Tag Archives: Auckland gardens

Saving my best for last – Auckland Heroic gardens part 2.

We visited a Mellons Bay garden which had a location and view to die for. It is still very much in development and the owners are making the most of creating a garden space that maximises its remarkable location. It was there that I encountered a grass I had not seen before.

Vetiver grass, not miscanthus

At first I thought it must be a mass planting of miscanthus but no, it is vetiver grass from India, botanically Chrysopogon zizanioides. I learned this from my friend and tour host for the day, the effervescent garden designer, Tony Murrell. Vetiver is apparently being widely promoted in Auckland for its erosion control capability. I looked it up. It puts its roots down four metres in the first year alone and is hardy to drought, prolonged flooding, fire, some frost and grazing. The roots can go down as far as six metres. By this stage, my eyebrows were pretty much reaching my hairline but it is apparently sterile and non-invasive so it doesn’t spread. And if you change your mind about it, you can use herbicides on it, though I can’t imagine digging it out without heavy machinery.

Personally, I wouldn’t be rushing to plant something that grows quite so strongly but we don’t suffer from erosion or land that slips so we don’t need something quite as drastic. If you prefer to use native plants, there are many references on-line that will give various options, such as here.

The view from the deck in city suburbia

From there, it was to see four smaller, city gardens. I had seen all of them before but not for several years. When you live in a densely populated city, sometimes with long thin sections that are not a great deal wider than your house, this sort of vista is pretty amazing. It is in Glendowie and the owners of the two open gardens had the wisdom to buy properties that looked outwards to reserve so there is a seamless visual flow. Added to that, the row of houses have maximised what was once more or less wasteland that runs along the base of the properties. You wouldn’t want to go swimming or paddling in this water (I am guessing most of it is stormwater, supplemented by springs), but it is a delightful, sheltered common space at the end of the gardens.

The light was too bright and the shadows too deep to do justice to this cluster of bromeliads but I particularly noted it because it was a counterpoint to the vibrant and bright use of bromeliads mentioned in the first post of these two. This was restrained and understated but maybe more charming for that.

From there it was to a garden I have written about before – industrial chic I called it then and I did not change my mind on a second visit. Quirky, detailed and full of energy. I don’t want to own it but it makes me laugh. It is also on the market, should you feel such admiration that you want to own it. Although it is such a personal creation that the future owners may feel imposter’s syndrome until they make it their own. I would have taken more photos, but there wasn’t much room to move with so many people and rather a lot of accoutrements.

The box-shaped plant in the centre of the photo is the purple loropetalum.

Finally a gem of a garden, to which I returned as a private visitor the next day so I could have a closer look with the owners, Geoffrey Marshall and John Hayward (who also happen to be the Heroic Festival organisers). They are friends who will read this, so I don’t want to seem as if I am fawning, but if my lot in life was to be a tiny town section, this would be my personal choice. Despite its small size, good architectural design has given it total privacy and a good garden design has given it a sense of containment without being cramped. The level of refinement and detail is exquisite. The foliage is layer upon layer of detail without looking cluttered and the level of plant interest is extremely high. Wherever I looked, there was more fine detail to be uncovered with just the right amount of exotica. It takes a skilled eye and sure hand to be able to achieve that level of detail without it looking confused.

It seems a good place to finish my weekend of looking at the gardens of Auckland.

 

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