I visited a most interesting private garden in Auckland earlier this month. Industrial, urban chic, I would call it.
I wrote about hedging ideas after my visit to the Kelliher Estate on Puketutu Island but I didn’t name the gardener at the time because I hadn’t asked him if he wanted to be identified. It is Grahame Dawson, and as I walked around the Kelliher garden, I asked my companion what Grahame’s own garden was like. What made me curious was that his approach to gardening at the Kelliher showed a flair that is unusual in a public garden (or a trust garden) and I felt sure that I was looking at somebody who had large garden instincts. My companion took me in to meet Grahame in his home garden.
It was very different to the Kelliher Estate garden and I loved it. It is not that I want to emulate it myself. I just thought it was very different, quirky, characterful, self-indulgent even, but not naff and goodness, that is a fine line to tread.
I loved the hanging curtain of tillandsia growing through weighted chains (top photo) and the disco ball echoes of the rounded mounds (threaded through hanging baskets suspended upside down). Yes there was a lot of tillandsia – three main types in the hanging mode, I think Grahame said. Tillandsias, or air plants as they are often referred to, have a huge a family of well over 700 different species and are in the bromeliad group. These ones contributed to the curious phenomenon of a predominantly grey garden. I was viewing it on a grey, cool spring day and I didn’t find it in the least bit dreary, in case you are wondering.
I liked the bold juxtaposition of the almost stark seating area to one side, with the plantings opposite on the site.
The undercover display of specialist orchids were arrayed in the manner of an auricula theatre and that is natural light casting an ethereal glow in the mid afternoon light.
The pool resembled a shrine to my eyes. The little figure, Grahame told me, is Narcissus.
For those who want ideas, Grahame has a natural flair for managing multiple pots without looking messy or cottage-y. The simplest of terracotta pots painted grey made the row a feature with or without the orchid selection they house.
Back at the Kelliher Garden, I had photographed the pots along the front terrace. Alternating square and round pots, he had filled them all with Aloe plicatilis. The very simplicity gave it a formality while softening the scene with thoroughly practical foliage.
People visit gardens for many reasons and goodness knows, with two decades of opening our own garden behind us, we have heard many of those reasons over the years. Too often, a garden is judged – and I use the word ‘judged’ deliberately – on whether the visitor can imagine themselves owning the garden. I didn’t want to own Grahame’s garden – industrial chic is not my style – but it is rare to come across a place that I would describe as genuinely original, combining both wit and skill. This was one.