February 3, 2024

As I reflect on the garden’s various goings-on at present, it is the summer heat that currently leaves the most visceral impression – steering us towards spending time in the garden at either end of the day.

The kind of ‘shimmering’ or ‘quivering’ heat that one experiences in late January and February (often as a haze above roads and beaches) is termed ārohirohi in Te Reo Māori. In addition to this, Ārohirohi is the name of the atua (goddess) of mirages within Māori cosmogeny.

For me, this sums up the nature of certain environments at this time of year in the north of New Zealand – a time when many species have settled into a holding pattern due to the exhausting conditions of midsummer (and its shimmering heat).

However, for some plants (like the glorious Hippeastrum ‘Chico’ pictured above), the heat of summer is just what they’ve been waiting for to break into flower. This spectacular bulb is one of a number of varieties with Hippeastrum cybister prominent in their breeding – conferring the unusual character of that species’ spidery blooms in a variety of ways.

High summer is also the time for the critically endangered Hibiscus richardsonii (above, left) to start its long flowering period. The irony of some endangered herbs and subshrubs like this attractive hibiscus is that they are anything but threatened within the garden after a year or two – where guaranteed disturbance provides suitable conditions for germination. This stands in stark contrast to the paucity of open ground that drives such species towards rarity in the wild (due to competition from aggressive exotic species, especially grasses).

A golden-flowered variant of scarlet rata (called Metrosideros fulgens ‘Aurata’ within horticulture) has also broken into flower over the last week – a forerunner of the exceptionally long flowering period of this species.

Members of the genus Liatris are especially valuable for mid to late-summer flowering, and we have four species growing within the experimental garden outside our studio. The one that is currently garnering the most attention (notably from Mathilde) is Liatris aspera; the shaggy flowers of which are pictured above.

The glorious flowerheads of the Italian eryngo (Eryngium amethystinum, above left) are slowly developing the metallic bluish hue that Eryngium species tend to exhibit – including our sole native eryngo (the diminutive E. vesiculosum), which has also started to flower nearby (albeit on a much smaller scale).

Heuchera villosa var. macrorrhiza (shown above, right) continues its protracted floral display at the base of a cabbage tree in upper parts of the garden, whilst Thalictrum rochebrunianum var. grandisepalum (below, right) hovers above areas of woodland planting.

The final species to appear in this account of the summer garden can still be found within an eccentric Auckland remnant at Southdown – a tiny ‘island’ of biodiversity amidst Penrose’s industrial buildings and fields of kikuyu.

Geranium solanderi has thus far evaded local extinction due to its ability to tolerate the extreme seasonal drought and heat of the volcanic ‘fingers’ that descend into the Manukau Harbour – largely on account of the carrot-like root from which its dissected foliage and attractive pink flowers emerge.