Clark York - part 2 | Plantsman & hairdresser

Manukau, Horowhenua | June 2015

"Privacy, peace and a bit of fantasy is what my garden gives me that I couldn't do with out.“... more text below images

Clark York - part 2 Plantsman & hairdresser | Manukau, Horowhenua | June 2015

I have a large unheated greenhouse (previously used for cut flower orchid production), this allows me to grow bananas for the birds. Misi Luki is a delicious banana cultivar which has been so productive but the palms exceeded six metres and hit the roof. I'm now using a dwarf banana 'Mahoi' which is currrently flowering at 2 metres, so just need to taste test it. I sowed seed of a tropical paw paw from the supermarket about 9 months ago and now have fruit maturing on those plants.

I work a couple of days a week in the greenhouse breeding Hibiscus, Bromeliads, Clivia and Hippeastrum. Ornamental and flowering plants are what I love, unlike veges they don't fill your tummy but they do feed my soul, eyes and nose.

Plant breeding allows the re-working of genes to produce a plant that fits your growing conditions, tastes and needs. It’s amazing that we can pretty much invent plants with characteristics best suited for local conditions. 

In addition to my other experiments, I’m breeding new varieties of Hibiscus.With these plants I'm trying to create new colours and shapes of flowers on disease resistant plants that are easy to grow. Most hibiscus varieties in NZ were bred last century, they grow well here but the colour pallette is limited to reds, yellows, pinks and oranges.

Recently overseas breeders have produced a new colour pallette of browns, greens, blues and darks approaching black. Also spotted, striped and banded combinations of colour.The trend has also been to produce very large flowers on smaller shrubs.

To import plants is an expensive, tedious and often impossible mission. To import seed is much easier. The imported seed produces plants for warmer climes, cold/wind tolerance was not considered important, as a result most of these plants wouldn't grow well here.

I imported seed of these newer hybrids, the best coloured seedlings were selected and then crossed with old NZ varieties to impart cold tolerance. The best colours were selected from these seedlings. The resulting flowers were too large to cope with wind. (And also for my taste). To reduce flower size, I then out crossed to species (wild) hibiscus with small flowers. Hibiscus arnottianus is native to high altitude Hawaii so imparts cold tolerance and sometimes fragrance. It is a great garden plant for northen New Zealand.

After several generations the plants show the combinations of traits that I was seeking. It takes me 18months to 3 years to raise each generation and make early assessments of quality. I have managed to flower hibiscus within 7 months from sowing seed - but culture must be ideal. The bulk of my time spent in the greenhouse is spent raising young plants. The actual act of hybridizing takes seconds.It's so exciting when the seedlings flower for the first time, as each is unique it's the first time it's ever been seen - and I love being the person who gets to see it. From 100s of seedlings only a few will make the cut. Ultimate success for me would be the commercial release of the selected few.

For several years I grew orchids for the Japanese market in the greenhouse. I have been crazy about orchids all my life. My Grandmother brought me my 1st orchid for my 6th birthday. I can't ever remember not being into plants, both sets of grandparents were great productive gardeners, at least 90% of what they ate they grew themselves. Growing flowers for picking was also important to them. I learnt more than I realised from them.

I don't know if this place could be called a garden but it's space that allows me to grow everything I want to try, and to me the bush is as ornamental, special and personal as any garden.

There are some plants I'm passionate about, generally ones I have an emotional reaction to eg. bamboo - it's got all that Asian grace and permanence going on in an established grove, when in growth it's energy is incredible. I love the bare areas of dead leaf below them and the way they filter light. I also love palms - they take you somewhere warm for a few minutes - when you have no time to travel. Or being under the canopy next to a huge solid tree trunk and feeling small.

My remaining Grandfather has just given up his garden at 96,it fed him year round and was only 20 sq metres. The good thing about his retirement is that my great grandmother’s 'lady spade' has now been passed on to me - surgically sharp and steel of the best quality. I've coveted it for years, definitely my most special and loved tool. My most useful tool though, has to be my chainsaw.

We don't 'compost' effectively but no greenwaste leaves the property - trees cut down are dragged into the bush to rot down and left there.

Mid summer is my favourite season - not much to do and more time to do it. Summer evenings in the garden are a time I love, and when I seem to get the most done. Privacy, peace and a bit of fantasy is what my garden gives me that I couldn't do with out.

POD thanks Kirsty Cameron and photographer Sara Orme.