THE islands of New Zealand form a long thin exclamation mark in the vast gyre of the southern ocean relentlessly churning around the Antarctic continent. In the north, there are exuberantly colourful gardens of subtropical plants including New Zealand’s brilliant crimson-flowered Christmas tree – the pohutukawa. Further south is the very different palette of a true temperate climate. Plants wear their sensible seasonal livery under snow in winter, in the warm spring winds, through baking summers and during gilded autumn days.
BUTLER POINT GARDEN, FAR NORTH
This Far North garden is among the first planted by 19th century European settlers who arrived in New Zealand seeking resources to export or souls to win. Captain William Butler was a whaler who came ashore, married and planted trees. Today, Butler Point Garden encompasses an ancient Maori hilltop pa site, a whaling museum and magnificent 170-year-old trees planted by William and his wife Eliza, including a magnolia grandiflora, a fig and olives.
Statuesque giants, remnants of the temperate rainforest which once clothed the North Island, still rule tranquilly along some stretches of the seaboard north of Auckland. Under the calming influence of the ancient puriri, totara, rimu and kauri trees, this gardener has the upper hand on nature – only just. Clipped balls of native plants such as hebe, Carpodetus serratus and pittos porum stand formally alongside introduced plants which run in vast swathes beneath the towering trees.
AYRLIES GARDEN, AUCKLAND
In Ayrlies Garden – just southeast of Auckland – streams rush between fern fronds to cascade over rocky falls, white-trunked lemon-scented gum trees tower above rockery gardens of fieryfaced flowers, and lily ponds are still and deep alongside the knobbly knees of swamp cypress. Roses and delicately hued annuals, a meadow of wildflowers and a grove of citrus each have their moment of glory while white swans and waterfowl drift about their daily business on wetlands fringing the ocean. This expansive garden feeds the soul of the artist whose five decades of daily devotion have seen it emerge from bare paddock into a garden celebrated internationally.
GWAVAS GARDEN, HAWKE’S BAY
The historic Gwavas Garden Homestead, built in 1890 and brought back to life by Phyllida and Stuart Gibson after 45 years of emptiness, is surrounded by a 9 ha woodland garden. The oldest trees were planted by Phyllida’s great-great grandfather Cornishman Major George Gwavas Carlyon in the 1860s. His son, A.S.G. Carlyon, initiated the planting of the garden 20 years later in Cornwall – home to the Carlyon family since the mid-1500s and today owned by Phyllida’s brother Tom Hudson.
BAREWOOD GARDEN, MARLBOROUGH
The excitement of the journey continues even after travellers leave the rolling roads of inland Marlborough to wander the grounds of misleadingly named Barewood Garden. In truth, it is a garden of earthly temptations beckoning visitors beneath a walkway of sweet-smelling hawthorn to a summer house beside a placid pond. Another allee of columnar crab apples with branches touching high overhead like stone knaves of an ancient cathedral, leads to a seat from which to listen to the bossy native tui birds.
A GIANT’S GARDEN, AKAROA
Ragtime tinkles forth from a sculpted mosaic piano in a beautifully maintained flower border in this garden on a hill in the small French-flavoured town of Akaroa. A pair of orange and red sculpted legs, of giant proportions, poke up from flower beds alongside purple mosaiced steps. The feet, meeting two metres above the path, support a giant blue…is it a bird? Well maybe. Not everything is quite anatomically accurate in this joyous place where the plants are healthy and the mosaic sculptures colourful.