By John Blocker
Our driver drove on the other side of the road and so did everybody else. Traffic meandered into town as if all of the drivers drank chamomile tea. Cars politely stopped at stop signs. We drove past square, modest houses and stores. Green lawns, green bushes, green trees, green was everywhere. Some yards exploded with rose blooms. Summer would begin in a few days. I thought we were in England except we were driving too slowly and it was December.
My wife, Tedy, and I had arrived in Christchurch, Canterbury, at about 10:30 a.m. after flying all night from Los Angeles and had grabbed a shuttle at the airport to make the short trip to our hotel, the Chateau on the Park. Only we were not in England as it appeared, we were in New Zealand. We had arrived to attend the 10th International Heritage Rose Conference to be held in Dunedin, December 8-11, 2005.
Hagley Park, Christchurch
New Zealand is about 1200 miles long and consists primarily of two islands located in the South Pacific, North and South Island. Christchurch is the largest city on South Island and has a population of over 300,000 and is known as the most English city in New Zealand. We would begin a three-day pre-conference garden tour in Christchurch beginning December 6.
Within minutes of setting our bags down in our hotel, we walked across the street into Hagley Park to reach the Botanic Gardens. Hagley Park could have been mistaken for Hyde Park in London. Great lawns were crisscrossed with trails for walking, jogging or cycling. Large trees created allees over the paths. The park was established in 1855 and has been planted exclusively with Northern hemisphere trees. The River Avon (formerly called the Otakaro) now flows through the park in a narrow channel engulfed in greenery.
We quickly stumbled into a formal rose garden in full bloom. Amid the glare of thousands of rose flowers, I immediately walked to a medium-sized bush with hundreds of perfect soft pink roses. It was ?Aotearoa?, bred by Sam McGredy. (?Aotearoa? is the Maori name for New Zealand. This rose is sold under the name ?New Zealand? in the United States.)
I walked a little further and I found the rose ?Auckland Metro?, also bred by Sam McGredy, and a parent of ?Aotearoa?. This rose looked like ?Aotearoa?, only it was the whitest of pink. I walked a little further and I found ?Eyepaint?, also bred by Sam McGredy. ?Eyepaint? is a leggy plant with clusters of small bright red flowers with a white center.
Nearby was ?Eyeopener?, an identical leggy plant covered with bright red flowers, but without the white center to the flower. ?Eyeopener? was bred in the Netherlands crossing McGredy?s ?Eyepaint? with ?Dortmund?. Four roses with breeding backgrounds by Sam McGredy had immediately caught my attention.
The first Sam McGredy began growing roses in Portadown, Northern Ireland, in 1880. His son and their sons, Sams II-IV, all grew and bred roses in Portadown and their roses became well known around the world. Some roses that Sam McGredy IV bred in Ireland are ?Orangeade?, ?Casino?, ?Bantry Bay? and ?Galway Bay?. In 1972, Sam McGredy IV moved to New Zealand and continued his rose breeding success by breeding ?Auckland Metro?, ?Aotearoa?, ?Eyepaint? and others.
In this garden, I also found the rose ?Nancy Steen?, named after the famed New Zealand rosarian. Her book, The Charm of Roses, first published in 1966, is still read today by heritage rose enthusiasts.
'Aotearoa' ('New Zealand'), Formal Rose Garden in Hagley Park
Nearby we found the Heritage Rose Garden, established in the 1950?s and remodeled in 1999. The Heritage Rose Garden, also in full bloom, was laid out in a circular fashion with many arbors for roses to climb. The staff at the Botanic Garden planned to hold a welcoming ceremony in this garden during the pre-conference garden tour that started a few days later, but rain caused the ceremony to be cancelled.
We found the weather in New Zealand unpredictable. The temperature range was almost exactly the same in New Zealand as it was in San Diego during the time period of our visit, only it was the end of autumn in San Diego and almost summer in New Zealand. The temperatures ranged from about 50 degrees Fahrenheit to 75 degrees in both places. However, in New Zealand the old Midwestern adage applied, ?If you don?t like the weather, wait an hour.?
