Fishermans Bay Garden

Looking at a Google Maps satellite view of the Banks Peninsula is one thing, but driving the hilly landscape from garden to garden is quite another.  We were now heading from Sir Miles Warren’s garden at Ohinetahi on Governors Bay (#1 below) to the “eastern bays” of the peninsula to visit Jill & Richard Simpson’s Fishermans Bay Garden (#2) and enjoy lunch there before ending our afternoon at The Giant’s House in Akaraoa (#3).  (Click to enlarge the map.)

The drive to Fishermans Bay took us an hour and forty minutes and encompassed some of the most beautiful scenery we’d seen in New Zealand. A quarter-of-an-hour past Governors Bay, we drove past roadside stock pens and wild phormiums (P. tenax or harakeke).

We passed rocky outcrops at Gebbies Pass, below, that geologists call the “Gebbies Rhyolite”. It’s what’s left of volcanoes that occurred in the Late Cretaceous, around 81 million years ago. (And thank you to Dr. Greg Browne of GNS Science, New Zealand, for identifying the rock type for me.)

We climbed the hillside around Duvauchelle, from which some of the finest New Zealand woolens are exported around the world.

We passed olive groves near Robinsons Bay, home of a tasty, extra-virgin oil.

Then we came to our first sighting of the “eastern bays” — also known as the Wildside —  a series of headlands and inlets jutting out from the peninsula into the Pacific.  And I would be lying if I didn’t admit that this part of the trip was a little white-knuckle in a large bus, but we were soon…..

….. slowing down on a long access road, past the neighbouring farmer’s sheep running away…..

….. and beehives buzzing….

….. to park beside a rustic old shed framed in agapanthus and wildflowers…..

….. and be welcomed with a sign that we’d arrived.

We walked towards a pretty house with a little entrance garden featuring roses, Spanish lavender and an olive tree.

The owners of Fishermans Bay Garden, Jill and Richard Simpson, greeted us and gave a little introduction to the garden, which she later described to me as a “love story”. (You can hear her tell this story in the video at the end of this blog.)  Jill was working as a landscape designer in Christchurch when they met and fell in love. A dairy farmer, Richard already owned the property – all 300 hectares (790 acres) of it, as well as a dairy farm in Springston west of Christchurch. They would bring their family of six children (three each) to the property for holidays. Once Jill’s children were old enough, they renovated the house and moved to the peninsula. That was 12 years ago, and Jill has been making gardens there ever since.

We began in the long double herbaceous border…….

……. with beautiful  combinations of perennials and lots of fragrant lilies…..

….. and this spectacular rose, below, ‘Eyes for You’. It represents a remarkable and complex breeding achievement by Peter James, stemming  from the dark-splotched Persian rose, Rosa persica – or, as some refer to it, Hulthemia persica. (In fact, the latest taxonomy places the parent in the rose Subgenus Hulthemia, so technically it’s correct to refer to the Persian rose as both names.) A straggly, yellow flowered rose native to dry areas in Iran and Afghanistan, it was that attractive blotch that captivated rose breeders. Some 40 years after they started working with it, there is a growing roster of roses with dark eyes and the Middle Eastern hulthemia in their bloodlines.

Jill collects hebes – more than 150 species and cultivars – and in fact has an entire garden of them, on the slope towards the ocean, but these two made attractive companions at the end of the border.

Fruit trees were integrated into the garden, including apples,…..

….. pears…

….. and plums (that were clearly providing nesting material for leaf-cutting bees)….

A vegetable garden was nearby, and this was one was designed for productivity….

…. rather than ornament.

There were some vestiges of the old holiday house that had once been here, like this sweet little patio.

I walked past an informal cottage garden with dahlias and roses towards a small forest of hulking Monterey cypress trees (Cupressus macrocarpa) – that exotic evergreen considered a pest in New Zealand and paradoxically in danger of extinction on California’s Monterey Peninsula, where it’s endemic.

There were interesting succulent plantings at the top of the hill here, with rusty old farm implements as decor……

…..and a fun planting of shaggy Acacia cognata ‘Limelight’.

I started down the path to find that this marked just the beginning of ……

……Jill’s newest garden, an ambitious hillside planted with an ebullient, Piet Oudolf-inspired tapestry of perennials.

Jill terraced this slope with two truckloads of railway ties, carted and placed one at a time. Let’s walk down through the garden together.

