A taste of New Zealand

My colleagues had warned me about the notouriously bad weather of Yorkshire….but this is the view I was greeted with in late April. Not that bad, right?


For my first trip up there, I attended the Annual Meeting of the Hebe Society, in the home of one of the National Collections, Threshfield. The collection covers almost all of Nigel Hutchinson’s garden, and has been nicely arranged around the hebes.

NPC hebe

Cuttings and young plants are kept in raised beds in a more sheltered part of the garden.

Hebe cuttings

Hebes can be divided in two groups based on their leaf shape. The ones commonly used as low hedges or ornamental shrubs are broadleaf hebes, such as the striking Hebe ‘Pink Elephant’. But there is another, very strange group, called the whipcord hebes, which look just like little conifers, with scale-like leaves.

Broadleaf : Hebe 'Pink Elephant'
Broadleaf : Hebe ‘Pink Elephant’
Whipcord ; Hebe ochracea 'James Stirling'
Whipcord : Hebe ochracea ‘James Stirling’

There are some other interesting New Zealand plants in the garden, such as this Celmisia argentea, a cushion-forming daisy-relative found in alpine bogs, and Podocarpus nivalis ‘Kilworth Cream’, a variegated conifer (the National Collection of Podocarpus can be found at Caerhays Castle in Cornwall).

Celmisia argentea Podocarpus nivalis 'Kilworth Cream'

Hebes were introduced to the UK in the early 19th century, and hundreds of different varieties have been bred since then, making the taxonomy always more confusing. Nigel Hutchinson has been painstakingly researching the literature and revising the names of all the varieties grown in his collection, adding detailed descriptions and photos, with the aim of publishing a comprehensive book.

Research on Hebes
Displaying the results

Nigel Hutchinson's work on Hebes
Nigel Hutchinson’s revision of cultivars

Society members had come from all over the UK (and even from Spain!) to view the collection, exchange ideas, advice, plants and cuttings :

Hebe Society members
Hebe Society members examining the National Collection

I was able to spot several threatened cultivars :

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In October, Kalani had published an article about the historic collection of Hebes at Plumpton College in Sussex. As some of you might now, it has now officially been awarded the status of National Collection, thanks to the commitment of the college and to the help provided by members of the Hebe Society. The collection holds 33 threatened cultivars of Hebe, 23 of which are not found anywhere else, so this is great news for conservation!
At the Hebe Society AGM, Gary Firth, regional coordinator for the South East and himself a devoted Collection Holder, was given the Douglas Chalk Trophy, acknowledging the good work he has been doing to rescue the plants and develop the new collection.

And here is a snapshot of the National Collection, at Plumpton College Open day on May 11th (many thanks to Steve Harding for the pictures).

Young plants in a polytunnel
Young hebes in a polytunnel…note the labels!
Mature hebes outside
Mature hebes growing outside

If you’re interested in Hebes or other New Zealand plants, feel free to check the website of the Society : http://hebesoc.org/

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