What we grow in Wanaka
Sometimes I forget how very different New Zealand is. There are so many different places to visit and so many different climates to work with. In June we went to Catlins for a short break and it was amazing to see all the native palms and it felt almost like rain forest on the coast. All that is 3h drive from us where you can find a lovely alpine setting with snow, rocks and rivers. So what I am getting at is: the climate of New Zealand is so dramatically different that it inspired me to write this little piece on “What we can grow in Wanaka”. Some local flower lovers asked me if I can do a piece on what they can grow here and so without further delay here it is. (Please note that this article is for Wanaka area and it will differ a lot to let’s say Dunedin or Christchurch and it will be completely different from Auckland and anything beyond Cook straight).
Alpine climate and strong winds can be an absolute disaster sometimes for growers around the Wanaka region but it also gives us the opportunity to grow things that Auckland for example will struggle with. I’ll give you a mix of annuals, perennials and bulbs that we grow on the farm and that can brighten up any season with blooms.
In winter you must try and plant Hellebores plants. The variety of these beauties is amazing and they start flowering in June/July and carry on flowering all through winter and early spring. They prefer a shady spot through summer and will grow in pretty much any soil however they prefer to have mulch or some leaf matter thrown around them in autumn just to make them feel like they are in a forest somewhere. They self-seed and in time will spread through your garden, if you let them. They are also extremely low maintenance, just plant them and forget that they are there. A perfect kind of plant! Be careful in summer as they do get attacked by aphids a lot but to be honest I forgot about mine in summer and they did get chewed up a bit by aphids but that did not stop them from shooting new leaves and producing flowers now.
Spring always brings daffodils and tulips in. Here in our climate we can plant these guys in or any spring bulb (maybe avoid freesias) and just leave them in the ground. They will flower in spring and then die off in summer and will reappear again next spring. No fuss no digging out and planting them back in. Just leave them and enjoy the colour and ever increasing amount of blooms in your spring garden. One thing to note with bulbs is that if you are planting them in the lawn, make sure you remember where they are so you don’t mow them down in spring, daffodils and muscarri are especially hard to see in the grass as they come up. The best spot for daffodils are in tree circles where they won’t be disturbed. In my opinion the more bulbs the better! Go hard and have fun with all the colours and varieties available.
Peonies and roses come next. These guys are queens of the garden. And although peonies only last for a month they are undeniably beautiful and people just can’t get enough of them. They are easy to grow and they will keep growing and producing more and more blooms each year they are in the ground. They do prefer to be divided after about 5 years being in the ground but if you don’t get to that they will still keep producing and flowering and the foliage is pretty nice in summer and can produce a welcome shade for other plants like Hostas. I don’t think I need to say much about roses. They flower all summer with repeat mass flowering if you give them a bit of love and trimming after each flower boost, and they love windy Central Otago regions. Wind keeps all the fungal infections off them and the only thing you really need to watch out for are bugs like aphids that seem to love my garden and eat anything that grows in it.
Roses will add fragrance to your garden and they do not have to look cottage like. Standard roses or carpet roses can be a great addition to a formal garden or big bush roses can be an addition to a hilly shrub garden and then there are climbers that can go up a tree or fence or anything really.
Summer is the time for annuals. Sow seeds straight into the ground when the danger of frosts has passed and you can get a heap of colour in no time at all. Disadvantage of annuals is that they are there for summer and as soon as frosts come they are out. It’s a short season and a short burst of colour but it is something to look forward to and watch as they all come up. My favourites are Cosmos (you have to try this guy! Easy, produces for ages and can tolerate light frosts so lasts a little bit longer), Zinnias (happy with minimal water, in fact don’t like being wet at all, prefer a hot and sunny spot where drainage is good), Anthirhinum or Snap Dragons (these guys can be sowed earlier as they don’t mind a bit of a cooler weather, but they will produce all summer and they smell great), Cornflower (easy, self-seeding, grows like a weed, you might tell me that I have introduced a weed to your garden, but this guy will grow anywhere, some of them self–seeded on my pathways in between stones this summer and seedlings grew all through autumn and are almost ready to flower now, they are crazy). If you have a not too windy spot with good shelter, sunflowers are great as well as sweet peas. We are going to try and grow sweet peas this season and see how we go but we are quite exposed to the elements so I’m not holding my breath for these guys. All annuals will need some sort of seed starting base, so if you are direct seeding please note that the soil needs to be warmish, I would not recommend sowing any time before mid-late October. Zinnias and Cosmos will benefit from potentially sowing them indoors in September if you have a window with good light. And then transplant them into the ground in October and you are good to go. Cover if any late frosts come through at night. Just a plastic bottle on top of the plant will do or a frost cloth directly over the plants and pegged down so it doesn’t blow away.
And in autumn well I must say Chrysanthemums are amazing. Colour, variety you’ll find it all in them. They don’t mind being cold and they actually start flowering as we get less and less light hours. The only thing that I have struggled with is balance between height and flowers. I definitely need to pinch them this time around to keep them a bit lower to the ground, as mine shot right up and then got a bit tangly.
You annuals will also keep flowering till first frosts and some just passed them so keep them around. Roses quite often will have their last big bloom in early autumn as well, just before packing up for winter sleep. And of course you will never be disappointed in planting different shrubs around your property. Don’t be afraid to plant trees and shrubs. They will give you plenty of love and colour as well as shade in summer and protection from wind all year around. My favourite flowering shrubs are Camelias and Hydrangeas. Hydrangeas prefer a partial shade or even full shade sometimes while Camelias will thrive in any spot as long as they are fed every now and then. They are also great for hedges and to create a sheltered area that will burst in blooms in winter. Flowering trees are a must for any garden and I think it is a sin to not plant fruit trees down here. Yes we can’t have persimmons and oranges but lemon trees do pretty well down here if you give them some shelter, stone fruit trees love this weather and climate so you won’t have any problems getting cherries and apricots growing around here and apple and pear trees will produce a plentiful harvest as well as gorgeous blooms in spring.
In general anything can be grown in our climate; you just need to create the right environment for the plant. If you are after a work free garden with heaps of colour give us a message and we can potentially steer you in the right direction with a few more evergreens and colourful shrubs. If you are in a windy spot you might benefit from growing a few shrubs first and trying to create a bit of a shelter for others to thrive. And if you are constantly frozen and under the mountain well there are still plants that like being cold and actually need cold to flower and fruit. I have been working in landscaping and amenity industry for a long time now and if you have a few questions I am happy to have a chat over a coffee or just email us and we can add some colour to your garden. Don’t be afraid to experiment as well. If you go to the local garden centre the plants that are sold there are usually the plants that will grow in our area. Read up on your favourites and don’t be afraid to ask as us flower people love talking non-stop about our blooms so information sharing is not a problem.