Sensory overload…

I’m finding it hard to get much done in the garden this week…not because of the weather, which has been my idea of perfect (some sun, some light rain, some cloud, not too much wind), …but because every time I step out any of my 6 doors I have to stop and start looking , smelling or touching something. First week in November has to be the best around here I reckon. The cinerarias, aquilegias and early irises are still going for it, the other spring and summer perennials are starting their show and the roses, the roses, are really getting on with doing their thing.

Without a doubt the roses will be better next week, but a lot of my other faves will be getting tired by then. Of course there will be lots more to look forward to in the coming weeks, but never the less, for me, the best week of the garden year is this week. I’ve had to put many jobs on hold as I can’t bear to leave the garden for more than a few hours! 2 lovely new foals have been born up at Weiti, but a photo has to suffice till next week…

can you see the bee hiding under the petaloid?

As this is supposed to be a rose blog I’d better stop talking about flowers and foals and think of some rose news…

The first news is James Mason, gallica, is very popular with the bees. He has the most amazing stamens loaded with pollen and the bees are swarming all over his lustrous red blooms at the back of the newly completed “Hot Border”.

In other news a few booboos are appearing…don’t we all hate incorrect labelling!!! So why is the small plant in front of the Bishop with a rock proclaiming it to be Hippolyte looking quite identical to the large shrub behind…??? That’s bad labelling on our part. If anyone else has a plant of Hippolyte purchased from us a year or 2 ago? Beware you may have The Bishop (both are equally nice, but quite different)

Then there is the rose in the front of the White garden. It is a 2 yr old seedling that I call at this stage “Weiti Lemon Tree”(you guessed it, hatched under the giant lemon tree smothered in lemons and Souvenir de la Malmaison). First it was a tiny thing with a tiny white flower, last year it was a bit bigger with many white flowers all season. This year it is even bigger and has many PINK flowers… They’re pinker than they look in the picture, and way too pink for the white garden!The David Austin garden is particularly “Sensory Overload”as the flowers are so big and they are all squashed together, with nothing in between. The scent hits you as you approach and people that don’t believe “nothing clashes in nature” (one of my beloved and deceased mother’s favourite sayings) may need to keep their eyes closed when visiting, as the roses are organised chronologically and some just don’t match!

Visitors are welcome to visit the garden and nursery by arrangement.

The Season is upon us

Folks, it’s officially that time of year again…ROSE TIME!!!

The earliest species are finishing up, the Banksias and Laevigata have put on a great show, Ecae is still glorious. The David Austins have been producing a few “can’t wait for the season” flowers, but are now budding up in earnest amidst their oversized spring leaves. Since their late winter feed they have put on tremendous new growth and are going to make a pretty impressive picture in a couple of weeks.

The garden will be available for viewing by arrangement, so we’re desperately trying to get it looking vaguely respectable in time for the rose influx. Some winter jobs have been waiting for “the ground to dry up a bit” to get finished, and this only happened last week. It continuously amazes me how the roses coped being basically underwater for several months this year, many of the perennials didn’t fare so well and either died or just didn’t grow at all.

Another surprise is the Irises who appear to be having a bumper season despite the hideously wet winter and spring. Interestingly I presently have the Louisianas and the Bearded opening simultaneously. Usually the Louisianas are all but over before any but the earliest Bearded Irises open. Auckland and the upper Waikato are not ideal climates for the Bearded Irises to prosper, and many of them grow but rarely flower. I’m hoping to get some “never flowered before” ones this season as they seem to all be sending up spikes everywhere! 

Down at the shed…

Souvenir d’Alphonse is one hybrid perpetual who came to the “growing party “this season

The spring potting up is nearly done. We had a very good take on cuttings this season, but most of the tricky buggers, Noisettes, Bourbons and Hybrid Perpetuals were still stingy or absent in their offerings. So the plants potted up during the winter months are starting to boogy and many now ready to post.

I guess it must be Spring ?

spring bulbs everywhere


Warm sun, hail, gale force wind ,torrential rain ,bright sun…. the current weather patterns currently in vogue on any single day. It must be Spring I guess! There is lushness starting to happen both wanted and unwanted…a mountain of mulch waits patiently to start suppressing that unwanted lushness, just as soon as some younger body parts come to set the wheelbarrow rolling , so to speak.

