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The Cultivation of New Zealand Plants

Chapter X. — Plants for Decorating the Home

Chapter X.
Plants for Decorating the Home.

Very few of our wild plants yield cut flowers for indoors. This is partly due to the speedy fading of most, or early shedding of their petals, and, partly, to the large majority with showy blossoms being confined to the high mountains, or thereabouts. If the flowers of the latter could be procured without difficulty what could be finer than bowls of the mountain-lily (Ranunculus Lyallii), the white marguerite-like Senecio scorzoneroides, the golden Ranunculus insignis, Gentiana corymbifera, of purest white, or Celmisia coriacea and C. Hookeri, with their great fringed flower-heads over three inches in diameter! Indeed, the cultivation of the last-named is so easy that it might well be grown in many places in sufficient quantity for decorative purposes. Veronica Hulkeana, Olearia insignis, Leptospermum scoparium var. Nichollsii, Arthropodium cirratum, and Clianthus puniceus, also suggest themselves as being procurable from the garden. The North Island edelweiss (Leucogenes Leontopodium) must not be forgotten. Its lovely flowers can be gathered in abundance during January on the Tararua Mountains. They belong to the class known as "ever-lastings," and as they more or less keep their shape and colour after drying, they can serve for a considerable time as a decoration.

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As for the hush plants, Parsonsia heterophylla, P. capsularis var. rosea, Ixerba brexioides and Carpodetus serratus would not he amiss as cut flowers. The latter, with only one species in the genus, and that genus (Carpodetus) being found nowhere wild on earth, but in New Zealand, while its range extends throughout all the forest-area from the north of Auckland to Stewart Island, has a strong claim to the high honour of being made the national flower. The manuka (Leptospermum scoparium), and the kowhai (Edwardsia tetraptera—in a wide sense), might also compete, but they would, at once, be disqualified, for they are not exclusively New Zealanders.

It is rather on account of particular beauty of foliage, or of berries, or drupes, that a number of our plants can be admitted as rivals to the usual exotic cut flowers of the home. Foremost, in this regard, comes the delightful foliage of sapling red southern-beech (Nothofagus fusca), beautiful at all times, but exquisite in autumn, and winter, with its browns, reds, yellows and creams. Nearly equal are the stiffer branchlets of the pepper-tree (Wintera colorata), the medium-sized leaves blotched above with reds and purples, but glaucous beneath; if its fair-sized black berries are present, so much the better. The quaint blistered leaves of the ramarama (Myrtus bullata), glossy green, marked with purple, have a beauty all their own; those most exposed to the sun are smaller, but more blistered and highly coloured. The hybrid, Myrtus Ralphii, is also excellent with its flatter and, in some strains, reddish leaves. The fern-like juvenile kawaka (Libocedrus Doniana) and the pahau-tea (L. Bidwillii), both similar, are excellent. The tawa (Beilschmiedia page 110tawa), cut with rather long stems, the shining willow-like leaves green above but glaucous beneath, standing about two feet out of a bowl, is distinctly pleasing. Nor are the stiff, smooth, reddish stems of the mapau (Suttonia australis), with their smallish, dull green, crinkled leaves, to be despised. There are other shrubs and trees which afford suitable material for decorative purposes, but those living near the bush will soon find out which they like best.

A few trees and shrubs, when in fruit, are distinctly showy and offer a change to the usual decorative flowers of their season. Here come in the titoki (Alectryon excelsum) with its jet-black seed partly embedded in a bright-scarlet, fleshy cup; the red-berried maire-tawake (Eugenia maire), certain species of Coprosma with bright-coloured drupes, especially the kanono (C. grandifolia), reddish-orange, and the karamu (C. robusta), yellowish-orange; the Chatham korokio (Corokia macrocarpa) with abundant orange drupes and leaves white beneath; the mingimingi (Cyathodes acerosa), with red or white drupes; the supplejack (Rhipogonum scandens), with large, bright-red berries, and the wineberry (Aristotelia serrata), especially the form with red berries.

