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This week’s Guest Blogger is Kasia Babel

I love horticulture for the vast number of opportunities it gives to you if you are willing to spend some time on researching and deciding what you want to do.

In the photograph Sasa quelpaertensis, the dwarf bamboo, growing so dense that it does not allow for natural regeneration of the Korean fir forest. The dead stumps of the Korean fir and a member of the Hallsan National Park checking on the seedlings. Babel, 2019.

One of many of those opportunities are bursaries offered to people working in the horticulture industry to allow them to learn new things, create more contacts and enjoy plants to the full. I was able to go on three travel scholarships, all of them to South Korea. I have learnt a lot, met fantastic people and walked a hundred miles. One such project I was interested in (and I still keep my fingers on its development) was the restoration of Abies koreana (Korean fir) forest. This species, with beautiful purple cones, is
often planted in gardens. In its natural habitat, however, the numbers are declining. Two of the main reasons for it, is firstly, the disturbance to natural regeneration of the forest by Siberian roe deer damaging seedlings and secondly, physical overwhelming by the faster and denser growing dwarf bamboo (Sasa quelpaertensis).

I had the chance to see the work the Hallsan National Park Conservation team does to help the forest to survive, and I am amazed by the job they are doing. It is an excellent example of collaboration between science, ecologist and horticulturist.

Summarising, the horticulture team sow and then care for the seedlings in the Hallsana Arboretum Nursery. When the seedlings have established, they are planted into small trays made of biodegradable material and placed in a marked area in the Hallsana National Park. A member of the National Park team checks on them regularly, keeping the dwarf bamboo away until the fir are taller than the bamboo. The tray consists of 6 to 8 seedlings, but
usually, only one Korean fir will survive the seedling stage.

Abies koreana seedlings in the nursery. Babel, 2015.

It may sound easy, but the trees are located almost on the highest part of the Hallsan Mountain (1,995 m), and there is no other way than to walk using one of the four hiking trails (each one of them offers a beautiful view and a good sleep at night). I must admit that hiking the Hallsan Mountain was my favourite part on both my trips (2015 and 2019), mostly because I was able to go there with people who are passionate about their plants, saving the forest and, even that we couldn’t always communicate freely, they put a lot of effort to make me understand the issue regarding the Korean fir forest.

If you work in horticulture, please check if you can apply for one of many available bursaries. Going on a trip like that leaves you with a lot of memories and allows you to meet great people who love plants as (I am sure) you do!

Abies koreana 8(!) years old seedling in a tray. Only one will probably survive. Babel 2019

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Christine Hennessey

Composting at Home

There’s a reason seasoned gardeners refer to compost as black gold. Rich and dark, this earth-like substance composed of decayed organic material is a powerhouse of nutrients. When incorporated into the soil, plants are healthier, flowers bloom brighter, and pests don’t stand a chance.

The best part? Compost can be made at home from ingredients you were planning to throw away, which means it’s not only good for the garden but environmentally responsible as well.

Composting at home is neither complicated nor expensive, and all it takes to start is just a few materials and the right combination of organic matter.

What to put in your compost pile

Composting requires three ingredients.

  1. The first is brown material, which includes dead leaves, branches, and twigs. These provide carbon.
  2. The second is green material, such as grass clippings, vegetable scraps, and used coffee grounds. These provide nitrogen.
  3. The final ingredient is water, which delivers the moisture needed to break down organic matter.

Get the ratio of materials right—too many scraps and not enough leaves, and your compost will turn into rotting sludge. The ideal ratio is two parts brown to one part green.

Make sure materials you add to your compost pile are in the smallest possible pieces. Chop vegetable scraps, shred newspaper, and cut twigs and branches. This increases the surface area and helps materials break down faster.

When building your compost pile, avoid meat, bones, or fatty foods. These require very high temperatures to decompose and can harbor unhealthy bacteria.

Tools for composting at home

Kitchen scraps and dead leaves are really the foundation of a compost pile. Still, there are a few tools that will speed up the process and make composting at home easier.

