October 26, 2023

In addition to getting out and visiting interesting plantspeople and nurseries, the cultivation of new species/varieties (to us at least) from seed helps to temper our low collective threshold for boredom. This expands our horizons to be able to include species that have previously been grown in New Zealand but have disappeared from the trade – such as the mesmerising harlequin evening flower, Hesperantha vaginata, pictured below.

Beyond its stature, there is no particular reason that harlequin evening flower should not have endured within  New Zealand gardens, as it grows in clay soils in South Africa and is fairly easy to grow. However, flowering details like this black and yellow bulb have become rarer over the last couple of decades, in association with an overall decrease in diversity (both native and exotic).

It is relatively easy to confirm the suprisingly large list of species that we are permitted to grow within New Zealand. This was established in the late 1990s, when importation regulations were firmed up based on records of what was present within New Zealand at the time.

Due to the wide-ranging interests of nurseries from the 1960s through to the 1990s (and even further back in the case of Duncan & Davies), one is permitted to purchase clean seeds of a multitude of species like Fritillaria ehrhartii (pictured above, right) or Fritillaria pontica subsp. substipetala (above, left) from responsible sources.

It has been interesting to compare this year’s flowering of Fritillaria conica (shown above, left) with the first year in which I grew it in the open garden – especially considering the endless rain that marked the first half of this year. In the 2 years that it has been growing outside our kitchen, the main bulb has strengthened to the point that its inflorescence is nearly double its previous height, and it now produces 3 flowers per stem (instead of just one).

A rare species of Star-of-Bethlehem, Ornithogalum collinum, sits nearby, and has flowered for the first time for us (despite the attention of snails) since I purchased it from a friend with a significant bulb collection.

In addition to possessing the intricate markings exhibited by several smaller species of Gladiolus, the species in flower above (Gladiolus virescens) has a fine scent – albeit one that needs to be appreciated by lowering one’s nose to its level.

And speaking of plants that require some effort to observe their beauty, the appropriately-titled Crocus minimus in the image below is also reminiscent of the sharp contrast in colour associated with traditional harlequins from commedia dell’arte. This particularly beautiful, well-known variant was originally collected from Bavella (in Corsica), and is one of many remarkable plants that we were fortunate to source from Hokonui Alpines over the years.