Among my trees

Being a generous soul, I like the idea that the time left on my parking meter is going to be used by the next car owner who pulls into my spot. But damn it, under the new rules, the clock goes back to zero the moment I leave.

So here you are in town with 20 minutes left on the clock and you don't want to give that time away.

Here's a good suggestion of how you can put those 20 minutes to good use - go for a stroll, starting at The Mill car park opposite the Daily News.

My first ramble for this paper was through Sir Victor Davies Park, so lets begin there.

It comprises primarily a native- plant collection, but we're going to sail past them.

There are two amazing exotics which predate the native plantings and they are worth a mention.

The two huge Magnolia campbellii trees by the river have huge pink chalice flowers in early June and are the first magnolias of the season.

A bit further on is a huge bamboo, Phyllostachys edulis. It's worth stopping for a moment because this is one of the most exciting plants in the city.

As the name implies, it's edible, well at least the new season shoots are when they first emerge, for they can be used like asparagus.

But it's the overall height and enormity of this clump that is really special, like something out of Chinese kung-fu movies.

In China, they use it for construction purposes and even for scaffolding. I can still remember the shock of seeing a skyscraper under construction, with bamboo scaffolding reaching skywards.

At the end by the bollards is a magnificent pohutukawa. Turn left to see a huge Moreton Bay fig, Ficus macrophylla by the red Mill building on the left. Related to edible figs and the indoor rubber plants, it's a dramatic-looking tree.

It's a plant best admired from a distance. You wouldn't want one at home, because the ever expanding roots lift houses and tarmac.

Next is the car park, where the boot sale is held every Saturday.

There is a row of ash trees with confederate jasmine, or Trachelospermum jasminoides, as a groundcover.

The European ash is surprisingly wind tolerant, and if you choose the Raywood cultivar, you'll have stunning red-wine autumn colour.

Ash trees have been around forever, but the jasmine is a newly fashionable plant. It's actually a climber, but mostly we see it used as a groundcover because it happily trails across the ground.

White, scented flowers and shiny evergreen leaves make it a winner, but it's not so good in frosty places.

For me, the highlight is the scent, as it holds its perfume in the air and reminds me of Mediterranean summer holidays.

Look over by the white post and rail fence where there are masses of huge purple blue flowers on the Morning Glory. It's a weed of course, but a beautiful weed.

Further up the walkway, huge curtains of this climber are draped over entire trees. With this habit, Morning Glory smothers and covers native bush in a most destructive way.

In New Zealand we see only this rich blue form, but other parts of the world have super-sky-blue and red- wine forms. Although it is a terrible weed, the flowers are exquisite.

In some harsher climates, this plant is contained by winter and doesn't seed all over the place. However, this is New Zealand and cover and smother is the rule, and here Morning Glory is trying to suffocate a native shrub called Dodonaea viscosa or hopbush.

They come in green and red purple forms, have smooth finger- like leaves and look a lot better without a Morning Glory overcoat.

Head down to the little bridge over the stream, and above you is a Japanese walnut tree, Juglans sieboldiana, or it was until some botanist changed it to J ailantifolia. And just when I had a good story lined up about Mr Siebold!

At the far end of the bridge, look up and see a halo of silver on a big, spreading tree, and almost every day the leaves are rippling in the breeze, making them even more attractive.

Acer saccharinum var laciniatum, otherwise known as the silver maple (sacchar, means sweet or saccharin), is not the tree that produces maple syrup. That's Acer saccharum which is similar but doesn't have the silver underleaf. Both trees are from eastern America.

You wouldn't expect to see such a tree so near the sea as here, but I guess it sheltered by the city buildings.

It's not a common tree in Taranaki, which is a shame, because the leaf shape and colour are exciting, and the autumn colours of lemons and orange are a bonus.

Go left to see a native red beech, Nothofagus fusca, nearest the building and a protected tree. New Plymouth and Mt Taranaki don't naturally have nothofagus, so any you see are planted.

I was part of the team that planted the many kowhai and rewarewa trees on the nearby bank in the late 1970s when I worked for the parks department. It gives me a thrill to see trees I planted around the city.

Further around the corner, you will see a row of camellias. The first one is worth a mention, as it has vibrant, cinnamon-coloured bark, and large fried-egg white-and-yellow flowers in winter.

This is Camellia yunnanensis, from Yunnan in western China, and grows in our sister city, Kunming, the capital of the province.

We have a very similar climate to Kunming, which is said to be the "City of Eternal Spring".

The province is famous as the home of rhododendrons and camellias.

It sounds just like Taranaki and, like us, it has music in the parks.

One final suggestion is walk up the zigzag path between the kowhai trees on the bank, down past The Mill and there by the liquor store car park is a huge weeping tree like a willow pattern tree.

The surprise is it's neither Chinese nor a willow, but an Australian tree related to gums and pohutukawa. It is called Agonis flexuosa or willow myrtle.

Tough, evergreen and wind hardy, it is one of my favourites, and you can grow one in your garden. Don't worry about the size, it's usually small and this one is 100 years old.

Thanks to Alan Jellyman.

Taranaki Daily News