Treasures of North Island: A Gardener's Paradise
Part 2 of Tony King's trip to New Zealand where
he meets other palm enthusiasts and visits their wonderful gardens
by Tony King
Chamaerops No.28 Autumn 1997
Left: Keith Boyer's garden in Auckland. Note Caryota,
Archontophoenix, Syagrus and Sabal
Middle, top left: male cone of Lepidozamia peroffskyana.
Middle, top right: Ochagavia carnea.
Middle, below: Aloe polyphylla
Right: Dick Endt with Parajubaea cocoides
Issue 26 of Chamaerops carried
the first part of my article covering my visit to New Zealand during
their late summer in February 1997, focusing upon a number of spectacular
native plants encountered in habitat whilst travelling around a
small fraction of the North Island.
With a benevolent climate that
favours the growth of so many different plants it is not surprising
that a number of wonderful gardens have been created. In this, the
final part of my article, I would like to share with you some of
these gardens and notable plants within them that I found of particular
Although frosts would occur in
most, if not all, of these gardens, the types of plants growing
in them, would indicate that these would be of short duration and
not especially severe. That said, winter is a time of wet, very
windy and cool weather and any plants must therefore be able to
cope with this prolonged and testing period. I am sure that many
of the plants that follow would be worth cultivating outdoors in
much of the milder parts of Europe, especially Portugal, Northern
Spain, Corsica, Southern Italy and even the Western coast of France,
Ireland and the UK.
I should start in the garden of
my host Keith Boyer, in the ranges to the West of Auckland. This
is part of the water catchment area for the city itself, and is
wetter than the great city just below it. Often, the ranges would
be shrouded in low cloud or mist when viewed from a clear downtown
Keith's garden is on a slope that
catches the sun for a large part of the day. Several terraces have
been formed and the garden contains areas of differing character.
Keith's long interest in cultivating plants and trying new species
is especially reflected by the maturity of a number of palms grown
from seed some years ago. A notable example is a fine Archontophoenix
Purpurea, perhaps the largest in New Zealand, that had just shed
an old leaf to reveal the remarkable purple crownshaft below, a
colour that improved as the days passed. The strict laws governing
the importation of plant material and a nursery industry just waking
to the potential of exotic plants result in enthusiasts raising
and exchanging their own plants from seed. Spares can then be exchanged
or sold through societies and between collectors.
In an especially interesting area
of the garden a rainforest has been created, with well defined layers
of plants with a canopy, dominated by a number of Syagrus, a 'middle'
strata that includes Temperate Heliconia's and Climbing Philodendron's
to a ground flora of Stromanthe, Hedychium and ferns amongst many
other plants. The Syagrus Romansoffianum are interesting in that
they represent two forms. The loveliest of which bears a thick trunk
and sprouts fronds composed of large, tough leaflets and has a generally
stocky appearance. The other develops a thinner trunk and has a
lighter, finer crown of fronds. The two types are distinguishable
from an early stage.
In this jungle too are numerous
species of banana some of which bear wonderfully marked foliage,
marbled with dark red. A huge Ensete Ventricosum had flowered and
the enormous, slowly dying, flower spike arching under its own weight,
was full of hard, black seeds. Banana species grow well here, relishing
the regular rainfall and warm summer weather. If the winter is cold,
they are felled to the ground but regrow with the return of the
Behaving in a similar way are a
number of aroid species, such as Alocasia and Colocasia. These are
a speciality of Keith's nursery and he has been collecting a number
of different forms. As with many plants we cultivate, precise naming
of many of these forms has become confusing over time, with several
names being used by different people for the same variety, so Keith
has spent a lot of time trying to assign the correct names to those
he cultivates. One of the hardiest, and largest, is Alocasia Odora,
which although cut down by frost regrows each year. It has large,
green shield shaped leaves and typical aroid flowers in summer which
release a strong and sweet perfume, especially during the evening.
This species can be raised from seed and would have good potential
as a pot plant for outdoors in summer in cold areas, you can overwinter
the tuber inside the house, or where frosts do not penetrate the
ground too deeply try it outside.
Other palms of interest in the
garden include a number of Caryota Gigas and Ochlandra. These grow
rapidly to large dimensions and it is planned to create an extension
to the rainforest area with a canopy dominated by these unusual
That beautiful relative of the
familiar Kentia palm, Hedyscepe canterburyana revels in the cool,
wet conditions here, that must remind it of its Lord Howe island
home. A wonderful example graces the garden with a clear trunk and
stiff, arching foliage. Butia,Phoenix,Trithrinax,Sabal and Livistona
are amongst many familiar palm friends here, but new species are
beginning to arrive too. Among them, Geonoma, with red trunks, the
unusual Wettinia,(Catoblastus), Praemorsus from the cool, slopes
of the Andes and Parajubaea, will hopefully find this a home from
home being adapted to a moist, cool climate.
