Tag Archives: large gardens

Lock down day 7 – about personal space

The face of privilege today – a personal space of about 10 hectares or 25 acres

Never have I felt more blessed to be living in a big personal space. As Mark and I live this new life where we are keeping to our own little bubble* of two, there is no shortage of things to do. We breakfast together and then disappear into our own spaces, coming together for coffee at 10am – a pattern that we repeat all day.

Personal space in Hong Kong is extremely small but at least these apartment dwellers get to look out over some greenery

I feel embarrassed by our privileged position. It was perhaps relief I felt when I read English designer and gardener Dan Pearson’s latest blog  and he was working through exactly the same issues and thoughts that we are here, albeit from 20 000 km away.

New Zealand has been built on the idea that land is not in short supply, although that has changed in our largest urban areas now. With a land mass which is a similar size to the United Kingdom and a population still under five million, the norm until recently was to build suburbs with detached houses sitting on their own quarter acre (1000 square metres). Not without reason were we known as the quarter acre pavlova paradise (the pavlova – or meringue cake – having been first created here, not Australia). It is only recently that urban sections have reduced in size but there is still little appetite for semi detached housing, let alone terrace housing or even apartments.

Never has there been a more stark illustration of the need to retain public, green spaces in cities. Maybe not subsidised, private golf courses but every public space possible.

Big, country gardens used to be common. Back in the early days of our garden festival, we were just one of many. I dug out my old programmes to see what the ratio was of large to small gardens. My definition of a large garden is anything larger than an acre (0.4ha) but, reader, my dedication to accuracy soon waned. Best guess, without accurate analysis, is that it was probably 40% large gardens back in the early 1980s. Most have gone. We are great one generation gardeners in NZ.

We remain a historical relic here at Tikorangi – a legacy from different times when large, country gardens were not the preserve of the wealthy. But when I think of people locked down in tiny apartments, I feel a little as though my privilege is an affront.

Many cultures usually enjoy a lifestyle where individual space may be small but much of life is led in the community of the streets – the passieggata in Cefalu, Sicily

I looked through some of my overseas photos to find examples of high density living and all I found were a few images that perhaps convey the difference of lifestyles where people spend much of their time living in the streets, which is all very charming and exotic to us when we travel. Not so great in lock down situations.

Foshan in China – not as grim as the Paris ghettos but it would hardly lift the spirits to be confined indoors in this situation

Seared into both Mark’s and my memories are the grim, ghetto-like apartment blocks that border the railway lines where the trains leave Gare du Nord in Paris. At the time, they struck us as the epitome of misery. Anyone who has travelled on the Eurostar will have seen them. So too, some of the old tower blocks in London. I can’t even imagine what lock down in India must be like.

From our bubble to your bubble, may you be in better personal situations than those. Humour, kindness, forbearance and vicarious pleasures are what may get us through this bizarre new world we all share at a distance.

Dense living on water in Hue, Vietnam. Not a recent photo but it is interesting to see how people develop different styles of life in more populous areas

*** About ‘bubbles’ for overseas readers: this is the approved NZ government term to describe the closed group of people living together in lock down. Some are in a bubble of just one. I had to adjust my old brain to accommodate the virtual ‘date’ to meet a real friend in his solitary bubble for a pre-dinner drink yesterday, where we chatted for an hour by Messenger video link while drinking gin. Usually I meet him in town for lunch. I laughed when I saw someone on Twitter asking if it was permissible to expel somebody from your bubble.  Mind you, our bubble includes our two dogs but I was wondering about expelling Dudley from the bubble when he was inflicting the most appalling farts on us all the other day. He had clearly not been staying close to home and found something revolting to eat. He doesn’t understand bubbles.

Dudley, dicing with possible expulsion from our bubble

Don Quixote Gardens

 Te Popo is a cool climate, woodland garden on a large scale inland from Stratford with a romantic feel that I love.


Te Popo is a cool climate, woodland garden on a large scale inland from Stratford with a romantic feel that I love.

