Monday, June 24, 2024
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Keep those trees under control

We had the arborists visit this week.

We had a slight problem with one of the gardens along the edge of the driveway. A few of the trees had grown a little more than I had anticipated and were starting to wend their way through the power and telephone wires.

I hadn’t noticed it happening until I did some work on the boundary fence, and happened to glance up and saw, much to my surprise, that one of the wires had started to fray, and a few strands had broken.

As I am sure most homeowners know, it is our responsibility to ensure that trees and shrubs do not interfere with utility services. It is also imperative that properly qualified and certified arborists deal with the matter.

It took a little bit of telephone work, and a lot of running around to get someone to come and fix the broken wire, but once the proper line of authority was established, the local service provider was here within hours and took care of the problem promptly.

We needed to have five trees removed – a large purple akeake, an overgrown pieris, a very chunky michelia, a poorly performing camellia and a tall lancewood hybrid that had passed through the gangly stage and was making a strong head of foliage.

Of the five, I had planted three soon after arriving here – the pieris, the camellia and the Michelia.

The purple akeake was here when we first bought the property and was quite large even then. In the manner of these things, it had grown a lot since then and the wires were passing through the branches in a dangerous manner.

Although most New Zealanders would consider akeake, Dodnaea viscosa, a native plant, it is in fact widely distributed tree that originated in Australia but has spread over much of the world.

Māori used it a lot for axe handles and walking sticks because the wood is the hardest of all native plants – the name “akeake” literally means forever.

Overseas this plant is usually known as “hop bush” because its flowers resemble hops, being a winged capsule. This is presumably how it came to be so readily dispersed throughout the world – it is one of the most “greatest transoceanic dispersers”, found on all continents except Antarctica.

I was very surprised to see it growing in the botanical garden of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Arizona a few years ago. It was the green form, covered with lighter-coloured seeds, and it very much reminded me of home.

Although we think of akeake as being very hardy, it is a little sensitive to frost. I recall coming to work one day in the garden centre and finding a new delivery of purple akeake had all been hit by an overnight freeze. These were quite soft plants, having been well fertilised to make them grow fast, and they had not been hardened off at all. In the garden, established plants should be fine in any frosts we get.

Akeake are often used for shelter and hedging, and they can cope with quite dry and exposed sites. They do not tolerate shade, however, and will not grow under those conditions.

Interestingly, the purple form does seem to have originated in New Zealand. Apparently, the first now specimen was found on the banks of the Waiau River in Marlborough and was taken into a garden there, where a nursery owner noticed it growing. Fortunately, it seems to come almost 100 per cent true from seed, so it was quickly spread around the motu as a welcome addition to the range of native shrubs.

The other unplanted tree in the garden was a seedling lancewood hybrid. We get quite a few of these popping up in the garden, as some of the neighbours have some of the decorative members of the Pseudopanax genus in their gardens, and they seem to cross with lancewoods with great enthusiasm.

There is something inherently appealing about the way these plants mainly grow, with the upright lance-like main stem shooting upward with the spike-shaped leathery leaves handing almost vertically from the stem. I always forget that these trees will eventually form a thicket of foliage when they mature, and that they will also grow to three or so metres. This is the third one of these I have let grow too big, then had to call out the chainsaw and the arborists to remove.

There are other self-sown plants growing in the area. There is a large wisteria, which I have let grow along the fenceline; there are very many ivy plants which I pull out as soon as I recognise them, there were one or two small Pseudopanax, which I removed, and there is a small yew tree.

Someone near us obviously has a mature yew, as we get seedlings appearing quite often, and I see other trees that have been let grow in neighbours’ gardens. The one growing in the garden is different. It is about 1.5 metres high and is completely fastigiate, about a 5cm circumference. I’ll let it grow and see what happens, then [no doubt] in a few years, I’ll call out the arborists again.

Roger Parker
Roger Parker
Roger Parker is the Times-Age news director. In the Venn-diagram of his two great loves, news and sport, sports news is the sweet spot.

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