Garden of the week: A busy but orderly Timaru garden
It's a lucky plant that gets a ride home from the nursery in Rosy McBride's car boot. It is headed for a green haven where it will be nurtured, well-nourished and never lonely.
"It is over-planted," Rosy admits of her Timaru garden. "But I love my plants."
Rosy and her architect husband Dave moved to the property 25 years ago with three small boys, drawn by the charming two-storey brick house. The section was small – 600sqm – and the "garden" consisted of a few straggly shrubs, apple trees and bare dirt. "We took them out and started from scratch," says Rosy.
"A garden should reflect the style of the house. This is an English arts and crafts house. It's also brick and it's orange. You have to remember that and plant appropriately."
A garden also reflects the personality of its gardener, and Rosy's patch is both busy and highly organised. She is thorough in her research, as evidenced by a pile of folders recording the garden's progress from day one. It includes photos, plant labels and report cards: "Fragrant, too straggly, too buggy."
Rosy knows all her plants by name and, in return for her devotion, expects them to perform. If they behave, they are granted some liberties. Coral 'Thalia' fuchsia scrambles through an arch of 'Iceberg' roses; the ficus is allowed to clamber ("though I have to watch it"); sweet-smelling giant lilies (Cardiocrinum giganteum) can spread their seed at will. Only the Acanthus mollis overstepped the mark and was expelled, although a less boisterous cousin, Acanthus spinosus, has been given a place in a pot.
Plants are arranged to create different moods – or to express them. Case in point, Rhododendron yakushimanum 'Grumpy' flourishing in the front courtyard: "I bought it when the children were small and Dave was playing cricket all Saturday."
Rosy has implemented a loose colour scheme based on exclusion. Rather than group plants of a hue together, she removes a colour from the equation. Blue is barred from the bed of burgundy Heuchera 'Chocolate Ruffles', red begonias, lime green euphorbias and lady's mantle. Around the corner, soft yellows mingle with blue and cream perennials and red is outlawed. Hot colours have no place in the restful woodland area. "I love all the shades of green and different shapes and textures of hostas, trilliums and hellebores under the rhodos and white hydrangeas."
The roses, mostly peach and cream tones to complement the brick house, are spectacular. Her best all-rounder award goes to the 'Thumbelina' patio rose. "Every stage is beautiful, starting blush pink and fading through apricot to cream, plus it's got healthy dark-green foliage. It's probably what I would take with me if I had to choose one thing," she says, then reconsiders: "Actually, no, I'd take the bricks."
Dave and Rosy laid all the paths, walls and brick courtyards themselves, using the same distinctive highly fired local bricks used to build the house in 1916.
The sunny west-facing front courtyard is the most-used part of the garden. "Last year we lost the large, very old deciduous magnolia in the middle. We've replaced it with the same type ['Sayonara'] but now we have to use a shade umbrella while we watch it grow."
Both courtyards are packed with pots, which Rosy uses to extend the garden. "I put everything in them from succulents and topiaries to hydrangeas and hostas, which look stunning."
She feeds them regularly with Seasol liquid fertiliser, a solution in which she soaks all her plants overnight before planting. "I go through gallons of it."
The biggest compliment for Rosy is to say her garden is healthy. "Over the years, I've learned the importance of feeding and mulching," she says. Every autumn, she collects bags of manure from a local dairy farm, brews leaf mould in big baskets, gathers pine needles for the acid-lovers and stocks up on pea straw.
"In spring, when it's started to warm up, I go round the garden with my wheelbarrow and tuck it around the plants. It's a yummy mix."
The plants are not the only well-fed inhabitants of Rosy's garden. Bird feeders brim with seeds and fruit for the waxeyes, sparrows and long-time residents Mr and Mrs Blackbird. "They love me to bits when I do the mulching," she says. "You don't get many birds in town now, so it's lovely."
It's a labour-intensive garden but Rosy is not fazed. "It is quite a lot of work, especially in spring and early summer, but I enjoy it. In autumn I tidy it but don't do any pruning or cutting back till spring. In winter it is left to rest, as I do."
Climate: "East coast temperate climate with four definite seasons."
Soil type: "Rich loam over clay."
Most-used tool: "My Okatsune garden snips. I was given a pair by the South Canterbury Rhododendron Group when they visited my garden many years ago and have only just replaced them. I use them for everything from light dead-heading to pruning. A perfect gift, too."
Best tip for other gardeners: "Plant hydrangeas among rhododendrons. Both require similar growing conditions and the hydrangeas will provide flowering through summer well into winter."
Help in the garden: "My husband Dave is the "vertical gardener". He prunes the climbing roses and also collects all the autumn leaves for mulching. Adrian from Trees 'n Gardens is expert at pruning our hedges and shrubs twice a year."
Do you open your garden to the public? "We open it for fundraising events and garden groups."
- NZ House & Garden