I get the feeling the roses are going to peak early this season, maybe very early November, or even late October there might be some rose wonder worth photographing…

my piscine pets finally in residence

The big news in the garden this month is the arrival of the goldfish ! Most of them were born in my pool at Weiti, so I consider them my children! There were a few hiccups in the pond liner plan…ie soon after being filled and settling the first time it sprang a leak! which involved unsettling and unfilling and much search and heartache till we finally found the leak. Graham fixed it with a tyre patch and we refilled and resettled before sending the kids up to Weiti to catch the fish.

Now it’s a waiting game for the revamped water lilies to get away and to get the edges planted up quick smart. I have many pieces of water lily to grow on and sell at a reasonable price.

I feel a new “completeness”in the garden has been reached with the arrival of the fish, and I think the Hybrid Musks are going to provide a lovely backdrop.

I think I mentioned hares/rabbits last month and described them as “not so bad”…eat those words ! Keep seeing them lolloping majestically past my window this morning and the damage they do when they choose is so much more destructive than the incessant nibbling of rabbits as they bite straight through their target, even quite thick, woody rose stems amongst the suckering plants.

Pests aside, the garden is looking good and poised to spring into magnificence. Roll on the good times!

another telltale sign of spring at our place is foals appearing in the paddock

The sting in the tail…

Winter is drawing to a close, sighs of relief all round. We’ve had some lovely and some mean weather this last week, but it’s all felt like Spring rather than winter. Everything in the garden thinks so too, the roses are all budding up big time, so a few quick moves in the last few days will have to be the last in the meantime. Whilst roses will survive being moved anytime, once they start making their fresh spring leaves, moving will diss their imminent display.

My son did some good work with the rifle a few nights ago and shot 3 possums in the garden. They had been feasting nightly on all the early shoots on the roses, including some new ones making their first shoots. This can actually kill a rose that doesn’t have a good root system yet to sustain it. So till the next wave arrive from across the paddocks/road (giant Hunua forest only a stone’s throw away) the roses only have the rabbits and hares to contend with. These characters are a lot harder to shoot, but tend to only browse on, rather than devour roses as they also eat the grass and weeds.

We managed to get some of the must do winter jobs done in the last few weeks. We seem to be a bit like school kids with exams and deadlines, only getting things done at the last possible minute! Oh to be organised and self disciplined! Anyway, we made the deadline by 4 whole days and got a winter spray of copper and conqueror oil right around the gardens, followed by the mammoth task of some fertilising. We first cleaned out the chicken house, then mixed that with trailer loads of woodash and charcoal, then ramped it up with some nitrophoska blue. Once well mingled by hand, we bucketed it around those parts of the garden and orchard we felt needed a spring boost. Some parts of the garden have only been planted a year or less into lovely farm topsoil, so these will have to hang in there till next time. Roses are such very greedy creatures, and we have them planted pretty close together in places, so they’re going to need constant feeding. (By constant I mean more than once a year if they’re lucky!) We are very lucky to have a never ending supply of organic fertiliser close to hand, ie massive woolshed across the road, uncontrollable amounts of mature stable manure, plenty of cow pats in the paddocks, nice dry chicken house and a beach close by for sea weed. Of course all of these things involve hard work…so sometimes they just get a handful of the synthetic stuff.

The 3rd winter job didn’t happen…but I consider pruning mainly cosmetic, so therefore unnecessary. As the garden here is very new, the roses are still building up and as we are constantly stealing arms for making cuttings of most of them, that can be their pruning for this season. A summer prune is always good anyway to tidy things up for the autumn display.

The perennial thorny problem of thorns…

Thornless roses?

The thing roses are possibly the most famous for, other than their beauty and perfume, is their evil thorns. They are often the first thought amongst non rose lovers and put a lot of people off growing them altogether. And there’s no doubt, they are a proverbial pain in the ……

However, all things are not made equal in the rose world, being such a huge and widespread genus, they come in all shapes and sizes. There is at least one genus, rosa banksia, that is 100% thornless, and others i.e. the multifloras and gallicas which are generally not very vicious. Because most of the roses we grow today are complex mixtures of many different genus, the thorniness levels vary drastically, even within types.

Therefore we have bourbons well armed with large, apparently evil thorns, like Souvenir de la Malmaison and Mme Lauriol de Barney and on the other hand the virtually thornless Zepherine Drouhin and her sport Kathleen Harrop.

one of ken nobbs multiflora x ramblers which has bristles not thorns

The multifloras are a gentle family, usually only sporting bristles and maybe some small thorns under the leaves, and these have produced families of very low thorn roses, the polyanthas and the multiflora ramblers. (Our own Ken Nobbs specialised in hybridising these) and also the modern thornless series of floribundas, which I don’t know much about, but know they exist.(Smooth Prince etc)

However, despite these gentle souls amongst the roses, in general it’s all about how bad the thorns/prickles are, and not about whether they have them or not.

