SEARCH (there is a lot more) - plants, beasties, atmospherics, and Wellington's south coast
Keep in touch with the good earth

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!)


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!


Colourful spring foliage in Auckland's Eden Garden 

Here in Wellington our trees are shaped and pruned and often stunted by wind.  In Auckland trees have a much easier time.  With less wind they tend to grow very quickly to a good size.  On a brief visit to Auckland this weekend I was delighted by the trees in their fresh spring growth.  A particularly good place to see beautiful trees that don't do well on Wellington's south coast is the lovely Eden Garden.  It was created by volunteers who started planting over forty years ago in an abandoned quarry by Mt Eden, a volcanic cone.  The site is steep and rocky but (I presume) blessed with good volcanic soil. 

Eden Garden is a memorial garden, and when I visit I go to see my father's tree.  His tree is in a glade - difficult to photograph but a special setting. 

The leaves of Japanese maple, backlit by bright sunlight, are glorious in crimson and green.  The pink colour is due to the leaves of the Toon tree - Toona sinensis.  They are this improbable pale shade when they first emerge in spring.  Greens of camellias, magnoliaas and rhododendrons - especially vireyas - provide a rich contrast, as do some lovely mature native trees.  Japanese maples are a particular treat for me to see.  Their foliage is wind sensitive and just when it emerges and is at its most tender, the equinoxial gales are whipping around our place in Island Bay.  But not here in Eden garden, enclosed and sheltered by the old quarry.




The sight of these colours was irresistable to my trigger happy shutter finger - digital photography allows you to take too many photos. 




Here, even brighter backlit leaves glow like the colourful glass of stained glass windows.




And where the light is softer on the steep path down to Duncan Dale, the reds and greens of the Japanese maples quietly intensify each other.  Bliss!


Long after the fire, Happy Valley hillsides turn from grey to pink

The Cape Province is only a small area of South Africa but it has a wonderful range of endemic plants (plants found only there.)  Many have been introduced and flourished elsewhere, one perhaps too well - Senecio glastifolius or pink ragwort, a pretty perennial daisy bush which appears on Wellington hillsides each spring in ribbons of purplish pink.  It is bright and cheerful and the bees love it. It took me a while to notice that it might appear profusely in one place for a year or two but then the show of pink would dwindle, only to spring up somewhere else.  And that somewhere else would be another area of disturbed ground - a building site, a pathway, a place where trees had been cleared, and in this case a place where the shrubby cover had been burned in a scrub fire back in February 2013. In the first spring after the fire I was expecting to see pink.  No - just some green grass covering the soil.  But now in October 2014, the second spring after the fire, there is a flourishing of pink particularly where the fire did the most damage.  A reminder of the fire near Owhiro Bay, on the Happy Valley hills. And now, looking at the affected area but from further away (Tawatawa Ridge, on the city to sea walkway with a view across to the Happy Valley hills towards Te Kopahou) -A colourful if weedy view - pink ragwort and golden gorse, contrasting with the rich greens of native shrubs.  Both these weeds seem to be more problematic in other areas of New Zealand, but appear to be less overwhelming in windy Wellington where they provide shelter for native plants which then gradually take over.  I know that is the case for prickly nitrogen fixing gorse - a formidable protective "nursery plant."  And it appears that pink ragwort does not completely dominate for long.  But even at home in South Africa it is said to be something of a pest because of the way it can take hold in disturbed ground.  Being a successful plant unfortunately often also means being designated a "weed" - whether you have been introduced from afar or not. 

If a weed is disrupting an ecosystem or displacing the plants that originated in a particular place, it seems reasonable to want to conserve and nurture the plants and ecosystems that are threatened.  It is not always easy!  But along the Tawatawa Ridge walk, you can see New Zealand shrubs and ferns growing amidst the thorny gorse and the purplish pink daisies of Senecio glastifolius.


Buff-tailed bumblebees in pink and blue. 

Spring weather is always a feast of changes and today we have been blessed by sunshine and stillness, with barely any wind.  Favourable conditions for plants and animals alike.  More and more flowers are opening, colouring the garden.  The tall Echium spikes are still blue with their little flowers, there is an abundance of pink flowers on my rose-scented pelargoniums, and buff-tailed bumblebees came out in force.No doubt appreciating the kinder weather and the plentiful supply of food, they buzzed from flower to flower, sometimes dipping their heads in so far that all you could see was their little buff bottoms.We are encouraged to plant food for bees whose job as pollinators is so important for our food supply.  Fashions in gardening come and go, but failing to include flowering plants is a loss for all of us.