March 2013

Hello Everyone

March 2013

I was surprised at how many replies I had to my first newsletter. Not only friendly and constructive comments, but information and ideas, most of which I will pass on to you.

One question which many people asked, was, where to get the plants that I mention. Where possible I will give the names of places to contact, but remember that some of these plants were bought as far back as 20 years ago, and some may not be available for purchase. The point here is that you may recognise one of these plants while visiting a garden and it is often possible to ask for seed, a cutting, or divisible piece if you are seriously interested.

I see this as becoming a very important part of our gardening as in this way we will keep plants going, which otherwise may be lost eventually. I am talking about New Zealand gardens here.

I will continue to write about plants, whether or not they are available to buy, as I think it is important to keep communication and a level of awareness going. If any readers know where a plant can be obtained, I will share the info, and some people might ‘spot’ one of these plants when visiting another garden. You could then ask the garden owner where they got the plant or request a piece perhaps in return for something that may be of interest to the donor.

It is also a good idea to contact your local Garden Centre as they can do a search for you. Terra Viva garden centre in Christchurch provides an excellent service in this way.

For clematis, I suggest contacting the Yaku nursery in Taranaki:

For roses: Tasman Bay Roses:

Lathyrus ‘Matucana’: I have given seed to so many people that I think it’s fairly widely distributed now. If you are visiting Frensham, do ask for some as we are collecting and sharing it again this year. A photo of this sweet pea was in last month’s Writings.

I had an email from a gardener in England, saying, amongst other things, that she collects snowdrops and has over 50 varieties. A few days later we had friends from England staying with us, she being a serious galanthophile (i.e. a serious collector of snowdrops). Carol has about 300 varieties, all named.

Let me tell you about galanthophilia. It is a condition where the galanthophiles can do any number of things, apart from collecting snowdrops. This includes attending snowdrop tea parties, where they dine on snowdrop cakes presented on snowdrop china; they wear clothes decorated in snowdrops (including, dare I say it, wearing a woollen snowdrop hat), they have snowdrop stationery and whatever else I can’t remember, but trust me, they do it.

As tulip mania, which peaked in the 17th century, galanthomania is heading the same way. While our friends were staying, they showed me current trading on E-bay for snowdrops. One snowdrop was bid for to 225 British pounds and had 15 hours to go; the highest price paid for a snowdrop is said to be 750 Br.pounds!

I was in my potager last evening picking beans and peaches, and thinking about my childhood when I loved pottering in the soil. The formation of the flowers of ‘Soldier Boys’ (muscaris) fascinated me, gerberas smelt of toast, and when I soaked the bright pink ice plant flower petals in water and then squeezed parts of my skirt in it, I discovered the most interesting patterns. A friend who lived across the road came over one day when I was picking potatoes out of the soil (they had been loosened for me) and said that she could only eat very small potatoes as she had sunburnt lips which cracked if she opened her mouth much, and could I give her the baby potatoes. And of course I did. It only occurred to me while I was picking peaches and beans that she could have cut larger potatoes into smaller pieces.

One of the plants that I would like to talk about this month is Aquilegia flabellata. A great little plant and such good value, it grows in any well-drained soil to about 30cm in height. Producing seedlings true to its parent plant when it is established, it flowers mid spring to early summer, with some plants flowering through mid to late summer. We have propagated it from seed, but it does multiply itself. The mauve-blue form grows at Frensham in alpine troughs and in the gravel garden. I see that Sue Bound at Wake Robin Nursery, has Aquilegia flabellata ‘Nana Pink’ in her current catalogue. She may have others! Photo No. 1 by M Wilkie.

Very few garden visitors know Tetragonolobus purpurea, the Asparagus Pea. this plant. Again I have given away a lot of seed, so there must be more plants around. The Asparagus Pea is very versatile, being good for a herbaceous border, an edging plant, or in the potager/veg garden. Tidy and compact for most of its growing season, it reaches 20cm, then growing to 30cm when it becomes a bit leggy. This is when we collect the dried seed, pull the plants out and sow new seed directly.

The flowers are edible, so great for garnishing, the pods can be boiled or steamed for a few minutes, drained and served with butter. The peas are said to have a similar flavour to asparagus, hence the name. The Asparagus Pea is available from Kings Seeds. Photo No. 2 by M Wilkie.

