Ewen's garden

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

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


Currently barging its way into the lime light on our deck rail at present is the Port St. John creeper, Podranea ricasoliana (syn. Bignoia mackenii) with trusses of pink trumpets glowing against a background of dark green foliage. This vine really only comes into its own when the heat of summer is evident at which point most of the growing tips terminate in a quite spectacular spray of blooms up to 7 cm in length. P. mackenii is a native to South Africa, which explains its habit of flowering in the heat of summer. This creeper has a reach of up to 6m, so needs a little space to romp.

Last column I mentioned the coral tree Erythrina crista-galli but I need to add a little more about this genus. The common flame tree seen all over the island is also of the same genus, the exact name of which I am not sure. I believe the ones at the University of Auckland are labelled as being a hybrid, Erythrina X sykesii, possibly between E. indica (from tropical Asia and Australia) and E. caffra, from South Africa. It is most likely the ones on the island are of the same or similar stock. There is a magnificent specimen of E. caffra in front of Old Government House in the University of Auckland grounds, and has clusters of orange flowers held on the tips of the branches. This particular specimen was brought from Natal by Governor Grey in the nineteenth century where he had spent some time. The gardens around the Old Government House are well worth the stroll about, as are the gardens of Mansion house on Kauwau Island, also built and established by Governor Grey. It was the height of Victorian fashion to have not only menagerie of animals but also exotic plants. This was the era of exploration and plant hunters abounded, so it is not surprising to find many interesting mature exotic specimens in these old gardens. Of note in the mansion house garden are two very large examples of Jubaea chilensis the coquito palm or Chilean wine palm. This palm has an enormous stout trunk, similar to a Canary island date palm Phoenix canariensis. The common name for J. chilensis, wine palm, is due to the sugary sap that was collected over a period of two years. The unfortunate thing about this process was the fact the tree had to be felled! Here’s hoping they are happier now with wine from the grape!

While all this is very fascinating, what I was really about to mention was the book I got for Christmas, a biography of Carl Linnaeus, the founder of the binomial method of naming all living things. Author Wilfrid Blunt, takes the reader on a journey through this interesting eighteenth century naturist life, including his education (to become a doctor then required the study of all the natural sciences, including geology) and his explorative journeys into infrequently charted territories, cataloguing plants, animals, birds and rocks as he went. Also interesting are his encounters with and descriptions of foreign peoples. Sir Joseph Banks was a great admirer of Carl Linnaeus as explained in another book I read recently, Sex Botany and Empire, although Sir Joseph Banks was a little younger than Linnaeus, he also was a great explorer and plantsman and did much to catalogue the plants of this country. So it is off to a shady spot to carry on enjoying this summer with a good read.


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