  • A pitchfork will help you turn, mix, and aerate your compost.
  • A garden hose will make it easy to keep your compost pile moist.
  • A small canister or bowl on your kitchen counter lets you store vegetable scraps until you’re ready to carry them to the compost pile.
  • A compost thermometer allows you to monitor the temperature of the pile and make sure it’s hot enough for decomposition to occur. Ideally, your compost pile should stay between 110°F and 160°F.
  • A tumbler is a composter that spins, and can be used to compost smaller amounts of materials. Beware, though—as the tumbler fills up, it will be more difficult to turn.
  • A compost bin has a small footprint, but makes it difficult to turn the compost, which means the process takes longer overall. It can also be tough to get the compost out of the bin once it’s ready.
  • A traditional compost pile is simply that—a pile. If you want, you can put a fence around the pile for aesthetic purposes, but it’s not necessary.

    How to: building a backyard compost pile

    1. Pick a spot

    Find a dry, shady spot for your compost pile, ideally near a water source or within reach of a hose. Place your compost pile directly on the earth—asphalt or concrete will inhibit the flow of oxygen.

    2. Set a date

    You can start a compost pile at any time of the year. If possible, fall is ideal. It offers easy access to an excellent balance of materials, such as grass clippings (for nitrogen) and fallen leaves (for carbon).

    3. Measure it out

    Composting is an aerobic process, which means it requires oxygen. It also produces heat as materials break down. If your compost pile is too small, it won’t heat up, and if it’s too big, it will be difficult to manage. The ideal range is between 3×3 feet (by 3 feet deep) and 5×5 feet (by 5 feet deep).

    4. Kick it off

    To spark the composting process, throw in a few handfuls of garden soil or finished compost.

    5. Mix it up

    Compost isn’t a set it and forget it endeavor. About once a week, mix the pile with a shovel or pitchfork. This allows more oxygen to flow through the pile.

    6. Keep it moist

    Add water to your compost pile as needed. It should be damp to the touch, but not soaking wet.

    7. Be patient

    Depending on the size of your pile, it can take anywhere from six months to two years to finish the composting process.

    8. Use it up

    To add your black gold to the garden, simply work it into the soil a week or two before planting, or spread it around your plants.

    Benefits of composting

    • Compost enriches the soil, adding nutrients such as phosphorus, potassium, and nitrogen to your garden.
    • When added to loose or sandy soil, it helps your garden retain water. When added to heavy soil, it helps with aeration.
    • Compost an ideal breeding ground for beneficial bacteria and fungi. These produce humus, a rich organic material full of nutrients widely considered the secret to great soil.
    • Composting at home prevents erosion and protects roots from damage caused by the elements.

for more information and to read other articles in the series please visit


This Week’s Guest Blogger is Anita Avent

Sensing the Garden by Anita Avent, All images by Anita Avent

Juniper Level Botanic Garden – Raleigh, NC, USA

Perceiving our environments directly with the senses, without any commentary or judgment, is relaxing, healing, and good for the body, mind, and soul. When we are feeling happy and relaxed we are usually sensing life directly with the body instead of living in our heads glued to our thoughts about what may or may not be happening.

Juniper Level Botanic Garden – Raleigh, NC, USA

When we were children, we seldom lived in our heads thinking about life. Instead, we were present and attentive to each moment and lived in this freedom.

Juniper Level Botanic Garden – Raleigh, NC, USA

As we grew older, we learned to live in our heads and thoughts and to name and label each thought/feeling and store it away in the filing cabinet in our mind. This mental filing cabinet in our heads is the source of so much emotional and psychological suffering yet we have not yet realized this source of our misery. Once we do, meditation, sensory, and mindfulness practices can help us see the filing cabinet in action so we can change our perspectives and relax within our bodies.

