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The Cultivation of New Zealand Plants

Chapter I. — Introduction

page 7

Chapter I.

Our flora is famous the world over. Nor is this to be wondered at when it is remembered that more than four-fifths of the flowering-plants are to be found growing wild in no other land; they are, indeed, true New Zealanders. Then there is the array of forms these plants have assumed, so distinct and betraying such different origins. What a surprising plant-population is this of the isolated antipodean land, embracing, as it does, amongst its members, great tree-daisies, giant yellow and white buttercups, arboreal lilies, bayonet-like Spaniards, yellow and bronze forget-me-nots, huge mountain marguerites, vegetable-sheep, evergreen trees of many kinds, shrubs of varied aspects, and the dainty herbaceous, or partly-woody plants—most precious of all—which dwell near the perpetual snows.

Though the wild New Zealand plants live in all kinds of situations, and thrive under conditions unknown in gardens, it must not be thought that the majority are not amenable to cultivation. Quite the contrary is the case; by far the greater number yield to the gardener's skill; only a small minority refuse to change their abode. Yet there is a deep-seated conviction to the contrary, notwithstanding the fact, as will page 8be seen, that many species have been cultivated for years.

New Zealanders, as a whole, love their plants. The bush is a delight to thousands, with its multitude of ferns, its stately trees with ropes of lianas depending from their massive boughs, its white clematis, and its scarlet ratas. So, too, the lovely alpine flowers are a joy to those more venturesome who climb the lofty mountains. In short many would willingly cultivate the plants of their country, but they are deterred by the reputed difficulty.

Nor is this all, our flower-gardening is, in large measure, an imitation of that of the Motherland, although here the capabilities for open-air horticulture are far wider, and plant after plant, not hardy in Great Britain, can be readily grown. Thus our gardens should surely possess a peculiar stamp of their own, and a national horticulture come into being with not only a rich exotic garden flora, but one where New Zealand plants themselves would play no inconsiderable part.

Apart altogether from that beauty of flower, or of form, which entitles the indigenous plants to occupy a foremost place in the gardens of this country, it must ever be remembered that they are peculiarly a New Zealand production. Romance circles round them. They are part of ourselves, as it were; they are our very own! That innate patriotism which compels us to feel that our country stands high above all other lands, must also make us love its natural characteristics, so that in our gardens; of all the trees, or shrubs, or herbs, which we cherish, none can ever rank quite as high as those which slowly took their shape on New Zealand soil in the far-distant past.

It might be thought from the preceding remarks, though there were qualifying phrases to the contrary, page 9that it is very rare to see New Zealand plants in cultivation. This is not so, a few species are common in gardens, e.g., the cabbage-tree, the New Zealand flax, and certain veronicas, while various indigenous trees and shrubs are frequently used for hedges. But generally they are neglected, except in public gardens (see fig. 24) or where a specialty is made of "natives," as they are styled, ugly though that term be. Certainly the appreciation of the plants in question has increased greatly of late years, but this appreciation has been a matter of slow growth. And perhaps this is all the better, if their coming into horticulture is to be permanent and not a mere fashion.

To give an historical account of the cultivation of New Zealand plants would lead far beyond the limits of this chapter. But mention must be made of that collection in the Christchurch Botanic Garden, which may well be called "historic," brought together by the Armstrongs, father and son, during the seventies of the last century. Fortunately it still remains, a living monument to their knowledge, skill, and foresight. Nor can I omit a reference to the largest and most complete collection yet made, that of the late Mr. H. J. Matthews at Mornington, where the alpine plants grow almost as well—some better indeed—than in their mountain homes. As for the collections, private, public, and in nursery gardens, at the present time, it would be invidious to mention a few—excellent though they may be—and pass by the remainder. All that can be said here is, that there are a number of collections of the highest merit. Also, for the planting of city reserves, indigenous plants are being largely used. This extending use is indeed gratifying, but it does not contradict the former statement in this chapter, that they are generally neglected, and that page 10very few are common in gardens. In fact, it is correct to say, that, to a vast majority of amateur gardeners, the native plants are unknown.