Cornus pumila, the dwarf dogwood, is another great plant which is not known by the majority of our visitors. Eventually growing to about one metre when it is fed and watered, it also does very nicely in less ideal conditions, but doesn’t reach the same height. Forming rich green mounds, it has many uses. Cornus pumila is easily divided and is deciduous, which I like, as it means that the plants get a good clean out each winter. It is worth growing just for the texture of its leaf.

Another autumn treasure which I noticed flowering well yesterday was Oxalis ‘Ken Aslet’. Photo No.3 by M Shearer.

One of the things that I have found most rewarding, more than 95% of the time, is the time shared with our visitors. For many years I didn’t charge an admission fee, but many people said that they would feel much better if a fee was charged. As well as paying visitors, we have held fund raising functions, sometimes two or three times a year, for the past 17 years. It has always been highly successful for the fundraisers. Photos Nos 4,5 and 6 are taken from happy occasions.

I was in Singapore recently and found it to be ‘truly’ the Garden City. Half of the city has been kept ‘green’ so that lush plantings of trees and flowering shrubs are in abundance, providing a very relaxing atmosphere. Having more than 50 hectares in rooftop greenery in housing estates, schools and shopping centres, the overall combination puts Singapore among the world’s leading cities in this area. The Housing Development Board plans to plant nine hectares of rooftop greenery on existing multi-storey car parks and housing blocks over the next few years. Of course, having an almost daily shower of rain helps.

Some of you will be planning overseas travel. If you are going to the Villandry gardens in France you might be interested to know that Henri Carvallo, the owner, told me last week that “ Villandry had done quite well in 2012 even with the economy slowing down. If we have less Spanish, British and Italians, we have more Germans, Americans, Russians, Brazilians and Australians. So things are going well on this economic subject. We received 863 visitors from NZ compared to 628 in 2011 : not bad! The gardens has been doing very well and we are now 100% bio.” Have a look at the website for the special events in June, July and September.

Visitors from England this year have given me their website It looks as if it would be worth a visit.

I said last time that I would comment on Garden Visiting Etiquette. My comments are addressed to 5% or less of the visitors. Most of you are very welcome back again.

I do think that some New Zealanders need to think a little, and I say New Zealanders as I do not have any difficulties with overseas visitors, and we have had many from different countries this year.

My hesitation in citing some instances, is that some people may recognise themselves. As with experiences I have had as a Garden Tour Leader for many years, I do think perhaps I should wait a while until some of these people have passed away.

So, going gently, I shall share some of the comments that I have received in my garden.

“Do you like gardening?”
“When is a good time to visit this garden?” (on a day when I thought the garden was looking great and our maintenance was up-to-date).
“We’ve been inside your house and we love it.” (The house is never open for garden visitors).
“You’ve got cobwebs on your garage.”
“Well, there’s not much to do now that it’s all planted out.”

Visitor: “What is the name of that tree?”
Me: Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’.
V: “Oh no it wouldn’t be that as it’s very rare and hard to get.” (It IS Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’).

Me: “Are you enjoying your visit?”
V: “Yes, we are and we grow that gonorrhoea over there too (pointing to the gunnera).
Me: You have to be careful don’t you, because it can be so invasive.”

I’ll procrastinate on Etiquette and Admission Fees until next time.

Many of our visitors have enjoyed our Frensham Boxed Lunch. The most recent Lunch prepared for visitors was:

Pan Bagnat with smoked salmon, layers of mizuna, Florence fennel, hard-boiled egg, roasted red pepper, cucumber, Nicoise olives, torn basil, parsley, mung sprouts with a light lemon dressing, and salmon caviar.

Cherry cake with white chocolate ganache.

Whitestone Pro-biotic Camembert
Fresh cherries.

P.S. Pan bagnat is a popular regional lunchtime dish around the Nice region in southern France.

Whilst visitors are very welcome to bring their own lunch to the garden, sometimes it’s nice to have a treat, and from all reports, our FBL are a treat!

If you enjoy poetry, I would recommend Helen Jacobs’ latest book “Dried Figs”. Helen was a member of a group which visited Frensham this summer, she showed me her book, and I have enjoyed reading and re-reading Helen’s work. Copies are available at $20.00 each. More information can be found on Helen’s website:

It is turning to autumn as I finish this letter and the first gentian is in flower, a Drake’s strain variety which I got many years ago.

I will write again in April, talking about autumn colour, Admission Fees to gardens and whatever else that might arise in the next month.



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
+64 3 3228 061

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