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.