January 23, 2019

Caroline’s Garden Diaries : Back from Down Under 4.2.13

4 February
We’re back from a week’s holiday in New Zealand, staying with keen gardening friends. I’m jealous of how well things grow for them; they have bad winters but hot summers and now the late-summer flowers are gorgeous – and very familiar! I’ve bought a book about famous NZ gardeners, one of whom is described as a “perennial and rose person” whose favourites are “lavenders, delphiniums, old roses, clematis, wisteria”. The book has pictures of gardens with tulips and iris, hydrangeas and lilacs, hostas and ferns, that could be in Country Life. The gardeners also talk of their influences, several mentioning Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd, Gertrude Jekyll and Vita Sackville West, English gardeners who are my heroes too.
So I feel at home here, and with my friends Derek and Gwen who have a home rightly described by the estate agents (they’re selling up to return to England) as “Paradise found!” I can indulge in one of my favourite pastime, admiring someone else’s garden – what wonderful agapanthus! The amazing echiums! And Phormium, which I dislike at home, looks so good here where it belongs.

But there’s another side to plant life in New Zealand. It’s the issue of Natives vs Non-natives. Derek told me that they’re banned from growing Verbena bonariensis – what?!! can’t grow this favourite of English garden designers? No, in New Zealand, it does too well and it has escaped from gardens to become a nuisance. We know this phenomenom in England, in the dreaded Japanese knot-weed, but in NZ, it’s become almost a racial issue, a backlash against anything imported, and Verbena bonariensis is from South America. Particular venom seems to be directed against the non-native plants from Europe, the very countries that have settled New Zealand; thus, weeping willow and gorse are called “noxious weeds”, and pine trees, brought in by the early settlers for timber but which spread out of their plantations, are killed by being drilled and poisoned so that the “native bush” can be restored.
It’s a complicated issue, this of the naughty non-natives and what constitutes native vegetation. For now, I’ll just say “one man’s native is another man’s exotic” and think of our visit to Ship Cove on the Marlborough Sounds where Captain Cook landed in New Zealand; he would have seen as I’m now seeing, the cliffs covered in huge tree ferns – such exotics at home!


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