Gardening on the edge

The Press

At the beginning of the season in late October, the night before a big bus tour, she gets out the frozen ginger kisses, polishes up the silver teapots, lays out the cups and, just before dark, she goes out and cuts off all the roses from the few that she can't remember the names of ! "I'm not having all these ladies coming tomorrow asking me the names of roses they already know the name of, just to catch me out" and we, her gardening neighbours, assembled to give moral support for the big day, would fall about shrieking on the grass! I know how she feels though. You are staring at a rose, and you know it so well, but the name just will not come, and some of those Austins they keep churning out year after year, are just so so damnably similar! It didn't matter so much when almost everyone visiting gardens was getting on in years, but that is no longer the case. Garden tours are de rigeur for the young because its a great day out, and lets face it, cheap as chips for what you get.


Take a moment to pity the often traumatised owners of the gardens trying to create art on a flapping canvas, and all slightly paranoid that you will think their garden is lacking or not worthy. When a garden writer comes and does your garden with a photographer, they seek out the most delicious vignettes, and the article never shows where you tried to hide the mountain of weeds, or the sacks of this and piles of that. But a garden tour is more like being visited by investigative journalists, sometimes over 100 of them over a weekend. They have the opportunity to notice everything.. unwashed cars, spider webs, rubbish in bags behind corners, spray that drifted old essential shed full of things you wish you didnt own, a potager that just is not perfect, the dead heading that has just not been done, and a dog that has done something where he shouldn't in the pea straw between the time you had a last check around, and when the bus arrived.


So back to the roses... cutting off the ones you dont know to save face will not work in late November ..we've had some Show Weekend weather and anything that can bloom is doing so. Visitors will be able to identify and name away to their hearts content particularly in Akaroa where gardeners work in the moonlight to keep up with the local rose queen Barbara Lea Taylor. Further out, gardens that face the easterly wind on the peninsula have to play a different ball game, but have the undeniable bonus of the borrowed landscape. Most of them could stop gardening tomorrow and still have a vista around them that would never pall. I often wonder why those looking over the Alps or the sea in Christchurch don't just leave it at that, a million dollar plus view with a few pots of parsley and a jasmine somewhere. Gillian Polson who set up the herb Farm in Akaroa over 30 years ago always said that one day she would just open the gate and let the sheep right up to the door, and she did, and the place is still lovely.

Decanter Bay homestead garden developed by self-taught nurseryman Ernst and Christine Rudin-Jones has one of those locations people in New York city can only fantasise about, also with roses in the right places, but they have concentrated on a garden that does not block out the beach or the riveting Decanter Rocks at the head of the bay ,and yet is still sheltered for people activites from the wind. Look for the koru circle, and the labour of love rock wall , the romantic winding woodland path from the beach, and other wait till you see them follies that are the result of ten years living and working flat out, as well as meticulously renovating the early colonial cottage into a home that I could shift to tomorrow !

Theres a ancient gig seat found in a paddock and semi restored on the verandah looking down to the beach, but given the work gone into this garden which was just a thistle paddock when they arrived, its unlikely they have ever sat on it! Ernst has specialised in native plantings around spacious curving lawns and niches for Band B guests to hang out in hammocks, get married in the sunken garden, or take bush baths surrounded by fragrant herbs and climbers. It is reached by a narrow tar sealed road that will test those with vertigo. It winds in from Little Akaloa up and around a seascape below like something out of a Indiana Jones movie, so dont let your driver get too chatty about the view! Tell them to keep their eyes on the road ahead. You drive almost to the beach and there amidst the ubiquitous cabbage trees, norfolk pines, flaxes, even a phoenix palm, giant echiums and arum lilies, are specimen macrocarpas.
The grassy esplanade strip along the rocky beach you can could get to from the kitchen holding a latte in 30 seconds .

For Christchurch visitors there is now an extra frisson of course, for this part of the world is now part of your city! Back to roses again. There was a tantalisingly difficult to identify tea rose turned part climber on the brick patio . I took a bloom and rang Jill Harris who farmed there with her famous for growing his own tobacco on site husband Tad Harris back in 1948. The rose was a wedding present and Jill said it was a one word name, and not Birthday Present! I've come up with a grower, Francis Meilland, who developed a rose called Tassin named after a village in France near Lyons in 1942 .It would have been on the market in NZ by 1948 and probably very fashionable as a gift. Its sweetly fragrant, dark red, sun burning blackish and healthy dull leathery leaves...Can someone looking at this rose in Decanter confirm my hunch, and I don't mind being humbled if an alternative verdict is the outcome!



Another garden on the edge is at Fishermans Bay behind Akaroa on the Long Bay Road and past The Hinewai Reserve. It is literally as far as you can drive on the Peninsula and a shipwrecked half dead, couldn't speak English fisherman once climbed the cliffs and knocked on the door of a flabbergasted Lesley Brown who lived there before Jill and Richard Simpson. He was looking for something to eat and she just happened to be making the school lunches! Beautiful brown cows grudgedly shifted off the gravel road on the way in, but once again the view is the thing, only this one is from on high.
There is an infinity pool off the deck with a difference. This one is not brimming silent water, its the Pacific Ocean with rocks and breakers smashing on the rocks far below. It was all I could do to drag myself away and follow artist and plantswoman Jill around the acres of native plantings specialising in hebes that again has taken ten years of up early, bed late, and much credit must go to Richard who is also still farming, and must have been handed a list as long as a tow rope some mornings, peastraw has been the key apparently and many truckloads and trailer loads of it.


Jill catches me staring into the distance. "You're no different to anyone else"
" When I take people around the paths and tracks they are not listening to me talking, I know they are all looking at the view and talking about the sunrises, but don't think we dont know we are lucky" Jill is a nurserywoman from way back and also an artist.Her studio in the remodelled by an architect farm house for open plan vast tiled floors living, is an obvious testament to her love of Planet Earth and she has indulged in her passion for garden iron art , some very large pieces to fit the scale of the landscape, a treat around every corner, and always on the lookout for more.

They have saved the gooseberries, raspberries and fruit trees from the Browns and frankly its a rural idyll. Perennials have not been forgotten, nor the huge potager and its all been done on the lay down the peastraw and wait a year philosophy.There are tractors and picturesque remains of generations of farming life.

Look for the plain corrugated iron shed because when you open the door you're in for an historic treat. Its the original woolshed, and inside there is room for over 100 people to sit down to a wedding breakfast ...oops I forgot... back at Ernst and christines is another little treat ..their dog has a near secret place he goes to have a bit of privacy and a lie down .see if you can spot it !