SEARCH (there is a lot more) - plants, beasties, atmospherics, and Wellington's south coast
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Wednesday
Dec172014

High cloud at sunset and a light and colour show

Yesterday Wellington had a lovely summer's day that was actually warm (24 degrees!) and sunny with clear blue skies and almost no wind.  As the day ended, halo phenomena became evident in the high cloud that had developed.  I could see what looked like one side of a halo, with the rest hidden by the headland at the southern end of Island Bay.  I think the bright spot (which is in line with the position of the sun) was a parhelion or sundog.  Here the arc of light is seen reflected in the calm water of Island Bay.  Some divers in the water, the rocky shore, and the island Taputeranga are all in silhouette as is the misty outline of distant mountains in the South Island.  The arc of light appeared brighter than in the photo, and you can just see the characteristic reddish tinge on the inside. 

The sun was low in the sky.  It was too bright for me to try and photograph its position in relation to the arc of light.  As the sun continued to set the halo was less evident and the colours of sunset started to take centre stage.  First a soft golden light contrasted with the rocky shore, coast road, and South Island in the distance. Then the colours warmed up - pinks, apricots and gold, and the sky darkened - seen from a vantage point further from the beach.But it didn't stop.  A feature of high cloud is the way it captures colour after the sun has gone down - and sure enough, the wait was worthwhile.  A fiery red was the finale. Now I am accustomed to the idea that a red sky at night, "shepherd's delight", signifies good weather the next day.  So I was surprised to read that high cloud like this, which colours red at sunset, can be a sign that the weather is going to deteriorate, that there may be an approaching front of a depression bringing rain in the next day.

Sure enough, mist and rain today.  Oh well, it was lovely while it lasted!

Saturday
Dec062014

Photographic play & the beauty of waiuatua, Euphorbia glauca

I love the colours of waiuatua - Euphorbia glauca, New Zealand sea spurge.  It is often included in amenity plantings along Wellington's south coast, so even though it is endangered ("in decline") in nature, we can readily enjoy its beauty - this photo was taken by the car parking area at Princess Bay.Looking down on the blue green leaves and the red/purple flower structures - they contrast strongly, but the overall effect is quite gentle.  I have further softened this with the magic of digital postprocessing in Lightroom by reducing mid-tone contrast using the "clarity" slider. 

A huge number of photos are taken and shared these days - capable cameras are readily at hand, able to do all kinds of things for us.  Even though maybe quite a proportion of the photos taken are quick snapshots, and are processed using presets, I nevertheless appreciate the way that photography involves some degree of attention, awareness, experimentation and discovery.  I find that taking and processing images can be meditative and it can be playful.  All of it deepens my appreciation of the complexity and interest in aspects of the natural world which can otherwise be so easily overlooked.  And it strikes me that if we slow down, take time, and really savour the process, photography can be a delightful kind of awareness practice.

Thursday
Nov272014

Lilies everywhere - New Zealand style

At this time of year - late spring/early summer - rengarenga or rock lilies (Arthropodium cirratum) seem to be everywhere - masses of little white flowers announce their presence, lighting up the often difficult places where they tend to be planted - they cope with a wide range of conditions.  The clumps of long mid-green leaves can look handsome in their own right, if they haven't been feasted upon by slugs and snails.  But the sheer profusion of flowers is something else.Close-up you can see that they are not just white - the stamens are white and purple, and have yellow bristly brush-like anther tails, and the buds have a purplish flush. It is endemic to New Zealand.  The significance of rengarenga to Maori as outlined in this RNZIH paper has been considerable, a food source also used for medicinal, spiritual and other cultural purposes. 

From a wee lily to a tree lily...the flowers are again small but large in number.  Ti kouka, ti, or cabbage tree (Cordyline australis) is another endemic New Zealand plant.  The distinctive spiky tree shape is seen on farm paddocks, on the margins of bush and in gardens through the country, although it has been decimated in some areas, especially Northland, because of a disease appropriately named Sudden Decline.  Fortunately there seems to be a lessening in its severity in recent years.

Looking down on a mature tree in flower -And looking up -The flowers are sweetly scented and followed by numerous berries.  The native pigeon, an impressive large bird, loves to feed on them. 

One of the largest tree lilies in the world, it is also very resilient.  Ti does well as a coloniser on bare ground and is often used in restoration plantings.  It has a deep taproot that holds fast to the ground, fire resistant bark, and is easily propagated from seeds or cuttings, even bark cuttings.  Ti has also flourished in gardens in the Northern Hemisphere and has acquired the name "Torquay Palm" in its travels - Torquay in the south of England is a long way from home! 

