Tag Archives: open gardens New Zealand

So you want to open your garden to the public?

A welcome sight perhaps, carloads of garden visitors, but by no means a certainty

A welcome sight perhaps, carloads of garden visitors, but by no means a certainty

Spring in New Zealand sees the main flurry of garden visiting. If you have been out and about with friends recently and one is starting to make dangerous comments like: “My garden is as good as this one,” or “I have got one like that but mine is better,” maybe: “My standard Icebergs are more advanced than hers,” be proactive. It may be kinder to take your friend to Harvey Norman and persuade him or her to buy a new home appliance instead. Opening your garden to the public is a time consuming, expensive and demanding activity.

Many open garden circuits are of short duration with all proceeds going to charity. Clearly this motivation is entirely above reproach and we will just set it to one side as not being relevant to this discussion.

But too many garden openers are under the misapprehension that they can make money by opening. Experienced openers will tell you that in many cases it actually costs you money because you go to a great deal of time and expense preparing your garden, often buying expensive potted colour to plug gaps which you would otherwise have ignored. The bottom line is that there are too few garden visitors in this country to make it financially viable. To get more than just a few visitors, you need a brilliant location (preferably main road close to a population centre, right on a tourist route and featuring a castle), usually allied to an established reputation which takes years to build and a very good garden. Added attractions are advisable, whether they be a cafe, craft shop, plant sales or major events. If you go in for added attractions (which can certainly contribute a great deal to financial viability), don’t delude yourself into thinking that visitors are all coming to enjoy your garden. In reality your garden simply becomes a pleasant venue and many visitors come for the attractions, not to see your gardening efforts.

Don't expect the sort of visitor numbers Great Dixter gets

Don't expect the sort of visitor numbers Great Dixter gets

So what are the main reasons for opening besides charity? At its best, positive affirmation of one’s efforts. At its worst, ego. Garden openers’ egos can be a scary force to encounter and the whole exercise can turn a perfectly pleasant Dr Jekyll of a gardener into a Mr Hyde garden opener.

If you are contemplating opening your own garden, the first piece of advice I would offer is to go out and look closely at other people’s gardens – not critically but comparatively. You need to work out where your garden fits in and what you have to offer that is better, more skilled or more interesting than what is already out there.

The second step is to come home and look critically at your own garden, trying to assume the persona of an outsider looking for the first time. Over the years, we have met many gardeners who expect visitors to see their garden through the same eyes as they do. You know your own garden inside out. Often you envisage the potential when plants grow and fill out. The mistake is to think that the first time visitor will also see your dream. They won’t. They will see the reality on the day. You need to take off rose-tinted glasses to see that reality for yourself.

If you have children still at home, they won’t thank you. We always had two flat rules for the kids: no loud music and no loud arguments. But I do recall Second Daughter saying plaintively one busy week: “And you could tell visitors they don’t have to wave to me through the window when I am having breakfast.” That would the 11.30am weekend brunch when she was still in her dressing grown.

If you are determined to open, presentation becomes a key issue. Open gardens are finished and presented to a higher standard than your average home garden. All that lawns, hedges and edges stuff has to be done well and maintained at that standard. Established weeds are a no-no as are unsightly areas of wasteland. Visitor safety can be an issue, especially when the average age of garden visitors usually works out somewhere over 60 (which means a fair proportion will be decidedly elderly). Access to a toilet and safe parking are additional factors, as is the personal touch of meeting and greeting visitors. Opening your garden these days requires a whole lot more than just sticking out an icecream container and collecting the money.

That said, our experience of opening for many years is enormously positive. We can count on the fingers of one hand the attempts at plant theft over the years (the loss of the unripe seed on Mark’s Paris polyphylla was particularly galling). There is the odd person who tries to sneak in without paying but we have become pretty good at dealing with that (it is so embarrassing but it should be embarrassing to the guilty party, not the host). Only once have we ever caught an old biddy going through the house (shameless, she was!). The vast majority of garden visitors regard it as a privilege to be able to come into a private garden and behave accordingly. Though I should add that we are a more expensive garden at $10 for adults. The cheaper you are, the more riffraff you will attract.

