Author Archives: Abbie Jury

About Abbie Jury

jury.co.nz Tikorangi The Jury Garden Taranaki NZ

A sense of place

I illustrate this column with a few photos of gardens that have struck a particular chord, enduring in my memory long past the experience of visiting them. What they have in common is a strong identity and sense of place. 

 

I apologise for the fact that I can not recall the name of the creator of this very interesting house and garden landscape south of Blenheim but I understand he has since died. I have never forgotten this remarkable place

What is it that lifts a garden – a good garden – above other good gardens? I have seen that special character described with various terms over the years, including having ‘soul’ or ‘the wow factor’. Or, more pretentiously perhaps, possessing ‘genius loci’. I wrote about genius loci in a sharp column seven years ago.

Ladies and gentlemen gardeners, it now appears that the current term is that the garden has ‘a sense of place’. It is one that appeals to me more than the soul or wow factor descriptors because it is less subjective.

Gresgarth Hall near Lancaster in the UK

I came across the term twice this week, both from UK media. The first instance was a survey on the Thinking Gardens website, being carried out Janna Schreier. Searching for a more rigorous measure than the loose use of the descriptor ‘soul’, she defined ‘a sense of place’ as being one ‘with a distinctive character which fosters emotional engagement’. Her survey then listed possible attributes of that and asked the participant to rank each on a five-point scale. These were:

  • Uniqueness
  • Strong identity
  • Fit with surroundings
  • Thought provoking
  • Harmonious design
  • Brings back memories
  • Personal to the owner.

I would point you to the survey but it finished yesterday. In a subsequent exchange of emails, I commented that plantsmanship was missing from that list but was critical for us here when it came to top-level appreciation of a garden. I rank plantsmanship* as being of equal importance to harmonious design. But from that list, I probably ranked strong identity, personal to the owner and maybe uniqueness as most important. Though uniqueness is very hard to define – pretty much every gardener I have ever met who rates themselves thinks their own garden is both unique and original, though too few are. In my opinion.

Grahame Dawson’s small, urban, industrial chic garden in Auckland challenged my preconceived notion that such plots of land must, by definition lack genius loci

Two days later I saw a tweet from Dan Pearson*, the UK landscaper for whom I carry a bit of fan-girl torch.

Dan Pearson @thedanpearson 

Another inspiring day talking gardens with Troy at Sissinghurst. Sure progress with their project to key the gardens sense of place.

Could anywhere have a stronger sense of place than New Plymouth cemetery?

Aha! I thought. A sense of place is it, then. And I like that term. It is much more encompassing than just ‘genius loci’. Oddly, we have our own word in New Zealand. Our country is gently taking on more Maori words into our language, particularly when there is no word for word translation that captures the complexity of the Maori concept. The word is tūrangawaewae, about which Te Ara, the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand says:

“Tūrangawaewae is one of the most well-known and powerful Māori concepts. Literally tūranga (standing place), waewae (feet), it is often translated as ‘a place to stand’. Tūrangawaewae are places where we feel especially empowered and connected. They are our foundation, our place in the world, our home.”

I recently described our garden as ‘our place to stand’. Must have been a bit prescient there? Though a “place to stand” is more about the personal experience of the garden-maker than the “sense of place” which is the experience of the fortunate garden visitor. Certainly there is something special that sets apart some gardens over others, that makes a few gardens particularly memorable. I am happy to consider that above design, context, plant content and maintenance, that special quality that sets them apart is indeed that they have a clear sense of place.

I have not often seen that special quality of a sense of place in public gardens but the Oudolf borders at Wisley are a notable exception

Footnotes:

*I continue to stick with Mark’s off the cuff definition of plantsmanship, even while I hesitate over the gender reference in the word: “The ability to use different plants in creative ways in the right environment and to feature unusual plants.”

*I subscribe to Dan Pearson’s weekly blog – Dig Delve. It is a gentle insight into plants and the very personal garden he is building with his partner, Huw Morgan.   There is no big-noting, self-promotion or even that faux modesty that is now favoured by many writers. Rather, it is quiet and modest, an insight into creating a garden from scratch that focuses on eco-systems, sustainability and soft-edged naturalism. I find it most refreshing and calming in this day and age when so much of gardening appears to be about whizzy-bang instant results to impress.

