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.


Dunedin Botanic Garden

After travelling on the 10th day of our American Horticultural Society “Gardens, Wine & Wilderness Tour” from Lake Manapouri and Doubtful Sound to Dunedin in Otago on the east coast of the South Island, a 3-1/2 hour journey of 291 kilometres (182 miles)……

…. we arrived in the city late in the afternoon. Our route took us past the Dunedin Railway Station. Built in the Edwardian Baroque style in 1906, it provided train service for a city that had been founded 58 years earlier by the Free Church of Scotland. In fact Dunedin is the old Gaelic name for Edinburgh, and it was the Scots who were the first colonists, though the Māori had already occupied the land for some 700 years. It was a big whaling port in its early days, then the Otago Gold Rush of the 1860s led to its rapid expansion.

Where we had slept in a stateroom aboard a boat on Doubtful Sound in Fiordland the night before, tonight we would be sleeping in a rather lovely room at the Distinction Dunedin Hotel. What made it extra-special was the fact that the room was equipped with a clothes washer and dryer. If you’ve travelled for any length of time on a bus tour, you’ll know how welcome that would be.

Feeling a little tired after the drive, we ordered up a light room-service dinner of cheese plate & salad, and cracked a bottle of Marlborough Chardonnay.

The next morning, we headed out to Dunedin Botanic Garden….

…..where we were met in the parking lot for an orientation by Alan Matchett (left), Garden Team Leader/Curator and Collection Curator, Dylan Norfield.

Opened in 1863, it is New Zealand’s first botanic garden. It occupies 30.4 hectares (75 acres) on a property that slopes from native Lovelock Bush, the New Zealand Native Plant Collection, Geographic Collection and Rhododendron Dell at the top down a hillside through the Southern African Garden and Mediterranean Terrace  and Rock Garden – all considered the Upper Garden – to the Lower Garden where you find Herbaceous Borders, a Knot Garden, Glasshouses, the Clive Lister Garden, the Rose Garden, Theme Borders and a Water Garden. The main gates open to an intersection of three of Dunedin’s main streets.

We set off behind Alan and Dylan for a tour that was sadly much too short to see all the features of this wonderful garden.

The Native Plant Collection is vast, and includes traditional borders…..

….. featuring grasses and shrubs and with some of the country’s native tree ferns, like Dicksonia fibrosa, with its persistent frond ‘skirts’. (For more on NZ ferns, have a look at my previous post.)

There were cultivars and hybrids of natives here, like silver-leafed Brachyglottis ‘Otari Cloud’….

….. and the lovely variegated Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Irene Patterson’. Unlike the UK and the mild west coast, pittosporums are not much seen in northeast North America.  I wish I’d had time to search out many more.

In the shadier sections, the New Zealand rock lily or renga renga (Arthropodium cirratum) was in flower…….

…… and bush flax (Astelia fragrans) was already in fruit.

We toured a fascinating Alpine Scree.  On an island so dominated by the rugged Southern Alps (it is estimated that one-third of New Zealand’s flora exists in the alpine zone), it’s interesting to see plants adapted to the gravelly slopes of mountains…..

…..like giant Spaniard (Aciphylla scott-thomsonii), below. Though often called Spaniard grass or speargrass, the spiky Aciphyllas are actually umbellifers, members of Apiaceae that flower in November. The flowers in my closeup below have withered and blackened.

Here’s a vigorous clump of Marlborough rock daisy (Pachystegia insignis).

In the Geographic Collections, we noted South American plants like evergreen Luma apiculata from the Central Andes between Chile and Argentina…

….and Lomandra longifolia from Australia.

We made a brief stop at the Rhododendron Dell, which forms a large part of the 4-hectare (10-acre) Woodland Garden.  Naturally, as we visited in summer, nothing was in flower,  but I can only imagine what these massive ‘Halopeanum’ rhodos would have looked like in November.

Descending, we made our way through the large Southern African Garden.

There were beautiful king proteas here (P. cynaroides).

….. and masses of the dwarf Agapanthus ‘Streamline’.

How spectacular is this eye-popping planting of Crassula coccinea, native to the fynbos of the Western Cape?

With time running out, I raced through the Mediterranean Garden, with its formal pool…..

….. and balustrade overlook, with the hills of Dunedin in the distance.  But I knew I’d be coming back here today after another tour stop to spend lots of time retracing my steps to really explore the place!

In the Lower Garden, there was a Knot Garden patterned on the one in the Shakespeare Garden at Stratford-on-Avon.

And in classic public garden style, there was a stunning herbaceous border that I viewed from one end……

….. to the other.

Look at these lovely combinations:  alstroemerias and bright pink phlox with Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’…..

