Gifts of the garden

No need for flashy products or gimmicks – turn to nature for the perfect present.

Please don’t buy your mother a pair of floral gumboots for Mother’s Day this year. Firstly, they may have been fun when they first appeared quite a few years ago – but we’re over them now. Secondly, if she’s a real gardener, she’ll probably prefer a pair of Red Seals and some of those pricey stainless steel secateurs. If you must be cute, a goofy straw hat is okay.

However, if I were choosing a Mother’s Day present for myself (assuming I had loving children with pots of money) I’d be asking for a trip to Floriade 2012 in Venlo, southern Netherlands. If someone wants to shout me, could you please hurry along?

This event only comes around once every 10 years and this is the year. Floriade is a World Horticultural Expo running through to October, showcasing the world’s most exquisite and exceptional flowers, plants, trees, fruits and vegetables in a 268,000m2 park.

There are more than 100 gardens and pavilions, and five themed worlds – Relax & Heal, Green Engine, Education and Innovation, Environment, and World Show Stage, separated from one another by woods. Each “world” has its own decor, programme and activities.

There are cultural events and shows every day – some of which have nothing to do with gardening, so there’s no excuse to get all gardened out. For example, the Floriade Harvest Show is a spectacle of acrobatics and world music performed by artists from around the globe. It’s considered to be the trump card of the event.

Floriade, in the Netherlands

If nobody rocks up with my ticket soon, I’d be happy with a trip to the Dunedin Rhododendron Festival, also in October. There’s usually about 50 events during the week-long festival, with wine and food tasting, visual art work, demonstrations and, of course, garden tours. Dunedin has the ideal climate for rhododendrons and azaleas, and it has just about as much right to be called a “garden city” as Christchurch.

There are the extraordinary Chinese Garden, the Railway Station garden (last time I looked they were full of lupins and parsley. Yes, I did say parsley), and three gardens of national significance – Dunedin Botanic Gardens, Larnach Castle and Glenfalloch Woodland gardens. A week is barely long enough for it all.

There’s a spectacular garden show on in Taranaki in October too. It’s the 10-day Taranaki Garden Spectacular and this is its 25th year. Bit younger than me, then, and considerably more beautiful. The festival showcases some of New Zealand’s most stunning private and public gardens – from large country parks to intimate inner-city potagers and sub-tropical and rainforest gardens. Events include jazz and wine in gardens, a landscape design project, guided walks and garden celebrity speakers.

The Tauranga Artfest combines plants and art

And in November is one of my all-time favourites – the Garden and Artfest in Tauranga. It’s on for a week and you need every bit of it to visit the 80-odd gardens, many of which showcase the work of Bay of Plenty artists. Needless to say, I don’t mind waiting a few months for my Mother’s Day gift.

**Dahlias & Chysanthemums

**Dahlias and chrysanthemums have long been maligned as “old lady flowers” but, in line with our current retro obsession, they’re right back in fashion. Dahlias need at least three hours of sunshine a day and protection from wind. They’re unfussy about soil, but well-drained, loamy soil conditions are best.

Dig over the plot several weeks before planting. Add compost, but avoid very rich manure which can cause soft growth. Throw on a dressing of garden fertiliser a couple of weeks before planting. Plant tubers about 12cm deep with the shoot end 6cm below the surface. Plant on a bit of an angle to allow water to drain off. When they’re about 20cm high, pinch out the centre to encourage branching. When they’re about 30cm, start tying them up.

Chrysanthemums are greedy souls. They produce best when offered lots of sun, food and moisture. You can grow from seeds, cuttings and by dividing existing plants, or you can buy bedding and larger plants from the nursery. Plant into well-prepared, fertile, sandy soil, extra deep because chrysanthemums resent “wet feet”. Space about 50cm apart, give a light feed every couple of weeks. When they’re about 15cm tall, punch about 2cm from each branch to promote good blooming.

The dahlia is enjoying a renewed popularity

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