Ewen's garden

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

Monday, May 30, 2005


Now that the rain has finally come, I can turn my mind to other things in the garden apart from fretting about water! Ironically the project I have in mind is a water and bog garden. Last year we had part of our deck water proofed underneath, in order to create a work space there. The water gathered, being no good for drinking, is collected in a small tank. It is with this water I intend to irrigate my bog garden. Across a narrow path from the tank are a pile of large blue stone rocks, placed there I am sure with much difficulty by the previous owner. These large
boulders surround a shallow dish shape and it is within this area I intend to establish my small pool and bog garden.

The plan is to put a tap in the bottom of the tank and let the water only just trickle out and into the newly formed wet area. This will then over flow down into the rest of the garden where my bananas and other wet subtropicals grow. The construction of this area will necessitate some amount of digging to create a basin in which to collect the trickling water. This basin will then be lined with the thickest polythene I can purchase and the water level determined by using a spirit level. The down hill side may well require a small parapet over which the water, if there is excess, will spill out into the rest of the garden. Most of the wet area will have a mixture of gravel and soil in which to grow those marginal or bog plants, leaving only the very centre with exposed water. This is the grand plan anyway, watch this space!

In flower at present is a plant I first encountered in the gardens at the Auckland University, Ruellia macrantha a native to Brazil. Unfortunately I do not have a common name for this plant. The flowers are pink and trumpet shaped. I was surprised to see it get through this hot dry summer with little water, as it thrives best with plenty of moisture, so I am well pleased with it. In the situation it is growing now it only stands about 60cm tall, however given better soil and moisture it may well grow even taller. Another requirement is good drainage and of course on our steep site this is no problem. The blooms appear winter through and including spring, after which a light prune will keep it tidy. The one thing this plant doesn’t have is a scent, never mind the 5cm x 3cm flowers make up for this.

Monday, May 16, 2005


It is funny sometimes how the penny will drop. For ages I have been pondering an area in the garden that requires planting and it wasn’t until I was considering how dry it has been that the answer came to me. It is interesting how many plants, tolerant of drought, have grey foliage and how attractive they are. Many of these plants also have yellow flowers and so the penny drops, have an area of grey, blue, green, white and yellow! The first of these plants springing to mind is the Brchyglottis greyii previously known as Senicio greyii, a native of the coastal regions of the lower north Island. They have blue grey foliage on the upper surface and almost white on the under sides, it is for these leaves that they are mostly grown, with the flowers often being cut off (they are yellow daisies). Well not for me, I shall let them glory in their blooms. Along with the B. greyii will go the Marlborough rock daisy Pachystegia insignis native to the rocky banks and coastal parts of Marlborough. The flowers of the rock daisy are as may be guessed white with a yellow centre and about five centimetres across. So both these are used to hot dry conditions and perfect for my hot dry sunny bank.

It is a common trait of xerophytes, plants tolerant of arid conditions, to have grey rather fluffy or tomentose foliage. A good example of this is the low growing lamb’s ear Stachys lanata the foliage almost white with the fuzz on them, perfect for the edge of the garden adjacent to the steps. There is only one thing I would have to consider here though; the flowers are small and purple. Will this go with my colour scheme? I could cut them off, or justify them by saying the border across the other side of the path has a mixture of blue purple and red and like any good prose where the paragraphs are linked so too will my adjacent gardens! Another colour note to have in common with the two borders will be blue. To the back of my new garden I would like to see pride of Madera Echium fastuosum which will add height and contrast. Along with the pride of Madera could go yuccas Yucca filamentosa native to the arid south of the US will be well adapted to my arid bank. This plant has a rosette of rather sharp leaves from which burst tall spires of creamy bell shaped flowers, a companion at the back with the pride of Madera. Others in this garden will be the native corokia Corokia cotoneaster, and euphorbias Euphorbia sp. To add interest and another link to the adjacent garden will be grey and white flowered bearded iris.

Another area of my garden doing rather well given the dry has been the bromeliads, one of which has just started to bloom. The striking flowers emerge from upright rosettes of leaves, of a rather purple colour with yellow spots. The flowers are of strident pink to red spathes from which appear delicate lime green and electric blue flowers! What a show off! Not only do they look good on the plant but may be even better when picked and brought inside. I have mentioned bromeliads before, but this one is so easy I couldn’t resist, especially given how well they tolerate the dry.

More of dry planting schemes next time.

Friday, May 06, 2005


This year autumn has been more than usually dry. My rain gauge shows since the end of the first week of January we have had barely 30 mls of rain, most of which fell during the spectacular thunderstorm the Thursday before Easter, 19ml! It is at times like these we really get to notice the star performers in the garden, those which possess the ability to perform despite the elements. It is now we can find where exactly those slightly more damp areas are, like where the septic irrigation field really is, pronouncing itself by the lush green plants which have sent their roots down to the nutrient rich noisture.

On our property this is evidenced by the rapid and luxuriant growth of our Illawarra flame tree Brachychiton acerifolius. This tree has put on an astounding three metres or more in barely three years and is what found me up the tree with the loppers the other day. I good prune was in order I thought, lest we become overwhelmed by the ever spreading branches. Irony worked against me this day, just as I was patting myself on my back, for the ease with which I could climb and prune the branches (the wood is particularly soft) I slipped and nearly fell from the tree. Warning, be very careful and ware non slip shoes! The tree is now pruned and we shall have light
on the deck for the winter. This is the second time this particular tree has been pruned and so I anticipate another pruning session in a year or so, to try and keep it under control.

Another tree to come under the pruners scrutiny, was the pride of Bolivia Tipuana tipu a rather small tree producing long water shoots every season. The name of this tree has eluded me for some years, but I have finally tracked down its name, I don’t like having nameless plants in my garden. It is helpful not only to impress people, but also to know more of what sort of conditions and treatment it is likely to require. Tipuana tipu has small pea like flowers in early summer followed by winged seeds, similar to a maple, Acer sp. This is all followed by rapid growth of water shoots bearing pinnate leaves. It is these shoots I have lopped off; hopefully leaving enough new seasons growth for next springs flowers.

Other plants finally looking not too bad are the bananas Musa sp., recovered from the wild spring gales and surviving on the moisture from the septic field. It is in this part of the garden I will concentrate my moisture loving subtropicals. To other parts of the garden plants such as Agave attenuate relish the dry, although these are now some what of a cliché, there are others in the succulent family which perform just as well. Many of these will provide not only some colourful flowers but also rather striking foliage. One such plant is Doryanthes sp. a genus of three lilies from eastern Australia. These lilies produce large flax like upright leaves and tall spires of red flowers. Along with these might go yuccas, sedums and other xerophytes, (plants of dry places) more of which next time.