….. and salmon achillea with old-fashioned Shasta daisies…..

….. and unusual (for me) Lobelia tupa with Phlox paniculata……

…… and soft pink achillea with chocolate cosmos (C. atrosanguineus). Isn’t this fabulous?

There were loads of bumble bees foraging on the alstroemerias……

….. and on the lovely blue bog sage (Salvia uliginosa).

And just to add a little design intelligence to all that floriferous brilliance, the garden also features a number of “colour borders”, including yellow…..

….. and red….

….. and violet, featuring Lythrum virgatum, Monarda fistulosa and Agastache foeniculum.

I was impressed by the massive size of this English oak (Quercus ruber) – aka the ‘Royal Oak’ – which was planted in 1863 to commemorate the marriage of the Prince of Wales and the Danish Princess Alexandra.  The children in the playground seemed unmoved that they were frolicking atop the roots of a piece of Dunedin’s colonial history.

For sheer elegance, I loved the Clive Lister Garden – and also the story behind it, below. What a wonderful way to enrich a public space, especially one that has meant much to you during your life.

Look at this view of grasses and many native plants from one side of the bridge in the Clive Lister Garden……

….. and the other side, featuring hostas, Japanese maples and other shade plants.

The garden is full of textural plants…..

….. and those with attractive, coloured foliage.

Flowering seems less important than good foliage in the Clive Lister Garden, but there were some lovely surprises, like this ligularia-montbretia combination.

This is the shimmering Astelia chathamica ‘Silver Spear’, which we’re starting to see in N. American gardens.

Alas, our time at the fabulous Dunedin Botanic Garden had drawn to an end without me seeing the glasshouses, water garden, theme gardens, rose gardens or fully exploring the native and geographic collections in the Upper Garden we’d walked through so quickly. So I trotted out to the bus reluctantly and vowed to come back by taxi later in the day.


When I returned, clouds were gathering in the sky so I hurried to the Winter Garden Glasshouse. At its opening in 1908, it was said to be the first public conservatory in Australasia. It has three wings; the west wing contains a good cactus collection.

Tropicals find a warm, humid home in the central Tropical House.

And the east wing contains the sub-tropical collection, with plants like the lovely Vireya rhododendron, below.

It started to sprinkle as I left and eyed the Rose Garden – very nice, I’m sure, but I wanted to get back to the Upper Garden.

I decided to buy an ice cream in the visitor’s centre to see if the shower might abate, but it continued. So I headed quickly over Lindsay Creek to the Rock Garden…..

….. eyeing these spectacular red-hot pokers (Kniphofia sp.) as I walked. The climate here in Dunedin seems perfect for these South African natives.

The rock garden is stunning, and one could spend a half day just here examining all its lovelies, like…….

….. strange-looking Raoulia apicinigra, one of the “mat daisy” clan, …..

….. and Dierama pendulum, fairy bells.  But the rain had now intensified and having given my umbrella and raincoat to my husband to take back to the hotel (“Nah, I won’t need it.”), I found a plastic bag to partially cover my hat and tucked my phone under my shirt to keep it dry.  My cameras were now back in the camera bag as the heavens opened and the rain poured down.

One last shot, of a butterfly lily (Gladiolus papilio) that was as soaked as I was, and out I ran, down the steps and past the now deserted herbaceous borders to a bus shelter outside the gates, where I waited in the monsoon for 20 minutes to flag down a passing cab.

As sad as I was not to have had more time to spend at Dunedin Botanic Garden, I was so very grateful that I’d had the opportunity to see it at all.


Love botanic gardens? You might be interested in my blogs on New York Botanical Garden, Idaho Botanical Garden, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, UBC Botanical Garden and Toronto Botanical Garden’s fabulous containers and Piet Oudolf border. In South Africa, there is the mighty Kirstenbosch, the Harold Porter National Botanic Gardens and Durban Botanic Garden.  And outside London, Kew Gardens in autumn.

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

Finding Beauty & Tranquility at Omaio

While touring New Zealand this January with The American Horticultural Society’s Travel Study Program, we were privileged to visit both gardens with a high degree of human intervention and wild places where nature was the sole designer. But we also visited a garden where the owner had used her skill to meld subtle design with the natural environment in a way that complemented both.

Omaio-Garden Welcome-Sign

Omaio is a Māori word that means “peace, tranquility and happiness”. For Liz Morrow, her 18-acre (7 hectare) property on the Takatu Peninsula an hour north of Auckland is all of those things. What started out in 1980 as a log cabin seaside holiday house (what the Kiwis call a “bach”) became, in 2005, a full-time home.  Now it’s not just a ‘garden of national significance’ recognized by the New Zealand Gardens Trust, but also a Bed & Breakfast.  And it’s been the subject of magazine articles and a garden show.