In the end, it is enormously affirming to have garden visitors who really enjoy the environment you have created and who are unstinting in their expression of appreciation. In New Zealand, that has to be the main reason for opening. If you are thinking about it for any other reason, you may be better off going to try some retail therapy instead.

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

The Final Countdown to Festival for 2010, Friday November 5

Jazz in our garden last Friday

Jazz in our garden last Friday

At Te Popo, inland from Stratford, Flynn the Wonder Dog from 2009 (he who excelled at guiding visitors to the extent that he had his very own individual photo in the programme this year) had thrown in the towel by last Sunday. He is just so over it all this year. Apparently he looks down the drive and sees visitors arriving, sighs and goes back to bed. This is a terrible disappointment to his owners, Bruce and Lorri Ellis, but what can you do about a dog with a low boredom threshold?

Also near Stratford, June Lees at Cairnhill Garden knew that her cat Smudge was near delivery and tried to keep her shut away in peace and quiet but Smudge had her own ideas and insisted on company. June moved her bed to the back of their meet and greet area and on Sunday all went well and June and Colin, along with their garden visitors, were delighted at the safe arrival of four lovely kittens during the afternoon.

Still on an animal theme, in Manaia, Irene Taunt was very excited to receive a special feathered visitor. A kereru came to visit and watched her doing her morning clean-up round. In her twenty years of living there, Irene has never seen a native wood pigeon in her garden before and any native bush is many kilometres away. No doubt she is hoping it will find good reason to stick around. Guavas – we swear by guavas which kereru adore eating. They don’t mind if plants are native or not, as long as they are good to eat.

Southwards in Hawera, Jennifer Horner loved the fine weather last weekend and enjoyed the visitors from all round both islands and as far afield as Canada, but she was very pleased that it was the day before Festival that the bee swam passed by. The mind boggles at the potential for complete disaster of a bee swarm meeting a coach tour in a garden…..

A bee swarm, however, was a small concern compared to the potential disasters waiting for Maree Rowe at Havenview Vegetable Garden on Kent Road on the same day before Festival started. The Targa rally car driver who crashed into their barberry hedge was unharmed, as was Maree’s helpful dad who was rolling the driveway to compact the freshly dumped metal fines when his vehicle slipped off the edge, landed in the drain and Maree and her sister had to lean on the side of the ute to stop it rolling on to a particularly large boulder while her dad clambered out the passenger side door. These two minor incidents paled by Maree’s close shave as she was cleaning the stove in her little campground, to see flames and smoke as the califont which supplies the hot water caught fire. With flames coming out the sides, a locked door on the cupboard and no key on her, Maree had to do a superwoman number and pull the door open, only to realise that the gas was still turned on and the gas bottle was still attached in this little inferno. Hosting hundreds of garden visitors was probably a doddle after all that.

In Hawera, Mary Dixon (Mary’s Place) is wondering how one knows when it is time to give in and call it a day. She derives so much pleasure meeting interesting visitors from around the world and from the positive reinforcement they give her but, as with a number of senior gardeners, she worries about whether carrying on may mean that her gardening standards drop without her knowing it. It is perhaps a good reminder why it is important to revere our senior gardeners and to make sure that we visit them this year, rather than assuming they will be around indefinitely.

The final two jazz and wine evenings for this year both take place in New Plymouth – at Wintringham this evening and at Ratanui tomorrow evening. The charming and mellow music from Ross Halliday and Juliet McLean is a real highlight and should not be missed as it makes a wonderful combination with the ambience of gardens in the early evening. It is best to contact TAFT in advance for tickets on 06 759 8412. Garden workshops tomorrow do not need prebooking – catch plantsman Vance Hooper at Magnolia Grove on landscaping with cacti and succulents at 1.00pm or Mark and yours truly here at Tikorangi at 10.00am on using plants as focal points and accents in the garden.