Francine in flower hiding her armoury
Francine’s evil downcurved thorns

I often consider the less thorny models which just have a few recurved thorns the most dangerous, as you get tricked into a false sense of security when they’re not so obvious. Now you couldn’t fail to notice the thorns on a rugosa or pimpinellifolia cos they’re absolutely covered in them, and some of the centifolias aren’t far behind. The ramblers are often pretty evil, especially if they’re in the evergreen wichuriana family. These roses like most climbers, are designed to scramble through undergrowth and up into trees to find the sun, so thorns are obviously a necessity here.

cuttings of topaz jewel
many fingers were pricked in the making of this movie

All in all, if your life involves roses, it involves getting scratched/pierced. Especially so if you happen to base your business on growing roses from cuttings! This involves extreme amounts of scratching/piercing on a daily basis ! And I can tell you, trying to push thin sticks covered wall to wall with long sharp prickles into pots of sand is a difficult and usually slightly painful procedure! To date, Topaz Jewel (yellow rugosa) wins the competition for most difficult rose to make cuttings of (and I bet they all die anyway…)

So, out of interest, we are compiling a list of less vicious roses for those of you who care more about their skin and clothing…

Thornless roses

Comptesse du Cayla which like some of the china x es has mostly thornless stems

Here’s the start, chosen from roses we grow and endeavour to sell.

  • Rosa banksia normalis-very vigorous climber,masses of white scented flowers in Spring. 0 thorns
  • Rosa banksia lutea-yellow relly of above but in yellow.0 thorns
  • Banksia Purezza-white hybrid from above that repeats throughout spring/summer.0 thorns
  • Rosa multiflora– wild rose with bunches of tiny white flowers followed by tiny red hips. 0 thorns to speak of
  • Zepherine Drouhin and Kathleen Harrop-dark and light pink climbing bourbons 0 thorns
  • Mme Sancy de Parabere – pink boursault climber 0 thorns
  • Ausonius – pink and white hybrid musk, just a few bristles
  • Reine des Violettes – purple hybrid perpetual, 0 thorns
  • Comptesse du Cayla- orange/pink china x. very few thorns
  • Vielchenblau – purple multiflora rambler, very few thorns
  • Pinkie-bright pink climber, only a few small thorns under leaves
  • de la Grifferie – hybrid gallica, mauve pink-only occasional straight thorns
  • Ispahan – pretty pink damask-has lots of thornless arms and a few thorny ones!
  • Sylvan Beauty- china red climber, ditto of above

Cornelia-apricot pink hybrid musk, the least thorny of Pemberton’s roses, only afew harmless ones

The Joys (or not) of Winter

Well, it’s here…July and real Winter. It’s cold and wet and muddy, many of the roses have closed down, excepting those that refuse to say die…the Teas and Chinas bloom on, I noticed some Hybrid Perpetuals this evening still making leaves and buds,  as well as a few of the hardest working Austins.

There are projects afoot in the garden while the main garden jobs are in respite. The digger has been here the last week, we now have a large hole in the Hybrid Musk garden, waiting to be lined and filled with goldfish and water lilies still left at Weiti North. Several tractor trailers of dirt have been replaced in The Hunk to try to amend the water retention problem, the last of the trees living in the main border has left the building and the large mountain of tree branches, rose prunings and weeds has been reduced to a small mountain of ash to be spread on the garden in the spring to boost potash levels and encourage flowering.

All this heavy duty activity has made rather a mess of my long suffering lawn, no sooner does it recover from one invasion and the next descends…I’ve promised it (the lawn)that that will be the last, I think all heavy machinery is hereby banned from the garden!

So, back to the Joys…for Winter does indeed provide joys in the garden. From my office window I can see a magnificent Luculia in full song, besides some lovely camellias and a beautiful white Gordonia. The rhodos are starting to flower too and the early spring bulbs (not to mention the late autumn ones) are putting up their cheerful stems. A breath has been sighed that the last of the autumn leaves have finished dropping and their clean up is well underway.

The rose business is still very busy, we have been sending lots of boxes around the country, but numbers in the nursery are definitely getting thinner. In the meantime we continue to make cuttings whenever time allows, there should be a good variety available around Christmas time.

So the wettest winter continues on it’s merry way, sunny days appreciated all the more for the plethora of miserable ones, but the days are perceptibly getting longer by tiny degrees and spring will be here before we know it!

