Tag Archives: Taranaki Garden Festival 2021

In times of trouble, you will find me in the garden

That is an old stone mill wheel from the ninteenth century, repurposed these days as a bird bath

It has been a difficult week in New Zealand. I recall commenting here to an Irish reader (*waving to Paddy*) that if anybody can get rid of Delta, we will. This week brought us the distressing realisation that we almost certainly can’t. Gone is the dream of the return to level one this summer – level one being no restrictions on day-to-day living bar those pesky border controls. Like many others, we were plunged into a state of deep anxiety. All due to just one case entering the country and now spiralling ever larger, creating the whack-a-mole situation we are now in.

I have to grit my teeth with those who declare ‘we just have to learn to live with it’. I don’t think learning to live with Covid looks like they think it does. It does not mean a return to life as it was with some people getting a bit sick and a few dying – but, presumably, nobody known to those advocating this course of action. Learning to live with Covid means living with ongoing anxiety, wearing masks, using sanitiser, scanning, restrictions on movements and gatherings and playing whack-a-mole all the time. Learning to live with Covid means an indefinite extension of the current status quo.

Scadoxus puniceus

The only path out of this is very high vaccination rate. Please, if you haven’t been vaccinated yet, get it done now. Ignore that small group of very loud, insistent anti-vaxxers. Surveys show that there aren’t that many of them, statistically speaking (somewhere between 4 and 7%?) but too many of them seem pretty determined to keep their ‘freedom of choice’ by attempting to abuse and verbally bludgeon everybody else out of exercising their freedom of choice.

Crinum moorei at the front, which will flower white later in the season, dendrobium orchid, clivias, bromeliads, Scadoxus puniceus and the wedding palm – Lytocaryum weddellianum – in a tiered woodland planting beneath giant rimu trees

What does this mean for our garden festival, scheduled to start on October 29? Goodness only knows; we certainly don’t. We were headed for one of the largest attendances ever with coach tours and ticket sales setting new records. That seems unlikely now.

I see three possibilities. The first is the best-case scenario where travel restrictions are lifted to the north of us and we plough ahead but with masks, sanitiser and physical distancing. This is also the least likely scenario.

The second scenario is the border remains in place on our main northern access to Taranaki and numbers are hugely reduced as a result. In which case it will all be much quieter and lower key.

The third is that Covid reaches Taranaki in the next few weeks and all events are cancelled but I figure we cross that bridge if we come to it.

Seedling vireya, very scented, which seems to be predominantly R. konorii growing beneath pine trees
Pleione orchids have a shorter season in bloom but are so pretty

It all makes planning very difficult here. When we know we are opening the garden, there is a lot of extra garden grooming that gets done – titivating, one might call it. It takes a lot of time to titivate a garden the size of ours and we don’t do that final flourish if it is just for our own pleasure.

Colourful woodland on rainy morning this week to lift the spirits

But if it all turns to custard, there are many (many, many) worse places to be than here. The colourful woodland this week soothes my soul and relieves my own anxieties. Woodland gardening does not generally conjure up colourful visions bar maybe a sea of snowdrops beneath bare trees if you are British, or perhaps large drifts of bluebells or hellebores.

Finally getting Mark’s neglected orchids out of his Nova house and into the garden in lengths of tree trunk with the centre rotted out
We are big fans of the dainty dendrobium orchids from the Bardo-Rose group

We like highly detailed woodland and it certainly is looking very pretty this week. We achieve this by lifting the canopy of our tall trees to let filtered light in below. Over the years, low branches have been removed to keep the lower trunks clear for maybe the bottom four metres or so. These days we do more thinning at ground level than planting and we use various strategies to ensure that plants can grow despite the massive root systems on the trees. Zach has been planting out some of Mark’s neglected orchids – mostly dendrobiums in the Bardo-Rose group – in hollowed out tree rings this week. These stump lengths are from the silver birch we dropped a few weeks ago. The rotten heart of the tree tells us we were right to fell it.

We do not get florist-quality blooms outdoors but the cymbidiums last a long time in the garden and add glamour
Cymbidium with Helleborus sternii. I would like more cymbidiums but need plants with smaller flowers. Those bred for cut flowers tend to be larger and can look out of scale in the garden.

Our interest in orchids is basically on plants we can grow outdoors in the garden so mostly pleiones, cymbidiums, calanthes and dendrobiums in practice. I like the little dendrobiums the best but the cymbidiums add a touch of glamour.

Clivias in orange, red and yellow, we have in abundance
Mark’s peach hybrids add variety but this one seems reluctant to hold its flower spikes upwards

Quite a few years ago, Mark did some hybridising with clivias to try and get some peach coloured ones. He rather lost interest but I planted out the best and they are coming in to their own. I wish this one held its flower up better but it is a pretty, pastel variation on the many oranges, reds and yellows we have. Last time I looked, there were quite a few international breeders working on peach tones and then on white and green flowers but I have no idea if these are commercially available here yet.

