London city garden with a strong Kiwi accent

19:11, Dec 03 2012
Warm notes
WARM NOTES: A sprawl of red kaka beak provides a vivid contrast in colour and habit as well as a touch of New Zealand far away.

It's an accepted fact that owners often resemble their pets, but how many people have a match in form between pet and garden.

That was the immediate thought when a photo hit the inbox last week from expat Southlander Gordon Gardiner in London.

The elegant upright form of his dog Chico is echoed in several of the elongated blue forms (including the two metal lanterns), and contrast with bushy green and white forms in the wider setting.

Blending in
BLENDING IN: The elegance of the elongated blue forms and Irish terrier Chico contrast with the bushy greenness. The twometal lanterns on the deck are Moroccan.

Further photos, and the plant list, confirmed another rule: wherever in the world expat Kiwis put down roots and plant gardens there's likely to be a nod to their origins, no matter how long since they called New Zealand home.

An expat bearing the Gardiner name, does indeed come with a horticultural heritage.

Gordon's father, the late Ian Gardiner, ran a nursery business and plant shop in Gore (later run by youngest son Fergus), then developed a series of stunning gardens in Queenstown retirement.


"Dad had quite a flair. He would have made quite a good designer," his son says.

"He did a correspondence course in garden design that was obviously quite useful, and took an interest in rhododendron propagation, though only in an amateur way."

In retirement he'd get bored and have to move houses so he could start on another garden, explaining the upheaval with the claim, "An artist doesn't sit back and admire." Gordon recalls willingly conforming to the expectation in his youth that boys help in the garden, soaking up the information.

"I had all the horticultural names, like a little parrot," he says.

He would get a chance to demonstrate this knowledge when showing visitors round the garden, which would be "dressed" for the occasion.

"Father insisted the hose be applied before a visit. ‘A garden looks so much more entrancing with sprinkles' he would say.

"So there must have been quite a bit of horticulture absorbed by osmosis. I've always been reasonably green fingered.

"Not knowledgeable, but interested."

This conversation, and the invitation to a long-range garden visit came after sharing the news the original Gardiner house (and garden) in Gore is on the market.

(Inviting old friends to walk through their former homes is a frequent task these days of lavish real estate websites.) This, and the Gardiners' next home further along Lewis St, both with sweeping lawns, mature trees and conventional flowerbeds, couldn't be more different from the London home of today, nor Gordon's tiny roof-top garden at his previous apartment.

This one is a courtyard garden, walled, private and sunny - a highly desirable but difficult combination in London.

The sun and shelter means it has it's own microclimate benign enough to keep a Meyer lemon fruiting.

And here at last he is successfully growing kaka beak, Clianthus puniceus, the sprawling, less common red form.

"It was quite tricky getting it through the northern winter - I've been trying for 30 years," he says.

"I tried the white first."

It flowers in May-June, providing one of the only touches of dramatic colour before the dominant blue and cream colour scheme comes into play.

Other New Zealand touches apparent in the photos are the tree fern (wheki), silver astelia and blue festuca.

And of course the deck.

"We Kiwis have to have our deck."

But it's still only a pocket handkerchief, L-shaped, and only about 12 metres long and six or so at its widest - capable of accommodating 20 to 30 people for a drinks party.

The challenges of gardening in London come from pretty much the same bugs as he knew back in Gore, apart from the squirrels, that is.

"I plant new bulbs every year, for squirrels play havoc . . . It's easiest just to dig the bulbs up and replace." The secret of that vivid abundance apparent in the photos apparently lies in liberal quantities of horse manure applied each winter.

Not gathered from passing police horses, we are assured, but the sterilised sort fetched from the garden centre, and delivered direct via an access lane and not, (as with many London gardens,) having to be lugged through the house.

Few gardens featured on this page have been so small, or restricted in their plant palette that the entire stock could be listed in a few lines.

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The Southland Times