Voice of a gypsy

Margaret Voice takes a quiet moment.
Margaret Voice takes a quiet moment.

Gypsies are famous for upping stakes and moving on, but this story is about gypsies who have planted their stakes in the ground instead.

The result, unsurprisingly, is an enchanted garden, a spectacularly colourful and ingenious combination of plantsmanship and showmanship.

Margaret and Graeme Voice brought their Gypsy Fair housetruck south to Nightcaps in 2008.

They were heading for home turf - Graeme was born at Browns - attracted by an affordable cottage with a large (2000sq m) section on two levels.

The grounds were neat, tidy and pretty much a blank canvas, especially on arrival day, in the midst of a snowstorm.

Photos show some young trees, which now provide shelter, a rockery the length of the bank separating the lower terrace, a modest vegetable garden and a large lawn.

"It was like going to jail, I was attached to a lawnmower," Graeme says of those early days.

It is now what Lynne of Tawa would describe as a visual symphony, with masses of colourful plants in manageable small beds creating a labyrinth of magical spaces.

Trash has become treasure, with retired items recycled as planters or garden furnishings - wheelbarrows, a lawnmower catcher, handbasin, trikes and trolleys, and even a genuine flower "bed".

Wild-wood shapes pergolas, bricks and usual drainage tiles form paths and borders, fairies sit at a bone-china tea party and discarded street lamps beam down as sunflowers.

There are also toys from Graeme's gypsy trade, his cutlery wind chimes and colourful tiles made with bits and pieces from his supply boxes.

"I'm a true tinker," he explains.

"I come into town and buy what you don't want and turn it into something useful."

He laughs about having become so known at recycling centres that staff find things they think might be useful, and neighbours bring offerings.

He is also very clear that opening the garden to the public is not about showing off, but encouraging others to do likewise.

"This is not a botanic garden, it's a working man's garden that puts food on our table and gives us a lot of pleasure."

Both Margaret and Graeme recall growing up when it was taken for granted everyone grew their own food.

Probably not many would have the time and talent to coax the productivity as Graeme has done here. He has beaten the clay soil by raising all his food crops in stacked tyres or beds.

People constantly ask how many tyres he has - probably about 1000, he says.

His enthusiasm for the compost produced by New Zealand Growing Media at Browns seems borne out by the visible results, with an impressive range of vegetables and every berry and currant going, including worcesterberry, black raspberries and white strawberries.

He is also raising plants for sale, specialising in fuchsias, and likes to encourage novice gardeners to begin raising their own food.

Despite his claim the garden just ""grew like Topsy" it is clearly the product of a lot of energy and a great imagination.

However, it annoys him when people say it must be a lot of work. "I don't regard it as work," he insists.

Which is a good things, as he has actually done this all before - this is the fourth "retirement home".

And the last, he says, though Margaret quickly contradicts that.

If someone came with the right price, they would be off, she reckons.

"There's always another adventure around the corner."

Anyone with Curiosity Cottage on their visiting list shouldn't delay. December's foxgloves have gone, but the fuchsias will soon be in full swing - though Margaret rates spring the best, when her 600 daffodil bulbs are in bloom.

The entrance fee is a gold coin, and every day is an open day, though it might be wise to ring first if travelling any distance. Ph 027 4589824 or see southlandgardens.co.nz for directions.

Story suggestions or feedback on this page are welcome at timesgardening@gmail.com.

The Southland Times