Written by PM Hall-Jones
"This spring has been the Spring of the Tree Peonies at Domaine Thomson. Tree peonies are small bushes that grow from seed, unlike herbaceous peonies, which are grown from peony tubers. In winter, tree peonies lose their leaves, but the structure of the branches remains, unlike herbaceous peonies, which die back into clumps. Over time, tree peonies can become quite wide bushes of over 1 metre wide.
The Chinese, who have cultivated tree peonies since 500AD, consider tree peonies the King of Flowers, while the herbaceous peonies, though beautiful, are not as highly prized, they are called the “King’s Ministers”.
In NZ, tree peonies, like herbaceous peonies, flourish in the cooler climate of the South Island. We bought our tree peonies from Simmons Peonies several years ago, however, they weren’t planted in an optimum spot suitable for the King of Flowers. In the winter of 2022, David helped to transplant them to a better position in the front garden of the Cellar Door. They were a bit sleepy last spring, and adjusting to their new beds. This spring, they have woken up and are have been showing their beautiful flowers..
We have had lots of visitors who have commented on their flowers, who have also asked what plant they are. The answer is the “King of Flowers”!"
Written by David Hall-Jones
"My brothers and I were fortunate to grow up in southern New Zealand, in our family home, pretty much surrounded by artwork – much of it being the paintings and survey maps of my great great grandfather John Turnbull Thomson. My father and uncle have since gifted a number of Thomson paintings to museums in New Zealand and Singapore. At the same time, we have retained a selection of Thomson paintings in our family – particularly those that speak so eloquently of the lives of New Zealand’s early explorers.
My love of exploration has led me as an adult to read of the lives of the world’s great explorers, both men and women. Men such as Livingstone, Darwin, Lewis and Clark, Shackleton, Amundsen and Scott. And some equally formidable women, Gertrude Bell, and Freya [ ]. While in London recently, I purchased what looked like a fantastic book, entitled “Explorers’ Sketchbooks – the Art of Discovery and Adventure”, by Huw Lewis-Jones. The book followed the lives of 50 of the world’s great explorers. I was absorbed by this splendid book and you could have knocked me down with a feather when I turned the page and found a chapter dedicated to my own great-great-great-grandfather, JT Thomson. My pride at seeing my family forebear featured in such an excellent book brought a tear to my eye.
Another family occasion recently has led me once again to Thomson. Upon the death of my dear Mum, two things that I really treasure have been passed to me to hold as guardian, on behalf of my family.
The first was a remembrance ring that Thomson’s wife Janet, had made in memory of Thomson, upon his death on 16 October 1884. When I placed the ring on my finger, it was a perfect fit and at that moment, I felt as close to Thomson – and his adventures - as I have ever done.
The second item that my mother left to me is a remarkable painting by Thomson, signed and dated 1867. The scene is one of a group of four men, three of whom are mounted on camels. The scene is so untypical of Thomson’s paintings – and yet so typical of Thomson, as an explorer. What my parents and I ascertained is that Thomson, on a trip back to England, had chosen to return to New Zealand by way of a camel ride across the Sahara Desert! This was in the days just prior to the construction of the Suez Canal.
I don’t believe that Thomson’s painting of the Sahara has ever been published and I am now pondering how I might best exhibit this painting.
I am certainly proud to be a great-great grandson of this worthy adventurer, not just in Malaysia, Singapore and New Zealand – but also in the Sahara Desert!!
Thomson was a true explorer and our decision to name our wines “Explorer” and “Surveyor Thomson” seems as apt today as it was when we planted out our Lowburn vineyard in the year 2000."
Finally, we are starting to get that "summertime feeling". It's been a challenging spring here at the vineyard - strong winds, late frosts so we are now looking forward...