Ewen's garden

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

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


So, that was it, Christmas is over and done with for another year and it is time to go to the beach! Well this is the case for me; the carrots, unpulled, are all going to seed along with the celery from last season and the Italian parsley. I enjoy letting the odd lettuce , silver beet and flowers such as calendula and borage the same as I can’t afford the water to keep them going. The benefit for me is their seeds put themselves about the place so I don’t have to. What I do need to keep on top of though, are the weeds. If I can help it, I shall have them out before they set their seeds about the place! Well there’s a goal, if the beach doesn’t lure me too much.

At the moment I have a shell ginger Alpinia zerumbet flowering away for the first time this season. The flowers look like exotic lanterns. These plants require a rich soil and an ample supply of water to bring them into flower. A sunny site during the winter is also a plus. Mine are over the irrigation field for the septic, perfect.

Another favourite of mine just coming into flower at present is the Pride of Bolivia, Tipuana tipu, as the name suggest is a common tree from that country. The leaves are pinnate and display a distinctly willowy appearance, while the flowers are yellow and pea like in structure. The blooms appear on stems grown during the current season, so pruning should be effected after flowering. Pruning is almost essential if you don’t have the space for the long water shoots, (up to 3m) produced as the season goes on. I have seen specimens in Barcelona where the trees had been trained to grow tall and the water shoots allowed to weep down, creating a lovely weeping willow feel.

Speaking of trees and pruning, brings to mind the debate raging at present around the felling trees in down town Auckland. The first thing I would like to point out here, is the Herald’s mistake of printing a picture of bungalow palms Archontophoenix cunninghamana and inferring them to be nikaus! This sought of thing doesn’t help the debate at all, please get it correct! My opinion is they should retain the trees that have so gallantly grown over the last twenty years and add more to them, those being native. At least the exotics existing partially defoliate during the winter. Here’s hoping sense will prevail!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


In full bloom at present on our deck are two icons of Christmas. They are both lilies, Lilium longiflorum and Lilium regale the former with sprays of almost white trumpets and the latter with pale red on the outside of the petals and white inside fading into clear yellow. This lily L. regale was introduced by a gentleman of the name of E. H. Wilson in 1925. It has proved to be probably the most commonly grown of the many different types of lily in this country. Lilium longiflorum is of equal beauty and ease of growth, infact even more easy of bloom than L.regale, at least in my experience. Both these lilies can be propagated by seed or by taking the scales from the outside of the bulb. These are then planted in drills and covered with a couple of centimetres of sharp sand. Good drainage and plenty of water are imperative for the success of these bulbs, and some plant food doesn’t go amiss either and for this the rewards are rich.

Another plant in full bloom currently about the island is the tree grevillea or silky oak, Grevillea robust. This tree is native to Australia and in the warmer parts of New Zealand is a good performer, tolerating drought and hot summers. The only thing I would say about it is, it can be rather messy, shedding leaves almost constantly all year. When it comes into bloom it will shed nearly all the leaves, then the bare branches glow in the orange drift of blooms. This propensity to shed its leaves close to a house will be a constant problem in gutters and across the lawn. The leaves are also difficult to compost, so a site away from the house would be recommended. Another thing is the branches are rather brittle and in an exposed place will drop small branches in wind. Having said all that, I am enjoying one growing on a neighbour’s property down in the valley, the best place for it! (in someone else’s garden!) There are many other species of grevillea, over 250, many of which are worth growing in the garden, including a great ground covering species with deep wind red flowers. The genus is named for Chas. F. Greville, a founder of the Royal Horticultural Society, and all the species are native to Australia, Tasmania and New Caledonia. They are all good doers in drought prone areas such as Waiheke, and speaking of which I must water my containers on the deck! I am now saving the water from the kitchen for this purpose I assume also using this water gives the plants a little bonus in the nutrient department, I hope so!