Veil lifts on Chantecler's hidden garden

Nestled in the heart of Queenstown's Wakatipu Basin is a secret garden that has unveiled its delights to support a good cause.

Queenstowner Mike Henry is the owner of the magnificent garden on Lower Shotover Road that was a standout on the circuit of the second annual Wakatipu Plunket Garden Tour this month.

The 16-hectare property is in an idyllic rural setting halfway between Queenstown and historic Arrowtown.

Henry describes the 4ha of landscaped gardens as a diversified garden, a mix of styles from France, England, Tuscany, Japan and New Zealand.

"I don't think there's anything like this in Central Otago offering such a varied style of design," he said of his labour of love for the past eight years.

A visit to his secret garden begins with a long, enchanting drive past deer paddocks arriving in a field of 2000 lavender plants - this is the French-themed garden and leads onto the French-inspired homestead, Chantecler.

Surrounding the house is the English-style formal garden - a melding of large mature trees and thousands of flowering plants. Housed in box hedging and bringing the garden bursting into life each spring are rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, magnolias, peonies and roses, shaded by large pin oaks, conifers, golden elms and ash trees.

"The flowering plants around the house will be out at the time of the garden tour, including the first flourish of roses, it will look beautiful," Henry said.

"The property is quite unique because of the number of large, mature trees on site.

A lot of the time gardens of this nature will stick to a formal, manicured style of landscaping but I love the feel the large trees bring to the property."

Henry hasn't stopped with just French and English styles - the pool area is a Tuscan theme complete with olive trees, Italian conifers and stone walls.

Close by is the Oriental garden featuring pond, cascading waterfall, maples, a Japanese bridge and other Japanese garden ornaments.

In 2007 Henry started work on the New Zealand native garden, planting 5000 plants and creating two waterfalls, three ponds, and placing sculptures throughout the garden including two by renowned Queenstown artist Mark Hill.

Henry admits there is quite a bit to see on a tour of his substantial property.

"It takes a good hour to get around the property to see everything. There is also the orchard with 15 varieties of fruit trees and a full vegetable garden with greenhouse and two tunnel houses.

"This is more like a big country garden than a formal garden. We have chickens, sheep, alpacas, fallow deer, it has a park-like feel to it."

The extensive garden is registered with the New Zealand Gardens Trust, meaning it has been inspected and assessed by the body and considered a notable garden.

"I'm still working on it, I can't help it, I just love creating. I've just reclaimed another paddock and will get to work on creating the next design soon."

Wakatipu Plunket committee chairperson Jane Hamilton was "delighted" to have Henry's garden back on the circuit of the organisation's annual garden tour event for a second year.

"Mike's garden is truly astounding, I'm sure anyone would be impressed by what he has done with this property," she said. "It's not just for garden enthusiasts either as I think most people would appreciate the beauty and tranquility that Mike has achieved."

Henry opened his garden to Wakatipu Garden Tour guests and hosted a devonshire tea at the end of the day.

"We do the odd garden tour, overseas visitors and garden clubs sometimes come through," he said . "But I think most locals wouldn't even know we were here. You can't see anything from the road so there's no clue as to what's hidden up here."

Henry said he didn't hesitate to say yes when asked to volunteer his garden again for the popular event.

"I like to stay involved in fundraising in the community. I think Plunket is a fantastic organisation and I was happy to be involved again this year."

The Southland Times