Ewen's garden

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

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Heliconia Posted by Hello


Currently in flower at present in the garden is my ginger, lobster plant or parrots bill Heliconia subulata. This plant is a native of South America, just one of up to thirty species related to the banana Musa sp. which has similar leaves. I was first introduced to this plant by a friend of mine who specialises in going to far flung places to explore and bring back new and interesting plants. (His adventures make another story!) Various species of Heliconia are much utilised by the cut flower industry due to their longevity when cut. Many of the species are truly tropical in their demands of climate and therefore are imported for the cut flower industry. I believe more species will be introduced as we discover those that will tolerate cooler conditions.

It would be difficult to consider the Heliconia without mention of the famous Brazilian landscape designer, the late Roberto Burle Marx, who used many different species of Heliconia in his designs. Of the most famous of his public schemes would have to be the along the beach of Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro. Running adjacent to the sand and the frolicking sun worshipers is a footpath incorporating a wave pattern made from mosaic pavers. This pattern is derivative of patterns found in Portugal’s streets. Across the road in the park are more mosaics of abstract designs reflecting Roberto Burle Marx’s talent as a modernist artist. In fact he started his career as an artist in the modernist style, but soon came to learn and be interested in plants. So the nature of his palate changed and many public parks and spaces are the legacy of this, it isn’t surprising some of his plans look more like works of art. Another spectacular example of his work is in Brasilia, the Capital. Here he worked with the modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer, and created really interesting and possibly challenging works. Unfortunately much of the landscape has suffered neglect, the mass planting of different plants used to create changes in textures and form have been lost, foot worn tracks lead through what now just look like waste land, a pity for when first completed I felt these landscapes were inspirational. Much of his work involved hard landscape, using both man made elements as well as natural features. His mosaics are reminiscent of the way the Portuguese use ceramic tiles in their gardens, but in Brasilia he used large pieces of stone shaped to look like enormous crystals protruding from a lake in front of the Ministry of the Army every bit a match for the space age looking building in the back ground.

Another contribution Roberto Burle Marx made was in the area of conservation. He explored and brought into cultivation very many plant species from the interior of Brazil. He was also instrumental in raising the profile of threatened areas of forest with significant plant diversity. This was a man larger than life, not only in stature but also in talent and personality, someone I should have liked to have met. He apparently used to entertain guest by singing opera, not to mention the fact he spoke six languages! With all this in mind, pulling a few weeds and tying up my grapevine no longer seem insurmountable!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004


Imagine my dismay on rising Sunday morning to rain! A quick look on the radar indicated rain only over Waiheke and no where else in the whole of Auckland or Northland! More relaxed in the knowledge that this was just a very isolated shower, we headed off.

First stop was the cottage garden of the Goldwaters, where a palate of pale pinks red and white has been used. Further from the house the cottage garden gave way to natives framing a picnic table and beautiful view of the bay

From here we were off to the newly established landscape at “Isola Estate” of George and Judy Hudson. Here in contrast to the cottage garden we had just visited was a design based more on texture shape and form. A beautiful stone bridge spans the first of a series of waterfalls linking a various ponds. At the bottom was a bevy of ducks happily enjoying the water. Very few flowers here except for a pleasing comination of dusty miller Senecio cineraria and a single Japanese iris Iris kaempferi cv.

With no time to spare we were off again to Potai street, and a quick visit to a couple of very different gardens, one of natives and the other a riot of perennials and colour. The new pond at Geoff Willsher’s and Liz Cleaver was graced with a lily and solitary bloom…(how do you do that in time for the safari?) Also adjacent was a spectacular cactus also with one flaming red bloom. Cascading down a bank from the pond was group of Californian poppies Eschscholtzia clifornica. Other noted plants were giant lobelia and many bromeliads.

On to Palm Beach and the garden of Stu Farquhar Where again perennials reigned. A flock of tin pukekos grazed along the top of a bank of mingi mingi Muehkenbeckia sp. around the corner past a bed in shades of blue cream and yellow to a pottager small but perfectly formed, complete with fork ready to upend the beetroot! A small path then winds back beneath native shrubs underplanted with the New Zealand prostrate fuchsia Fuchsia procumbens the smallest fuchsia in the world and opposite a stunning yellow clivia Clivia miniata cv.

Now we even had time to catch a couple of trolly derby races before heading out to Nick Johnstone drive and to Tangaroa. Here on entry adjacent to drive was a spectacular display of the rose ‘Lest We Forget’. After following a flight of stairs lead by a series of potted red geraniums Pelargonium sp. we came to a terrace affording a view not only of the pottager but also glimpses of the gulf beyond. Through the back past a hedge of Teucrium fruticans, trimmed to a precision seldom seen, to a vista over the top of pohutukawas to Motuihe Island all framed with native shrubs in the foreground. Back around to the front of the house to enjoy the more full panoramas of the gulf. It was tempting to just lie out here in the sun, ah well.

Goodwin Avenue took us to the garden of John Freeman where we enjoyed a subtropical garden inspired by trips to Bali. Not least of all was the interesting placement of large bamboo poles. (A note here to John, the flower you had was of the Mexican hand tree Chiranthodendron pentadactylon.) This garden also had many water features all burbling with fountains and not to mention the many intriguing wooden sculptures.

