Discovery (and rediscovery)

February 8, 2018

Spending time at specialist nurseries is both a pleasure and a responsibility, as it represents the simplest form of research for a landscape designer. In recent years, many landscape architects and designers have shifted towards spending much less time at nurseries (preferring to order off catalogues). However, this kind of remote contact not only deprives one of firsthand experience (and personal selection) of stock, but also the kinds of spontaneous opportunities that arise from such visits.

During nursery trips, a sideward glance can suddenly present a new possibility that may be of significance for projects that are underway and future designs. In some cases, they are variations on plants with which we are very familiar and use frequently, as in the case of the Haemanthus pictured above (probably H. carneus), which provides different qualities to 3 species that we have specified in many projects over the last few years.

Another example of an uncommon “cousin” of a commonly-planted species is Zephyranthes drummondii; a comparatively robust rain lily with bluish leaves and pure white flowers. Aside from the ubiquitous Zephyranthes candida, several species of rain lily are occasionally available within New Zealand, providing a range of scales and flower colour.

The lily that is pictured above, which we suspect is Lilium ‘Scarlet Delight’, did not come from a nursery, having been extracted from the carnage of an old house site that had been demolished to make way for new townhouses. As explained in one of our journal entries from last year, I had admired this variety for a long time (when it made an appearance en masse every summer on the front fenceline of an old resident of Epsom), and it was fortunate that I was able to salvage some bulbs before they were completely destroyed by building works.

Naturally, everything does not have to be an entirely new discovery to open up possibilities or surprise one, for I often encounter plants that we have come across or planted years before, yet not been able to source since (due to the shifting nature of what specialist nurseries produce). One such species is the diminutive (and very reliable) “snowflake” pictured above, called Acis autumnalis, which we have specified increasingly over the last 2 years. Although not commonly grown in the north of New Zealand, it can serve a role as an attractive detail that endures within gardens without dominating (a criticism that I would level at its less elegant, spring-flowering cousin).

One final species whose flowers have made an appearance over the holiday period is Cymbidium ensifolium, a particularly compact and elegant orchid species from Asia – and which is valued in China and Japan for its leaves and overall form as much as its scented flowers. This is the first year that I have been fortunate to own a specimen of C. ensifolium, and it duly produced a stem of beautifully-marked, subtle blooms (as shown above) early in the New Year.