The Canterbury Museum in Christchurch had a large spinning globe on display. There was a stairway leading down below floor level allowing visitors to view the globe from its underside. I was surprised to find that New Zealand is on the bottom side of the globe (or down under) along with Antarctica.
As we traveled around New Zealand, I was repeatedly told by the locals, ?People from your country come here in July and they think it is summer,? or at our last stop in Queenstown, a ski resort in the winter, ?People from your country come here in August and they don?t bring warm clothes with them.?
Sally Allison's Garden
In Dunedin on our free afternoon we asked Roderick, one of our fellow conference attendees, how to get downtown. He told us, and then he said ?To return, just look for the buildings of the university. They are large and you will see them. To orient yourself, look at the sun in the sky. Only remember that the sun is in the north in the southern hemisphere, not the south.? I was too embarrassed to tell Roderick that I had been orienting myself assuming the sun was in the southern sky.
On Tuesday, December 6, we began touring gardens, most of them big, acres or more, and all of them vibrant and in full bloom. All of them had roses, lots of roses of all shapes and sizes. Our enthusiasm seemed boundless at the outset. We snapped pictures of every detail. The conference organizers had adopted Carpe diem (seize the day) as our daily motto and in the beginning each moment was effortlessly embraced. Over the next ten days we visited 30 gardens with one day of rest. By the end of the tour Carpe diem became hold on to the day with all your strength; don?t allow fatigue to let the day slip away. By the time the post-tour started, I was rosed-out and I was not the only one. But I knew I had spent many days of my life in much less well-appointed surroundings and I would plod forward and view each garden, even if it took all my strength.
Each day started with breakfast in the hotel (bacon, baked beans and eggs were always available), morning tea at about 10:30, lunch around noon, and afternoon tea at about 3:15. Lunch varied from a box lunch during the pre-tour to a full buffet during the post-tour. Morning and afternoon teas were elaborate. Coffee and tea were always served. Milk was always available for white tea (tea and milk). Plates of butter-based cookies and lemon bars covered the tables. Often crustless sandwiches made with cucumbers, thin layers of egg salad, tuna and other delicacies were available. Fruit was also served. The box lunches usually included some sort of pasties and heavy butter cookies.
On our first day touring gardens we visited Lyddington Garden. This garden was developed over 48 years by Sally Allison and expands over 10 acres. Sally Allison has written two garden books, Climbing and Rambling Roses and Shrub Roses and Compatible Planting to Enhance Your Garden. She became enthralled with roses when she met Trevor Griffiths, another New Zealand rose legend, in the 1960?s.
Her garden now has roses of all shapes and sizes, climbers, species roses, old garden roses, English Roses and any other rose imaginable, a true reflection of her admiration for garden roses. Three roses that stand out to me from the hundreds in her garden were the small, dark pink, cupped-shaped flowers of ?Raubritter?; the flesh orange ?Treasure Trove? climbing into a tree; and a beautiful red-leafed rose, ?Rosa rubrifolia? (Rosa glauca).
Trevor Griffith Rose Garden in Timaru
In her book on shrub roses, Sally said, ?Prune a little or a lot, whatever suits you or the rose or your particular style of garden.? Sally?s garden is a very casual garden, one that is easy to stroll through. You can sit and contemplate by a lake and feel as if you are alone even if there are many people in the garden. It is also a very modern garden in the sense that Sally grows each plant and each rose in the manner that suits her, not according to a predefined notion of what a garden should look like. Sally?s garden suits her philosophy.
Sally Allison?s garden was included on the garden tour for the last International Heritage Rose Conference held in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1990. I remember seeing slides of huge banks of climbing roses and imagining that the garden was part of an English estate. Actually, the residence is a California ranch-style house with picture windows and a large patio to view the garden. The garden is located in the domesticated but still slightly untamed-feeling New Zealand countryside where the predominate economic activity is raising sheep.
Roger Phillips, one of the keynote speakers for the conference, called Lyddington Gardens a world-class garden. I don?t think very many people who visited Sally?s garden would disagree with Roger.
