The Christmas Show

"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas" - because the Pohutakawa is bursting into bloom, right on target. It's known as New Zealand's Christmas tree for good reason with it's scarlet blossoms splashed along the coastlines, particularly in Northland. This favorite native Metrosiderous excelsa the absolute authority on New Zealand trees and shurbs, Audrey Eagle informs me "Specimens of Pohutakawa were first collected by Banks and Solander in 1769", thanks Audrey. 

In contrast a rare color form M. Aurea is blooming right now in my over grown garden.


10 years ago my clivia seeds, purchased from Margot McNeil in South Africa's Drakensberg muontains had grown to young plants about to flower. With my gardener Craig we cleared areas in this densely wooded section of my property, leaving nikau palms and a variety of tree ferns as part of the high canopy providing perfect growing conditions for these robust South African's.

Rather than grouping similar colors, I chose a crazy quilt of many different flowers which resulted in a continuing display from September through October.

Clivia can be grown from seed or by division of established plants. A neat trick in the germination department, is to place a small handful of the mature seed in a plastic pouch with a handful of pine needles and very little water. These you could pin up in a garden work area and be amazed to watch the roots and first leaves appear. I recommend you leave them in this pouch until a second leaf emerges when you can pot them up and keep damp. Plain easy but it works.

Tony talks with J Barry Ferguson about his latest book Flowers are my Passport.

Internationally Renowned Floral Designer J Barry Ferguson

Presenter of RadioLive's Home and Garden Show Tony Murrell was kind enough to come along to my Eden Gardens book launch, and my interview on his show was on Saturday 5 December. If you missed hearing it live, the link is below to hear the recording.

The team who made 'Flowers are my passport'

Celebrating the arrival of the books from Korea at a book launch party at Eden gardens in Auckland on Thanksgiving day November 26th. The folk who made this book (Left to right: Claudine Thompson- book design, Liz Light- my cool, efficient Editor, Tim Brown- of BookPrint my publisher and Belinda Cook- P.R and distribution,with the author).  

Spiced ginger

A foretaste of summer; the first bloom on another favorite rose the soil and situation in my garden does not really favor my roses but the indifferent soil allows this one beauty to thrive. Spotted in a garden center in Acacia Bay, Taupo a couple of years ago the flowers said "take me home". The subtle shading of color from deepest apricot to pastel pink is one thing, the fragrance is another. To me its a subtle mixture of fruit and spice, tough to define but an absolute winner in the perfume stakes. 


Distictis or Mexican Blood flower.  The vine growing as shelter over the deck is D. buccinatoria, which if you can get over the tedious name, is a member of another large plant family, the Bignoniacea  clan.  I ‘discovered’ this conspicuous and vigorous climber from a Belvedere in Ravello looking down to the pergola below, while driving along the spectacular Amalfi Drive south of Naples.  Gloriously in bloom among pink roses and violet morning glories in joyful Italian excess, it made such an impression I added it to my ‘must-have’ list.

 Vigorous and hardy here in my frost-free hilltop, I remember those glorious days as I drove around back country roads in southern Italy.  I have been watching our active Tui visitors pierce the tube like flowers looking for nectar.  Severe pruning is recommended when winter comes.


Euphorbia, a member of the large family of so-called milk weeds that through 1600 varieties ranges from tedious ground level weeds, to tree-like form; the Christmas Poinsettia for example.

In my garden right now is E. characias sub species wulfenii, making a long lasting show, and great as a cut-flower, providing you like green flowers.  As the name suggests, the plants bleed a milky white juice, to be aware of, as It can cause blisters on sensitive skin.   As a cut flower, dip stem ends in boiling water for a few seconds to seal them.  In this variety, new stems of blue-ish green foliage emerge when the old flowers are cut back.

There are several other appealing members of the milk weed family, notably, a red-orange flowered form, E. griffithii, with a selection, ‘Fireglow’, a terrific edition to the hot border.  Then there is something different, a subtly shaded variegated form called in the nursery “Silver Swan’, or E. variegata with  greyish leaves, cream bordered, and its flowers almost wholly cream,  perfect as a refined cut flower.

Lapageria - The national flower of Chile

With spring moving swiftly into summer, garden maintenance is all important; Pruning can still be done while trimming and generally tidying up the garden is what keeps me busy. I discovered the fearsome mealy bug had decided to attack the young growth of the Lapageria and its neighboring Stephanotis (native to Madagascar) and I decided it was time to tackle the beast. Repeated spraying with conqueror oil takes care of this potential disaster.

Lapageria occurs naturally in the forrest of southern Chile's temperate rain-forest areas. This evergreen climber with leathery leaves has a peculiar growing habit vines twine counter clockwise in the southern hemisphere and clockwise growing in the north. The flowers have 6 thick waxy tepals (petals) usually a light cherry red with small white spots flowering here in the late summer through February and my now mature plants produced fruit, like the size of an oval tomato, containing myriad seeds. In nature the plant is pollinated by hummingbirds and sadly is increasingly rare in the wild due to over collecting.

The flowers are normally red with others in shades of dark pink and there is a very lovely and rare white flowered form L. rosea var. albiflora which is growing happily in my car port. This is a choice and delightful flowering vine if you can provide hospitable growing conditions, semi shaded trellis or through the branches of an open bush. 

Cabbage Tree - Cordyline australis

The cabbage tree is a branching monocot endemic to New Zealand. It was known as a food source by the indigenous Maori people. The leaves provided fibers for textiles, ropes and mats. Fruit of the post flower phase- is a favorite of native pigeons. This conspicuous tree grown as an ornamental garden plant and appears spontaneously throughout the length of New Zealand. It blooms for 4-6 weeks with a sweet fragrance and flowers usually in alternate years but sometimes as for example this year a bumper crop of flower heads are produced attracting birds, insects, geckos, and lizards gathering nectar. The Tui is a steady customer along with bell birds, saddle backs and New Zealand robins.

Farmers report that a heavy flowering usually follows a dry season as we had last summer. This cordyline is a familiar icon throughout the country has many uses beyond its fibers and Maori's found many uses including an ingenious rain cape. Importantly the growing tip of the plant or meristem was valued and cooked as a bitter vegetable served with fatty foods hence the allusion to cabbage. 


I planted my sweetpeas on the shortest day and now they are already as tall as I am and showing buds. My other legumes include sugar snap peas and two types of beans (butter beans and climbers (Mangere pole) which are racing away.

Now January and after a fierce storm, but less than a hurricane the sweet peas and their trellis have been so knocked about I've cut them down and prepared the area for the next crop of climbing green beans. Sweet peas are worth any effort; they give so much in color and fragrance I will continue to grow as many as I have space for each year.