Saturday, December 22, 2007

Some gardening highlights for 2007

Biggest disappointment- the non-arrival of my seed from the SPCNI pool in the United Statte, due to MAF finding a speck of fungous. A year's new genes missed out on.

Biggest improvement in a garden –Hollard’s Garden, Taranaki. I had previously visited this garden in October, and been disappointed, but visiting in November I saw a totally different garden. Pretty much my ideal sort of garden – well laid out, lots of unusual plants, and lots of unusual combinations. I loved it. Runner up – Auckland Botanical Gardens – I visited twice – July and November – and the gardens were very interesting both times, with lost of interesting plants and well thought-out advice.

Hollards gardens

Biggest surprise of the year – “Richmond” Garden I was a bit worried about visiting this garden, as I was not sure about whether I would like it. I was expecting it to be very austere and unwelcoming – threatening almost- but found it to be a charming a peaceful garden. It is certainly not a cottage garden, not a modern succulent garden, but it is a stunning piece of garden art and everyone who gets the chance should visit.

Worst mistake in a garden – is a tie this year. The Palmerston North Rose Trial gardens looked dreadful this year. Apparently the gardeners swapped their brand of spraying oil, and the roses did not like it. This year’s trial will be next to useless I think.
The other tied garden I will not name, because I do not want to cause them trouble, but a nationally rankled garden had a huge patch of one of the most poisonous noxious weeds, Cape Tulip, Homeria, in full flower. To the gardeners’ credit, when I told them they immediately destroyed all the plants.

Most spectacular plant. No contest here. The wonderful red mistletoe growing on the banks of the Atiwhakatu River, just upstream from Donnelly’s Flats, flowering just before Christmas. A most remarkable sight- just a pity we can not grow them in the garden.

Monday, December 17, 2007

New flowers from maiden plants

This has been a very strange season, with many frost damaged plants from seed sown in 2005 failing to flower and then, very late in the season, a few flowers on seed sown in 2006.
I am not complaining - any seedlings in flower are something to celebrate.
In season 2005 I crossed two of my favouriste seedling. 03059 is a Foothill Banner seedling, with interesting markings and a bigger flower than FB.

08081 is a "Magic Sea" seedling with glowing blue flowers, not unlike "Mendocino Blue".

I do not know what I expected to see from crossing these two, but the two sibs below are the first of these seedlings to flower. They are both interesting, but not quite what I was expecting!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Cabbage trees

Flaxes and cabbage trees – what a flowering season they are having this year – and what does it portend?
This season the cabbage trees and flaxes all seem to be having a fantastic flowering season, with many people commenting to me that they have never seen such a good bloom on their plants. I have even had one or two non-gardeners contact me, concerned about the funny creamy white growths they have noticed on their cabbage trees, worried about what it might be.
Although it is fabulous that these iconic New Zealand plants are having a fruitful season, according to Maori tradition, it does not augur well for those who are already fretting about the lack of moisture we have experienced this year. Maori tradition states that the sooner the cabbage tree blooms, the sooner the summer arrives. In another version, the better the flowering, the hotter the season. This has also been applied to flowering in flaxes.
In his wonderful book Dancing Leaves, the story of New Zealand’s cabbage tree, ti kouka, Philip Simpson offers a more prosaic explanation of the flowering habits of cabbage trees. He quotes research that suggests a biennial flowering pattern, with alternate years being larger or smaller, but overlays this with a longer interval between mass flowerings caused by the length of time taken for new stems to reach maturity. He suggests that sometimes these two patterns align, and a significantly more prolific flowering occurs.
There is another factor at work too. These bumper flowering years seem to follow periods of good growth, when the plants are able to make better plant growth, and able to convert their nutriment into flowers.
I guess you have to take your choice; Maori tradition holds that the flowering foreshadows a long, hot, dry summer, while pakeha scientists say that it is an effect of good growing period the year before. Either way, let’s just enjoy this rare floral treat from these wonderful New Zealanders.
Many gardeners have very negative feelings about cabbage trees, finding their leaf shedding habits very trying. I confess that, as much as I love the larger species and forms in the countryside and in large gardens, I would struggle to find room for them in a smaller garden.

But there are newer garden hybrids that are very much worth growing. Among these is the very attractive Jury hybrid from Taranaki, ‘Red Fountain’. There was a large number of this plant in the Auckland Botanical Gardens when I visited recently, and the staff at the gardens are obviously taken with it too, as they have erected information boards, extolling its virtues.
‘Red Fountain’ has bright burgundy red leaves from a stem that stays very small – the breeders say their plant has not grown 30 cm tall. The leaves weep gracefully, giving red cascade effect. They are very hardy and will cope with full sun. They are not fussy about soil types, and can easily cope with any but the hardest frosts. In view of the predicted dry summer, it is also useful that they can cope with minimal watering once established.
I think these are just made for growing in containers. I have seen some growing in electric blue glazed pots and they look stunning. They flower too – they had lots of flower in Auckland a few weeks ago – and the light pink to mauve flowers have a delightful scent – jasmine-like although not very strong.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A day on Mount Holdsworth - and what a day

I got an e-mail from a geologist friend the other night, telling me that the native mistletoe was in flower on the Atiwhakatu River bank on Mou=nt Holdsworth in the Tararua Range, just upstream of Donnelly’s Flats. I had heard about this particular plant – a specimen of Peraxilla tetrapetala I think – but I had never seen it in flower.

