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Love your plants

‘The secret to a successful garden is to love your plants,’ says Rebecca Leader who has an extensive garden in Riverdale. ‘Look at where they originate from and, if possible, try to plant them in similar locations, or create a similar environment for them. If you do this they will give you years of enjoyment.’ Rebecca writes about her love affair with palms . . .

We have the queen palms gracing the middle of Gladstone Road like silent sentries — tall and majestic.

However, these are not the only palms that will grow well in our Gisborne climate.

We have a rather large sandy-soil section and I grow many palms outside — including palms that are classed as “only house plants” . . . such as the parlour palm (chamaedorea elegens). This palm is low-growing and prefers to be the understory (the underlying layer of vegetation in the shade of the forest canopy) — however, mine are in full sun and although they are doing well, they do start to look a little ragged around the edges by the end of a hot summer.

I have three beautiful clusters of chamaedorea costaricana which is a clustering variety of palm that likes full sun but also likes to be protected from harsh winds. This year mine produced some stunning bright orange flower stalks with big green seeds that turned black as they ripened. They make a great screening palm as they only grow to about 3.5m and are relatively easy-care as with most palms.

Queen palms (syagrus romanzoffiana) and majestic palms (ravenea rivularis) are the last two varieties that I have in my front garden.

The majestic palm is one of my favourite palms. It's fairly rare and reasonably hard to find. I came across a triple-planted one a couple of years back. I brought it home and divided it into individual plants. I call doing this “plant surgery”, and I will purposely buy plants I can divide.

They have absolutely taken off. The majestic palm likes wet feet but doesn't like to be watered from above. I have a general rule of thumb I live by with all my plants. If they are tropical or rainforest plants, water them from above like it's raining. When it comes to my majestic palms, they grow in swamps with their trunks sitting in the water. Never water a majestic from above — it can cause it to rot.

I regularly feed all my plants indoors and out with liquid seaweed — this makes them thrive. They also require lots of water as the sandy soil drains so freely. This is the key to healthy, strong palms.

Around the corner, we find a little raised lawn with a palm garden at one end that has lights wired into it to illuminate the trees. Two sugarcane palms (dypsis baronii) and a couple of bungalow palms (archontophoenix cunninghamiana) live here. There is talk of the bungalow being classed as a noxious weed in New Zealand as it grows so fast and drops an abundance of seeds that sprout up into new palms wherever they fall. I didn't know this at the time I purchased several as tiny babies to grow on into bigger palms . . . which they have indeed done. The tiny $3.50 palms are now nearly two metres high.

The sugarcane is another story altogether. They are so popular that even a small palm will set you back a decent amount.

However, my sugarcanes have also been growing fast and the trunks look amazing as they grow and expand, creating a beautiful green trunk with pronounced rings.

Sago palms, more commonly known as cycads, are throughout my garden. They are one of my husband's favourites. The sago also seems to love the environment in our little piece of paradise, growing far faster than any other I've seen so far. The sago loves it here . . . or maybe it's the regular dose of seaweed I feed it?

My latest addition is a tropical garden next to the pool. I have a king palm (archontophoenix alexandrae) which is not in the same family as the queen, as the name would lead you to believe. It is, in fact, a close relative of the bungalow palm — again, a fast-growing variety with stately trunks. The king palm is in the centre of the pool garden. On one side I have another sugarcane, because I love them, and on the other side a golden cane palm (dypsis lutescens). These palms grow like weeds in Cairns, in the far north of Queensland, Australia. I'm going to be keeping a very close eye on her but so far so good.

The last two palms in this garden are the kentia (howea forsteriana) and a pritchardia minor.

The kentia is fairly common in New Zealand. I actually moved my kentia from a fairly wind-blown location, where it was struggling, to by the pool ,where it has since produced much new growth. The pritchardia minor is a new one for me — I'd heard of all the other palms above in New Zealand or Australia but I had never heard of or seen this one. A bit of googling later and I found that it was a native to Hawaii where it grew in wet forests at a high elevation. I decided that planting it near the deep end of the pool where it is constantly inundated with the water that splashes out from hundreds of teenager bombs is the perfect location. The pritchardia has grown quite a bit since planting so I'm hoping its new home is the perfect location.

Interspersed throughout the new pool garden are cycads, scaly zamia (lepidozamia peroffskyana), pincushions (leucospermum), leucadendron, tractor seat plants (ligularia), philodendron xanadu, bromeliads, spoonbill bird of paradise (strelitzia parvifolia), reed bird of paradise (strelitzia juncea) and a couple of other small understory palms.

The pool garden was only planted out last summer so I am looking forward to watching it grow and flourish as my others have.

Whenever I move a plant or plant it into the garden, I add a lot of compost into the hole. I once planted a kauri tree and the hole took me about an hour to dig. I wanted it big and deep and full of nutrients for its new inhabitant. This is what I always do for any new plantings — a hole far too big for the plant itself and loads of compost. Once your new plant is in the garden, water, water, water and add a good dose of liquid seaweed to get the roots going strong.

The thing I like about palm trees is they grow big and tall with stunning trunks, yet they are reasonably maintenance-free with only one or two fronds falling at a time —there are never any falling leaves to collect.

Bungalow and sugarcane palms thriving in the sun. Pictures supplied
Rebecca trimming older fronds off the kentia palm.
Flower stalks of the costaricana.
Flower stalks of the costaricana.
A parlour palm growing happily outside.
The new pool garden.
The bungalow and sugarcane garden when it was first planted in late 2018.