I find garden ornamentation a source of slightly masochistic fascination. We prefer very little ornamentation in our own garden and even then lean to the natural look. Back when we were university students – way back when – we used to entertain friends and visitors with gnome garden tours as viewable from the streets of both Palmerston North and Dunedin. Caversham was a particularly happy hunting ground. But brightly painted little concrete things in my own garden? I think not.
I have been gently pondering the notion of the crossover from heavily ornamented gardens to folk art and it was with this in mind that I made a point of searching out a particular garden in the Heroic Garden Festival last weekend. It promised a “Gaudi-inspired” house with a garden that “exudes Hollywood glam with a hint of the unexpected”.
It wasn’t folk art. Not at all. Nor was it particularly heavily ornamented, at least not compared to some others. It had panache – not necessarily easy to achieve in a garden with a kidney-shaped pool, an Astroturf lawn and a lot of solid colour. It did evoke the spirit of Hollywood glam in suburban Auckland but with a wry sense of poking fun at itself.
The plantings were fine, but nothing particularly out of the ordinary. The Heroic Garden Festival, for those who don’t know, has its roots in the Auckland gay scene. Gay men, as far as I can see. I have yet to fathom why gay men are such a powerful force in gardening whereas gay women have not made their mark in the same way. There appears to be a secret rule book that says that gay men in Auckland should create tropical gardens (the Ubud hotel-style, I have described it in the past) dominated by bromeliads, palms, cycads, the tractor seat ligularia (L. reniformis), bromeliads, maybe a banana palm. Oh, and have I mentioned bromeliads? After you have been to several gardens, the plantings start to meld in the mind and achieve a certain state of uniformity.
It is how the whole package fits together that stays in the mind – the design, the extension of indoor living to the garden outside, the style and ambience and the attention to detail.
This Castor Bay garden had its own unique style. The tone was set by a white gnome in a glass dome giving you the finger as you arrived. I laughed. The first tulip lamp I encountered was bright orange and I am sure the vulgar orange celosias in the nearby bed were entirely deliberate. Further round was a bright pink lamp set against a terracotta wall. There were some brave calls made, contrasting with more restrained accents.
I don’t know much at all about Gaudi and Catalan modernism is beyond my ken. Certainly there was a northern Spanish arts and crafts ambience to the house which was charming. The borrowed view to the sea was also a clever device which did not appear as if it could be built out.
It is always refreshing to look at gardens which bear no resemblance at all to one’s own. Some folk say they go garden visiting to glean ideas for their own place. I like being challenged and entertained whether or not it has any application to my own garden. This whole garden made me smile. All credit to the owners, Aaron Hill and Troy Little.