A growing canvas

Last updated 16:43 16/07/2014
La Marque

A solid stone wall and oversize farm gates make a strong entrance statement at La Marque, reflecting the owners’ farming background.

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When keen gardeners leave a long-established home and move on, it's always going to be interesting to see what comes next.

What will they take from the old, transplant or adapt, and what entirely new creation will emerge when experience gets to dig in anew.

It's all the more interesting when the new site is bare land where the gardener can start, quite literally, from scratch.

Leonore and Lyall Bailey have done just that since leaving their Otapiri farm garden, Llanarth, which featured on these pages in 2005.

The Baileys were welcoming visitors as part of the Southland Gardens to Visit scheme at that time, and as many will recall, Llanarth was enclosed by mature shelterbelts.

But five years ago the Baileys' new property in Winton was bare open ground.

All 0.8 hectares of it - two whole acres to those who still think in such terms.

That's a very big space to fill, though the Baileys have chosen to keep the largest part in lawn.

The trees are in, but after only three or four seasons they are not yet making much impact, except in the avenue of 36 Malus ioensis 'Plena' along the entrance driveway.

It flowers in late spring - almost Christmas - with frilly double shell-pink blossom "to die for", according to Leonore.

She has no regrets now about shelving her original wish for an avenue of larger trees, pin oaks, after realising their roots would play havoc with the nice new driveway.

The Plena apple is nothing spectacular, (unlike Jack Humm), but its brilliant red autumn foliage more than compensates.

Its identity has become the most frequently asked visitor question.

After the avenue, the main garden entrance is guarded by a massive stone wall with an inset over-size gate, the elegance of which does not disguise its essentially rural character.

Beyond is the lawn facing the house and spaciously set with specimen trees: oaks (black, pin and scarlet), limes, planes, the Norway maple 'Crimson King', several kinds of Japanese prunus, and the Tibetan cherry, Prunus serulla with its fabulous peeling bark.

Best planted near a path so passers-by can give the bark a pull now and again to expose new glowing surfaces, Leonore says.

She knows she won't see these trees in their complete beauty, but someone else will, she says philosophically.

"You have to start somewhere."

Rhododendrons remain her first love, and many came in from the farm, providing instant beauty, but there aren't enough plants yet, she admits.

But the common temptation to overplant, then to have to take half the plants out, is being resisted.

As at Llanarth, Lyall's contribution to the heavy structural work is self- evident, as much as he might claim he just mows lawns and takes away the rubbish.

He's inset board edging around the garden beds, which fixes their shape but makes maintenance so much easier.

He has also built arbors and a tall perimeter fence - not so much to contain deer as provide Leonore with settings for exercising her espalier skill on plants varying from japonica to Garrya elliptica, and even, more surprisingly, rosemary.

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"It gives form," she enthuses.

Again, imparting sculptural form to shrubs was something of a specialty at Llanarth, and Leonore's skill with the hedge clippers is becoming apparent here as La Marque matures.

She sees it as an art form, and a very inexpensive one that provides the satisfaction of creating something interesting from very cheap plants, like pittosporum.

There's many similarly inexpensive wood and stone decorative elements at La Marque.

Leonore points to circular tree protection fence enclosures left over from the farm that she has filled with big stones (like gabion baskets).

She enjoys creating little pockets as settings for these treasures, like a little grotto of michelia enclosing a statue.

As at Llanarth, Leonore speaks of paying attention to soil health.

Currently she's enthused by the power of pine needles as a soil conditioner for a boggy soil, happily quoting rhododendron specialist Denis Hughes' instruction to heap them on - especially now.

And right now is a favourite time in the garden season.

For all the delights of spring, winter has special attractions for anyone who likes dreaming and planning.

"Other seasons I'm out and doing, but winter offers more time to take in the beauty of the garden.

"I'm not rushing to get things done.

"I quite like looking at bare branches. You can see the form - the eye isn't distracted by foliage - and you can watch the buds getting fatter."

It's a sentiment many southerners will share.

La Marque is another of the Southland Gardens to Visit see www.southlandgardens.co.nz/

- The Southland Times

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