Huatoki wonders

19:09, Jan 31 2013

I thought to carry on from last week at the Mill car park to check out the new and improved Huatoki Walkway. Park somewhere near the Mill car park, just off lower Carrington St, to get there and walk under the Leach St overbridge.

Once you cross the road, you're in cool luscious shade, just perfect on a hot day, and we've had a few of those recently. The glare of the day moves into gently filtered lemon light as the leafy treasures unfold. There are some unusual plants in this area to make the walk more interesting. First up on the left, a line of chusan fan palms, the most reliable cold hardy palm in the world. In other words, if your climate is too cold for this palm, you won't be able to grow any others. It copes with wind, salt laden gales, light frosts and even snow. It's named after the man who brought the first palms out of China, Trachycarpus fortunei for Robert Fortune. I'll tell you more about him another time.

Next, some native whau bushes or entelea with big lettuce-green heart-shaped leaves and bristly brown seed cases. It's a short-lived bush but brilliant for creating an instant tropical effect in your garden as they grow like crazy in the first three years or so. In pre- European times whau was important to local Maori who used the extremely light wood as fishing floats. The Taranaki coast is as far south as the plant grows naturally because it is frost tender at the seedling stage.

This route has lots of plant treasure. I spotted a very rare yellow daphne or Edgeworthia gardneri on the right with pale greyish leaves and growing about three metres tall. Come back in late winter and the heavenly scented egg-yolk balls of flowers are like perfectly ripe pineapples.

Then over on the left some pale yellow evening primrose, or Oenothera, which is one of my favourite perennials. I love the lemon or yellow cupped flowers shaped like a James Bond martini glass and most have spicy scented flowers. An oil extracted from the plant is used as a medicinal remedy and is a well-known cure for many aliments

Tucked in hereabouts are a few curious plants. Just turn your head and look for the bush with glossy hand-size leaves, it's the tropical Odontonema stricta with stunning red flowers come autumn time. It's easy to grow from cuttings and being evergreen nicely fills a space in the garden. Next up a small Homolanthus tree with heart-shaped leaves. It's hard to tell if this is the Aussie version or the Kiwi one because they're both so similar. I'm guessing it's the Aussie one because the leaf stalks are very red and DOC want us to eliminate the exotic version. Either way it has a tendency to seed everywhere. The next plant is less of a mystery. Over on your right are two giant musa or banana plants. With leaves like surfboards, they really are tropical and they remind us we really live in a magical part of the world with a fabulous climate. Where else can you grow such a variety of plants? Apart from Hawaii, there's probably nowhere in the United States with a better climate than we have here in coastal Taranaki.


Across the stream are lots of hydrangeas, including some blue lacecaps and then the pale blue mopheads on an old variety called Sir Joseph Banks, the first mophead hydrangea in cultivation around the 1840s, about the time Europeans came to New Plymouth. These pale blue hydrangeas are the ones we commonly see around Taranaki and it's a pity they are the dominant colour because they're not the best or brightest blue. American and British gardeners tell me we have the best blue hydrangeas in the world but they're only seen in gardens and not along the highway. Perhaps we should have a regional plan to show off our wonderful blue hydrangeas and make them a real feature of the province.

All around this part of the walkway you'll see a shrub with rich dark felty leaves and thin tubular red flowers. Related to potato and tomato, this Cestrum elegans has to be in a frost-free zone to survive. I hadn't thought of it before but this walkway would be a good strolling place when there's a cold southerly blow as well as a cool place on a hot day.

On the right a steep clay bank and some steps up to the Hempton Rose Garden, which is well worth a visit this time of year. Growing wild on the clay bank is a cute English toadflax with tiny mauve flowers and shiny rounded leaves. While it's technically a weed, who could deny this charming plant a place in our world. What is a weed anyway? just something growing where we don't want it to be. So if we like it, it's not a weed.

The evergreen shrub on the right, Mackaya bella, is a weed in the making. There's lots of it planted in Pukekura Park, but I'm trying to eliminate it at home because it seeds everywhere. If you scrutinise the plant you may find some of the very pale mauve trumpet flowers. The fact you have to search tells you it's not a flowering sensation. But obviously the flowers are successful because it manages to spread its seeds around.

Beside the original mill stones that were used to grind the wheat at the mill is a patch of the native bronze leaf Elatostema, one of my favourite plants, but it's a challenge to establish in your garden. It must have a moist site, and is happiest in deep shade. Usually you see it growing wild in the bush but here it's a successful cultivated plant.

Underneath the nikau palms is a big drift of Plectranthus with purplish leaves. People despise this plant but I have to tell you it's good. I bet out-of-towners would be impressed because it forms a dense ground cover in shady places, and has a tidy manicured look, even though it's semi wild. Grows easily from a slip or cutting, just pop it in a jar of water for a week or two.

Another easy weed along here is the pretty pink busy lizzie. I've tolerated this weed at home and it's never really gone mad, it's still in the same part of the garden as it was 25 years ago. Growing up through it is a cabbage tree with purple mauve flowers called Cordyline stricta. It's a good tropical looking plant for a shady spot like this.

Nearby I spotted a cute little fuchsia with the tiniest tubular pink flowers you could ever imagine.

There's a big surprise along on the right, a huge tree and a host of needles on the ground. A huge Casurina glauca, with the biggest trunk I've ever seen on a sheoke tree. Everyone thinks they're pines but they're not even vaguely related. They're not conifers at all, and despite appearances are closely related to the winter-flowering witch hazel shrub. It's easy to find the tree because you'll see all the needles on the ground.

From here you can keep walking inland or take the shortcut left to Pukekura park via Redcoat Lane. Just where the lane meets the street is a conifer, a protected tree Cupressus goveniana, a very rare conifer from California. I'll continue on up the Huatoki next week. My thanks to Alan Jellyman

Taranaki Daily News