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Preserve yourself some fruit offerings

The march of spring can be delineated by the flushes of flowers that appear.

The very early days of spring – really just a hint of it really – are the time for the dwarf bulbs. Tiny splashes of white mark the snowdrops, while the earliest of the crocus also pop their heads up.

These are followed by the daffodils. With so many different forms and varieties, these last a month or more, with hosts of golden goodness in the garden. After they have moved past their peak the tulips start to come to the fore, with municipal gardens devoted to massed beddings that suit these multi-coloured plants so well.

By the time the tulips have reached their peak, other plants are starting to chime in. Evergreen azaleas, some of which have been putting out sparse blooms for months, suddenly burst into life with masses of flower, and of course, the flowering fruit trees start in earnest.

Although the first of these – the flowering apricots such as ‘The Geisha’, the lovely fragrant Japanese apricot, and some of the flowering plums, will have started early – they are entering their peak period now.

It has been exciting to watch the flowers develop on the Taiwanese cherry just down the road from us.

With deep pink flowers that cover the bare stems, each shaped like a little bell [campanulate is the technical term] these flowers are beautiful, and a powerful attractant to the native birds around.

This year, the tauhou – silver eyes – seem to have taken over the primary role of gathering food from the tree from the more usual tui.

You would think this tree should be in every garden because it is so attractive, but it has a serious drawback – each of the many hundreds of flowers has the potential to make little cherries, which are then spread by the native birds, causing a mass of wildling cherry trees to take sprout. In many parts of New Zealand, this is so bad that the tree is now on the noxious weeds list and banned from sale, so we need to pass reluctantly over this tree.

Awanui cherries in the Esplanade at Palmerston North.

At the moment it is the New Zealand-bred cherry ‘Awanui’ taking pride of place. This is a single pink form of the Japanese Yoshino cherry, which itself is a hybrid between two other species. Although New Zealand gardeners have traditionally preferred the later blooming, double-flowering cherries, this one has become one of the most popular of all flowering trees.

It has an attractive shape over winter, then in early to mid-spring bursts forth with masses of light pink flowers. It even has an autumn bonus – it has beautiful yellow and orange foliage as it enters winter.

This is the tree that forms the entrance to the Esplanade in Palmerston North, forming a frothy confection of soft pink along the length of the entranceway. It is also found in large numbers at Aston Norwood Garden on the southern slopes of the Remutaka Hill Rd. Both gardens are worth visiting just to see the blossoms. I think if you are going to be planting cherries en masse, ‘Awanui’ is definitely the one to go for.

Just down our street, and on the opposite side of the road to the Taiwanese cherry, a gardener went for a different approach – they planted a small row of weeping peaches.

Flowering peaches have never been as popular at the cherries, but they have very similar garden habits, with lots of spring blossom – usually in double-flowered form – and good autumn colour. A slight drawback is that they are also slightly prone to the same leaf curl disease that their fruiting siblings are. As an aside, most flowering peaches form fruit, about the size and texture of a golf ball!

A cascade of different coloured flowers on a weeping peach.

They also have a peculiarity – they are not very stable. The garden down the road has a few different varieties, but the one most easily seen is ‘Cascade’, with drooping branches that are covered with masses of pristine white flowers. Mostly.

This variety has a habit of sporting different coloured flowers in a random manner. You will find white flowers with pink specks; branches with white and pink flowers, and branches with just pink flowers. It can be all a bit of a mad scramble.

If you love peaches [the Head Gardener does] and you’re wondering if that old-fashioned favourite with the terrible name of “Black Boy” is still around, just keep an eye out for it under its modern name of ‘Sanguine’. It has the same deep purple [and very furry] skin, and the same deep red flesh that has foodies drooling. You’ll find it around, and it makes a wonderful addition to the home orchard, and even more so to the home preserves!

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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