Tag Archives: Te Popo Gardens

Garden decoration 1: leaning to the understated look

Tempted though I am to show some of the worst excesses of garden ornamentation I have photographed – and believe me, naff does not begin to describe some – I thought it better to be kind than cruel. This week it is understated decoration which blends into the garden surrounds rather than dominating.
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1) These are the work of potters Lynn and Mike Spencer, spotted in their own garden. Mike called the long-necked pieces his “African ladies’ for reasons that are obvious as soon as it is mentioned. The penguins are undoubtedly engaging, all the more so for being hand crafted and not mass produced. I particularly like they way these nestle in the foliage, adding subtle detail and delight, rather than being placed on a plinth or stand to become a lonely focal point.???????????????????????????????
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2) Te Popo Garden also features pottery, this time by Nick Brandon. What I like there is how they have grouped related pieces closely together. Each on their own would be small and likely to get lost or look bitty. I once suggested grouping to a gardener with a large selection of bright, shiny blue glazed pieces from the Warehouse. She followed my advice and they did indeed look much better clustered together in one arrangement, rather than dotted throughout the garden.
??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????3) I admired these rope balls constructed around a metal frame at Winterhome Garden near Kaikoura. Garden owner, Sue Macfarlane, told me she had made them herself because she wanted an avenue entrance for a wedding party. I saw something similar offered for sale recently – though smaller and made from recycled barbed wire, which gives a distinctly rural New Zealand flavour. However, because barbed wire is somewhat hazardous, these balls would need to be placed where nobody is likely to brush against them or hit their heads standing up after tending to any garden below.
???????????????????????????????4) Personally, I am not a fan of classical-inspired statuary in New Zealand gardens. The cultural reference of such works is usually to Europe and to me it looks out of context here. I might be tempted to make an exception for this piece but it is the studied nonchalance of the setting with its long grass and the artfully casual placement which makes it such a romantic image. I also photographed it in an English garden, Gresgarth, where it looked wonderfully at home.
???????????????????????????????5) Unable to hold back my didactic tendencies, I include this example as a message. Dear readers, a beautiful pot does not need to have a plant in it. It can exist as a decorative feature in its own right and will often look a great deal better for the absence of a plant. I don’t know the origins of this pot – it looks like a lime-washed oil jar – but I think the phallic trichocereus cactus spoils it, even without the plastic stake which is out of sight in the photo.
???????????????????????????????6) Finally from our own garden, I offer the inverted plum trees. These were dug up and reburied upside down to make the root systems the feature. We did not treat the trunks to preserve them. Eventually they will rot out and fall over but they have been in place at least a decade now and are still stable. The white stones were a gift from a geologist friend who gathered them from somewhere on the Marlborough coast. I bleach them once a year to remove lichen and discolouring and they just sit casually on a stone table.
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First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Peak bluebell!

Flynn the dog did not show a great deal of respect for the Te Popo bluebells, alas

Flynn the dog did not show a great deal of respect for the Te Popo bluebells, alas

The first time I visited Scotland was at exactly the right time to see the bluebells bloom. This was in woodland near Gatehouse of Fleet in the south west. Like many others, I was enchanted by this natural phenomenon.

It is Peak Bluebell here this week. We headed down to see the blue glory at Te Popo Gardens in central Taranaki. While we grow bluebells in relatively large numbers ourselves, we have yet to attain the magnificent expanse they manage in their conditions.

At Te Popo, there are many deciduous trees which creates a woodland cycle. When the leaves fall, they are left to lie. The bare trees let in winter light. It is at the turning of the season when the fresh growth is just starting on the trees that the bluebells flower, creating great swathes of blue carpet beneath. As the trees take on their full summer leafy garb, light conditions will decrease below which suppresses competing weed and grass growth.

Bluebells beneath deciduous trees at Te Popo

Bluebells beneath deciduous trees at Te Popo

In our garden at Tikorangi, our tree cover is such a mix of evergreen and deciduous that our woodland areas tend to be a little dark for most bulbs. When it gets too dark, the bulbs don’t set flower buds and gradually die out. We have to go for the margins and find the balance between necessary light levels and the grass growth that comes as a result. We are less blue carpet and more drifting carpet runner, if you see what I mean.

Bluebells are strong growing bulbs, also given to seeding down, so are better suited to a more natural style of gardening rather than intensively maintained borders. Lorri Ellis at Te Popo uses them extensively with hellebores to good effect. We have both found that spreading them in areas which can then be more or less left to their own devices is most effective. It is the massed, natural look that works.

Bottom left, clockwise: Spanish bluebells in blue, white and pink, allegedly English bluebells, blue lachenalias and grape hyacinths – muscari – which some people mistakenly refer to as bluebells.

Bottom left, clockwise: Spanish bluebells in blue, white and pink, allegedly English bluebells, blue lachenalias and grape hyacinths – muscari – which some people mistakenly refer to as bluebells

There is ongoing angst in Britain over the incursions of the stronger growing Spanish bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica, dominating and hybridising with their native bluebell H. non scripta. We spent some time discussing the difference. Lorri has a large patch that she understands is the true English bluebell and she has kept it isolated from the rest which are probably mostly Spanish, or Spanglish as I call the hybrids between the two – technically H. x massartiana.

Bluebells and very fragrant jonquil species are both originally from Spain.

Bluebells and very fragrant jonquil species are both originally from Spain.

One way you can tell what you have, apparently, is by pollen colour. The English ones always have creamy pollen whereas the Spanish ones often have blue pollen. I had noticed the latter. After some random sampling and Mark’s memories of what he refers to as “Grandma’s bluebells” (technically his great grandmother, I think), we came to the conclusion that it is likely that most of what we have here are hybrids. We are none the wiser as to whether Grandma started with English or Spanish ones, but we think that the lilac pink and white ones that were brought in to add variety are all of Spanish origin.
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Te Popo Gardens are located near Stratford and will be open during the Powerco Taranaki Garden Spectacular from October 31 to November 9

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