During 2016 Rich, my husband, driver, and photographer, and I, flower fanatic, writer, and gardener, visited 134 new gardens. We traveled in the west to Seattle, San Francisco, Cheyenne, Boulder, and Ft. Collins. We did a tour through Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, and a small area of northern Florida. We traveled seven weeks in New Zealand visiting 102 gardens. Viewing the world through the lens of a garden has given us a further education in history, geography, sociology, botany, art, and cultures, especially horticulture and agriculture.
I chose the most memorable experiences of 2016 as much for me as for my readers. It’s difficult to stop at ten, now a glimpse of great beauty:
1. Descent into Color—Maple Glen, Whyndam, NZS
Standing at the top of this 30-acre garden you look out and down at color. Waves of blooming azalea and rhododendron shrubs, leafy chartreuse and red Japanese maples, purple smoke trees, green conifers and silver eucalyptus are arranged before you. Differing in heights, shapes, and clusters, they terrace down the hill to a sweep of lawn and then up again on the far side. We saw golden pheasants walking under the azaleas, a perfect camouflage to match their spectacular feathers.
2. Magnificent Vista—Fisherman’s Bay, Akaroa, NZS
It was a cloudy, misty day as we followed the lawn path through the perennial bed into a stand of trees. There you arrive at the top of a grand staircase that zigzags down the hill leading you through terraces of native plants. Colorful and lush, I was focused on the plants as I wound down this wonderful walk. Then I turned a corner, the sun came out and I lifted my eyes to the stunning view of the Pacific Ocean.
3. Beds of Flowers—Greenhaugh, Palmerston North, NZN
Five acres of garden surrounding a grand white house built in 1874 were in full bloom when we wandered this garden. Flower beds of roses, iris, alliums, lilies, and colorful annuals edge the lawn pathways and circle the ponds. A 60-foot long arbor of purple wisteria was in full bloom. The gardeners weren’t at home when we visited but their little Jack Russell terrier, Poppy, greeted us and followed along as we wandered through masses of blooms. We paused at the picnic tables positioned under the 90-year-old Linden trees; in every direction there were flowers.
4. Puzzle of Knots—Alan Trotts’ Garden, Ashburton, NZS
Perhaps the most incredible piece of this 12-acre garden is the knot gardens. The intricate Celtic patterns in the large knot garden is a living work of art. Boxwood hedges kept straight and short have long been used for formal symmetrical framing of gardens. But a hedge pattern (parterres) is not the same as a knot garden. The parterre is generally all clipped to the same height. Alan’s Knot garden goes under and over like a rope. The pattern rises and falls imitating the look of green embroidery thread on a cloth of dark gravel. It is beautiful. It is fascinating. It is Alan’s personally planted, grown and trimmed work of art. The design is best enjoyed from an elevated position, once upon a time, such gardens were positioned below a castle window.
Alan, lacking a castle, provided a grand dual curved staircase leading up to a viewing stand.
5. Praiseworthy Rock Walls—Flaxmere, Hawarden, NZS
In this garden behind the roses, around the house, around the pool, and down slopes are beautiful, strong rock walls built by gardener Penny Zino. If you knew it would take two years to build a rock wall to surround the rose garden would you even start? Would you lay out the design, dig straight foundations, gather big stones, mix mortar and form each wall straight and even? I’m not sure I could, I’m not sure I would.
Yet how pleased would you feel realizing that you have built three kilometers (nearly two miles) of walls throughout the garden giving it structure and focus? The design of the garden, the plants, the trees, the art make this a wonderful creation.
Penny has been gardening on the same patch of ground for over 50 years and it has turned out well. Her rock walls are worthy of praise and notice.
