A series of sculptures adds quirk and drama to a Mandeville show garden.
Top shape by Diane Keenan
North Canterbury sculptor Allan O'Loughlin is living his dream.
When he is not in his workshop creating unique and quirky welded steel sculptures, he is working on the one-hectare Mandeville property he and partner Andrea Wadsworth have developed over the past 17 years. Art and gardening are his passions and working from home means he can indulge in both.
Allan and Andrea's property is a botanic wonderland where 30 or so sculptures are planted among the woodlands, in the perennial borders and on the expansive lawns. There is a touch of magic around every corner, with even a tribute to the Mad Hatter's Tea Party - a giant teapot - tucked away beneath the trees. The sculptures add interest to the garden, but also guarantee its appeal to all ages, and to garden enthusiasts and art lovers alike.
Allan was raised on a farm at Swannanoa and, although he and his equally green-fingered partner initially lived in the city, he always hankered to return to the country. The couple took the chance when they spotted a prime section in a rural-residential subdivision near the Mandeville sports complex, 30 minutes north of Christchurch.
"We initially put up a shed and would come out at weekends and plant trees," says Andrea, who now commutes to the city, where she works as a nurse.
Andrea and Allan have always been keen travellers and they decided from the outset that they did not want their garden to be a tie. When they decided it was time to move out to the property, they built a small house well within their means, so they could still travel.
A larger house on the front lawn is in their long-term plan and, although it will be quite different, it's a given that the rooms will open out into the garden.
Their garden can be likened to a series of rooms, separated by borders and paths, with a surprise, such as a pond or a sculpture, around every corner.
Allan's sculptures, which sell for $6000 to $12,000, are dotted strategically around the garden. The metal sculptures, some a rusted brown colour and others covered in shiny sheetmetal, are diverse and very appealing. There's a very learned man on a stool sitting not far from a man on a penny-farthing bike. Both are super-sized, while others, including a boy playing ball, are life-sized. Two sheetmetal sculptures shaped like fish hooks spin in the wind, while a metal angel clinging to a tree is likely to be joined by other celestial creatures, such is her popularity.
"I build what I feel like building. Basically, I wake up in the morning and decide what I am going to make that day," Allan says.
He also has an eye for finding a use for the unusual. Garden furniture is made of fence standards and the clothes line is strung between the top of two old power poles.
Overseas trips have also provided inspiration: the huge steel entrance gates and a round pond with a fountain remind Allan of gardens he saw in Britain, while his collection of tin top hats on old fence posts are his interpretation of men at the wailing wall in Jerusalem.
The garden complements the sculptures and vice versa. It's a garden of soft colours - blues, pinks and white. Andrea loves lavenders and they line the drive, along with catmint and roses. A large pond filled with flowering water lilies has replaced a damp area of lawn. Old favourites, from foxgloves and rhododendrons to flag irises and roses, are everywhere. Andrea's favourite rose is 'Brother Cadfael' which produces masses of highly fragrant pink blooms.
Everything in the garden is flourishing, including the expansive vegetable and herb garden fuelled with Allan's recipe of pig manure and sawdust. Andrea says when she looks at a photo of the brown-grassed paddock they took over in 1993, it's hard to believe they have built the garden that today wins acclaim from everyone who visits.
"We have never stopped planting. Allan's mother lives nearby and she is a keen gardener, while my mother has a wonderful garden in Blenheim and every time I would visit, I would bring back bits. We have filled in the gaps as the garden grew," she says.
Last year, the couple hosted the first exhibition at their property and they are having another on February 5 and 6. Their garden is also part of the Ellerslie International Flower Show garden tours next month. For more information, go to http://www.memadeit.co.nz/.