Finally we visited the garden at Givernny Inn. Here the first of the sunset coloured day lilies were starting to make their presence felt around the margins of the spa.

Well I didn’t get to see all the gardens and to those I missed I only hope you are open next time, so I have something to look forward to. To all of those involved thank you for a wonderful day and I hope it has been an inspiration to many to get into their garden also what a wonderful way to support a worth while charity the Jassy Dean Trust.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004


What a great weekend this was! Firstly the weather turned out to be wonderful and secondly there some interesting things to be doing out and about. Saturday a friend and I drove about the island from Rocky bay to the Everything Olive Festival where we were treated to some delicious morsels and a pleasant relax on the lawn while listening to some live entertainment. From here it was on to the ‘Garden Gurus’ grand launch. Dino and Andrea have a fabulous selection of garden ornaments, furniture and water features. All this with more music and a glass of bubbles made for a great social occasion. I have to say I was impressed by how much work they have put into making their garden look so good in such a short space of time.

It was while we were out and about I couldn’t help noticing the manuka Leptospermum scoparium flowering everywhere on the hills and along the sides of the road. When I was young manuka L. scoparium was considered scrub, which I guess it is basically, but a very attractive one if you ask me. Manuka L. scoparium has a very definite role in nature, being known as a pioneer plant. These pioneers colonise land disturbed in nature by erosion or other natural events where soil is left exposed. The young scrub soon takes hold and then provides shelter for the birds who in turn deposit the seeds of the larger forest trees. No better place is this displayed than the revegetation schemes in place down at Matiatia.

In the garden, there are many forms available from double flowers to colours from pure white through pink and red. When picked and brought inside, the blooms and leaves have a slightly sweet smell, almost pine like. One place worth a look for manuka L. scoparium specimens is at the Manurewa botanical gardens. Here there is a wonderful display of a large number of different varieties. They trim them to keep them from becoming too large and also to keep the plants lower so the flowers can be more easily enjoyed. I think the effect of them all together and trimmed, even when not in bloom, is captivating. The foliage seems to froth in shades of dull green to bronze and almost deep red. With this in mind, it surprises me they are not more often used for hedging as I am sure they would make a most unusual and interesting hedge. The other thing in their favour is their tolerance of harsh conditions, cling to dry road side banks and in the full blast of howling salt laden winds. Marvellous recommendations for plant expected to grow in the conditions which largely prevail here on Waiheke. All this and I haven’t even mentioned all the medicinal and cosmetic properties of tea tree, its other common name, and not least of all honey from bees working manuka flowers. By all accounts the latest information is, manuka honey has great anti-viral properties.

I mentioned the other name tea tree, I prefer to use manuka to avoid confusion with the tea tree native to these parts. This tree is a much larger specimen altogether however rather similar in appearance. The botanical name is quite different, Kunzea ericoides. Flowers are much smaller and appear closer to Christmas, but then they are another story.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Anemone painting Posted by Hello

Monday, November 01, 2004


Spring is moving on, so too is the growth of plants and nowhere is this more evident than the vines now festooning themselves across the front rail of our deck. My favourite of these is the Mexican blood flower Distictis buccinatoria, syn. Phaedranthus buccinatoria the common name being rather gory for such a showy plant. As the name suggests this vine is native to Mexico, where it was discovered in 1824, (or at least first botanically noted). It sports not only wonderful red blooms, yellow at the base, up to 5cm in length, but also bold glossy foliage. The leaves forming a great foil for these attractive flowers. The vine does best when planted in a location with the benefit of all day sun.

Another vine competing for space on the deck rail is the bower vine Pandorea jasminoides ‘Rosea Superba’ which bright pink flowers with a much darker throat. The foliage is dark glossy green and quite handsome, but I think I prefer the tubular blooms of Mexican blood flower. Maybe one day I will let the Mexican have full reign of the deck as pink is not one of my favourite colours. It would seem odd to have a plant that doesn’t really fit my taste, but as is often the case I inherited this vine when we bought the property. In the meantime the bower vine gets the stay of execution because it is providing shelter on the deck.

Whilst most things in the garden are going ahead in leaps and bounds, many of the subtropicals are looking a little worse for wear after being savaged by the spring gales. In particular at present I am thinking of my bananas Musa sp. and gingers Heliconia subulata (no relation to the weed ginger Hedychium gardnerianum) This season I really must get more shelter planted along the westerly boundary to try and negate the howling sou’westers and westerlies that belt in. It is a pity because right now the H. subulata are sending up their flower spikes amid a collection of ratty old leaves instead of lush bright green foliage. Still I can pick the blooms and bring them inside where they should last for weeks. There they will keep company with the orchid flowers of one of my Cymbidium sp. which also lasts for weeks when cut.

Well for now that just leaves me to remind everyone about the Waiheke Retravision Jassy Dean Trust garden Safari coming up on Sunday November 14. I am sure there will be something for everyone who has any interest in gardening and well worth taking the time to explore gardens and places otherwise not seen.