The next day we visited two gardens in Eiffeltown, Ashburton, as we headed south toward Dunedin. These gardens were both called Long Beach, but one used the Moari word Akaunui. Both were extravagant homesteads settled by John Grigg in the latter part of the 19th century. Each property had a manor house, expansive lawns and beautiful gardens and is still the central house for large agricultural operations. As the name indicates, these houses were located just up the lagoon from what appeared to be a long and wild beach.
Rosa moyesii 'Sealing Wax' in the Rimaru Species Rose Garden
At Long Beach, people raved over the small circular formal rose garden planted with orange Hybrid Teas and blue delphiniums. Large plants of ?Leontine Gervais?, ?Rambling Rector?, ?Francois Juranville?, ?City of York?, ?May Queen?, ?Dublin Bay? and ?Albertine? covered the chain-link fence surrounding the tennis court. A very old plant believed by most of the attendees to be ?Rosa brunonii? grew 50 feet into an old California Redwood.
As I walked into a wooded area at the property called Akaumui, I heard bird calls that I had not heard in Southern California. I heard whoops instead of caws and chirps. The whoops reminded me of jungle sounds even though most of the trees were Monterey pines.
That afternoon we visited the Trevor Griffiths Rose Garden in the city of Timaru. This is a municipal rose garden opened in December of 2001 and gifted to the city by the Timaru Beautifying Society. The garden was built to house Trevor Griffiths? large collection of roses, 529 in all. Trevor Griffiths is one of New Zealand?s most well-known rosarians and author of rose books.
We had afternoon tea in a municipal function center adjacent to the rose garden. The mayor of Timaru honored Trevor Griffiths with a small ceremony. Until recently when many new and more detailed rose books have come onto the market, the rose books I consulted most were by Trevor Griffiths. The Book of Old Roses (first published in 1983) and The Book of Classic Old Roses (first published in 1985) are two of my favorite rose books. As he stood, I snapped a picture of him to keep as a souvenir.
Early the next morning without fanfare we were dropped off at the Species Rose Garden at the Timaru Botanic Park. Our 45-minute visit to this small, densely-packed garden was not enough time to properly study what was presented. Each plant was vigorous and strong and flowering. A favorite among the visitors was the bright red velvet-flowered Rosa moyesii ?Sealing Wax?, and my favorite was the American icon ?Harison?s Yellow?.
As I was leaving I spoke with one of the staff from the Timaru Botanic Garden and told her that the consensus among the visitors was this was the best species rose garden we had seen anywhere in the world. She said, ?Have you seen the one in Adelaide?? In fact, one of our keynote speakers later at the conference in Dunedin, Tina Miljanovic, spoke about the species rose collection she maintains at Mount Lofty Botanic Garden in Adelaide, Australia. I now have another rose garden to visit.
The conference in Dunedin lasted three days. Dunedin is the second largest city on South Island and was settled by Scots in about 1848. Dunedin is also the home of the University of Otago, New Zealand?s first university founded in 1869.
Lectures were held each morning in a modern lecture hall on the university campus and gardens were toured two of the afternoons. The third afternoon was free, allowing us time to explore the city. Each morning we heard one speaker in the large lecture center and then broke into smaller groups to hear two lectures of our choice. Besides Tina Miljanovic, Roger Phillips spoke about his life producing rose, mushroom and other plant identification books and his trips to China, America and Europe to gather information and pictures for his books and to produce television shows. Sally Allison spoke about how roses were first bought to New Zealand.
Some of the breakout sessions speakers included Odile Masquelier, convener of the 1997 conference in Lyon, France, speaking on the history of rose breeding in France; Francois Joyaux speaking on the history of the Gallica rose; and Helga Brichett speaking on China roses in the East and West. Trevor Nottle of Australia could not attend the conference due to a work emergency, and Bill Grant, well-known California rosarian, spoke in his place on Ramanas-The Japanese rose. Lloyd Chapman of New Zealand spoke on Wichuriana ramblers and David Ruston of Australia demonstrated floral arrangements. These were just some of the speakers and we were only able to hear about one-third of the lectures given during the breakout sessions as there were more speakers than time allotted to hear them.
