All Shades of Green—-A Plant Perspective

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The Cabbage Tree

Cordyline australis is a true New Zealand tree. I saw it everywhere I went in Wellington. It was at the botanical gardens proudly sporting a nameplate and it was in my brothers backyard with a small girl climbing its branches. Up on a hill and down by the sea, this tree grows from the North to the South on both islands. I really like the way the sprouts shoot out of the trunk and branches, like someone glued spikes onto the bark.

That is another name for this plant in our part of the world, Dracaena ‘Spikes‘ is sold as an annual here in the US. As an annual it gets up to 36 inches tall.  I’ve had a few of these that we grew from seed last year and have found them to be very slow growing.  Maybe with more fertilizer and more sun it would become more tree-like.  As a tree in New Zealand it can get up to 66 feet tall. Put the right plant in the right place and magical things can happen!

The young leaves are edible and so it is called Cabbage tree or cabbage palm  It must taste like a cabbage for it certainly doesn’t resemble one. I collected some seeds and they are having trouble germinating.  I soaked them and put them in the fridge for five weeks, but there is no sign of change yet. Besides food, especially for the native birds, Cordyline is also used for fiber in rope, baskets, clothing and sandals. I’m hoping to grow this beautiful New Zealand native here in Washington. Maybe I’ll make a cabbage cape someday.

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New Zealand Nursery

The nursery in New Zealand was so familiar and yet so far away.  This summer I stepped off a plane from a sunny Washington summer into a cool and windy New Zealand winter. It was a surreal experience to not only change time zones but also to change seasons. I felt like I had fallen back in time to March.  One of my first stops was the local garden center in Wellington. They had a beautiful shop well stocked with gifts and seeds and tools and fertilizer and indoor plants.  The first display I saw was filled with winter Daphne. Then I moved on to see rhododendrons, pansies and camellias.  I was delighted to see so many plants that were familiar to me.  It’s fun to realize that many plants growing here in the NW corner of the United States do just as well on the other side of the world.  Yet there were also plants at the nursery that I rarely see here at home.  Exotic names like Leucadendron, Pseudopanax, Griselinia, Metrosideros were introducing themselves and I was having fun learning the new language. The conifer section was tiny and I was surprised at the number of broadleaf evergreens, in the nursery as well as all over town. The hebe selection was fabulous and I loved seeing so many varieties. Prices seemed quite reasonable, especially with the exchange being 1 New Zealand dollar equal to about .7 US dollars.  It made shopping a lot easier! My purchase was a Daphne for my brothers garden, as he needed something special. I also bought some New Zealand Native seeds, but they are not germinating very well. I’m hoping to grow some of these beautiful NZ natives in my garden, I hope I can find the right match.


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Are there Hebes in the Shire?

I visited Palmer’s garden center in Miramar today and was overjoyed to see so many Hebes! Small leaf, large leaf, purple and green leaf, what a great variety. I wanted to pack them up and take them home with me and see what they think of Washington. My guess is they would love it in the Northwest.

 I did find something I could purchase…packets of New Zealand native plant seeds. I am so excited to try them and see how they grow. One of them is a hebe, along with the silver fern, a cabbage tree, the Mt Cook Lily and more. It will be a fun experiment. I was surprised today while driving along Scorching Bay, to see this curious sign:  

Little blue penguins live here on the North Island! I didn’t see any, but it was fun to come across that sign. Luckily we didn’t get lost today, even though I had to ‘drive on the left, look to the right’. It must have been that great road map we found at the Roxy Theater.  

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As I was exploring the Wellington Botanic Garden today I had a chance encounter with a very unusual tree.  Near the Lady Norwood Rose Garden I met a Banksia integrifolia or Banksia on a steeply sloped hillside. The first thing I noticed were the unusual seed pods, or woody cones that were persistent all over the tree. They have such an interesting shape and are covered with valves that are like little mouths that are open or closed.   The leaves were distinctive with their narrow elliptical shape and serrate margins.  And then I saw the bark which is full of texture and I knew I had to find a seed and try and grow this little beauty back home.  I was hesitant to pluck anything off a tree in a botanical garden, but luckily I found an old cone on the ground nearby.  Almost all of the valves were closed on the one I found, I might have to burn it to release the seeds.  A bit of research showed that this small tree is native to Australia and is named after the English botanist Sir Joseph Banks. The flowers form cylindrical cones in May, June and July (winter) and are pale green or yellow.  They appear to be an important nectar source for birds during this time of the year. There are several Banskia species in New Zealand, all from the family Protoaceae. It is supposed to be fairly hardy, growing in all soil types and can even tolerate a short amount of freezing weather.  I hope I can make it home with a seed!


At the Nursery in Wellington

We visited the local garden center today, Palmer’s,  and it was fun to see so many familiars mixed in with some strange new species.  They were selling winter flowers like pansies and cyclamen, ornamental cabbage and primroses.  I also recognized camellias, azaleas, roses and choisya in the nursery.  It was strange because almost everything was evergreen.  There were a few deciduous shrubs, I saw a viburnum, but not much else.  Leucadendron was new to me, as well as Metrosideros ‘Kawa Copper’ and many more which I can’t remember (I’m still feeling the jet lag). It was great to see so many varieties of Hebe and many of them were in bloom.  On our beach walk today I saw a three foot tall plant that was in flower, the leaf resembling a pelargonium.  I’m not sure what it is, but I was impressed with its size.  It was another beautiful winter day, with temps about 55 degrees F, the sun shining and a cool breeze blowing off the bay.  As soon as the clouds clear out we will be looking for the Southern Cross in the sky, then I’ll really know I”m not in Washington anymore.

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The Land of New Zealand Flax

Walking down the street, what do I see? New Zealand flax. Up on the ridge what do I find, swept over with wind? New Zealand flax. Yes, phormium really does grow here in New Zealand. I’ve also seen a lot of hebes on my first day down under.  When I got off the plane in Auckland I smelled fried donuts and the sea, a good combination.  A couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw aeonium growing as a perennial here! We grow it as an annual in the greenhouse, it’s a plant that looks like it’s from Jupiter, with all its strange shapes. 


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Traveling Shoes

As I left for this trip my son looked at my feet and said ‘you’re wearing those???’ He always has stylish shoes and very cool socks, but I decided to wear my hiking shoes. It’s winter, they are well-worn, so very comfortable and maybe some seeds will stick to them and travel home with me! What would you wear to New Zealand Zander? I’d like to know.  


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