The mistletoe is very rare in the Tararua Range now – as it is most places – and the few trees that have specimens have been banded with wide strips of metal to prevent the opossums from reaching them.
It is worth the effort as they are spectacular plants. Older books talk about this plant being common in the Tararuas. What a sight it must have made.

I pushed on up the track, and went up the Hooper Loop track to Mountain House. On the way up a stiff climb I came across a little group of tiny orchids in the mossy floor underneath the beech. I think they are Caladenia nothofageti.
[An orchid expert friend has identified this as Adenochilus gracilis]

Coming back down the track I found the clump of greenhoods I saw in flower last year, just before Rocky Lookout on the way down. I think they are Pterostylis australis, but greenhoods look remarkably alike!

[The same friend, Ian St George, had this to say about the greenhood - The greenhood is probably P australis, but there are features of P. areolata and P. patens – I think there is a fair bit of hybridisation among these insect pollinated species]

I had to stop at Rocky Lookout on the way back down and check whether the Winika cunninghami was in flower around the back of the rock – it was, but very sparse!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Ngatea lilies

My children (and the Head Gardener too I think) say that I have a mortgage on silly jokes – “Dad jokes” they call them. I have news for them. I have found a garden filled with silly jokes, of the practical and unpractical variety in equal measure.
It is the extensive water garden in Ngatea called ….. surprisingly….. the Ngatea Water Garden.
I was driving north recently, going from Tauranga toward Miranda on the Thames Estuary to see the multitudinous bird life that gathers on the beach there. I noticed the large signs for the water gardens and decided that I needed a break in the journey. I didn’t expect to find quite the sort of garden I found though.
Roger and Emma Blake started this project in 1995 when they bought the 2 hectare property. Neither had a background in horticulture, but Roger’s engineering skills came in very handy as the couple set about constructing four large ponds on their property, using the excavated soils to help shape the gardens.
They were greatly helped by the extremely high water table on the Hauraki Plains – the ponds started to fill as soon as they were excavated. In total, over 5000 cubic metres of soil was shifted, and 300 tonnes of greywacke imported for building the rock features, including a large waterfall.
The ponds were cleverly designed with shallow areas near the shore and much deeper middles. This allows the water lilies and other aquatic plants to flourish near the shore, while also allowing the ponds to be relatively clean.
The water level in the ponds is almost self regulating – a 1 mm rainfall will mean a 3 mm increase in the pod levels, before the overflow system works. There are pumps to top up the water, but they are usually only used for about two months a year.
I wandered around the garden for over an hour, looking at the various highlights, jokes and plants. For part of the journey I was accompanied by a troupe of white ducks, no doubt thinking they would score a meal from me. They were to be disappointed.
There were a lot of different plants in flower in the garden, and they were very well labeled, so my camera was going mad. I was particularly interested in the Louisiana irises,, and the water lilies.
The Louisiana irises are water loving plants from the Southern United States, and unlike many so-called water plants, these are true pond-edge plants that do not mind being planted in boggy ground. They are vigorous plants, and have large flowers in a range of colours from near-red to blue, purple, white and yellow, with all sorts of combinations.
These are nowhere near as popular as they should be. They are easily grown in almost any garden soil except the very dry, and they are very hardy. For the water gardener they are essential.
Water lilies are a little trickier, although they are not as difficult to cultivate as most gardeners seem to imagine, and will provide many moths of glorious flower for the pond owner, or the tub owner for that matter.
There are many different types of water lily, but the hardy varieties are the easiest to grow outside in our climate. They flower with a wide range of colours, except for the blues and purples. For those shades you need to grow the less hardy tropical varieties.
Garden centres will have hardy varieties in stock now, usually growing in little tubs they have constructed for display purposes.
The hardy water lily existed only as a few species, found in different parts of the world, until the mid-1800s when French nurserymen created hybrids of many different kinds including most of what we now regard as classic water lilies. These were the same water lilies that Monet bought for his ponds, and most are still in cultivation today. New hybrids continue to be produced by today's growers, expanding the range of colour and form.

Water lily Pink Sensation

The easiest way to plant water lilies is in special mesh baskets. Start out by putting some aquatic fertiliser tablets in the base of the basket then fill the basket with garden soil, clay or special water lily potting mix. Do not use normal potting mix as it will probably have too much fertiliser in it.
The basket should be three-quarters filled with the soil, and formed into a mound. Place the lily rhizome on the top of the mound, tilted so the growing tip is at the final soil level. Fill the rest of the basket with soil, then top with gravel to help hold the rhizome firmly.
Gently place the basket into the pond. Often the plant is placed in shallow water until it has started growth, and then placed in slightly deeper water. The idea is to keep the pads at, or slightly under, water level.
The elegant flowers will appear right through summer. Once the flower bud reaches the surface of the water, it will open in the morning and close in the evening for three successive days before sinking beneath the surface again.
Water lilies need very little ongoing care. When they have filled their baskets they need to be divided and replanted – it is a good chance to swap varieties with other growers. At the end of the season remove all dead foliage and just leave the basket to over winter, as these plants are true perennials and go dormant over winter.

Water lily 'James Brydon' and fish

If you are in the Hauraki area this summer take the chance to see these water gardens – the various water lilies are worth the effort alone, and there are plenty of other horticultural attractions as well.And see if you can out up with the “Dad jokes” while you are there!