6. Blooming Rock Garden—Dunedin Botanic Garden, Dunedin, NZS
In North America rock gardens generally, represent less abundant gardening conditions. Found in high elevations with thin soil, and a short growing season, the plants in such gardens must survive harsh conditions to produce small flowers. In Dunedin, NZS the rocky boulders of volcanic basalt are found at a low elevation of 14 feet above sea level. The rock garden established here in 1904 occupies 1/2 acre, on a sunny hillside just above Lindsay creek. It is a display garden lovingly cared for by Robyn Abernethy, Rock, Water & Alpine Collection Curator. The pockets of microclimates mimicking rocky river valleys, forests and mountain tops host a worldwide plant collection. My good fortune is that I wandered through this garden in November, its prime blooming season. The plants that creep, mound, climb, and flower are thriving.
7. Delicate Wander Among Alligators & Snowy Egrets—Audubon Swamp Garden Magnolia Plantation, Charleston, SC
Walking undefined pathways in a swamp full of sleepy alligators is memorable. While walking those paths I was startled by the large shadow of flying snowy egrets. Momentarily I forgot about the alligators and focused on the 100’s of fascinatingly beautiful birds nesting in the trees. Their white wispy feathers were used for decorating ladies’ hats in the late 1800’s and the birds were seriously in danger of extinction. These birds would not exist today if not for two women: Harriet Hemenway and her cousin, Minna Hall, who began a boycott against wearing feathers on hats. Thanks to their efforts legislation emerged and thankfully the birds are among us especially in this swamp garden.
I was astounded by their existence in such numbers. The alligators remain largely terrifying.
8. Walk Among Trees—Gibbs Garden, Ball Ground, GA
The Japanese maples are a defining feature of this 220-acre garden. During my April visit the fresh spring leaves were in shades of light red, chartreuse green, and maroon. The design of the garden maximizes the lay of the land allowing for long sweeping views. The Japanese garden, though only one of 16 gardens here, is said to be the largest in the U.S.
The large collection of unique stone lanterns positioned near the reflecting pools and under the trees doubles the beauty of these features. The Gibbs Garden website reports there are “24 ponds, 32 bridge crossings. and 19 waterfalls.” Seasonally the maples herald spring when they leaf out, provide shade in summer and put on a sensational display of colors in the fall.
9. Fanciful Topiaries—Pearl Fryar Garden, Bishopville, SC
Pearl Fryar lives in a nice house on an ordinary street where he personally transformed his garden into a magical place. He began in the 1980’s with discarded plants from a local nursery, nurtured them back to health and shaped them into works of horticultural art. Today he has over 300 topiaries he has shaped into ships, fishbones, swirls, words and more. Every one of these creations is the result of his ideas, effort, patience and steady work.
10. Succulent Surprise—Ruth Bancroft Garden, Walnut Creek, CA
Inspired by a small rosette shaped aeonium, Ruth Bancroft began in the 1950’s to change the focus of her gardening from mainly floral to the fascinating world of succulents. After a lifetime of gardening, she became interested in plants that swirl, poke and thrust pointed leaves into the sky. She set out to create a new garden designed with the fascinating, slow growing succulent plants. For the next 35 years, she gardened in a new 2.1-acre area. Her results should inspire anyone to believe the future is always open to new possibilities. Her efforts inspired the creation of the North American Garden Conservancy which preserves outstanding private gardens for all to enjoy.
One last bit of beauty
It is important to be flexible in traveling. When a local resident looks you in the eye and tells you there is a better road to travel than the one you had planned you should change your plans. Which is how we drove into a scene of acres of wild lupines in the Ahuriri river bed on Highway 8 in New Zealand. As far as we could see pink and blue lupines ran down the river bed. They were growing densely in the sandy soil and most were over five feet tall.
This spectacular scene was not our destination, we were on the road to see Lake Pukai and Mt. Cook. Serendipitously we drove toward a scenic viewpoint and arrived at a place of brief beauty.
I hope you have enjoyed sharing my memorable moments from 2016 garden travel. I apologize to those I didn’t include on this brief list. All of the gardens are worthy of a story. I encourage you to seek out gardens wherever you go. Then next year this time you can think back on your memorable moments in gardens.