Category Archives: New Zealand

Growing New Zealand Hibiscus

When I see the word hibiscus I think of big, beautiful blooms.  When I hear the words New Zealand I remember scenic flax covered coasts. But when I think of New Zealand hibiscus I feel troubled.  I should have known when this hibiscus germinated so readily and grew so easily that there would be trouble.  Trouble when it grew so fast and sparsely and discouraging when the flowers only lasted for one day.  Twenty four hours to shine.  The flowers are quite pretty, but after they disappear it’s back to the rangy looking plant.  It’s not my favorite.  I purchased seeds when I traveled to New Zealand last year.  Out of all the plants I tried to grow from NZ, this one was the most vigorous.  I’m not sure how it would fare if planted outside.  I had mine in a greenhouse and after I cut them back I moved the pots outside and they didn’t make it through the winter.  And now the seeds I collected are gathering dust, I don’t think this is a plant that I want to grow again.  I’m waiting for seeds from my Meconopsis, that will be a good day!

Just the Facts
New Zealand Hibiscus, Puarangi
Hibiscus richarsonsii (erroneously referred to as Hibiscus trionum)
Indigenous to New Zealand north island and Australia, New South Wales.
Coastal, growing in recently disturbed habitats.
Annual to short-lived perennial up to 3 feet tall (1m)

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.

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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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.

June at the Arboretum

Another month and another walk full of surprises at the Washington Park Arboretum.  The leaves are so lush right now I wanted to wrap myself up in their soft green blanket.  The highlight of this trip was stumbling into the grove of tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) so tall and tree-ish.  Hidden among their branches were the almost camouflaged flowers in muted colors of yellow and green.  Standing upright like a tulip, once you noticed them they were everywhere!  So high above my head, most of the blossoms were up near the top.  Another amazing plant was the bladder nut tree.  As I wandered down the path I noticed these air filled sacks hanging from the tree.  When I walked over the fallen ones they popped!  After doing a bit of research I found that these trees grow near rivers and when the air filled seed pods fall into the water they float away, dispersing the seeds far and wide.  What a great adaptation, little tiny seed boats!

A Hobbit’s New Zealand Garden

Celery Pine

Celery Pine

Of all the gardens at the 2013 Northwest Flower and Garden Show, A Hobbit’s New Zealand Garden was my favorite.  No fancy paths, patios, staircases or dining sets, it was all about plants.  Finally, order in the universe!  There was one cute little hobbit house, but even it’s roof was made of plants.  I like how everything was tied together with moss and ferns and diminutive plants.  This garden was created by the Washington Park Arboretum to celebrate the New Zealand forest which will be opening in the fall.  I wasn’t the only one who was wowed by this garden.  It won six top awards, including the People’s Choice, an award voted by the public.  From the garden description:  A spectacular tree fern stands sentry nearby.  Next to the house is a bog exuberant with colorful New Zealand flax (Phormium).  Low-lying fog over the wetland creates drama and mystery.  The foliage of variegated Coprosma, Corokia, and Veronica (Hebe) add color to the display.  Clematis ‘Avalanche’ drapes from the top of the house.  The garden features drought-tolerant plants, most of which are suitable for growing in the Pacific Northwest gardens.  The use of foliage to create a rich color palette is a key design element.  A new plant for me was Coprosma or mirror bush.  The glossy leaves were rich with color and I admired this evergreen shrub, although it appears to more comfortable in zone 9 rather than our zone 8.   Another plant that caught my attention was the celery pine, or Phyllocladus alpinus, such a cute little coniferous shrub.  Alas, not hardy in the PNW, but they suggest use as an indoor plant.  It was fun to see this collection of New Zealand plants and I look forward to the new display at the arboretum!