Mount Taranaki peeks through the clouds above New Plymouth, New Zealand. As I begin to explore the gardens ringing this mountain I realize the pitch of the peak is the landscape gardeners would transform into magical gardens in their own backyard. The houses may sit on a bit of flat ground but then as you go round back and the gardens descend into terraces and zig zag pathways leading you to a seat with a view of a river or the mountain itself.
I’m in Taranaki for the ten day Powerco Garden Festival, (celebrating its 30th year) & The Fringe Garden Festival. Together over 85 home gardens are open for touring. We’ve five days to take it all in and in the first day we visited nine gardens.
Seabrook was the first garden we visited and it set the bar very high for anything to follow. A heritage home built in 1905, it sits close to the street and the property backs up to Pukekura Park. Gardening there for 16 years, this is Debbie & Buzz Campbell’s first year on the tour.
The down sloping sweep of lawn is edged with perennial borders of rhododendrons, roses, ferns, columbine, iris and more, designed to provide continuous color through the year. Debbie describes herself as a romantic and she admires the English garden style of color and flowers. She surrounds herself with this in the ground nearest the house but on down toward the stream it transforms into what she calls her bush garden. She explained the stream running through it and the cover of tree ferns and trees give a spot for more tropical and lush planting. As a focal point she borrows the scenery of the Pukekura Park working waterwheel.
Castle stone paver paths lead down the slope and across a bridge to use every inch of space for planting clivias, ferns, more rhododendrons, and hydrangeas. Cozy spots for seating, a gazebo and benches supply more than enough choices to sit and absorb the sounds of running water and bird songs, a real orchestra in New Zealand.
The couple built this garden over the 16 years and sharing it with festival visitors is the real meaning of celebrating their creativity and the beauty of this spectacular spring season.
Hillsides are a major element in so many of the gardens and another couple fully embraced their view which goes from the sea to Mt Taranaki. Originally from Northern India near Tibet, Kam & Bindi designed and built their home in 2006 and named their hilltop “Tranquility of the Himalayas.” The garden began in 2012. The front of the house flowers with roses. A raised bed herb garden and a scented garden greets you as your circle round to the back garden. In a few short years nearly 1000 5 cm plants (the size of our 6 pack annuals in the states) in colorful foliage of nandina, protea, and cypress which have grown to fill in a terraced section below the house.
Further down, a sweeping lawn curves to match the view of the sea. A section of tree fern forest fills in a distant hill and a grassy hillside is home to their six sheep. The overall effect is a sense of openness that embraces the vistas you see from the top of their world.