Sunday, February 11, 2018

Otari-Wilton's Bush Native Botanic Garden: an eye-full!

Entrance gate carved with Maori sculpture

Hoi Polloi may flock to rock concerts or sports stadiums. Give me a garden any day! Formal gardens brimming with color are accessible to most--but subtle, naturalistic gardens like Tilden Park Botanic Garden in Berkeley, or Cluny in the Scottish highlands--these are MY idea of bliss.  Otari (short for the mouthful of a name spelled out fully in the title--I'll stick to this nickname if you don't mind henceforward), is just such a gem. It appears to have good support from their Municipality, and to have achieved a sort of botanical nirvana: fabulous plant collections and exquisite artistry. It's true, your average visitor might walk through and think it's just some bushes and weeds. Poor them. But plantsmen (and of course plantsWOMen) shall get it big time! Which is the point! This is a test: if you make it to the bottom of this very long post, know that 1) you are a bona fide plant nerd 2) live in a subarctic climate and are in desperate need of biophilic injections 3) need some exercise.

The Wellington Town Council page about the garden (please click the previous to find it) says that the Garden boasts 1200 species, which is well over a third of the entire flora of New Zealand! The American Horticultural Society's tour which I accompanied arrived on a cool, slightly overcast day. A point-and-shoot day and I took far too many pictures. And I've had a horrible time winnowing them, so I decided, what the hey--I'll show them all (I actually edited about half and got tired). I think there are still more than any other post I've ever done--but won't bet on that! I will be curious if anyone makes it to the end!

Of course, I can say all sorts of enlightening and misinformed things about the Garden--I know just enough about New Zealand's flora to be dangerous. There were labels, many of which I photographed and I'll certainly post them when I can. I don't think I need to tell you that the "Pampas" grass in this picture is not from South America. There are five species of "Toe" in New Zealand: Click on this URL: to find out just how crazy the situation can be.
Podocarpus totara

The story of Wilton's Bush is a rich one (the Namesake farmer who saved a large section of pristine "bush"--which is what Kiwi's call 'veldt' (which is what South African's call wild land). Basically virgin forest. The garden contains this woodland and a several acre section along the highway has "gardened" in a series of gardens featuring plants from non-woodland environments like the dryland parts of the South Island, alpine plants in rock gardens and various shrub communities. Here a largish totara (the Maori name for Podocarpus totara) makes a handsome silhouette growing by itself in an area of outcrops.

There are many informative signs in the garden and the small Information building nearby.

There is even a lawn, which provides a crisp contrast to the naturalistic plantings.

Selliera radicans

As always I make a bee-line for the more compact, herbaceous plantings which are my greatest interes, and I wasn't disappointed: there are numerous elegant spreads of this or that groundcover and tufted plant in the rock garden areas. Hurrah! It was fun to see Selliera radicans which is widely sold even in the United States (and relatively hardy to boot).

Raoulia monroi

And raoulias--my favorites! Although I imagine most people who visit don't notice this specimen--I was enchanted. No accounting for tastes!

A Carmichaelia ensyi (or nana) not quite as nibbled as I see them in nature.

A wonderful "Spaniard" (Aciphylla sp.) another of my favorite genera from these Islands. Rather than focusing on the specific taxa (most of which I would have to spend hours sifting through notes, books and pictures to verify) I really want you to enjoy a midsummer concerto of greens and silvers and grays: despite one of the hottest and driest summers in New Zealand history, this corner seems to have stayed lush looking. Not many New Zealand plants--with the glaring exception of Metrosideros and Sophora--are terribly showy in bloom from a distance. Their strong suit is form, character, and shape--and subtle textures and feel. They make for a wonderful palette for painting these subtle landscape views. Once you're attuned, you're hooked! And of course, the cool, idyllic, humid climate encourages a lavish growth of lichens, mosses and epiphytic vascular plants (especially ferns) which add enormously to the beauty of the scene. Suspend your plant nerd tendency, relax and enjoy! And inevitably I'll intrude from time to time...

Blechnum sp.
Seeing bold ferns like this growing in full sun (and looking good after the hottest summer ever) makes a child of the steppes realize just how mild Maritime climates really are!

Aciphylla glaucescens
We just missed the flowering on this wonderful blue leafed Spaniard.

The juxtaposition of different colors and textures throughput the garden, the sort of artistry perfected by Japanese Gardens, is evident even in the smallest vignettes. Of course, they are aided in a climate where rocks get completely draped by epiphytic ferns, like this.

Pachystegia insignis, one of the many wonderful white daisy genera endemic to New Zealand.

I never identified that reddish thingamabob on the left--like the intrusion of an abstract sculpture!

We have ephedras draping like that in our gardens. Not an ephedra. Not sure what it is...chime in if you know!

