Tag Archives: garden features

In partnership with Nature

Mark counted more than sixty rings in the cut trunk so the abies must have been planted around 1960

The clean-up from Cyclone Dovi is continuing here at a cracking pace. Zach started on the large, fallen abies in the park and has almost finished it. We were relieved to find that damage to the bridge beneath is minimal. A few more centimetres to one side and it could have wiped out most of the bridge. This would have been a problem for us, had it twisted the metal chassis beneath the bridge timbers.

Wisteria Blue Sapphire on the bridge has been hammered but will recover, the azalea has been extensively damaged but should also recover and Magnolia Lotus on the right lost some branches as the abies fell but the bridge just had railings broken.

Because it is right at the bottom of the park, dealing with the debris is an issue. Mark was not interested in the timber for firewood. We burned the Abies procera we dropped a few years ago but it proved to be a very light timber and we have better options. Access issues mean it isn’t practical to offer the wood to people who are less picky about their firewood and we don’t want to haul the whole lot out with our baby tractor, so creativity is required.

We debated about hiring an industrial-grade mulcher to deal with all the branches and foliage but decided in the end to burn it nearby. It leaves a dead patch in the grass but that can be resown and will disappear in a year or so. It is less work than having to disperse a mountain of wood chip in an area where we don’t need mulch.

But what to do with the lengths of trunk that can’t be left where the tree fell across the stream?

I like the shape of this fallen pine tree that perched itself up on its side branches like some freeform crocodile or giant lizard. It is decaying so it will drop at some point but that is fine.

We re-use a lot of fallen material here. Suitable thinner lengths of branches are sometimes used to edge garden beds and borders where appropriate. Where we can, we clean up fallen trees, reducing them just to the main trunk and then garden around them. Over time, they rot down and start to disintegrate but that is part of the long-term cycle.

This was a substantial length of pine tree that fell and then rolled into a most convenient position on the edge of a path.

Where this is not an option, we will cut the trunks to manageable lengths, take out what we want for firewood and place the rest. Other gardens may have sculptures and installations that are clearly made by human hands; we have casual installations of wood, sometimes as stumperies and sometimes just as low-key placements.

Defining the path with pine tree sections

We have already placed the pine lengths from the Avenue Gardens that were surplus to firewood replacements. At least some of the abies is destined for another use – giving height and structure to a rather casual area of planting. This is an area that has no name yet, where the Avenue Gardens transition down the hill to the park – I wrote about it once on blurring the transition from well-tended gardens to more laissez-faire outer reaches. We may have to come up with some shorthand name rather than referring to it as ‘the bit beside the steps coming down from the Avenue Gardens to the Mangletia insignis”.

Stacking lengths of abies to use in a different area

This is Mark’s vision. Neither Zach nor I can grasp yet what he has in mind, although Zach has carted abies lengths to this area in preparation. Zach and I are pretty good on placing individual bits as punctuation marks in the garden but not on creating entire structures. We will both watch and learn as it happens. I have every confidence in Mark’s skills in this endeavour

Felix used ponga logs and stumps to create his section of what we now call the Rimu Avenue

Our feature Rimu Avenue is essentially a stumpery, created as a pragmatic solution to enable plants to grow in dry shade where the enormous trees above are sucking all the goodness and moisture from the ground beneath. They are a naturalistic, raised bed solution. The oldest section was created in the 1950s by Mark’s dad, Felix and he used ponga logs and stumps (NZ tree ferns, for overseas readers). These are remarkably durable – still serving their purpose after 70 years.

Mark used whatever timber he had to hand when he doubled the length of the Rimu Avenue to give both structure and raised beds

When Mark doubled the length of the Rimu Avenue 20 years ago, he was disinclined to go out to the bush to harvest ponga so he used what we had to hand – a bit of ponga but mostly lengths of trees that have fallen here.

A simple feature. It will only last a few years because it is just a section of banglow palm trunk but it will decay gracefully

Somewhat unintentionally, our labour saving strategies are creating a theme throughout the entire garden – the re-use of fallen timber to create focal points, casual structure and different environments for plants as well as stowing lengths of fallen or felled trees in a way we find aesthetically and environmentally pleasing. It has been happening here for years. Cyclone Dovi has just accelerated it.

It all decays over time but don’t we all?

I see the date on this photo is 2004, probably very soon after Mark asked Lloyd to bury the upturned plum tree stumps to make a natural feature
In 2022 – today in fact – those stumps are getting ever smaller and less of a feature but that is part of Nature doing what Nature does.

Lavender and cricket

368369Maybe it was our national cricket team playing in Yorkshire that brought this scene back to mind. I photographed it at Yorkshire Lavender near Terrington, about this time last year. I was greatly charmed at the time. It was set on top of a small hill with a big sky and big vistas. I admit I like cricket – well, I like it when our team is winning and they did win the test match a few weeks ago – but it was the large scale whimsy that I appreciated with this scene.

