Tag Archives: Taranaki garden festival

Notes from the Garden of Jury – September 13

The little sights in the garden can bring me delight – bluebells and narcissi against the twisted trunk of a giant eucalyptus

I am feeling the pressure of opening the garden again after seven years. All I can say is that if you want to see it, you had better come this year to the Taranaki Garden Festival (October 30 to November 8) because they way I am feeling, we may not open again.

We maintain the garden all the time to a level that keeps us happy but that is not the same as the level needed to reopen after such a long time closed. With seven weeks to go, there seems to be so much to do. We will get there – we are experienced at this – but it does take away some of the pleasure of early spring.

Spring has long been associated with anxiety in my mind. For seven years, from the age of 15 to 22, it was the time of major exams that could change the course of my life. I had nightmares about it all for at least two decades after that. Then spring became a pressure time for us when we were in business with the garden open, retailing plants and the never-ending demands of nursery production work. The last seven years have been bliss. Bliss, I tell you. With no external pressures or expectations of us, we have been free to take all the time we want to enjoy the daily sights of spring abundance and beauty. Whether we continue to reopen after this year will depend on how much we enjoy the festival and sharing the garden with visitors. It will have to be quite a lot to reward me for all the effort going into it right now.

A daily routine here but I admit that the photo was taken earlier when temperatures were warmer. Mark is not one of those hardy men who wears shorts all year round.

Emerging lilies. You won’t see the detail if you are reading this on your phone, but front right is the one rabbit-chewed shoot. In the past two years, all would have been attacked by now.

Regular readers may recall my despair at the rabbit predations this time last year. Mark and I were out sprinkling blood and bone after every rain to try and deter them. The auratum lilies are all coming through again and I am checking every morning. So far only one has been chewed off. This is testimony to Mark’s ongoing efforts with the gun. He has shot nearly 50 so far this year and that in a limited area of barely 2 acres. There are still a few around that need to be cleaned out and we dare not take our eyes off the ball – or the fluffy tails – because those few can increase exponentially (not unlike Covid, really) but man with .22 rifle appears to have the upper hand at this stage. In case you are wondering what we do with 49 dead rabbits, there is not much that the dogs enjoy more than fresh rabbit for breakfast.

I have tried cooking rabbit before – both casserole and pie but the only recipe I have really enjoyed is for rabbit and pistachio terrine (a recipe courtesy of Alistair Boyce) and it takes a bit of effort and pre-planning so I don’t make it often.

Lloyd in the process of compacting the base layer of pit metal. We borrowed the compactor from an obliging man up the road but they can also be hired. 

We bought this little orchard tractor over 20 years ago and it was already old then. It has done a lot of work in the years since.

We have laid the base course of pit metal for the paths in the new summer gardens. I say ‘we’, but that is in the royal sense. This has been Lloyd’s project. It took about 19 cubic metres and he did it with our baby tractor and wheelbarrow. We had thought we would get a bobcat in but Lloyd pointed out that the paths, though appearing generous, were just too narrow for the bobcat and some of the turns too tight so he thought it better to take the time to do it himself with minimal disturbance.

When it rains heavily, this path becomes the natural water course

An off the shelf solution but it needs precise installation to make it work for the best outcome

He is only half way there. There is still the top layer of crushed limestone and shell to be laid but we are letting the base layer settle first. Heavy rains highlighted a problem: in one area, the run-off from downpours naturally flowed down one path and scoured out the newest set of steps every time. We can get away with quite a bit because our volcanic soils are very free draining and surface water is absorbed quickly (this never happens in clay soils). But our rains can be torrential and when that happens, the run-off will find its natural path. Lloyd is, by nature, a problem solver. He decided we needed a drainage channel in front of the steps, one that is safe to be walked on. Fortunately, this is an off-the-shelf solution. He has laid it with an imperceptible drop to one side (this is a man who makes a spirit level his friend) and then connected it to a length of holey, plastic drainage tubing hidden just below the mulch to disperse the water more widely. We are waiting for the next downpour but we expect the problem to be solved.

Magnolia Athene against the bright blue sky yesterday

Festival a-go-go

It is official. We are reopening our garden for the ten days of Taranaki Garden Festival – and only for those ten days from October 30 to November 8. In fact, we are garden number one in the programme. We attended the launch on Thursday evening and there were asparagus rolls. I only mention this because the asparagus roll shares a special position of nostalgia in NZ catering history on a par with Maggi onion dip and slightly less controversial than the Otago and Southland cheese roll. But I digress.

