Villa ageing gracefully

Last updated 16:00 05/10/2012

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Diana Findlay's Renwick garden has all the gentle grace of its owner and of the home it surrounds. Sophie Preece visits one of the gardens in this year's Hunter's Garden Marlborough House and Heritage Tour. 

Diana Findlay's love of gardening bloomed in Southland, but wasn't truly fulfilled until she moved to Marlborough seven years ago.

Surrounded by the beautiful garden of her Renwick villa, she's clearly still surprised at how well everything she plants here responds.

"Even the seeds birds drop here flourish. It's amazing. In Southland to grow lemons, for instance, you would have to have a very special spot."

But the garden at Anglesea House, a 105-year-old villa with a steep Marseille tile roof, intricate exterior detail and original stained-glass windows, is about far more than good climate and soil.

Diana has used the bones there when she arrived, with established trees in a grove behind the house and surrounding her front garden, and enhanced them with a beautiful balance of formal lines and soft groves.

The drive and entrance is dominated by the final days of vibrant tulips, but will soon be blooming in a cherry blossom border and classic hybrid tea roses.

From there a walkway leads to a formal buxus-trimmed circular courtyard, the edges of which are softened by the bed of baby blue forget-me-nots running riot under a poplar, providing perfect relief from the symmetrical brickwork.

This is the outlook for guests at Diana's bed and breakfast, who dine in an original 1907 room, looking out wide white sash windows, across a veranda.

The walk continues through an avenue of mop-tops, with winter roses at their feet, and ends in another relaxed grove where purple irises take the eye to an old urn under more established trees.

Finally the trail leads to the home's front, where bricks and stone chip provide a curved border to the lawn, and wisteria drapes a wide wooden deck added by Diana and her family with care to preserve the home's integrity by duplicating its exterior detail. The same care was taken in building a white wooden pergola and the garden's courtyards of swirling bricks set in pebbles, all of which complement the home's lines.

The garden borders the state highway to Nelson, yet is peaceful and quiet, except for the constant call of birdsong in the trees. An old kowhai was recently visited by one tui on one day, two the next, and on the third: "I looked out the window and the whole tree was shaking," says Diana. "There were 10 or 12 tui in it. It was so wonderful."

Diana owns Anglesea House with her daughter and son-in law, who urged her to consider the home when she decided to move to Marlborough. She immediately saw its potential as a business as well as a home.

She is happy to be able to share the beautifully preserved house with visitors, including the man in his 90s who lived here as a boy and has been able to share details of its earlier times with her.

Next month visitors on the Hunter's Garden Marlborough Heritage Tour will likely be as interested in the home as they are in the garden around it.

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Diana learned her knack for hosting from her parents, whose home was often full of artists and performers billeted to stay while in the district.

"If there was a new young woman in town, my mother would always invite people around to meet her. That kind of hospitality has always been a pleasure of mine."

She also learned her love of gardening from them, on a quarter-acre section in Tuatapere.

At Anglesea House she is able to indulge both pleasures.

This is her first time in Hunter's Garden Marlborough, despite having been asked before.

"I never thought I would get it to the stage where it was ready to show," she says.

For the past six years the garden has evolved beautifully under the shared care of her gardener Shalom Rofe.

"He grew up in Spain and did his apprenticeship in Italy for five years and at the end of that time he was head gardener over five other gardeners. He's so passionate about it.

"We don't always agree, but I certainly take a lot of advice from him, and he knows a lot more than I do."

Between them they have created a garden to stand the test of time as well as the home it surrounds.

WIN A TOUR TICKET

Gardeners throughout Marlborough are sharpening their tools and grooming their gardens, knowing the high expectations held by those booked on next month's Hunter's Garden Marlborough tours.

It's a tricky business preparing, as the gardens never stand still, always shedding leaves, bursting buds, popping out weeds and falling to nature's vagaries.

Fortunately the dedicated gardeners are constantly on the go as well, and by November 8 it's likely every one of the gardens in the tours will look effortlessly elegant, like rain never flooded their roots and wind never shook their blooms.

Committee member and garden host Sue Monahan is daily preening and sprucing her own immaculate garden, and says she is excited about this year's selection of tours.

"There are some neat new ones of a really high standard."

For more information go to: gardenmarlborough.co.nz.

Hunter's Garden Marlborough has a ticket for the House and Heritage Tour to give away to a lucky reader this week.

To enter, clip this item from Friday's Marlborough Express and send it to

Hunter's Heritage competition,

c/- PO Box 242,

Blenheim 7240

by 5pm Thursday October 11.

Remember to write your name, address and daytime phone number on the back of the envelope. 

- The Marlborough Express

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