Wherever you are, stay sane as well as staying safe. These are trying times we are living through. I will be hiding in the garden somewhere, maybe taking photos to share.

Starting the countdown to festival 2021

Goodness, gracious me. Just eleven weeks until we open for the annual Taranaki Garden Festival. Well, ten weeks and five days to be precise. October 29 is D-Day.

A view down into the park yesterday with Magnolia sargentiana robusta in bloom and the neighbour’s winter grazing across the road in the background.

I am not starting to panic. No sirree. The advent of an extra pair of skilled and motivated hands in the form of our Zach has taken away the pressure I felt last year. Though last year, as I was getting stressed by how much I wanted to get done, we had no idea that Covid and the difficulty of overseas travel would result in the biggest festival ever for us. We had three times the number of people we were expecting. It was fine. Our garden is large enough to absorb a lot of people without it feeling crowded. It is just a challenge as far parking and toilet facilities go. The poocalypse was memorable.

This year is shaping up to be another boomer of a festival, if early bookings and programme requests are anything to go by. It is not that we can’t travel overseas from NZ. We are not like Australia where they have to request permission giving sufficiently important reasons to be allowed to travel offshore. We can leave. It is getting back into the country that is the barrier – trying to book a place in MIQ (as we call our managed quarantine programme for almost everybody entering the country) is so difficult that few people want to risk it. And even more of us don’t want to travel overseas at this time. NZ seems a very safe haven. There is always the risk of Delta getting in but so far so good. I will be really miffed, though, if we get an outbreak just before the festival…. It is already disappointing enough that Covid in the community in Australia will probably keep that travel bubble closed, making it impossible for any Australians to cross the Tasman this spring.

An unnamed seedling magnolia of Mark’s down by Lloyd’s latest bridge. It is actually red but my camera has rendered it bright cerise.

We have never been so well prepared this far in advance. Ten weeks and we have broken the back of the major preparation work. We just need four weeks at the end to do the final round of presentation so all seems well in hand at this time.

Lloyd’s latest bridge needs some work on the approaches

Lloyd has built the last bridge essential for access around the new Wild North garden. He has had to make this one higher because the ground is boggy beneath so is now constructing some all-weather access to it. Because we live rurally on a reasonably large property, we have room to store materials that we may need one day. Who knew that the brick and concrete edging to a garden bed we dismantled some years ago would be just the ticket for retaining the edges of the access paths? We will have to buy in some pit metal, though, to get a safe surface to that area of path.

Zach’s accidental rockery project

Zach was pleased to find a stack of big rocks to build his accidental rockery on the steep zig-zag path down to the park. I say an accidental rockery because he really only started by trying to retain the soil on the steep bank so it didn’t scour out and wash down onto the path below in heavy rains. It was part-way through that it became clear that he was actually constructing a semi-shaded rockery. I found him assorted suitable plants to fill it – the Australian native Veronica perfoliata, trilliums, snowdrops, Mark’s arisaema hybrids, little narcissi – to add to the Solomon Seal and green mondo grass that are already doing an excellent job of holding the soil.

Calanthe orchids one
… and calanthe orchids two. There are many more in the garden but just these two varieties in bloom at this time.

It is a lovely time of year, despite winter’s last gasps and storm fronts. Where I am working on the margins of the Avenue Garden, the calanthe orchids are at their charming peak. In fact, everywhere I look, there are spring flowers out and a whole lot more in bud. We are on the cusp of peak magnolia season. Mark is spending many hours doing his circuits of his magnolia and michelia seedlings to assess performance.

We are busy but on track. And oh my, I couldn’t think of a lovelier place to be busy.

A reminder about our Festival workshops:

Gardening on the wilder side

There is a whole lot more to meadows and wild gardens than just letting plants grow. It takes a shift in thinking, a fresh view and different approaches to managing the garden. They are less demanding on maintenance but they still require management. “Tidying nature”, Mark is fond of saying.

We have spent a lot of time considering the less environmentally friendly aspects of domestic gardening – the use of nitrogen fertilisers, sprays to manage weeds, pests and fungi, the costs both financially and environmentally of achieving top quality lawns, meeting human expectations of tidiness and order, let alone the use of internal combustion engines like the lawnmower, hedge trimmer, weed-eater, chainsaw, rotary hoe and more.

We want our garden to be lower maintenance so it is sustainable into the future, more environmentally friendly yet still be beautiful to our eyes. It is why we have moved some areas of the garden to being managed meadows. Added to that, this year we are opening the new four acre Wild North Garden. I say new, but work started on it thirty years ago when Mark began planting up his father’s old cow paddock.  Only now do we have it to the point where we are happy for others to see it, a new area of much looser maintenance with a wilder, more romantic feel to it.

