Natives, flowers and veges: A Marlborough garden planted for future generations
A pair of cheeky fantails flit nearby as Rosanne Anderson walks down her garden path. Riotous masses of colour erupt from the flower beds beside her, while hundreds of honey bees nuzzle their way to pollen.
A tight line of cabbage trees separates this bright corridor from the deep, dense green of the native bush beyond, where Rosanne and her husband Atholl have planted thousands of trees to tempt tui and bellbird, along with piwakawaka like these.
Karamu will be open to the public for the first time this November, as part of a new Nelmac Garden Marlborough tour, but eight years ago, this flourishing ecosystem was a treeless horse paddock amid the surrounding landscape of vines.
Rosanne is an early childhood educator, and Atholl an archaeologist, academic and writer who co-authored Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History, winner of the Illustrated Non-fiction prize at the Ockham Book Awards last year. The couple hail from the South Island, but lived in Canberra before moving to Marlborough in 2008, tempted by the climate and the sailing.
"The lush country of New Zealand was a delight to return to and a garden with native bush was on the wish-list," says Rosanne. "But that's not so easy to find when you go looking to buy a house. So we thought, 'Right, we'll grow the bush.'"
They bought a hectare of land on O'Dwyers Road and resolved to build an eco-friendly solar passive house with "wild" perennials at its feet and a boundary of vibrant bush, offering privacy and a pocket of diversity among the vines.
The flower beds were inspired by Dutch gardener Piet Oudolf whose naturalistic gardens include bold swathes of herbaceous perennials and grasses, as beautiful in dormancy as they are in full colour. "I loved the style and thought, 'That's what I want,'" says Rosanne. "Then you get this big blank hectare of land and you go, 'I don't quite know how to do this.'"
So Christchurch landscape architect Robert Watson created a broad plan with natives, flowers, vegetable beds and fruit trees, all anchored by a stretch of path heading straight to the north with 20m-long beds of perennials on either side.
The plan gave Rosanne the confidence to tackle the space, starting with her flowers, which have filled in beautifully. She grows seedlings and divides plants, but generally restricts self-seeding to ensure there are big patches of colour instead of "freckles". There are exceptions, including the ruffle-necked fog-green flower of Miss Willmott's ghost (Eryngium giganteum), "which just pops up everywhere".
There is little rhyme or reason to the plantings apart from the blocks of colour, says Rosanne. "I just shove everything in and every now and again I think, 'I should move that.'" Sometimes the transferred plant dies, "and something else will just come up".
Different shades, seed heads or stem and leaf structures dominate over the seasons, making the garden a varied landscape year-round.
The paved path down its centre is softened by river stones on either side, a tribute to the nearby Wairau River, while a wave of untamed tussock at one end could surely be the ocean it runs to.
Such exuberance pauses at the far end of the flower beds, in a quiet space devoid of plantings with a focus on the tall glass sculpture set on a moss-covered mound. "It's just like a wee Japanese Zen garden," says Rosanne. The bordering native plants are largely lesser known species, including heart-leaved kohuhu, Pittosporum obcordatum.
Once the central corridor was in place, the couple set about planting their bush, expecting to hit the stony, bony soils beloved by Marlborough's wine industry. However they soon realised this pocket of land was more Spring Creek in character than Rapaura, with rich stone-free soils hydrated by nearby springs in which their garden thrived.
The empty horse paddock has become established bush, cut through with winding trails and hidden dells, including an unexpected cricket lawn on one side of the property with fig and pear trees at its edge, and a playground that's invisible until you are upon it. "When we arrived we couldn't have had a swing because there wasn't a tree to hang it from," says Rosanne of the transformation.
Nearby is a grove of poplars winding through the bush, because she couldn't bear to plant in a straight line, and a hive of bees busy transforming pollen into honey.
More fruit grows in the garden by the house, espaliered against along a fence by the "Backwards Path", so named by a granddaughter who insists it always be walked that way.
She and the other grandchildren have been in mind throughout Karamu's development, says Rosanne. "We wanted to plant for the environmental future of our grandchildren."
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Climate: Marlborough's climate is wonderful, but I have been surprised to lose more plants due to being waterlogged than because of drought. We are basically flat, but the few slight hollows can be very soggy.
Our best edible crop: Asparagus. It was the first vege garden we planted and has been a huge success. We can eat asparagus from the beginning of September to Christmas with plenty to share.
My biggest gardening mistake: Forgetting to take the ties off plants when they were staked and discovering that the plant is now being strangled.
Do you open your garden to the public? It is to be open for the first time this year during Nelmac Garden Marlborough. We will need to draw a map so that people don't get lost. It is both exciting and scary to be sharing the garden with others.
- NZ House & Garden