Petal carpets, the garden in September

Petal carpets are a second delight

Petal carpets are a second delight

We do good spring gardens in New Zealand. This is just as well in Taranaki, because spring stretches out well past the prescribed three months – from August to early December, I would suggest. The combination of a lack of extremes in temperature, high rainfall and high sunshine hours keeps us in extended flowering mode.

Petal carpets feature large for us. Spring storms may batter plants in bloom but with large trees, the strewn petals offer a second delight, albeit shorter-lived. These used to be more problematic before we discovered a bane of suburban life that is a boon for large gardens – the leaf blower. Once the petals start to discolour and decay, we blow them onto the garden beds where they can quickly rot away to nothing. There is nowhere near the nutritional compost value in fallen petals that there is in leaves, but they are part of the cycle of nature.

Magnolia Iolanthe

Magnolia Iolanthe

The magnolia season continues. The original specimen of Iolanthe is beside our driveway and now measures around 10 metres tall and 7 metres across. In the glory of full bloom, it takes our breath away year after year. If you can give trees the room to grow to maturity, future generations may thank you.

The big-leafed rhododendrons in our park are already passing over. They are showy but flower very early in the season and are vulnerable to frost. They are also difficult to propagate and take up a lot of space so you rarely find them offered for sale. If you are determined, raising them from seed is the best option for the patient gardener. Other rhododendrons are opening however and the season extends right through to Christmas.

Rhododendron 'Eyestopper'

Rhododendron ‘Eyestopper’

I am madly digging, dividing and reorganising summer perennials. We returned from our trip to see English summer gardens inspired and energised. We were very focussed this time, wanting to see the contemporary gardens rather than the classics like Hidcote, Sissinghurst and Great Dixter. Gardening, after all, moves on and the Arts and Crafts garden style derives from the first decades of last century.

We haven’t heard much in this country about the New Perennials Movement, naturalistic gardening, the Sheffield School and prairie gardening but it has been as big a revolution in garden design and planting as the garden rooms of Arts and Crafts were in their day, or the cottage garden genre that followed. It is a whole lot more than just adding in grasses to perennial plantings, as some sniffily deride.

We were lucky to get into a few private gardens that are not open to the public and we looked at the work of some of the major designer-practioners – Piet Oudolf, Christopher Bradley Hole, Tom Stuart Smith and the late Henk Gerritsen, as well as lesser-known gardeners.

Our conditions are different so it will never work taking the lessons from another country and imposing them here. We need to use different plants in many cases (pampas grass is on our banned list and the lovely Stipa tenuissima is threatening to become a noxious weed according to the Weedbuster’s website). Our management also requires different strategies and some of the gardening practices we saw just won’t work here.

But the underpinning philosophy is relevant and many of the ideas are challenging our preconceived notions. We are serious about the move to more environmentally friendly gardening even though it will push the boundaries of what most New Zealand gardeners regard as acceptable in terms of tolerance for weeds. Our interests also lie in extending our spring flowering well through summer and into autumn and we can’t achieve this without managing perennials much better. No matter. We are inspired. And as gardeners, we take the longer term view.

Wildside in North Devon was the one that excited us most

Wildside in North Devon was the one that excited us most

Of all the gardens we looked at in detail – and there were over 20 of them – the one that really made us buzz with excitement was Wildside in North Devon. This is the garden created by Keith and Ros Wiley. You will have to make do with Googling it or buying Keith’s book because they have now closed to the public. This garden was an inspiration in every way. It brought together vision, energy, determination, sheer hard work and advanced plantsmanship which left us in awe.

First published in the New Zeakland Gardener and reproduced here with their permission.

1 thought on “Petal carpets, the garden in September

  1. Pat Webster

    Wise comments, Abby, about taking inspiration from gardens visited rather than trying to reproduce what we see. It is a point I make regularly to the groups I lead through gardens in Europe. As growing conditions for you in New Zealand differ from England, ours in Canada differ even more. And the variation within Canada is extreme, from warm British Columbia to frigid areas of the north. The ideas behind a garden are what we need to focus on. After each visit, our groups discuss what we thought worked and why, and vice versa. I find that sharing responses is a good way to encourage people to broaden their ideas of what a garden can be.

    Your magnolia Iolanthe is stunning. How fortunate you are to enjoy the work of your father-in-law annually. The photo of petals on the drive is quite lovely.

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