Big Jim's proves a big temptation

03:20, Feb 09 2014
Vince Naus stand
Vince Naus, owner of Big Jims garden centre.

There's not a bad time to visit Vince Naus and Ann Walker-Naus's garden, just east of New Plymouth. Thanks to Ann's love of evergreen hedging and topiary, the "bones" are good all year round.

"I do like structure," she admits. "No matter what season it is, if you use conifers and standard laurels they always look good."

But you'd be forgiven for not noticing those lovely long clean green lines straight away since there's so much else to draw your eye. Ann and Vince are both mad keen plantaholics and so they've filled their garden with, well, plants. Lots and lots of plants.

"We're not about having big drifts of one thing," Ann says. "We're plantspeople, so we're more about planting lots of things we like."

This is a couple exposed to all sorts of plants every day - they own Big Jim's Garden Centre on the outskirts of New Plymouth, voted the best garden centre in New Zealand in 2010. Rather than resist, Ann and Vince have given into horticultural temptation and created a garden that's a series of different spaces linked by grassy paths. Cottage garden plants grow under the windows; down by the river is an area of natives; there's the Long Walk, a formal lawn edged with perennial borders; a garden planted out in roses; a sheltered area that suits deciduous azaleas and maples; and a vege garden screened off by espaliered fruit trees. Ann's immaculate beloved hedges divide the space into a series of rooms, preventing a horticultural lolly-scramble effect.

"We didn't really start with a plan," Ann says. "We knew we wanted different areas within the garden and we have carefully thought about each bit as we've done it, so areas have been planned, definitely - we just never thought about the garden all at once."


The couple moved onto the site, bordered on one side by the Mangaoraka Stream, about 10 years ago. Large established native trees down by the river gave the property shelter from the Taranaki winds and winters, and the lush river soil was extraordinarily fertile - the speed at which new plants grow constantly takes the couple by surprise.

There was a garden there already but, Ann says, "it was a lot of stuff we didn't like".

"We gave ourselves a year to get the feel for what we wanted. And then we just started pulling things out and shifting things around."

Some trees they left - that shelterbelt of natives and a couple of large ornamental cherries; others they shifted around to form a new woodland area or removed altogether. The grounds were re-contoured in places and the garden's boundaries were pushed out . . . quite a bit. "It was quite a small garden when we moved in," Ann says.

The garden now takes up 0.6 hectares. The entire property is 4ha and the couple originally thought they'd use the extra space to grow stock for the garden centre but they've ended up leasing it out to local growers - just over a hedge beside the Long Walk is a field of bearded irises, grown by Coleen Peri of Dublin Bay Irises.

Other local growers have a presence in the garden itself. "We've got lots of maples here," Ann says. "We love them and this is a big maple growing area with a lot of growers nearby so we have access to superb trees. We're fans of dogwoods and magnolias and we can buy locally grown and bred varieties of them, too."

But there are also influences in the garden from further afield. One of the newer areas, the Long Walk, was planted out after a trip through England, Holland and France a few years ago.

Ann is a rose lover so it's not surprising to find roses throughout many of the different garden areas. A large 'Mutabilis' blooms right by the gate as you drive in, there's a line of 'Iceberg' in the white border and the Rugosa rose 'Blanc Double de Coubert' has been used as a hedge around a miniature weeping willow. Just out from the house there's also a rose border, filled with old-fashioned and English varieties.

"But there are a few hybrid teas in there, too, like 'Glorious', that I brought home and planted because they weren't doing very well at work," Ann says.

In fact, there are several plants that owe their place in the planting plan to goodwill - or possibly pity.

"You do see something looking a bit straggly at work, so you take it home," Ann admits.

The couple both have a strong horticultural pedigree. Ann's from a gardening family while Vince grew up on a market garden and studied horticultural at Massey University - he and Ann met while working for the legendary New Plymouth nursery Duncan & Davies (jobs they left when they took over Big Jim's Garden Centre in 1999).

So they both take an active part in the garden, although, as with most gardening couples each has their own specialist areas.

Ann says they consider their property to be a relatively young garden. "It's definitely an unfinished work and there's more we want to do. We still see new things and get ideas and want to try them out. But I don't think we want to extend the garden any further than this. Quite frankly, I think we have enough on our plates already."

Records show the villa was built in 1896 and shifted to this site about 15 years ago by previous owners. This article has previously appeared in longer form in New Zealand Gardener.



ON SALE NOW Check out NZ Gardener's February issue for summer pruning advice to harvest more fruit, photos of Lynda Hallinan's brand new garden and DIY plans for a designer chook shed. The February issue is on sale now on all good magazine stands for $7.90 or subscribe at


Taranaki Daily News