Omaio-House front

But back to 2006, when Liz and her son Johny….

Omaio-Garden Sign

….. whose eponymous deck (aka ‘the gin deck’) is a comfortable spot to have a drink while gazing out at the ocean….

Johnny's Deck-the gin deck-Omaio

…. worked together to sculpt a garden out of native bush that features a  puriri tree (Vitex lucens) estimated to be 800-1000 years old, ancient kauri pines (Agathis australis), totaras (Podocarpus totara), silver ferns (Cyathea dealbata) and many other species. Crushed seashells from the beach, below, form the paths which circle through the bush……

Shell path through bush-Omaio

….. while fallen tree fern trunks delineate the edges in many places. Tree fern path edging-Omaio

Using borrowed garden hose to outline gently curving borders that echoed the curves and waves of Kawau Bay below, Liz cut into the former lawn, planting both exotics and natives that would complement, but not out-compete, the natural setting.

Lawn & sea view-Omaio

In the sunny garden surrounding the house…..

Omaio-House garden

….and in the dappled shade near the tennis court are plants like hydrangea that do very well here.

Tennis court-Omaio

We were all wowed by the luscious mophead Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Bloody Marvelous’.

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Bloody Marvelous

Though Liz’s massed clivias and bergenias would have flowered in New Zealand’s spring (our autumn), their foliage and fruit still offered interest in midsummer. This is the fruit of a yellow-flowered clivia.

Clivia fruit-Omaio

Liz was the perfect hostess, organizing an alfresco lunch…….

Liz Morrow-Omaio

….. in the shade behind the house where terraced gardens stretching up the slope offer what Liz calls “a soft palette that’s easy on the eyes”:  lots of green foliage with just a sprinkling of colour in a favourite yellow dahlia.

Terraced beds-Omaio

I loved this focal point crafted from a Scleranthus moss cushion…….

Scleranthus moss cushion-Omaio

……… and the real cushions on these comfy chairs under ferns.

Chairs & tree ferns-Omaio

After lunch I wandered Omaio’s paths, past the sunny Koru Garden where vegetables grow in profusion in raised beds shaped like the koru or symbolism-laden fern crozier that I wrote about in my last post.  In the bright midday sunshine, it was difficult to do justice to this garden…..

Koru Vegetable Garden1-Omaio

…..that provides fresh produce throughout the year. Not visible in the background is a small fruit orchard.

Koru Vegetable Garden2-Omaio

In the mostly green bush landscape, the pohutakawa (Metrosideros excelsa) stood out like a glowing red bouquet.

Metrosideros excelsa 'Vibrance'

This was my favourite photo from Omaio, a shimmering kauri trunk set against the turquoise ocean. (Kauris will figure prominently in my next blog on Maori culture.)

Kauri trunk-Agathis australis-Omaio

The artwork chosen for Omaio is subtle and rustic, like this corrugated iron boat shed…..

Boat shed-Jeff Thomson-Omaio

….. and sphere, both by Jeff Thomson. (His “Cows Looking Out to Sea” were in my earlier blog video from Connell Bay Sculpture Park.)

Sphere-Jeff Thomson-Omaio

Grandchildren must love this swing under the trees.


In a nod to the North Island’s prehistoric past, a lifesize moa by Jack Marsden-Meyer made from driftwood and pururi boughs watches over the path from the bush.  The sculpture recalls the flightless bird – this one, the North Island giant moa (Dinornis novaezealandiae)  was estimated to stand at 3 metres (10 feet) – that was hunted to extinction by the Polynesians, the first humans to reach New Zealand in the 13th century.

Moa-sculpture-Jack Marsden-Meyer-Omaio

Her “eggs” sit in a nest nearby.

Moa sculpture eggs-Omaio

As I came back around the house, some of Liz’s family were returning from a fishing expedition on Kawau Bay with a bucket of ‘snapper’ (Pagrus auratus), aka pink seabream, for dinner.

Snapper-Pink seabream-Omaio

Rounding into the shade, a native New Zealand hens-and-chicks fern (Asplenium bulbiferum) caught my eye.  Note the tiny ferns arising from bulbils on the mature fronds.

Asplenium bulbiferum-Mother spleenwort-Hen-and-chicken fern

And I loved this little maidenhair fern in a pot……

Maidenhair fern-Omaio

…. and these nests from the birds that have called Omaio home over the years.


A quick glass of water……

Water jug-Omaio

……then it was time to climb the path to the bus and head further north to the seaside town of Paihia in the Bay of Islands.