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Gardening with Gael: Snowed in down south



27 June, 2022


thumbnail IMG 1512-232Camellias and magnolias are the usual topics for the articles at this time of year, and it was the plan until we found ourselves snowed in on our daughter’s sheep farm near Omarama just over the Lindis Pass, in very central lower Te Wai Pounamu. Stunningly beautiful landscape, it couldn’t be more different from our landscape at home. It took us a couple of years to really appreciate the geographic beauty, the lack of trees and the, at times, monochromatic landscape. Mountains and hills of tussock interspersed with matagouri and, at this time of the year, rosehips. I remember writing about the pace of growth of plants down here, not a huge difference from year to year, whereas even after five weeks away I know I’ll see a difference in my garden at home.

Winter had not arrived when we left and as we drove south, we were treated to autumn colours all the way. Barney, our border terrier, has come with us this time which has meant frequent stops all the way.

Taumaranui was an ideal stopping spot. One side of the road has shops and the other side a sweep of grass and trees, perfect for a quick dog walk. Towards the north end of town one of the trees is a giant gingko. I’ve always had a soft spot for these ancient trees. Our one at the Block is still growing slowly and every year provides a beautiful yellow carpet. This tree was a reminder of how beautiful they are. Also known as a maidenhair tree because of the shape of their leaves, Gingko biloba is native to China. Appearing around 300 million years ago it is one of the oldest living tree species. Plant only if you have room as a mature tree will reach 20-30 metres. It is rather slow growing, first upright and then spreading. The Taumaranui specimen was beautiful, the wide spread branches covered in cascading golden leaves.

thumbnail IMG 6147-164Ruby and Mark built their house among already established trees. Their farm has tussock, matagouri and wild roses. Their matagouri are basically shrub size but Ruby has seen large matagouri which have grown into trees. Matagouri, or tumatakuru (discaria toumatou) is an extremely thorny, tangle-branched divaricating native shrub or small tree that can grow up to six metres high. Micro-organisms on its roots enable the plant, in the way that legumes do, to take nitrogen from the atmosphere and convert it into food allowing it to live in poor habitats. The one Ruby spotted was in the Queenstown area which may enjoy more rainfall.

Considered a pest, wild roses have naturalised all over the entire area. Various companies have tried to commercially collect the rosehips but I have been unable to find out how successful they have been. Here on the farm last week we experienced

snow unlike Ruby and Mark had seen in their years here. Rosehips, which have been considered a pest, were all that peaked above the snow providing sheep, caught unexpectedly in the high country, some valuable nutrients. Suddenly they were Plant of the Week.

The snow has receded enough for us to begin the drive home. We felt privileged indeed to be here during such an unseasonable snowfall. Barney, in spite of his short legs, loved every minute of it.



Camellias are dormant when flowering. Now is a good time to transplant.


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