Christchurch Botanic Gardens

As we pulled into Christchurch in late afternoon a few hours after our delightful lunch and garden tour at Akaunui Homestead and Farm, a few of us decided to leave the hotel and walk to the Christchurch Botanic Gardens less than a mile away. After the disastrous 2011 earthquake here, the city has been rebuilding for years, especially structures that were not earthquake-proof, like this old building en route.

The botanic gardens are open to the public from 7 am to 6:30 pm (conservatories 10:15 am – 4 pm) daily, except Christmas Day. Like all the botanic gardens we saw in New Zealand, there is no charge to visit. Covering 21 hectares (52 acres), they were opened in 1863, occupying a pretty site along the Avon River.  There is an excellent printed .pdf guide online.

We started in the Kitchen Garden adjacent to the former Curator’s House, which is now a restaurant (we would eat dinner there later).  I thought this was one of the finest edible gardens I’d visited…..

….with its focus on design…..

….and diversity of edibles…..

….and education.

We walked along the Avon River with its scrim of beech trees….

….past early evening picnickers.

With so little time until dark, we bypassed the lawn and adjacent heather garden.

The large Rock Garden seemed to need a little more TLC in the weeding and editing department……

….. but had clearly been an ambitious design with significant scale.

I liked seeing a new ornamental onion, Allium carinatum subsp. pulchellum, so happy here…..

…. and keeping the bees happy, too.

I had never seen Francoa sonchifolia in a garden, so was delighted to find it here along with its foraging honey bees…..

I walked slowly through the New Zealand Gardens….

….full of indigenous plants which in this country seem to be so understatedly…..

…. green that the overwhelming perception is unremarkable.

But it takes time and local understanding to appreciate each of these plants, the smallest and the large, like the iconic totara tree (Podocarpus totara), below….

….and how they relate to wildlife, including this insect chorus on a Christchurch evening in mid-summer. Listen…..

Adjacent to the Native Plant Garden is the Cocayne Memorial Garden, designed in 1938 to honour Leonard Cocayne (1855-1934), New Zealand’s pioneering botanist and ecologist and author of The Vegetation of New Zealand (1921).

Given our limited time, we hurried through a cactus garden….

….. with some interesting large succulents that I later discovered were Furcraea parmentieri. A monocarpic Mexican species, these plants will grow until they achieve flowering, after which they will die.

A female paradise shelduck hovered at the water’s edge with her duckling nearby.

There were pretty, South African Crinum x powellii at the water’s edge here, showing why its common name is “swamp lily”.

Time was fleeting so we turned back toward the entrance past this lovely stand of fragrant lilies.

Nearby was a giant redwood (Sequoidendron giganteum), below, one of seven grown from seed that was ordered from California in 1873 (just 21 years after William Lobb first collected seed of the newly discovered trees in Calaveras Grove in the Sierra Nevadas for Veitch’s Nursery in England), making them 145 years old. Interestingly, though North Americans call this species “Sierra redwood” or “giant redwood” or “big tree” (since it is often confused with the smaller Coast redwood, Sequoia sempervirens). New Zealanders and the British call it “Wellingtonia”, a name that recalls England’s race to be the first to name it. After Lobb returned to England with seed, seedlings and herbarium specimens, taxonomist John Lindley named the species Wellingtonia gigantea to honour the recently deceased Duke of Wellington (1769-1852).  Meanwhile, as tourists poured into Calaveras Grove, botanist Albert Kellogg was working to sort out his big tree specimens in his herbarium at the brand-new California Academy of Natural Sciences in San Francisco, intending to call the species Washingtonia.  In 1854, the Duke of Wellington would lose his “official” taxonomic honour when French botanist Joseph Decaisne placed the tree in the genus Sequoia as S. gigantea (Sequoiadendron came later), but the common name Wellingtonia stuck for giant redwoods grown in the Commonwealth.

We peeked in to the lovely Rose Garden with its 104 beds, but kept walking.

