Wally Richards – gardening “fads”

Fads come and go over time and some linger on such as Silver Dollar trees and garden gnomes.

Recently I came across a Silver Dollar tree, bringing back memories of a time when these trees were really popular.

The tree was Eucalyptus cinerea. A fast growing specimen that can grow up to six metres in a year. This tree’s form is somewhat irregular growing almost as wide as its 20 to 50 foot height.

Eucalyptus cinerea

Young round leaves are up to 2 inches in diameter which grow longer as they mature. With barely noticeable flowers, this tree is usually grown for its attractive foliage. The foliage of nearly all species has a strong pungent odour similar to menthol. Well drained soil is preferable.

The tree was likely popular because of its fast growth but this also was its main disadvantage as the growth was soft and branches would be easily damaged by stronger winds.

I know this as I planted one about 35 years ago in the front of the section of the house I was living in then.

A very old fad that happened in Palmerston North (if not in other parts of New Zealand) was the planting of Pepper Trees (Schinus) .

The Schinus trees were used as specimen trees where the romantic hanging branches and rosy berries  were very ornamental. Because the heads of these trees grow so densely, they make excellent barriers to block neighbors. Both Schinus trees species can take light frost and the Shinus molle can even handle nighttime winter cold into -6 C.

I remember as a boy a good number of these trees around Palmerston North and they attacked the Emperor Gum Moth which produces very large attractive caterpillars. These were collected by us kids and along with ample branches for their food placed into vases to watch them develop then cocoon. The trees became old and branches became rotten as I found out one time when about 20 feet up the tree an old small length of branch broke and I ended up on the lawn below, very stunned.

Another very popular garden fad was the sheets of black plastic covered with scoria.

This was the first sign of low care gardens where areas between shrubs and trees were covered with the plastic film and scoria was laid over the plastic to hold it in place as  well as to hide the plastic and make it look attractive.

Lots of these scoria rock gardens could be seen and tons of scoria was trucked from our volcanic regions such as Auckland (Mt Wellington) and central North Island.

The problem with these gardens was that the soil could not breathe and became sour and aerobic under the plastic leading to the ill health and death of the plants in that area. One great advantage with the scoria was that birds had problems flicking it off the area in search of grubs.

Another interesting one was plastic cordial bottles filled with water and placed on front lawns to prevent dogs from fouling the lawn. The idea was that dogs would not poo near drinking water and so the number of bottles on lawns grew to the  point that most open lawns sported one or more. It did not work and the dogs continued to visit the neighbours lawns for their morning toilets. The dog rangers became more effective with their fines for wandering dogs and one seldom sees many dogs wandering these days.

Remember ‘Punch & Grow”?  This was an extremely popular method of germinating seeds back about 40 odd years ago brought out by Yates.  It was a plastic box that you punched some holes into it and then watered to keep moist. Seeds such as tomatoes would germinate and you would then take the seedlings for planting up. I remember buying the units when living in Te Kuiti for establishing my gardens in the spring each year.

Fads come and go overtime and some linger on such as garden gnomes.

There was the odd case where a student would befriend a gnome from someones garden as a travelling companion then processed to travel around the world. At every major place such as the Eiffel tower in Paris a picture would be taken of the gnome with the tower in the back ground and then sent to the address where the gnome had come from. I presume some of these gardeners would start to envy their lost gnome as more and more pictures arrived from all the interesting and exotic places in the world. Eventually the gnome would likely find its way back home and I suppose with a suitable thank you note for the owner, thanking them for such a good travelling companion.

A current fad which like many fads ends up with problems is the mass plantings of Buxus for those desired box hedges. It would appear as a result of thousands of these plants been produced in nurseries and planted out by gardeners is a disease has attacked the plants causing leaf drop and death. Most annoying when it happens to a few plants in a well established row.

The problem is called Box Blight, Cylindrocladium buxicola, which is widespread throughout New Zealand and as it is an airborne disease there is no guaranteed means of prevention, however there are measures which significantly reduce the possibility of severe infection. The conditions in which the fungus proliferates are damp, shade and poor ventilation, so avoidance of these will help prevent firm establishment of the disease.

It is most important to avoid overhead irrigation as the spores are carried and activated in water droplets and damp leaves provide ideal conditions for the fungus. Water the roots if required, possibly by a  soak hose. Buxus do not need foliage irrigation.

Always ensure that all garden tools, particularly shears and clippers, are clean. Do not infect healthy plants with dirty shears. Shears may be cleaned by dipping in bleach or disinfectant mixed in the dilutions indicated on the label for domestic/kitchen use.

Improving ventilation may be problematical, by its very nature Box is often tightly clipped and hence poorly ventilated. With new plantings it is worth bearing in mind ventilation and shade implications.

Removal of dead leaves, plant debris and foliage will reduce the availability of spore releasing material and may reduce any ‘resting spores’. On healthy plants a spray all over with Vaporgard will also offer some protection for about 3 months as the film makes it difficult for the disease to establish.


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