Ewen's garden

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

Saturday, March 26, 2005

blue garden Posted by Hello


It is that time of year when one of the first things people will comment about is the situation with their water supply. It is a sad thing to see the garden shrivel in the intense heat of summer, plants wilting cracks gaping and bugs taking advantage. It's enough to make anyone feel blue! I have taken a new approach to my garden, saving the water from my shower and kitchen, I am now watering my precious plants from this supply, not only are the plants looking good, but the bugs are getting a fright from the soap suds and the soil is getting an extra boost of organic matter!

Even with the drought I still find late summer and early autumn to be the most pleasant time of year, the ground is warm and dry, the days not too hot and the evenings cool, sounds like paradise to me. Next year I am going to try and get myself a load of pea straw one way or another to use as mulch. The pea straw not only adds nitrogen but keeps in the precious moisture and adds organic matter improving the soil. This will be just perfect and now is the time to be on the look out for pea straw. It is a pity no peas are grown here on the island, but must be imported to the island; did I say I had the blues?

Recently I was asked about blue flowered plants and what would I recommend. Blue flowered plants aren’t all that common, although there are some exceptionally beautiful examples, delphiniums Delphinium sp., iris Iris sp., lobelia Lobelia erinus and gentians Gentiana sp. The first time I really took notice of gentians was in the botanical gardens of Edinburgh. Here the low growing bulbs, native to the alpine region of the Alps of Europe, spread in sweeping carpets of the most striking sky blue, a real treat in the dull cold of December. As is often the case these plants are not suited to our climate, preferring the cold of the South Island to our warm winters. A former employer of mine, of English extraction, was so determine to flower his precious gentians in Oratia, he actually resorted to putting ice around them! Not for me the obsession of growing plants from an inappropriate climate.

Still there are a number of plants that succeed here with not too much trouble. Without simply making a list I shall just mention a few. A small ground covering plant with small blue flowers is ground morning glory convolvulus mauretanicus don’t be put off by the generic name of convolvulus this native of North Africa only spreads a metre or so and makes a wonderful ground cover.

The Morning glory vine we all know and curse as a rampant climbing weed is Ipomoea leari, from a genus of over 300 species from the warmer parts of the world. I. leari is native to tropical America and gains its common name from the fact its blooms open in the early morning with the most intense blue colour fading to magenta as the day wears on. There is a species indigenous to the northern regions of the Northland, Ipomoea palmata with pale purple flowers and certainly not a weed. There were some examples of this vine growing in the rear car park in Oneroa, but I see it has been weeded out!

More on the blues next time.

Friday, March 11, 2005


Well, I know mine certainly does at this time of year with hay fever. There do seem to be many plants with delicious scents about at the moment. Last column I wrote about Magnolia grandiflora, and made mention of Michelia, closely related to the magnolias, which have strong perfume and beautiful flowers. These trees and shrubs, of a genus of some 45 species are from South East Asia. The Genus is named for the Italian botanist Pietro Antonio Micheli. Species commonly grown in New Zealand are M. doltsopa and M. figo flowering in the spring and early summer and share a strong scent. The former grows to a height of six metres, while the latter only grows to about three metres.

Plants with perfume blooming at the moment include the cluster wax vine Stephanotis floribunda, belonging to a genus of 15 species from countries as far afield as Peru, Cuba, Malaya, South China and Madagascar, the last being the native home of S. floribunda. My specimen is growing in a pot and twining its way along the rail of the deck. The small white and highly fragrant flowers are held in clusters as their common name suggests. It is these flowers that are highly prised as florist flowers, particularly for wedding bouquets. This vine needs a sheltered spot preferably in partial shade and somewhere you can enjoy its scent.

In a wee pot at the base of my stephanotis is a wax flower Hoya carnosa. From a genus of 200 species, H. carnosa is a native of Australia. It has a delicate scent arising from its waxy flowers of pinkish colour held in tight clusters. The vine likes to be pot bound and will only flower from the same spur each season, so you must careful not to knock these off if shifting it at all.

Adjacent to both of these are yet two more scented plants, gardenia Gardenia augusta ‘Professor Pucci’ with small double white flowers and a heavy scent. Next door is frangipani Plumairia acutifolia its clusters of star shaped creamy flowers. Both these plants are warm climate plants and in particular the frangipani needs shelter and the help of a sunny wall behind, particularly important through the winter, to help bring on the flowers.

Also out at the moment are the naked ladies or belladonna Amaryllis belladonna (not to be confused with deadly night shade Atropa belladonna, the poison of medieval times). There appears also to be some confusion as to the botanical name of the belladonna lily even now, as some say it is now called Brunsvigia rosea, however, I shall call it Amaryllis belladonna. This hardy bulb throws up purple stems at this time of year, topped with pale pink and powerfully scented blooms. The flowers appear before the leaves and are good for picking, but I think the perfume would be rather over powering if brought indoors. These bulbs once planted will naturalise themselves easily with no further input from the grower, except maybe to take away the dead leaves at the end of winter.

I hope everyone enjoys their autumn and the hay fever isn’t too severe. I think autumn would have to be my favourite time of the year, still warm, settled weather and yet the ground is dry and warm under foot. Will need to start thinking about where plants could be planted after the rain comes.