Country garden, cottage industry
Rosemarie Smith continues her occasional series of Southland Gardens to Visit.
Annie Evans claims she had no grand design in mind when she began developing her Tussock Creek garden some 30 years ago.
Least of all a private park with gates open to public visits and weddings.
This may well be the case, but nothing as beautiful as this happens without a good eye for effect, even if it takes years to achieve.
The outcome is something exceptional, and proof that dazzling displays of floral beauty do not always a garden make.
Annie's love for texture shows through in a magnificent collection of trees, their varied dimensions, shapes and foliage generously spaced in lush green lawns.
"I'm not one for a lot of flowers," she says, something of an understatement.
She has had them - peonies, dahlias - but just prefers to be without.
Rugosa or carpet roses get a look in, but the hybrid teas have been shown the gate.
This also reflects husband Lincoln's tastes, plus his admirable tolerance for pushing out the fences to take in more and more paddock.
"I always liked the park look of trees and lawns," he says helpfully.
He's clearly one of those wonderfully supportive farmer husbands who pitch in with the heavy work as required.
"He's very good with anything he can do with a tractor or front- end loader - or a power saw," Annie says.
It has been helpful too, having a builder son as visitor facilities have evolved; the little white church (fondly named "The Abbey") and the all-important visitor toilets.
But the way they tell it, the garden began on a modest scale when Annie and Lincoln moved into a new home sitting on a bare site.
The children were young, and Annie started gardening, purely for family use and pleasure, taking in some established trees from an earlier homestead.
She extended out into paddock, planting trees, encouraged by gifts from her mother and friends.
A love for English gardens guided her tastes, cultivated by books from the local library.
To give but one example: sit on Annie's comfy living-room sofa and look out through the french doors to the section of garden where she began.
A horseshoe of box hedging encloses a semi-circle of variegated hostas, which pick up the tones of two lines of weeping pears, trimmed as mop-tops.
Beyond is a mature sycamore, one of the specimen trees inherited from an earlier era, followed by a monkey puzzle now in its darkly handsome prime.
Further in the distance are a set of golden pencil cypresses, marshalled around low-growing beds with gravel paths, inviting exploration of that far corner.
This is the setting for a village of some of Annie's famous miniature English country houses that make this garden such a joy for children to explore.
The houses have evolved along with the garden, the first from 1989 a very schematic plain hut rather resembling a wonky letterbox.
Annie keeps it on a shelf in her workshop, a creative space where she loves to spend her winter hours constructing new real estate out of - very appropriately - discarded fluted-plastic property sales signs.
Not that you'd know by the time these are plastered over, painted then set in a miniature garden to acquire a patina of the olde English look.
There are "maybe 45" of them in her property portfolio but "there could be more", Annie says.
Few have formal names, though Annie is mulling over a suggestion from a friend that she develop a story around each house and its imagined occupants.
One she does know has a living tenant, as visitors spotted a mouse pottering about her business in and out the front door of one gracious home.
Opening the garden to the public began unintentionally, with people ringing to ask if they could come and visit, Annie says.
The little white church - "I always wanted a church" - was an outcome of that demand, initially intended as a place for visitors to have afternoon tea out of the weather.
The inevitable requests for its use as a wedding venue followed and, most recently, Annie hosted a first children's birthday in the garden, with fairy-dressed little girls flitting around her little houses.
But Annie especially welcomes rest-home visitors. Her mother is in a rest home and she has become aware of how many ex-gardeners love going out on such visits.
Buses can drive in, so even people who can't get out can admire the garden, but having facilities means those who are more mobile can explore and stay longer.
Old and young also enjoy the other live entertainment this garden offers, with friendly farm pets - including the fattest, indulged kunekune and a glossy coated donkey - trotting hopefully to the fence to be admired.
No-one makes money from opening their gardens, even those charging entry fees (Annie asks $2), so the people who do are generous hearted, making a visit all the more pleasurable.
The Abbey is open by appointment, and visitors may bring a picnic.
For more Southland open gardens see southlandgardens.co.nz.
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The Southland Times