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

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.


Little purple treasures in the spring garden - heartsease and Iris innominata

The burgeoning of new growth can make springtime a bit overwhelming - all these visual delights!  It is also a time of reckoning - have my little treasures survived the rigours of life in the windy coastal site where I live? 

So far, so good.  A particular delight right now are some lovely purple Iris innominata flowers - my plant came from Hokonui Alpines, a special nursery in the South Island.A much less sumptuous purple flower, and much more abundant, is heartsease - Viola tricolor - from which the much larger garden pansy was bred.  This is a herb which has been used for a variety of medicinal purposes and the flower is edible too - a charming garnish.  It might be small but it is very persistent.  I bought a plant from a herb nursery about thirty years ago.  A constant companion since then, it travels with me, seeding enough to mean it pops up wherever I and my plants have gone, but never to the point of being a pest. 

The self-fertile flowers can be purple, blue, yellow or white and from that one plant I have quite a mix.  I think of it as having a very cheerful perky presence.  It has lots of other names which suggest it has that impact on other people too - they include: heart's delight, tickle-my-fancy, Jack-jump-up-and-kiss-me, come-and-cuddle-me, three faces in a hood, love-in-idleness, call-me-to-you, johnny jump up.  A little wild pansy with quite an impact!


One Wellington day - spring winds, god beams and rainbows

It started with a ferocious northerly, beginning to fade in the morning after a very stormy night.As the clouds began to break, rays of light shone through in "god beams" over Island Bay.  Then the clouds and mist cleared quite quickly, and the sky became a bright forget-me-not blue.  Looking towards the South Island a rainbow made a brief appearance.  A really lovely day - for a few hours.  Then...ominous clouds from the south, heavy and dark, with raggedy rain-bearing edges. The wind picked up, the clouds advanced quickly and kept shifting and changing, creating an almost spout-like formation.It was as if the spout-like formation was extruding a rainbow to snare the Interislander ferry passing by.



The ferries are used to dealing with the stormy weather of the Cook Strait between the North and South Islands.

And spring weather in Wellington is indeed very dynamic.









Sure enough - there was more to come - a darkness appearing to subdue the bright mist and the rainbow.The light faded as the sun began to set, a pinkness apparent in distant low cloud beyond Baring Head.  The rainbow reasserted itself - the rain had broken although the clouds still had a threatening aura.The colours intensified the way they do when the sun is very low.  And then the light show faded away. 

The winds were settling.  Knowing Wellington weather we anticipated a lovely clear day after the storm.  And it was.


Red & green - Kaka beak (kowhai ngutukaka) and shotgun conservation

Red and green stand for "stop" and "go" - pretty much the state of affairs for the attractive NZ native shrub, Clianthus maximus or Clianthus puniceus, known as the kaka beak or kowhai ngutukaka because the shape of the flowers evokes the beak shape of the kaka, a New Zealand parrot.  Red light - even though it is enjoyed as a garden plant, the survival of the kaka beak in the wild is seriously threatened.  Green light - people are trying to save it.  The Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust (click to find out more) have come up with some creative tactics - and the use of shotguns is not for killing anything, but to access otherwise inaccessible places, away from the pests who find this shrub so palatable.

At Otari Native Botanic Garden here in Wellington there are many kaka beak plants and they are out in full splendour.  In dappled shade, the low spreading branches of this plant are fresh with bright green leaves and heavy with dangling crimson flowers. Out in a brightly-lit open space more red and green is to be seen - at the back on a trellis fence covered with kaka beak and in the foliage of small shrubs framing another kaka beak plant.  The spear-like silvery leaves of the Astelias provide a sharp contrast. Some people think New Zealand native plants are dull - maybe they just aren't looking.