Improving the view from the top
Almost three decades ago, Bob Croy set his sights high – on the big house on the hill overlooking his Wakefield service station.
These days, Mr Croy and wife Lynne live in that house, now gazing down at the picturesque Wakefield village and for kilometres beyond. On a clear day, the view extends across to D'Urville Island, and a similar distance in other directions.
The couple started their love affair with the area in 1981, when they moved there from Canterbury, having bought the Wakefield garage and service station. Initially, they intended to rent, but the property market at the time deemed otherwise.
"There was nothing to rent, so we bought a house in the village that we thought would be easy to sell later on," Mr Croy recalls.
During the following two years, he often admired the house on the hill, and one day mentioned to its owner that if he ever wanted to sell, "we'd be keen".
Some things are meant to be, he muses. "It wasn't long before the owner came back and said they wanted something smaller. We organised a swap, and I paid him some extra money and here we are."
"Here" is high on what locals call Treeton Hill, hence the property's name, Treeton Heights. Just over 3.2 hectares of grazing and hill land, it proved ideal in the early years for their daughter's ponies, and their own succession of goats, sheep and other livestock. Now it's grazed by a neighbour's livestock, leaving the Croys time to enjoy what they've developed during the past 20-plus years, including three major renovations.
Having sold their business, the couple are retired and spend much of their time enjoying Treeton Heights; her in the garden and him pottering in his workshop.
Life hasn't always been a steady journey for them. Last June, Mrs Croy was diagnosed with breast cancer. For years, she had supported and run the local Daffodil Day appeal in memory of her late brother Malcolm, who died of melanoma at 32. She and her husband started growing daffodils along the driveway at Treeton Heights five years ago "so they'd always have plenty".
In her own battle with breast cancer, she had the lump and 13 lymph nodes removed, followed by seven months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiotherapy.
"I was very low at times. It was rough, but everyone was so caring and supportive ... Bob, my family and friends, the oncology staff at Nelson Hospital, Daffodil House and the Cancer Society."
Many were the times she longed to get out in her beloved garden, but didn't have the energy. But the bloom is gradually coming back as her health improves and Mr Croy recovers from a recent knee replacement.
Their garden is a labour of love; mature specimen trees mingling with contemporary garden art, along with recycled pieces of farm and other machinery, and a vibrant bouquet of annual and perennial plants.
It's a far cry from the gorse paddocks they inherited when they bought the land. "When we first arrived here, the gorse was six to eight feet high; we spent countless weekends cutting, burning and spraying ... gorse, gorse and more gorse," Mrs Croy says. "There was some garden close to the house, and then we discovered that a previous owner had also planted dozens of trees; they'd just been overtaken by the gorse."
One of Mr Croy's first major landscaping jobs was using a bulldozer to create a flat piece on top of the hill for his daughter's dressage arena. "She never really felt safe jumping up there," he admits. "She was always a bit scared of taking a flying leap over the side of the hill."
Today, the arena has given way to a grassy plateau, complete with pond, windmills and an arrangement of rock slabs they laughingly call "Bobhenge".
The windmills are another chapter in the story of their lives. Mr Croy, a self-confessed fix-it man, has a special liking for windmills and often spends his spare time getting old machines back into working order. He's "allowed" to have three on the property, jokes his wife.
The windmills are just part of an eclectic collection of machinery that pops up all over the property. Mining ore carts have found new use as garden planters, while relics from the gold rush days are now contemporary garden art.
Most days find the Croys doing something in the garden or relaxing in it, enjoying the plant and birdlife. Tuis, bellbirds, wood pigeons, kingfishers, pheasants and quail are regular visitors, encouraged by treats such as 12 litres of sugar water daily.
Some areas of the garden have been developed for specific plant species. Mrs Croy specialises in trilliums and other woodland plants, which prefer an acid soil and shade. Alpine plants are another feature, as are maple trees.
If not in the garden, Mr Croy is sure to be found in his workshop rebuilding old windmills, building bird feeders and, lately, making small wine presses and cider apple "scrunchers" for home brewers.
"I like to think I'm pretty handy," he says. Looking around the landscaped property, his wife agrees.