Readers of these pages will already,
no doubt, be aware of the often 'inaccurate' and rather outdated
information contained in many gardening books, that discuss the
cold tolerance of many of our favourite plants. A good job the plants
can't read, or they would find out they should not be growing outdoors
with crazy members of the EPS! A good example of this is the increasing
use of Bromeliads outdoors, an area in which Keith is a pioneer.
Many occur at high altitudes in the wild and whilst it is true a
number are tropical in their requirements, others are surprisingly
tolerant of cold. Bilbergia, Aechmea and some Neoregelia, for example,
come in an amazing variety of patterns and colours that intensify
with the onset of cooler winter weather, they really can glow at
such a dull time of year. Very easy to care for and needing little
or no soil! Just place a few amongst your plants, they will look
amazing!, but remember, they won't tolerate prolonged, severe cold.
Surprisingly, perhaps, succulents
perform well in this wet climate too, with two spectacular species
of Aloe being worthy of note. A. Polyphylla, from the Mountainous
kingdom of Lesotho, where it is an endangered species, forms large,
single rosettes often well over a foot across. Although the leaflets
are plain, it is the way they spiral themselves within the rosette
that make the plant so unique. Normally a tricky species to cultivate
well, though reasonably frost resistant, the many I encountered
were the best I have seen anywhere. Likewise, Aloe Plicatilis, which
grows with Proteas in the fynbos of its South African home, is a
winter growing species bearing dichotomous fans of grey foliage
that are really architectural. The multibranched examples I encountered
Auckland itself contains many green spaces.
Around the University campus are some interesting plantings, often
featuring unusual species. A good collection of cycads, many in
cone, comprise one such bed. It is a pity that theft of cycads is
an ever growing problem and the plants at the university were planted
through sheets of mesh wire to stop would-be thieves from digging
Close by, is the former residence of the English
governors of New Zealand from days gone by. The grounds are full
of old plantings, which include a huge Erythrina Indica tree, planted
over 100 years ago. There are also mature Rhopalostylis Baueri originating
from the original seed collection of this plant on Norfolk Island,
they are truly impressive. Neighbouring the university is Albert
park, which is worth taking time to walk through to admire a wide
variety of mature trees and shrubs.
The Domain, is another area of parkland worth
a visit. A range of glasshouses contains a mix of plants, some of
which could undoubtedly be grown outdoors!, as well as a fern quarry.
As it was summer the ferns looked a little the worse for wear, but
with winter rains they must be superb. Many, many species can be
found here, including a good selection of tree ferns.
Leaving Auckland, Keith and I headed down to
the Taranaki area and the oil city of New Plymouth. This is sheltered
from cold Southerly winds by Mount Taranaki, which also acts as
rainmaker, by trapping cloud around its peak. Coupled with its warm,
Northerly aspect, New Plymouth has a good Micro Climate for a whole
range of plants.
It is here that Pukekura and neighbouring Brooklands
parks can be found, old, yet immaculately tended by the city. It
rained during my walk through Pukekura, though that served to add
to the atmosphere! A lake dominates the park its shores surrounded
by many, large, tree ferns, mainly Dicksonia Fibrosa, which revel
in the damp climate.
Rhododendrons and Camellia's make imposing trees
here, and it must be spectacular to see them in spring, covered
in bloom. Floral highlights during my visit were to be found in
the glasshouses! A large display of red and orange South African
Disc orchids and numerous individual pots of a Streptocarpus species
that bore one giant, furry leaf and a spray of mauve flowers were
Later in the day and when the rain had stopped
we headed for Brooklands park. Here a group of the Australian cycad
Lepidozamia Peroffskyana caught my attention. This lovely plant,
with a liking for cooler, moist climates, grows very well in much
of North Island. A male plant with cone shedding much pollen was
fascinating. The cone is huge and resembles a work of modern art!
Not bad for a plant, little changed from the days of the dinosaurs.
This easy going cycad is a great choice for the amateur cycad grower
and well worth cultivating.
Just outside the town, at Waitara, lies the
nursery and garden of Barbara and Brent Dury. Set in a spectacular
location, along an estuary,(complete with large Bream in the clear
water), this is a garden of treasures. Barbara has been collecting
palms and other plants for some time and the nursery she now runs
specialises in producing Cycas Revoluta and Taitungensis, both of
which do well in New Zealand.
In flower at the time were many forms of the
bulb Amaryllis Belladonna. The result of a breeding programme undertaken
by Barbara's father many years ago, the plants pepper a grassy slope,
in a naturalistic setting, down to the estuary. They carried their
large, trumpet flowers in varying shades of pink, some deeply coloured
with contrasting white throats.
A garden in sheep country?