Geranium traversii
A view of one of the many rock gardens 

We were too busy in the garden to visit this building, which I believe housed offices. Named for the great New Zealand botanist Leonard Cockayne: it's worth looking him up by the way.

Another face of Otari (and a major part) consists of meticulously cared for natural woodland (or 'bush' as Kiwis are wont to say. You get a panoramic vista of the extensive property from a sort of high bridge works near the visitor building. I found it mesmerizing!

You gaze at the primeval distance--probably not unlike the Mesozoic flora of the warm temperate planet must have been like. We didn't notice any pterodactyls this time. They must have sent to dinosaurs to serve our current "administration".

One of innumerable Myrtaceae that comprise some of the most spectacular elements of the New Zealand flora. I missed the name of this one, but love the bottlebrush flowers. They casually mentioned that a dread disease has reach New Zealand that will infect all Myrtaceae. Charming that! As if we don't have enough problems on this planet.

Seedpods on the native Proteaceae (Knightia excelsa): a common forest tree on the North Island that can grow 100 feet tall!

Our group gawking over a seedpod in Rewi Elliot's hand: I love gardeners!

Get a load of the epiphytic plant completely covering the trunk of a tree there! We're not in Kansas any more.

This MAY be the Knightia...but won't swear to it. They do get big!

I never tire of tree ferns. No better place to see them than New Zealand, and no better place to enjoy them there than at Otari.

Corynocarpus laevigatus
A dramatic small tree in its own namesake family (Corynocarpaceae)...that's a stumper for Jeopardy!

Yes...more tree ferns.
I can never have enough of these Kiwi tree ferns. O.K., I have a thing about them. Don't you?

Rewi Elliot (curator of plants) speaking to our group
I highly recommend A.H.S. tours. I've been privileged to lead several--the people are fantastic.

Yet another rock garden!

More epiphytic ferns!

Rewi had us mesmerized!

I love the big green space--so neatly rectilinear--surrounded by wild madness!

Acaena sp.
Amazing variability in color, size and other attributes among the bidi-bidi (I was charmed how so many common names for plants and animals seem to derive from Maori).

A different species of fern we hadn't noticed before...

I can't get over the ubiquity of these little ferns!

They've done a wonderful job creating many small focal points throughout!

Thanks to a good lens (and better magnification at my computer) I was able to get a closeup of a New Zealand falcon (Falco novaeseelandiae), New Zealand's only diurnal bird of prey.

Pseudopanax ferox
I have developed a full fledged passion for the amazing cousins of Ginseng that are such a distinctive element of various New Zealand ecosystems. So ungainly, almost Dr. Seussian when they're young--with warty, succulent leaves covered with unappetizing nobs and spikes to discourage browsing by the giant Moas, no doubt. And at a certain height they begin to branch, and the leaves become wider, softer and greener (knowing, as it were, they're above Moa chomping ability). You will see more of this shortly!

Hebe lycopodioides

One of the commoner "whipcord" hebes that I've seen quite a few places on my hikes. in the countryside. There are several cousins of this that are similar in habit. We've had great luck with these in Denver.

Melicytus alpinus
The widespread Mahoe (or porcupine shrub) is one worth attempting in colder climates--I've seen it growing very high and cold in the McKenzie area. It kills me that it's related to violets.
Melicytus alpinus

Melicytus alpinus (the gardener in the background is doing a passable imitation of this shrub too I think)

Acaena caesiiglauca
A wonderful silvery bidibid that we have grown for decades at Denver Botanic Gardens!

An enormous Hebe
I find it rather galling that Hebes have been subsumed by Veronica. But the flowers ARE identical I aver...They are still a distinct section within the larger genus--so it's fair to refer to them thus.

Pseudopanax ferox--getting bigger
The wonderful brooding form of the shrub just behind the Pseudopanax is wonderful. Wish I'd checked to see what it was...

The label says Leptinella filirofmis
It would be fun to get a collection together of all the New Zealand leptinellas (once called Cotula)
Yes, a Hebe

A wonderful, wispy broom like plant: Carmichaelia perhaps?
Chime in please if you know...we were there far too short a time to do the place justice (and I was too busy snapping pix to take notes too).

Another fun color combo. Muggles completely miss this stuff.
Acaena inermis

I love these silvery mounds among the mats...
This shot captures the subtle symphony of neutral colors that comprise the New Zealand bush. Aside of course from the ubiquitous green in much more interesting than the monoculture of Eurasian green grass that has displaced it.

Rewi Elliot, like so many botanic garden professionals, is a delight to listen to. Years of passion, dedication and service burnish his words as they appear to have diminished his hairdo! We were all drawn to his wise words, and torn by a desire to enjoy the dazzling garden on our own. A pleasant quandary!

Don't you love the zig-zag hedging on the left, and the vista with Pseudopanax ferox starting to soar in the mid ground? This place rocks.

