The year began with a suburban shake-up and ended with a grand gesture.
Sandwiched in between were inspiring gardeners, plants to study and new terms.
I learnt what a stumpery was, was tutored in the versatility of flax, or harakeke, was awestruck by orchids and hydrangeas, and by the efforts of conservationists yearning to teach the next generation about growing things.
All this good, green stuff was driven by generous people - generous in time, knowledge and with a willingness to bare themselves for the sake of a reading public.
Many I interviewed go out of their way to beautify or add to their local landscape.
Doreen Millar fosters a part of the Te Henui walkway near her Sequoia Grove home, as does Forest and Bird stalwart Carolyn Brough on a different leg of the track.
Mako Jones is helping care for a harakeke plantation in Bell Block, a small crew has restarted the edible gardens at Parihaka marae, and Toko School is one of dozens of schools or pre-schools growing its gardens and - in the process - its children's knowledge.
Blooms and backyard facelifts
First up in January was the suburban shake-up - the story about New Plymouth landscaper Chris Paul, who is making a festival garden from a scrubby hillside.
He's built many gardens - at home and in his working life. This one is different.
He wants to make it ordinary, something lots of gardeners can achieve in their suburban backyards. He's doing much of the labour himself. Within several years he aims to be in the Powerco Taranaki Garden Spectacular.
A year ago I wrote about the start of the project - read an update later this month.
In summer 2013 there were also beautiful blooms. Hydrangeas grown at Woodleigh Nursery on the outskirts of New Plymouth reiterated several things for me. They are an ample yet reliable flower, and they remain a favourite. Most of us are familiar with the mopheads or lacecaps (Hydrangea macrophylla) but many other varieties exist.
Janica and Quin Amoore are leading the hydrangea charge from the nursery, once owned by Daily News garden writer Glyn Church.
They have about 150 species and cultivars and the diversity of hydrangeas means there's likely to be one for almost any situation: Heavy shade, damp swampy conditions, full sun or coastal windy locations.
Glorious roses flourished at the Bell Block home of Ron and Dawn Peck. The front path is lined with iceberg roses making any visitor feel like a bride walking down the aisle. But there are more than just flowers in the garden.
When we visited last summer the couple said they were almost self-sufficient in fruit and veg. Their produce is abundant and their hospitality was too.
Beans and burials
Autumn abundance came in the form of beans. Taranaki gardeners growing heritage beans on behalf of Wanganui's Central Tree Crops Research Trust yarned about their motivation.
The trust has imported many old and nearly lost varieties from the United States and last summer was distributing seed for Kiwi gardeners to grow.
More than 50 Taranaki gardeners put up their hands to plant seed in their garden. Among them was Annette Anderson, of Bell Block, who grew seven varieties including those she dried before cooking in soups or stews. These are called "shellout" beans.
In Egmont Rd Margo Verveer grew a United Nations of beans: Dutch White, Italian Flat, German Sugar, Short Swift and Purple Pole. Some were for the family, some she was saving to return to the research trust.
"For me it's really important to keep the old varieties going and to hand them out to people I know who have gardens so we all keep them growing."
In March a new garden of remembrance was launched at Taranaki Cathedral.
Engraved stones outline the path shaped like a koru; there are marble seats and sculptures representing white raukura feathers synonymous with Parihaka marae.
As I write, carpet roses, mini agapanthus, rosemary, hellebores, daphne, box hedging and clivia are blanketing the soil. The garden exists to allow people to dig the ashes of loved ones into a simple burial plot.
Revival starts in the young
Gardens are a cycle of death and regeneration. Eastwoodhill Arboretum near Gisborne is a 135ha property founded by the late Douglas Cook, who also helped establish Pukeiti in Taranaki. It was profiled on our garden pages in April.
The arboretum has experienced up-and-down periods in its 100-year history but is now a smartly marketed, vast collection of trees, shrubs and flowers.
Trees are burgeoning at Toko School but it is dozens of edible ones not ornamentals that have its students hooked on growing things. The school has received funding and is part of the nationwide Enviroschools programme, which encourages schools to explore sustainable ways of learning.