I could have spent hours exploring the plant combinations here. But it wasn’t simply a naturalistic meadow made by throwing all kinds of colourful perennials together; look at the way those carefully-placed canna lilies draw your eye through the planting here.

At the edges near the Monterey cypresses, conditions are favourable for native ferns and other shade-loving plants.

Moving further down, I saw a bench made from those very same cypress trees.

Further down the hill. Such an amazing profusion of flowers and foliage.

I arrived at a little terrace on the hillside, where there was a stunning piece of statuary conceived as an airy steel wire sculpture by Hawarden sculptor Sharon Earl, titled ‘Ecosphere’, from which to appreciate the amazing view.

And what a view it is.

Let’s keep going down this flowery path, because there’s something very different at the bottom. (And I don’t mean the bellowing bull our tour members are photographing.)

This is from the same position, but looking back up the hill.

At the base of the hillside border, I looked back up. That fluffy waving flag of native New Zealand toetoe (Cortaderia richardsonii) on the right, below, represents a frontier on this property, and a shift from the ornamental plants grown all the way up the slope, …..

….. because although there was still a sinuous stream of traditional perennials extending towards the ocean,……

….. which culminated in a bee-friendly planting of Fuller’s teasel (Dipsacum fullonum)

….. and annual opium poppies (Papaver somniferum) adjacent to……

……the paddock with the very noisy bull,…..

…… we had now arrived in Jill Simpson’s next gardening chapter. Here is where her love of plants meets her ecological sensibility. After buying this property two decades ago, the Simpsons protected about one-third of it via covenanting, and much of the native ‘bush’ on their property has regenerated since then. (The Simpsons are founder members of the Banks Peninsula Conservation Trust). But New Zealand natives are also beautiful garden plants (as the international horticultural community has discovered), so Jill has begun to use natives and cultivars of native plants in her designs here near the Pacific, like the brown New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax) below.

But there are many pure natives here, like the totoe, below, with Chionochloa in front……

….. and the lovely cotton daisy (Celmisia spectabilis).

As I headed back towards the house along a track mown through meadows…

….. I gazed down at the ocean 150 metres (492 feet) below.  Though I didn’t ask the Simpsons, I imagine that the bay is a popular fishing location. The southeastern bays are known for blue cod, sea perch, tarakihi and trumpeter fish.

I’m not sure what fish this was, adorning the entrance to Jill’s hebe collection. Rockfish?

I passed Herbina, the corrugated cow resting in the meadow grasses. I read that although Richard Simpson has had a long relationship with dairy cattle on his farms, he and Jill now have a sharemilker on their other property near Christchurch. (Sharemilking is often used in New Zealand to provide income to farmers who have given up their herds, while providing an opportunity to younger farmers with cattle, but no land). And their young next-door neighbour and his wife manage this property for them, leaving them free to garden and pursue new opportunities, such as their recent purchase of the old (1907) Madeira Hotel in Akaroa.

It was time to enjoy the lovely lunch, set out on the various patios and decks.

I loved the bouquets that Jill had made…

….. from her abundance of flowers.

Look at this view from my lunch spot! That phormium is ‘Jester’, and beyond are astelias and native cabbage trees (Cordyline australis).

These alfresco lunches in the special gardens on the tour were a chance for us to relax and get to know one another better. And it was fun for my husband, Doug, left, to get to know “my” friends from the gardening world, like North Carolina’s Cyndy Cromwell and Denver Botanic Garden’s Panayoti Kelaidis.

Jill Simpson was sitting with us on the deck, and someone asked her how this all got started. Her answer was candid and interesting — including the direction she hopes to take integrating native plants here at Fishermans Bay.

With less than a half-hour remaining before we had to depart for Akaroa, I finished my lunch and rushed back out to this amazing garden to see what I might have missed. It was then that I heard the mellifluous song of the New Zealand bellbird (Anthornis melanura), and I had an idea. What if I retraced my steps through as much of the property as I could, filming the beautiful garden while the bellbird sang in the background. Could I do it?  Would the little yellow bird sing on cue? Have a listen and see what happened.


