Ewen's garden

A collection of columns, paintings and photographs about gardening on an offshore island in New Zealand.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Growing passion

Passionfruit mostly brings to mind the aromatic fruit topping of that national icon, the pavlova and of course this would be correct. The Passionfruit or granadilla is the product of a lush growing vine Passiflora edulis which, along with all other passion vines, come largely from South America. The name of the passion vines comes from the early missionaries to South America who likened the parts of the flower to the implements of the crucifixion, the three stigmas representing the three nails and the filaments the crown of thorns for example.
Whilst P. edulis is the one we are most commonly aware of, there are in fact over 300 species in this genus, many of which not only have lovely fruit but also attractive flowers. A recent addition to my garden has been sweet granadilla P. ligularis syn. P. lowerei discovered in Peru in 1819. This vine is vigorous with heart shaped leaves, flowers of white petals and filaments banded in white and purple stripes produced from autumn to winter and scented strongly of vanilla. The fruit comes ripe in the spring and is edible, making a good alternative to P. edulis which produces its fruit in the autumn. Having only had this vine just over a month, it has already put on about 20 cm of growth! I plan to grow it up the fence and then create an arbour across a seat in the corner of the top terrace of my garden.
Another recent acquisition is red banana passionfruit, P. antioquensis syn. P. van volxemii syn. Tacsonia van volxemii, a very attractive vine producing pendulous cerise flowers followed by delicious fruit. I have planted mine with the intention of it climbing over an arch across the steps up onto the terrace, this way the flowers and fruit should hang down and be easily viewed from beneath. Both P. ligularis and P. antioquensis require a warm spot to thrive and produce fruit. However one species that is quite hardy is P. x caeruleo-racemosa ‘Eynsford Gem’ syn. ‘Lilac lady’ this non fruiting cultivar is naturally of garden origin, ‘Eynsford Gem’ being a sport of the hybrid cross between P. caerulea and P. racemosa. I recall this vine from my mother’s garden on the farm in the lower Wairarapa where it certainly endured harsher growing conditions than here. It produces lilac coloured blooms on a back ground of dark green glossy, deeply divided leaves. The buds are also rather purple in colour adding to the overall effect. I don’t as yet have a plant of this one but hope my mother will soon be able to produce a small plant from hers currently growing on the wall of my parents house in Masterton. Another spectacular ornamental passion vine is scarlet passion flower or red granadilla, P. coccinea syn. P. fulgens syn. P. velutina, from tropical America, produces the most brilliant clear red flowers. I have only seen this flower once when I first gardened here on the island and had a plant myself, which suffered from abject neglect on my part and died from lack of water! The fruit of this species is also edible. Another passionfruit available is the giant granadilla P. quadrangularis from tropical America, is a large and vigorous vine with large, up to 20cm round, edible fruit.
Last but not insignificant is the banana passionfruit P. mollisima which in this climate is really a weed. I do remember though our neighbours when I was young had a large vine of which we were often given bags of delicious fruit. Now all I have to do is plant my specimen of the common passionfruit P. edulis, and await the fruits of my labours.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2004


What a relief this week of fine weather has been after all the howling sou-westers! I can now report, having commenced maintaining a journal, we have, at our section, recorded so far this winter a low of seven degrees and only thirteen mm of rain. Dry and warm I would say, but I believe our site is very much a microclimate. Have just picked fully formed trusses of tomatoes (the plant was still fully growing and
flowering!) which reinforces my idea of growing ever more tropical species in my garden here. The said tomatoes had to be removed after transplanting the citrus trees which were cohabitating with them.

So I now have a terrace in my garden containing solely citrus, six in all. A veritable grove, lined beneath with local gravel and at the base of each tree, a curb
of local rock to keep the compost in around the base of each specimen. I hope my citrus will now thrive in their new home. However I still need to prune the top
growth to balance the damage to the roots. They also need a spray of copper and an insecticide to combat the bad infestation of mealy bug and scale insects. These pests take advantage of plants under stress aided and abetted by the ants who positively farm the scale insect to harvest the honey dew.

In my new vegetable plots I have sprouting through the ground sugar-snap peas and enough lettuces to supply us with winter salad, a refreshing change at this time of year. All these details are dutifully recorded in my journal, not kept every day just every so often. It will be interesting to compare next year with what happens this year. Extra to my arsenal, I hope soon to have a soil thermometer; this will enable me to really know what I can get away with in the garden in terms of tender plants. It is often not the air temperature that is the problem rather than cool/cold damp/wet soil. The roots of many subtropical and tropical plants simply won/t tolerate cold damp feet (I don’t blame them!)

The other thing my journal is encouraging me to do is a little drawing. This occupation is not only very pleasant, but also helps us to look more intently at our vegetable specimens and the environment in which we are surrounded. While at university studying Landscape Technology, my favourite class was speed sketching, going out into the field and doing five minute sketches of trees plants buildings, whatever was around, great fun. We also took specimens into lab to do botanical style drawings, one way to really study and look closely at a subject, time I guess is the usual enemy in achieving these things, still I have made a start!

Tuesday, June 01, 2004


I have just had the good fortune to have spent the past eight days on a beautiful tropical island. The white coral sand right up to the front deck of our bungalow and coconut palms everywhere. Coconuts, Cocos nucifera, would have to be one of the signature plants of the tropics. Unfortunately they will not survive outside this environment, however there is a palm very similar in characteristics to the coconut,
C. nucifera, Parajubaea cocoides. This palm is a native of the mountain regions of Ecuador, and will tolerate cooler conditions and in fact requires cooler nights to grow successfully. P. cocoides has nuts similar to C. nucifera but smaller. P. cocoides should be available from palm nurseries these days.

Another commonly spotted palm was the golden cane palm, Chrysalidocarpus lutescens (syn. Areca lutescens) which forms compact clumps with slender trunks. It is often sold as an indoor plant and may be to sensitive for our climate, I for have not tried
to grow this palm outside here. There is though another alternative which will certainly grow here and this is Dypsis baronii which is native to Madagascar. I have one growing and it too forms a clump of multiple trunks with slender arching leaves.

My favourite palm though would have to be the Royal Cuban palm, Roystonea regia, with a very stout pale grey trunk growing straight up topped with a large plume of fronds. In appearance it most closely resembles the Queen palm Syagrus romanzoffiana (syn. Arecastrum romanzoffianum, Cocos plumosa), which are in common cultivation here.

Enough about palms! Another favourite plant seen widely around Rarotonga, was the indigenous tree hibiscus, Au, Hibiscus tiliaceus. This tree produces yellow flowers nocturnally that during the day change to a deep red colour which then fall to the ground as the day ends. These spent blooms were to be seen at the each of the beach lying face up and fully open, very beautiful I thought. The foliage of these trees
is bright glossy green and heart shaped, an altogether beautiful tree.

Along the roads the boundaries of the properties are marked often by large Crinum sp. (this is a large genus and unfortunately I don’t know the specific name of the ones most prevalent suffice to say their foliage had a yellowish tinge.), various types of ti, Cordyline sp. and Croton sp.

All and all, Rarotonga is a very beautiful place with towering peaks inland, where you can take treks to the top of these precipitous mounts and a beautiful lagoon
almost all the way around. At Muri beach are group of small islands set right in the lagoon itself. Ah what a wonderful holiday, I am now once more injected with
the passion for a subtropical garden, never mind roses now. I will let my three go another season, but they may well be struggling for their place in my garden in
the future!