Behind this former bank in Eltham, Taranaki is a “secret garden” filled with cottage flowers, roses and much more
Barbara Valintine calls the space behind her home in a former bank building in Eltham, her secret garden. The building’s high walls are softened by black fig trees with cottage flowers – foxgloves, irises and roses – planted below.
At a glance
Who lives here? Barbara Valintine (owner of The Bank retro/vintage shop), Mark Bellringer (photographer).
Barbara, how many roses do you have in the garden? Over 40. I choose them mostly for their scent. I mix modern and heritage roses, whatever takes my fancy. My favourite rose is ‘Birthday Present’, a deep velvet red with a glorious scent.
Who does all the gardening? Mark tries to get involved but I am a bit of a control freak and so do it by myself pretty much. I am learning to share but he has a different approach to me. He loves the vegie garden, though.
Some say if gardening is in your genes sooner or later you’ll discover a passion for it. For Barbara Valintine that passion was triggered three years ago after the death of her mother, who had been a keen gardener, like her mother before her.
“My mother adored roses. She kept saying to me, ‘You must grow roses, you would love them.’ I had always liked flowers but never wanted to grow them myself,” she says.
“Because it’s surrounded on all sides and can’t be seen from the road, it’s almost like a secret garden,” says Barbara
Barbara’s focus was more on interior design and antiques at that point in her life. She and partner Mark Bellringer had bought a former bank in Eltham, in southern Taranaki, and the renovation work was a major project which kept her very busy. She was also running her vintage and antiques business, The Bank, from the same building.
Behind the building, hidden behind walls and structures, was the remnants of a garden that Barbara had been told was very beautiful in its day. “But when we bought the property in 2007 all it had was a really lumpy lawn. There were some existing camellias, though, a grapevine and an old ‘Meyer’ lemon that I kept.”
She and Mark spent the next five years working on the building’s interior in their spare time with little thought for the garden. However, after her mother’s funeral Barbara suddenly experienced a gardening epiphany. “When she died I went everywhere and bought all the roses I could find to put on her coffin because she loved them. The scent was amazing. I decided that I just had to grow them myself.”
It was probably a way of dealing with her grief, she believes. Whatever the reason, Barbara immediately began to turn her garden vision into reality. “I just went for it. I forgot the house and started building a garden. I drew pictures and scribbles of what I wanted – lavender, roses with catmint below, lamb’s ear and delphiniums. A couple of planter boxes filled with vegies, herbs, calendula and nasturtiums. My vision drove me on. I knew very clearly what I wanted.”
Her semi-formal design was driven partly by the existing driveway that sliced through the garden to a garage on the southern boundary. To disguise this, she decided to cover the entire ground plane with gravel and then used pavers to create a grid structure.
Roses are trained to climb a metal arbour in front of the garage to make it look like a summerhouse and raised beds were built for vegetables. Urns, old wheels, a water pump and other antique decorative features artfully placed among the plants give the garden a timeless look.
“A garden will take its own course,” says Barbara. “Plants keep self-seeding in the gravel; they just jump out of the beds. It’s taken on a life of its own. When I dug the beds for the roses I must have disturbed long-buried seeds of aquilegia and violets, and they’ve now appeared like magic. And because it’s surrounded on all sides and can’t be seen from the road, it’s almost like a secret garden.
She admits she’s under the garden’s spell. “I am so busy now with garden, shop and house. I’m trying to reduce the shop hours to fit it all in. It’s continually evolving – my next project is building a pergola from old Corinthian kauri columns that I found.”
There’s no indoor-outdoor flow in the usual sense where the garden is connected to the living spaces, because the tall bank building shades the area directly behind it. Instead, the couple have created a place to enjoy the garden at a remove from the house; at the far end, in front of the garage, where it’s sunny all day. “We love to cook, drink wine, entertain family and friends and sit there, looking back at the house. You feel as if you could be anywhere in Europe, Italy perhaps,” says Barbara.
“We eat outdoors all the time in summer; we’re in the garden every minute we can get. We love sharing our place with people. I have lots of seats everywhere so you can look at the garden from different perspectives. I go out there sometimes and think how lucky I am to have such an amazing garden.”
Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Jane Dove Juneau.