Ewen's garden

A collection of columns, paintings and photographs about gardening on an offshore island in New Zealand.

Sunday, October 17, 2004


Once again the Garden Safari is just around the corner and it is great to see the increased number of gardens that have been included, 17 in total! I have been lucky enough to have a sneak preview and can say we are in for a wonderful spectacle full of inspiration and ideas.

A garden safari not only provides us with the opportunity to see into the private realms of others but also to gain ideas that may be transposed upon our own plots of land. I know after going around and viewing what others have achieved, I am always inspired to get on and work on my own plot.

My short tour starts in Church Bay at the property of Frank and Helen Magee, Church Bay Lodge. Frank and Helen first came to the property by chance, having come out to Church Bay to view the sunset, they noticed the for sale sign and within seven to eight weeks they were living there! Their property has commanding vistas across Motuihe Island to the city beyond, which form the focus for the garden around the house. Further a field lies an olive grove, planted before they arrived, from here a track leads into an area of regenerating bush and finally into a remnant of mature native trees around the bend in a stream, providing a wonderful habitat for native birds. Other points of interest are the small vegetable and herb gardens and a rose garden. After five and half years of work, Frank jokingly commented that it is not “a lifestyle block, rather a workstyle block” I suspect he would have it no other way.

Moving on over to Nick Johnston drive I visited the garden of Brian and Sally McKibbin at Tangaroa Lodge.
What struck me the moment I arrived here was the consideration of the landscape the house and garden are located within. They have used not only local materials where possible, but als o local labour and knowledge. The paving stones, for example, have been cut to reveal a flat surface, a labour of some 365 hours of love! The resulting paved areas are really something unique and blend perfectly the areas between house and the rest of the garden. Before starting the garden the McKibbins waited to see what natural elements they were going to have to deal with or in fact benefit from. The positive aspects are, of course without doubt, the brilliant views from this location and the ever changing hues of blues and greys. To this end, Sally has planted plants to reflect and enhance these colours using tones of blues and greys. One element of this garden, and common to many on the island, is the eternal battle with wind.
At the front of the house, great use of low to medium sized natives have been used to bring the wind up and over the house, sheltering the front verandahs. To the rear of the house is a wonderfully sheltered courtyard containing a pottager backed by high local stone walls. This garden is only four years old and I look forward to seeing it in the years to come as I am sure there are going to be many more surprises in

Now on to Givernay Inn, above Sandy Bay, home of Gabrielle Young and Bruce McLelland. Gabrielle and Bruce have only been here for two years, but in this time they have been very busy in their garden. This garden is another with panoramas across bays and sea. Working within the existing plantings of fruit trees and Mediterranean plants they have established new pathways and steps, including a petanque court. Gabrielle has been concentrating on creating a few new intmate areas working on colour schemes within a limited plant range. An example is to be found around the new spa pool area where she is using daylilies on shades of sunset colours, a wonderful metaphor for a dip with the sun disappearing below the western horizon.

My last ports of call on this preview were two gardens next door to each other in Potai street, both very different from each other. The first, the garden of Aaron Putt and Myke van Irsel, is on a corner site, and is a response in part to creating privacy from two roads. This has been achieved by the mass plantings of native trees, shrubs and native grasses. The grasses are largely propagated from seed in the glass house at the rear of the property, and when planted out have provided a wonderful weed suppressant. Also grown from seed in the glass house are vegetables for the organic vegetable garden formed in raised beds. Here you will find a bewildering array of delectable plants for the dinner table! Another favourite corner is the sheltered deck covered from the elements and adorned with palms and other subtropicals, the perfect spot to enjoy your labours of the vegetable patch.

Just across the boundary is another relatively small garden, the home of Liz Cleaver and the creation of her son Geoff Willsher. Here is a place where the person who is interested in not only seeing a wonderful garden but also many rare and unusual plants. At the front of the property visitors are greeted with a cottage style garden, in keeping with the wee house. Everywhere is gravel, no grass anywhere but this is an interesting and practical change to lawns which become too muddy during the winter months to make passing around the garden impossible. The gravel used is all local and provides a great foil to the plantings. To the back of the property is an abundant subtropical haven filled with many unusual plants and includes a large water feature. Finally tucked right in the back corner is a small but perfectly formed vegetable garden. I am pleased to see most gardens seem to have a place for the vegetables! Although this garden has only been under construction for 18 months, I am sure you will be amazed at what can be achieved in such a short time.

As with most of gardens, they are still works in progress and I am keen to see them again in November, let alone in the years to come. I have only given a hint of what is in store for this year’s garden safari having only visited five of the seventeen open to the public on November 14. Many of the properties will have refreshments available and in some cases local coffee and olives products available for sale. In all a wonderful day out and a good way to experience parts of this beautiful island that you would otherwise not see and an opportunity to support the Jassy Dean Trust, providing support for Waiheke families whose children suffer illness or injury.


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