The light at the end of the tunnel…

Less than a week till the winter solstice! I strongly believe it heralds the start of winter, season wise, but for me, the worst of winter is the speed with which the sun races across the sky (despite Maui’s efforts a while back). Therefore I celebrate the winter solstice with abandon, as it heralds the days starting to lengthen again.

The chickens are always the first to know among the animals and are such good mathematicians they can count the extra minute or two of daylight and immediately come onto the lay again after their autumn moult. Mine have jumped the gun a bit this year, being very keen chickens, and today beside the 2 eggs my young pullets have continued laying daily, were 2 white eggs I haven’t seen for a couple of months. And people say chickens are stupid!!!

Anyway, enough of this chicken talk and back to roses. I wanted to say something about the toughness of roses. It’s hard to think of a tougher family of plants. They never cease to amaze me with their adaptability and well, toughness. It was strongly brought back to me last week when I was moving some roses from “The Hunk”. We started moving the Hybrid Musks out to their own place, as mentioned earlier, and discovered the extent of the water retention in part of this garden. It is a total mystery to my partner Graham, who is a drainage expert, as to why this is so, but the long and short of it was that we needed to get the roses out before they literally drowned. Digging them out was hardly necessary as the spade went in and they sort of floated to the surface. Most of them were very old hoary grafted roses from my former garden. Without exception they had dropped their old roots and grown their own ones right on the surface in the bark mulch where it was relatively dry. Is that clever or what??? Practically in competition with the chickens on the brain front!

So despite hating wet feet, the roses adapted to make the most of it, the big old grafted roots lower down were rotting away. At the opposite end of the scale in a severe drought roses will be the last family to relent. They let all their older branches die off and maybe select just 1 or 2 of the youngest shoots to survive. Once the rains come they bounce back very quickly.

Roses love the sun! They just can’t get too much of it if their roots are damp, and yet I have seen roses managing to make some flowers in 100% deep shade amongst giant trees. They surely are adaptable.  My recent order of 2 boxes of roses got severely lost last week, a half day trip took 9 days to find me, I felt sure they would be dead…but despite no individual wrapping in the box, their wood still looked plump and alive and having given them a soak for a day or 2 before planting, I have every confidence they will sprout and grow.

I’m hoping to see Lilac Rose in my garden again this spring…my last new plant died before I could get it onto it’s own roots.


Tis the season to make cuttings …….(fa la la la la, la la la la)

The seasons seem to be continuing in their confused and chaotic order.2 good frosts last week, followed immediately by positively balmy nights and warm days again. Whatever the weather, the days are drawing in daily and the winter solstice is less than 4 weeks away, so it must be late autumn and time to go full steam ahead making cuttings and moving roses, mostly simultaneously.


autumn colour behind The Pottery

We are well on the way to completing the moves into the new Hybrid Musk garden…Thisbe, Autumn Delight and Prosperity are waiting till an excavator (either human or mechanical) digs out the hole for a small fish pond below the leaking water tank. I left my thriving goldfish population behind at Weiti, and really miss them. Felicia is also waiting, for strength of body and mind! She is looking so superb in The Hunk, and wafting her beautiful scent everywhere. She is also very big!! Will get onto that anytime soon…

We are also very busy in the potting shed packing roses to send. We have been getting lots of orders from around the country, and also an increasing number of pick ups. Pick ups are so much easier than posting, however they lead to a problem for us…when people pick up, they take the roses away in their pots (obviously!!!) Up until last year this was not too much of a problem as every year the inorganic collection came to our district, and we trawled the North Shore streets spotting and collecting the plant pots from the “rubbish”. But the very unhelpful council put a stop to this age old custom (I learnt it from my father as a child!) so now our source of free pots is gone, and if we have to start buying them new, we will certainly have to up the price of our roses to cover it. And all those precious pots will now be getting crushed and wasted. Sad world…

So, if anyone vaguely local is reading this and hoarding rose size pots, we will a) love you forever and b) give you a free rose if you drop off a stack! Or we would be happy to pick up if you have lots, anywhere from Silverdale to Thames. Contact us if you can oblige.

So back to the cuttings… A very unscientific procedure, it can be very heart breaking as pot after pot of promising looking cuttings wither and die. But the successes make up for it and whether we truly are improving techniques with experience or just having a run of good luck, we seem to be having a slightly higher success rate of late. Some tricky families, like the Noisettes and Bourbons are coming to the party a little more often and the older Austins seem to be coming firmly onside. The proportion of our 500 odd roses growing on their own roots since the garden move has jumped and I really wonder if this has any affect on the results. I can’t see why, as cutting wood is cutting wood however it is produced, but the results may be telling us something??