Ohinetahi – An Architectural Garden Masterpiece

It was Day 15 of our American Horticultural Society “Gardens, Wine & Wilderness” tour of New Zealand and we had a wonderful day of garden visits ahead of us. We left our hotel in Christchurch early and drove south. As we came to the Port Hills, the view of   Lyttelton Harbour ahead was spectacular.  It would not be until I returned home and did some research that I would learn that we were actually on the rim of the collapsed Lyttelton Volcano, one of two shield volcanoes that make up the Banks Peninsula, the other being Akaroa (both active 11-8 million years ago). If you’ve read my blog on Yellowstone Park, you know how much I love volcanos, and this would be my third visit to one (Ngorngoro in Kenya was my first).  When Lyttelton’s southern volcanic rim eventually eroded, it was flooded by the sea, resulting in the pretty harbour we saw ahead of us.

Though the Māori have been in this area for hundreds of years, it was first seen by Europeans when Captain James Cook sailed past on February 17, 1770, giving the name Banks Island (for onboard botanist Joseph Banks, who featured in my Doubtful Sound blog) to the land along the curved shore, which appeared to his eyes separate from the mainland behind. It would later be renamed Banks Peninsula.  We would be visiting three gardens today, each occupying a scenic spot on the peninsula. Looking at the satellite map below (you can click to make it bigger), you’ll see that I’ve marked them as 1 (this garden), 2 and 3. You’ll also see my two earthquake notations (unrelated to the peninsula’s volcanic past). The one in the upper left shows the rough location of the Greendale-Rolleston Fault, a previously unknown slip-fault which caused the destructive September 3, 2010 earthquake.  That 7.1 magnitude quake, the strongest recorded in New Zealand was followed 5 months later by the deadlier 6.3 aftershock centred just west of Lyttelton, which killed 185 and injured more than 6,000 people in greater Christchurch. Both would have a direct impact on our first garden today and an indirect impact on our third garden in Akaroa.

We circled Lyttelton Harbour to our destination overlooking Governors Bay. It was the Māori Ngāi Tahu chief Manuhiri who called his pā (fortified village) overlooking this bay “Ōhinetahi” – The Place of One Daughter – in honour of his solitary daughter in a family of sons. And that became the name of this garden, now arguably Christchurch’s finest private garden.

We were met at the entrance by Ohinetahi’s principal gardener, Ross Booker, shown below at left, chatting with our tour guide, New Zealand born, Pennsylvania-based landscape architect Richard Lyon.

We walked through the gates and down the drive.

Perhaps if I’d seen this plan of the garden on our arrival, I would have had a better sense of how to approach exploring it in the short time we had. But I hadn’t yet grasped the formal, linear arrangement of the garden rooms on three levels….

….. nor paid attention to the intersecting axes I glimpsed soon after we entered. This was the peony garden, which of course was out of bloom in mid-summer. But what was the enticing glimpse of garden below this? In fact, that is the north-south axis that cuts through the various east-west garden rooms and leads directly to a suspension bridge  over the creek to arrive at a shady bush walk filled with New Zealand natives. But we’ll get there later.

At the bottom of the drive, we turned left to find ourselves gazing at a lovely house, below, whose walls were crafted of soft-peach sandstone block.This is where Sir Miles Warren lives, having retired in 1995 from a long architecture career that began in 1955 when he founded his own practice with the radical Dorset Street Flats, expanded it in 1958 with the formation of Warren and Mahoney with Maurice Mahoney, then spent almost four decades creating hundreds of buildings, including some of New Zealand’s most iconic, modernist structures. Those include College House – University of Canterbury (1966), the Christchurch Town Hall (1972), the New Zealand Embassy in Washington DC (1975), the Christchurch Central Library, the Hotel Grand Chancellor (1986) and Clarendon Tower (1986) not to mention housing complexes, apartments and government buildings and airports in Wellington, Auckland and elsewhere. The firm became renowned for its concrete-based “Christhchurch School” style, combining Brutalism with contemporary Scandinavian and Japanese design principles. Sadly, several of those buildings were no match for the earthquakes that would devastate Christchurch in 2010-11, with many sustaining enough structural damage that they were ordered demolished.

Today, Warren and Mahoney Architecture is a 300-employee practice but its original co-founder – retired since 1995 – lives here in this Victorian house.  It was built by British-born naturalist-botanist-entomologist Thomas Potts between 1863-67 and looked like this on New Year’s Eve 1867, in a photo by Daniel Mundy. below. That’s native “cabbage tree” (Cordyline australis) in the foreground.

