War of the roses

Native flax

Native flax

When news reached Te Ara that the Horowhenua District Council was planning to remove 300 roses alongside a central town round-about and replace them with flaxes and grasses, hot debate followed among the Te Ara staff. Here is an expurgated snippet.

It’s great to see the people of Levin finally throwing off horticultural imperialism, and realising that they live in New Zealand, and not on a little island off the coast of Europe. Roses were introduced by our English forebears to remind them of home, but they always get thrashed by the wind, and only survive by being sprayed.

Flaxes and natives are easy care – they don’t need to be pruned or covered in chemicals. The council will save $400,000 on their maintenance. Evolved for local conditions, they grow easily here – this was the area where a flax industry flourished.

They move beautifully in the wind; they attract the native birds. And they look so much better – colours that speak of the landscape around, shapes that are dramatic and eye-catching. Who needs the pastels and thorns of roses when you can have the drama of a flowering flax?

English roses

English roses

It’s tragic that horticultural chauvinism is advanced as an argument to support the actions of a short-sighted council. Let’s be clear from the start – flaxes deserve a place in our landscape – but the flax battleground is not on urban traffic islands or in civic gardens; it’s out on the plains, on our farms, and along the coast and waterways that we need to plant more flaxes.

Do we really want mass plantings of flax in our gardens? Consider the tenax cultivars – they grow into giants and harbour rats (hence the absence of native flax snails and weevils on the mainland). And they’re junk collectors – plastic bags, bottles, paper and empty cans collect in flax fans. They are not low-maintenance beasts – their old leaves droop and whip round and round in the wind, creating ugly bare patches. Coloured fans revert to green and old fans die off. Flaxes need regular haircuts if they’re to look their best.

The majority of New Zealanders are not averse to a flax or two in their gardens, but what most gardeners want is colour, colour and colour – something flowering roses provide in abundance. As a bonus, a rose-grower gets scent, form and beauty. Then there’s the satisfaction from growing a lovely rose. Any fool can grow a flax.

What a shame Levin’s council is failing to capitalise on its rich horticultural history, its equable climate and fabulous soils. It could emulate Timaru and promote itself as a rose-growing centre. Leave the flaxes in Foxton, I say.

Well, after hearing the arguments for and against, what do you think?

10 comments have been added so far

  1. Comment made by Rose-lover of Brooklyn || May 15th, 2008

    I’m with Maggy – flax bushes are fine, but context is all. Formal rose gardens are part of our cultural heritage – a quick web search reveals how many there are in New Zealand. What’s more, a few of them are war memorials, as Jock must know. You could argue (and I do) that the fleeting beauty of a rose is more symbolic than a hunk of marble or granite.

    Save the roses!

  2. Comment made by Carl Walrond || May 15th, 2008

    In the two gardens I have had I have pulled out the flax – dirty plants that belong in swamps. As for roses – every one has a prick. I’ve also chopped down a huge cabbage tree but it keeps sprouting – so how do I kill the stump Mags?

  3. Comment made by baz || May 15th, 2008

    Maggy, if you’re after colour have a look at this entry on flax and flax working:
    It’s fantastic with the blue and green of the tui together with the reddish flower of the flax. You don’t see tuis hopping around on roses.

    I planted a few flaxes and let them go. Didn’t have to do a thing to them. Fantastic. For the avid gardener roses are attractive, but at least they’re putting their own time into it. I imagine that the Horowhenua district council could do a lot with close to an extra half a million dollars.

  4. Comment made by Container gardener of Northland || May 15th, 2008

    I’d like to put a bob both ways. Can you grow flaxes or roses in pots? Both species would look fetching on my small deck. I shall expect a reply in writing from Maggy, Te Ara’s Gardening Editor.

  5. Comment made by Helen || May 15th, 2008

    In this case, I think Levinites should keep their roses. But I have to defend flax against a vicious comment from Dominion Post columnist Rosemary McLeod, who says ‘Poets do not write eulogies to flax, songs are not sung of its beauty’ etc.

    A quick Google came up with lots of poems featuring flax, including ‘Flax’ by Julia Allen, ‘Scoria’ by C. K. Stead, ‘Eel’ , by Fiona Farrell, and ‘the flax’ by Roma Potiki:

    the smell is someone weeping
    fresh life.
    the coarse roots hold
    round earth
    intend to stay

  6. Comment made by Rose-lover of Brooklyn || May 15th, 2008

    In reply to ‘Container gardener of Northland’: yes, you can grow miniature roses in pots, and they look most attractive.

  7. Comment made by Andrew || May 15th, 2008

    Can someone make a flax rose hybrid?

  8. Comment made by Lazy non-gardener of Strathmore || May 15th, 2008

    I’m with Baz re liking flax au naturel. Tui like it and feed on the nectar. And you can use it to make things – beautiful works of art, or even these frighteningly-coloured things that just might be flax-rose hybrids.

  9. Comment made by Julia || May 15th, 2008

    Perhaps Astro Turf is what the good people of Levin need or is a good Astroturfing what they’re getting when councilors plan to remove beloved roses for native flaxes?

    According to Wikipedia, Astroturfing is a neologism for formal public relations campaigns in politics which seek to create the impression of grassroots behavior, hence the reference to the artificial grass AstroTurf.

    The residents of Levin may not know it but they may be getting Astroturfed.

  10. Comment made by Florence Liger || May 16th, 2008

    We are talking about a roundabout here, not a garden. While driving, who will have to look at the roses anyway? If flax is cheaper and more robust, go for it…

Leave a comment

By posting comments you signify that agree to and accept the Terms and Conditions of this Blog.