Only old friends know that the man to whom I am still married was once a rock and pop drummer. A teaching colleague of mine roped him into playing in the orchestra for two musicals. While Joseph will be forever referred to in this house as he of the “bloody technicoloured nightmare”, the magic of “Man of La Mancha” did not pall over time and has entered our personal lexicon. I have to explain this because it is the irrepressible optimism and personal vision, drive and conviction that we see in what we now refer to as Don Quixote gardens.

This is a syndrome I know well because I am married to one such gardener so I recognise it in others. Don Quixote gardens are grand visions but personal visions of an individual. Let us rule out immediately those gardens – and I have seen a few – where the owners have set out to create what they think will be an impressive garden in order to impress other people. That is status symbol gardening.

These are only half the columns at Paradise. The other half of the crescent is already wreathed in plants as a completed section of colonnade.

These are only half the columns at Paradise. The other half of the crescent is already wreathed in plants as a completed section of colonnade.

Don Quixote gardens are personal creations but on a bigger scale than most people contemplate, usually against the odds and without the corresponding budget that allows a small army of trained but subservient gardeners to follow in one’s wake. There is bravery, passion and a steadfast determination common to these garden creators. And a compulsive passion for both plants and landscape. Generally, Don Quixote gardeners would like it if you liked their garden, but they are not going to feel a failure if you don’t because they haven’t made it to impress you.

Let me give you a few examples. If you have ever been to ‘Paradise’, the extraordinary creation of Bob Cherry (assisted by Mrs Derelie Cherry) in New South Wales, you will know what I am talking about. It is an enormous garden, with some simply astounding brickwork and structure combined with a remarkable plant collection. Bob Cherry will be known to many New Zealanders as the originator of the Paradise sasanqua camellia range, but his plant knowledge and interest go well beyond this. As the saying goes, he has probably forgotten more about plants than others have ever known.

I think it unlikely that ‘Paradise’ will ever be finished. And I do not think that matters.

Paloma is unique amongst New Zealand gardens in design, plant content and genuine creativity, aided the boundless energy of its owners

Paloma is unique amongst New Zealand gardens in design, plant content and genuine creativity, aided the boundless energy of its owners

Closer to home, it is far too many years since we last visited Trelinnoe, the garden built by John and Fiona Wills near Napier but I think that probably fits the Don Quixote genre. Paloma, the extraordinary garden of Clive and Nicki Higgie near Wanganui is another. One of my favourite Taranaki gardens is the woodland garden of Te Popo – the work of Lorri and Bruce Ellis. It is big. It is soft-edged rather than tightly manicured but maintained to a very high standard without a big budget and primarily as a result the owners’ personal passion for the place and Lorri’s willingness to spend every day in the garden.

These are not places where the owner says airily: “We don’t want to be slaves to the garden. It only takes us about two hours a week to maintain.” Don Quixote gardens are created by people who would rather be in their garden than anywhere else.

Wildside in North Devon was different to any garden that we have seen and we were quite simply entranced

Wildside in North Devon was different to any garden that we have seen and we were quite simply entranced

I have mentioned before the inspiration we gained from visiting Wildside in North Devon but I have yet to write about it in detail. Sometimes it takes time to mentally process an experience. This was another such garden, and the garden owner, Keith Wiley is a splendid latter day Don Quixote. He took an almost flat cropping field and created a landscape. The scale of the earthworks involved in sculpting the land is difficult to comprehend but he created a rise and fall of more than twelve metres before he even started planting. It is a work in progress by a man who is not only possessed of huge energy and vision, but also a pre-eminent plantsman. I did laugh when he told us his artist wife had drawn a line of demarcation beyond which she would not garden. Any additional area beyond that line, he is to manage on his own. He will, I am sure.

Truth be told, these are not Don Quixote gardens, so much as Don Quixote gardeners, characterised by heroic visions backed by hard graft and above average knowledge – well above in some cases. These are people who will never say “my garden is full” or “my garden is finished” for, should that stage be reached, one might as well be dead. These Don Quixote gardens are about as far as one get from an urban courtyard, a contemporary designer look or a suburban back yard. They are not for the faint hearted or the uncommitted gardener.

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