Potts would go on to plant a number of trees which still stand at Ohinetahi, but the extensive gardens he designed and maintained with the help of six gardeners were completely overgrown in 1977 when Miles Warren, his artist sister Pauline Trengrove and her husband, the late architect John Trengrove, found the property. It consisted of a ramshackle house with a leaking roof (they nicknamed the place Miss Haversham from Great Expectations), a lawn and the small orchard that is still on the site.  But they knew in ten minutes that they would buy it and hired two carpenters who worked for 18 months repairing it, while they came out on weekends to do the “donkey work”.  The garden would take a decade to shape, with Pauline the expert gardener and her brother and husband the designers. As Sir Miles said in one interview, “We were amateurs practising an art rather than having to be professional architects. We could do what we damn well liked and make our own mistakes.”  The garden became a place to escape their desks. In another interview, he recalled, “That period, we were both very busy professionally, so it was great relief, moving bricks and removing trees, fighting our way through the jungle and so on. It was an ideal contrast to the working week.” When Pauline and John moved away in the late 1980s to make another garden, he was left as Ohinetahi’s sole owner and resident designer.

Gardens have always been important to Sir Miles Warren, a passion not always shared by members of the profession. I love this photo of him, below, taken mid-career at his then-Christchurch house by Matt Arnold. That long pool is the epitome of modernism, softened with lots of lovely water plants.

As we set out, I spied the owner, now 89, walking across the lawn. “May I take your photo?” I asked. “Oh, I break cameras,” he replied with a chuckle, but gamely posed for me.

He was very lucky to be standing on his lawn, for his close escape from the 2010 earthquake came in the pre-dawn darkness of September 3rd when the four stone gables toppled onto the tin roofs, the rock falling through into the library where books and grandfather clock crashed to the floor.  As he came down from his bedroom searching for a flashlight, he had no idea of the damage around him.  Friends, family and former tradespeople helped empty the house and begin repairs, removing the stone third storey. stabilizing the walls with concrete and steel bracing and helping the house survive the much closer, more violent February 2011 aftershock. Sir Miles designed further changes to reinforce and strengthen the house. Today Ohinetahi remains a Category 1-listed heritage house – and, personally, I think the scale is much better without all that top-heavy stone.

All that toppled stone would be put to creative use, as with this reinforced folly and observation tower leading to a new waterfront “park” that I’ll show you later.


When Sir Miles, Pauline and John Trengrove began planning the garden at Ohinetahi, they did what many serious designers do: they visited famous gardens. Thus the Red Border of Hidcote Manor Gardens in England’s Cotswolds became inspiration for the lovely Red Garden here. But I think this one is even better (having seen Lawrence Johnston’s version some 25 years ago….) because of its intimacy,……

…… formality and smaller scale, which helps visitors understand how to accomplish a “colour garden” themselves.  That centrepiece, below, is a deconsecrated stone baptismal font. The red parterre hedge is barberry; the green is boxwood. And the silver pear (Pyrus salicifolia) adds just the right touch at right.

Plus…. if you know that my great passion is colour in garden design, you’ll know that I think complementary contrasting red-and-green is one of the best ways to bring the drama of that brilliant colour to a garden.

Four Burbank plum trees planted by a previous owner are still producing fruit, and act as the forecourt to Ohinetahi’s spectacular Herbaceous Border.

I loved that someone had placed this fallen plum on the statuary leading into the border.

Isn’t this border enchanting?  Sir Miles designed the airy, octagonal gazebo with its ogee roof and curved arches to match the Victorian trim on the house.

The summer combinations were stunning, like this sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa) and Verbena bonariensis….

…. and this dark Teucrium hircanicum with a cranesbill (Geranium) and Japanese hakone grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’).

…. and magenta summer phlox (Phlox paniculata) with agapanthus.

Bumble bees were happy foraging on the single red dahlias in the herbaceous border.

This is what the border looked like facing back to the house.

I went down into the Woodland Garden that runs along the edge of the property beneath mature trees, including oaks that are some 150 years old.. Here were native cabbage trees and tree ferns….

….. and selections of New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax)….

…. and traditional shade garden ornamentals such as hosta, hellebore and astrantia….

Climbing back up, I walked past a wall inscribed in Latin by Mark Whyte, Conditor horti felicitatis auctor: “Whoever plants a garden, plants happiness”.

At this end of the garden was a suspended metal globe by Neil Dawson, whose large works also adorn downtown Christchurch.

Here’s a closer look at the globe. Neil Dawson’s work was also featured in the blog I wrote about the Connells Bay Sculpture Park on Waiheke Island near Auckland.

And I found one of the old trees planted by Thomas Potts, a hoop pine (Araucaria cunninghamii).

