My impetus for heading to Auckland last week was to enjoy the final Heroic Garden Festival. After 23 years, this was to be the end of this successful fundraiser, in its current form at least. It is always interesting to look at other people’s gardens, even if they garden in a totally different environment and style. These were predominantly small urban gardens in a densely populated city, which usually means very close neighbours.
I will just offer you edited highlights, starting with this tiny garden (well, tiny by my standards) where the backyard pool was both pretty and thoughtfully constructed. In a very tight space where the water feature is within the outdoor entertaining area, safety is an issue and that outer decorative grill should give warning to most guests who may take a backward step without looking.
I am always interested to see where the work and service areas are contained in small gardens. One of the aspects of growing many plants in containers that is rarely shown on TV is that a work area for repotting is needed. I nodded approvingly at this one – attractive but functional and pleasant to use.
I failed entirely to find the work area for this garden although I think I read on their information sheet that it is screened from view out the back somewhere. I wish I had spotted it because I would have liked to have seen what the scale and set-up was. The very bright light conditions and crowds of people mitigated against getting photos that do justice to this garden which is a pity because it was a truly remarkable example of a garden of obsession. Whether I like it or not (and it was not my style at all) is gloriously irrelevant. I was in awe at the scale and the attention to detail. It was absolutely immaculate down to every last plant – the vast majority of which are in pots. Anything that looks a little marked or ‘off’ is clearly whipped out the back and replaced with a healthy substitute. It is all hand-watered, by owners who understand the differing water needs of each and every plant. It is also vibrantly colourful.
It would not be out of place in the book ‘Gardens of Obsession’ , which reminds me that I must find our copy and have another look at it. There was a single-minded focus and clarity of vision in painting with bromeliads that made this garden quite remarkable in its own way, along with a cultural heritage that reflects our growing connection with Asia as much as Auckland. I was unconvinced by the description of it in the programme as being ‘low maintenance’ and ‘family-friendly’. Yes, it is a private, family garden, a suburban section in Pakuranga, and has a pool out the back but I do not think anyone can attain this level of attention to detail and painting with plants without considerable effort and skill. It is open by appointment if you want to be amazed. Just suspend all preconceptions and personal preferences as you enter.
From there, we headed out to ‘Ayrlies’, Bev McConnell’s renowned garden, which could not be more different. I have been there several times before but not for quite a while. For us, it is an interesting comparator, being of a similar size and scale to how we garden but created and maintained with a larger budget and more gardening staff. The highlight of this garden for me, personally, remains the taxodiums by the bottom pond with their wonderful nubbly protrusions referred to as knees.
We have extensive experience in opening our own garden in the past (over 20 years of it, in fact) and I have amassed a fair amount of experience in garden visiting over the years – more than Mark who is happy to stay at home and look at my photos on my return. We used to get driven nuts at garden-opener meetings when owners of small, city gardens would declare: “People like to see small gardens that they can relate to.” I can still hear the inimitable Biddy Barrett retorting, “That is what people say to you in your garden. Nobody has ever said that to me in our garden,” because Biddy and Russ had a very large garden.
If you only ever go to see gardens that relate to your own garden at home in size and scale, if you only see garden visiting as an exercise in purloining other people’s ideas to apply to your own patch, then you miss out on so much. I would have missed out on the immaculate exuberance of the Pakuranga bromeliad garden. Many of you would miss out on the varied experiences of Ayrlies.