As we swing into spring, the incredibly showy magnolias are bursting into bloom everywhere, and I admit there’s not much that can beat a full sized Magnolia x soulangeana in full cry. But I’d like to sing the praises of a less glamorous plant, one that is probably considered old-fashioned and doesn’t feature on too many professional garden design plans.
This shrub goes by the names of Japonica, Japanese quince, or flowering quince. Botanically it is known as Chaenomeles speciosa, which grows to about 2 metres, or Chaenomeles japonica, generally smaller at around 1 metre.
I have a soft spot for this quietly unassuming shrub.One of my earliest ‘plant’ memories is of admiring the beauty of its deep pink flowers along a bare stem, inextricably linked with images of ikebana and Japan.
This specimen grows out on a roadside corner near my house, completely neglected and half tucked into some other bushes. But every year for at least 2 months from mid-July onwards, it flowers away beautifully. The flowers seem to cling on effortlessly through wind and rain, and last longer than the blossoms we’ll be getting on the ornamental cherries soon.
I like this shrub better if it is left alone to form its rather rangy, some would say scraggly, shape – when I’ve seen it tightly clipped it doesn’t look right. So it’s not for every garden – I would recommend it for an inconspicuous corner of a larger garden, planted amongst other shrubs, where it can disappear into the background for summer and autumn, then cheer you up enormously over the winter and spring. Make sure to clip off long stems and bring them inside.
The most common colour is deep pink, however you can also find shades of lighter pink, orange, and the white and green flowers shown below.
I would always go for the dark pink myself, probably from the nostalgia of that childhood memory.
I’ve just spent the autumn searching Wellington for trees with good autumn colour, and have compiled a shortlist that should cheer up anyone who thinks that we only have year-round green as our backdrop. We’re never going to match Queenstown for picture postcard autumn displays, but you can definitely get a touch of gold, red, and orange into your garden between April and June. All of the photos in this post were taken around Wellington. As I took them, I really appreciated how the low sun at this time of year gives wonderful back-lighting to the foliage, bringing out the colours.
Maples (the Acer family) are one of the best small garden trees you can grow here. There is a huge range in the growth habit (upright, spreading, weeping), height, and foliage colours available. A favourite of mine is Acer palmatum ‘Senkaki’, shown below, which having dropped the last of its golden autumn leaves is now stunning with its bare red stems revealed in full. Other cultivars will turn orange and fiery red. Just make sure that you give a maple some shelter from the wind and from hot afternoon sun. Both will damage the fine foliage.
The Gingko tree (Gingko biloba) is another beauty. The specimen below is in the Wellington Botanic Garden and the fan-shaped leaves are still holding this wonderful golden colour in late June, just past the winter solstice. The summer leaves are a fresh green. Although slow-growing, this tree will be large. Look for Gingko ‘Jade Butterflies’ which is a miniature version that is said to reach about 3.5 metres in height. Plant in a sunny position.
Look how the leaf veins radiate out from the base, rather than from a central midrib. The gingko leaf has been found in fossils dating back 270 million years.The gingko is a living fossil and any other trees related to it are long extinct.
Ornamental cherries ( Prunus ) are dotted all over Wellington, not least because some self-seed readily and have got into the margins of the native bush, where they betray their presence with fiery autumn tones. You can expect good, late autumn colour from many of the Prunus species, plus of course the spring blossom. Look at Prunus ‘Shirotae’, also known as ‘Mount Fuji’ which seems to tolerate the wind quite well. Plant in full sun.
On a grey day, doesn’t this liquidamber (also known as American Sweet Gum) stand out against the native bush behind! This is an outstanding tree for long-lasting and vivid autumn colour. It won’t get too large here – 15 year height is approximately 8m.
