Last week I was lucky enough to visit some of the amazing gardens that participated in this year’s Taranaki Garden Festival. For those readers who are not familiar with this part of New Zealand, Taranaki is in on the west coast of the North Island, nestled beneath the magnificent Mount Taranaki. The area has an idea climate for creating beautiful gardens, with mild year round temperatures and plentiful rain.
An English gardening legacy
As far as planting styles go, the traditional English garden is obviously a huge influence to many gardeners in Taranaki. There was an abundance of fragrant roses, towering foxgloves, lush hostas, waving flag irises, granny’s bonnets, forget-me-nots, lavender, catmint and box hedging.
A highlight of the weekend was visiting Tupare, an arts and crafts house and garden in New Plymouth. The house was designed by James Walter Chapman-Taylor, who is known for bringing the English arts and crafts movement to New Zealand. The house features hand-adzed beams and furniture, William Morris textiles and beautiful hand-crafted details. The garden is planted on the slopes above the banks of the Waiwhakaiho River and has been designed to complement the era and style of the house. The garden features many different areas with their own personalities, including woodland walks, walled gardens and cottage garden borders. Beautiful vistas have been expertly created through the tree canopy.
Puketarata is another garden that was beautifully executed. I particularly loved the flowing box parterres filled with vibrant poppies and lobelia and the borrowed views from the surrounding countryside.
Some other favourites featured native New Zealand planting. Nikau Grove has some fabulous specimens of native ferns and palms, with walkways traversing the slopes of the garden. There is a real feeling of being at one with nature, where the plants tower above you and you feel sheltered and protected.
Te Kainga Marire (translated as ‘peaceful encampment’) was another lovely native garden. The owners of the garden were outdoor enthusiasts and wanted to recreate the atmosphere of being up in the mountains of New Zealand. The have done this to great effect, with planting that evokes the New Zealand alpine environment.
Cemeteries can be happy places
One very special garden that I visited was Te Hunui Cemetery. The grounds have a truly magical feel to them, thanks to the amazing volunteers who tend the gardens. Normally when you visit a cemetery you get plastic or dead flowers and a no-planting policy. The difference an abundance of flowers makes in a cemetery cannot be quantified. I loved it here.
Sculptural highlights and garden features
Many of the gardens had fantastic sculptures and garden ornaments and features. Here are some that stood out.
There was an extremely high quality of planting expertise on display in the gardens, which is testament to the amount of hard work that must go into getting these properties looking perfect for the festival. Admittedly, some of the gardens weren’t to my taste, and a few could have benefited from a professional eye to give them better structure and unity. However, all of the properties I visited were special because they reflected the passion and personality of their owners. I always feel privileged to be able to experience the personal artistic expression that is on display when visiting a private garden.
Whatever you style preference, the festival is well worth a visit to Taranaki. You can pick and choose which gardens you want to visit from 40 properties and admission to each garden costs between $5-15. New Plymouth also features many sculptures by the incredible Len Lye, some amazing street art and a beautiful coastal walkway. For more information visit gardenfestnz.co.nz.
Thanks to everyone who made this garden festival so special, including the fabulous and friendly people who were part of my Garden Design Society tour group.