This particular installation was a memorial but on theme

This particular installation was a memorial but on theme

In terms of garden decoration, I wished they had stopped the pastel blue with the cricket team. There was rather a lot of it repeated throughout other areas – out of the “but wait there is more” school of garden features. The use of bridges that are entirely unnecessary and gates with no purpose are by no means limited to this garden, but they were certainly here in force, suggesting that the owners saw the repetition of blue features as a unifying device through the garden. To my eyes, this sort of device ends up dominating, bordering on clutter, when there was quite sufficient charm to carry the scene without their addition.
360I like lavender. I really enjoy the open fields of lavender which are so evocative of a different climate. It is not a plant for our fertile conditions with high humidity and high rainfall all year round. I have just one plant left and it lurches on from year to year, clutching at the remnants of its life. I liked the way Yorkshire Lavender didn’t just keep to lavender but were extending into the New Perennial style as well with their mixed plantings and the mandatory grasses.

 Cirsium rivulare 'Atropurpureum' or plume thistle, I think.

Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum’ or plume thistle, I think.

I am quite grateful that the lavender fragrance is no longer associated solely with genteel old ladies, lace edged hankies and net curtains. Shall we just leave 4711 cologne with that demographic? We also enjoy the added experience of good tearooms in gardens in the UK. This country lacks sufficient population to make these economically viable in most cases but the tearooms at Yorkshire Lavender were both charming and … very lavender. The shortbread, I recall, was particularly tasty and on trend with the aromatic theme.

When less may be more – restraint with focal points

We lack a cricket pavilion in our garden. To build one, even as attractive as this one, would look sadly out of place

We lack a cricket pavilion in our garden. To build one, even as attractive as this one, would look sadly out of place

I have been pondering focal points and garden structures. This was partly initiated by an email from an overseas friend who, while praising our garden, was lamenting the lack of “features”. By features, he meant man-made features. He mentioned such things as tempietto, summer houses, maybe even ruins in the William Kent style of Palladian garden architecture. I laughed. I do not think he has quite got to grips with the differences in New Zealand. This is a man, after all, who has a splendid garden full of substantial features including his very own cricket pavilion which was designed to be used for the annual village cricket match.

We lack an amenable village nearby. Such a pavilion might look a tad pretentious in our situation. And we have always subscribed to the view that it is better to have nothing than to have a cheap imitation. I have yet to see a New Zealand garden that imports classical European or indeed Asian antiquity-inspired features and settles them well into our New World gardens. Summer houses built out of tanalised timber – which are commonly favoured here – have never appealed to us. Painting them white does not necessarily improve them, either.

The tanalised pine gazebo is much favoured in New Zealand gardens, often as a focal point

The tanalised pine gazebo is much favoured in New Zealand gardens, often as a focal point

I have seen a fair few around the country in my time, and often situated where they are to be a focal point, a feature, rather than to be used as an outdoor entertaining area. I guess what it comes down to is that we have different spending priorities in the garden. A well designed garden room that is both functional and architecturally attractive would be nice to have but would cost a great deal more than a kitset, octagonal gazebo.

Maybe we are just too ingrained with functionalism because we would place a garden room in an area that is most convenient and attractive for use, rather than where it would serve primarily as a visual focal point. I find little gazebos marooned forever as an unused, ornamental point of interest a bit sad, really.

An outdoor seating area marooned forever as a focal point more than a social centre

An outdoor seating area marooned forever as a focal point more than a social centre

The same philosophy applies to seats, in my book. Seats are to be sat upon and therefore situated in a position where there is a reason to sit rather than to be cast in the role of focal point. But I am a lone voice in the wilderness on this topic. A brightly painted chair is often forced into fulfilling this function.

If you go back to basics, the purpose of a focal point is to focus the eye of the viewer. It may be to serve as a punctuation point to end a view, or it may be to channel the eye towards a desired feature, maybe a vista or a borrowed view if you are lucky enough to have one. It creates an illusion of depth but if you already have depth, you may not need one at all. If you clutter the place up with endless focal points (a common mistake in small gardens), it becomes bric-a-brac rather than a statement. Less is more. And remember that the focal point is what attracts attention, often to the detriment of the areas of garden that lead to that point.

Miscanthus and alliums gave a subtle end point to a long walk at Gresgarth

Miscanthus and alliums gave a subtle end point to a long walk at Gresgarth

Because we have always leaned more to plants than structure, we prefer the judicious use of plants as focal points. It is a softer, more naturalistic approach which does not immediately claim centre stage. We had watched a television interview with Lady Arabella Lennox-Boyd, one of Britain’s foremost gardeners and garden designers. She was commenting about needing to terminate her herbaceous borders in some way, to create a visual end-stop. She would have liked water but that wasn’t possible and she didn’t want the cliché of a statue. Instead she decided to use miscanthus grass which, she commented, looked somewhat like water.

