A beautiful Kinloch garden that's also a dream playground gallery video

Making at statement in Kinloch

When Libby Sellar and her husband moved their young family to their Kinloch estate in Banks Peninsula 45 years ago, there  was precious little time for the garden. "We had a young family and that was naturally our first priority," she explains. Nevertheless, Libby retains fond memories of how her family was still able to enjoy what was already on the property then – extensive lawns and a number of mature trees which had been planted in the second half of the 19th century. 

It was only once her children had grown up that she found she had the mental energy to make her own statement in the garden. "But of course the lovely trees could not be moved, so I had to work around those."

Libby decided to create a park-like setting in front of the house with a large lawn. She wanted to have three levels to it, ending with a ha-ha to the front field. Further away, a lake framed by trees to complete the vista. "It was great fun having a front-end loader and digger at my disposal then," she says, "but you couldn't go away for a cup of coffee without another mountain of soil appearing, sometimes! Then that had to be removed."

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Libby has always appreciated the amazing country scene and ambience of the estate. "I never wanted to alter that by putting artificial things in front of it." And so she has allowed the lawn, trees, lake, then farmland and hills beyond to speak for themselves, unadorned by garden flowers and shrubs or ornaments.

Libby with granddaughters Willa Rebbeck (right) and Mathilda Howson.
JULIET NICHOLAS

Libby with granddaughters Willa Rebbeck (right) and Mathilda Howson.

However, she also recognised that colour and diversity can only do a garden good, and to this end she planted flowers on either side of the house. 

On one side, a yellow, blue and white shrubaceous border around three sides of that upper lawn. "This does not impede the long vista down to the lake and is the first sight of the garden on entering," she explains.

On the other side of the house – to the west – Libby designed a picturesque walkway to the swimming pool. It is lined with red and pink roses edged with blue nepeta and clipped box, and finally, a welcoming weeping pear pleached hedge at the swimming pool gate.

Libby's grandchildren William Howson,  
Pablo Sellar and (in the boat) Tom Rebbeck making the most of the lake.
JULIET NICHOLAS

Libby's grandchildren William Howson, Pablo Sellar and (in the boat) Tom Rebbeck making the most of the lake.

There is no doubt that Libby is the force of nature that has driven the design and development of this amazing estate. "What's in the garden are all my ideas and I always had a very particular vision. What is there is what I planned," she says unapologetically. "I wanted to have parkland and trees and grass and pond in front of the house and that's what I have." 

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But she is quick also to acknowledge the contribution of gardener and the property's caretaker Marc Farge, who has worked and lived on the estate for three decades. The farming side of the business has been managed by the Power family, who have been there for 20 years.

At a right angle to the pool side, there is another walkway which takes you down past the children's playhouse and trampoline as well as the vegetable garden, with a view down to the lake at the end. 

This majestic beech in front of the house is one of three well-positioned through the gardens. There are also three huge ...
JULIET NICHOLAS

This majestic beech in front of the house is one of three well-positioned through the gardens. There are also three huge Wellingtonia.

The playhouse and trampoline are there for her grandchildren to enjoy whenever they visit. They also have access to the stables where the show ponies are kept. Libby breeds them at Kinloch and they are very successfully produced for the show ring by Sally Field-Dodgson. When their show careers are over, they are usually lent out to local children for fun and games. "My grandchildren all very much enjoy the wonderful freedom of being able to roam the hills of the farm either on foot or on horseback. And it is a great joy to me to be able to provide this freedom for them in their youth," she adds, recalling that one grandchild once said the lawn just made her want to "run and run".

The ponies also provide another welcome bounty: well-rotted manure for the various gardens on the estate. These include the small orchard of plums and beautifully tart, old-fashioned apples as well as a vegetable garden planted with all the family favourites and all the usual edibles that are found in New Zealand gardens – well, except for asparagus. "It takes up too much room." 

