Gardens

See how this Taranaki garden was transformed into a lush idyll

This remarkable couple have turned a corner of Taranaki wilderness into a lush idyll with a uniquely Pacific flavour 

See how this Taranaki garden was transformed into a lush idyll

It’s been nearly 40 years since Ian and Elsie Lind first moved to their bush-covered section in the heart of New Plymouth. During that period they have raised three daughters, pursued busy careers and created Nikau Grove, a garden that earns the admiration of hundreds of visitors every year. They’ve even managed to score the ultimate accolade for garden aficionados in this country, the five-star Garden of National Significance rating.

Site

The roughly half-hectare site is in a valley with a creek running through it less than three kilometres from New Plymouth’s CBD. “There was an open area in the centre and on the banks but most of it was covered in bracken, gorse, blackberry, tradescantia and very large ‘trunks’ of old man’s beard, smothering much of the bush,” remembers Elsie. “We weren’t deterred. It was very sheltered among the trees and had a lovely, peaceful feel to it. Fortunately, it wasn’t swampy as all the land sloped and drained towards the creek. We cleared the bracken and rubbish to make way for a house, choosing the highest point that faced the sun.”

Style

Apart from a swimming pool for the children, the couple had no clear idea of what they wanted to do with the garden. Nevertheless, they started work clearing the weeds and making paths as soon as they moved in. With two pre-schoolers in the family at that stage, the pace was very slow as time and money were in short supply. A plan by local landscape designer Bryan Pollock helped them with the overall layout. “It was the best thing we ever did as our plant knowledge wasn’t very extensive in those days,” says Elsie.

As they worked they noticed the property was full of young nikau palms, most of them seedlings from a tall mature specimen, the seed dispersed naturally by wood pigeon. It quickly became obvious that the garden should be in a lush, South Pacific style, planted with a mix of natives and exotics. “I’m always trying to perfect the garden, constantly changing planting schemes, altering colour schemes and using contrasts in foliage, aiming for a natural New Zealand, South Pacific feel,” Elsie explains.

Landscaping

One of the first tasks was building tracks through the bush to allow better access round the site and prevent new native seedlings from being trampled. Next was retaining the creek sides, which eroded every time it flooded.

The swimming pool followed, its creation pure serendipity. After using a digger to remove a large clump of invasive bamboo growing at the front of the house, the couple were left with a substantial hollow which, they realised, was in the ideal spot for a pool.

“Until our finances allowed, Ian built a little frame around it, which we filled with sand, and our children had a perfect sandpit to play in. The swimming pool was finally built in the late ’80s/early ’90s,” Elsie says.

Fast-forward several more years and the couple had started building boardwalks and bridges through the bush and over the creek. For the handrails Ian, whose engineering business is located in the port area, has recycled old mooring ropes, drawing many comments from the visitors who flock to the garden during the annual Powerco Taranaki Garden Spectacular.

Planting

To complement the thousands of nikau in the garden Elsie planted a variety of exotic palms including Butia capitata, Chinese windmill (Trachycarpus fortunei), Washingtonia, queen palm (Syagrus romanzoffianum), king palm (Archontophoenix Alexandrae) and Kentia palm (Howea forsteriana).

Large native pukatea trees form a canopy in the bush area around the creek with kohekohe, karaka, titoki trees and king ferns creating a moist, lush feel. “We leave the bush to remain natural; our mixed plantings are in the areas we have created such as around the house and the lawns,” Elsie says.

“We like a strong use of native plants with exotics mixed in. I like the garden to say, ‘You are in New Zealand’ first, but we can grow these other plants, too. Of course we are constantly having to change things as our environment changes. Our earlier plantings were in a lot of sun. As trees mature and cast more shade I have to rethink the plants I use.”

Standout feature

Although there are many beautiful areas within Nikau Grove, the Linds’ last big project is one of the most spectacular. What was once a paddock for their children’s pet lambs was converted into a cascading waterfall by Ian over a two-year period using a digger and local rock.

“Ian borrowed a Hiab from work to help place the rocks, and plastered the slopes first to stop too much water disappearing,” says Elsie. “A large underwater pump is hidden in the bottom, recycling the water. The result is just what we imagined now that the native plantings around it have matured.”

Not only have this determined couple created a verdant paradise in their valley which they share with many visitors, they have also worked hard to expand the native bird population by planting trees which provide food for them such as taraire, titoki, miro and tree fuchsia.

There are even a couple of ‘hotels’ for the local wetas. “One of them is very well occupied most of the time. Sometimes they’re fully booked,” says Elsie. “It’s great to be able to show our overseas visitors what wetas look like, too. They are also an important food for the moreporks, which we often hear calling at night.”

Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Jane Dove Juneau.

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