We were driving down the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand towards the city of New Plymouth when suddenly Mount Taranaki sheared into view, its symmetrical, snow-topped cone appearing to rise from the deep blue ocean through a fluffy collar of cloud. It looked so Photoshopped I burst out laughing. That was my only glimpse of the mountain. For the rest of my stay it was covered in rain, mist, cloud and other forms of wetness.
Jen Horner’s Puketarata combines landscape views with intimate garden rooms that hold you in an embrace of planting. Credit:Robin Powell
All that water is one reason that the gardens of the Taranaki region are so good. Add volcanic, rich soil and the ameliorating effects of being so close to the ocean, and gardeners here can grow just about anything in boisterous good health. The locals celebrate their good fortune every spring with a garden festival that opens private gardens for 10 days, joining the private and public ones that are open all year to give garden lovers plenty to choose from.
In New Plymouth itself, the must-see, perennially open gardens include the native trail-blazer Te Kainga Marire; the Arts and Crafts-era Tupare, and the 19th-century park Pukekara, which has a fabulous lake, bandstand and series of plant-packed glasshouses lovingly nurtured by five full-time horticulturists.
At Gravetye, owner John Pease uses order, simplicity and minimal planting to great effect.Credit: Robin Powell
Around the other side of the mountain at Hawera are two private gardens worth the drive. John Pease’s Gravetye shares its name with the famous English garden Gravetye Manor, but the connection is ancestry rather than homage. Pease’s great-grandmother grew up at Gravetye Manor in the days before its garden renown, and he named his property for her.
Pease’s natural inclination is to order and simplicity so he started the garden 12 years ago with a hedge and a lime walk and it has developed from there into a series of hedged garden rooms, arranged like spokes coming off the hub of the house. Planting in each is minimally diverse, but each creates a very different feel through various hedging and edging choices, sculptural placement and flowering highlights: iris in one; laburnum in another; and a great long bed of the David Austin single yellow rose "Golden Wings" in another.
Each garden room at Gravetye has a different feel through hedging and edging choices, sculptural placement and flowering highlights.Credit:Robin Powell
Gravetye holds your gaze inside the garden, with axial views to sculpture and focal points, but at Puketarata, 10 minutes away, your gaze is continually shifting, out to a landscape of green hills and in to intimate garden rooms that hold you in an embrace of planting. Owner Jen Horner has an innate feel for spaces that make you feel good. She believes we feel calmer when the ground beneath our feet is level, so each garden area on the sloping site features a level carpet of lawn, so you can stand steady, surrounded by an amphitheatre of planting that frames and shapes the views. On a clear day, Horner assures me as we gaze out from the shelter of a maple to rain curtaining the steeply folding hills, you can see Mount Taranaki.
The Taranaki Garden Festival runs from November 1-10.
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