The times, they are a-demandin’ change

Currently a bit forlorn, but give it a few months and it will look very different

The rose garden has gone. Gorn forever. Henceforth this area will be known as the sunken garden. Because the centrepiece is the sunken garden area – Felix and Mimosa’s DIY colonial Lutyens effort, as I have described it. It is all fashioned from granite, marble and brick. Mark once water blasted it and it came up an alarming shade of white.

An undated photo but best guess is around the mid 1950s. The marble lining is still white

I, too, could get it looking pretty but it took a lot of work and it didn’t stay looking pretty for long enough to warrant the effort

It was the rose garden because it used to house Mimosa’s old rose collection. I think I can recall it as being fantastically opulent, voluptuous and romantic with the air hanging heavy with scent – but only for a couple of weeks in spring. The rest of the time, it could look pretty scruffy. By the time I came onto the scene here in the eighties, it was already past its peak.  This particular garden has probably had more attention lavished upon it in the last 30 years than any other area. Major makeovers, not just regular maintenance. At least four major makeovers that I can recall doing myself. And no matter how hard I tried, it looked okay in winter, really pretty for a few weeks in spring but scruffy in summer and autumn. I could not keep it looking good all year and it finally reached the point where I avoided looking closely, preferring to skirt around the outside rather than walking through it.

We have a date on this photo – 1961

Felix, down  to his woollen singlet but still wearing his tweed hat putting in the stone millwheel table and benches. The wheel is the inner, turning centre of the mill, used for grinding papa to make a low quality brick on a neighbouring  farm. Felix traded two sacks of potatoes for the wheel. The date of this photo must be mid to late 1950s

It is obvious what the problem is when I look at the old photos. When Mimosa started and had the area at its peak in the late 1950s and 1960s, conditions were very different. It was open and sunny and the plants grew without competition. In the 70 years since she started, the backbone rimu trees have doubled in size and their root systems have grown to match. Half the area is now always bone dry, sucked out of nutrients and plants have to compete with the rimu roots. The area has also become enclosed, very sheltered and the sunshine hours have been reduced by a whole range of perimeter plants.

I wrote about this area back in March  when I was into full-on stripping out. It would have been easier had I been composting the plants but I recycled most of them. It would also have been easier had I not planted quite so many bulbs through it over the years. Clearing the area was a major operation and has generated many, many more square metres of ground cover than I started with to use elsewhere. There is much to be said for digging and dividing. The good picking roses have been relocated to the vegetable garden where it does not matter that they get black spot and suffer from defoliation. I can at least pick the flowers. We do not have a good climate for roses.

Finally, the last plants were gone at the weekend and the area was bare. Lloyd, our extraordinarily handy and obliging man about the garden, has moved in extra topsoil and raked and levelled to get it ready for sowing in grass. The eight camellias and two maples will stay and be shaped into gnarly, character, feature plants. We normally avoid growing plants in mown lawn areas and I know I will have to hand-trim the grass around the trunks but I am willing to do that. We do not like the weed-sprayed brown look of lank grass around trunks and I have no desire for the tidy, suburban look of encasing each trunk in a tidy round concrete circle planted with pansies. For those of you who want to know what the camellias are, two are the gorgeous species C. yuhsienensis, two are Mark’s ‘Pearly Cascade’ (C. pitardii hybrid) and the four standards are one of Mark’s hybrids that we never released but we refer to as ‘Pink Poppet’.

I am anticipating that once the grass grows we will have something far more sculptural to look at. And that seems a more appropriate look for the next era of this garden. Gardeners must look forward, not try forever to recapture the recalled magic moments of the past.

Again, this must be 1950s – the planting of the azalea bed that provides the far boundary to this garden, butting up to the rimu trees

Match the two horizontal branches in the preceding image to how they look this very morn. After 60 years, the trees have more or less doubled in size

The same Kurume azaleas as they look today, this time viewed looking from the other direction, underplanted with cyclamen. 

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10 thoughts on “The times, they are a-demandin’ change

  1. Maureen Sudlow

    it is so hard to redesign a tired garden, and realise that the trees you grew for shelter have now become a factor that always has to be considered in any future planning. My brother-in-law was a builder, and said that he always preferred building from scratch to renovating. I think I feel that way about gardening…

    Reply
    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      It is an entirely different skill set, Maureen. And a set that not that many people in this country get to grips with. The more common response is to try and start again to recapture the charm of juvenility. We have always worked with an established garden here so we have honed that skill set but we do not often see it in other gardens. It is more common overseas where gardeners are less inclined to rip everything out and start again – harder gardening conditions and slower growth rates may influence the fact they are more willing to work with what they have. But you are representative of widely held views in NZ.

      Reply
  2. sarahnorling2014

    Love the story, love the old photos, and great that you are taking the roses out but keeping the sunken garden. I’ve also got areas that somehow demand all the attention but never give the rewards for very long. What are the new plantings in the sunken area? Btw, is or was there a mass planting of Clivia beneath your rimu trees? We visited your garden years ago during the Taranaki garden festival and I have this memory of a grove of rimu down a side boundary (?) with a wonderful display beneath.

    Reply
    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      You are right about the rimu, though it is more that we have many clivia interplanted with many other plants, rather than mass planted – if you know what I mean. I redid the sunken garden area but with the same collection of small to tiny plants, mostly little treasures as befits the space. Pleiones, species narcissi, snowdrops and crocus – that sort of thing.

      Reply
  3. tonytomeo

    How nice that you have the old pictures. When I started a new garden parcel in Brookdale (which is really just a place to grow berries, rhubarb and figs), I kept perfect records, only to have someone discard them! Keeping records at the arboretum at Bay Laurel Nursery in rather hopeless. That does not compromise the garden of course.

    Reply
  4. tonytomeo

    Actually, the larger scale Arboretum is VERY personal. I can give away my garden parcel in the future. The Arboretum will eventually become a public garden that will be there long after the production is gone. There are just no records of what has been done there. Cultivars are mostly documented, but dates are procedures are not. Most of it happened when I was just a kid.

    Reply
  5. Pingback: Lessons learned | Tikorangi The Jury Garden

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