I had a special affection for Te Popo garden when it was in the hands of Lorri and Bruce Ellis and I now see that response as inextricably tied up with that strong sense of place that they created.

Te Popo again in Central Taranaki

Bury Court in the UK – much more than just beautiful buildings and an early Oudolf garden. A garden I wish to return to soon.

Wildside in Devon – a very strong sense of place is one of the defining features

 

 

A touch of Tikorangi around the world

We are generally accustomed to seeing Jury plants growing in different parts of the world, though sometimes it generates a special thrill. A UK friend sent this photo of Magnolia Felix Jury in bloom at The Garden House in Devon last week. We had seen this particular tree growing strongly several years ago but it was summer, so in leaf, not bloom.

It takes time for a magnolia to prove itself, particularly across a range of different climates. Magnolia Vulcan has never really performed in cooler climates because it loses its flower size and blooms more in muddy-purple tones than in the deep claret-red that sets it apart here. There is always apprehension as to how other deeper coloured cultivars will perform in much harder conditions than we have. Early blooms on ‘Felix Jury’ in the chilliest climes of Northern Europe show that it retains its flower form and remarkable size, but the colour can bleach out – albeit to prettier shades than the muddy ‘Vulcan’. Whether that colour will deepen as the plants mature (which is what happened here over a period of years) remains to be seen.

This made it a special delight to be sent the photo of The Garden House specimen, showing good colour, good size and the correct flower form.

Even I found it touching to see Mark’s delight at the specimen of Magnolia Felix Jury growing a few doors up from where our daughter lives in Canberra. He felt it was like having a touch of Tikorangi in her street. Canberra is not exactly Magnolia Central so if ‘Felix Jury’ blooms as well there as at The Garden House, it will be a showstopper. The house owners were a tad surprised when I knocked on their door to ask if I could take photos and explained why. They also had Mark’s Fairy Magnolia Blush growing to the immediate left of the umbrella. Nothing illustrates the stark difference in climate to here more than an astroturf lawn.

Up the ladder

Just one view of Mark’s pruning efforts this week

In a garden with many trees, ladders are a part of our life. While our son, Theo, and I have been down in the park clearing the ponds and the stream of invasive weeds (lots of heavy raking), Mark has been up the top doing a round of summer pruning. Particularly cherry trees which need to be pruned right now, since summer is already morphing into autumn. You can see the extension ladder up Prunus Pearly Shadows to the right of the photo.

I am always in awe of how much material Mark can remove when pruning, without it showing except to the most discerning eye. This is a high level and under-appreciated skill though he does say it takes him a great deal of time looking before he ever makes the cuts. And he is forever up and down the ladders to look again from all angles and locations. For you cannot glue a branch back on if you get it wrong and find that you have just destroyed the shape of the tree by taking the wrong piece off.

Mark, being an agile and wiry man with very good balance, has given me the most alarming photos of how not to use ladders. Do not try this at home. He would like a disclaimer added that he is not stupid. He only does this with the ladder in a stable position and with something firm to hand that he can grab should anything go awry. Never with the chainsaw. He is extremely mindful of safety and caution with the chainsaw when mistakes can be fatal.

Because ladders play such a role in our lives, we were pretty interested in this permanent ladder structure seen attached to a tree in a tourist park in Jinghong, near China’s southern border. Presumably this tree is climbed regularly to warrant the construction of a ladder, although the reason why was not clear to us at the time. It can’t be that good for the long term health of the tree to have the wooden pegs bored into its trunk but at least they are not nails.

Who needs ladders, anyway? A friend shared this link via Facebook this week – how a Vietnamese tactical police unit climbs the outside of buildings with just a length of bamboo. No, it does not involve pole vaulting. We were pretty impressed, I tell you, and it has given Mark a new range of jokes about how we can dispense with ladders here and follow their lead. Who needs aluminium ladders when we have a wonderful resource of bamboo growing here? It would solve the problem of the oft-asked question here of where the ladders are when one of us need one and there are none in the shed.

On dry land – Christmas in Canberra

 

We spent Christmas in Canberra. Why Canberra, you may wonder. Or you may not. We are one of those New Zealand families where all three of our children have headed off into the merry blue yonder and the daughter with our first and only grandchild lives there.