Some of us braved a cold winter evening for the launch

but there were refreshments, including retro asparagus rolls to the top right

In honour of this occasion, I have spent quite a bit of time updating the garden information on this site. It took me more hours than I anticipated, that I would be grateful if you could check it out and make me feel that the time spent was worthwhile. Click on The Garden tab at the top of this page.

The printed programme is now out and the information is all on line here. You can request a free festival programme. If you plan to attend, it is worth getting a hard copy of the programme for the map. You can not rely on mobile phone reception throughout Taranaki and I say this as somebody who lives in one of the black spots.

There will be no plant sales. We left all that behind us years ago, much to our relief. Expect a terse response if you ask us.

However, there will be garden tours at no additional charge (Friday 30 October, Wednesday 4 November and Friday 6 November at 11am). Taking large groups around gardens is often described as an exercise in herding kittens. Mark professes himself to be in awe of my ability to head off around the garden with a large number of people and then emerge an hour later with almost the same number. I hasten to assure readers that I do not achieve this by publicly shaming any who wish to drop off the end. As far as I know, they stay voluntarily.

Mark and I are also offering two workshops. There is an additional charge for these and you must pre-book because numbers are strictly limited. You will have Mark’s and my undivided attention along with morning tea. I shall bake cakes for these occasions and the chances of proper coffee rather than instant are high.

New Directions with Sunny Perennials

For over a decade, we have been looking closely at modern trends in perennial gardening, particularly in England. Variously called the Dutch New Wave, New Perennials and the New Naturalism, we have analysed and experimented with these ideas in the very different conditions of coastal Taranaki, culminating in the planting of an acre of new summer gardens.

Join us for morning tea and a talk on key points we have distilled from visiting over 90 gardens in England, France and Italy, tracking the work of six key contemporary designers and how we have applied this in their own garden.

Numbers strictly limited. Bookings essential. $25 includes garden entry fee.

Monday 2 November 10.15am Book here.

(I have never kept a list of all the gardens we have visited but I did a quick tally of those in England, France and Italy and I really-o truly-o did get past 90. That is not an exaggeration.)

Meadow Theory 101

While charmed by what are often called ‘wildflower meadows’, we knew that they would soon become a weedy mess in our conditions so set about looking at different meadow styles, the underlying theories and management techniques that apply in our conditions with verdant year-round growth. We have now established bulb hillsides, changed the formerly mown park into an actively managed meadow and, most recently, adapted a neglected area of the garden to a perennial meadow.

Join us for morning tea as we share what they have learned and the fine balance needed in managing a sustainable meadow with environmental benefits while avoiding an out of control, weedy wilderness.

Numbers strictly limited. Bookings essential. $25 includes garden entry fee.

Sunday 1 November 10.15am Book here.

Our sunken garden

There are 40 gardens open with related events but there is a whole lot more to the festival this year. There is also the Sustainable Backyards Trail with its focus on food production and creative approaches to sustainability and self-sufficiency.  And the Taranaki Arts Trail which had to be postponed from earlier in the year because of Covid restrictions – 85 artists around the province opening their studios to visitors.  Both of these trails are included in the garden festival programme.

Then there is Feast Festival Taranaki – Garden to Plate – for those who like to feed the inner person on good food, mostly in the evenings. That is local restaurants using local produce to create special menus and related events. I am not sure that their website is up and running yet but you can capture the flavour, so to speak, on their Facebook page. Finally, starting on November 5, a new theatre-based festival will start. Called RESET 2020, it is a re-set after Covid forced the cancellation of other planned events and overseas performers. The programme, featuring NZ performers, will be announced in a few weeks.

As I explained all this to Mark, he described it as a ten out of ten on the befuddlement scale and that comment alone illustrates why I am still married to this man. Suffice to say, you can visit our garden and there is plenty more to entertain you in the wider area.

