Landscaping Tips

Beschornaria Reality – an outstanding plant for exposed dry gardens

This stunning architectural looking plant features in a landscape job I did for a client in Te Awamutu about 15 months ago. The plant is called Beschornaria Reality. It has very attractive foliage with a striking yellow stripe running down the middle of each leaf. I use it on landscape sites where its very windy and exposed and it handles coastal conditions very easily. The plant gets to about 1.0 m x 1.0m wide. The plant also has a tall pink flamingo coloured flower spike in the Spring. It has a clumping habit and because its very drought tolerant, it makes a very good container plant.

Low Maintenance Garden with a Mediteranean Look

A photo showing a stunning low maintenance garden at the Rukuhia Homestead that I created with virtually no flowers. The character in the garden comes from all the different foliage textures and colours. I call this our mediteranean garden. It looks great all year round and is one of the most easy care gardens – 15 minutes a month – to keep it looking great.

Beautiful specimen of a PETUNIA SUPERTUNIA

This was planted from a small pot back in October. In four months its now nearly 1.0 metre wide with about 200 flowers. These new varieties are outstanding; they dead head themselves and I never trimmed it – all I ever did was water it every second day. I grew 10 of these specimens especially for the wedding, and they looked magical in tall urns. If you keep the plant out of the frost over the winter months, then it will repeat the performance for you again next summer.

There are a few colours available in the range. This one is a very soft blush pink.

Hydrangeas in the Shade Garden

Basically hydrangeas will grow in full sun or full shade. They are extremely versatlie and tolerant of a wide range of conditions. What I have found is that if they are in very hot sunny positions in the garden, the blooms will not last quite as long as if they were in the shade. The shade from overhead trees seems to stop scorching of the petals and this helps the blooms to keep in peak condition for longer.

Also, good moisture in the soil while the plant is in full flower will help keep the flowers to last longer on the plant. A good soaking with the hose once a week will pay dividends!

Hydrangeas Make Great Flowering Hedges

The photo is of a hydrangea hedge that's in full bloom now and will be just perfect for Christmas and through January. A lot of people ask me why their hydrangeas don't flower until later in the summer around late January to February. It's basically because you have pruned it wrong to encourage early season flowering. Generally the gardeners who get in and give their hydrangeas a severe prune in the middle of each winter are cutting off the winter dormant early season buds.

I like to have our hydrangeas looking their best through November - January because that's the time of year we do most of our entertaining and want the garden to look at its best. So to have early hydrangea flowers, you need to prune your bushes at the end of February. This will give the hydrangea plant enough time to regrow a full set of new stems and foliage before it starts to go dormant in early May. The plant will sit there happily over the winter and every new branch will have a dormant flower bud sitting on the top. This will open in spring and develop into a bloom for early summer flowering from November.

Remember – if you want really good blue flowers, you must feed your hydrangeas in the middle of winter with aluminium sulphate (this nutrient is more readily avaliable in acidic soils). Feed in July and September by putting a handful around each mature plant while it's dormant. This will give the plant enough time to pick up the necessary alumnium trace element through its root system and travel up the stems and into the dormant bud. When the flower opens, you will have the most fabulous blue coloured blooms. Same procedure applies if you want pink/red hydrangeas blooms, except you apply lime to the soil and do at the same time of the year when the hydrangeas are dormant. If you have white flowering hydrangeas, don't worry about adding nutrients to them because you cannot change their bloom colour.

One helpful tip – if you buy a beautiful flowering pink or blue hydrangea in a plant shop and want to keep this wonderful bloom colour, you must keep applying each year the trace elements that I indicated above. Not doing this may revert it to a wishy washy colour because the soil PH is neither acidic or alkaline.

Hymenosporum Gold Nugget

It's a dwarf variety of the australian frangipani. This photo is of an actual plant in full flower in our garden at the moment and what an amazing sight! It's a little bit different to any gold nugget frangipanis that you would see in your local plant shop, because it has been grafted onto a standard. Instead of being a low mounding shrub on the ground, this has the same habit but is one metre off the ground.

Its flowers give off the most beautiful tropical fragrance – you definitely don't need to go to the Pacific Islands when you have one of these beauties in your garden! It loves full sun and doesnt mind being in a pot. The specimen in the photo has been in the same pot for about five years and its looking very fine and happy. I feed my specimen twice a year with slow release fertiliser and only lightly trim it once a year because its growth habit is so compact and tight.

