The weekend did not start very well for my whangai granddaughter. A soccer game in the cold and wet went gone badly awry, the scoreline being so onesided I will not embarrass her by repeating it here, but let me assure you, it was ugly, and made worse by her having friends playing in the opposing side.
To try and rescue the day, we decided we would take her younger sister and investigate the pig pens and chicken coops at the nearby school to revive flagging spirits. Fortunately the rain had abated and the wind had died down, so we traipsed across the paddocks to see our farm animal friends.
The children were enchanted by the ham and egg production units, but I was far more taken with the wildlife – mud-encrusted pigs’ snouts just do not do it for me, but the sound of the tuis chortling and singing away in the adjacent gum tress was a delight.
The school has a major planting of gums for firewood but the tuis were inhabiting a beautiful specimen of the winter flowering red gum, Eucalyptus leucoxylon ‘Rosea’. This is a selected form of a widespread Australian species, with deeper coloured red flowers than are normally found in the wild and is an invaluable tree for the gardener wanting to attract extra bird life into the garden in winter, as it flowers for many months during the coldest time of the year.
It is a small to medium sized tree (among a family that has some giant members) with attractive light-coloured bark and typically olive green gum leaves and, although it probably grows too big for small gardens, it is one that should be considered for slightly bigger sections.
I know those who advocate all native gardens for everyone are not going to like the idea of planting Australian gums tui feed, and they are not going to like the idea of using Banskia integrifolia for the same reason. It is perhaps not the most exciting of this Australian genus of trees and shrubs, but the light yellow bottlebrush flowers, usually with a funny greenish cast as well, are very freely produced through most of winter.
There are many different varieties of this species in
, including both coastal and mountain forms with different growing requirements. The most commonly planted forms in New Zealand are all seed raised and seem to be able to cope with most anything our climate throws at them, although they do struggle with cold and frosty sites. Australia
It is hardy and quick growing, and is often used for shelter belts in warmer areas of the country. It copes with both sandy and clay-based soils, so is a good choice to help establish new gardens.