View from our hotel room in Queenstown
I was able to hear Phillip Dunn speak on the Unique Aspects of New Zealand Flora and Their Use in a Garden Setting. He promoted the use of New Zealand native plants in the garden setting. He made me realize I saw almost no New Zealand native plants in the thirty gardens we visited. In general, most of the plants in the gardens came from the Northern Hemisphere and the selection of plants used was very similar to the plants used in gardens in California.
A few gardens we visited did use native New Zealand plants. In fact, at the Orchard House outside Dunedin, the owners were quite proud to show me their wonderland New Zealand native plant garden. On the post-tour, Mary O?Connell and Barry Grimmond used small New Zealand natives to great effect in their rocky garden in Queenstown.
Kay Baxter spoke about her endeavors to save native New Zealand heritage flowers and fruit trees. English-speaking immigrants began to arrive in New Zealand after 1850. Gold rushes helped to promote these immigrations. When people arrived, they brought plants with them, fruit trees, flowers and their favorite roses. Survivors of these plants are found around abandoned homesteads. The efforts Kay Baxter is making to save these heritage plants in New Zealand reflect what similarly motivated people in the United States and other countries are doing.
Martin Keay spoke sentimentally about his experience as a gardener working for the late Nancy Steen. She was an important collector of heritage roses from the roadsides and abandoned homesteads of New Zealand. She began identifying these abandoned roses and bringing them back into the garden long before it became popular. She also imported many varieties of roses into New Zealand from around the world. Her interest in old roses led many others to look for old roses in their communities and plant old roses in their gardens.
Mike Shoup, owner of the rose nursery the Texas Rose Emporium, was the keynote speaker at the banquet Friday night at the Dunedin Town Hall. He spoke about how he became involved with growing old roses and his activities with the Texas Rose Rustlers. Much as Nancy Steen had done, the Texas Rose Rustlers traveled around Texas looking for roses abandoned along roadsides and at homesteads.
Before Mike Shoup?s speech, I heard a woman from Australia speak disparagingly about the Texas Rose Rustlers. ?They just steal old roses from roadsides in Texas,? she said. In his address, Mike Shoup detailed the etiquette of rose rustling.
A few days later I heard this same woman explain to her friend that there is an etiquette to follow when rustling roses, and then proceeded to list verbatim the etiquette Mike Shoup had proffered in his address. ?Always ask permission to take cuttings of a rose, if possible. If no one is available to ask, never dig up the plant. Leave the plant at the site for the next person to enjoy. Never harm the plant. Only take as many cuttings from the plant as the plant can tolerate.? Rose Rustlers etiquette has now spread to another part of the world.
In Queenstown, we rode the gondola to the top of Mount Bob for the final banquet. In the summer, Queenstown is an adventure travel center featuring activities such as hiking, river rafting and bungee jumping. In the winter, skiing is popular. The view from Mount Bob overlooks three deep canyons and a large, blue lake. Above the lake are the craggy mountain tops known as The Remarkables. We went outside our banquet hall and admired the view as the sun set.
Before dinner as had occurred at two other banquets elementary school children sang Maori songs for us. The Maoris are the indigenous inhabitants of New Zealand. They arrived in New Zealand about 750 years ago from other South Sea Islands The songs the children sang were melodic, the kind of song that could be accompanied by a ukulele. The children appeared to be of both English and Maori heritage and for this performance their faces were painted in Maori fashion. When the boys stepped forward, they danced like warriors. One boy of apparent English extraction yelled orders to the others in a deep, loud voice and the boys beat their chests and stamped their feet.
After dinner as we were preparing to leave, one of the garden owners on the post-tour grabbed the microphone and began singing the Hawaiian song, ?Now is the Hour.? As if we had all done this before, we grabbed hands and formed a circle around the room, singing and swinging our arms to give the appearance of ocean waves:
Now is the hour when we must say good bye
Soon we?ll be sailing far across the sea.
While you?re away oh then remember me
When you return you?ll find me waiting here.
John Blocker, San Diego Heritage Rose Society