From uphill to uplifting

Crafted out of love – Da’Vella’s garden and chapel.
Crafted out of love – Da’Vella’s garden and chapel.

It sits in one of the most beautiful parts of the country. Sue Fea discovers what it takes to make a garden shine in such a stunning landscape.

Stepping into the splendour and breathtaking surrounds of Queenstown artist and author Da'Vella Gore's delightful sprawling cottage garden is like entering the grounds of an old English manor.

Just when you think you've seen it all, there are more wonderful surprises blooming around every corner.

Da’Vella with her beloved irises.
Da’Vella with her beloved irises.

However, there's nothing manicured or planned out about this 4 hectare scenic sprawl - clusters of flowers and trees that have lovingly evolved around rock beds, waterfalls, ponds and a central stream.

It's taken 15 years of hard labour and persistent slog against very difficult odds to develop this exquisite Lake Hayes gem - one of the star gardens on the itinerary for this year's Queenstown Plunket Garden Tour fundraiser on December 1.

The many colourful and perfumed varieties in Ms Gore's garden, on the hillside overlooking Lake Hayes with Coronet Peak beyond, are the result of years of trial and error.

Da’Vella with her beautiful peonies.
Da’Vella with her beautiful peonies.

The delightful Gothic chapel, built using the recycled interiors of beautiful historic South Island churches, and its expansive cottage garden surrounds have been born out of unshakeable faith and incurable optimism.

During the 1990s Ms Gore battled life-threatening injuries after her car was hit by a reckless driver in Northland. The accident left her incapacitated in hospital for many months, then in a wheelchair and on crutches for many more. However, the massive injuries, including two badly broken legs, did not stop her completing her chapel and garden dream despite being unable to kneel.

Together with son Wayne, she has developed one of the Wakatipu's most iconic wedding venues.

A boutique vineyard borders Mr (Wayne) Gore's palatial "Stoneridge" wedding reception venue, which has served as the setting for filming of the American television series The Bachelor. His adjacent Medieval-style reception venue and home now compliment Ms Gore's Gothic-style property.

Her expansive garden with its stunning views and the authentic stone chapel set amid ponds and waterfalls, surrounded by roses and lavender, is the major attraction.

"It's essentially an English cottage garden. The bedded irises, peony roses, lavender and roses are the flowers I love the most. I just love the exquisite colour combinations," she said.

A prominent artist-turned- author of six books recounts her journey. Ms Gore has not only officiated as celebrant at more than a thousand weddings, but has become a gardener of some repute. She's also had to become a "home handyman", largely crafting the property from its original rabbit- infested state single-handedly.

"It's been a healing therapy as I had the garden and not myself to focus on.

"It's sort of evolved over the years. I think 'that would look nice', but it gets too big so I yank it out and try growing it somewhere else. I have a lot of rock plants . . . things like sage that won't dry up, alpine-type plants that are hardy."

It's been an uphill battle building up good-quality soil. "There was only gravel when I came here. I always tell my kids I'll have a trailer-load of horse manure for Christmas. I've had to mulch a lot because of the stony ground. It was free-draining gravelly soil when I came - hard to dig. It's like rock in summer."

She's battled every element imaginable - low-quality soil, low rainfall, rabbits and hard frosts.

"The rabbits are terrible. Sometimes I wonder why I do it. I go to check on a plant and find the price tag is all that's left on the ground."

Plants that do well in a dry climate, such as lavenders, roses and her beloved bedded irises, have thrived.

Rhododendrons have had to be nursed along as they require good shade, so Ms Gore has waited until her young trees grow before introducing them.

Azaleas have grown well around her entranceway.

Rabbits love perennials, annuals and "anything that grows", but unfortunately they won't eat weeds.

Native kowhai and bottlebrush trees, with their beautiful red flowers, attract the tuis and bellbirds.

"The birdsong here in the mornings is just beautiful."

Although nothing is ever planned on paper, the artist in her is drawn to colour detail.

"I've tried hard to concentrate on blues, mauves and violets. I also have quite a lot of white. It lifts a garden, as do silver-grey plants - they give a feeling of peace and rest."

Margaret Merrell, iceberg and carpet rose varieties surround the chapel - their plucked petals at the ready in baskets to shower on happy couples.

"I've been so careful with the colouring of my trees. I've always tried to put the deep reds of the purple prunus tree next to a robina with its yellow. Then I'd put a weeping silver pear next to that, with maybe something like a smoke tree, which has a strong red colour."

She's always been weary of trees that frost and tries to plant them in sheltered areas or they won't survive the harsh Wakatipu winter.

"I adore dogwoods and have two or three varieties. The blossom here in spring is just amazing and I always have lots and lots of bulbs - daffodils and bluebells. They do incredibly well."

Tucked at the rear of the property, opening out from the wine tasting/cafe area of her home is the delightfully quaint "Secret Garden" with its peaceful, streaming waterfalls, rock gardens and pond.

"It's a lovely little sheltered area where people love to enjoy our wine, barista coffee or a panini in the sun."

It's been a hard-fought journey through five years of recovery and nine operations, struggling around her property on crutches in those early days. Walking is fine these days, but kneeling is out of the question.

"God gave me a vision right from day one. I didn't have to labour or agonise over it. I give God the glory - I could never have done it without my faith," Ms Gore said.

Nearing retirement age, she's thrilled that she can now hand over her passion to her son to "take it to the next level".

"He's going to carry on my dream."

The Southland Times