Tag Archives: Taranaki garden festival

Counting down to festival in the new world of Covid

Prunus Awanui in flower this week as we pass peak magnolia and go into the next phase of spring

As a nation, we are collectively holding our breath to see if we are indeed safely back to the status of zero Covid cases, except those caught and isolated in border quarantine. Just one community case in five days and counting now, this second time round. Our team of five million that saw us achieve this status the first time round has had some defections. Hopefully, the mob of doubters, conspiracists and anti-vaxxers is small, though very noisy. Obsessed only with their own *rights*, they have no concern for the safety and well-being of others and are swallowed up by their own crusade that Covid doesn’t exist, that it is no worse than the common flu, that it is a man-made virus being used by Bill Gates and his cohorts to take over the world (never mind that these positions are contradictory), that our government is lying to us, that it is somehow tied up with the 5G network and probably chem trails, that the Covid vaccine will be mandatory (it won’t) – all because they don’t want to wear masks on public transport and maintain physical distancing while we stamp out the latest flare-up. Sigh.

Mark’s Rhododendron Floral Sun never fails to lift my spirits, even more so this week in such uncertain times

It is not helped by a prolonged election campaign where some of the opposition parties are hellbent on undermining confidence in the government and community response to Covid. Let not the fact that NZ is a shining star internationally with its Covid response and that we have fewer restrictions and a safer environment than almost every other country in the world at this time get in the way of their narrative that  it is a ‘shambles’, ‘incompetent’, a ‘failure’, an example of ‘gross mismanagement’ and all the rest. Some even advocate opening the borders and ‘learning to live with Covid’, though they seem to be unable to come up with international examples of countries managing to live comfortably with Covid on the loose in the community.

New Zealand – we done good. We are on track to eliminate this latest outbreak. The election will be over in a month. Our lives will return to the comfort of level one freedoms in this new reality that Covid has brought to our world.

‘Back in the day’, as is said, I used to write a regular piece for the local paper called ‘Countdown to Festival’ and I still look back at that series with some fond memories. It was just an assemblage of snippets from local gardeners describing their preparations for the annual garden festival and, from memory, the paper paid me the grand sum of $35 a week for it. It comprised garden hints from gardeners all around the district, some quirky anecdotes and painting small word pictures of the characters who were beavering away to get their gardens to opening standard.  I think it had a quirky charm as well as some handy advice but it all stopped when I left the Taranaki Daily News and went to write for the Waikato Times instead.

The pretty path down to the park by my washing line, The white on the left is fragrant Rhododendron veitchianum, colourful azaleas in the centre and pretty Magnolia laevifolia ‘Velvet and Cream’ on the right

My mind went back to that series because we are now totally focused on getting the garden ready for opening on October30. Hopefully, we will be in level one which, in NZ, means no restrictions at all (life as usual but with no overseas tourists) but I am assuming we can still go ahead at level two, if need be. Mostly that means physical distancing and some controls on numbers, but presumably without coach tours owing to distancing not being possible on most coaches. Note to self: buy hand sanitiser – that public health symbol of Covid – and investigate registering for QR code. Even I, an occasional mobile phone-user at best, use the Covid app to scan into all shops and businesses. It is much easier than manually signing in. Frankly, it feels weird to be contemplating getting all visitors to the property to scan or sign in but this is our world now.

Lloyd can be spotted at the back of the photo with the tractor, our fancy lawnmower towing a large trolley, screeding tool, shovel, rake, barrow and plate compactor. This is not a job for the fainthearted.

The compacted ‘terrazzo’ look

With our lives becoming so much more home-based, local and smaller – holding the chaos of the world at bay – the garden has become even more important. This week, I ordered the first truckload of the top layer for the paths in our new summer gardens. Ten cubic metres or fourteen ton to start with and we will need at least as much again. It is not cheap so there was some nervousness but we are pretty excited at the effect of this crushed limestone and shell mix (I did say our world had grown smaller!). Lloyd is spreading it by barrow, shovel and rake,  screeding it and then using the plate compressor to compact it as he goes. A torrential downpour was a good test. It compacts suffciently firmly that the torrent of ground water did not wash it away and the surface is so smooth that it can be swept or cleaned with the leaf blower. The rain brought the whiter fines to the surface so the finished effect looks more like the terrazzo kitchen benches of long ago. After building up to this for so long, it is positively thrilling, I tell you.

I think the uppermost two topknots on Mine No Yuki need to removed entirely but that can wait if we run out of time

Lloyd has also been clipping our shaped and cloud pruned camellias this week and will start on the hedges soon. In the meantime, Mark rather defies my work schedule but has been painstakingly giving the geriatric apple trees a major and considered prune. Next up, the two avenues of Fairy Magnolia White and the punctuation points of Podocarpus parlatorei in the new gardens are awaiting their annual trim. Mark is by far the most skilled pruner here.

Mark has done the first four geriatric apple trees but there is a whole lot more pruning waiting to be done and I am not yet seeing him show the signs of urgency I am hoping for

I am here, there and everywhere. Garden grooming is my strength. Attention to detail. At least it gets me all round the place. We have passed peak magnolia, the snowdrops have long finished and the dwarf narcissi are all but over. Now it is bluebell time, Japanese cherries, rhododendrons, evergreen azaleas and mid spring bulbs. The plants and the seasons are not disturbed by Covid.

The mid spring bulbs are starting – Moraea villosa and sparaxis

The freshly laid paths in the Court Garden look a little stark but we are confident they will mellow and soften quickly. The initial stage is preternaturally tidy.

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