Countdown to Festival, October 22, 2010

* It is just one week out from Festival this year and John and Phyllis Malcolm at Lockinge Garden near Kapuni have three young black swans in residence on their lake. The wet winter has certainly suited the hostas and Big Daddy, planted around the lake, is looking particularly splendid. Phyllis says that the irises and Rhododendron Lemon Lodge are looking spot on for flowering right on cue and she is really pleased with how the honesty and aquilegias are naturalising and filling in the spaces under their mature trees.

* Nearer Opunake, Sheryl and Geoff Campbell on Patiki Road are nearly through the last round of preparation (most of us work our way right round our gardens more than once in ever increasing detail as we prepare). The roses put on tremendous new growth in the few sunny days we have had, the clematis are coming into flower and the white wisteria is promising to be spectacular next week.

* Moving around towards Warea, Maria van der Poel is looking forward to her second year of opening. She has been like a big kid playing with a new toy in her recently erected hot house and, with assistance from a friend, has plenty of plants potted up for sale to garden visitors. The wood pigeons have returned to her garden for spring time and the roses have responded to some special TLC and are rocketing away despite recent coastal winds buffeting them around. Maria has her fingers crossed for good weather and a great festival for all her fellow garden openers.

* Inland from Stratford, Lorri and Bruce Ellis have one of the largest private gardens in the Festival and Lorri plans her preparation from six months out. Even so, she wryly notes, she has a tendency to underestimate the vagaries of the spring weather. The recent winds have hurled branches all round the place and the horrendous September rains (324ml of the stuff at their place) saw her and Bruce wading through sticky mud and papa up to the tops of their gumboots as they worked to complete the new trail through their dell. On the bright side, she is enjoying the blues in her garden – a sea of bluebells complemented by a bank of purple ajuga which is alive with busy bumblebees, the mauve pawlonia and the purple sparaxias completing the picture.

* Down the road, more or less, and around a few corners at Gordon Dale Gardens near Toko,
Jan Worthington agrees that timing is all important in the lead-up to Festival. Did she prune the standard photinias at the right time so that they will be glowing red balls at the start of November? Will there be any roses in flower, given the cold spring? How quickly will the vegetables grow so that they look strong, healthy and nearly ready for harvest? Will the bare patches in the garden be filled out with the annuals and perennials over the next week? A few days of sun and warmer weather will make Jan breathe more easily.

* Near Hawera, at Puketarata, Jennifer Horner is irritated by the rabbits nibbling at the new growth on her pinks and tiarellas. Other than that, she is hoping that winds will not return after the mess left last week. They are busy enough with the final round of weeding and tidying and can do without the extra work.

* The unusually wet spring is a recurring theme and Vance Hooper at Magnolia Grove says that at least they have seen the worst case scenario for springs and groundwater on their property after five years of living there. It is so bad in one area that he and Kathryn have decided that best solution will be develop some permanent ponds there in the near future (after Festival, no doubt). However, even the few days of fine weather recently has made a big difference, getting the roses and perennials moving into growth. The pink floribunda wisteria is promising its best display yet.

* It is many years since Josephine and Quinton Reeves at Wintringham in New Plymouth have opened for Festival and they are making a welcome return this year. Josephine says that their blue clematis are rocketing into flower but her Cornus controversa variegata is threatening to become The Wedding Cake Tree of Pisa as it has developed a significant lean in a quest to get away from the domineering influence of the adjacent 80 year old golden elm. It is not the pesky mynah birds that are visiting their ponga trees (as mentioned recently at Te Kainga Marire) but visiting doves who come to sojourn daily and carry out their courting rituals. More decorative, at least, than the mynahs.

* Festival newcomers, Alan and Cath Morris at Pukemara (also in New Plymouth) have been feeling tested by the wind and rain but are well on top of the final preparation work. They are hoping for more sunshine and warmth to hurry along the flower buds on the vireya rhododendrons, but the roses are opening their first buds and the hostas are rocketing away and filling the spaces. They are really looking forward to opening day next Friday.