Sunday, December 28, 2008

East Holdsworth

The Christmas season is upside down in the southern hemisphere and we, somewhat stupidly, try to follow the celebration patterns of our northern cousins, with roast turkey on the menu in the middle of the day, even though it is over 25 degrees.
I have a Christmas ritual – my annual climb up Mount Holdsworth. This year I decided on the East Holdsworth ascent, a track I have never been up.
I was pleasantly surprised. The first part of it is comparatively gentle, and the upper section – much steeper – is very climbable.
On the way up I found a lovely clump of the native forest snowberry, Luzuriaga parviflora in flower.
As is usually the case, this was growing in a rotted log, having spread through the rotten wood. There were little clusters of the single white flowers. A little further up the mountain I noticed a white berry on another clump.
This is relatively easy to grow in the garden, but hard to find in any garden centres.

I only climbed to the bush line, as I needed to get back home for my son to borrow my car to go and see his girlfriend. It was windy and claggy on the tops, so I just took a quick rest behind this rock. There was a lovely mountain daisy, Celmisia species in flower, and a Raoulia, as seen up close.

It was really a quick sprint up the mountain, but it was nice to see a new track.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

New Zealand Christmas

The Christmas season usually brings a few horticultural gifts for those of use who garden. Our relatives, struggling to find a gift for someone who has almost everything they need, always know that a gardener is easily satisfied. A gift voucher for your favourite garden centre, or a garden book or two will always be very welcome. And plants can never go amiss.
There are, of course, a number of plants closely associated with Christmas, sometimes a little out of kilter with the season though, with our hemispherical flip around.
The holly, with its prickly leaves and bright red berries in the middle of winter, is loaded with obvious analogies for a northern hemisphere festival, but in the south, by mid-summer, most of the berries will have well and truly been picked over by birds.
The mistletoe is different. If you know where to look, there will be patches of New Zealand mistletoe in flower. There is a wonderful one in flower at Mount Holdsworth at the moment. It is off the beaten track, but if you ask at the caretakers’ office he will happily tell you where it is. The species in flower at the moment is the bright red one, and it is a rare treat to see it. Opossums have decimated most native mistletoe plants, so take the chance to see this beauty.
The traditional New Zealand Christmas tree is the pohutukawa, again with red flowers (usually – there are yellow forms) and again, flowering well at Christmas – usually.
Pohutukawa and rata are brothers, members of the Metrosideros genus, and more or less closely related to Australian gum trees, Eucalyptus, South American fruits, Feijoa and Australian bottlebrushes, Callistemon. They are also, a little less obviously, related to manuka, Leptospermum, and ramarama, Lophomyrtus.
In northern and coastal areas it is pohutukawa that are usually called the New Zealand Christmas Tree, while rata is sometimes given the name in inland areas. Most years it is a little of a misnomer, as it generally flowers a little after Christmas, but this year it is flowering early, in time for the festive season. I have to say, much as I love ratas, they lack the stunning floral affect of a pohutukawa, the flowers generally being slightly smaller and slightly darker.
There are two main pohutukawa species in New Zealand – the mainland form, and a different species from the Kermadec Islands. The latter has smaller and more rounded leaves that the mainland form, and tends to flower spasmodically through the year rather than in one sustained burst.
If you are keen to try a pohutukawa in our district you must bear in mind that they are frost tender – especially when young – and need a frost-free area to grow well. There are some nice examples growing in Masterton, up on Lansdowne hill, so they can cope with a Wairarapa winter if grown in the right are, and given some protection.
Most of us, though, will have to be content to grow one in a pot. Fortunately, that is not hard – in nature they grow in hard, exposed places on the coast and they will flourish without too much care in a large pot. It would pay, though, to make sure you bought as named cultivar, as you would be able to ensure you got the flower colour and growth habit you were interested in. I think ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’ is the one to go for – it is smaller growing than most species, it has crimson red flowers (others can be darker and almost rusty coloured) and it flowers all at once usually. ‘Te Kaha’, selected from a famous East Coast tree, is similarly mannered but the flowers are more orange coloured.
‘Mistral’ is a deeper flowering form, but is also slightly hardier, being a natural hybrid between pohutukawa and southern rata. It flowers slightly before Christmas.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

New seedling

Another maiden seedling has bloomed, this time another one of the 2007 seedlings, but an unusual one.
That year my USA seed was destroyed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, on suspicion of a fungous disease. As I only had a few seedlings of my own, I potted up some garden seedlings, making careful note of where they were growing. This is meant to have been growing under a ‘Pacific Rim’ seedling, but it looks nothing like any of them.
It is more violet than the picture shows, but the stripe of turquoise is very prominent. It is pretty enough to keep, I think, but time will tell.



