On a steep site, exposed to hot northwesterly winds, Blenheim gardener Dianne Croad has managed to create her dream garden
One of the joys of gardening is to see your vision gradually take shape from year to year. Southland-born Dianne Croad had always yearned for a garden where she could do just that, but her late husband Neil’s career meant the family moved regularly to different parts of the country. Many gardens were started but had to be left before they were fully developed. Sixteen years ago, after their three children had left home, the couple decided to settle in Blenheim near the Wither Hills. Here Dianne has finally created her dream garden, a small, beautifully planned oasis filled with clipped green hedges, flowers, vegetables and artworks.
The planting plan
Irrigation is key to successful planting in the dry Marlborough region but, as parts of the steeply sloping garden could not be irrigated, Dianne had to choose plant species that could survive the harsh conditions.
I’ve had to make many changes over the yearsand continue to do so
Despite the dry weather, roses flourish here, as do clematis, flowering cherries, cornus, crab apples, weeping pears and several fruit trees. To give the garden the strongly structured feel she was aiming for, Dianne has planted an extensive number of hedges, most of them box and abelia, the latter species thriving in the areas where clay still dominates the soil.
She’s passionate about her topiaries, which are a mixture of buxus, ivy and lonicera. “I find clipping very relaxing and rewarding. I do it once a year but do have help with cutting the hedges.”
Dianne is also a very keen vege gardener, growing a large range of veges and herbs which she shares with her family. As space is fairly tight, she rotates the different crop families (legumes, root vegetables, brassicas and so forth) to avoid pests and diseases building up in the soil.
Developing the garden was not an easy task, however, as the site is steep and exposed to hot northwesterly winds with poor soil on top of clay, and water run-off through the site from the hills. “Of all the homes we have lived in, this section has probably been the most challenging but I’m very pleased with the results,” says Dianne.
The garden was originally planted in nativesthe majority of which were very scruffy and, in my opinion, did not suit the house
The garden style
Dianne’s aim was to create a structured and semi-formal garden more in keeping with the Mediterranean look of the house. “This had its challenges as previously we had lived in character homes with quite cottagey gardens, so it was a big change for me,” she says. “I’ve used two different landscapers as the garden has evolved but I also had strong ideas of my own through reading magazines and visiting other gardens. I’ve tried to work with the natural contours of the site, creating various spaces and vistas.”
The special features
It’s so easy to overwhelm a small garden with decorative touches but Dianne has avoided this, carefully placing artworks and other features in her garden to create a harmonious balance with the planting and built structures. Reflecting the sculptural form of the topiaries are three shapely steel cones and a large sphere from Wire Art in Tekapo. She’s also made some of the artworks herself, including a hanging succulent wall (based on an idea she discovered on Pinterest) and two elegant steel circles on plinths.
“I made the circles to solve a problem. I had two large concrete pots which I couldn’t move and could not get anything to grow well in them. So they became the plinths and I used part of an old wine barrel to create the circles. A friend riveted them in place for me and then I played around with paint sprays to give them a rusty look.”
The landscaping plan
Working in stages, Dianne and Neil removed most of the existing vegetation apart from a lovely kowhai and some pittosporum screen trees. Improving the soil was crucial to the garden’s success, they knew. “We brought in lots of soil and compost and have used a huge quantity of gypsum so the soil is now much improved. We also made our own mulch, taking nothing usable off the site,” she explains. “We put in more drainage and used macrocarpa sleepers to retain the garden beds and formalise the levels.”
While the couple built some of the smaller structural elements themselves, they used local contractors for the bigger jobs, and family and friends helped, too. “My sons have barrowed lots of gravel and soil up the slope to the rear of the section. I always say it is the last job and then find something else for them to do! I’m lucky they always front up,” laughs Dianne.
One of her favourite parts of the garden is the deck area at the back of the house which extends out into the garden, maximising the sun from all directions. An Insol louvred roof was added last year to shade the deck from the hot Marlborough sun. “The structure enhances the house and is now like an extra room where I can relax and share time with friends and family. We can look out and enjoy the views of the Wither Hills,” she enthuses.
Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Juliet Nicholas.