Ewen's garden

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

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Peaches and cream

A couple of years ago a peach seedling volunteered itself in our garden. It is not in the perfect place but I thought at least if it had the grace to grow itself I would let it stay. Last year there were nine fruit on it, unfortunately I got to pick three, I suspect someone else got there before me. This year, there is much fruit on the tree and I got in before it was pilfered! I presume the peach is a ‘Golden Queen’ an old time favourite, especially for preserving and cooking. The way I like them best is flambéed, with butter brown sugar and a little whiskey. After the flames, allow the mixture to reduce a little, wrap in crepes and a dash of whipped cream, what a way to start a Sunday! Last Sunday in a consolation to at least one waist line, the peaches were added to apple a little brown sugar (to allow the juices to run) and eaten raw on the crepes. I have to say the dietary measures weren’t extended to a cream substitute, although this week I have added, Greek yoghurt with honey, to the shopping list. With the heat of summer still scorching on, the only other things to be surviving at the moment are the tomatoes. These too are now almost finished, the last fruits beginning to shrivel on the vines.
While scratching about in the garden recently I have made a couple of discoveries. Firstly a palm tree I planted around four years ago, lost beneath a queen of the night. Guess the Queen-of-the-night is going to have to yield now to the rediscovered treasure. The palm is related to the kentia and comes from the same island, Lord Howe Island in the Tasman Sea. The botanical name for this palm is Howea belmoreana, having a long slender trunk, often leaning and topped by graceful curving fronds. If you think the kentia, Howea forsterana is slow growing, I think you might find its cousin H. belmoreana even slower. It is worth the wait and as I hinted, the old queen (not me!) is for the chop! The other more common kentia palm, H. forstana was hugely popular in Victorian times as a house plant, as it survives very well in low light and containers. This spawned a large seed industry in Norfolk Island at this time.
The other discovery was the flower of my blood lily, Haemanthus coccineus, from the family Amaryllidaceae, a genus of some fifty species. These bulbous plants are largely native to southern and tropical Africa. This one is native to South Africa and sends its bloom up from the dry earth in the middle of summer, just as mine has done this year. The flower, as the name suggests, is blood red while the stem is pale green with purple flecks on it. This display is followed by spectacular fleshy leaves, each bulb usually sporting just two, like large green tongues poking in opposite directions. The foliage alone makes it worth growing but the ability to survive, especially in my garden through the dry is just another bonus.
Well on that dry note, I hope everyone’s plants are battling through in the dry. It is a season to expect some failures but there is always autumn, a great time to get plants in the ground. The soil will still be warm and the replenished water table will provide the perfect environment for new plants.

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Southern conifers

Recently a reader asked if I could identify a tree form a picture they sent to me. I am afraid I have been a little slow in responding! Well I can confirm the tree was a Norfolk Island pine, Araucaria heterophylla. These trees are sentinel in many coastal places in this country and instantly recognisable with their rigid and symmetrical form. The confusion for this reader was the branches and in particular the older ones, these were quite pendulous, almost weeping. I have noticed this in other older specimens of Norfolk pine. As with many trees the mature form is often different to the juvenile stage. This tree is also native to parts of the eastern Australian seaboard. Others in the Araucaria genus from Australia include the bunya bunya A. bidwillii. A grove of these stately trees can be found in the Auckland Domain, down the path that leaves Domain drive near Stanley Street. The trees are mature and their enormous trunks tower upwards to the dense canopy. The effect is quite eerie, like a set from Lord of the Rings. The red seed is borne in large cones and was once a delicacy of the Aborigines.
Yet another native of Australia in this genus is the hoop pine, A. cunninghamii. This tree has a rather spongy overall look to the canopy and is not so commonly seen.
From near by New Caledonia comes the Cook pine, A. columellaris. As the name suggests the form of the Cook pine is slender and upright. It is often grown in the villages and in avenues to the chief’s house in New Caledonia. A specimen of the Cook pine is growing near the front gate in the garden of my father’s cousin. It was usually considered to be an unusual form of the Norfolk pine, but now we know different.
From much further to the east, comes the monkey puzzle, A. araucana, native of South America, named for the Araucanian Indians. The monkey puzzle is found in alpine regions and so in 1795 when it was first brought into cultivation adapted to the climate of the British Isles with no problems. It swiftly became very popular especially during the Victorian era when people had a penchant for the odd and unusual. All the other species in this genus are too tender for the British climate.
Not of the same genus but in the same family lies our kauri tree, Agathis australis. This genus includes some fifteen species found throughout the Pacific and parts of South East Asia. There is some confusion however so to whether they are really all separate species or just variations of one single species, that is for the botanists I guess. The kauri, the mightiest tree in our forests, and arguably the longest lived, is surprisingly somewhat temperamental. The most important thing to remember is the susceptibility of their shallow root systems. The feeding roots are all very close to the surface, and so prone to damage from any interference, be it foot traffic of people or cars and excavations. So if planting one of these magnificent trees be careful where you place it, it may be here for generations, lets hope so.

Labels: , , , , ,