With the big upsurge in domestic tourism at this time, it may pay to make plans early if you are visiting from outside the region. Postscript for overseas readers: sorry, this is all of no relevance to you. Even if you wanted to, you can not come. Flights to NZ remain few and far between and you have to be a NZ citizen or permanent resident to get in (bar a few essential workers). Even then, all incoming passengers have to go into government quarantine for 14 days and it seems to be the luck of the draw as to whether you get confined in a five star hotel or one that is more modest. But we are now free of Covid, bar the quarantine cases at the border, and have been for over ten weeks. Life here is back to normal – no masks, no PPE, no physical distancing required, no restrictions bar those at the border. This situation has been hard-won and there aren’t many New Zealanders willing to risk the alternatives as we look at the grim situations around the world.  It seems there is a long way to go in this pandemic yet. May those of you overseas stay safe and well.

Reopening the garden after seven years

The Rimu Avenue

It’s official, more or less. We are reopening the garden later this year but just for the ten days of the Taranaki Garden Festival.  If you have been hoping to visit, those dates are October 30 to November 8. After seven years of being closed, it feels the right time to open again but for strictly limited periods of time.

The old garden remains more or less as visitors from past times may recall – the Rimu Avenue, sunken garden, rockery, avenue gardens and other house gardens.

No longer mown park, now a meadow

The park has been transformed to a meadow over the past seven years.

Opening the new summer gardens for public viewing

The new summer gardens are ready to be seen. We refer to these individually as the borders, the court garden, the caterpillar garden, the Iolanthe garden and the lily border (although the lily border will just be lily shoots in November). Collectively, these are close to an acre of sunny gardens planted predominantly in perennials.

We will offer a series of garden tours and workshops to be scheduled at that time – details to follow.

There will be no plant sales – we are well and truly over that and no longer produce any plants except for our own use or as part of Mark’s plant breeding programme.

We are hoping to be really busy for those ten day and it will be a pleasure to meet some of the regular readers of this site.

Botanical art for beginners in the garden here

copyright T.Forbes 2006 

Do you dream of being able to paint and draw plants and flowers? Mark does and that is how we came to meet Tabatha Forbes. Dr Tabatha Forbes, thank you. She has a PhD in fine arts from Elam Art School at Auckland University.

Tabatha tutors botanical art for beginners. This is a very specific branch of art combining both accurate botanical depiction with the skills and aesthetics of painting and drawing. Mark says that he just wants to be able to paint pretty flower pictures while realising that some level of skill in both close observation and translating that to paper is required to achieve that goal. He is hoping that his time with Tabatha at an August workshop will get him started (again) on drawing and painting.

Rangiora. copyright T.Forbes 2006

Later in November, Tabatha is offering two small-group workshops in our garden during this year’s garden festival. Our garden isn’t open for the festival this year but participants will have the run of the place while here. The first workshop is on the first weekend of the festival – Saturday 2 and Sunday 3 November from 10am -3pm each day. She starts beginners with leaves – observing and drawing in detail on the first day, moving onto acrylic painting on the second day.

The second workshop on the weekend of November 9 and 10 is a follow-up – progressing onto painting berries and fruit, so more colour and added detail.

If you want to know more, Tabatha has a comprehensive website which showcases her own work, her interests and experience and current projects.

The Taranaki Daily News recently published a profile on her here: The soothing art of retreating into nature. 

For more information and bookings, please email Tabatha at drtab72@gmail.com. We will be delighted to meet you should you attend either or both of her workshops here.

Toxic tutu (Coriaria arborea) copyright T.Forbes 2006

A graveyard and memories of miniature gardens and sand saucers

The yellow ixia flowers pick up the colour of the lichen

I was feeling a little discombobulated this week so I dropped in to the Te Henui cemetery to restore some energy and good humour. I have lauded this place before and it did not let me down. I was chatting to a couple of the volunteers who garden the place and mentioned that I saw it as the grown-up version of miniature gardens.

The spires of echium

The thought of miniature gardens brings back memories from our children’s primary school years and Volunteer Mary mentioned sand saucers in the same nostalgic tone. I was an urban child and the sand saucer and miniature garden competition experiences passed me by. They are an integral part of the rural school experience, formerly known as Calf Day but more often Show Day now, albeit playing about third fiddle. First violin was played by the calves, for this is a dairy farming area. The best and biggest silver cups went to such things as best leading calf (walking amenably beside the child on a rope), best groomed and best of breed. Second fiddle was played by the lambs – harder to lead and over time it became a disqualifiable matter to launder your lamb in Persil to get it fluffy white. The Greedy Guzzler award went to the first lamb to drink its bottle at speed. When you think about it, that award was always going to be taken out by the biggest lamb.