A Stunning Summer Garden

The Alstroemeria Red Baron in the photo are an old variety, but they certainly perform when it comes to continual flowering from October right through to May - that's up to eight months of continous blooms — pretty impressive! Some of the old alstroemeria varieties used to be like invasive weeds, but "red baron" is much better behaving than this and is a truly great perennial for any summer garden. 

I cut these plants down to ground level every July with the hedge clippers, so that there is no foliage left above the ground.

Straight away the foliage will start to regrow and by early September the foliage is coming back very strongly and the following month they are back in flower. This is the only time I touch them throughout the whole year. 

If you are in to picking flowers for the vase, then "red baron" is a definite must. The blooms will last inside for three weeks in a vase of water. An important note: when you pick the flowers, pull the stem out from the plant rather than cutting the stem — this encourages more flowering. In the photo you can see that the alstroemerias are growing very happily under queen palms, where it gets extremely dry. This is another great feature of the alstroemeria family - they are extremely drought tolerant and don't need much moisture over the hot summer months to flower at their best. 

In the front of the garden, I have an assortment of bromeleids which like the dappled light that the queen palms provide. In the winter months, the palms provide cover from very cold frosts.

A stunning easy care Perennial Garden

A stunning, easy care perennial garden can provide you with so much colour and delight and be easy to care for. However, you need to select good performing perennials that have been bred to perform.

There is a lot of pressure on plant breeders these days to produce plants that will basically flower for up to 9 months of the year, need no spraying for pests and diseases and need little general maintenance to keep it looking good. The photo is of a local garden that I helped create from scratch in June 2013. This photo shows the great floral display five months later. We used Camellia Earl Pearly (Topiary Standards) to give the garden some structure and continuit. Under these we planted a themed patchwork of colourful perennials, to give year round colour.

We put a trellis through the middle of the garden, because this particular garden is in quite a high wind zone and this did several things to the garden. It broke the garden up, so you couldn't see from one end to the other, which i think is a good thing. It also gave us a climbing frame, which we put climbing roses and sweet peas on the trellis so that they intertwined through each other. When the fragrant sweet peas finally finish, the roses will still be in full flower, so the colour and blooms will continue on for the rest of the season.

Many people are scared that a colourful perennial garden like this is a lot of hard work, but its not if you follow the basics:

  • Select only the very best performing perennials
  • Mulch the ground, so that you virtually have no weeding
  • Over the very hot summer months, give the garden a good soaking once a week
  • Feed the garden every September and March with a slow release fertiliser

Monarch Butterflies in the Garden in spring!!!

I am writing this article in the first few days of spring-(early September) and we are absolutely fascinated by all the monarch butterflies in our garden over the last month. Today we had at least 20 butterflies dancing between the flowers on our echium plant. This plant obviously provides a wonderful food source for these butterflies at this time of the year, as well as bees and other flying insects. The monarchs haven’t just arrived in our garden; they have been here for the last two months. Moving from one flowering source of food to another as the season progressed.

Some of the other plants they have been recently feeding on in our garden are camellia transnokoensis, camellia tsai and raphiolepis umbellata. We get a lot of pleasure from watching these butterflies in our garden. When the sun is shining they literally dance between the flowers feeding on the nectar. Rather than just relying on the old favourite swan plant to bring in the monarch butterflies, plant some of their other food sources. Then you can watch the butterflies continuously over the winter months, as we have.

Tuberous Begonias

TUBEROUS BEGONIAS can add another dimension of floral colour to your garden over the hot summer months. The attached photo shows amazing plants in hanging baskets grown by my father John Burton in his Tauranga garden. He has the baskets hanging from various heights from wires attached to the branches of a maple tree. Over the hot sunny months, the begonias prefer light shade, hence under the deciduous tree makes the perfect environment to get the very best floral display from these plants.

If you have a shade sail or some sort of cover over your patio area, then this will also provide a good environment for the begonias. Hanging the baskets off wires brings two advantages — the floral display comes directly down to eye level,so that you are not having to look up to see the flowers,and secondly the plants are easier to water. Over the very hottest months, water them at least every second day and every month give them a feed with liquid fertiliser. This will help encourage continued flowering and keep the foliage lush and green.

WOW- Petunias from the Bubblegum series-from the Aussie Winners range.

This photo was taken just this week in the garden of one of my clients in Hamilton. Aren't they amazing !!!!!! Each plant covers at least a 1.0 metre spread and they're weather and disease resistant. I supplied these plants to my client in september last year, and the photo was taken just this week on 19th march-thats 7 months of continuous flowering and looks like they will continue for a while yet. Even with having such a wet summer they have produced a breathtaking display. There are 3 colours in the range-they are certainly the best performing petunias I have seen.