Undoubtedly, Libby enjoys the peaceful, established appeal of the garden whenever she can, which is about six to seven months of the year. From April to September each year, she travels to Britain for the eventing season, in order to watch her horses run. "But it is not always so peaceful. The many grandchildren enjoy their frequent visits and I allow them to ride the ponies on the lawn, something that I feel sure makes my husband turn in his grave," she says. "They all enjoy sailing model yachts and rowing on the lake and there are, of course, squeals of delight when I turn on the irrigation to interrupt lawn games of croquet, tennis or quoits."

Rosa 'Bantry Bay' climbs the fence behind the buxus underplanted with more roses and blue nepeta.
JULIET NICHOLAS

Rosa 'Bantry Bay' climbs the fence behind the buxus underplanted with more roses and blue nepeta.

Libby admits she sometimes loosens the reins as the garden evolves. "Of course so much of it is still evolving but it's a bit big to change very much." 

Still, she never hesitates to step in when she deems it necessary. "I am in charge, not nature, but I also feel that I have to allow things to evolve," she concedes, recalling they once ("a long time ago") had to cut down a big Wellingtonia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) that was dying and had become dangerous as it dropped its branches.  

Libby is mindful of which plants need sun and which prefer a bit of shade, but all in all, hers is a garden that has proven to be remarkably free of problems. 

Perhaps that speaks more to Libby's view and approach to managing it than to the fickle blessings of nature. "I've not really had a lot of problems with it, but then if you've got a problem you dig it up and change it again, don't you?" she asks. "Gardens are easy. If you don't like something, just dig it up. You don't have to change the whole garden because of it, just the plant." 

In this regard, it is fortunate that Libby has not met many plants she does not like. Asked about what influences her choice of flower, tree or shrub, she does not hesitate: "I like most plants. I have a nice rhododendron corner and azaleas underneath, and I'm fond of them. I like roses when they're out." She also enjoys daffodils in spring. Magazines and catalogues sometimes provide inspiration and "if I see something nice in someone else's garden, I ask about it." 

There is no denying the garden is now exactly as Libby had seen it in her mind's eye when she set out to "make her statement" years ago. Clearly, once she set herself to the course, it simply didn't stand a chance.

To see more of the estate, see the gallery below.

Rhododendrons line the scenic avenue leading down to the pond.
JULIET NICHOLAS

Rhododendrons line the scenic avenue leading down to the pond.

JULIET NICHOLAS JULIET NICHOLAS JULIET NICHOLAS JULIET NICHOLAS JULIET NICHOLAS JULIET NICHOLAS JULIET NICHOLAS JULIET NICHOLAS JULIET NICHOLAS JULIET NICHOLAS JULIET NICHOLAS JULIET NICHOLAS

Libby Sellar with granddaughters Willa Rebbeck (right) and Mathilda Howson. “What’s in the garden are all my ideas and I always had a very particular vision. What is there is what I planned. I wanted to have parkland and trees and grass and pond in front of the house and that’s what I have.”

This majestic beech in front of the house is one of three well-positioned through the gardens. There are also three huge Wellingtonia.

Flowering shrubs are planted so as not to impede views to the lawn, lake and hills.

The swimming pool sits to the west of the house.

Libby's grandsons William Howson, Pablo Sellar and (in the boat) Tom Rebbeck making the most of the lake. Libby has created a park-like setting in front of the house with a large lawn. She wanted to have three levels to it, ending with a ha-ha to the front field. Further away, the lake framed by trees to complete the vista. “It was great fun having a front-end loader and digger at my disposal then, but you couldn’t go away for a cup of coffee without another mountain of soil appearing.”

Rosa 'Bantry Bay' climbs the fence behind the buxus underplanted with more roses and blue nepeta.

Rhododendrons line the scenic avenue leading down to the pond.

A quiet corner of the lawn.

'Othello', a David Austin rose.

Rosa 'L.D. Braithwaite'.

David Austin rose 'Gertrude Jekyll'.

Rosa 'Sally Holmes'.

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 - NZ Gardener

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