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ALISON WORTH
Last updated 10:12 09/11/2012
River Cottage
Alison Worth

Pretty: Vintage plate display at River Cottage.

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I have a very hard life. It's not easy peeling myself away from over-grown vege patches and attention-seeking beetroot, but relish making has begun.

On top of that, the Garden and Art Fest in Tauranga is on this week and I have picked out some fabulous-looking gardens to visit.

This event is the Derby Day of the gardening world - all 89 gardens manicured to perfection and ready to receive hundreds of daily visitors over seven days.

Of course, I chose gardens the farthest from my front door, so I won't be winning any fuel-saving prizes this trip, but there were two worth every diesel mile - indeed, they were both so thoughtfully planted that they most likely offset my carbon emissions. River Cottage - 103 Willoughby Rd, Katikati

Feminine is the first word that popped into my head upon entering this compact and bijoux garden.

Wrapping around a stylishly renovated cottage, there are roses, daisies, lilies, irises and all manner of pretty flowers filling up flower beds and tumbling over walls and fences.

An old bike with front basket leans against the garage wall, next to a wooden ladder that acts as a display stand for more potted flowers and old agrarian equipment.

The cute 1950s-style sleepout offers more room for roses to climb and steps to decorate with living daisies. A berry garden is enclosed with chicken wire and wooden framing in the most efficient and smartest way to solve any bird problem.

Adjacent is the vegetable garden, which is reminiscent of Mr McGregor's patch, all neatly contained within a box hedge.

I did not have the opportunity to meet the owners as the garden was so busy and they were offering Devonshire teas, but I wish I had - the garden truly emits a rustic and vintage charm that reminds us of femininity and what being a lady is all about.

Wear some pink lippy and your very best floppy straw hat with flowers on to attend this garden.

Manatu (aka Pig's Ear Park),

88 Pahoia Rd, Pahioa

(just south of Katikati)

Margaret and Terry Parker must have had the most inspiring vision 16 years ago for this two hectare site.

A bare block sandwiched between a conventionally farmed kiwifruit plantation and organic plum orchard, any signs of bareness are now nonexistent.

Expect quirky, home-made outdoor artworks and some other stunning pieces dotted among black walnut trees in the wood below the house.

Carpets of wild strawberries are abundant through the undergrowth, creating a nice balance to the short clipped pathways through the glade.

Terry has eco-stacked fallen trees and fern canopy along the edges, thoughtfully returning vital carbon back to the soil.

I am happy to see vegetable plantings along the pathways that lead to the house, a rose garden and hydrangea walk.

Reasonably steep, this garden will get your blood pumping.

But once at the top, you are rewarded with a spectacular view of the sea back to Waihi and all the way down to Mt Maunganui.

Margaret informs me this is their final year of opening for the garden festival, so do make sure you enjoy this garden or miss out forever.

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Decor Gardenworld, 165 Moffat Rd, Bethlehem

I advise stopping here on the way to the first two gardens, rather than on the way back, for fear you will burn a hole in your purse with those, "I saw this plant there and it looked so good I must have one, too" purchases.

You can tell what sort of area you are in by the type of plants the garden centre stocks and the prices, and I can assure you that we in Waikato are very lucky to have reasonably priced garden centres and nurseries.

The urban location of this well-stocked garden centre suggests its clientele are well-off retirees with lots of time to dedicate to their half-acre of garden. I almost fell over at the prices of lavender, forest pansy and many other plants, but what I really enjoyed was the plant variety, knowledgeable and friendly staff and the facilities.

The fantastic Cafe Eden served lovely coffee and tasty goodies with a smile, which we enjoyed outside in a park-like setting while the kids had a well-earned leg stretch on a Springfree trampoline.

Why can't all garden centres offer a lawned area for children to enjoy while their parents spend away happily? They would increase their average spend massively as parents have more time to shop than worry about what their preschoolers are yanking out of pots - and I'm speaking from experience.

Plants range from potted colour to specimen trees.

If you are going to buy here, then buy something you have not seen in your local garden centre, ensuring of course that it will live in our climate.

Don't forget,s Bay of Plenty has little or no threats of frost and oodles of sunshine.

- Waikato

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