It was comforting to see a handsome, well-used compost bin behind one of the hedges. (Ross Booker: “Four months turnaround from hoe-to-go“.) Maintenance is crucial here; the hedges alone take three months to trim.  At the moment, all the work is done by Ross and one other full-time gardener.

The pleached Hornbeam Walk is also modelled on England’s Hidcote; at its cross-axis is a copy of the urn designed for Alexander Pope’s garden at Twickenham.

I walked back towards the Lawn which is all that remains of Thomas Potts’s original garden.  Looking to my right I saw the pretty pool house and the pool wall hidden by a pyracantha hedge.

But when I climbed up to the pool level, I could look back at the lawn and the perfectly balanced scene opposite….

….of two chartreuse ‘Frisia’ locusts (Robinia pseudoacacia) and a Luytens bench flanked by two shiny granite columns. Behind were precisely-clipped macrocarpa hedges (Cupressus macrocarpa).

I walked to the Suspension Bridge over the creek….

…. with its artfully-adorned bridgehouse.

Here I could see the stream below wending its way south to the ocean through New Zealand “bush”…..

…. including lacy tree ferns.

Suspended elegantly in the lush native bush under Thomas Potts’s five old oaks was a stainless steel sculpture by Auckland artist Virginia King titled “Heart of Oak”, below.  Commissioned by Sir Miles in 2014, the artist – who saw the garden in winter – describes it on her website. “The circular mandala  form alludes to the longevity of trees, to changing seasons and the cycle of life and  to ancient mythologies about Oak trees in Roman, Greek, Celtic, and Teutonic cultures.

The cycle of life was certainly evoked naturally in this lichen-covered tree trunk.

I loved that the blue base of this woodland sculpture emerged from a clump of New Zealand blueberry or turutu (Dianella nigra) with fruit exactly the same azure hue.

Approaching the outlook to Governors Bay, there was another evocative sculpture, this one by acclaimed artist Graham Bennett.

With our departure time approaching, I made a quick stop in Ohinetahi’s little art gallery, featuring works by renowned New Zealand artists.

Adjacent is a newer gallery containing 3D models and photographs of Warren & Mahoney projects….

…… including many destroyed by the earthquakes.

Back at house level, the Rose Garden beckoned, with its 12 rectangular, boxwood-edged beds marked by topiary spirals and boxwood chess pieces…..

……and filled with white, yellow and apricot roses to match the house.

I loved the ebullient fuchsia at the house entrance, and was intrigued with the number woven into the trim. Thomas Potts’s sandstone walls were quarried at Charteris Bay across Lyttelton Harbour.

The rose garden’s central path was on an axis with the Reflecting Pool across the lawn, its edges adorned with eight Coade stone flowers.

Now there was just enough time to dash around the house and head up past the Doug Neil-carved Oamaru stones…..

….. and Andrew Turnbull’s “Astrolabe”, below, to visit the newest addition to Ohinetahi, an adjacent .75-hectare (1.85 acres) property overlooking Governors Bay purchased in 2008 and christened “the park”.

There are masses of natives here, like leatherleaf sedge (Carex buchananii)…..

…..and Corokia cotoneaster sheared into wedges, below.  Originally part of the Potts property, the park features the oaks he planted a century-and-a-half ago.

Large-scale modern art commands the hillside……

…… including pieces like ‘Phase’ by Graham Bennett.

And the new amphitheatre overlooking the water is a place where visitors can relax in a spectacular setting atop a turf bench supported by some of the 140 tonnes of sandstone block that fell from Sir Miles’s roof into his library, that terrible night in September 2010.

In 2012, after setting up the Ohinetaki Charitable Trust (the trustees include his sister Pauline and a niece) to oversee the necessary maintenance, insurance costs and continued development of the property, Sir Miles Warren donated it to New Zealand.  As he said to a reporter at the time, “So many gardens are made in New Zealand and the owners become elderly and the grounds fall into disrepair. It would seem a pity to spend 35 years making something and then walking away and letting it fall apart.

The bus was leaving and I had just enough time to make one last photograph.   The bust, of course, was familiar, but I had to look up the inscription. Firmitas, Utilitas et Venustas.  Coined by the Roman architect Vitruvius, it dates from the 1st century B.C and means “Strength, Utility and Beauty.” It’s an age-old tenet of architecture but it seemed to me it described this garden, as well as the man who is now a tenant here.

