Ewen's garden

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

Friday, February 25, 2005

Magnolia Posted by Hello


What a great pleasure it was to wander around the coast the other day and see the Sculpture on the Gulf, not that many of the sculptures would have worked in our small garden! The large scale of the setting was a perfect foil for the size and stature of these pieces, the sun setting over the city in the distance, the heat of the day gone, a very pleasant exercise altogether.

On our return to the car, we passed some magnolias, Magnolia grandiflora, the beautiful evergreen magnolia of the southern United States. These trees not only have a handsome form, growing to height of up to 25 metres, sport large dark green glossy leaves, russet on the under side and large dinner plate sized blooms. The flowers are creamy coloured and look almost like they have been sculptured out of fine butter, but there the similarity ends, for they possess a rich musky citrus scent that pervades the air. In the UK and Europe these fine trees are often found trained against the wall of a house, where their blooms may be enjoyed from adjacent windows. In this climate they will freely grow in the open where given room they will spread themselves wide. The flowers are not always at sniffing level unfortunately, often opening in the heights of the tree, fortunately while taking a stroll in Albert Park the other day I had the pleasure of sinking my nose into the cool depths of a voluptuously open flower held at just the right level. It is almost impossible to believe such a beautiful flower should have such an exquisite scent, to good to be true. For those who have not the space for such an expansive tree, there are now smaller varieties available, one being M. grandiflora ‘Littlest gem’ growing to only a fraction the size of the original, or you can as I have mentioned prune it to kept in proportion.

Magnolia grandiflora is just one of 80 species of magnolia spread in habitat from East Asia, the Himalayas, to central and North America. The species arising out of the Himalayas are often deciduous bearing their flowers on the naked branches at the end of winter, the most common of these would have to be M. campbellii, with red to pink flushed blooms of a similar waxy consistency of M.grandiflora. This variety may not flower before 25 years of growth, but well worth the wait. Another commonly grown form is M. stellata with smaller white flowers borne on bare branches in late winter. The petals are rather narrow but plentiful and give rise to the name stellata with the impression of a galaxy of stars.

The genus was named for the French botanist Pierre Magnol, director of the Montpellier botanic gardens during the eighteenth century. Of the same family Magnoliaceae, are the port wine magnolia, Michelia figo and the Wong-lan, Michelia doltsopa, but more of these next time. Also coming up, something of the clustered wax flower, Stephanotis floribunda, a small vine about to flower in a pot on my deck, so until then goodbye.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Beth in her garden Posted by Hello


Last week found me yet again on Journey to the south of the North Island where my family are from. This time I was accompanied by a friend and we travelled as far as Cape Palliser. This is a wild and wind swept place where all plants must struggle just to survive in the teeth of violent storms that sweep in from the southern ocean. Right at the Cape, there is little vegetation at all on the steep hill sides, merely bare rock. One of the species most commonly seen here is taupata, Coprosma repens, a hardy plant growing in the most inhospitable of places. This plant often takes on a form reminiscent of bonsai, gnarled and contorted, some specimens living for long periods and still growing prominently on rocks I recall from childhood! It is this trait that makes taupata C. repens, a useful coastal hedge plant, one not so regularly seen in these parts. This seems a shame, as it has dark green glossy leaves and forms a perfectly handsome hedge. Other plants form this habitat are golden taihinu, Cassinia fulvida a small shrub with pale green leaves and golden coloured stems, thriving in dry windswept conditions, along with coastal flax, Phormium colensoi, pohuehue, Mueuelenbeckia complexa, mingmingi, Coproma propinqua and cabbage trees Cordyline australis. All these plants I feel are worthy a place in our gardens if for no other reason than their wonderful ability to withstand otherwise intolerable conditions.

It was interesting to note how much later the Pohutukawas Metrosideros excelsa were blooming, almost a month later than here. It must be said though Palliser Bay is much further south than their natural habitat. While in Masterton I naturally stay with my parents and I am always interested to see what’s going on in Mum’s garden. It might only be 1/8th acre, but it is jam packed with unusual and interesting plants. She opens her wee garden, Tussie Mussie Garden, to visitors by prior arrangement, Ph. 06 3773473. My father, Ross, has a small corner dedicated to natives and is in charge of structures, while Mum, Beth, is responsible for the rest including propagation in a tiny glass house. It is impossible to come away without some small bits and pieces for my garden here on the island!

On leaving the Wairarapa we headed north and rather than going through the Manawatu gorge we went over the saddle road which leads through the new wind farm. This is well worth the deviation, and is possibly no longer than winding your way through the gorge. The views are fantastic and the windmills are a real surreal treat! I can’t imagine why people are against this form of energy, the windmills are like a giant art installation always changing and providing enough power for a town of 30,000 people! At the top is a parking area located at the base of one of the enormous mills which completely dwarf cars and people alike. A couple of information boards explain the whole windfarm that is laid out all around the hills before you, one of the highlights of a trip through this region.

Meanwhile back on the rock we are now getting at least a little moisture to keep things going thankfully and the pressure is off the water tank!

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Podranea Posted by Hello


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.