Juniper Level Botanic Garden – Raleigh, NC, USA

Want to have a bit of fun and try a little experiment? If so, study the listing of body senses below: 

  • Sight
  • Sound 
  • Touch
  • Smell
  • Taste
  • Balance
  • Temperature regulation
  • Gravity
  • Proximity
  • Breathing
  • Blood flow, heart rate
  • Digestion/elimination
  • Thirst/hunger
  • Intramuscular movement
  • Intuition
  • Navigation
  • Pressure 

Now select one or two sensory mechanisms from the list above that resonate with you.

Juniper Level Botanic Garden – Raleigh, NC, USA

Let’s use this sensory list in this blog post to remind us that our sensory mechanism are many! We can notice the body’s sensory experiences no matter where we are located. Bringing our attention into the body and away from our thinking minds helps calm the nervous system and improve our digestion. Our actual physical experiences of the current moment are a more accurate indicator of what is happening than our mental thoughts “about” the physical experience. 

This subtle shift of perception is healing for the body/mind and releases hormones that induces the relaxation response and reduces stress hormones. 

Did you know science clearly proves movements initiated within the body are claimed and owned by the human brain a full 4-8 seconds after the neurons have fired into action? This blew my mind!

Juniper Level Botanic Garden – Raleigh, NC, USA

Here is an example of how we use these sensory tools in the garden: 

• Select the sensory mode or tool we wish to explore from the listing—let’s 

use the sense of touch as our example… 

• Simply notice the feel and sensation of sweat dripping from our brow…or 

coldness in our hands and feet. Perhaps something on our skin is itching. 

• Feel and sense the tender or vigorous pulsing of blood in our temples or 

chest. Feel our lungs expand on the inhale and contract on the exhale. 

• Feel the warm or cool moist air passing through our nostrils or our mouth as 

we inhale and exhale. 

• Notice how Mother Earth pulls our bodies with gravity. 

• Feel and sense our fingers, toes, hands, bum, making contact with the 

chair or touching the soil or a plant.

Juniper Level Botanic Garden – Raleigh, NC, USA

Consider welcoming the sensory experiences of the body regardless of any limits or restrictions you may currently be experiencing. There is always beauty (sometimes disguised or hiding) within each moment if we only look with an open mind and heart. 

In peace and possibility, 

Anita Avent Owner, Juniper Level Botanic Garden, Raleigh, NC – USA


This Week’s Guest Blogger is Graeme Edwards

Scents for all seasons


Now I don’t know about you, but the first thing I do when I see a flower is bury my nose in its petals (having checked there are no bees lurking within) and inhale deeply in the hope that it might be scented. Though some of the plants in my garden have been chosen for their looks, more often than not I choose a plant for its fragrance. Occasionally this will be provided courtesy of foliage of the rub-it-and-sniff variety, though more often than not its produced from the petalled end.


Some of the most fragrant blooms in the garden are produced by shrubs and, with a bit of planning, you can have something for your nose to enjoy throughout much of the year, even during the depths of winter. Here are some super-scented shrubs I wouldn’t be without in my small garden.


First up is Coronilla valentina subsp glauca. The first of its cheerful yellow pea-like flowers usually start to appear from late October/early November and it’ll continue flowering right up into April. An evergreen, it grows in a sunny, sheltered spot outside my front door where its fabulous fragrance greets me when I return home after a long day at work, particularly if the sun’s been shining

However, if you prefer yellows of gentler hue then Coronilla subsp. glauca ‘Citrina’, often sold as a climber, might be more your cup of tea.

Like the Coronilla, Lonicera fragrantissima (or Winter Honeysuckle) flowers throughout winter and spring, providing bees with an early source of nectar. The delicate pendulous white flowers start to open just as its leaves begin to fall, and as winter deepens the shrub’s bare branches are eventually smothered with fragrant blooms.

Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis (Christmas Box) is another winter flowering shrub and one that’s perfect for a small garden. It provides a bit of glossy evergreen structure during the winter months, some colour with its crimson berries that deepen to black as the year goes on, and come January and February, is covered with tiny white flowers that produce a surprisingly powerful sweet and wafty scent.

