Treasures of North Island: A Gardener's Paradise

Part 2 of Tony Kings Trip to New Zealand where he meets other palm enthusiasts and visits their wonderful gardens.
by Tony King, 34 Keats Ave., Romford, Essex, RM3 7AR, UK

Chamaerops No.28 Autumn 1997

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 interest.

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 Auckland.

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.

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