Countdown to Festival, September 10, 2010

  • Mary Vinnicombe is not alone, I am sure, in being heartily sick of the recent rains. While Mary and Barry’s town garden, Thorveton, has just enough change of level within it to add interest, it is located on a hill. In one of the recent downpours, Mary felt considerable chagrin to watch her topsoil, mulch and Bioboost washing down into the neighbour’s property and she wondered why she had bothered feeding all her garden beds. If only the next neighbour up the hill had been as dedicated, then the Vinnicombe’s garden would have maintained its status quo despite the water flow. The heavy rains we experience here, combined with our light volcanic soils, make gardening easier in many ways but also leach out valuable nutrients from the soil which is why continuing to add compost, humus and some sort of fertiliser is an important part of the gardening cycle.
  • Out at Gordon Dale Gardens on the Forgotten World Highway, Jan Worthington says there is a life beyond the garden. She went out to a golf meeting and then lunch with a friend, arriving home later in the day to find her daughter, Amy, had done the hanging baskets and planted out the flower seedlings in the garden. Jan is looking forward to seeing how a border of dwarf cinerarias combines with her roses, heucheras and aquilegias. Alas this wonderfully cooperative daughter is headed off overseas next week so the extra pair of hands is of very limited duration.
  • While on a golf theme, the appropriately named Manaia gardener, Margaret Putt, has been dividing her time between her twin loves of golf and gardening. She was in Dunedin with her junior golf team last week and, with hindsight, felt great relief that it was earlier on Saturday night when they transited Christchurch airport on the way home so the quake did not affect their travel. Margaret is well into her major first round on the garden, getting all the rough stuff out before she does the intensive final grooming circuit on her hands and knees. She was, however, complaining about the cold wind last Sunday afternoon when she was out weeding amongst the self seeded Livingston daisies around her letterbox.
  • Around the coast, Chris and Steak Goodin have netted in the wisteria. The Attack of the Sparrows last year was so bad that Chris’s wisteria had next to no flowers left. At the time she was thinking that a return of sparrow salmonella might not be a bad thing, even if they had to gather up the little corpses, but she is not leaving it to nature this year. Chris thinks that the white netting will be less noticeable than the black bird netting they have used previously. Steak has also affixed chains along the pergola which makes tying in the climbers much easier.
  • In at Festival HQ, Lisa Haskell is pleased with the strong interest coming from Australia this year. TAFT representatives have been at the Melbourne Flower Show promoting our festival for the last couple of years but it was a talkback radio garden host from Brisbane who interviewed Lisa about our event last week. It takes repeated efforts to get into new markets and Australia is a big one for us. Ironically, it is just as cheap for people to fly in from the east coast of Australia as from down south. In the interests of being their usual wonderful hosts, Festival gardeners are practicing leaving their Aussie jokes for the privacy of their own homes behind locked doors and closed curtains.

Countdown to Festival – June update

In Stratford, June and Colin Lees at Cairnhill Garden have battened down the hatches for winter. Given the severity of inland frosts, they have moved their stoneware birds in under cover. Last winter one of the herons suffered a severe head injury, literally splitting in two. Fortunately potter and fellow garden opener, Joyce Young, put it back together in time for Festival. June is learning how to handle the blue Himalayan poppies. She bought a couple of plants a few years ago from a Wanaka grower and one has achieved perennial status (even the Lingholm strain can be short-lived) impressing garden visitors and setting prolific amounts of seed. There are few garden plants to equal the pure blue of these poppies so June is determined to nurture the many seedlings to flowering size.

Havenview vegetable gardener supreme, Maree Rowe on Kent Road has all her garlic planted and fed with copious amounts of compost to keep this gross feeding crop happy. She reports that her Queensland Blue pumpkin harvest this year was huge and weighty after growing them in one of the compost bins. She has completed the annual review to maintain her certification as a member of Organic Farm NZ, a process which is both rigorous yet supportive and encouraging. And Maree claims that her building skills are improving and she gained some practice extending the chook pens and runs for her new chicken additions. Now she is waiting in anticipation of plenty of fresh eggs being laid every day in spring.

In Kakaramea, Jacq Dwyer at Te Rata has been planting more fruit trees in the orchard, including a damson plum to encourage sister Michelle’s efforts making her Dam Fine Damson Gin. Michelle brought back a bottle of sloe gin (sloes are a small bitter fruit, actually a member of the prunus family, often found in hedgerows) from the UK but her efforts with damsons eclipse that liquor. With a six week turnaround, her recipe is considerably faster than the minimum twelve months required by the recipe I have tried. Jacq has also been lifting big clumps of native grasses, grooming out the dead strands and replanting divisions.