Just as the Coronilla flowers are beginning to fade the Vibernum carlesii ‘Compactum’ takes over scent duties for a few weeks. The perfect Viburnum to grow if you don’t have much space, the

pink-tinged flower buds open in late April to produce white clouds of deliciously fragrant blooms.

Alas, I don’t have room in my garden for a proper sized lilac. However, the Korean lilac Syringa meyeri Palibin is a great alternative as its flowers fill the garden with heady scent in early May.

Soon after the lilac of short stature has finished doing its scenty-flowery thing the fragrant blooms of the Philadelphus (or Mock Orange) kick in. If you have a small garden, fear not, as there are a few varieties out there that won’t take up much space. The compact Philadelphus ‘Manteau d’Hermine’ has double creamy-white flowers and is perfect for the tiniest of gardens. But if you have a bit more space then perhaps you might prefer the taller and more arching form of ‘Belle Etoile’ with it’s large single white flowers. I’ve found the latter can sometimes prove popular with black fly though, so keep your home-made soapy sprays or fingers at the ready.

Now if you only have room for one shrub in your garden then the semi-evergreen Daphne x transatlantica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ is well worth considering. It seems to flower, off and on, throughout much of the year. If scent were a musical instrument then I’d describe this one as flute-like. Plonk it near a path or patio and you’ll get to enjoy it’s mellow ‘flutey’ fragrance almost all year round.

So the next time you’re perusing plants at your local garden centre or pondering perennials online, take a moment to consider your nose; treat it to some sniffable flowers to enjoy during those short winter days and balmy summer evenings.


Graeme Edwards,

A full time something-or-other and a gardener in his spare time (if the weather is nice).

Blog: www.onemanandhisgardentrowel.wordpress.com

Twitter: @GraemeEdwards1

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Caroline Vickers

Here is a cheery sight! Prolific crab apples – dazzling and bountiful garden trees which grow between 3m-8m tall. There are several varieties to choose from which include:-

Malus baccata Street Parade

Malus Evereste – grown as a standard, multi-stem or pleached.

Malus Golden Hornet

Malus Mokum

Malus Rudolph – grown as standard and pleached.

Malus Red Sentinel

Malus John Downie

These crab apple trees profusely flower with white or pink petals (depending on the variety) in the Spring and the pollen is good for bees. The fruit is eaten by birds and mammals in the Autumn.

Malus John Downie, for example, produces fruits which are orange-red, large and conical in shape. They have a good flavour to them and as such are useful in making preserves and Crab Apple jelly. In the Autumn, the foliage turns classically lemony yellow and brown. An all round great value tree

Enquiries to Sales@barchamtrees.co.uk or
Photo credit for the trees to Barcham Trees PLC.

Our guest blogger this week is Elisa Biondi, of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew


Like me, many people nowadays don`t have a garden to grow plants, especially in the cities. But I love those green wonders and I have plenty of them at home. There is a plant for any space and purpose, so here is my list of “plant heroes” to enjoy indoor.

If you don`t have a bright green finger, there are low maintenance heroes for you such as Succulents and air plants. Amongst the first bunch, Cacti are very sculptural, they like sunny spots and they produce short-lived but stunning flowers. They are not very children and pet friendly, though.

Tillandsias attached on bark using tights. They are very resistant and stretchy.

Tillandsias (air plants) are incredibly easy to look after, water them in the shower or with a sprayer once a week and keep them in airy space. They are great hanging off fishing line or attached on branches.

Amongst succulents, lithops (stone plants) are great for small spots, children and pets. If you are looking for something bigger and bolder, Sansevierias are the ones for you. Like Cacti, every succulent can be placed in your bedroom, as they release oxygen at night.

Sansevierias are very architectural plants and are great for bedrooms as they release oxygen at night.

If you are looking for something a bit more challenging, Bromeliads can add a lot of colour into your house. They usually like water from the top and last longer if you cut the spent flowering mother plant and let the “pups” grow.

