April 2014

Hello Everyone

April 2014

In Philadelphia in 1827, the first horticultural society was formed in America, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. IN 1829 the first Philadelphia Flower Show was held. At the beginning of last month I was at the Show at the Convention Centre in Philadelphia. There had been a snowstorm the previous evening and so the crowds were thinner, which enabled me to see all of the displays with ease.

Producing a flower show at this time of the year is obviously fraught with its unique difficulties; it is hard enough producing a flower show at any other time of the year. The only answer that I could find as to why the Show is held at the end of winter was that winter was the quiet time for landscape designers and gardeners and this enabled them to make preparations for the show.

The PFS is divided into several sections: Landscape, Floral, Educational, Plant Societies, and Non-Competitive Exhibits. There was a wide variety of fresh plant material, dried and artificial, the theme this year being Articulture. I took many photos but for some reason only one turned out. That is the life of an amateur photographer.

Andy Sturgeon, the British landscape designer who was in Christchurch this year judging at the Ellerslie Flower Show, had an exhibit speculating what Ben Nicolson (Vita Sackville-West’s son) would have produced had he (Ben) been a garden designer. A man from Harrow in England had an impressive live display of miniature bulbs ─ hyacinths, irises, delphiniums and tulips. The bulbs are sent to Philadelphia the previous September, put into greenhouses and brought into flower for the Show. For some displays fresh flowers had been flown in from Holland a few days prior to opening. I did see a vacant stand where the exhibitors had left a notice saying that due to the extremely severe winter and many power outages their exhibit wasn’t able to be produced this year, but they would be back next year. Such is the power of passion.

About one third area was sales with everything imaginable: tools, potteries, garden furniture, lighting, plants, bulbs from Holland, seeds etc.
Overall there was an excellent coverage of design gardens, pressed flower displays, and floral arrangements, considering the extremely cold winters they have, especially this year.

At one time in its history, Philadelphia was the seed capital of the world and its private gardens rivalled anything in Europe. Do you know about Barbara Wells Sarudy? She researches and writes history blogs and has published a number of historic garden books, writing often about Philadelphia’s extensive horticultural legacy.

Photo 1: A very cold winter’s day at the Longwood Gardens, about 20 minutes drive from Philadelphia.
Photo 2: A colourful display in the conservatory at Longwood Gardens.
Photo 3: Green walls surround the loos at Longwood.
Photo 4: Another display in the conservatory.

In last month’s newsletter I wrote about visiting the Blue Mountain Nursery in Tapanui. We based ourselves in Gore, a twenty minute drive away, and found two superb gardens in Gore. The Gore Botanic Gardens are well worth a visit. Well maintained with an interesting variety of plants, some unusual, these gardens provide lots of information for the visiting public as well as a tranquil setting. Plant labelling is excellent with much research having been done to provide the correct names, and the printing is easy to read. Five minutes drive from the Botanic Gardens is Bannerman Park. I highly recommend a visit to this Park where plants and trees are displayed in a superb setting.

Returning to my garden, a favourite perennial plant of mine, with bottle-brush type white flowers and growing to a height of nearly two metres, is Cimicifuga racemosa. Preferring part shade, this plant flowers for several weeks at this time of the year and looks exquisite in the softness of autumn. Its dark purple stems set off the display superbly. It will grow in full sun but the foliage tends to go brown in late summer, so a woodland setting is ideal.

A very small tree that would be ideal for the many small gardens there are these days is Betula pendula ‘Trost’s Dwarf’. Looking very much like a Japanese maple with its heavily dissected leaves, this little tree with its golden autumn foliage will grow no more than one metre in ten years. B. ‘Trost’s Dwarf’ would be ideal in a large pot; I grow mine in the rock garden.

Flowering from midsummer until early winter, Salvia uliginosa, the bog salvia, is at its best, I think, at this time of the year. With the softer light, the soft blue is enhanced and provides a very good contrast to the autumn colours. S. uliginosa, (pronounced u-lij-in-o-sa) is said to be suitable for wet/boggy areas, where it has done well for me. Now it is doing equally as well growing in full sun in a fairly dry position.

Now is a good time to be planting while the soil is still warm. Finishing the gardening day with a piece of Marilyn’s Chocolate Apple Cake seems to me to be the ideal life.

Chocolate Apple Cake: Marilyn McRae

This is delicious either as a cake to go with tea or coffee or, served warm, as a dessert with ice cream… perhaps with a drizzle of Frangelico for decadence.Make the topping first:

  • Into a whizz put 1/4 c soft brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 tbsp hazelnuts or walnuts
  • 25 g butter
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Set aside in a small bowl.

Into the whizz (no need to wash it after the topping) put 2 – 3 apples, quartered, cored but not peeled and process to chop reasonably finely.Add to the apples in the whizz in this order:

  • 125 g melted butter
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 c flour
  • 2 tbsp cocoa
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking soda

Whizz to combine and pour into a greased 23 cm flan dish (mine is an ancient toughened glass one, useful but not beautiful!). Sprinkle with the topping and bake at 190 degrees C for about 35 minutes or until the cake bounces back when pressed lightly in the centre.

If you don’t want to bother with the topping, just sprinkle with slivered almonds or chopped nuts of choice. Vary the apples until you find one that balances the flavours. I like quite a tart apple like barely-ripe Coxs Orange Pippin or Granny Smith, but sometimes it’s nice to use a sweeter apple.



About Frensham

Our relaxed country garden started twenty nine years ago. In the early days I had very little gardening experience and no vision for the site, but an interest in plants was quickly developing. Over the years, with much trial and error, a garden has emerged which we and our visitors do enjoy.

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139 Old Tai Tapu Rd, Christchurch 8025, New Zealand
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