We were heading south on the Banks Peninsula to see two other gardens made by brilliant, obsessive gardeners. It would be a garden touring day like no other (and I’ve been on many tours). But as to this part of Canterbury, I will let Sir Miles Warren have the last word. Filmed in 2016, it relates to the city he loves, a city whose architectural heritage owes much to the work of Warren and Mahoney Architects, a city working to recover. Be sure to watch until the end, when he asks the question I would also put to you.  And the answer: “If you haven’t yet, why not?”

The Garden at Akaunui

Day 14 of our New Zealand tour took us out of Aoraki Mount Cook National Park and down onto the Canterbury Plains with its patchwork of agricultural fields. Here’s a bus window look at the descent.

In late morning we drove into Akaunui Farm Homestead in the countryside near Ashburton. As we walked down the long, hedge-lined driveway, we were greeted politely by the two family dogs.

The brick house was lovely, with its generous verandahs and covered balcony. Built in 1905 for Edward Grigg, a son of one of Canterbury’s pioneering colonial farmers, John Grigg, first president of the New Zealand Agricultural Society and a large-scale sheep and cropping farmer, it was originally part of the Grigg family’s massive Longbeach estate. But it has long been in the family of our host and hostess today, Di and Ian Mackenzie.

Di and Ian, below, share that farming pedigree with their predecessors.  Though their grown son now farms Akaunui’s 600 hectares (1500 acres) in vegetable and grain seed and sheep and dairy cattle, Ian has previously served as the national grain and seed chair of the Federated Farmers of New Zealand.

Di Mackenzie does all the gardening on a property whose landscape was designed originally by Alfred William Buxton (1872-1950). As the New Zealand government historical entry says, “Buxton’s landscape designs were typified by curved entrance drives, perimeter plantings of forest trees, water.…”  We saw that all here at Akaunui, the curved entrance drive and perimeter plantings of forest trees. ……

…… ….. a sinuous pond….

….. and a bog garden……

……with Gunnera manicata, among many other choice plants.

The pond curved around past Di’s vast collection of trees and shrubs, including bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) …..

…..and presented the most spectacular reflective view of the house.

There was a lovely tranquility about this pond, with its little rowboat.

I liked this combination, of a hybrid of native Phormium tenax with Verbena bonariensis.

Many of the specimen trees are very old, like this southern magnolia (M. grandiflora)…..

….. which was still putting out shimmering blossoms in mid-summer.

The lawns alone take Di Mackenzie 15 hours a week on her sitting mower, and clearly they had just been done before our arrival.

The beds around the house feature roses and perennials…..

…. and Di’s exquisite sense of colour is on display here, like this buff peach rose with Phygelius capensis.

There is a sweet parterre along an outbuilding wall.

Rain showers started as I made my way from the lovely swimming pool……

……(Canterbury’s summers can be hot and very dry)…..

…….. to the enclosed garden……..

….with its espaliered apple allée  and stunning focal point.

Outside, there were pears…..

….. and peaches…..

…..and figs……

……and more apples.

Di’s vegetable garden produces an abundance of produce…..

……which she uses for family meals. What’s left over gets preserved for winter.

I loved this flower border, with its pretty white-and-blue theme including Ammi majus and love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena).

And I liked the way Di mixes perennials with roses, making the roses earn their keep instead of segregating them in a rose garden.

We were walked up to the newest part of the garden: the 4 hectare (10 acre) native-rich designed wetland. Paradoxically, when John Grigg bought his 32,000 acre estate here in 1864, the property was said to be mostly “impassable swamp”. But for Di and Ian, turning part of it back into a designed wetland with a meandering, marshy swale……

….. bordered by native flaxes (and also some colourful Phormium tenax cultivars, below)  and grasses…….

….. like Cortaderia richardsonii, a New Zealand cousin to pampas grass…….

…. and native hebe,below, with a foraging bumble bee,…….

…. offered more than an embrace of modern ecological sensibilities. There are also family golf matches in this area, where the water hazards are clearly abundant.

Perhaps the dog has been trained to retrieve lost balls? Or maybe he just likes a dip.

That bridge above, in fact, was where Ian Mackenzie showed us something he’s very proud of, something that for him seems to have made the return of the wetland all worth it. Have a look at these, below. They’re Canterbury mudfish (Neochanna burrowsius), an amphibious species that can survive long periods without water by burrowing into the mud. And they’ve been making a big comeback here at Akaunui.

