Auckland Heroic gardens. Part one (of two)

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.

The waterfall is now the main visitor entrance and has nestled into its setting as the trees have grown

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.

The nubbly growths in the centre of the photograph are usually 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.

Whimsy at Ayrlies and given the context and the event, I feel personal opinion is irrelevant. They will make some people smile while others may raise their eyebrows.

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.

I include the pink and yellow specifically for loyal reader Marge M H, she who likes the colour combination whereas, were it my garden, I would be removing either the rudbeckia or the pink belladonnas from this scene

5 thoughts on “Auckland Heroic gardens. Part one (of two)

  1. Tim Dutton

    As with you, the bromeliad garden isn’t to my taste and I finally realised it is because the ratio of green to other colours is reversed from normal. Green is so restful. I couldn’t relax in the bromeliad garden. Ayrlies, on the other hand, looks ‘just right’. Maybe one day we’ll get to see it for real.

    Reply
    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      You are right about the colour on the brom garden. Nothing restful about it all but it was superbly done. I didn’t find anything restful in the industrial chic garden either, but that too was a personal vision executed with huge flair. And I can admire both without seeing myself within them.

      Reply
  2. tonytomeo

    Low maintenance? no. That was a common buzz term years ago. I don’t hear it so much now. We like ‘sustainable’ now, even though few really know what that means. Whatever it is, it really is fabulous. It is not my style either, but It certainly is better than my garden, so I can not critique.

    Reply
  3. Pat Webster

    Abbie, thanks for this piece. It is so interesting to see the gardens you highlighted and to read your perceptive comments. One of the talks I give is called Learning to Look: the Art of Garden Observation. In it I make several similar points. It is easy to miss what a garden has to offer if you close your eyes and mind to other styles and to the objectives set for the garden by the garden owner/maker. A good quote from Thoreau: “It isn’t what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” ‘Seeing’ in this context means keeping an open mind. It means paying attention to details and taking the time to let the garden speak in its own particular voice.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.