This blog reviews the latest products, plants and innovations in gardening. It also provides a link for my many gardening friends who are members of the GardenMessenger and Seedmessenger Yahoo groups and their sub-groups that I moderate.

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Location: Australia

I am a semi-retired UK botanical garden curator and former international horticultural consultant, who has worked extensively in Europe, the Middle East, North America and Australia. I spend part of the year in Australia and part in Europe, mainly due to family and work commitments. I earn my living from writing and editing Internet copy, articles and books. I have written over fifty books on gardening and have been translated into twenty-four different languages. I am a former UK Garden Writer of the Year and a previous Quill & Trowel Award Winner from the Garden Writer’s Association of America. I am interested in developing gardening communities on the Internet and I manage the popular GardenMessenger Yahoo group, along with its various sub-groups like PondMessenger and SeedMessenger. I also edit International Water Gardener and its associated regional web-sites.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Elderberries, New Zealand Garden Row and Diary

Elderberry a versatile fruit

One of my abiding childhood memories of the Elderberry, is of the musky fragrance of its creamy coloured late spring blossoms, which used to pervade the outside toilet of our country cottage in eastern England just after the Second World War. Two trees had been planted - one either side of the structure - in order to provide some shade for the corrugated tin roof. The "Palace", as my grandmother used to call this sturdy but unappealing structure, although functional was regarded rather like the legs of tables in strict Victorian times, and best hidden from view. The people who had the cottage before us had great foresight when they planted the elderberries, for not only did the trees provide the requisite shade, but also yielded flowers for making elderberry champagne, and if we left enough flowers to form fruits, a crop of excellent berries for preserve. An added bonus for me and my younger brother, was that the pith in the young stems was very soft and easily removed with a penknife - second season growths of straight wood being readily crafted into fine pea shooters.

Childhood memories tend to linger and you get conditioned by them, thus I have never really regarded elderberries as garden fruits, but of course they are and can be managed as such. If you are considering growing elderberries, other than informally in an informal area to attract wildlife, then it is worth growing one of the two increasingly popular cultivars that are available to gardeners. ‘York’ is the one that comes into bearing the soonest, often producing a few fruits in its second season. It grows no more than 3.6-4.2m (12-14ft) tall and is thus quite manageable as what you might call an orchard tree. It fruits profusely with deep purple-black aromatic berries. ‘Nova’ is very similar, but does not come into bearing when quite so young, but once established produces fruits earlier in the season.

Management is simple, removing weak and unproductive growth during the winter, and taking care to only give an occasional feed with a slow release fertilizer. Over-fertilizing elderberries is counter productive. Few pests or diseases cause any problems, or need any particular treatment, the trees being quite resilient. Plants can be grown as large bushes, which is a more suited technique for the formal fruit area, but I like to include them amongst mixed plantings and allow them to develop more as small multi-purpose trees. While it is not essential to have more than one tree for pollination purpose, a much better fruit set is achieved if you plant a ‘Nova’ and ‘York’ in close proximity.

Join the GardenMessenger Fruit Growers' group

If you are interested in fruit growing, whether it is more conventional apples, plums and strawberries, or tropical kinds like citrus, mangoes and bananas, then you may like to join the recently established GardenMessenger Fruit Growers' group. To visit the group click here.

The New Zealand Garden Row

The 100% Pure New Zealand Garden

I get really angry about the antics of politicians when it comes to their meddling with gardening and plants. You would think that there are enough problems in the world to be concerned about, without making a fuss about matters that are clearly well thought out, following all sensible and ethical guidelines and are being managed by caring gardeners and professional plant conservationists. But no, politicians are always on the look out for a bit of cheap publicity, at the expense of anyone, and this time it is Tourism New Zealand and their Chelsea Flower Show garden - which is under construction this week - that is in their firing line. I gave a preview of the garden here the other day, a presentation entitled The 100% Pure New Zealand Garden. The garden aims to illustrate the unique culture and landscape of New Zealand. In order to create this display Tourism New Zealand has imported around 950 mainly native plants.