Clever use of pots in gardens

Look at this beautiful specimen JUNIPERUS KAIZUKA topiary trimmed into balls. I often use plants in pots in the garden because the pot elevates the plant and actually makes them look bigger than they really are. This is a good idea for plants that are slow growing and for plants that we want to make a real feature of. It doesn't matter if the plant eventually grows out the bottom of the pot into the ground. The only maintenance for this plant is to lightly trim and feed the balls twice a year. I recommend GROWERS CHOICE SLOW RELEASE FERTILISER - it's all I use on everything in our garden and it's good because it's the same as what commercial nurseries use. Underplanted around the pot is a good shade-loving grass called ACORUS MINI GREEN


These perennials come in a great range of colours and sizes, with everything from glaucous blue, to forest green, to yellow tonings and lots of different varigations/leaf markings. Many of the hostas available in our country today have stemmed from the U.S.A. which has a real fascination for the hosta family. Breeders are continually trying to come up with some new hosta leaf shape or foliage colour markings. If you follow a few basic steps,then hostas are one of the easiest perennials to grow.

  1. Put slug bait on the soil in close proximity to the plants BEFORE they emerge from the ground.
  2. Most varieties prefer to have light shade, especially over the hot summer months,to protect the foliage from sunburn.
  3. Keep the soil/roots moist over the Jan/Feb time of year, even a good water once a week would be very beneficial. A good layer of garden mulch over the top of the roots is certainly worthwhile if your soil is subject to drying out.
  4. If you haven't already, get out there now and give them a feed of slow release fertiliser - this will help give more vigour to the plant which in turn will give you a better display of foliage and flowers.

Wistaria (also Wisteria) for a beautiful spring display

This family of climbers certainly sets the scene on a trellis/fence at this time of year. Wistarias are great value. As well as beautiful blooms in spring you also get lush green leaves over the summer months followed by a great display of yellow autumn foliage. Wistaria are mostly used as climbers and also make great container plants. Most of the wistarias fall into 2 categories-

Wistaria sinensis-types : overall smaller flower length-around 30-40cm and come in a range of colours. They flower very early in their life-which is good because you don't have to wait a long time to get a beautiful display.

Wistaria floribunda-types : extremely long flowers, they can even grow up to 1.0 metre long. There are also a good range of colours available with a slightly longer waiting period before you get your first lot of flowering.

Wistarias produce flowers on 2 year old wood, so don't be disappointed if you see your wistaria grow a lot the first year and not give you much flower, in the second year you will start to get a good floral display.

I find that people get themselves into trouble with wistarias in their garden when they don't control growth and just let the plant wander wherever it pleases. Wistaria can grow very rapidly over the warm summer months but regularly snipping the tips of any vigorous new growths between November and March will cause the onset of more side branching and help to keep them under control.

Recently I saw in a clients garden a beautiful standard wisteria with a central stem of about 1 metre in height. It had a lovely full rounded head on top all covered in beautiful white fragrant blooms nearly hanging to the ground. It looked fantastic!!!

Gerbera Garvinea - An outstanding perennial for Waikato gardens

Plant breeders around the world are now producing some amazing new plant varieties that are going to be readily accepted by gardeners because they have many great characteristics - disease resistance, continuous flowering for most of the year and easy care with little maintenance. Basically these are the factors that I believe all gardeners want from plants in the modern garden of today.

GERBERA GARVINEA SERIES have been available in our gardening market for a couple of years, from my own experience they are tops!!! I have found that all these gerberas want to do is flower and flower, for virtually every month of the year. Gerberas have always been known in past years for getting rust disease and dying easily. These new Garvinea varieties are very good performers with the bad traits bred out of them. This gives an outstanding plant that I recommend.

One important point to remember is that Gerberas don't like continual, wet feet. Gerberas must have good drainage, especially in the winter months. There is a great range of Garvineas available now in plant shops/garden centres - with every colour palette covered. I have found from experience that the results will be far superior if you can use a lot of one colour rather than using many colours. Feed with a slow release fertiliser to get optimum results. The Garvinea gerberas are perfect for a sunny dry border, pots and containers, in fact anywhere that is well drained and gets heaps of sun. Gerberas are fantastic value if you like making floral arrangements or enjoy giving bunches of flowers.

At the end of winter (August/early Sept) I find that it is beneficial to cut off all of last seasons vegetative leaf growth at about 5cm above ground level. The plant will quickly regrow with a new set of leaves that are clean and fresh before it gets into serious flowering again.

Graeme Burton - Landscaper - Rukuhia Homestead, RD2, Ohaupo 3882
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