowers, but it was not to be. I was met firstly by Andrew, and then by Yvonne, both bemoaning the long cold winter and the cloudy and sunless spring that had left the flowering season many weeks behind. They apologised that the flowers would not be anything like their best for another couple of weeks.
The Bruntons were very disappointed at the weather.
They had started growing their large collection when Yvonne was given some leaf cuttings by an auntie. At that stage they were on a dairy farm near Stratford. Their joint passion for the ever-expanding collection of cacti, New Zealand’s best, led them to relocate to the warmer climate of Bell Block four years ago to concentrate on what is New Zealand’s only commercial Epiphyllum nursery.
In the wild the Epiphyllum species are literally jungle cactus. They are epiphytes that grow in the humus collected in the branches of trees, alongside other plants like orchids and bromeliads. Under these conditions they can get the filtered light they need, as well as a reliable source of moisture. The medium they grow in is very well drained so they are never sitting in water.
These wild plants all have white flowers, and the majority of them are night flowering. I well recall the large specimen of one of these species that my grandparents cared for (albeit spasmodically) in their sunroom. Once a year, for a few nights, the plant would proudly display a succession of stunning white, heavenly-scented, flowers.
When these species were introduced into European horticulture plant breeders soon saw the potential for crossing them with related but more colourful species of cactus, and a huge range of varieties was soon available, all of them day flowering and with colours ranging through most of the rainbow, with the exception of true blue. There is also a lovely range of bi-coloured and bi-toned forms as well as a range of flower size, from relatively small up to 20 cm or more across.
Being jungle plants, these beauties do have some particular requirements before they will perform at their best.
They prefer a well-drained potting mix to start with. The Bruntons use their own formula based on a standard potting mix but with added pumice. They say that some people recommend orchid mix but they feel this is too chippy. They suggest a 50/50 mix of orchid mix and potting mix would work well.
In the wild, Epiphyllums grow in filtered sunlight and prefer the same in the garden. They can be grown outside in areas not prone to frost, but also thrive on patios and in glasshouses as long as they are not exposed to the full rays of the sun.
Watering needs to be handled with care. They do not like to dry out at all, but they equally dislike becoming waterlogged. Either condition is likely to lead to the plant to rot. It is best to keep the potting mix on the dry side of moist.
They can be grown in the same pot for up to five years but do need occasional repotting. At this time make sure you use fresh potting mix and also ensure that you do not “over-pot.” A plant in too big a pot will not flower as well as a plant kept slightly root bound.
Pests are not usually too much of a problem but it pays to keep a watch out for scale insects ands for mealy bugs, as well as for snails and slugs.
These jungle beauties make the most amazing pot plants. Their succulents leaves give no real hint of the startling beauty of the flowers, which can be among the brightest of all flowers. If you are planning a trip to Taranaki anytime soon make sure you look the Bruntons up and call on them and see some of the 1000 different varieties they grow, plus some of their own new hybrids. These stunning flowers are worth a long trip – even one through the Forgotten Highway.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

what is the name of the nursery and how do you get cuttings?