2021 Taranaki Garden Festival in Covid Times

White ixias and Iris sibirica ‘Blue Moon’ in the summer borders

As you read this, we will be on the last day of the 2021 Taranaki Garden Festival. Ten days may not sound long but it is very long when you are meeting and greeting visitors solidly, especially given our lives where we spend long periods of time alone with our own thoughts in the garden. So forgive me if I seem a little tired.

It has been an odd festival. Last year broke all visitor records when the country was Covid-free but nobody could travel overseas. This year was shaping up to be even larger until Delta took hold in Auckland and then Waikato. With internal borders closed to the north of us, we kept our fingers crossed that they would reopen in time for the festival but it became clear that would not be the case. When we had ten coaches cancel in the week before festival, it was a bit… deflating, shall I say? With those northern borders closed, we could see that 40% of the visitor base simply couldn’t travel. Added to that, a fair number of people to the south didn’t want to travel and who can blame them? Preparing the garden for a festival that seemed to be dwindling day by day felt very much like being all dressed up for a party but nobody was coming.

In the end, it has been fine. Yes, visitor numbers are way down on the early indications but overall, we have still been running above our long-term average. Not hugely above but better than expected.

Our friend and helper on the gate during a Covid festival

A Covid festival has been different to manage, especially in this country where we were late to adopt wearing masks. But I can report that the particularly loud – rabid, even – but small number of Covid deniers/anti maskers/anti vaxxers are not garden lovers. We have had 100% cooperation on scanning or signing in and keeping to our masking policy (mask at the entrance and then carry it around the garden to wear if near others). None of us likes masking but nobody wants to spread Covid in areas of this country that are still blessed to be free or largely free from it at this stage*.  The good-natured compliance has been a surprise to us but very welcome. It seems that when expectations are clear, people respect the protocols. I have found managing physical distancing challenging when taking workshops and leading tours around the garden but goodwill goes a long way.

Even we never work beneath these trees in windy times; we were not going to risk visitors’ safety.
Blocking off paths and redirecting visitors around danger areas

Wednesday – oh windy Wednesday. It is a long time since we have experienced a wind such as the one that blew relentlessly all night and day. It was not so much wind as a howling gale. At least we managed to remain open and areas of the garden are so sheltered that all that could be heard was the roaring in the treetops above. A few other gardens were forced to close entirely. For the first time, we closed one section of our garden. Walking the Avenue Gardens beneath our giant old-man pines was a significant safety risk so we redirected the routes to skirt around that area. But brave souls still turned up to visit.

Lloyd ‘vacuuming’ the lawns at 8am
Zach on the motor blower
Mark scooping the pond and sweeping the sunken garden. I don’t do selfies so there is no photo of me but I was equally busy.

On Thursday morning, the place was a mess. Nothing big came down but everything loose, small or dead certainly did. Never have I been so grateful to our small team. By 8am the next morning, we were all out doing a rapid clean-up. Zach was on the motor blower, Lloyd was vacuuming the lawns with the lawnmower, Mark was scooping all the debris out of the freshly cleaned goldfish pond and sweeping the sunken garden and I was reopening the Avenue Gardens. Soon after 9am, there was little evidence left of the storm damage and even I was impressed at the speed and efficiency with which we managed the restoration of order and garden decorum.

Zach and I have already scoped out patches of blue Iris sibirica we can raid to extend the patch in the park that is flowering so prettily

At 5pm today, we will bring in the flag and signs and close the gates. We have no intentions of opening for more than the ten days. Festival is most affirming for us. We are delighted that people come and respond to what we have here and clearly enjoy their visit. The praise is balm to our gardening souls. It will sustain us for the next 355 days. Tomorrow, we will be back out in our gardening clothes (looking more like old tramps, if I am honest), masks put aside for trips off the property only and moving more Sibirican irises down to the meadow by the stream. There is plenty to keep us busy.

Footnote: it appears our Covid-free honeymoon is over. It has been found in wastewater nearby so we now go into a holding pattern as we wait to find how much Covid we have in our area.

12 thoughts on “2021 Taranaki Garden Festival in Covid Times

  1. Debra Tanfield

    We so missed being able to visit for the first time – to see your gardens and to see your mature Magnolias. I say this as I sit here trying to choose what Magnolia might work in our suburban garden – hoping my stab in the dark choices will work. Next year, fingers crossed.

  2. Paddy Tobin

    Such a pity that Covid and storm were against you but I’m sure you had many very happy visitors also.

    I won’t mention our numbers as they would shock you!

  3. Nancy Strybosch

    Sounds like you had a great Festival even though the weather and Covid had a hand in trying to wreck it!!
    Alas here we are still in lockdown here so missed it all. Have to make do with your camera work and commentaries. Thanks so much Abby …they are great.
    Hope your area does not become the next Covid focus.
    Happy gardening and have a rest next week please!!

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Well, Nancy, if there is a link to our garden, 100% of our visitors are easily traceable! I am relieved we adopted such a vigilant position on scanning, signing and masking.

  4. Eileen O'Sullivan

    So disappointed not to be able to see your garden and the festival 2 years in a row Abbie but glad to hear the turnout was ok. It seemed a waste having tickets when others could enjoy them so I emailed the organisers offering them back but got no response.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Oh dear, that is not good, Eileen. I am sorry you did not hear back from them. I think they were drowning under the weight of cancellations that all came in during the final lead-up. I hope they contact you back this week. Maybe try again next year?

  5. robynkiltygardensnz

    I’m glad you had a good Festival – in the end! And I do agree that the positive vibes that come from visitors make all that hard work worthwhile. Thinking of you with the Covid threat hanging over you. Same in Christchurch with the 2 recent cases – although nothing more seems to have come from it yet?? Even though you deserve a break for a while, it’s gardening which keeps us sane!!

  6. Tim Dutton

    I’m glad the 10 days went well for you, in spite of COVID, and you can now relax a bit. It was great chatting to you all when we visited the garden on Tuesday and we thoroughly enjoyed our tour round the garden. The wind on Wednesday was certainly relentless: we were driving home that day and the whole way along the long straight stretch from Sanson to Levin I could only maintain a straight line by steering slightly to the left, which in turn made my right shoulder ache. Our blue sibirica is only just starting to open, so I guess we are at least 2 weeks behind you for those and yet I think our Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ are a little bigger than yours. Odd how some things are earlier and some later.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Thanks Tim. It was great to see you both here again. Yes, that wind was something else. We don’t often get winds of that magnitude. The reason your miscanthus will be larger is that all of ours were dug and divided in autumn so they are re-establishing. Cheers, Abbie

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