As summer’s heat starts to build up, there is one type of plant I know I can rely on to provide me with heaps of colour right through rest of the hot season - the day lily, Hemerocallis. It is quite beyond my understanding why this brilliant summer-flowering perennial is not grown much more in New Zealand, as it should be stand-by in every perennial garden over summer. In other parts of the world it is the most important perennial, planted more then irises and dahlias, but here in Aotearoa, it is relatively unknown.Some city councils have tumbled that this is a great value plant for low maintenance gardens – in fact, some have planted up whole beds with some of the smaller flowering varieties.What is so good about these plants?
Obviously the first attraction is their lily shaped flowers. These are available in a huge range of colours, from almost-black through pinks, oranges, reds, yellows, and almost-whites. Each of these flowers only last one day – hence the common name and, perhaps, their lack of popularity – but there is a long succession of flowers and each variety will flower for up to a month, with many re-blooming later in the season. With careful selection, it is possible top have flowers for over five months.
There are evergreen varieties, and those that are semi-deciduous or totally deciduous. Even those that die away completely for the winter tend to only lose their leaves, much like a Hosta, for a short time,.
The leaves are interesting. In some of the smaller flowered forms they are almost grass-like, and would fit into a modern grass garden with ease. They are all more or less light green, and quite textured.
Flower size is very variable. Breeders overseas – especially in America where there are over 40,000 registered varieties – have been striving to increase the size of the flowers, and to flatten them somewhat, making them less trumpet-like. Most of mine are about 15 cm across, but I do grow one or two dwarf varieties too, which have smaller flowers. These smaller flowering forms are very popular for those with smaller gardens, or those who wish to mix their “Hems”, as they are popularly called, with other perennials.
They will grow almost anywhere in the garden. They are said to prefer free draining soils, but I have seen them growing perfectly well on the edges of bogs. They do, however, prefer full sun. I grew a number of these in light shade at the edge of a woodland garden, and they grew alright, but I was not happy with their increase or their flowering rate. It was not until I planted them out in the full sun that I realised what I had been missing out on. With their cheerful faces in the sun, they quickly grew much larger, and flowered much more exuberantly.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

New Slideshow and altered look

As a fifty-five year old who is only interested in any technology as a tool, it is always a challenge for me to alter anything like the settings on my blog, or the pictures displayed in my slideshow.
My over the past week I have been working a little on that.
The slideshow now features some of the more interesting Pacific Coast Irises (PCIS) I have bred over the past few years. I hope you enjoy them.
I am coming under pressure to register and distribute some, so I am looking to find space for a growing-on bed around the section somewhere. I think it might mean taking out a small tree or two. I am loathe to do that, but the trees cause headaches for the swimming pool, and I am sure Jill would like them gone, so.....