For those not in the know, Canberra in winter is very much colder than anything we ever get in Taranaki, but a dry cold. Canberra in summer is very much hotter, but a dry heat. I don’t think we had a daytime temperature that was below 30C on this visit and it only dropped a few degrees at night. It doesn’t make gardening easy, although roses are happier there and they can do corker lavender and other Mediterranean plants, along with their own natives.

Helichrysum growing as a wildflower

Adapting to growing a different range of plants and gardening in different ways is one aspect – though their conditions are just a more extreme version of Central Otago, parts of Canterbury and Hawkes Bay. The wildlife is more of a worry.We were staying in a house at the base of Mount Ainslie, a large nature park literally 15 minutes walk from the centre of the city. As she dropped us off, daughter commented that we should take care on the back terrace “because this is Redback Central”. That struck terror in us, especially as I recalled her saying previously that cane furniture is not suitable for Canberra because it was altogether too accommodating to redback spiders. We carefully brushed down the underside of the outdoor furniture before the seating of our posteriors thereon. We weren’t keen on the ants either, though the scarily large ants were harmless sugar ants. Or so we were told. It was the small ants that were the bite-y ones.

Snakes are also common in this inland area and we were a bit neurotic about the ornamental pond in overgrown grass beside the outdoor terrace. Snakes are apparently attracted to water in the dry summer months. Kangaroos graze on the adjacent reserve and the presence of fresh kanga poop on the driveways and paths each morning indicate they extend to the road verges at night. As there is a city ordinance that bans most front fences (though hedges are acceptable), this must be a challenge for front gardens. The abundant rabbit and possum population did not appear as damaging to gardens as we would expect here, though daughter was bitterly disappointed when a possum (a protected species in the homeland) took out her entire apricot crop in one night.

It was protection from the abundant and intrusive birdlife that saw the next door garden shrouded in white netting. The owners, Croatian migrants who escaped then-Yugoslavia in the 1960s for a better life in free Australia, were keen food producers growing many fruits and vegetables. It was an interesting visual effect, the shrouding of the garden, though you wouldn’t be able to expect a fruit crop in our humid conditions with the tree foliage compressed into tight domes.

Streetscapes of Canberra

Mark’s little bouquet of wildflowers, gathered by a river

It wasn’t all hostile and locals presumably learn the  routine precautions that are necessary to protect their physical safety while gardening. We loved the dry grasslands and the wild flowers. The shimmering golden light is so very different to the bright, clear light we get at home in our landscape of verdant green and bright blue sky. Being able to take our baby grandson for his first river swims without worrying at all about water quality was a poignant experience for us as New Zealanders of this new millennium. The streetscapes of Canberra are all dominated by wide avenues, even in the suburbs, lined with very large trees. There was no evidence of clamouring locals wanting to take chainsaws to these specimens. Instead, everyone sought out the welcome shade to make walking in the heat of the day bearable.

Golden light

More golden light

In terms of domestic gardening, those who were irrigating heavily to enable a style of gardening imported from wetter climates were very obvious. This looks increasingly irresponsible in today’s world. Astro Turf seemed an option for some who wanted the effect of green lawns without the stigma of irrigation. We bought our daughter a book on American prairie gardens a few years ago and she is delighted with the effect of her little patch of perennials and grasses and waxes most enthusiastically about the feather reed grass – Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’’. This style of gardening has very low water requirements so is well suited to her conditions.

We flew home to our own garden which, even though we know it so well, looked unusually lush, well-furnished and, above all, green as green. We’d rather garden here than in a harsher climate and we have much to be grateful for in this country when it comes to the absence of poisonous fauna and large kangaroos.

First published in the March 2017 New Zealand Gardener and reprinted here with their permission. 

Poignancy – taking our baby grandson swimming in the Canberra rivers when this is no longer an option in too many of New Zealand’s polluted rivers

“It’s very personal”

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I haven’t posted about the petrochemical development all around us for some time. It is not that it has gone away. No sirree, not at all. It became a situation where I had to change my personal coping strategies.  Being asked to contribute a piece of writing for the ‘Frack Off’ exhibition that opened yesterday was a poignant experience, focusing my thoughts on what has happened in the area I call home and the extent of the personal impact. Which is why I titled this piece:

It’s very personal 

I live in a place more beautiful than I ever dreamed possible. It is also a place that is now in the evacuation zones for two separate well sites and not so far from another dozen sites on this side of the river. Fracking and petrochemical development is very personal for me. I live with it day and night. Every day and every night.