Two more trees caught my eye. The Madeiran lily-of-the-valley tree (Clethra arborea) was attracting bees to its pendant blossoms……

….. and I was happy to see a young kauri  (Agathis australis) growing here, having loved walking under towering kauris in their protected forest at Bay of Islands.

At the southeast fringe of the Rose Garden was the extensive Dahlia Garden, with 90 percent of the collection sourced from New Zealand breeders.

This is ‘Velvet Night’, a 1985 introduction from Dr. Keith Hammett, one of the dahlia world’s icons and New Zealand’s leading breeder of ornamental plants.

We walked past an old Kashmir cypress (Cupressus cashmeriana), with its elegant pendulous branchlets.

Sadly because of the lateness of the day, we missed seeing the large water garden and the far reaches of Christchurch Botanic Gardens including Hagley Park. And the six conservatories had closed a few hours earlier: Cunningham House (tropical rainforest), Townend House (cool greenhouse), Garrick House (desert), Gilpin House (orchids, bromeliads, carnivorous plants), Fern House and Fowraker House (indigenous and exotic alpines).  And somehow we missed the herbaceous border. But it was time to head back to the entrance, past our riverside picnickers who had now been joined by friends and a few waterfowl, in order to enjoy our own alfresco dinner at the Curator’s House Restaurant before walking back to the hotel and hitting the sack. For tomorrow would be one of the best days on our tour, starring three stunning and very different New Zealand gardens.

The Gardens of Lakewinds

There’s nothing nicer than a mini-summer-holiday with old friends.

Unless it’s old friends and really good theatre.

Scratch that. Unless it’s old friends and really good theatre and good food and wine.

Scratch that.  Unless it’s old friends and really good theatre and good food and wine while staying in a lovely bed & breakfast with a spectacular garden. That’s how I spent several days last week in the lovely theatre town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, while taking in five productions of the annual Shaw Festival.  And, of course, catching up with old friends, as we do every summer here; dining in town; sipping wonderful Niagara wines; visiting the Niagara Parks Botanical Garden; and resting our heads at the charming Lakewinds Bed and Breakfast.

Lakewinds Bed & Breakfast

This was our first stay at Lakewinds and I was excited, as I’d visited it on a garden tour years ago. Jane and Steve Locke bought the manor house in 1994 (once the summer home of a scion of the Fleischmann yeast family of Buffalo) and refurbished it completely.  It’s a wedge shot from the historic (1875) Niagara Golf Course across the street and beyond that, the shore of Lake Ontario (thus the Lakewinds name) and a healthy 6-9 block walk from the centre of town, all three Shaw theatres and lots of restaurants and shopping.  Not to mention thousands of tourists!

After seeing the matinees and before heading out to dinner, we sat on the big front veranda in the late afternoon.

Main Veranda

In fact, there are two shady verandas at Lakewinds.  The side one has a nice view of the long, shade border.

Arbor & Side Veranda

And a great centrepiece of Rex begonias.

Rex begonia

A stroll towards the border takes you past the stairs festooned with a massive swath of Hall’s honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica ‘Halliana’) mixed with clematis.  As big as it was, Jane said she’d recently trimmed most of it away!

Clematis and honeysuckle

Here’s the long border, with its quiet mix of mostly green hostas and other foliage plants.

Front Border

On the most hot, humid day of the summer so far, we took a post-matinee dip in the lovely swimming pool.

Swimming pool

Stand under the redbud tree and you get a view over the pool along the checkerboard paving into the potager-style vegetable garden.

Pool view to potager

I love this kind of path!

Checkboard flagstone path

In early July, it’s just getting started, but the potager is full of colour..


There are lots of cottage garden flowers here, including red breadseed poppies (Papaver somniferum) and orange Spanish poppies (P. rupifragum).


And Clematis ‘Rooguchi’ is climbing the obelisk.

Clematis 'Rooguchi'

Off in a corner is a little formal space centred with a fountain.

