Ewen's garden

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

Monday, March 06, 2006


Recently I had an inquiry from Gwen Rutter as to the identity of a plant in her garden. The description and picture indicated immediately the genus Agave, but I was unable again to accurately identify the species. Agaves are a large genus of plants belonging to the
Agaveaceae family all native to the warmer parts of America. Most of which are well suited to life in our climate, the most common seen these days is A.attenuata or fox tail plant due the long fluffy flowers it produces. This species, like all of the genus, produces a large rosette of pointed leaves of a rather glaucuos grey green colour. Some species will, is the case with Gwen’s specimen send up a flower spike metres into the air, an example of which can be seen opposite to the entrance to the supermarket. Once this flower head has set seed, the rosette dies, allowing the off sets produced at the base to grow. Many of the larger species will take up to 40 years before they flower, but worth the wait I would say, if you have the space and time to wait.

Another plant from a large genus is the Sedum containing some 300 odd species. These are all succulents with fleshy leaves and clusters of small white or yellow flowers and more rarely red. One of the more common species Sedum rubrotinctum has leaves resembling jelly beans in shades of red and green. Flowering currently in my garden is Sedum spetabile in shades of white, pink and red. These are welcome in my garden at this time of year when everything else dried and shrivelled. They are growing on a steep bank in the company of lamb’s ears Stachys lanata, used as an edging, bearded iris (of course not in bloom) and some sweet alyssum. These are at the top of a flight of steps leading to my garden shed, hut, studio and hidey-hole. Here on a shelf I have a collection of the Gardener magazine from the past 15 years. Glancing through the issues from the early nineties, it was interesting how garden fads have come and gone. This was the height of the cottage gardening mania. Every other article was either about cottage gardens or cottage garden plants. Thank goodness we have moved on, or have we? Look today in the magazines and the gardens are all highly designed with sub-tropicals everywhere, no more the old fashioned roses falling about the place with lavenders and hollyhocks! There also seems to be a fixation with the small exhibition gardens of the Chelsea and Ellerslie ilk. I would have to confess though to being at times a slave to fashion, striving when I had my first garden in this neck of the woods, to produce a tropical wonder! Tropical no wonder more like! I have to be content to grow what really only sensibly survives in my conditions. The result is less work, and more pleasure, especially so during the summer, when I simply let the vegetable garden grow into an over blown arid wasteland. Better to have vegetables during the winter and spring when there is ample water and the soil temperature isn’t a baking 28 degrees!


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