But despite attempts to appropriate it, we tend to regard it as an iconic tree, a symbol of New Zealand. 

Wednesday
Nov192014

A world of roses in my backyard - China, Charleston, Paris, Reunion, Ispahan

Well, the wind has been roaring, but that has not defeated roses in my back yard.  To live here they have to be tough, and in this difficult spot I have a number of old-fashioned roses - chosen because of their more informal beauty, their perfume, and their robust constitutions.  They require (and get) little attention apart from admiration.  They have also travelled a very long way to end up on this windy Wellington hillside, and thinking of their distant origins is one of the delights I enjoy with these plants.

We start in Charleston, South Carolina, where a rice planter named John Champney was given a China rose, Old Blush, by his neighbour Philippe Noisette.  Champney crossed the repeat flowering China rose with the autumn-flowering musk rose Rosa moschata, producing Champney's Pink Cluster, regarded as the first of the Noisette roses.  It was repeat flowering - a quality that breeders sought, vigorous and scented, and a very good parent rose for breeding.  In turn, Philippe sent some seedlings from this rose to his brother Louis in Paris, and he introduced this one, Blush Noisette, in 1817.  (This is the usual account, but in his book Classic Roses Peter Beales has as a footnote an account, written in 1846, of a breeder in Long Island being the source of the Noisette, and sending seedlings to a French nurseryman in Rouen where they were sold before Noisette's rose turned up.  It was suggested that Philippe Noisette may have acquired his seedlings from Long Island somehow.  Who knows?) The lovely clusters of little blush pink scented blooms begin to open in early spring and continue till late autumn.  It is a healthy tall shrub that can be trained to climb if you want it to.

From the Middle East came the Damask roses, natural crosses between the species roses Rosa moschata, Rosa gallica and others.  They were brought back to Europe by Crusaders of the 12th and 13th centuries. This group of roses has strongly perfumed petals and varied growth and flowering patterns.  Ispahan is a summer flowering Damask, producing generous displays of warm pink flowers over a period of 6-8 weeks.  Ispahan is named after the Iranian city (Isfahan) famed for its beautiful gardens.  Rose history is always somewhat contentious it seems, but it appears that this rose was bred in Persia, now Iran, in the early 1800's.  There are descriptions of roses like it growing in large numbers on hillsides between Isfahan and Shiraz.  What a glorious sight that must be!Ispahan makes a large cheerful bush, the roses strongly scented and lasting well.

And from the island of Reunion (once called Ile de Bourbon) in the Indian Ocean near Madagascar, came the Bourbon roses.  They are thought to have arisen from a cross between the Autumn Damask and the China rose Old Blush.  The director of the island's botanical gardens sent seeds to his friends in France including M. Jacques, head gardener to the Duc d'Orleans, who recognised the new strain of roses and named them Bourbon roses.  They are repeat flowering vigorous shrubs, and many crosses were made in French nurseries yielding beautiful varieties very popular in gardens at that time.                                 

 

Rose Honorine de Brabant belongs to this lovely family. It has wonderfully eccentric stripes, splashes and speckles of crimson or purple on pale lilac pink. It makes a healthy strong growing shrub that can be trained as a climber.

(It appears that the first Bourbon rose might have been introduced to India, as it was described growing in the Botanical Garden in Calcutta, now Kolkata, before seed was sent to France. Rose history demonstrates again how it is rather full of intrigue and mystery!)

Thursday
Nov132014

Dynamic weather - cloud appreciation time

Over the whole country we have been having capricious spring weather, with hail storms and strong winds causing some havoc.  For Island Bay it has been pretty much things as usual - in other words, dynamic!  The weather forecast yesterday suggested we would be hit by showers and hail, but the morning was bright and sunny.  A bank of clouds seemed to be rolling in from the south, and behind Taputeranga was a line of cumulus clouds, with a towering cumulonimbus providing some drama.Not only do they look dramatic, cumulonimbus clouds are associated with dramatic weather - thunderstorms, lightning, severe wind gusts, hail.  But although there was some rain in the distance, conditions were bright and sunny - not the stormy weather that was anticipated.  It was only very late in the day when the clouds became menacing.In the area of bright cloud over the Orongorongos there were flashes of lightning.  I don't know what their correct designation would be, but the heavy storm clouds seemed to fill the sky, and dwarfed the very large cruise liner heading out past Baring Head.  In the mist of the rain you could hardly see the Interislander ferry or the plane up in the clouds.  Now, that's the weather we expected!