Garden of the week: Visit a pair of mad-keen Kerikeri gardeners

JANE USSHER JANE USSHER JANE USSHER JANE USSHER JANE USSHER JANE USSHER JANE USSHER JANE USSHER JANE USSHER JANE USSHER JANE USSHER

Monto Garden is the Kerikeri property of David Monks, left, and Jürgen Tofahrn.

David and Jürgen incorporated a cactus garden to add an architectural look, with the bonus of scented flowers throughout the year.

This stepped pathway is lined with fishtail palms, Dypsis baronii (sugar cane palms)and nikau and is partly made from Queenstown schist and partly from paradise stone (a Northland limestone); David changed his mind midway, so he married the two.

Dragon trees and aloes among the rocks.

A walkway through the bangalows plays to David’s obsession with pillars; the structure creates a green roof that allows soft, subtle light for the mix of vireyas and begonias nearby.

The centre rock weighs five tonnes; the unusually shaped cactus Eulychnia breviflora on the left of the path always attracts attention.

This tranquil, open area has a focal point that David calls a bird bath and Jürgen says is a wishing well.

These topiaried pohutukawa are always a show-stopper; Jürgen says the reaction of visitors to messing with such an iconic native plant is 80 per cent horror and 20 per cent surprise.

David jokingly calls this area “Conifer corner”; the rocks hanging in the trees are encouraging the branches to grow downwards for a weeping effect.

The reclaimed pond and wetland area has a boardwalk leading to an island: “The island was created because there was a bit in the middle that the digger couldn’t reach, so we had to build the bridge to get to it,” says David.

In the background is a contrasting “European room” where olives and coprosma have been used to create an area with a completely different feel.

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Landscaper David Monks was very, very nervous when his partner Jürgen Tofahrn "dragged" him out of Auckland to a different life in the far north.

"I couldn't imagine leaving the asphalt and neon behind and going from designing little courtyards to coping with a 1.4-hectare garden."

Jürgen's plan to extricate David involved finding the perfect property to show him, and he spotted a Kerikeri property on the internet that reminded him of a place he'd had in the Black Forest in Germany.

The first job David  and Jürgen tackled was the pool: knowing they’d be time-poor, they set it into a low-maintenance ...
JANE USSHER

The first job David and Jürgen tackled was the pool: knowing they’d be time-poor, they set it into a low-maintenance rock garden with succulents and euphorbia; Butia capitata, Alexandra palms, bangalows and dragon trees continue the tropical look.

READ MORE:
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 "We came up to see it on a day when I was hung-over with a fuzzy brain," David says with a laugh. "I just thought 'don't overthink it', and said 'why not?'"

David and Jürgen in the wetland area.
JANE USSHER

David and Jürgen in the wetland area.

So the two moved to Kerikeri and began planning a garden for the property, which at that point was nothing more than lawn and a few mature trees. 

David quickly embraced the idea of a large garden, and a two-year honeymoon period began as he and Jürgen started sculpting a framework for the sort of garden they wanted.

"In the third year I panicked and got really worried about how we were ever going to finish it all," he says. "I'd always had it in my head that if you start a job you have to finish it but Jürgen changed the rules about that. Now I'm loving it and nothing is a chore."

Many other rules were changed in the creation of Monto Garden, now about 10 years old. Eclectic doesn't even begin to describe it, and it's certainly no place for purists. Yet it's not a self-indulgent muddle. David is an award-winning landscape gardener and has been for more than 20 years, and there's method in his madness. "I like to build in the shock and wow factor, because that starts conversations," he says. "So some parts of the garden are peaceful and relaxed, and some have tension."

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He and Jürgen didn't have a master plan at the outset, but decided they'd sort out a few areas to start with. They decided to do the pool first. "We knew we'd never have time to go to the beach so we had to have a place to relax," Jürgen says.

In reality there's been very little relaxing going on as the two have developed the property, which gained a five-star rating in 2016 from the New Zealand Gardens Trust.

The cactus garden.
JANE USSHER

The cactus garden.

The garden surrounds the house and extends out across a sloping lawn and planted terraces to a creek. Beyond this is a wetland area traversed by boardwalks, alongside a shady woodland walk. Opposite, Jürgen's pet sheep graze in sunny paddocks.

The overall design is underpinned by David's love of rocks and group plantings, using natives, subtropicals, exotics, drought lovers and bog plants to create different areas. He used to have favourite plants, he says, but now his choices are more seasonal.  >

David likes plants that can be clipped and doesn't stop at buxus or the slow-growing camellias he uses for hedges. In this garden you'll find some most unusual topiaries, including a number of pohutukawa sporting wedding cake shapes. "The different plants provide the structure for gardens leading to other gardens, balancing them out and linking them together."

Topiaried pohutukawa.
JANE USSHER

Topiaried pohutukawa.

One of Jürgen's major contributions to this process was the substantial rock wall he built to create a framework for the different areas. It replaced what David refers to as "a sinister pittosporum hedge" and it took six months to build. "I'd stopped smoking, otherwise I could never have done it," Jürgen admits.

The wall pleases both of them, despite their differing garden styles. Jürgen likes the messy look with one plant growing into another, while David prefers more control. "We have our different areas," Jürgen says drily.

The next area he has in his sights is the wetland area, where he plans to mastermind some strictly native planting. "The swamp is looking after itself at the moment but I would like to develop it further."

Three of Jürgen’s favourites in one spot: Buffy his gardening companion, a vireya and a begonia.
JANE USSHER

Three of Jürgen’s favourites in one spot: Buffy his gardening companion, a vireya and a begonia.

David still has numerous projects to complete, but he's over trying to get the garden finished. "I just want to continue to develop it until it's how I first imagined it would look."  

Q&A

Soil type: Volcanic soil with streaks of peat and clay. (Jürgen)

Hours spent in the garden: We are out there every minute that we are not eating or sleeping. (Jürgen)

Watering the garden: We have no irrigation system and we have dry periods so we do have to water. But it's therapeutic and while you're at it you find yourself looking at something you might not otherwise have seen. We have indicator plants that show us when different areas need watering. (David)

Most significant plant: Palms are the most obvious. They are really useful because they act like umbrellas to provide shade, but they don't shut out the light. (David)

Help in the garden: We have birds and insects, which we need because we don't spray. And we have chooks and sheep.It's a very good balance. (Jürgen)

Do you open your garden to the public? David loves showing people around the garden. Monto Garden is open to the public 15 Nov-15 May by appointment. See gardens.org.nz. (Jürgen)

David Monks and Jürgen Tofahrn

 - NZ House & Garden

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