Sunday, August 26, 2012

This little gardening story starts out in the living room of a motel in Dunedin on Sunday morning, where the Head Gardener and I were talking with our son and his partner about the difficulty of writing – theses in their instances, garden articles in my case.  Ana (the partner) asked if I had taken any photographs while in Dunedin that I could use for a story, and I said I had, but none for this week.
She then asked me what I was going to write about, and I had to confess that I had not really decided on anything – it had been a very hectic week, and I knew we were flying home later in the morning so I thought I would think about it on the way home.
As it turned out the flight offered no inspiration, and even a little gardening in our other son’s garden in Wellington did not give me any great ideas, although it might provide inspiration for a story soon.
As I drove home I was wracking my brains trying to think of something, without great success.  The weekend had been tiring, with celebratory meals and late nights, and my mind was not working very well.
But when I drove up our drive I caught a glimpse of the beautiful pink Magnolia ‘Sweetheart’ in flower down the back of the section, and I stopped the car, opened the boot, got my camera out and raced down to have a close look at it.
I planted this some years ago, but it was underneath the shade of a large lemonwood tree and it took an interesting growth path, one stem heading due north while the others clustered around the crown.  The removal of the lemonwood a few years ago has made all the difference.  It has enabled the smaller branches to grow out, and the whole tree, although rather lopsided still, now looks very Japanese.   And the flowers – well, if there is a prettier variety I have not seen it.   ‘Sweetheart’ has deep pink flowers, upright facing, with lusciously creamy interiors, the blooms being carried with abandon in early spring.  It is a New Zealand raised seedling of the popular British variety ‘Caerhays Belle’, and like most deciduous Magnolias, it requires a sunny spot with well-drained soil with plenty of humus.  It will need watering when fist planted, and in sustained dry spells, but once established is very hardy.
The pink Magnolia that many lust after is the wonderful M. campbellii, from the Himalayas.  When well-frown in a perfect spot, and in a season where we do not have any pesky frosts interrupting the flowering season, these are spectacular trees – there is one in the Palmerston North Esplanade gardens that I try to catch each year – but they can be a bit tricky in our colder inland climate.  They are also reluctant to flower early in their lives - it can take years before they bloom, so it probably pays to grow a more recent hybrid.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Fun in Cranbourne

I had an interesting garden day last weekend.  I had been on a flying trip to Melbourne to assist a  company developing a new computer system for the Wairarapa Archive.  It had been a very hectic couple of days with long hours and concentrated effort, and I was looking forward to a day off before flying home.  My hosts told me I would like the new botanical garden in the suburb of Cranbourne which I could easily reach by a short train ride and a quick walk.
I should have looked at the maps before I left, but I jumped on a suburban train and we took off south – for over 45 kms before reaching Cranbourne railway station.  I had not anticipated the train ride taking over an hour, but I was more flummoxed by the complete lack of signage telling me where the garden was.  To make things worse, Cranbourne is a pretty little town - about the size of Carterton I would say – with a six lane highway running through the town, and the first two people I asked had no idea where the garden was.
I eventually found a kind lady who pointed me in the right direction – through the town, past the racecourse, and a few country blocks further on you’ll find the gateway – from there it is another couple of kms!  Luckily I had put my walking shoes on so I set off, walking through a lovely crisp late winter afternoon – for about an hour and  a half.
It was worth it though.  After wandering along a road through bush land, and hearing and seeing all sorts of bird life and the odd bandicoot, I arrived at the heart of the 363 hectare area, the recently planted Australia gardens, with its marvellous concentration on the many indigenous species that make the island continent’s flora such an interesting one.
The centre of the garden is a huge red sand garden, designed to replicate the red interior, planted with circles of saltbush.  In spring there are flushes of bloom from wildflowers.  Arranged around the central feature are a number of themed gardens, with a dry riverbed garden, an arid garden, and a variety of Eucalyptus gardens, each reflecting a different aspect of the Australian environment.   There are at least five different Eucalyptus areas, with trees that have only been planted in the past few years, but it is already starting to assume a mature aspect.
I was interested to have a look through the various exhibition gardens, most of which are designed to educate local gardeners to use more plants that are suited to Australian conditions. 
There are some extraordinary plants on show, as well as a few interesting sculptures.  I particularly liked the electric blue sculpture designed to encourage people to think about how much water they are using in their gardens, and about ways to use water better.
Among the gardens I particularly liked where those that featured plants I knew we could grow in New Zealand.   Among those that were in flower (bearing in mind that this is not the best time of the year to go garden visiting!) was the rosy pink Grevillea ‘Sylvia’, a quick growing hybrid form that will grow to nearly three metres if left to its own devices.  These large flowered Grevillias have huge flowers that look like large racemes of stamen, quite unlike the spidery flowers of the smaller flowered types.
I had not seen ‘Honey Gem’ before, but was very taken with its large golden flowers, and its nice ferny foliage.  It is apparently not so hardy as ‘Sylvia’ and it also grows quite a bit taller, so it might be best left for the back of the border. 
It pays to give all Grevilleas a bit of a trim before you plant them, especially these taller forms which have a more open growth habit, as it tends to make the plant develop a thicker way of growing.

I was taken with a couple of Banksias too, especially the startling B. menziesii, which I hesitate to write about as I know it is hard to grow. Like all the best Banskias, it grows wild in Western austrlia, and demands very particular growing conditions – perfect drainage for a start, dry summers and the warmest place you can find to grow it.  It bears lots of fabulous pink and yellow cones through autumn and into winter.  It is a very popular plant for the cut flower trade, and you will see it in lots of overseas television programmes.     We used to sell a few of this plant to discerning Wairarapa gardeners, and I have seen some that have established well in stony places, and if you have the right conditions, this would ,make a spectacular addition to the garden.  I noticed that it attracted lots of honeyeaters too, so I guess the tui would like it.