More important for home decoration than cut flowers, foliage, or berries, are well-grown plants in pots. The most unusual for this purpose are various "alpines" grown, according to their size, in four to six inch pots, many succeeding admirably in this way—much better, indeed, than in the alpine-garden—and being extremely effective and pretty. These plants are to be kept in the house only during their blooming or fruiting, as the case may be; the remainder of the year they should be housed in a page 111cold frame, plunged in sand, or even in a shady part of the garden plunged in the soil. The following are some of easy culture, particulars about them can be seen in Chapter VII.:—Acaena microphylla (form with long flower-stalks), Arthropodium candidum, Celmisia bellidioides, Cotula pyrethrifolia, Enargea parviflora, Fuchsia procumbens (in fruit, not an "alpine"), Helichrysum bellidioides, Jovellana repens, Mazus radicans, Myosotis decora, Nertera depressa, N. Balfouriana, Ourisia caespitosa, Pratia angulata, Raoulia grandiflora, Rubus parvus, Veronica Lyallii, the small whipcord veronicas, Wahlenbergia Matthewsii.

Next come the much larger plants of striking appearance, suitable for indoors at all seasons, which would be a pleasing change to the ever-present, frequently moribund, Aspidistra lurida. First of all, and unsurpassed for the purpose, are young rimus (Dacrydium cupressinum), the perfection of grace and symmetry with their erect stems and long, flexible, drooping, leafy branches. Juvenile monoao (D. Kirkii), miro (Podocarpus ferrugineus), and Libocedrus Bidwillii and L. Doniana, are also to be recommended. Juvenile lancewood (Pseudopanax crassifolium var. unifoliolatum) and juvenile rewarewa (Knightia excelsa), their forms so different from those of most plants, are excellent for pots. Rubus Barkeri drooping over the edge of a large pot would be most effective; also, cut stems with their lovely leaves, or the leaves alone, could be used for decoration of various kinds. The ti-pore (Cordyline terminalis) is an ideal pot-plant; after a time younger plants will come up all round the parent; the dwarf cabbage-tree (C. pumilio) is also useful. Various species of Astelia are valuable as page 112pot-plants, especially A. nervosa, A. Cunninghamii, A. Cockaynei, and the smaller, smooth, glossy-leaved A. Petriei.

For very large pots, tubs and so on, for verandahs, balconies, etc., there is a wide choice. Varioits forms of Phormium tenax and P. Colensoi are extremely popular for this purpose. Many species of Veronica, Olearia, and Senecio are excellent, for a fairly dense habit is to be sought for. The ramarama, the beautiful scarlet-flowered Metrosideros florida and the still more beautiful M. diffusa—the adult forms grown as shrubs, see Chapter VIII.—with its bright-crimson flowers, the broadleaf (Griselinia littoralis), the pepper-tree (Wintera colorata), the mountain korokio (Corokia Cotoneaster) and juvenile tawhero (Weinmannia sylvicola) are all suitable. Others could be suggested, but those living near the bush or the mountains can see what bushy plants, pleasing to the sight, are worth a trial.

Notwithstanding all that has been said in this Chapter, the most popular plants for pots, large or small, will always be the ferns. With over a hundred to select from, no lover of these beautiful foliage-plants should remain unsatisfied; but, of course, some answer the purpose far better than others. Those which wilt readily must be ignored, likewise those, which though pretty enough as they grow wild, will not make good sturdy, satisfying specimens when potted. Also, some will tolerate the conditions supplied by a room far better than others. The following is a selection:—Histiopteris (Pteris) incisa, Pteris tremula, P. macilenta, Asplenium adiantoides (falcatum), A. lucidum, A. bulbiferum, A. umbrosum, Polystichum (Aspidium) vestitum. Gleichenia Cunninghamii, Blechnum (Lomaria) page 113discolor, B. Fraseri—a tiny tree-fern, some two to three feet high, its trunk not thicker than a stout walking-stick,—Adiantum fulvum, A. aethiopicum and, where there is plenty of room, one or two other of the tree-ferns.

The translucent filmy-ferns, (species of Hymenophyllum and Trichomanes), most beautiful perhaps of all, can be kept for a long time indoors, if the pan, or whatever they may be growing in, be kept covered constantly with a glass shade. At one time "Wardian Cases" were popular, i.e., boxes glazed on all sides, and the bottom deep enough to contain the quantity of soil requisite. In these all our filmy-ferns, and, if large enough, the crape-fern or Prince of Wales Feather (Leptopteris superba) can be grown to perfection. It is to be hoped these fern-boxes, which can be made as ornamental as desired, may come again into fashion, and so bring into the home, especially of city dwellers, one of the special charms of the New Zealand bush.