On Heta Road at Thorveton, Mary and Barry Vinnicomb are delighted with their new family member – a little silver blue kitten. Mary felt she deserved a special name such as Penelope, but really she is named as much for the memory of the honesty seed heads referred to as silver pennies in Mary’s childhood. Alas Mary is struggling to keep her roadside beautification efforts going in the face of drunken vandals. It is just a little garden around a concrete power pole with a colourful pelargonium and orange Californian poppies but even that proved too tempting to late night revellers who had to destroy it, along with smashing a pair of pots from inside the Vinnicomb. driveway. However, they tangle with Mary at their peril. Not one to give up easily, she now plans to plant the power pole in the prickliest rugosa rose she can find. Rugosas are known for being both high health and incredibly prickly.

Also in town, Coleen Peri of La Rosaleda complains that she is dying to get onto her rose pruning (an enormous task in her garden where she grows a large number of them) but by the time she kits up to go outside, the rain has started again. It was with triumph that she managed the feat of getting her new 170kg statue of Diana the Huntress and a concrete bench seat of similar weight into position in the garden. She did have to hire in some brawn, grease a hand or two and supply a couple of bottles of wine to carry out the task. It is likely that Diana has found her permanent home amongst the trees..

At Festival HQ, work on this year’s programme is well down the track and it will be available at the official launch which takes place at the TSB Showplace on July 8. The inimitable Ruud Kleinpaste will be the guest at the launch. While he is best known as the Bugman, we can vouch for the fact that he is no slug when it comes to gardening either.

Countdown to Festival: May 21 ,2010

Fan-shaped leaf rakes to the right, not to be confused with a traditional garden rake

• In the south at Patea, Rudi Milesi has been out raking up autumn leaves to make compost to return to the garden. He uses a leaf rake which is the fan-shaped implement, not the traditional rake whose prongs dig in rather than grabbing and sweeping. He is also determinedly staying on top of the autumn weeds and has been busy pruning. In a densely planted small garden, he needs to avoid overgrowth and competition between plants by keeping them under control. With the calm weather this autumn, Rudi says he is really pleased with how refreshed the garden is looking.
• Also southwards but near Manaia, Jenny Oakley can’t wait to get back into her garden after a forced period of inaction. She finally got off her crutches this week following a hip replacement and is feeling very liberated to be able to walk unaided. She says she is but one of three garden openers who has had to undergo this operation this year. Other gardeners are hoping this is coincidence and not an indication of a hitherto unsuspected occupational hazard.
• In Stratford, Erica Jago is back in the festival with her pretty garden, Merleswood after a break of a year. Her pond proved such a challenge recently that she had to enlist some male help as it required greater brute strength than she has. The common ornamental grass, acorus, had staged a complete takeover and wound itself around and through all the rocks, achieving menacing proportions. With a reasonably large garden to maintain on her own these days, Erica has been strategising ways of streamlining the garden for easier management. The recent replacement of the gate to her pond area meant much easier access with the lawnmower and proved to her that relatively small alterations can make a big difference to the convenience of maintaining the garden.
• Not far inland from Merleswood is Gordon Dale Gardens where Jan and Graeme Worthington are excited at their upcoming UK trip where they will exchange seven weeks of inland Stratford winter for an English summer – a trade many of us would enjoy. Jan is keen to fit in some gardens to their tour and is gathering recommendations on the must-see options. As always, travelling in a group of four, there needs to be some negotiation on differing interests and the trip will not be wall to wall garden visits. I recommended Hidcote near Stratford on Avon as the single best garden we saw last year and we went there on Glyn Church’s recommendation, it being one of his absolute favourites.
• Back in the Festival after a break of a decade are the inimitable Josephine and Quinton Reeves in New Plymouth. Josephine feels the garden has come a long way in ten years, assisted by Quinton in his self appointed role as garden boy. Though clearly the garden boy did not know his place when he took to ribbing his wife about a recent trip out to a plant sale when she returned with her little car so jam packed that there was no side or rear visibility. But the plants were so cheap, was her justification.
• The first garden openers’ meeting of the year was held in Stratford earlier this week where details of a full programme of workshops and speakers was revealed along with a dramatic take on the landscape installation this year. Watch for further details. Morale is high amongst garden openers after an across the board 25% increase in visitor numbers last year. All are hoping for a repeat of the magic spell of spring weather at the end of October this year.