Treasures of North Island: A Gardener's Paradise

(page 2)

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 spring.

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 'fishtail' palms.

That beautiful relative of the familiar Kentia palm, Hedyscepe Canteburyana 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Readers of these pages will already, no doubt, be aware of the often 'inaccurate' and rather outdated information contained in many gardening books, that discuss the cold tolerance of many of our favourite plants.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 were enormous!

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