People often think that to get proper screening you need a high, evergreen hedge or shrub border. Deciduous trees can be very useful instead – providing screening and shade in summer and allowing filtered sunlight through in the winter. There is the bonus of the seasonal changes bringing life to your garden. And who amongst us hasn’t enjoyed kicking their way through piles of autumn leaves! Although some of the trees shown here are quite large, don’t forget that if you go for maples there are many that will stay as small as one-two metres high and grow in a container.
Finally, a shout-out to the trees that nearly made this not-at-all comprehensive list. Birch trees, ( Betula species) , example shown below.
Golden elm ( Ulmus procera ‘Louis Van Houtte’ – you need plenty of room for this one but it’s a good hardy tree for exposed sites.
Cercis candensis ‘Forest Pansy’, the claret ash Fraxinus oxycarpa ‘Raywoodii’, and the magnificent copper beech Fagus sylvatica purpurea all deserve a mention. And if you really, really can’t plant a tree, perhaps you have a brick wall or garage that needs covering. Here is the Boston ivy Parthenocissus tricuspidata doing its thing:
Ok, so this is going to be a departure from my usual subject matter on ‘Gardens I like’, as a couple of months ago I spent 2 weeks visiting Iran. We had a fantastic trip with Intrepid Travel, travelling from Shiraz in the south up to Tehran in the north. I found the landscape and gardens fascinating.
Between towns and cities we drove for hours through dry, brown, desert. Mountains that had weathered away to nothing but rock jutted out of vast river plains, but the rivers have long since gone. It wasn’t hot, but the air was so dry we swigged water constantly from our water bottles. A bag of small sweet oranges bought from a streetside seller was shared around on the bus, and is one of my favourite food memories.
I saw a flock of sheep being driven through a carpark next to the 2450 year old tomb of Xerxes, and in true Kiwi style wondered just what they were off to eat, as I couldn’t see a blade of grass anywhere!
I have emphasised the bare landscape because it was crucial to how I came to understand the Persian garden. Travelling through a monochromatic palette of browns with no evidence of water makes you crave the colour green. Finally seeing water and green foliage comes as an almost physical relief. It means shelter, shade, and food. It means life.
In a barren landscape, even a single tree can have a powerful presence. Here is a photo of an autumnal tree which was the only one for miles around. Talk about creating a focal point.
Echoing this, at a mosque in Esfahan, the impact of this golden tree combined with the blue and gold tile work was just exquisite.
The season was very late autumn/early winter, which meant that in many places leaves had fallen and flowers were well finished. But one could still imagine the fierce heat of summer and see how the courtyard gardens are such a secluded haven from the harsh environment without. The Persian courtyard doesn’t embrace the surrounding landscape, it retreats from it to make a private and comfortable space. In a place where water is precious, it is honoured with the central position in the design.
In the restaurant courtyard above, there was everything you could wish for. A pool with a fountain, flowers, fruit trees, comfortable seating. A large overhang to give shade in summer, but also areas to sit out in the sun in the cooler months.
In the courtyards I often saw roses, pomegranate trees, and figs. Pots are used extensively, always beautifully arranged, although the Iranians are tough on their potted plants. Potting mix is clearly considered completely unnecessary – with disbelief I saw roses growing quite happily out of solid clay inside the pots.
It was lovely to see these pansies growing in old crates, in the setting of another courtyard garden. You can glimpse the pool and Persian carpets in the background, both key ingredients.
I’m not proposing that we should all start re-creating Persian gardens and courtyards down here in New Zealand. But I was struck by how, having had several thousand years to think about it, Iranians have developed a style that is entirely appropriate to their climate, culture, and lifestyle. Their gardens protect you from the heat and dust of the wider landscape, and provide peace, shade and privacy. There are symbolic meanings attached to many of the elements, but the gardens also work so well on a practical level.
Here we often have the luxury of beautiful outlooks and views which we seek to maximise. But any good garden will also have an area on an intimate scale where you can sit outside and feel sheltered and private. We can give more thought to developing our own genuine vernacular, to how our gardens sit in the landscape, how they function, and hopefully we can, given time, develop a distinct New Zealand style with solutions as beautiful and recognisable as these.