From 2012 to 2014, I worked with others campaigning for better management of rampant petrochemical development, fighting to save what remains of pre-industrial Tikorangi, the area where I live. It nearly broke me.

My adult daughter sent me an iPod so I could listen to music and shut out the environmental noise when outdoors, as I am most days. How ironic that one of my favourite tracks was the original version of ‘Ring of Fire’ at a time when we often had only one quadrant of the night sky that was not lit up by gas flares.

Oddly, it was a single word – solastalgia* – that enabled me to refocus my life and to learn how to live with the changes beyond our garden boundary. Naming a condition is a remarkably powerful tool and the discovery of solastalgia made me realise I was not over-reacting or going mad. I was in grief, desolated even.

I circled the wagons and looked inwards. Moving is not an option for us. The family roots go very deep here, back to 1870. Quite simply, this is our place to stand.

Petrochem is a sunset industry exploiting a finite resource. I hope I live long enough to see the day the companies exit Tikorangi. But if I am not alive, others will be resident in this place where I currently live. They will see the return of dark nights, unlit by the burning of gas flares and high intensity site lighting. They will listen to the return of silence – the absence of huge volumes of heavy transport, generators priming up to frack, the underlying roar of the gas flare, the sound of a drilling rig, the frequent helicopters and all the clamour that accompanies the fossil fuel industry.

Beyond the boundaries of our property, Tikorangi has changed forever, despite our efforts from 2012. The raising and strengthening of the roads for heavy transport has removed any vestige of usable road verge. The many installations above ground may be removed – the well sites and the pumping stations with their hostile security fencing, maybe even the high-tension pylons and lines. But the network of pipelines below ground, crisscrossing almost every local road and at times running the length of the road beneath the seal, will presumably remain.

None of us can know the long term impact of frequent fracking and deep well reinjection. Will the contaminants find their way closer to the surface? We have to hope that the companies and regulators are correct when they claim it is safe but this is recent technology and the bottom line is that nobody knows.  

In many ways my world has grown smaller. I used to look beyond those circled wagons to the wider community. I learned that in order to survive, I had to narrow my focus. At least this little area where I stand, ringed by trees, can endure.  

Solastalgia It is the ‘lived experience’ of negative environmental change. It is the homesickness you have when you are still at home. It is that feeling you have when your sense of place is under attack.” (Glenn Albrecht, philosopher).

Our Tikorangi corner of the exhibition

Our Tikorangi corner of the exhibition

I feel honoured to have been invited to contribute to this exhibition – awed even, to be in the company of such New Zealand literary luminaries as Elizabeth Smither and David Hill, let alone the visual artists. But our Tikorangi corner was haunting for me, for we are on the front line.

What can I say? That is our tap water to the left.

What can I say? That is our tap water to the left.

Fiona Clark is both a good friend and a neighbour. She is best known for her photography and has an exhibition opening later in April with American artist, Martha Rosler, at Raven Row in London. For ‘Frack Off’ she chose to go with an installation rather then photography and video.

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I add Fiona’s words, for those who wish to understand the significance of her display cases.

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Oh the irony, the irony, to walk out of the Frack Off exhibition and there, all along the main street of New Plymouth are flags and banners welcoming the upcoming petroleum conference. img_4232

Not MY New Plymouth. That is all I can say.

‘Frack Off’ has been curated by Graham Kirk whose own work is the Muppet poster. The exhibition is open until March 26 at the J D Reid Gallery at 33a Devon Street West which is down the bottom of the dip where the Huatoki Stream is piped beneath the the city, near the intersection with Brougham Street. 

From the air – then and now

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When we moved in to the family home after the death of Mark’s father in 1997, there were a number of surprises. Some were more welcome than others but the two large format, aerial photos were particularly interesting. As far as we can make out, they must date back to around 1953, soon after the house was built and as Felix and Mimosa were at the height of activity, laying out the garden. The concrete in front of the house is still very new and white, the rockery has been constructed and some of low, stone walls are in place. It does not appear as if the sunken garden has been built yet and nothing has happened behind the house.

