Seasons of promise

Last updated 08:05 09/11/2012

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When Belinda Vavasour looks out at her winter garden from the warmth of her living room, she sees promise.

Aside from a couple of small camellias, most plants have died back, leaving just the lawn and the hedges to provide colour. But Belinda has planted her garden in such a way that, even on the coldest of midwinter days, she can imagine the beauty that will emerge in just a few weeks.

"I want to look at it and see that there's promise there for what is going to come but it's all right where it is at that moment."

Pots, art and climbers on frames help keep some life in the garden, too, says Belinda.

"If you're inside looking out on depressing wet miserable days, you want to have something that has got some focus."

Belinda and Hugh's garden is by no means large but it is neatly planted, full of features and, now that spring has arrived, dotted with colour. The neatly bordered gardens and trimmed hedges contain a carefully chosen selection of plants, whittled down from a great many more that Belinda simply could not fit in.

"I did try and plan it but I planted it far too heavily. I've given away so much."

Belinda's struggle to temper her planting enthusiasm is unsurprising, given that the Vavasours' last home was the grand Ugbrooke Country Estate, on 16 acres of land in the Awatere Valley, which had been in the Vavasour family since 1897.

After leaving this wide open space, Belinda needed time to get used to her much tighter garden boundaries.

The trick to limiting her choice was not to allow "passengers".

"It either has to perform or go . . . [in a big garden] if they want to take years to mature and to strengthen well they can do it but in a small garden you just haven't got the room for them to do that."

"Everything has really got to stand up to the looking-at test, because you're looking at it all the time."

The Vavasours' home, Hazlewood, is the middle of three houses hidden away at the end of Brook St, next to the Taylor River Reserve.

An enormous gum towers over a shaded, hidden driveway where the sounds of the riverside street are suddenly dimmed to a murmur.

The dark driveway emerges into a peaceful patch of land surrounded by tall trees that make the outside world disappear.

Once the owners of "the most wonderfully treed" property that stretched all the way to Purkiss St, the Vavasours subdivided and built their current home on 1100sqm of land in 2005. Clearing the land meant removing three truckloads of trees, including pines. They kept an existing patch of native bush next to their house and the trees on the driveway and original boundaries.

After initially overplanting, Belinda has found balance in her garden.

"Now I just leave what seeds in there which isn't very exciting because there's lots of kind of repeat plantings, there's nothing very smart. There's a lot of hostas which just love it which is good because I like them too."

Hugh and Belinda's red garden gate leads to a neat lawn specifically for the grandchildren to play on, surrounded by bushes and flowers. Against the wall of the house is a concrete pond, goldfish protected from inquisitive and potentially falling children by a steel barrier around the top, but no barrier to thirsty cats. The lawn ends at another gate leading to a neat courtyard, a herb garden at its heart, though the cats appear to have other ideas for that particular patch, says Belinda. Further still is a small established piece of native bush, dubbed the "jungle" by the grandchildren who delight in its dark, mysterious corners. Past the woodpile that backs onto the stopbank of the river reserve is Belinda's vegetable garden - nothing grand, she says, but enough to supply some fresh produce for the family - and a few of her rose bushes which she has also had to limit.

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"I'm very fond of roses . . . when they flower, but I hate dealing with them other times."

Any roses that show signs of rust are gone and only a carefully chosen few remain. They include Margaret Merrill, General Gallieni, Mutabilis, Red Coat, Compassion, Sally Holmes, Cupid and Darcey Bussell, inspired by the Royal Ballet ballerina of the same name who Hugh and Belinda saw perform in Britain.

This weekend, the Vavasour garden is on the Hunter's Garden Marlborough tour circuit, giving Belinda the chance to both share and receive tips on how best to manage an urban garden. Participating in the event has given Hugh and Belinda a bit of motivation to finish and change a few things in the garden which, despite limited space, can still have a life of its own: "There's things happening all the time in gardens, that's the nice thing about it."

- The Marlborough Express

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