We returned to the picnic tables via the previously overgrown woodland, which Di has started to clear in order to plant rhododendrons and lots of shade-loving plants.

We were offered a luscious home-cooked lunch with delicious beets and greens, courtesy of Di’s garden.  Oh, and the best rhubarb cake ever!

And there was a little wine (actually a lot of wine!)

As we made our departure from this beautiful farm, I stopped to watch the dogs’ tails move through a big field of something green. Looking closer, I realized it was another of the Mackenzie family businesses: radishes on their way to ripening seed.  I read later that New Zealand supplies almost 50% of the world’s hybrid radish, carrot and beet seed. Next time you slice a radish for a summer salad, consider for a moment that it might have started its journey in Ian & Di Mackenzie’s pretty field in Canterbury.


A Lunch at Ostler Wine’s Vineyard

One of the logistical tasks for a tour guide in a country where the attractions are far-flung is to find a place to feed the tour members lunch. In New Zealand, our guide Richard Lyon accomplished this necessary detail with great panache. We had eaten lunch in some of the most beautiful gardens in the country, so we were excited as we drove from Oamaru through the Waitaki River Valley, past the power plant at Waitaki Lake……

….. to arrive moments later at the beautiful vineyard of Ostler Wine……

….. and the home of Jim and Ann Jerram, where we would have the opportunity to sample delicious wines……

…… and lunch on a catered feast, including this beautiful rice salad…..

……. with pretty bouquets of fresh garden flowers…….

….. while gazing at a spectacular new garden filled with native plants. What could be better?

We listened to Jim Jerram, a retired physician, discuss his mission to create memorable wines from the ‘heartbreak grape’, Pinot Noir.  As the Ostler Wine website says, twenty years ago he and Ann’s brother, winemaker and viticulturist Jeff Sinnott, went looking for a place in the Waitaki Valley near Oamaru where they could grow wine grapes.

Though the region had not featured vineyards to that point, the men “discovered a site Sinnott believed encapsulated the essential parameters for growing premium cool climate wine grapes; a north-facing limestone-influenced slope on an escarpment overlooking the braided river. It reminded him of the famous slopes of Burgundy.”

Indeed, the Waitaki Valley limestone seam not only imparts its characteristic minerality to the terroir, it also yields fossils that hint at the fact that this region was once a warm, shallow sea. That fossil shell embedded in limestone forms the logo for the Ostler family of wines.

We enjoyed our tasting as Jim poured, telling us a little about the Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris we were sampling.  (For me, some of our Lake Ontario limestone-clay Pinot Noirs have more of the ‘licked stone’ minerality taste than the Ostler Wines,)

And though it’s not in the photo below, the utterly delicious Gewürztraminer we would buy from Ostler that day would be our afternoon reward for hiking the Hooker Valley Track at Aoraki Mount Cook the next day.

Outside, some of our group enjoyed sitting in the Jerrams’ kitchen garden…..

…. while others on the patio on the west side of the house inspected the native plants that had now become familiar to us, the various tussock grasses and tortured shrubs (I think the one below is Corokia cotoneaster).

There was rock daisy (Pachystegia insignis)…..

….. and the strange-looking toothed lancewood or horoeka (Pseudopanax ferox) that protects its gawky, Dr. Seuss-like juvenile form with fierce spines until it attains sufficient height and girth to assume a more traditional tree-like habit.

We made our purchases, with some in the group ordering wine to be delivered back in the U.S.  As always, Panayoti Kelaidis of Denver Botanic Garden offered gracious thanks to Jim Jerram on behalf of all of us and the American Horticultural Society, words he managed to tailor eloquently to each host on our New Zealand tour. And then it was time to drive on to mighty Aoraki Mount Cook.


From Forage to Flora at The Paddocks

On our sixth touring day with the American Horticultural Society in New Zealand, we visited Penny and Rowan Wiggins in their beautiful garden in Warkworth, 45 minutes north of Auckland. Apart from showing us the garden, they were also hosting us for lunch and the doors at the front were open to welcome us.

House front-Wiggins-The Paddocks

Penny and Rowan are gardeners’ gardeners, literally, since they met and worked together for many years at another famous Auckland area garden, Bev McConnell’s 50-acre Ayrlies.