One thing I love about Wellington at this time of year (and it’s not the wind) is that we get this amazing burst of spring wildflowers.
The photos above are deceptive. The only way you’d be able to pick a posy in this wildflower meadow would be if you were wearing an abseiling harness. Our wildflowers are found on the steepest of all the hillsides. These cliffs frequently shed crumbling rock onto the roads below and are held up in places by chicken wire, installed by abseiling workers, in an effort to protect the drivers beneath. That’s how steep they are.
Still not impressed? This cliff faces south and is about 100 metres from the harbour, so is exposed to nasty cold southerlies and salt spray. Its wonderful, and surprising, what will grow here!
I could get all philosophical here about transience, survival, or beauty in unlikely places. But really I just want to point them out and say ‘enjoy’.
A park situated on a hill, that is a memorial to war, and that needs paved areas capable of holding thousands of people for ceremonial occasions, could easily feel bleak, windswept, grim, and uninviting.
But the new Pukeahu National War Memorial Park in Wellington, which opened in April, is a terrific example of landscape architecture. The designers have taken a difficult site and complicated brief, and created a place of meaning, amenity, and beauty.
Landscape architect Megan Wraight and architect John Hardwick-Smith are to be saluted for their response to the key principle of the design brief, which was ‘to create a landscape for memorial that evokes, supports and hosts commemoration’.
Pukeahu (the name translates as sacred hill) feels both contemporary and historical. Sombre and respectful, yet welcoming and highly useable. It is a thoroughfare yet also feels like a discrete space. It encourages reflection without feeling oppressive. It is also quiet, despite State Highway 1 passing directly underneath through the beautiful new Arras Tunnel.
Prior to the new park being built, the 1932 Carillon and War Memorial were sadly marooned on the hill, presiding over a roundabout, 3 lanes of highway, and a general wasteland. Finally there is now an area that dignifies and anchors these buildings, that makes sense, and that draws people to the site.
This is a successful balancing act in so many ways. The ratio of hard to soft surface feels just right, the proportions of Anzac Square feel perfect in relation to the Carillon tower, there is plenty of detail and interest, it feels neither cluttered nor bare.
Symbolism abounds at the foot of the Carillon tower. A haunting bronze sculpture of Hinerangi by artist Darcy Nicholas stands facing the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, and towards Aoraki Mt Cook far off in the South Island. The tassels on her cloak are tears for those lost in war, and the poutama designs are the pathways soldiers took in their journey to the spirit world. You can also see the poutama pattern in the adjacent pavers, symbolising the stairway to the spirit world.
Three magnificent boulders, sourced from Mounts Taranaki, Ruapehu, and Tongariro, are engraved with images that take us far back into the mythological past.
The planting is a pleasant surprise, with a nice range of both natives and exotics. Rather than being a strictly NZ native zone, the plan is for other countries to use their own indigenous plants as they contribute their memorials to the site. Hence the gum trees and grevilleas around the Australian memorial.
Plants are used in symbolic ways (olive trees for peace, pohutukawa, rata, and kowhai as the quintessential New Zealand trees), and also for their flowering times. The red carpet roses and white hebes will be in flower for Anzac celebrations, whilst Flanders poppies and renga-rengas will be out for Armistice Day in the spring.
I particularly like the way the trees are staked – using large lengths of manuka, which are beautiful in their own right. What a good idea to make a feature out of a necessity.
The Australian Memorial stands at the opposite side of the square from the Carillon, and its height is a nice counterpoint to the Carillon tower. The fifteen red columns represent the red centre of Australia. As visitors wander amongst them they find black granite panels engraved with Maori and Aboriginal art, and the names of parts of the world where New Zealanders and Australians have jointly served in war or peacekeeping.
The mingling of the red paving with the grey represents the two countries and their intertwined history. This memorial will only get better as the eucalypts grow up and over the columns – lets hope they withstand the Wellington wind.
