Creative choices

01:21, Sep 04 2012

Last week I had the privilege to choose plants for a garden with one of New Zealand's most current and popular landscape designers and horticulturists.

Tony Murrell and I are creating a garden in Marlborough. I was a little anxious that our nurseries might not be quite what Tony would be expecting or hoping for, being a small provincial town. But I couldn't have been more wrong.

I took Tony Murrell to Devon Nursery and his eyes immediately lit up like a schoolboy in a candy shop. He was blown away by the choice and the quality of the plants that were on offer.

I, with a rather sheepish tone, asked if this compared to the massive nurseries in Auckland and he proclaimed, "No, this is much better."

Admittedly I do the vast majority of my plant shopping for my clients at Devon Nursery.

Manager Bruce Rodgerson is always helpful and has an extensive knowledge of his plants and where they came from, whether they were propagated from seed or by cuttings.


The public area of the nursery is really just the beginning and for any plant enthusiast, like Tony Murrell or me, it is the private garden around the back where all the parent plants live that the real enchantment lives.

Bruce was interviewed by Tony Murrell last Saturday on the Kitchen and Garden Show on Radio Live, where he explained some of the history of the mother plants at the nursery. It was fascinating.

The long and the short of it is that Peter Cave was a plantsman extraordinaire, traveller and surfer. The plants that he created have an important place in New Zealand's horticultural history and as his nursery is no longer operating these great plants can only be found in private gardens and in very special places like Devon Nursery.

Tony Murrell was engaged to design the new garden and I have been charged with turning that plan into a reality.

The planting style is very classical with lots of year-round colour, a delightful picking garden for fresh flowers every day.

As with all good designs, except for cottage gardens, the plant palette has been limited to about 15 species and there are a few very similar species that do a few things slightly differently.

With classical gardens full of exotic plant species, one still applies the same design rules as one does with low maintenance native gardens.

The principles of good garden design, whether large or small, are the same.

There has been a huge shift from exotic plants to native ones for a number of reasons.

Trends come and go but hopefully there will always be people with different tastes as the gardening world not only needs but requires people to be individuals, so that the millions of species of plants can appeal to the millions of gardeners worldwide.

New Zealand import regulations are very strict, with it costing about $30,000 to bring in just one new species.

With such a small population and market you can understand why only a handful of new species have been imported since this extreme legislation came in. So we are now pretty much stuck with what we have unless the rules change.

There are zillions of fascinating plants out there around the world that could benefit New Zealand gardens and gardeners but it looks like we will never get a chance to plant and nurture them.

So let us not dwell on what could have been, but instead let's celebrate what we have – a great mix of native and exotic plants to suit every designer's and client's tastes.