Tikorangi is one of the few inter-generational, private gardens in New Zealand that has been intensively gardened through seven decades. Conceived in the English landscape style of the first half of the twentieth century, it is an ongoing project – a domestic garden that continues to change and develop with the times. While the design has a debt to English gardening, the plant material spans the world, with particular emphasis on the sub tropics to warm temperate climes.
The garden now encompasses some 10 acres (4 hectares) but has been designed as a series of separate spaces that flow into each other rather than tightly defined, enclosed garden rooms. The different spaces reflect differing microclimates which lend themselves to growing a wide range of plant material. Mark has been known to observe that there are far too many interesting plants in the world to want to mass plant a single variety and the emphasis continues to be on sustainable matrix planting.
The old gardens
The original gardens were planned, constructed and planted by Felix and Mimosa in the 1950s. The Rimu Avenue remains one of the most distinctive features and is recognised as unique. Over the years, the rimu trees that form the backbone have doubled in size and Mark has extended the area of the walk three-fold while remaining true to his father’s original vision. That is of a subtropical woodland with informal plantings of a wide range of shade plants. Bromeliads, clivias, palms, Hippeastrum aulicum and H. papilio, ferns , Scadoxus puniceus, Crinum moorei, orchids, palms, schefflera and many other plants have been used in a complex but largely self-maintaining scheme.
The rockery immediately in front of the house was one of the first areas developed by Felix and Mimosa. Described by a visiting garden historian as a fine example of a 1950s rock garden, the raised beds and small compartments lend themselves to housing some of the extensive bulb collection. While permanent plants such as dwarf conifers and cycads act as features, the bulbs are an ever-changing source of interest. There is something in flower every week of the year but the two main seasons are late winter and spring (dwarf narcissi, galanthus, lachenalias, Moraea villosa, Stenomessom miniatum and more) and autumn. In that season, the Nerine sarniensis hybrids and carpets of Cyclamen hederafolium are particularly colourful.
The sunken garden area to the west of the house is a charming feature with extensive stonework, built by Felix in the early 1950s. He took his inspiration from English books of the time – Lutyens and post-Lutyens in the arts and crafts style. A stone millwheel makes an attractive table while large, sculpted Kurume azaleas create a backdrop. The plantings in this area have changed over the years but the stone and brick landscaping are original. This started as Mimosa’s pretty rose garden, accommodating her collection of heritage varieties, but as surrounding trees grew, the micro climate changed and the roses stopped thriving. The latest work in this area has emphasized the structure and form with specimens of clipped camellias and dwarf maples. In the early 1950s, the area referred to as The Park was a bare, south-facing grass paddock. Felix planted it in the style espoused by the Rhododendron Association of the day with specimen trees and shrubs, particularly rhododendrons, all standing in splendid isolation in their own space. In the 65 years since that time, a number of trees have become notable specimens. Felix ran a small flock of sheep in the park to keep the grass trimmed. In time, Mark developed the park further, returning the stream to its original winding path, controlling the frequent floods, making bridges and extending the overall plantings. The decision to control grass growth by extensive mowing and the use of a strimmer enabled him to plant herbaceous material. More recently, the decision was made to stop routine use of mowing, strimming and spraying, allowing the park to develop into a managed meadow with mown paths for access. The focus is now on establishing sustainable eco-systems and Mark and Abbie enjoy the softer-edged, more romantic style.
The newer and newest gardens
One of Mark’s early projects was to develop his father’s camellia grove into what is now called The Avenue Gardens. Two formal long sweeps and a further three informal, parallel paths stretch beneath the huge Monterey pines (Pinus radiata) planted by Thomas Jury around 1870. While Mark describes this area as cool woodland, it is only relatively so. Vireya rhododendrons, orchids (dendrobiums, cymbidiums, calanthes and pleiones), arisaemas and scadoxus, particularly S. multiflorus ssp katherinae, all feature in this area in complex mixed plantings. In the early 1990s, Mark started developing his father’s former house cow paddock into the area now referred to as the Wild North Garden. This area has not yet been developed to the point where it is open to the public but it has a charm of its own in its cultivated wildness with ponds, nesting birds, a grove of giant bamboo (but no panda bears) and many spring flowering trees.
Most recently, the Summer Gardens have been created over the last five years in a flat, sunny area that was formerly part of the plant nursery. With the focus firmly on sunny perennials, these gardens are a major new development where each of the five areas is different to the next. The twin borders were planted in 2017. The caterpillar garden and lily border were planted in 2018. The large central area referred to as The Court Garden (sometimes ‘the grass garden’) was planted in 2019. The Iolanthe Garden was redeveloped in 2020 as an experiment in an informal, perennial meadow.
While Mark is an enthusiastic and dedicated vegetable gardener, these are predominantly utility areas hidden from public view. He dreams of a model vegetable garden and orchard with a passive solar-heated glasshouse but this is yet to be realised. Fruit trees have been incorporated in the house gardens – particularly citrus and apples, largely varieties that were available in the 1950s and 60s when Felix and Mimosa were planting. More adventurous fruiting trees, including bananas, sapote, macadamias and avocado trees, have been placed wherever the most suitable conditions can be found.
Tikorangi remains a private, domestic garden, managed by Mark and Abbie with one longstanding staff member, Lloyd. While the future is unknown and the wider Tikorangi district is under siege from the petrochemical industry because of gas reserves deep beneath the ground, this is their place to stand. There is no other place they would rather be. In due course, the industry will go – fossil fuels are a sunset industry – and the family roots run very deep.
589 Otaraoa Road, RD43, Waitara 4383, New Zealand