It is beyond the shores of this Dominion that our wild plants are specially in demand. Unfortunately, none are hardy in most parts of the temperate Northern Hemisphere. Even in Great Britain, except in some favoured localities, where winter frosts are light, comparatively few can be cultivated in the open-air. But those with alpine gardens are eager to grow our high-mountain species, and a fair number of such are regularly referred to in the horticultural papers, as highly-prized and being a success.

The most celebrated collection—largely brought together by his own hands—is that of Major A. A. Dorrien-Smith, D.S.O., in his wonderful garden at Tresco Abbey, in the Scilly Isles, As for our alpine plants that at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh—thanks to the knowledge and indefatigable energy of the late Sir Isaac Bayley Balfour, F.R.S.,—is very nearly the most extensive in the world. In Cornwall, the west of Scotland, and the west of Ireland, many New Zealand trees and shrubs, not generally hardy in Britain, grow famously.

It is too cold for any New Zealand plant to remain all the year round in the open in northern or central Europe, but some are put out for the summer and brought into heated houses during the winter. On the shores of the Mediterranean, in the Riviera more especially, many of our trees and shrubs are cultivated. Even at Batoum, on the Black Sea, are some of our plants. The north-eastern United States is too cold in winter, but on the Pacific Coast, New Zealand trees and shrubs grow well. There is an extensive collection at Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, and more than fifty page break
Photo. W. D. Reid Fig. 1. Rubus Barkeri draping the stone-facing to a bank, Queenstown Gardens; the shrub on extreme right is Veronica cupressoides and a little to its left is a hybrid between Olearia ilicifolia and O. moschata

Photo. W. D. Reid
Fig. 1. Rubus Barkeri draping the stone-facing to a bank, Queenstown Gardens; the shrub on extreme right is Veronica cupressoides and a little to its left is a hybrid between Olearia ilicifolia and O. moschata

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Photo. L. Cockayne Fig. 2. Entelea arborescens (the whau) in the garden of Mr. D. Petrie, Epsom, Auckland.

Photo. L. Cockayne
Fig. 2. Entelea arborescens (the whau) in the garden of Mr. D. Petrie, Epsom, Auckland.

page 11veronicas are included. Taking temperate countries in general, were our plants able to tolerate 32 degrees Fahrenheit of frost, or more, many would be amongst the commonest plants in cultivation.

Even in New Zealand itself, strange as it may appear, there is no place where every indigenous plant can be cultivated. Certain localities specially favour alpine plants; in others these grow either not at all, or with the utmost difficulty, but there the less hardy trees, or shrubs, may be readily established. In fact, every plant has its special limitations, and these can be learnt only by experience. The climate may be too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry. There may be too much sunshine, or too little. Some plants can tolerate frequent high winds; others demand perfect calm. Many of the above adverse conditions can be overcome by a skilful gardener; indeed, success may depend entirely upon his initiative and upon the constant loving care he gives his plants. But, apart from the difficult species which the ideal gardener can grow, there is a large number of our trees, shrubs, herbs, and even ferns, which can be grown with ease by anyone who cares, no matter in what part of New Zealand the garden is situated. These really are the important garden plants; the difficult will always remain the business of the enthusiast.

Regarding the nomenclature used in this book it will be seen that the universal horticultural practice is followed of giving to each species its scientific (Latin) name. These names are the only definite ones, and in horticulture, definite names are essential.

As for popular names, there is really very little demand for them so far as garden plants are concerned. It is only when such have become a part of the language that they are admitted here. Coining names has been studiously avoided. In all eases, the Maori name, if well established, is given, for a good page 12many know our plants by those names. They may also be useful for gardeners overseas, since they cannot be duplicated by any other popular name, as is so frequently the case with such in English. Some of the scientific names will not be familiar to many, who know the species only by its former appellation. But these new names, or it may be very old ones restored, will be the accepted ones for many years to come, so it has been thought best to use them here. But, in the Index the old names (synonyms) are also given, so no confusion need arise. Also, in some cases, both the old and new are cited when first dealing with the species.