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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.