The two British politicians who have angered me, and many other gardeners and practical plant conservationists, especially in Europe and New Zealand, are Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Norman Baker MP and Green Party London Assembly Member Darren Johnson. According to UK and New Zealand press reports Mr Johnson said that importing plants from New Zealand for a tourism promotion was "appalling". "There are better ways of promoting tourism than flying plants out for a five-day show," he said. "They are endangered plant species as well and that's totally unacceptable. It would be far more appropriate to build up those collections and safeguard their future in New Zealand."

Mr Baker said the more that material was transported around the world for invalid reasons, the more people contributed to climate change. "If this is a precursor to a substantial import drive for flowers and plants from New Zealand, I'd find that questionable environmentally and detrimental to our own industry," he said. "I'd be happy if the New Zealanders are providing plants for breeding and cross fertilisation. But if we're anticipating a big drive of flowers and plants from the fields and nurseries of New Zealand that's a different matter altogether."

Several rare and endangered coastal species never seen before in the UK are part of the garden. They spent nine weeks in quarantine before being re-potted in fumigated potting mix. Barry Eddington, Tourism New Zealand's regional manager for UK/Europe, said Tourism NZ was not in the business of selling plants and the imports were not for commercial propagation. He said Chelsea provided an opportunity to showcase the country's flora and to encourage horticultural enthusiasts to visit New Zealand. "The Chelsea Flower Show is important, but bringing these rare and endangered plants to the UK is actually more important for horticulture because it helps to ensure the protection and propagation of these rare species. All of the plants we've imported from New Zealand will remain in collections in the UK after the show, with the majority going to the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) garden at Wisley."

Biographical Notes of the "Experts"

These biographical notes are taken from the politicians' personal web-sites.

Norman Baker MP
"Between university and his election in 1997, Norman held a variety of jobs, Regional Executive Director of Our Price Records, clerk at Hornsey railway station, manager of a wine shop and teacher of English as a Foreign Language".

Darren Johnson
"Darren is a graduate of Goldsmiths College, University of London, where he gained a first-class BA (Hons.) in Politics and Economics. He has been involved in a number of high-profile campaigns to save threatened open spaces and is also a lively and popular platform speaker on the dangers of climate change and economic globalisation. Having chaired an inquiry on nuclear waste trains for the London Assembly, Darren is an outspoken critic of the nuclear industry."

Wow! These fellows sure are well qualified to make the kind of comments and judgements about the New Zealand garden that they did to the UK, New Zealand and international press. Does anyone really understand what they are getting at? They are trying to create an issue where one does not exist. I hope that gardeners and plant lovers everywhere see them for the political opportunists and clowns that they really are, and those with the power to decide their future at the ballot box at the next election deal with them appropriately.


‘Diablo d’Or’
Hillier and Sons are making this new cultivar of Physocarpus opulifolius available at the Chelsea Flower Show. Called ‘Diablo d’Or’, it is a medium-sized shrub with palmately lobed, deep burgundy leaves. However, it gets its name from the new foliage which is amber. In early summer, pink umbels of flowers are produced.


RHS Flower Show at Tatton Park
19th - 23rd July
Tatton Park,
Web-site click here.

Floriade 2006
16th September - 16th October
Commonwealth Park,

Australian Capital Tourism,
Locked Bag 2001,
Civic Square,
ACT 2608,
Tel: +61 02 6205 0666
Fax: +61 02 6205 0629
We-site click here.

Happy Gardening



Today’s Sponsor
Gurney's 120 x 60

Elderberry and grape: Wikipedia
NZ Garden and Physocarpus: Royal Horticultural Society

If you have enjoyed this publication, you may also like to visit the monthly SeedMessenger gardeners’ seed saving and seed exchange blog click here.
and the weekly water gardening blog PondMessenger click here.

To join the GardenMessenger gardening community
click here

To visit the SeedMessenger seed exchange web-site
click here

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