What I love about this park is that it is not only a pleasant space to stroll about, but that it contains many layers of meanings and symbols which reward your closer attention. The history of the site is acknowledged and incorporated into the design. For instance, the pleasant grass terraces that, on a practical level deal with the rise of the hill on either side of the main square, also refer to a time when Maori developed gardens here in pre-colonial times.
A child on a scooter, a student cutting across to get to campus, a family with a picnic. People can use this park in a recreational way without feeling like they are being disrespectful. But on my visits I have also seen many people wandering through the Australian Memorial, reading the inscriptions, climbing the steps to the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, coming away perhaps having learnt something new. There is a special atmosphere at this sacred hill. It does ‘evoke commemoration’. The designers have indeed achieved their objective.
For information in this post I have relied upon the booklet that was published for the official opening on April 18th 2015, and I thank Wellington City Council and the Ministry for Culture & Heritage for this. More information is available at the website: http://www.mch.govt.nz/pukeahu-national-war-memorial-park
Is it just me, or have Wellington’s roses been really great this season? Its hard to see why, given the lack of sun and continuous gales we had all through November!
One place you will find a fantastic display of spring roses is Tinakori Road, Thorndon. Whether by accident or design, a good number of the historic houses that line this road have roses in their front gardens. So in late November I decided it was worth photographing as many of them as I could. I had to battle a lack of parking (curse you, Residents Parking spaces), roadworks, a protest march, and a howling northerly, but here is the result – a gallery of the Roses of Tinakori Road.
I’m fairly sure of the roses I have named, but would welcome any help with the unknowns!
Roses can be the most infuriating plants to grow, like when you find them covered in aphids or black spot, and you feel guilty because you haven’t fed them in ages, or forgot to prune in July. But as these pictures show, whether you tend them with loving care or leave them completely alone, they will reward you with persistent loveliness.
So mark it in your new 2015 diary – late November – take a walk down Tinakori Road!
In July I had one of the best possible days out with my great friend Libby, visiting the Royal Horticultural Society Hampton Court Palace Flower Show near London.
I admit getting to it was a bit of a mission. Being in London in the first place meant a 27 hour flight. To reach Hampton Court Palace on the day we took the Underground, a mainline train to Richmond, then a boat up the Thames. We ran late for our train, so did the London Dash – sprinting up miles of escalators, surging through the ticket barriers, galloping onto the concourse at Waterloo whilst simultaneously looking to see what platform to head for, then pounding down the platform and throwing ourselves onto the train with our lungs bursting, expecting the doors to slam shut behind us. Then naturally were informed that due to a signal failure at Clapham Junction, the train wouldn’t be leaving for half an hour.
Never mind, it was well worth it. The show is on a mind-boggling scale with hundreds of tantalising exhibits. The show catalogue alone runs to 200 pages!
First, we found the Show Gardens. After the minimalist look that was so fashionable a few years back, it is great to see the return to an emphasis on plants rather than hard surfaces. The Jordans Wildlife Garden looked like it had been growing there for ages rather than just brought in days earlier.
‘The Forgotten Folly’ garden, below, came complete with ruined Gothic archway, which incidentally you can buy to order from redwoodstone.com.
The ‘Halo’ garden, above, won the prize in the RHS competition ‘Your Garden Your Budget’, for a garden with a budget of £13,000. The designer took his inspiration from a traditional Greek island, hence the blue halo which references the domes of the Greek Orthodox churches. This courtyard garden featured a great selection of drought-tolerant plants.
Next, the Floral Marquee, which seemed to be about 800 feet long and held 96 plant exhibitors. I envied the lucky locals who were buying all sorts of treasures!
It was a grand day out, quite inspirational and loads of fun. My one piece of advice is to get there as early as possible – the crowds built up steadily as the day went on until it got difficult to get a good look at the displays. I guess that’s when it would have been a good idea to find that Champagne & Pimms tent again…
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