The stunning leaves of Neoregelia `Mo Peppa Please`, a great hybrid and not too difficult to look after.

In the world of Orchids, Phalaenopsis are very rewarding and easy to look after. They don`t like full sun and should be watered properly once every two weeks.

If you are blessed with big space, then you can look into architectural plants like Palms and big Aroids. Coconut Palm can grow quite fast so tall ceilings are a must, otherwise clumping ones such as Chamaedorea, Dypsis or Rhapis can work in smaller places.

Monstera is a very popular aroid and it is very easy to look after, same for Philodendron and Aglaonema. One negative note about Aroids is that they are poisonous, so keep them off the reach of children and pets.

There are plenty more plants to find out about and look after them so I just suggest to go ahead and find your plant heroes!

Elisa Biondi  – Manager of the Princess of Wales Conservatory at Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. Graduated designer @ LCGD, Plants & animals lover.  Find her on Twitter @BiondiEli and Instagram elisabiondi1

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Waldo Viljoen

Always fish for the ‘dream and vision’….even if there is not budget for it! Give plenty of time to think, listen well, and let the clients ideas tell the story. Visualise, compliment and complement the client! That’s the key to a productive client meeting.

I like to walk with the client, ask most of the questions, as if the client inspired them, to get to know the client, their preferences, dislikes, budget if possible, ideas, dreams and ultimate vision.

I give the client professional advice based on years of experience, and my short cuts too (no need to go to China to have Chinese food) but never compromise quality or quantity. Less is ALWAYS more !! ….well, enough anyway.

My presentation of my visual interpretation of what the client and I decided is basic and with common names of plants (no Latin or botanical names now, not yet), basic description of materials, tools, etc to be used, time it should take, always allowing days for the unforseen and unknown, and a estimated start date.

I keep to my word and my word is still my honour. Clients need to feel important. They must trust me with their dreams and passion for gardening as well as their money ! Not too much deviance from what was discussed and agreed. The client must be able to deviate with budget constraints, or extra ideas/features thought of after I left the meeting and before submitting my design and estimate. I do not over- nor under-quote any other than might be applicable. My design and visual portrait must represent exactly what the client dreamed of and wanted for a long time, must excite and inspire a client to look past small monetary amounts and schemes of my competitors. THE ONE WHO LISTENED & INTERPRETED THE CLIENT’s VISION closest, should get the job most of the time. BUT NOT ALWAYS.

And I do the basics perfectly:

I follow up ALL missed calls, voice mail messages, telesales leads, any message left to return a call for new client or business.

I do my homework, look up, Google and study or learn whatever I might lack or if I need more information and details for that Client’s requirements. I pray to God that he will keep me wise and full of knowledge from years of passionate experiences as to serve Him and the client and my profession. 

I make sure I know what the client requires and get all the details, full address, alternate tel.no. from cell number and a time that would not only suit the client, but myself, taking in account the weather, peak traffic periods, road works in area and for me not to hurry, AS I AM ALWAYS EARLY !

I dress very neat, smart casual, clean shaven and smelling the look… lol

I make sure I know how to get to clients address, with Google maps, GPS or Map Studio book.

I always arrive early, 15-20 minutes. 10 minutes before the agreed time is a good time to walk up to the house or meeting place. If you are gonna be late, up to 10 minutes is allowed, later than that, I phone or send a text message, making sure its delivered, even acknowledged, well before agreed time, THE CLIENT’s TIME IS MOST IMPORTANT.

So is mine. I bill accordingly. lol.

I assure the client that they would have my estimate within 3 working days, if not too busy a period, but it can stretch to 7-10 days BUT it includes computer/laptop software design program WITH 2D/3D Landscape plant plan as per Vectorworks Landscape Design, AutoCad Landscaping, Landscape Design Pro and AutoCad Architecture, AutoCad Civil design for construction and building work.

My motto:



DO NO HARM; environment, profession and not the Client’s wallet.

Word of Mouth references serves and pay me well still after 31-Years.