In April Wyn Stockwell shared her story. She's a member of the Victoria League, which celebrated its centenary in 2013. Gardening and books shaped her upbringing on an East Taranaki farm, where she was one of 10 children.
In autumn, Danielle De Wester educated us on unschooling or homeschooling. The American- born mother is educating her two boys, with their garden the subject of many lessons on subjects like sustainability.
Heading into winter there were tailored gardens and renovated homes to feature.
Jeremy and Rosie Henderson rejuvenated an inner-city villa and garden while Gaye and Richard Kara did the same for an art deco house. Both properties are notable for formal plantings of hedges, clipped trees and a restrained palette of colour.
Kathy and Brian Ward of Bell Block received a garden write-up because they make feeding stations for birds and sell them at markets around the country. One of those stations, a "bird caf", looks like a toast rack while another lets birds suck nectar from an upside down bottle.
Stewards of flower and foliage
In midwinter I strolled with Mako Jones and Tina Christmas through the flax plantation in Bell Block's Ellesmere Ave, maintained by the Kaitiaki P Harakeke Group.
Established at least two decades ago, the collection had become overgrown and almost forgotten until fairly recently. Mako is one of the gardeners or caretakers as well as being a local weaver. Tina is a New Plymouth District Council employee working with the group.
Doreen Millar showed us around her town garden that spills over onto the adjacent Te Henui walkway. The former funeral director loves sharing her plants with others. She uses the borrowed space to grow flowers for church arrangements and keeps the public space looking attractive.
Heading into spring there were daffodils to swoon over when the New Plymouth Horticultural Society held a display in preparation for its spring show.
Their filmy petals and trumpet- like centres were enticing. I've loved daffodils since I was a kid.
Orchids, on the other hand, always seemed fussy and stiff. Then I was introduced to local grower Paddy Fox and wife Gerli as they prepared for the first national show to be staged in New Plymouth.
Once again the diversity of a floral species struck me. Orchid flowers can be showy and large, delicate and minuscule, speckled, striped, garish or subtle in colour. They come in an array of forms; they're cultivated or wild. At the national expo, held in New Plymouth from November 1-3, I was star struck.
On show for festive delight
At the same time, gardeners were opening their properties for both the Powerco Taranaki Garden Spectacular and the Fringe Garden Festival. Donna Busby's Inglewood garden, called Stanleigh, was abundant in plants, features and conversation.
It was the same but different at the Opunake garden of Suzie and Andrew Pentelow. They were in the fringe festival for the first time last year. Suzie is dead keen on growing fruit and veg, telling me she competes against her sister and friends. "We have to pick something weird to grow each year . . . it keeps us motivated."
Their garden had a giant chessboard, a stream, a fire pit, a replica of Pukekura Park Poet's Bridge and a stumpery. Yep. That's a real word. Andrew made an outdoor room from the roots of massive trees after Suzie saw something similar on TV and in publicity about Prince Charles' garden.
At Tarata, Julie and Paul Dravitzki are working wonders on their four hectares.
Over 17 years they've built paths around waterways, planted on sloping banks, cared for mature trees and developed extensive edible gardens.
Julie was as inspiring as Charissa Waerea, Emily Bailey and Urs Signer, who toil in the community garden at Parihaka. It's been in existence many years but in the last few years these three, along with a handful of others, have expanded the range of herbs and veges within a corrugated iron boundary. The food supplies communal kitchens at the coastal marae and there are lots of plans to develop it further.
Two welcoming woman completed 2013. Moya Terris' Carrington Rd home is historic and elegant and so is the garden: It was the grand gesture of the year because during our visit festive decorations filled the living rooms. Purple and silver hung from a Christmas tree, decorated a dining table and mantelpieces, and covered presents stacked under the tree. It was a luxurious "dressing up", all created for the Women's Refuge Deck the Rooms fundraiser.
Raewyn Morgan's home is more circumspect but her enthusiasm for her garden matches that of Moya Terris. In December Raewyn won the Housing for the Elderly garden contest run by New Plymouth District Council. It's a small section - her Inglewood patch - but it's rich in floral colour and productive plants. She was a delight, proving that size doesn't need to define horticultural imagination.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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