Dainty Bess has kindly agreed to grow on her own roots for us

The upshot of this waffling is we are hoping by next season to have a wider range of Old Fashioned and Classic Austins available on their own roots…Here’s hoping!

Winter approaching on schedule…

May 1st today and someone must have reminded the boss, as the wet but warm autumn has turned into approaching winter temperatures overnight. Winter woollies out of the cupboard and I think a hottie will be required tonight.

The last of the summer veg will no doubt pack it in , and hopefully the roses will slow down their crazed growing spurts and harden off their wood so I can make some cuttings and start the eternal winter moves.

You’d think in such a new garden things would all be in their rightful places, but alas, this never seems the case.

Many have outgrown expectations and their allotted spaces, a few are not thriving in their’s and have put their hands up for a change of scene.

a formerly “dead” place in the garden becomes a whole lot happier after a quick chainsaw job

A garden is such a living entity and thus constantly changing. Also we’ve caused some pretty major change in the centre of the garden by chopping down a tree that was growing way too fast for comfort and was threatening to take over too much rose space. The property here is graced by a myriad of lovely mature trees, both native and exotic, they make a lovely backdrop for the gardens and roses, but really don’t need to be in your face frontdrops too!

new veg garden

So all in all a busy time in the garden. With the removal of the tree in the middle of the garden, a whole new vista has appeared and with it the decision to move the veg garden to the end of the property where the glasshouse and nursery are.

A well kept veg garden is a thing of extreme beauty in my eyes, but sadly mine are never well kept, just a shambles, and therefore more an eyesore. My gardening priorities don’t have room for tidy veg, so therefore they are kicked south and their space is becoming the Hybrid Musk garden.

The Hybrid Musks are certainly one of my favourite families. Probably , if we don’t count the Austins, my favourite.

They are such unassuming  girls, whilst staying healthy, growing vigorously and filling the air with their special perfume. I picked a vase of these blooms last week, and they filled the house with their sweetness for 6 days before they became tatty and dropped petals.

It’s hard to choose a favourite, my favourite tends to change most days to whoever catches my eye or my nose ! I have to say they have mostly become a little thuggish down here in the virgin soil in the Waikato, which is one of the reasons I’m putting them together in one garden to fight it out among themselves!

Cornelia is the first to have moved. She was a mere cutting in a pot last year, but was taking over a whole corner of “The Hunk” this summer, as well as arching over the fence and making faces at the delicate hybrid teas on the other side. But what a picture she made. She is in a place of honour in the new Hybrid Musk garden. Her sisters will stick up for themselves better I hope.

It’s a bit of a shame moving them now as their autumn glory is in full “on mode”, but needs must I’m afraid. So joining Cornelia will be Danae, Felicia, Kathleen, Francesca, Moonlight, Buff Beauty, Penelope, Thisbe, Autumn Delight, Ausonius and Ballerina. Hopefully we’ll have room in there for their original parent plant, Trier. Most of these beauties will hopefully be available next summer, as there’ll be plenty of cutting wood available when I prune them back to move.

Buff Beauty
buff beauty

This will set the Teas in the Hunk free to grow unhindered and hopefully leave some space for some of the dozen or so roses I have accidentally ordered, which will be arriving at the end of the month. Whoops! How did that happen?

New Zealand is a wonderful place…

lush autumn growth happening amongst the david austins
wife of bath producing exquisite autumn flowers

March is over. Not really your average March, but then we don’t live in an average country! Much rain fell in March and with temperatures staying very warm the garden soaked it up and became extremely happy. The roses are having the best ever Autumn flush, laden with blooms, and some of the absolutely ONCE flowerers can’t control themselves till spring and are having some autumn flowers too! These include some in the species garden…Ecae, Alba Maxima and the Kerria, a close rose relative.

And then April arrived with more rain and storms. There has been much flooding in the district, but we are blessed here with free draining soil and good run off, so the farm across the road got all our water and lost a lot of fences and hillsides, while we just got momentarily water logged. The temperatures have stayed very mild. so full growth continues and the summer veg are still producing (albeit more slowly)

I had fun on the 11th, a beautiful sunny day for my birthday, so I treated myself to a morning in the garden playing with roses! I decided to pick flowers chronologically from the David Austin garden, so ended up with 5 vases brimming. Starting with the 60’s and 70’s and finishing with the mid 90’s. The result is a very sweet smelling house!