I am not a great fan of tulips but the effect of this multi coloured display was very painterly

Third fiddle: goats and activities for children without animals. While we flirted with the occasional lamb or baby goat, our children were particularly skilled at the sand saucer and miniature garden categories. I used to feel a bit guilty about them winning because they had an unfair advantage with access to a far superior range of plant material and appropriate flowers. But then I looked at the animal cups and clearly the kids who came from farming families with superior breeding lines were similarly advantaged.

I don’t have any photos of sand saucers but if you Google images, you will find a resurgence on Pinterest. Where else? For anyone with a deprived childhood, it involves filling a saucer with wet sand and sticking the flowers into that to anchor them. The scope for imagination is limited. One memorable year, a junior teacher at the school our children attended – a woman who was not one for expending unnecessary effort – decided sand saucers were ‘messy’ so they decreed Vaseline saucers instead. For this, the saucer is used face down and coated in Vaseline with flowers stuck to it. This was a travesty of an idea, I tell you. Not the same at all.

Miniature gardens were constructed in a tray with sides and most children used flowers and stems of foliage. Our children had access to suitable trays, potting mix and interesting small plants of a suitable scale, including miniature bulbs in flower. They often won.

Calendulas and bluebells – not an obvious combination but so irrepressibly cheerful

When I describe the cemetery gardens as the grown-ups version of these childhood activities, I mean that it is managed as a vast canvas of small, stand-alone gardens as opposed to a landscaped whole. This is how they manage to keep flowers all year round. As one grave space passes its best, another nearby is starting to bloom. It is a large part of the charm of the area. And the volunteers make a real effort to get harmonious colour and plant combinations. I would guess that this is a large part of the fun for them.

Planning colours and textures for a small area

Volunteer Susan took me over to see a space she had planted which she thought should work well when she held the flowers and foliage in her hand but has not translated on the ground. What did I think? It wasn’t the colour combination that was the problem, it was the arrangement of the plants on the site, I suggested. Too regimented and in equal quantities whereas one plant could be lifted and divided to fill the space and be a unifying factor. That is the charm of the grown-up miniature garden – dealing with a self-contained space in isolation without having to consider a multitude of other factors in the surrounding area.

The meadow look

And areas that are more landscaped in appearance than meadow

Besides the goal of having flowers all year round, these little gardens have to be low maintenance. The area is large and the team of volunteers, though dedicated and skilled, is small in number. There is a gentle abandon feel of wildflower meadows in some small areas, vibrant, concentrated colour in others and a delightful seasonality to how the place is managed. Gardening visitors may like to look at some of the plant combinations – they are working with a very large range of different plant material – and colour combinations. They are all there in small pictures amongst the whole.

Ajuga and bluebells softening the austerity of large blocks of unadorned concrete

I was amused when I read the description in in the garden festival programme*. It uses words like “lost oved ones”, “peace and tranquillity”, “serenity”, “lovingly tended” and “respectful”. This is proof that you can find what you want in some places. I would use words like joyous, a celebration of life and flowers amongst the headstones, sometimes witty and full of vibrant energy. It makes me smile and that is no mean feat for a graveyard. Some may find solace in quiet contemplation amongst the graves while others, like me, may in fact recharge their batteries by delighting in the whole ambience and contrast.

I quite like watching English real estate programmes (Kirstie and Phil assisting escapes to the country come to mind). They have many more little country churches complete with old graveyards surplus to requirements than we have. It is too late for me – and the wrong country – but the idea of creating a home within a traditionally sombre setting and a garden with all the hard landscaping features already in situ sounds appealing. These places may be there to remember the dead, but it does not mean that they must be sombre, morbid and gloomy. Death and taxes may be two of life’s certainties, but there can be life and colour wrapping around death and softening its raw finality, even if the same can not be said for taxes.

The one remaining mystery for me is why some families prefer to adorn their graves with fake flowers. It is a timely reminder, however, that some of these graves are intensely personal memorials with living descendants who choose to maintain the connection and to personalise the grave in their own way. It is just as well the volunteers are there to tend to the vast majority which would otherwise be largely forgotten and uncared for.

* Powerco Taranaki Garden Festival, to give the annual event its full name, runs from 26 October to 4 November this year. The Te Henui cemetery is included as one of the gardens to visit this year.