Fountain garden

And at the back of the property is a serene, shady woodland with a path running through.

Shade walk

Jane keeps a bowl of flowers on long dining room table where we enjoyed breakfast…..

Flowers on table

And on the table in the lobby where afternoon sherry was accompanied by the curried almonds that Jane has made famous.  By chance, I found these nuts on the internet years ago and they’ve become part of my Christmas cooking routine.   The breakfasts were delish – eggs Benedict, Belgian waffles, and baked French toast, below.  Because you can’t start a day with George Bernard Shaw on anything less than a full stomach!

French toast







Touring Chanticleer – Part 1

Of all the public gardens I’ve visited around the world (and that list is very long), there is one that rises gracefully above all the rest. Not for the property, though this Pennsylvania estate is second to none. Not for the labels and signage, because there aren’t any (more on that later). And not for the gift shop, because this garden doesn’t need one; it is a gift in itself. There is no Victorian carpet bedding, no rows of annuals being trialled, no visitor’s tram, no snack bar.  There are simply extraordinarily creative plantings, superbly rendered designs, intellectual interpretations of the landscape’s unique sense of place, and excellence all round.  This is Chanticleer Garden, located in the hamlet of Wayne in Radnor Township, a half-hour drive from Philadelphia.

Earlier this June, I spent a charmed day wandering the hills and rills and valleys of Chanticleer.  I brought a lunch from my hotel, but hours later had to remind myself to sit down in one of the many colourful chairs to eat it, so worried was I that I might miss a garden or two before I had to leave.

Chanticleer-The Rock Ledge

Chanticleer was originally the 1913 country home of Adolph G. Rosengarten Sr. (b.1870), whose grandfather George, the 21-year old scion of a German banking family, had founded a successful chemical business in Philadelphia in 1823 that produced, among other products, the anti-malarial drug quinine. Though not on the vast scale of Longwood, the home and garden another wealthy chemical magnate, Pierre Du Pont, had built 6 years earlier in nearby Wilmington, Delaware, Chanticleer took its place as one of the fabled mansions along the Main Line rail route, where Philadelphia society went to escape the summer heat.  Perhaps reflecting his sizable investment, Adolph Sr. named his new home after the fictional Chanteclere from the William Makepeace Thackeray novel The Newcomes, a grand house that was “mortgaged up to the very castle windows”. In French, Chanticleer means rooster, and that literary allusion is seen in the many original rooster statues and motifs around the estate, left, and also in the rooster combs in California sculptor Marcia Donahue’s playfully suggestive ceramic bamboo culms.

Chanticleer Rooster & Marcia Donohue Sculpture

In 1927, the year that Rosengarten & Sons merged their company with the powerhouse pharmaceutical Merck & Co. (then enjoying huge sales of a drug they’d introduced four years earlier called penicillin), Adolph Sr., with his wife Christine, son Adolph Jr. (b.1906) and daughter Emily (b.1910), made Chanticleer their full-time residence.  In time, he built houses for both children as wedding gifts and it is at Emily’s house near the gate (now the garden’s administrative building) where my tour begins.

In the kitchen courtyard that acts as an entrance to the garden is a collection of beautifully planted containers

01-Teacup Garden Entrance Pots

Pass through the gate from the kitchen courtyard and you reach the charming Teacup Garden, a courtyard centred by a formal parterre set around the cup-shaped, Italianate fountain that gives the space its name.  Gardener Dan Benarcik, who oversees the Teacup and the Tennis Garden below the house, has described the feeling he wants to convey here as “lush formal”, maintaining the geometry of formal design but using lush tropical plants in the beds and containers.  Though it’s early in the season for these summer heat-lovers, you can appreciate the brilliant foliage choices, including the gold-toned bromeliad Aechmea blanchetiana and the ‘Black Coral’ taros (Alocasia).  Formality is emphasized with the four standard silver willows (Salix alba ‘Sericea’) in the corners.

