Mak­ing tea from your very own gar­den

Sh­eryn Cloth­ier never buys tea – in­stead she uses dried leaves picked from her camel­lia sinen­sis hedge

Franklin County News - - GARDENING -

Camel­lias grow so well in the Waikato our neigh­bour­ing town, Pu­taruru, used to call it­self the Camel­lia Town. What is sur­pris­ing is that is wasn’t un­til 1996 that some­one started grow­ing tea here com­mer­cially – Zea­long Tea Es­tate near Hamil­ton has 1.2 mil­lion Camel­lia sinen­sis plants. I only have 10 but it is enough for my needs.

Camel­lia sinen­sis is an at­trac­tive camel­lia with a small leaf and tiny white flower. There are thou­sands of cul­ti­vars through­out the world, adding to the va­ri­ety of the 5 mil­lion tonnes of tea pro­duced each year. Mine are of un­known pedi­gree as I ac­quired some cut­tings from my dad and poked them di­rectly into the back of a gar­den. About 75% sur­vived my lack of care, and sev­eral years later I have an at­trac­tive and pro­duc­tive hedge.

Novem­ber is the first pick of the sea­son. I pick the tips of the top fresh leaves (now I know why it is called PG Tips). It’s a kinda fid­dly task but a pleas­ant one in the first of the sum­mer sun. Green tea is, of course, just that, but the tips are crushed and ox­i­dised to var­i­ous de­grees to pro­duce oo­long and black tea. A tour at Zea­long made me re­alise that this process is an art form equal to cre­at­ing wine, and each vari­a­tion af­fects the fi­nal tea.

I roll and crush the tips be­tween my hands and leave them spread out on a towel in the sun for an hour or so to wilt. They are then put in a cool dark place to con­tinue ox­i­dis­ing. You can fin­ish this at any time for oo­long tea by dry­ing it off in the oven on a low heat, or al­low it ox­i­dise fully for black tea. When your tea is dry, it will sim­ply crum­ble in your hands and then all you need to do is add hot wa­ter.

I pick three times a year – Novem­ber, January and March – and then trim and shape my hedge. Though I am not a hedgey, shapey per­son, hav­ing it at a uni­form level makes pick­ing much, much eas­ier. Left undis­turbed, Camel­lia sinen­sis will grow into an at­trac­tive small tree.

Camel­lia sinen­sis, like most camel­lias, is a hardy, easy-to-grow plant that is well suited to New Zealand’s slightly acidic soils. They don’t mind a bit of shade if the mid­day sun is ex­tremely hot, will tol­er­ate most soils as long as it has de­cent drainage and will


This col­umn is adapted from the weekly e-zine, get grow­ing, from New Zealand Gar­dener magazine. For gar­den­ing ad­vice de­liv­ered to your in­box ev­ery Fri­day, sign up for Get Grow­ing at: get­grow­ send down deep roots to seek their own mois­ture and nu­tri­ents. They thrive in the rain­fall and hu­mid­ity of the Waikato.

If you live in a drier area you may want to ir­ri­gate them. Feed reg­u­larly with com­post and they will flour­ish.

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