Dazzling English-style garden
It takes flair and hard work to create a stunning garden out of 10 acres of bare land, but Auckland gardener Anne Dotchin has done just that. In just five years, she transformed her daughter and son-in-law's bare Coatesville property into a garden of great beauty and abundance.
Large-scale vegetable beds, flower gardens, perennials, bulbs, rambling roses, citrus groves, clipped hedges and arches – developing an English-style garden was the proverbial dream come true for Anne, whose own garden in Glenfield – mostly native bush – receives too little sunlight.
"I've always been a potterer, but I've never really had the opportunity until then to really indulge my gardening love," says Anne. "And I was lucky enough to be able to have a blank canvas to develop it."
Used to gardening in shade, Anne was itching to get stuck into the sun. "I've always had a love of English gardens and, of course, in the bush with very little sunlight, this was like the best gift I could be given – to be able to plant in full sun and to choose all the plants that I loved but had been unable to grow myself," she recalls. "And it was incredible how they performed so well with light and sun."
The house at Coatesville was brand new when daughter Angela and son-in-law Brent moved in, in 2010. Once a strawberry field, the land had been put back into grass and some bromeliads, palm trees and cycads planted.
Over the course of a year, these were removed and Anne started from scratch again. She planted all around the house and the pool, while landscape designer Cilla Cooper was brought in to develop the area by the entrance to the house where a gazebo now stands. "I thought it would be good to establish four raised beds – two for vegetables and two for roses, perennials and bulbs, like a cutting garden," Anne explains. "We constructed them with railway sleepers and made them very large, 8m x 4m each."
Good quality soil was bought in for the beds, then an abundance of various herbs, vegetables and flowers were planted. With the addition of plants, the family soon noticed an increase in wildlife. "Before the gardens were established there were only lapwings, rabbits and pukeko," Anne recalls, "but once we started planting, we were amazed to see how it attracted dragonflies, butterflies, hedgehogs and a range of birdlife."
As a fun project when the beds were first established, all four children were given their own area to plant as they wished. "I would take my grandson out to pick the strawberries when in season and we would also go down the pond to feed the ducks."
The family picked fresh vegetables for the house twice a week, and with the vast range of plants, they never ran out. They grew silverbeet, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, onions, spring onions, a range of lettuces, carrots, zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, garlic, buttercup, rhubarb, blueberries, guava and strawberries. For a constant supply of fresh herbs, they grew rosemary, parsley, coriander, mint, sage, thyme, dill and fennel, among others.
After the four gardens were established, the hedging was planted. "The most important thing after that was the hedging to enclose everything. Those were all enclosed, and there is a secret garden in between the two vegetable beds and the two flowerbeds," Anne explains. "I designed a couple of arches and climbing roses were put over them."
Planting around the pool area proved difficult at first, but Anne found success with the evergreen conifer Thuja 'Smaragd'. The trouble-free conifers were the perfect choice, growing into rich green pyramidal columns that require no trimming. These were underplanted with the English lavender 'Munstead' to provide a beautiful contrast in colour and form.
Anne's gardening skills and knowledge of plants certainly came in handy. "I had done, over the years, quite a lot of study and reading of books, and making lists of plants and trees that I really adored," she says. "So, of course, I could finally start to put them in this particular garden."
She loves David Austin roses ("You can't really beat David Austin, I have to say") so a number of these went into the picking garden, including the famous yellow 'Graham Thomas', the rose-pink 'Mary Rose' and the delicate blush-pink 'Sharifa Asma'. (For more of what Anne planted, see the photo gallery below.)
Clematis are a favourite too, so she planted several as feature climbers, including 'The President', which sports rich violet-blue flowers in late spring and autumn, the two-toned white and pale lavender 'Veronica's Choice' and 'Mrs PB Truax', whose periwinkle-blue flowers appear from late spring to late summer. "I also planted groves of Prunus serrulata 'Shirotae', which look amazing when they are all flowering at the same time, and also groves of Sophora microphylla, which is a South Island sophora, which is just fabulous."
She adores trees, so an impressive list of trees went in. "My favourite tree without doubt is Cornus controversa 'Variegata'," says Anne, who loves its all-round appeal. In spring, its green leaves with creamy-white margins stand out against a hedge of red-tinged Eugenia. In late spring a profusion of white flowers appear and in autumn, its leaves brandish striking tones.
Other favourites on her list include Amelanchier canadensis and Ginkgo 'Autumn Gold'. "There is also a big Cercidiphyllum japonicum. "When the leaves are turning they are a fabulous colour, and they smell like toffee."
She loves the native Hoheria sexstylosa too ("that's really outstanding, beautiful flowers on that"), plus the liquidambars (also known as sweetgum) and the Nyssa sylvatica (called sour gum). "Oh, and another outstanding one is Magnolia 'Vulcan'. And the Yulan magnolia, Magnolia denudata, that's pretty fabulous," Anne continues. "And can I tell you one more outstanding plant? Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowflake', the oakleaf hydrangea. That's one of my favourite perennials."
It's clear that Anne is passionate about plants, but she wasn't finished yet. An almond tree, two macadamias, a fig tree and a citrus grove with lemons, mandarins, oranges and limes also went in.
In the secret garden, which is Anne's favourite part of the garden, a standard Wisteria 'Alba' takes centrestage. It was underplanted with white-flowered pratia, and a garden seat – which encourages lingering – was underplanted with blue-flowered pratia.
But after a visit to a well-known New Zealand garden, they decided to plant the rest of the lawn in pratia. "The pratia lawn where the wisteria is. We'd seen that in another garden in Auckland – Ayrlies – where the owner Bev McConnell had whole, huge lawns as pratia. So in the secret garden with the weeping standard wisteria, I planted the pratia lawn. We planted the lawn in white pratia just before the house was sold in 2016."
All of this grandeur must take some upkeep, you might be thinking. And it does, but Anne had the foresight to install irrigation right from the start. "We established a very complex system of irrigation right throughout the whole garden. Even the pratia lawn and the secret garden are irrigated. Everywhere there is ample water."
That came courtesy of a bore, left over from the days of the strawberry field. It was immensely helpful when establishing the plants. To feed the plants, Anne used organic materials. "All I can say is manure, manure, manure, the most wonderful thing in the world.
That wasn't the only thing. We brought in compost too, but the manure really made the garden thrive. And being out at Coatesville, of course, you are very close to stables," she explains.
But it wasn't all plain sailing. They ran into some problems with the local critters. "Initially, after we planted a lot of trees, we discovered the rabbits scratched the trunks and killed them. I did quite a lot of research on that and I devised our own method, which was very simple but worked beautifully. It was just that green plastic cobwebbing material that you get from garden centres – it's like a grill. We simply put it around the trunk with stakes holding it in, so the rabbits couldn't scratch the trunks or dig underneath."
With the rabbits finally under control and the plants establishing quickly, it wasn't long before the whole garden was looking magnificent. "It kind of worked out really well, although I didn't really mean it to work out as well as it did," says Anne modestly. "But from the very top of the garden, which looks down slowly, a very small inclination, it looks down to another garden which is kind of like a secret garden enclosed by hedges. There is a silver weeping pear right at the top there, and when you stand or sit behind the pear you look right through all the beds, all the secret garden right to the orange grove and the pond beyond that. So that's a kind of serendipity, really."
Serendipity, perhaps, but with a lot of guidance from Anne, we think.
- NZ Gardener