Running across the middle of the photograph, the avenue of rimu trees – one of our most outstanding features now – is still quite small and some of the much faster growing Pinus radiata trees are still standing at the right hand end of the rimus. Both the rimus and the pines dated back to the first Jury who moved onto the land in the early 1870s. By that date, the original tawa bush had already been cleared in this area.

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Looking down from above is not a view we see often but last week we had that opportunity.

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In the intervening years, the driveway has been relocated, additional buildings and a swimming pool have been added – and a whole lot more planting, although most of the original trees remain. The road runs left to right through the centre of this photo but is now screened by trees.

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This second photograph was probably of more interest to us than it ever was to Mark’s parents, Felix and Mimosa, because we bought the property in the foreground in 1994 – giving us both sides of the road. The house is shown centre right with the much smaller rimu trees running left to right and a large cluster of puriri trees to the right of the house. Many of these we had to fell because they were in such poor condition in the late 1990s.  No planting has yet taken place in the area we refer to as the park with one notable exception – the significant kauri tree which was the first plant Felix put in.

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And a similar view from last week. The little church on the left belongs to the neighbour’s but the heavily planted areas on both sides of the road are mostly ours. Mark always regrets that a previous owner of the foreground property (the one we bought in 1994) felt the need to take out all the land contours on the lower paddocks that border the road. Mark would have preferred to work with the better drainage and more interesting  contours that were original.

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What struck both of us from the air, was just how tree-d the place now looks. This was a surprise to us because we work hard to keep a sense of openness at ground level so the effect in the garden is more park than woodland.

All we need now is a friendly person with a drone so we can get the late winter, early spring photos which show the deciduous magnolias and the michelias in full bloom. We have many of both, in the gardens on the right hand side of the photo and in all the wind breaks and plantings on the more utility left hand side of the road. In the meantime, we will continue to beaver away at ground level.

A boy and his tent

img_4071It was one of those moments of parental delight to put up the little tent on the lawn recently. I needed to check that it was still complete. Our boy was due back in the country and he needed a tent for a music festival in Auckland last weekend, before he and his partner were to travel southwards home. It was exciting enough to be seeing them after a two-and-a-half-year break while they have been living in Amsterdam but that little tent brought back so many memories.

When our children were young, we used to take them camping every summer, travelling around different parts of the country. While we used a one-roomed family tent, small dome tents also featured. We would often pitch the little tent on the lawn outside our bedroom window at home so the kids could play in it and bravely sleep outdoors if they wished. Our boy took it to new levels.

Reluctant to concede the family camping holiday was over one year, he pitched the tent himself on the lawn and moved out to it for a couple of weeks. The next year, he spent longer in the tent and each subsequent year, tent-time stretched further. Seven months, I think was the record. He was not allowed to pitch it until the annual garden festival was over – it was our busiest garden visitor week of the year – so it would go up the first week in November. By the time he was about 11, he was out in that tent through until the autumn rains set in – somewhere around May.

Don’t be thinking his bedroom was awful or even that he had to share it with a sibling. There was nothing wrong with his room in the house. He just liked sleeping outside. He would have his evening drink of Milo (a malted chocolate drink that is a family ritual here), bedtime stories on the sofa, brush his teeth and head out the door with his torch. In the morning, I would open the back door and call to him that it was time to get up for school.

Every four days or so, he was expected to move the tent so the grass beneath it did not die. I would wash his sleeping bag every few weeks and make sure that there was a supply of batteries for his torch. It was his summer dwelling.

From time to time we had to buy a new little dome tent. They are not designed for constant use and will degrade over time in the sun. But for a cheap product, they seemed to last remarkably well and brought him great delight. And despite being stored in the back shed for the intervening years, the last one was still water tight and complete for the festival last weekend.

Our children are adults now and all three of them live overseas so it becomes even more special when one of them comes home for a visit and a lifetime of memories flood back.

img_4065On the bright side, given that Theo and his partner departed from a Northern European winter under two weeks ago, our miserable summer perked up no end for them this week. They have spent much time in the pool and even I took my first swim of the summer on February 20 (we usually start swimming in December). Summer may be very late this year and will be extremely short as a result. The entire garlic crop succumbed to rust and the rock melon and water melon crops have failed to mature in the cooler, wet weather. But a week of warm, sunny, swimming weather gives a lift to the spirits.