A beautiful garden grown on a budget
Beneath a wisteria-covered arbour, lunch is served in Kaye Pickering and Keith Norris' Wairoa, Hawke's Bay garden. On the menu is home-made pizza, followed by melt-in-the-mouth cinnamon oysters, which were always a signature dish of Kaye's beloved mother Beatrice (Bea), who passed away just a few days before our visit.
"How about we leave it for a bit," I had suggested when I heard this news. But, no, Kaye insisted on going ahead. "You see," she explained, "Mum was so happy about our being featured in NZ House & Garden magazine and would have been thrilled that you were coming. She'd have been here with bells on: she was always interested in what we were doing."
City boy Keith (he's originally from Wellington) met Kaye, a nurse from Wairoa, at a woolshed party in a little place called Weber in Manawatu in 1986. Love blossomed and the couple decided to settle in Kaye's home town.
In 1992 they bought a rundown villa on a 2.4ha section that no one else in their right mind would touch. "It had been on the market for a long time and, although it was a wilderness, we saw so much potential," says Kaye. Over the next 10 years they beavered away on their project. Living at Bea's house nearby meant they could recover after a day's work without the constant reminders of renovating.
This quiet corner of suburban Wairoa became a hive of industry as friends and family rallied to help. "One Christmas we had people with high and low rollers painting the inside of the house. That's what you do, isn't it?" says Kaye.
Bea would load up baskets of home baking and bring them to the hungry workers. Kaye's brother Bruce – a builder – was in charge of renovations. "Fortunately the house hadn't been mucked around with so, when we peeled everything back, we discovered beautiful native timbers such as kauri, matai and rimu," says Keith.
At the same time they laid out the garden. The only existing trees were some big poplars, an elm and willows. The rest was like a jungle that they had to slash by hand. "I thought, 'This is what convicts do,'" says Kaye.
"We measured up the area and drew it to scale. We both made lists of plants we liked and filled hedged borders with a variety of perennials," says Keith, who prefers mass-planting for impact, rather than having a bit of this and that. "We made these garden 'rooms' to create a feeling of walking into a space," says Kaye.
While she continued to work as a nurse at Wairoa Hospital, just as Bea had done, Keith set up a lawnmowing and gardening business. He'd worked previously in a garden centre in Lower Hutt and also studied landscape design. The experience proved invaluable and his business, Coast Park Landscapes, "grew and grew". So much so, in fact, that in 1996 Kaye left nursing to join him: "I used to look after people, now I look after plants."
The couple, who describe themselves as "magpies", are living proof that a wonderful and interesting garden can be created on a shoestring budget.
"We have spent very little money and have grown nearly everything from cuttings," says Kaye. "Time and patience is the big thing. If you have to wait, you do.
"We make loads of compost – whatever we are able to grab goes in, including weeds, lawn clippings and horse manure. We gather seaweed from Mahia Beach. We put our compost on in winter and spring to seal in the moisture and beat the weeds."
Keith's latest delight is a glasshouse that is filled with masses of juicy ripe tomatoes in summer. An espaliered pear tree stretched out across a fence is another of his pet projects.
Also at home here are Harvey the dog, chooks and cows, and an orchard full of fruit trees, including citrus, apples, pears, prune plum and macadamia. "We endeavour to be as self-sufficient as we can and try to live off the land," says Kaye.
In his 20s, Keith was a drummer in a 1970s band called Rockinghorse. Until recently he played with the Wairoa Blues Band. He chuckles when he talks about "the razzing I got" when his music cronies found out he was president of the Wairoa Rose Society. "And now you are the judge of the local potato-growing competition," says Kaye, laughing. "What do I tell them?"
Their garden has become a venue for community groups, weddings and fundraising events. The pair host rose-pruning demonstrations and willow-weaving workshops and are getting stuck into supporting a community garden initiative.
And now that their plant nursery is well established they plan to promote that side of their business too.
"Our dream is to work full-time from here," says Kaye. "We've made what we have now into a reality, so I don't see why it's not possible. Mum and Dad [Hector] encouraged our dream.
"Dad said, 'The first thing you should plant are your firewood trees', so we planted gum and wattle. We've got two fireplaces now and are able to supply all our own wood. It's hard work; sometimes you think, 'Why am I doing this?' But in the end, you know, it is a very fulfilling way to live."
Soil type: Light loam on top of orange pumice – that means it's free-draining and requires regular mulching.
Hours spent per week in the garden: 15 hours between us.
Favourite plant combination: The yellowy orange Helenium 'Wyndley' with purple penstemon in summer. (Keith) Roses with euphorbia in spring. (Kaye)
Most-used tool: Secateurs. (Keith)
Most-used part of the garden: The rose/wisteria garden, where we have a fire pit. (Kaye)
Plants that grow well here: Bamboo, magnolias, silver-leaf perennials such as verbascum. (Keith)
Best edible crop: Pears. (Kaye) Prune plums. (Keith)
Biggest gardening mistake: Forgetting to turn off the tap one season: we are on a water meter. (Both)
What I've learned about gardening over the years: Keep enriching the soil and mulch. (Keith)
Do you open your garden to the public? Our garden is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday and if our open sign is out.
Visit coastparkgardens.com for more information.
Kaye Pickering and Keith Norris
This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of NZ House & Garden. Subscribe to NZ House & Garden at Mags 4 Gifts.
- NZ House & Garden