Tag Archives: Heroic Gardens Festival

Heroic despatches 4: A Restful Green Heart

???????????????????????????????One of the delights I appreciated at the Heroic Gardens Festival was this quiet, simple green space in the back garden owned by photographer, Gil Hanly.

I have written before about the green breathing space As a sorbet between rich dinner courses refreshes the palate, so too do simpler areas in a complex or busy garden allow a little space to draw breath. Generally, I have seen lawns used to achieve this quieter space.
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Gil Hanly’s was a complex and mature garden with many points of interest. Her vegetable garden was a tour de force but in addition to that, there was a lot happening all through her garden. And out from the house was this charming green space of deceptive simplicity. A grove of palms underplanted with mondo grass fringed a dark natural-shaped pond in the shade, creating a restful, central heart to the garden. It was simply lovely. I can only apologise for failing to take more notice of which palms were used. I lack any expertise on this plant family and always defer to Mark who was not with me on this trip. With hindsight, we wonder if they are Hedyscepe canterburyana but that is only a guess.

The sauntering ducks are bamboo, collected by the garden owner on a trip to Asia (she may have said Vietnam).

147??????????????????????????????? The little temple by the water (top) is, I am told, by artist, Bronwyn Cornish. For me it evoked the very old villa visible in a ravine in Sorrento in Italy (immediately above) which I photographed back in 2008. Anyone who has been to Sorrento (the jumping off point for Capri) will have seen this sight. In the Hanly back garden, the whole effect was understated but hugely effective.

Unrelated, there was also a huge plant of our very own Cordyline Red Fountain growing elsewhere in the garden in an area which was bold with colour.
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Despatches from Heroic Garden Festival 3: Gaudi-esque meets Hollywood glam

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????I find garden ornamentation a source of slightly masochistic fascination. We prefer very little ornamentation in our own garden and even then lean to the natural look. Back when we were university students – way back when – we used to entertain friends and visitors with gnome garden tours as viewable from the streets of both Palmerston North and Dunedin. Caversham was a particularly happy hunting ground. But brightly painted little concrete things in my own garden? I think not.

I have been gently pondering the notion of the crossover from heavily ornamented gardens to folk art and it was with this in mind that I made a point of searching out a particular garden in the Heroic Garden Festival last weekend. It promised a “Gaudi-inspired” house with a garden that “exudes Hollywood glam with a hint of the unexpected”.
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It wasn’t folk art. Not at all. Nor was it particularly heavily ornamented, at least not compared to some others. It had panache – not necessarily easy to achieve in a garden with a kidney-shaped pool, an Astroturf lawn and a lot of solid colour. It did evoke the spirit of Hollywood glam in suburban Auckland but with a wry sense of poking fun at itself.

???????????????????????????????The plantings were fine, but nothing particularly out of the ordinary. The Heroic Garden Festival, for those who don’t know, has its roots in the Auckland gay scene. Gay men, as far as I can see. I have yet to fathom why gay men are such a powerful force in gardening whereas gay women have not made their mark in the same way. There appears to be a secret rule book that says that gay men in Auckland should create tropical gardens (the Ubud hotel-style, I have described it in the past) dominated by bromeliads, palms, cycads, the tractor seat ligularia (L. reniformis), bromeliads, maybe a banana palm. Oh, and have I mentioned bromeliads? After you have been to several gardens, the plantings start to meld in the mind and achieve a certain state of uniformity.

It is how the whole package fits together that stays in the mind – the design, the extension of indoor living to the garden outside, the style and ambience and the attention to detail.???????????????????????????????
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This Castor Bay garden had its own unique style. The tone was set by a white gnome in a glass dome giving you the finger as you arrived. I laughed. The first tulip lamp I encountered was bright orange and I am sure the vulgar orange celosias in the nearby bed were entirely deliberate. Further round was a bright pink lamp set against a terracotta wall. There were some brave calls made, contrasting with more restrained accents.
???????????????????????????????I don’t know much at all about Gaudi and Catalan modernism is beyond my ken. Certainly there was a northern Spanish arts and crafts ambience to the house which was charming. The borrowed view to the sea was also a clever device which did not appear as if it could be built out.