Penny and Rowan Wiggins-The Paddocks-Warkworth-New Zealand

Back in 2006, when they bought their 2-acre property, it was a dairy farm or “paddock”, as they call such places in New Zealand. So they named it The Paddocks and began to transform it from forage to flowers. Twelve years later, The Paddocks is a New Zealand Garden of National Significance and the only animals roaming the range are the family’s black Labradors.

Dog-Wiggins-The Paddocks

Situated on a slope (as is much of hilly, mountainous, narrow New Zealand), it was necessary for Rowan to terrace, flatten and design drainage for the part of the property nearest their new home to enable them to have a usable back patio area.  Here they planted perennials and roses that one would see in a typical ‘English garden’. And since both Rowan and Penny were born in England, it was a style they loved.

Garden steps to potager-Wiggins-The Paddocks

But those steps from the back patio also led to some of their other horticultural interests, like vegetable gardening.

Potater Gate-Wiggins-The Paddocks

Check out the wonderful lichen on this potager gate made from totara (Podocarpus totara).

Lichen on totara timber gate-Wiggins-The Paddocks

The little potager was filled with vegetables, herbs and flowers for cutting……..

Agastache and zinnias-Potager-Wiggins-The Paddocks

… including anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)…..

Bumble bee on agastache

….. and annual zinnias. By the way, did you know that New Zealand has NO native bumble bees? I had seen so many, it seemed strange, but all four of the Bombus species (and honey bees too) were imported from England as early as 1885.

Bumble bee on zinnia

Don’t you love this painted pot? And notice the raised beds and gravel paths.


I headed out the back gate of the potager and looked back at it from the orchard beyond. Look how neatly the hedge defines it.

Potager-from olive grove-Wiggins-The Paddocks

The hillside orchard contains all kinds of stone fruits, including apples…..

Orchard-Wiggins-The Paddocks

….and citrus…..

Orange tree-Wiggins-The Paddocks

…..and peaches which were nearly ripe and netted to keep away hungry birds.

Bird netting-peach tree

It was time for our picnic lunch at the house so the rest of the tour had to wait. While eating, it was fun to read how Rowan and Penny’s garden had been celebrated in the pages of New Zealand’s premier gardener’s magazine. (Penny is known for her foxgloves!)

NZ Gardener Magazine-Wiggins-The Paddocks

Then I headed up through a formal hedge angled away up the slope from the vegetable garden and orchard. In spring (November in New Zealand), those ‘Profusion’ crabapples arched over the bottom of the hedge would have looked gorgeous from the house.

Hedge-path to olive grove-Wiggins-The Paddocks

Now I was in the olive grove. In 2011, Penny and Rowan planted 75 olive trees which produce almost a ton of fruit per year.

Olive grove-Wiggins-The Paddocks

Harvest time involves lots of friends picking for the opportunity to share in the pressed oil.

Olives-Olea europaea

At the very top of the garden was a sweet little garden house…..

Garden house-Wiggins-The Paddocks

….. which I would die to have.  What a wonderful spot to escape weeding and chores.

Garden house room-Wiggins-The Paddocks

I wandered back down the slope and found a textural planting with grasses and South African restios, not to mention a good view of the neighbourhood.

Restios and grasses-Wiggins-The Paddocks

Then I came around the front and noticed that one of our tour members was taking advantage of that lovely view.

Garden visitor in restios-Wiggins-The Paddocks

Back at the house, I took more time to enjoy the border with its well-grown David Austin roses and…..

Roses in bed-Wiggins-The Paddocks

….. others being visited by honey bees. (Singles and semi-doubles often yield abundant pollen for bees.)

Honey bee on rose-Wiggins-The Paddocks

It was time to leave and head back to Auckland where we started our tour. Tomorrow we would be flying to Queenstown on the South Island. I enjoyed this border with its hydrangeas and tall Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium sp.) and its attractive fountain.

Fountain border-Wiggins-The Paddocks

A water feature like this makes so much sense and adds that lovely sound of splashing water (says the owner of a high-maintenance garden pond which she would love to trade….)

Fountain-Wiggins-The Paddocks

As we headed out of the garden, I spotted a native of New Zealand’s Antipodean neighbour, Australia: yellow kangaroo paw (Anizoganthos flavidus).

Anizoganthos flavidus-yellow kangaroo paw-Wiggins-The Paddocks

Finally, I had to take a little peek behind the fence on the far side of the house where it was good to find the nuts-and-bolts of the garden, a reminder that behind every beautiful garden are hard-working gardeners – like Rowan and Penny Wiggins.

Glasshouse-Wiggins-the Paddocks