Remembering Rain

As I face another summer staycation in my garden, I am hopeful yet fearful of the weather. As much of the northern hemisphere sings the refrain of “April showers bring May flowers,” we are all wondering what the weather will bring, floods or drought?

In the summer of 2020, my garden limped along with 144 days of over 100-degree (37C)weather and 103 days without measurable rain. As I write this, it is April, with daytime temperatures over 95 degrees (35C) and no rain in the forecast to bring May flowers. Thinking of rainy-day gardens, I remember a southern hemisphere spring garden when rain was everywhere.

The storm descends

I don’t believe I was ever wetter, colder, or happier than in Janet Blair’s New Zealand garden. I had purchased an umbrella before I arrived, and I thought my shoes would keep my feet dry, though Janet’s knee-high Wellies made me wonder. We set off, and she was eager to show me her garden, all 13 acres (5 hectares) of it.

The tour of Blair Garden begins

It continued to rain as we walked the grass pathways under flowering dogwood trees. Trees are critical in Janet’s garden as the wind races through this valley, and the sun is intense in summer. The trees and the hedges, box, hornbeam, and beech protect the vegetable and flower gardens from the constant weather challenges.

A formal style with topiary

Janet has a talent for topiary, creating cones, swirls, birds, and tiny shapes. Chickens and nests are rising on a thin boxwood stem. A topiary suite of cards, the jack, spade, diamond, and heart stand on another.

A topiary suite of cards is a challenge to photograph!

As gardeners do she apologized for what she considered flaws, she lost 40 trees in the previous winter winds. She saw vacant spaces from lost plants due to weather damage. She struggles with weather extremes, a -2 degrees (-19 C) to a summer heat of 102 degrees (39 C)

One of many trees felled in a winter storm

Janet’s home is a stone house over 100 years old, and her garden has been her steady work for 40 years. The garden is in a valley near Queenstown, on the South Island, with a dramatic southern alps view.

Window through the hedge

Her hedges are nearly eight (2.4m) ft tall, and here and there, she has shaped a window into the adjoining room. I love Janet’s idea for a color palette as she incorporates lots of white, blue, and green, taken directly from the clouds in the sky and the trees in view. Even better is her thoughts on how we all can build our own style of garden.

“Creating a garden is like composing music; we all have access to the same notes, but it is how we arrange them that makes the garden our own.” (New Zealand Tourism)

Vegetables flourishing

It was early spring, and the vegetable garden was fully planted out with onions, cabbages, peas, and carrots. Flowers for cutting were a big focus of the gardens nearer the house. Alliums, early blue iris, and lavender were in bloom. She enjoys a formal style of garden with the flowers surrounded by box parterres in defined shapes.

A step inside the warm cozy kitchen filled with copper pots and braided garlic, onions, and bins of potatoes, made it clear the vegetables she grows are put to good use.

She opens her garden to visitors through the New Zealand garden trust. I had called ahead and arranged an appointment. She graciously took me around; which was a necessity, otherwise she might have to organize a search party later. She shared her garden with me in a downpour, yet it was magical. A garden so green, so mature, tended by such a dedicated and talented gardener.

She kindly suggested a tearoom for lunch in the nearest village and off we went. Nothing on me was dry; shoes, socks, pants, my light rain jacket seemed to have soaked through as well. I was freezing. It was so worth it to weather the rain.
As my Arizona spring stretches into summer, I have those waterproof boots I bought in New Zealand to remind me of that rainy garden visit during my dry days.

13 thoughts on “Remembering Rain”

  1. I wondered how much help Janet has with that huge garden that is so beautifully shaped and cared for. I have been to the northern island of New Zealand in February and it was warm and sunny the whole time. My favorite plant to see was a grower of kiwis. I had no idea how they grew before I went to see! The world is a magical place as you know well!

    1. Yes, does she have help? I think she had people in to help with the downed trees but much of the work is on her.

  2. Linda, what a wonderful memory you have shared. Thank you. It reminds of a rainy day visit to Butchart
    Garden in Canada. It was a Summer Saturday that was to culminate with fireworks in the garden. Clear umbrellas were handed out as we entered and could be seen all through the garden for most of the day. The rain did stop just in time for the fireworks show. We felt like we were in a French impressionist painting. Gardens are magical.

    1. Oh yes, gardens are magical. I am so unaccustomed to rain anymore, it was quite the memorable walk about.

  3. So many of the large gardens have
    full-time staffers to plant and maintain them.
    If Janet Blair not only designed, but planted and tends this gloriously green garden mostly on her own, she is indefatigable and as amazing as what she has created.
    I plan to revisit these photos and commentary again in August when they’ll feel like a cool drink! Thanks for sharing,

    1. I can’t imagine she hasn’t had help along the way, perhaps in laying the brick paths, removing downed trees, general spring clean up and such. But at the heart of things she is hands on. It really is amazing and it didn’t happen all at once.

  4. Beautiful! How complex life in the desert must be. (By the way, can’t wait for your book to be published!)

  5. Thank you Linda. Good to travel with you from home as usual. Glad you’re there speaking from our experience in this desert as you tell us about your adventures.

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