Sunday, June 30, 2013

Mid-winter ramblings

For the past couple of weeks I have been on annual leave, having what I believe young people call a ‘staycation’, when you are on leave but remain at home.  Mid-winter is certainly an interesting time of year to be on leave, and the days have alternated between cloudy and cold, and frosty and fine – and cold.
On one of the finer days I swept the dust off my old golf clubs, packed them in the back of the car and went out east, to gently hack my way around the Castlepoint Golf Club at Whakataki. It was an interesting round, where I was accompanied by the sounds of yarding from a neighbouring farm, with the usual sound effects from a mob of sheep, a pack of barking dogs, and the whistles and shouts of the farmer.
On the side of nature, I was also delighted to have the company of a large troop of tui as I moved from hole to hole.  Over the years the golf club must have thought of winter feed for honey gatherers as they planted out the fairways and byways of the course, and the tui were greedily sipping from the red flowered gum trees that were scattered throughout the course.
The most common of the red flowering gums, and by far the prettiest, is the Western Australian native E. ficifolia, now called Corymbia ficifolia by botanists, if not by gardeners.  This is a small but densely-growing tree with large racemes of tightly growing flowers, and at its best in the summer, is a vibrantly dramatic tree, sometimes confused with pohutukawa.
It is slightly frost tender, but will grow in inland Wairarapa as long as it is given some protection in the first few years of its life – there is a spectacular tree in Opaki Road, nest to the Mormon church. In warmer areas, such as on hills or nearer the coast, it makes a wonderful small tree, and is frequently planted as a street tree in towns further north.
It is easily raised from seed, but is very hard to graft, and therein lies a slight problem. This tree does not come true from seed, so there is a risk in planting out a seedling – it may not give the wonderful orange/red colour the gardener looks for.  The flowers can be paler, right through to soft pinks, and even pure white.  A few years ago I ran along an avenue of these trees on the other coast, and there was no unanimity at all – no two trees seemed the same colour.
The winter flowering species, which is so useful at supplying feed for honey-eating birds, glories in the names of Eucalyptus leucoxylon ‘Rosea’, and is a form of a South Australian species, known as Yellow Gum in its homeland, although it also has a number of other common names.   It grows in a more open manner than E. ficifolia, displaying its light coloured bark.  Although the species is variable as to flower colour, the bright red form commonly grown for ornamental purposes is generally fairly true to colour.  Having said that, I have to say that it is not uncommon for pink forms to appear when these trees are grown from seed.

This tree is slightly bigger than E. ficifolia, especially when grown in a position sheltered from the worst of the wind – conditions which do not apply to the Castlepoint Golf Club I have to say.  That size, and the propensity of gum trees to shed branches, probably means that this tree is not really suitable for growing in smaller sections, but larger gardens can easily cope with one of these.
And the golf?  Well, I enjoyed a walk in the country, and sounds of a working farm coupled with then bird song in the bright clear skies made for an enjoyable morning. The less said about the golf, the better.

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