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Newsletter May 2008

Summer and Watering

Catlins_xmas.jpgIt is hard to believe that another year has rolled by and we are seeing the occasional Hellebore flower appear in the nursery. The weather has again played a huge part in our year both on the farm and in the nursery – one of the hottest and driest summers/autumns we can remember has put a bit of pressure on the systems. We had water issues prior to Xmas, basically we ran out of water, and I know of little more frustrating than driving around from one tank to another hoping to find water running in, let alone a full tank. Fortunately both the sheep and the plants were very tolerant and the issue was resolved eventually.

The nursery is setup on two different capillary watering systems. One involves water being available all the time using crusher dust to sit the plants on. The crusher dust holds water exceptionally well and we have the water level a couple of inches below the surface and the capillary action draws the water up through the dust to the pots as needed by the plant. This method is ideal for H.niger ‘White Magic’ which doesn’t like any excess water around its roots and we have the majority of these plants on this system.

The other system uses capillary matting sitting on plastic and covered with weedmat. Water enters the sloping beds from the top and flows through the matting to the bottom. While we get the odd dry spot the system works well. This system is controlled by a little computer which allows us to alter how much water individual beds get. The variation in water usage compared to our weather is staggering, as the temperature and daylight hours drop, so does the need for water and at this time of the year we are only applying water for about 2 minutes a day for a 75 square metre bed.

The Nursery

We are well up to date with all the potting this year and are now.magic.jpgw starting to send out plants, mainly in the unflowered 1.0 lt grade, but some of the larger grades H.niger ’White Magic’ are also showing bud and we have sent quite a few out already. I attended a trade show in Christchurch in April, the first time for a few years there has been an autumn show. The timing of this show suits us ideally and we got a good reception. Most of the retailers we sell to in the South Island were there and I spent a very busy day talking then drove home that night. Hellebores still seem to be in demand and I was encouraged by the interest in our new Doubles.

I have been talking about these new Doubles for the past couple of years and at the risk of being repetitive I would like to again discuss them. Basically we have been using the Betty Ranicar double from Australia to cross with our original Europeans and have created some quite stunning new plants. While there has been some variation, we have found some lines such as the Maroon Edged and Blackthorne to be quite consistent. Another one to proof consistent is the Double Yellow cross, the only problem being that it has lost all the yellow colour!! On the upside, these plants are so much more vigorous, healthy and the flower size is significantly superior to the European parents.

The loss of colour isn’t surprising considering Betty Ranicar is pure white and it will be interesting to see if we have to compromise plant vigour for colour. I suspect this is what occurred in England in the early breeding of the Doubles. Crossing plants back, in- line breeding, may well have resulted in a weakness as far as vigour is concerned. The old problem of breeding hellebores, namely having to wait three years to see the results of your ‘crosses’, makes this work a long term project. Good record keeping and labelling is paramount and we are now developing a series of codes to describe plant crosses, as they just don’t make labels long enough to fit some of the full descriptions!!

We are still working on the Single Hybrids as well, particularly White, which has been in good demand.Pink_veined.jpg It poses a few problems if you want to produce a pure White as it has a tendency to develop spotting very easily. We have some interesting variations in the colour of the nectaries as well. Some are green, which is probably the norm, but we are seeing a lot of golden nectaries, and occasionally red as well. This gives interesting contrasts when looking into the flowers. The occurrence of gold nectarines has also popped up in the Apricots and makes a beautiful contrast as the flowers are developing.

 The Family

On the family front, we are down to two boys at home, Bryony attending Otago University this year. She has a big year ahead of her, being one of 1500 Health Science students in a highly competitive course. Thomas is now year 12 at South Otago High School and has just returned from a trip to Australia with the First Fifteen. He seems to have taken over Bryony’s role of the busy kid and seems to have something on every night of the week! Josh is in his last year at Waiwera South Primary, hard to believe no more primary school involvement. He is getting a lot better at riding his bikes, both mountain and motor-cross, and is enjoying his rugby.

Kate has taken over Bryony’s horse and has been attending local hunts and competing in dressage competitions, has been seen biking and running and this is all in conjunction with running the nursery! I haven’t climbed nearly enough mountains for a variety of reasons, but have been doing a bit of biking and have just done the 95km ride around Lake Hawea. What a great day out – not a breath of wind, a great track and some stunning scenery!

We had our annual summer holiday in Hawea this year and spent a lot of time skiing, swimming and fishing. Wonderful weather and the crowds were far from maddening! We seem to have developed a tradition in our family when on holiday- The AnnualLake_Hawea.jpg Family Challenge. This has to be undertaken by the whole family and is usually a bit out there. This year the target was Breast Hill on the Eastern side of Lake Hawea. We climbed up the South ridge, through some fairly menacing Matagouri, Rosehips and Bracken, along the top ridge and down the Northern ridge. Wonderful views and quite challenging in places- we were all disappointed to find it was only 10 kms, it seemed a lot further. The other interesting point was the fact that there was a road all the way to the summit on the back side of the hill!!

The website

I have altered the website this year as well to give you more photos to look at. While this has been done for your benefit, it is also hopefully going to help us in that we want to give you an indication of the variations that occur in the hybrids. In the past, when you have only had one Apricot photo for example, there is an expectation that that is what you are going to get! This is not always the case - hence the inclusion of more photos. While o the subject of the website, where there are two grades of plants to choose from, you will see a box beside the word ‘select’. By scrolling down in this box you will bring up the different grades. The availability of these grades can be different as well especially at present when we are still waiting for the majority of the older 2.5 lt grade to flower.

I was quite happy with the way the website worked last year, but welcome any feedback you have to make it easier for you. We have moved away from using banana boxes this year, not as a result of people eating less bananas, more to simplify our packaging at our end. We would encourage you to order a minimum of 10 x 1.0 lt pots or 4 x 2.5 lt pots, but understand everyone has different budgets so will endeavour to supply all orders regardless of size. Freight costs have remained the same at this stage, so thanks to Fastways for that, as increasing costs are becoming very common these days. We have also maintained the same plant costs!

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