Thank God always and everytime, even if estimate is Not accepted. All meetings of people are meant to be, is placed on our paths, both parties or just one learns or take something forward from that meeting – Say I.

WALDO VILJOEN. Passionate Christian, Horticulturist, Agriculturist and Environmentalist and Living Life Participant.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Caroline Vickers

Crisp, crunchy, juicy eating and cooking apple trees.

How wonderful it would be to harvest apples from ones own garden or plant a community orchard in your village from which everyone can benefit.

The pretty delicate pale pink and white Springtime blossoms are softly fragrant and wonderful for encouraging bees too. Ripening on the trees as I write, we have several edible apples growing on our 350 acre tree nursery in Ely, Cambridgeshire suitable for planting this Autumn:- Malus bramley seedling – standard and espallier Cox’s Orange Pippin – espallier Malus James Grieve – standard and espallier Malus Discovery Malus Jonagold – standard and espallier

We also grow other fruits:- Edible cherries, Pears, Figs, Plums, Greengage, Quince. An interesting fact, there is no VAT on trees which bear edible fruits!

When you plant a tree from a tree nursery, it will need nurturing in the landscape for the first 2 years until it will be independent. The tree will need to be staked and tied and regularly watered.

Source trees from a UK nursery with a robust Biosecurity Policy. Each tree should have an audit trail to show where the seed came from and how long it has been growing in the UK. This helps prevent the spread of tree pests and diseases from imported trees into our glorious landscape.

Caroline Vickers

Brand Awareness Manager

Barcham Trees PLC

Visit www.barchampro.co.uk – trade website.

Visit www.barcham.co.uk – retail website.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Ellie Porter

The Health Benefits of Outdoor Gardening

Outdoor gardening can be a healthy hobby. It gets you outside and active, and can offer stress relief and the freshest produce you can find. Read on to learn about the many ways outdoor gardening can support your health.

Outdoor Gardening is Physical Activity

Maintaining a garden takes physical effort. In fact, it’s enough work that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers it to be moderate physical activity. Each hour of gardening burns about 330 calories. If you’re getting into heavy yard work, it’s considered vigorous physical activity and could burn about 440 calories per hour.

Physical activity can help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, and can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. You could also reduce high blood pressure, arthritis pain, and your risk for osteoporosis and falls. Not to mention, gardening offers fresh produce that can improve the quality of your diet if you’re not regularly eating fresh fruits and vegetables regularly.

Gardening is an intriguing choice of exercise for people with disabilities. Not all exercise or physical activity is well suited to all abilities. But anyone who can manipulate tools can garden effectively and get the physical benefits.

Gardening can also help you maintain hand muscle strength and dexterity.

Spending Time Outside Gardening is Key

The physical activity offered by outdoor gardening can offer health support, but even if you’re not putting a lot of effort into it, you’re still getting outside. That alone can offer a long list of benefits.

Just being outdoors offers sun exposure. While sunscreen is important for avoiding sun damage, getting in the sunlight supports good health in multiple ways.

For one, sun exposure can help your body produce Vitamin D. This vitamin is responsible for maintaining bone and teeth health, support your immune system, brain, and nervous system, lung function and cardiovascular health, and also regulates insulin levels.

Sun exposure is also a powerful cue for your sleep and wake cycle, known as your circadian rhythm. This internal clock relies on cues such as your daily schedule of eating and physical activity, but it’s also dependent on light, and particularly sunlight. When you’re getting outdoors, you’re sending a signal to your circadian rhythm that the bright light and physical activity means it’s daytime. That helps reinforce correct timing so that when bedtime rolls around, it’s easier for your internal clock to recognize that it is in fact night and time to get in bed and rest.

Mental Health Support from Outdoor Gardening

Outdoor gardening can be a particularly satisfying and stress relieving activity. Tending to your garden means creating fresh produce, and it can be rewarding to physically see the fruits of your labor.

Also, the physical act and focus of gardening may help you relieve stress and anxiety. As you’re working on your garden, it may feel like meditation as you become focused on the task at hand and stressors and anxious thoughts get pushed away.