My workshop this festival is entitled ‘A Gentler Way to Garden’ but it could be sub-titled ‘Lowering our garden carbon hoofprint’. If you are interested in walking more gently on the land but still creating a beautiful garden that can make your heart sing, you are very welcome to join this workshop on Sunday 31 October. You do, however, need to book. Details are here.

A view through to the summer Court Garden, though it looks good in later spring and right through autumn, too

The other workshop we are offering is ‘New Directions with Sunny Perennials’. It all started with our desire for summer colour here, masses of summer colour when our extensive woodlands are largely restful green. We have had a fairly close look at contemporary trends in gardening particularly in the UK but also parts of Europe – alas not quite as close as it would have been had we been able to make our most recent trip in July last year. But over several years, we have distilled our learning, so to speak, and experimented and trialled to come up with summer gardens that work in our situation and the NZ climate.

This is the same workshop that many people missed out on last year (numbers are restricted) but with the benefit of another year of experience in handling these styles of perennial gardening. We are offering it twice, Monday 1 and Saturday 6 November, as part of the Taranaki Garden Festival. More details and booking here.

Borders, more New Perennials in style than classic twin borders

Nau mai, haere mai. Welcome to Festival 2021

Believe it or not, the Taranaki Garden Festival has run every year for 34 years. It started life as a rhododendron festival and we still have a few rhododendrons in the garden, quite a few in fact, including the lovely sino nuttallii.

The official programme for the Taranaki Garden Festival was launched this week.

Last year, when we reopened for the first time in seven years, it coincided with the domestic tourism boom after our short lockdown. The numbers were astounding but we managed, bar the poocalypse. This year, I thought visitor numbers might receive a further boost from Australian garden-lovers starved of other travel destinations. Chance would be a fine thing.

We follow Australian Covid closely with our immediate family spread across three states there. We had hoped for an extended weekend get-together in August. Somewhere more northerly in Australia we thought – maybe the Whitsundays or even the Sunshine Coast, thereby introducing a fourth state into already complicated travel plans. For overseas readers, this was because of the introduction of a quarantine-free travel bubble between NZ and Australia. That is not going to happen since the arrival of the Delta variant into Australia and the suspension of the travel bubble. Clearly planning ahead with any certainty is not an option at this time, though I have pointed out to our children that when the bubble reopens, it does appear that there is less likelihood of getting trapped on this side than on the Australian side. But I am guessing only a few intrepid Australians who can risk getting trapped away from home by a Covid outbreak may turn up for our garden festival.

The world may be sick of Covid but Covid is not done with us yet.

Hippeastrum papilio in the Rimu Walk

Back to the festival. We are reopening but only for the ten days of from Friday 29 October to Sunday 7 November. I was so shellshocked last year, I wasn’t sure we would reopen but the addition of Zach to our small team has taken the pressure of preparation right off me and the garden has never looked better. We have never been so advanced in our preparation this early before. There will be no neglected areas or tasks unfinished, the way we are going. It brings the pleasure back to gardening when the anxiety and pressure of getting it to opening standard is relieved by an extra pair of very capable hands.

The Court Garden in early November – one of a series of five new summer gardens we have created in the years we spent closed

Following the success of the workshops Mark and I offered last year (well, mostly me, to be honest but I am reliant on Mark as my in-house technical advisor and resident expert), we are offering more this year. So many people missed out on  ‘New Directions with Sunny Perennials’ that we are offering it twice this year, with another valuable year of experience under our belts. The blurb reads:

New Directions with Sunny Perennials

For over a decade, Mark and Abbie have been looking at modern trends in perennial gardening, variously described as ‘Dutch New Wave’, ‘New Perennials’ and the ‘New Naturalism’. This has culminated in the planting of the summer gardens. Join them for morning tea and a talk on key points they have distilled from visiting over 90 gardens in England, France and Italy, tracking the work of six contemporary designers and how they have applied this in their own garden.

Monday 1 Nov and Saturday 6 Nov 10.15am – 12.00

Are you looking for gentler ways to garden?

Instead of repeating the meadow workshop, we have expanded it to take in managing a wild garden as part of our personal commitment to finding softer, more naturalistic and sustainable ways to manage our garden.

A Gentler Way to Garden

The Jurys have been exploring strategies to ensure their garden is not only beautiful but also sustainable in the longer term and biologically friendly. Join them to learn about meadow styles and management and the techniques underpinning their new Wild North Garden and their park meadow.

Sunday 31 October 10.15am – 12.00

We are well on the way to being ready to open the Wild North Garden

All the information is online here and you can request a hard copy of the programme. Bookings for our workshops are essential and can be made through that link to the Festival Office.

We would love to see some of you here this spring.

Melding the old gardens with the new into a single garden experience