02-Teacup Fountain Garden

At the other end of the house, windmill palms (Trachycarpus fortunei) in gorgeous glazed pots stand sentinel in front of French doors.  The smaller pots contain golden scheffleras (S. actinophylla ‘Amate Soleil’).  At right is a split-leaf philodendron (P. selloum ‘Hope’).

03-Visitor Center Palms

Now let’s head around Emily’s house to the front so we can make our way down to the gardens below. Gaze up as you head for the stairs: those brilliant chartreuse boughs of the ‘Frisia’ black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) will give you a little clue as to the delicious colour sensibilities ahead.

04-Upper Terrace & Robinia pseudoacacia 'Frisia'

On the sweep of lawn flanking the long borders sit a pair of purple chairs under a huge jack oak tree (Quercus alba x Q. montana). Colourful chairs are a staple at Chanticleer; set in the most picturesque places, they provide a little rest while offering a good photo opportunity.

05-Chairs near long borders

The long borders feature a purple-blue-yellow-gold colour theme, seen below in combinations using variegated ‘Axminster Gold’ comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum) with yellow phlomis (P. russeliana) on the left; at right is Allium cristophii with ‘Gigantea’ rusty foxglove (Digitalis ferruginea), blue Italian alkanet (Anchusa azurea) and phlomis in the background. The long borders and parking lot gardens are overseen by gardener Doug Croft, who greets me later and helps with a few plant id’s.

06-Yellow-blue Themed long borders

What was once the staircase leading to the tennis court in the Rosengartens’ time is now a dramatic, sedum-topped entrance to the Tennis Court Garden.  Perhaps the best description of what lies ahead is “formal but informal”, with five flower beds planted in a profuse mix of perennials, bulbs and shrubs.

08-Stairs to Tennis Garden

The colours in the Tennis Court Garden in June are predominantly pink, purple, yellow and chartreuse, the latter seen in the ‘Ogon’ spirea (Spiraea thunbergii) in the middle and the ‘Hearts of Gold‘ redbud (Cercis canadensis) at left. You also see the luscious Itoh hybrid peony ‘Bartzella’ and a few spikes of the popular salmon-orange ‘Illumination Flame’ foxglove (Digiplexis). In the background, ‘New Dawn’ and ‘Dr. Van Fleet’ climbing roses wreath the attractive pergola.

09-View to Tennis Garden

Pollarding is used at Chanticleer in order to harness certain trees for their attractive foliage while maintaining them at a shrubby border size.  Two examples are the Cercis canadensis ‘Hearts of Gold’ redbud and the large-leafed princess tree (Paulonia tomentosa) seen here.  Also shown are ‘Caradonna’ meadow sage (Salvia nemorosa) and an allium (likely ‘Ambassador’).

10-Tennis Garden plants

Simple combinations can be very striking, especially using bulbs like the summer alliums, which offer a big hit of spherical purple, against a shrub like the Magic Carpet spirea (Spiraea x bumbalda ‘Walbuma’).

11-Allium in spirea

Comfy, foldable chairs sit in front of the rock wall behind the Tennis Court Garden.  Here, the yellow-blue scheme continues the colour theme of the long borders nearby.  Yellow fumitory (Corydalis lutea) and goldenmoss stonecrop (Sedum acre) predominate here, along with various blue or purple campanulas, centaureas and perennial geraniums.

07-Chairs & yellow-blue plantings

At the bottom of the hill just before the woods is the enchanting Cut Flower Garden with its rebar-grapevine arches festooned with clematis (red ‘Niobe’ is shown).  The arches provide structure throughout the year and draw the eye through the four quadrants overflowing with a riotous mix of annuals, bulbs and perennials meant to evoke an old-fashioned cottage garden.  Though the annuals will hit their stride with summer’s heat, here we see some of the June cast of characters:  biennial purple sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis), ‘Filigran’ oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) and peach ‘Spring Valley Hybrids’ foxtail lilies (Eremurus).