Outdoor gardening offers health benefits both physical and mental. Spend time outside, relieve stress, and enjoy the products of your garden for better health.

Amy Highland is a sleep expert at SleepHelp.org. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Neil Rawlins

Flowers of New Zealand

Deep in the South Pacific, at approximately the antipodes of the British Isles, lie the islands of New Zealand. The northern island is washed by the warmer currents of the South Pacific, while the southern islands are influenced by the turbulent winds of the Roaring Forties which are generated in the circumpolar Antarctic Convergence of the Southern Ocean. To put New Zealand in a European perspective latitude-wise, Auckland, in the north, lies on approximately the same latitude south of the equator as does Malaga in Spain or Algiers, lie north; Wellington, the capital, lies about the same as Rome or Barcelona. Queenstown in the south is about the same as the Bordeaux region of France, and Oban, the only settlement on Stewart Island, is about the same as Paris. In this unique environment, separated by around 2000 kilometres from Australia, the nearest neighbour, the fauna and flora of these islands evolved for millennia without outside influences. Species homo sapiens arrived less than a thousand years ago.

Some 80-85% of New Zealand’s plant life is unique just to these islands. The giant kauri trees of the (Agathis australis) of the North Island are among the world’s largest trees by volume, and in the southern beech (Notofagus spp.) of the South Island  was the inspiration for Treebeard in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

Perhaps the most distinctive tree in the coastal North Island is the pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa), better known as New Zealand’s Christmas tree, whose bright crimson flowers decorate the cliff tops and beaches between November to January. These flowers attract the nectar-feeding tui bird, an important pollinator.

A tui feeding on nectar in a pohutukawa

In the early spring the semi-deciduous kowhai (Sophora tetraptera} bursts into a splendid display of vivid yellow flowers – Kowhai is the Maori word for yellow. This showy beautiful flower, also pollinated by nectar-feeding birds, is unofficially New Zealand’s National flower. It’s much rarer cousin, the kowhai ngutu-kaka, or kaka beak (Clianthus puniceus) is, arguably, NZ’s most showy flower. Although extremely rare in the wild, it grows well in gardens.

The yellow kowhai flowers

The showy red blooms of the kaka-beak

In the alpine regions of the Southern Alps, in spring and early summer, blooms what is erroneously called the Mt Cook lily (Ranunculus lyalli) which is more correctly called the giant buttercup. It is one of many species of buttercup found only in New Zealand. I believe seeds of this alpine plant are available in selected garden centres in UK.

Mt Cook lilies, or giant buttercup, flowering in Mt Cook National Park

Several New Zealand native plants are well known to gardeners in Britain by their Latin species name rather than their Maori name. Perhaps one of the best known are the hebe species. These range, in New Zealand, from the coastal environments to the alpine regions, all with different characteristics and colour variations. The most common is the koromiko (Hebe stricta), samples of which were first taken back to UK by Joseph Banks who was with Captain Cook’s first expedition to the Pacific.

Bumble bee in a koromiko (Hebe stricta) flower

Harakeke, or New Zealand flax, is better known in the UK as a phormium. There are two main species – Phormium tenox and Phormium cookianum – the second being Cook’s, or alpine flax, with smaller leaves and yellow flowers. NZ flax has large tough leaves and orange flowers. Variegated or red-leaved varieties are garden hybrids.

Flowers of the NZ flax (Phormium tenax)

Cook’s flax (Phormium cookianum)

The last native I will mention is the kotukutuku, or tree fuchsia (Fuchsia excorticata). This is the largest of fuchsia family and is one of the very few deciduous trees in New Zealand. The fruit produced, known as konini, is pleasant tasting and was a popular food-source to the pre-European Maori – if they could get to the fruit before the native pigeons!

tree fuchsia flower and fruit

large fuchsia trunk in the Stewart Island forest

Neil Rawlins,

travel writer & photographer


Books published on Amazon – One Foot in Front of the Other