Treasures of North Island: A Gardener's Paradise
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
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aware of the often 'inaccurate' and rather outdated information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
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