It is always refreshing to look at gardens which bear no resemblance at all to one’s own. Some folk say they go garden visiting to glean ideas for their own place. I like being challenged and entertained whether or not it has any application to my own garden. This whole garden made me smile. All credit to the owners, Aaron Hill and Troy Little.
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Mid summer gardens. Despatches from the Heroic Gardens Festival 1

Cannas - not my favourite plant but they can be used well

Cannas – not my favourite plant but they can be used well

I think I can claim to be a vastly experienced garden opener after more than two decades on the front line. But I am a novice when it comes to being on the other side during a garden festival. There were 26 gardens open for the weekend. I managed ten of them in two and a half days, plus two that were not part of the annual festival. Five a day is plenty.
Eupatorium, salvias and gaura planted in generous swathes

Eupatorium, salvias and gaura planted in generous swathes


I won't be planting Rosa Tropical Delight

I won’t be planting Rosa Tropical Delight

I started at the Auckland Botanical Gardens. I wanted to look at their rose gardens where they are growing them without spraying. I hoped that I might get some ideas on healthier varieties to try here but I realised that their dedicated rose beds are in such an open position with full sun and free air movement that the lessons were not really transferable to my sheltered, confined rose garden area. And, to be honest, traditional rose beds leave me cold and roses are not my favourite flower in their shoulder and off-peak seasons which often last about 49 weeks of the year.
B I G swathes - here of asters, Joe Pye weed and cannas

B I G swathes – here of asters, Joe Pye weed and cannas

Old style amenity strip planting

Old style amenity strip planting

But the perennial beds were a delight. Yes you need space for these. Planting in big swathes is what gives the impact. I am not talking the garish stripes of old-style amenity bedding, although unfortunately that is still in evidence so I guess some people must like it. It was the big beds with voluptuous, billowing plants, carefully selected for flower colour and foliage combinations that are at their peak now. Even the canna lilies, which don’t rank in my personal top ten – or even top one hundred favourite plants, looked splendid as the tall back row of the chorus.

The joyous sight of golden rudbeckia

The joyous sight of golden rudbeckia

Compact, dwarf zinnias do not make my heart sing. Spot the interlopers.

Compact, dwarf zinnias do not make my heart sing. Spot the interlopers.

Mark often despairs that the modern breeding of many annuals and perennials is to get smaller, more compact, tidier plants allegedly better suited to suburban gardens and, I would add, floral clocks and traffic islands. These dwarf plants will never have the impact of a big, bold, swathe of golden rudbeckia. They made my heart sing.
Underplanting on the orchard hillside - rudbeckia again

Underplanting on the orchard hillside – rudbeckia again

???????????????????????????????It was the hillside of rudbeckia in Lynda Hallinan’s garden that I liked the most. She has underplanted her orchard trees with a sea of gold and very lovely it was too. Her planting of a white umbellifer (maybe Ammi majus?) with a semi double golden cosmos was equally gorgeous on a day in high summer. At least, I think it was a cosmos. Annuals are not my area of expertise. Lynda’s scale was of course smaller than the Bot Gardens, showing that it can be done in a mid-sized domestic garden.
White cosmos in a front garden

White cosmos in a front garden

Aside from a rather lovely patch of white cosmos in another garden, that was about as good as it got in the summer garden stakes. Of course it is different in tiny urban gardens on very expensive real estate. When your lot in life in life is limited to square metres, most will opt for year round appeal. In Auckland, this tends to mean palms and bromeliads to the exclusion of seasonal highlights and change. I will return to Auckland tropicana in the future.
The pondside wild garden at Auckland Botanic Gardens

The pondside wild garden at Auckland Botanic Gardens

It was entirely a reflection of my current thinking that I found the wild pondside garden at Auckland Botanic Gardens so deeply appealing. I am sure some will see this sort of gardening as weedy eyesore but they probably like the garish amenity planting in stripes and will whip out the sprayer at the drop of a hat. I applaud Auckland Botanic’s willingness to explore contemporary directions in sustainable gardening and healthy eco-systems which we have yet to see appearing in many private gardens in this country.
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