12-Cut-Flower Garden

Rich-purple ‘Sarastro’ bellflower (Campanula) is joined by the zingy pink orbs of ‘Fireworks’ gomphrena and orange calendula.

13-Campanula 'Sarastro' & Gomphrena 'Fireworks'

Below, Emma Seniuk, the gardener for the cut flower and vegetable gardens, works with David Mattern to build a sturdy structure she calls the “cantaloupe tree”.  All the gardeners at Chanticleer are encouraged to create the furnishings, accessories and even bridges for the gardens in their charge.  Emma also spent 18 months in a student placement at England’s Great Dixter Garden, benefiting from a special scholarship in the name of Great Dixter’s renowned founder (and superlative flower gardener), the late Christopher Lloyd.

14-Emma & David building a Canteloupe Tree

Here is the charming vegetable garden, surrounded by its rustic paling fence.

15-The Vegetable Garden

With its quadrants separated by paths, the garden suggests a French potager but the vegetables are planted within them in very American-style rows.  Some of the harvest is used by the garden, but much is donated to those in need.


Now we are heading into Chanticleer’s newest “garden”, Bell’s Woodland.  Opened in spring 2012 and planted with wildflowers, rhododendrons, redbuds and other shade-lovers under the mature native forest canopy, it is still being developed but offers a shady, naturalistic contrast to many of the Chanticleer’s other gardens.  Don’t you love this fabulous “fallen tree” entrance fabricated by the Bell’s Woodland gardener Przemyslaw Walczak! 

17-Entrance to Bells Run Woods

Bell’s Woodland celebrates plants of the Eastern North American forest and features mature natives like this American beech (Fagus grandifolia) with its boughs overhanging the path. The path, incidentally, is comprised partly of recycled shredded tires.

18-Beech in Bells Run Woods

Towering tulip poplars (Liriodendron tulipifera) are a feature of the woods.

19-Tulip poplar-Liriodendron tulipifera

And, of course, chairs are set around so visitors can enjoy the peaceful surroundings….

20-Trunk & chairs - Bells Run Woods

….interrupted only by the song of birds.

21-Bird in Bell's Run Woods

Though the vast majority of plants here are native, a lovely collection of clematis has been established to add a little color to the pathways.  The pink-flowered plants adjacent to the path are Phlox ovata.

22-Bells Run Woods path with clematis

The woods are cut through by a creek called Bell’s Run.  At one time, this old water wheel pumped water from the creek to the Rosengartens’ swimming pool up the hill.  The white-flowered tree is Chinese dogwood (Cornus kousa).

23-Waterwheel-Bell's Run

A chair under a black walnut tree (Juglans nigra) overlooks Bell’s Run creek.

24-Black walnut-Bells Run

Orange globe flower (Trollius spp.) pairs with a pink meadow phlox along the path.

25-Trollius & phlox - Bells Woods

Do you know what this is in the clovers and grasses?  I was puzzled by a fern that didn’t seem to be growing yet.  That’s because it wasn’t growing.  Instead……

26-Ostrich fern marker

….it was an ingenious (and very naturalistic) way to mark the edges of the camassia meadows using the old fertile fronds of ostrich ferns (Matteucia struthiopteris), so the gardeners would know where to mow without cutting down the ripening leaves of the camassia that were in bloom a few weeks earlier.

27-Camas meadows - Bells Woods

This massed planting of white astilbe does something quite wonderful when viewed from the other side.

28-Astilbe in Bells Woods

It forms a fluffy white horizontal to catch the eye and backlight the silhouette of the tree.

29-Astilbe effect - Bells Woods

Here is a small array of ferns from Bell’s Woodland: lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) with kousa dogwood, left; royal fern (Osmunda regalis) with a trillium leaf, top right; and a rain-splashed maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum) at lower right.

30-Dogwood & Ferns-Bells Woods

We come out of the woods near the old orchard where the daffodil leaves are ripening in the long grasses, and we’ve finished the first half of our tour.  If your legs are still working, why not join me for the second half?

31-Orchard path