Sunday, November 27, 2011

Dry land plants

Our summer seems to have arrived, heralded with a late outbreak of spring gales, with north westerly winds blasting down off the Tararuas, and the temperature steadily climbing.  As the months turn over, and November gives way to December we are once again faced with the need to work out a method to cope with the upcoming dry months, when our available water supply is rationed.

This past week has been illustrative of the need for water – the combination of winds and a lack of heavy rain (although we actually had some rain) means the lawns have stopped growing with the desperate passion they have been hitherto showing.

It is hard to tell what the weather will do for this summer but I note that NIWA are saying we can expect normal or slightly more than normal rain in the period December 2011 – February 2012.  However, they also go on to say that soil conditions are river levels are likely to be lower  than normal because both are starting our at lower than usual for this time of the year.

In a way it makes little difference, as the Wairarapa district councils are all under pressure to keep their water usage low as they do not have the ability to take endless amounts of water from local rivers.  Under these conditions all gardeners need to be a bit water smart over the coming few months.  Fortunately there are a lot of things we can do to help reduce demand on our precious water supplies.

One of the most effective ways to do this is to choose plants that are appropriate to our conditions. The fact is we live in dry areas, and should not try to grow wet climate plants unless we can provide some natural supplies of water.

At this time of the year I love the way Mediterranean plants come into their own.  Lavenders are perfect hot and dry climate plants, with their fresh grey/green leaves and wonderful range of coloured flowers.  They work well in formal gardens, but are equally at home in naturalistic plants. Among the other great dry climate shrubs are rock roses, Cistus and their cousins, the Helianthemums.  These plants, with their silvery leaves and tough textures, will thrive in the heat of summer, and will always look tidy.  For native lovers, most Hebes will do well in similar conditions, including many silver leaved forms.  Some of the coastal Coprosmas, and most grasses will also thrive as will the Wairarapa native shrubs, Brachyglottis greyii and B. compacta, with silver leaves and golden flowers.

In the garden we can extend the range a little more with some other heat-loving shrubs especially the Australian and South African shrubs that thrive in our climate.  Proteas, Leucodrendrons, Regal pelargoniums, Grevillias, and many others, will all do well and will easily cope with the summer dry.
Extra colour can be added by other dry loving bulbs, perennials and annuals, as well as a good dose of the very fashionable succulents, such as Aloes and Agaves.  You could also try the new variegated Beschoneria yuccoides that I saw recently in a local garden centre.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Manuka trees

My newly established perennial garden in the back area of our section is all abuzz, and it is not from the range of new and special perennial plants, although it is exciting to see the first of the flowering for the first time.  No, the garden is buzzing with the hundreds of bees making a beeline for the bright red flowers on the tall specimen of the bright red manuka, Leptsospermum ‘Electric Red’ that is at its peak right now.
I do not know whether this is one of the forms of manuka with the special health giving attributes that are passed on through the honey, but if it is there out to be some very healthy and happy honey eaters in the vicinity, as there bees fly in and out of there like it is Los Angeles airport on a busy day.
Manuka is so ubiquitous on the dry and hungry lands of New Zealand, and thrives so well on recently disturbed soil, that it will come as a surprise to most New Zealanders to learn that this species actually arose in Australia where it has many relatives living, and is a relatively recent arrival in our country, having made its way across the Tasman as seed.  When New Zealand was well forested it was an uncommon plant, but following Polynesian discovery of Aotearoa, and the subsequent fires and open ground, it managed to make a strong foothold. 
It appears in many forms in the wild.  On exposed coasts it assumes an almost prostrate growth form, while dwarf growing forms are also recorded from very exposed and nutriment poor locations.  Wairarapa gardeners (and farmers) will be well acquainted with the usual form of the species in our district, a compact medium sized shrub with masses of white flowers.  In the north there are populations with pink-flushed flowers – I recall a fabulous morning exploring the vegetation at the head of the Hokianga Harbour, where low growing pink flowered forms abound – while forms with pure red flowers have been found in the wild, and a range of hybrids has been bred for the home garden.
I think the bright red ones are the most popular, including the ‘Electric Red’ form I have in the garden, which is apparently a hybrid with an Australian species, but looks very much like the old favourite ‘Red Ensign’, with pure red single flowers.  I was always a fan of the double flowered ‘Red Damask’, which had masses of frilly double flowers from late winter right through into summer.  ‘Red Falls’, which has single red flowers, does not fall quite as much as the name might lead you to think – it does have some branches that scoot along the ground, but others will gently arch upwards as high as a metre.  It works very well if planted on top of a bank and also makes a very effective weeping standard.
There is a pink coloured form called ‘Pink Cascade’ , offered somewhat mischievously by some nurseries as a native (including at least two well-known “native” nurseries) when it is in fact a hybrid between two different Australian species.  If you are interested in growing a pink flowering shrub with a prostrate habit, and are not concerned about it not being a native, then this would be a good choice.   It is tolerant of a range of soils but performs best in moist, well drained soils in full sun or light shade.