Cordyline sp.
I didn't get many pictures of Cabbage trees, one of the iconic Kiwi natural phenomena. But there in the middle distance stands a fine specimen.

Cortaderia sp.
The New Zealand cortaderias bloom much earlier than their Andean cousins--but there has apparently been hybridization occuring on the North Island, resulting in one of those heterosis phenomena where the progeny are even more vigorous than the parents. They look so sad to me.

If it's a true grass like this, and showy in New Zealand, it should be a Chionochloa of some sort...

Yet another hebe...

Rumex flexuosus
This rather strange plant is something of a cult favorite among plant nerds in America: it is even hardy in Denver! All the more remarkable because it's apparently a rather rare and local plant of the Wellington area. Go figure!

An Acaena


I believe this is Leptinella potentillifolia, or something close

A Raoulia--not sure which one...

Bill Lee, from Washington D.C.
Bill is resting. Anyone going through this blog must identify with him at this point...

Senecio sp.?
I'm embarrassed not to know such a handsome, conspicuous and YELLOW flowered New Zealander.

Here begins the Araliaceae Saturnalia!

Pseudopanax ferox
Still warty at Moa level...

Pseudopanax ferox
But now we're beginning to soar above the clunky birds! Whoopee!

Pulviform hebes
It would not take much of a stretch of the imagination to conjure a Japanese garden with these stones, these pillow-like shrubs! Just the sort of  things the Japanese love to use for their dreamy landscapes.

Oh those epiphytic pteridophytes!

Pyrrosia eleagnifolia
I think there were likely two or three species at least of these little epiphytic ferns--but this one for sure the common species whose foliage does have a certain obscure resemblance to Russian Olive. I would imagine this would grow with ease (perhaps too much ease) in the Pacific Northwest. But it was so widespread I would hope a cold hardy form might one day be found. I find it irresistibly cute.

Our group
Loved to watch our group coiling through the wonderful plantings!

Xeronema callistemon
The label alludes to the monocot above, the famous Poor Knight's Lily--a fabulous rare endemic of a few offshore islands...but I was as charmed by the little yellow daisy and the lichens!

The label says "Scleranthus biflorus" but the plant is another Leptinella--with orbiculate leaves. Want it.

I can't get over these epiphytic ferns!
Not a bad Astelia on the right side either...

MORE Geranium traversii

Leptinella potentillina
A form of this species is an indispensible groundcover in Denver.

Add caption
When you are with any group of real gardeners, you always end up in the propagation area!

I suspect there were hundreds (if not thousands) of accessions here

In my dream world I'd be here with a shopping cart and no obstacles at customs...

A wide range of Celmisia in pots

More Celmisias

Clematis marmoraria at right center

Lots of plants for their annual plant sales...

Many shrubs and trees to be planted in the natural parts of the garden...gardeners eat this up.

Back to the woods...

So hard to catch that silvery sheen on the under surface of the fronds...

The obligate fungal entry

Don't have a clue what this was

I made a strong mental note on this one...Liberto, where are you when I need you?

IMetrosideros robusta

I never thinking of "strangler figs" and other suchlike tropical phenomena occurring in warm temperate regions--but there IS a strangler fig in the North Island of New Zealand, and this, strangler Rata tree: you can almost see the ghost of the Podocarp it must have murdered in its grasp...

Nikau (Rhopalostylis sapida)
New Zealand's only palm tree, which is also endemic, was well respresented at the Garden.

We finish with a flurry of shots of the "alpine garden"

I love the way this Celmisia is tucked under the rock.

Pyrrosia eleagnifolia
What better way to end than with a little army of ferns colonizing the entrance kiosk!

If you made it this far, you are an undeniable plant and botanic garden nerd! I salute you. And you should have Otari-Wilton's Bush Native Botanic Garden on your bucket list too I hope!


  1. Wow... Just WOW! Thank you sooo much for this lush and interesting post.
    Beverly Jensen, La Veta, CO

  2. Thank you, Panayoti! It's definitely bucket list material now!

  3. Good grief, I was there, but missed so much! Thanks for filling in the gaps with such a long,lovely post.

    1. I suspect you saw lots that I missed Cyndy! What an amazing place.

  4. Wow! So many beautiful things. Thanks for all the photos.

  5. I salute you Panayoti(!!!)as your long list of images does Otari justice (Leonard Cockagne would agree). Thank you SO much for sharing and for all of the time you put into this blog. I knew nagging you would work to get this on your website, we can feel your love for what you experienced. I made it all the way through your post because I too have visited Otari and there's so much to see and one day visiting there isn't enough. Look for a box of Rooibus to arrive at the DBG with your name on it as my way of thanking you for publicizing one of the world's horticultural wonders.

  6. Tree ferns have never grabbed me as these did. Thank you for such a rich visit to the other side of the earth!


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