Leaving Barbara, we headed south to a unique
garden, belonging to Clive and Nikky Higgie near Wanganui. Clive
runs a large sheep farm, but he has a deep passion for plants, of
everykind, and has devoted a large area of the farm to his collection
even planting unusual tree specimens across the fields, protected
from nibbling sheep by oil drums around their bases!
Clive exchanges and obtains seeds and plants
from all over world and his collection forms a veritable botanic
garden. Around the house are many palms, including a lovely Jubaea,
just commencing its phase of upward trunk growth. He has also constructed
a large, walk through glasshouse, full of gems, needing extra warmth
and shelter from the winter wet. It includes many of the unusual
plants from Madagascar.
The most spectacular area however is a field,
resembling a steep sided amphitheatre, with a mini lake at its base.
One half of this faces the sun and is hot and dry, the other in
contrast, shadier and a little cooler.
Tracks wind there way along the slopes, amongst
one of the largest collections of xerophytic plants I have ever
seen... but don't slip or you could end up impaled on a Yucca or
a giant Cereus!!
Puya, Dasylirion, Agave, Aloe, spectacular red
flowering Erythrina and much, much more are here, all labelled and
carefully researched to confirm there identification.
The opposite side is home to palms, some such
as Livistona and Washingtonia planted in large numbers, many bamboos
and shrubs of all kinds. I was especially taken by a giant lobelia,
which had carried a huge flower spike, though Clive hasn't arranged,(yet!),
the Gorillas that would normally feed upon it in its native home
high in the mountains of Africa.
Interesting too, a plant of the rare palm Juania Australis, which
I saw for the first time. Growing in quite a dry spot, in full sun,
an attractive plant with silvery undersides to its fronds. Nearby,
a species of Chusquea bamboo with spiky, stiff leaflets, this plant
originating from the seasonally dry habitat shared with the more
familiar Chilean Wine palm, Jubaea.
It was a real privilege to visit this remarkable
garden, that is tended solely by Clive, Nikky and their children
to a very high standard.
An EPS members garden...
A jump back to the Auckland area now and a chance
to visit the large garden and fruit orchards of member Dick Endt.
Readers of Chamaerops will be familiar with articles that Dick has
kindly provided, the last featuring Jubaea in Chile. He has visited
the high Andes on a number of occasions, introducing new plants
both for our gardens and as potential fruit crops. Orchards of some
of these can be seen at his home in Oratia, there is even a large
Again, red crownshaft Geonoma are cultivated
here along with wonderfully healthy, and sizeable Ceroxylon, those
majestic wax palms. Perhaps, however, his speciality is Parajubaea
Cocoides and this is well represented throughout the garden by many
large specimens complete with shaggy, hairy trunks!, one even sports
two trunks! Pride and joy is the tallest of his many plants, which
has been producing its curious long flower spikes for some time.
These emerge from various levels of the trunk and at least one of
them had successfully set fruit, so perhaps it won't belong before
Dick is producing seed of this interesting and graceful palm in
A new plant, not formally identified at the
time of my visit, was about to be introduced as an ornamental. Grown
from seed he collected, it is an attractive member of the aralia
family, with divided, puckered leaves resembling a Schefflera, a
very desirable plant.
On the up...
A very different garden was that of Jim Rowe,
who lives in the neighbouring valley to Keith, in an even wetter
part of the Waitakere ranges!
Jim, a retired and very knowledgeable gardener,
has been especially interested in epiphytes for many years. His
collections often date back to original introductions and are genetically
valuable, as many of these 'species' currently available have actually
become hybridised over the years
Again, a sloping garden, of mature trees, whose branches bear vast
clumps of bromeliads and are dripping with 'christmas' cacti, ferns,
orchids and many climbers. Great if you have a small garden and
want to make use of vertical space, but not for a freezing climate!
My final visit was made North, to Dargaville
and the collection of member John Lok. An avid palm collector, John
and his wife Margery, are experts at persuading palm seeds to germinate!
Testament to this is there large collection covering a wide range
of species, including a number needing tropical conditions. A large
greenhouse is full of pots and trays of seedlings, all growing well
and in some cases very fast!, especially some Roystonea.
John also obtains large numbers of seeds of
the four species from Lord Howe island,both types of Howea, Hedyscepe
and the smaller and tricky Lepidorrhachis Mooreana. Germination
of all these is slow and none require much heat to sprout, just
a lot of patience!
Evidence of success here were the vast numbers
of Howea Forsteriana that john supplies to the N.Z. market. These
make good indoor and outdoor palms for much of North Island. Indoors
they are tolerant of low light and some neglect. Outdoors, they
are tough, wind resistant and a graceful palm ideal for greater
use in palming up Auckland, though the lovely native Nikau should
also not be forgotten.
A whistle stop tour, but so many plants to see.
New Zealand is certainly a long way to go but if you ever have the
chance do make the trip. There is just so much to experience in
this gardeners' paradise!
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