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Late PCIs

This has been one of those weekends – I do not seem to have stopped, and it is now late-ish on Sunday evening.
I started the day with a quick sprint up to Powell Hut on Mount Holdsworth. A friend told me they had managed to reached the hut in two hours (the normal time is about three to four hours) so, of course….. well, I went as hard as I could and got there in 1.55. I doubt whether I could get there much faster.
The problem was I needed to be back home by lunchtime, as I was taking the family to see the Christmas Parade. So I had an apple, and drunk in the wonderful view along with some cold water, then came back down. In a way it was almost sacrilegious, as it was a day out of the box – sparkling clear and not a breath of wind.
Still I got to see Christmas Parade. For what that was worth.
The afternoon was better as I swam and cleaned the pool, then the whangai grandkids arrived, so I swam again! I managed some gardening in between, including harvesting potatoes and raspberries. The last of the firewood arrived just before tea so I stacked that and went and had a rest.
Today I was awake early – too early for the gym – so I went for a long bike ride, then gardened some more. We went out to the Mauriceville Fair, taking our son Owen’s friend Sophie, with us. Met up with lots of people I knew, including Kay from New Pacific Studio, who had a stall there, and Rachel, an artist from New Orleans doing a residency at NPS.
It is not the greatest fair, but it is a day in a part of the country I like.
I came home and gardened some more, and took some photos of some Pacific Coast Irises I have out.
It is very late in the season, and two of the irises are seedlings that should not flower until next year – they were sown March 2007 – and next year they will almost certainly settle into normal flower patterns. They are both nice ones of my own breeding, one an unusual salmon colour with green and blue undertones (as seen above) , the other a red with a deep signal. The salmon one fades during its time, as will be apparent from the pics.

The other, though, is a Mocha Melody seedling, with good branching, that should have flowered with its siblings six weeks ago. If this is a genetic trait I will be very excited. As it is, I have two seedlings to cross it with! I am crossing at the same time as I am watching the seed pods ripen on my other crosses.
There was another one out. This is very unusual. It has four legs, it bares it teeth every timne I go past, and it growls and barks a lot.

Must be a dog

Sprouting into summer

This weekend has been one of harvesting some of the first of the summer crops, and planning for the winter crop. On Saturday, I harvested the first of the raspberries, after having to put a mesh net over them earlier in the week, designed to keep little birds, and little girls, from beating me to the crop.
On the same day, I dug the first of the new season’s potatoes, the ‘Rocket’ I planted in late August. As you will be able to work out, this is a very early season variety, not one I have grown before. I was surprised when the tops fell over about a fortnight ago, thinking they were under-watered, but no amount of watering convinced them to stand up again, so I dug them. As you will remember, I plant my potatoes in a trough filled with compost and straw, and this makes harvesting very easy. The soil falls away from the tubers and they come up very cleanly. The return was good too – not outstanding, but ample, and the first of the potatoes (the tiddlers) have already been eaten and were delicious.
That left room in the garden, so I took advantage of the chance to get some Brussels Sprouts in. These vegetables are winter standbys, and new gardeners are tricked into thinking they should be planted in late summer/early autumn, but they need planting much earlier.
Brussels Sprouts are members of the vast Brassica tribe, and descend from cabbages. The usually accepted story of their origin is that they arose as a sport in Belgium about 1750, and were exported to other European countries and England by 1800.
They have become a winter standby in Europe – and are a traditional component of English Christmas Dinner, in much the same way the new potatoes and peas are part of ours.
Brussels Sprouts are quite straightforward to grow. They need good fertile soil, so I dug a trench in the old potato ground (finding some more tubers too!) filling it with a generous layer of my own worm-filled compost. I topped this off with some lime, as it is important to keep the pH level up for brassicas, to help stop the incursion of club foot disease. Most compost has low pH anyway, so it is a good idea to add lime when applying it. I also threw a little general purpose garden fertiliser, mixed with more slow release food, as sprouts like fertile soil and they are long-term plants.
Once the soil was prepared I tramped it to make it as firm as I could – sprouts like to be planted in as firm a soil as possible - then planted and watered them in.
I bought the plants in from my nursery, as they had good, strong, healthy-looking F1 hybrid plants. You could probably still grow your own from seed, but it is getting late enough in the season to do that. I think you would be better off to buy the seedlings in if you have not already sown.
It has been my experience that it pays to buy F1 hybrid Sprouts, as they are much more reliable and more likely to give a good crop. Do not forget that these plants like a cool snap to develop their flavour fully.
When it comes to eating them, make sure the cook does not over boil the sprouts. If they are overcooked they tend to have a sulphurous taste that few people like. I like them in stir fries, or lightly steamed and served with butter and pepper. If you find you have some loose sprouts at the end of the season (and I always do) just leave them to keep on growing. In the spring, they will send out flower shoots, just like small broccoli heads. They are delicious if cut small enough, and, once again, they are great in stir fries.