Ewen's garden

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

Sunday, October 21, 2007

All in a name

Despite the equinoctial gales howling around us all weekend I did manage to get into the vegetable garden and plant my tomatoes and other spring vegetables. I am a wee bit later this season, but better later than never is my philosophy. Next task will be to get hold of some good mulch to help keep in the moisture as the dry winds whip across the island. I will water the plants while they are young, but am loathe to use too much water as summer draws on. The other benefit of a mulch is as it decays it adds much needed organic matter to the soil.
Now inside I have turned my attention to the correct name of a palm I have in my garden. I was sold it as Dypsis baronii, a clumping palm, that is to say it has multiple trunks much the same as the golden cane palm, Chrysalidocarpus lutescens. Both these palms originate in Madagascar but the latter requires a true tropical climate, where as D. baronii will tolerate the cooler climate we have here. The golden cane palm is much used in the tropics for landscaping, particularly planted as a hedge. I have D. baronii growing beneath an Illawara flame tree, Brachychiton acerifolius, where it is thriving with no attention from me. The arching fronds create a wonderful backdrop to the water feature in the foreground. At this stage my tree is only about 2.5 metres in five years, and as yet I am unsure as to how large it will eventually grow (one reference stated 6m). I am happy for it to push up into the limbs of the Brachychiton above it and as it also produces new stems from the base it should be no problem. I did have a problem with it though and this was its correct spelling. I had seen written in some publications as Neodypsis baronii, dilemma, which was the more recent nomenclature? With all my books across the study floor I was still at a loss, I always said you can never have too many reference books, apparently I still don’t have enough! So I turned to the internet, and typed in Neodypsis baronii, the first listing was from the US Department of Agriculture. Here I discovered Neodypsis was indeed the correct nomenclature, Dypsis, the synonym. Also the date the name was verified, 12 Nov. 1996, last updated,11 Feb. 2007! Excellent, now I know, not that it may mean much to others, but if I am looking for information about the cultivation of a plant, knowing the exact name is important. Unfortunately this site had no pictures of the palm, however another search of Dypsis took me to the site of the Palm and Cycad Societies of Australia, where there were a couple of pictures, verifying I was indeed looking at the correct palm. It would appear they were still using the synonym though. Confused, I hope not, my point is the internet can be a quick and perhaps tidier way to find information than pulling all your books off the shelves! Another good resource is the city library, the Island branch has many good books on gardening, design and reference books.

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Harbinger of Spring

A couple of weeks ago, I was happy to hear one of the harbingers of spring, the whistle of the shining cuckoo. I seemed to me this migratory bird with a metallic green back and stripy breast was here early, after over wintering in the Solomon Islands and the Bismark Archipelago. Certainly the weather last week was very spring like with torrential rain, thunder, lightning and worst of all hail. At the vineyard, many of the new shoots bore the scars of this rather brief onslaught. It is unfortunate this sort of thing is largely unavoidable, but shelter from the wind is something we can achieve. Many properties on the Island are in very expose sites with not much soil to speak of. In these cases I think it is best to emulate nature and follow her example. Along the coast, above the high water line, amongst the cracks in the rocks are the hardiest of plants, tolerating wind salt and thin soil in the cracks. In this list of plants I would include pohuehue, Muelenbeckia complexa, a wiry semi climbing plant, rengarenga lily or rock lily, Arthropodium cerratum and many native grasses. These plants act as the first line of defence against the elements, followed closely by New Zealand flax, Phormium tenax and P. cookianum, toetoe Cortaderia sp. In the lee of these plants could then be grown hardy shrubs and small trees. The idea is to lift the wind in a graduated manner allowing for each line of defence to shelter the next, until you have a place largely protected from the worst of the weather. Admittedly if you want a view as well then you may have to sacrifice the shelter. In my opinion the view can be best appreciated of it is ‘framed’ by some planting, allowing for a certain amount of protection from the equinoctial gales.
Certainly if vegetables are to be grown, protection from the wind is a help. Plants will benefit from not being so exposed, coming into growth sooner in the season and producing better crops. Other than this it is much more pleasant to be able to use the outside at this time of year, when are unfamiliar with sunny days. Hopefully too, birds will be attracted to a more sheltered environment and perhaps the shining cuckoo may visit seeking out the nest of the poor wee grey warbler in whose nest it lays its own egg. What a valiant surrogate mother the warbler makes, raising this impostor’s chick. The shining cuckoo is about the size of a thrush but is more often heard than seen. To me a sure sign of spring as the cicadas are the sound of summer when they begin to emerge later this month.

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