Tikorangi is one of the few inter-generational, private gardens in New Zealand that has been intensively gardened through the 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. 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.
Felix imported large amounts of new material in the 1950s and Mark has continued to collect interesting plants from within New Zealand since the country’s borders closed to new introductions. Added to that, both Felix and Mark have pursued extensive plant breeding interests which go well beyond the commercial releases that have made the Jury name renowned internationally. Much of this has been oriented towards raising plants that will thrive in the conditions here and add interest and plant depth to the garden.
The garden now encompasses some 10 acres (4 hectares) but has been designed to be a series of separate spaces that flow into each other rather than tightly defined, enclosed garden rooms. The different spaces reflect different 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 current homestead is the third on the property and was constructed around 1950. The first cottage was lost to fire, as was often the case with early wooden farm buildings. The second, a modest single bay villa, was relocated across the farm when Felix and Mimosa built their two storied home. At the time of construction, they were sheep farmers and New Zealand wool producers received two large wool cheques when the Korean War lifted the value of the wool clip to levels never seen before – or since.
Felix and Mimosa’s brief to the architect was that they wanted a house which would be “timeless”. The result is in fact closely modelled on an English 1920s style but with larger windows. There are strong Art Deco influences inside the house. The external construction of brick and roughcast with a concrete tile gabled roof is relatively uncommon for a New Zealand farmhouse. The house commands splendid views of the garden from every window and stands as the centrepiece.
The rimu trees planted in the 1870s by Thomas Jury provide the framework for one of the most unusual areas of the garden, the subtropical woodland known as the Rimu Walk. Originally planted as a double row with pine trees on the road side, the pines were subsequently felled inwards, on top of the rimus. This has resulted in the rimu trees developing multiple trunks and branches, rendering them valueless as a timber tree but beyond compare for giving shelter and protection. Originally transformed into a garden by Felix, this area has since been doubled in length by Mark with a repeat of the themed planting featuring many bromeliads. Ponga (tree fern) logs have been used to raise different layers and to provide soil for underplantings, free from root competition. The plantings of Hippeastrum aulicum and H. papilio feature in spring while Scadoxus puniceus and S. katherinae also thrive in this frost-free area. Vireyas, evergreen azaleas, clivias, orchids and hostas are also used in complex underplantings, creating an area that is recognised as unique in New Zealand gardens.
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 in the rockery, the bulbs are an ever-changing source of interest. The spectacular Nerine sarniensis hybrids in autumn show a remarkable colour range and are the result of many years of nerine breeding by Felix. The miniature narcissi in winter and spring also include a number of Felix’s hybrids. The bulb collection includes lachenalias, ornamental oxalis, galanthus (English snowdrops), colchicums, Stenomesson miniatum, species cyclamen, moraeas and more. There are bulbs in flower 12 months of the year.
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. In spring and summer roses and perennials provide the colour while in winter, topiaried camellias are an unusual feature. Roses do not perform well in the warm, humid and sheltered conditions here and trial and error to find suitable varieties is an ongoing exercise. The very large sculpted kurume azaleas create a backdrop to this pretty area of the garden.
In the early 1950s, the area referred to as The Park was a bare, south-facing grass paddock of about 4 acres in area. 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 including the native kauri tree (Agathis australis), Michelia doltsopa ‘Rusty’, Magnolia nitida, Metasequioa ‘Sheridan Spire’ and Schima khasiana. The Tetracentron sinensis is the largest specimen in the country, imported by Felix in the early 1950s. Magnolia ‘Lanarth’ is also a fine, large example of this cultivar which is a picture in flower in mid August. There are many deciduous magnolias, michelias, deciduous azaleas, rhododendrons, prunus and specimen conifers.
The Waiau Stream meanders its way through the park area and is planted with Louisiana and Higo irises, along with primulas.
The park also provides a cool south facing bank and it is this area where Mark indulges his love of plants which prefer colder conditions – dark coloured hellebores, meconopsis, cardiocrinum, the Chatham Island forget-me-not, arisaema, ferns and more.
For several decades the park was grazed by sheep to keep the grass down. The purchase of a Walker mower and a strimmer enabled the grass to be kept under control without stock in the tidier style of the 1980s and 1990s on. However, in recent years, we have been allowing it develop as a meadow with mown paths through the tall grasses and wildflowers that are now establishing. The focus is now on establishing sustainable eco-systems, reducing dependence on internal combustion engines and spraying for maintenance. A softer-edged, more romantic style of gardening is both better for the environment and more pleasing to our eyes.
Felix used to refer to this area as ‘down below’. Over the years, the name ‘park’ gained common usage. These days, we want to refer to as The Meadow but old habits are hard to change.
The Avenue Gardens comprise two long, formal sweeps and a further two informal, parallel paths. They stretch beneath the grandfather pines also planted by Thomas Jury around 1870. These huge Monterey pines (Pinus radiata) tower around 45 to 50 metres high. While not seen as trees of merit in New Zealand where they are grown solely for timber, the gnarled and leaning trunks provide a vertical structure to the gardens below. From time to time we lose a pine tree to age and while one would not wish to be beneath as they fall, it is surprising how little damage they cause. The side growths and debris are cleared but the long lengths of trunk are left in situ and gardened around. While Mark describes this area as cool woodland, it is only relatively so and vireya rhododendrons and orchids feature heavily in this area. Dendrobiums, cymbidiums, calanthes and pleiones are all examples of orchids which are grown here as garden plants. Arisaemas also thrive in this area and are a recent addition to the plant range – both species and Mark’s hybrids which he has bred in an attempt to get better garden plants which hold their blooms above the foliage.
Plans are afoot to get the Wild North Garden to visitor standards for when the garden reopens – probably in 2018. Formerly the paddock for Felix’s house cow, Mark started the plantings in the early 1990s after he created the ponds. There is no intention to ever groom this area of garden, as we like the wild and natural feel in contrast to the mown and edged house gardens and lawns. With nesting birds, it is akin to a small nature haven with a charm of its own, particularly in spring time with many magnolias, prunus and rhododendrons in bloom.
While Mark is an enthusiastic and dedicated vegetable gardener, providing most of our needs all year round, 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 venture is still some time away. 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, macadamia and avocado trees have been placed wherever the most suitable conditions can be found.
Tikorangi remains a private, domestic garden. 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 our place to stand. There is no other place we would rather be. In due course, the industry will go – it is a sunset industry, fossil fuels – and the family roots run very deep here.
589 Otaraoa Road, RD43, Waitara 4383, New Zealand