We remembered her comments when we visited her personal garden at Gresgarth. There was the miscanthus bed, with the globes of giant allium seedheads rising above and giant cardoons flanking either side.

It wasn’t a strong visual statement. It didn’t shout “look at me! Look at me!” It provided a gentle endpoint to what was a complex and highly detailed walk along battlemented herbaceous borders with interludes of detailed mosaic paving – an exercise in subtle understatement. We really liked the effect.

Similarly, a clipped or shaped plant can give a point of interest which keeps harmony with the surroundings while giving an accent point. Because we have a garden richly endowed with large, established plants, we have tended to head more in the direction of using plants as visual focus points rather than dropping in manmade objets d’art, or, worse: objets sans d’art.

Statues, urns and sculptures? Now that is a whole can of worms to be returned to at a later date. Decorating one’s garden can be a minefield.

Camellia Elfin Rose, cloud pruned in layers to give an accent point

Camellia Elfin Rose, cloud pruned in layers to give an accent point

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

The constructions at Paloma

First printed in the Weekend Gardener issue 322 and reproduced here with their permission.

Clive Higgie and his slightly surprising small companion, the irrepressible Pablo.

Clive Higgie and his slightly surprising small companion, the irrepressible Pablo.

Over the years, Clive and Nicki Higgie have amassed one of this country’s foremost collections of plants and turned them into a remarkable garden at Fordell, near Wanganui. With his farming background, Clive is both practical and innovative and enjoys turning his hand to both construction and sculptural installations for the garden. He is not afraid to mix and match different styles and the results can be both surprising and original.

Some of Clive’s work is edgy, even flamboyant, and pushes boundaries in unexpected ways. A plain board fence at the entrance has been transformed into a statement by using witty wall writing – it is rather too whimsical and well executed to be described as graffiti.

The seating deck built out over the large pond area is also a little edgy. There is something a little insecure about sitting in such an exposed position even if the water is shallow. Clive says he made a few design mistakes on this small platform, particularly making it so low that leaves accumulate below the deck. Clive also constructs the seats. He calls them his Barebum Chairs, which I originally misread as Ba-ree/-bum.

The boathouse is a work in progress. Showing typical ingenuity, Clive has used a concrete water tank as foundations for the structure. The roof is made from fibreglass matting coated with acrylic while the balls are ceramic.

The Iona Cross is distinctly monumental construction made by Clive, standing nearly two and a half metres tall. It is concrete and was poured flat before being moved to its location. By contrast, the Polynesian influenced vertical panel was boxed up and poured in its final location. These are just two of a series of installations surrounding his earth labyrinth which reference the ancestry of Clive and Nicki’s first grandchild.

Paloma Six

Clive is pleased with his recent constructions of simple concrete plinths. “I add a bit of oxide to colour the concrete and to stop it being that glaring white of fresh concrete. I really like the plinths. Sometimes a small vase or sculpture can get lost in a garden setting but the plinths make them stand out.”

The ribbed pillars have a clear debt to ancient times but have been created using labour saving modern techniques. The mould was simply a product called baby iron (small profile corrugated iron) bent in a circle and filled with concrete. These have reinforcing rods down the centre and are boxed up and poured in their final location.

Paloma orange

Elsewhere in the garden, Clive has made extensive use of pillars constructed from terracotta field tiles. He first saw the technique used at Tupare in New Plymouth. He explains: “The pipes are irregular so I mortared them together before filling them with concrete. The mortar joins give structural strength. They didn’t do that at Tupare and many of their pipes had cracked and split.”

Not all construction is in concrete. Clive used ponga longs of irregular shapes and sizes to build a simple stumpery installation. The pongas vary from waist height to around 3 metres.

In his new Garden of Death, his friend, sculptor Steuart Welch, made the hanging crucibles which he calls Dracula pots. Clive has filled them with bleached animal skulls to complement the theme of the garden which is based around the social history of poisonous plants.

The attractive large planters came from a quarry stone crusher and, originally, the smooth sided bowl fitted inside the ribbed one, breaking large stones down to form road gravel. Being magnesium steel, they were of no scrap value but now contain large plantings of ornamental oxalis.

Clive is pleased with his simple solution for the side gate leading from the lower garden to the Matchless Arboretum. Because sheep graze beneath the trees, it is important that the gate be kept closed. A simple system of a counterweight pulls it shut behind visitors.

Paloma Gardens are open to the public all year round. For further information, check out their website: http://www.paloma.co.nz, email clive.nicki@paloma.co.nz or phone 06 342 7857 For my earlier story on Paloma, check Breaking the Mould of the Modern New Zealand Garden – the Dreams at Paloma.