Ten years of hard work by this green-fingered gardener and her handy husband have transformed an empty Marlborough paddock into an abundant and blooming garden fit for a king – and hordes of garden-loving visitors
It’s considered a great honour to have your garden selected for Garden Marlborough, a renowned garden tour that has taken place annually in the Marlborough region for the past 25 years. Last year when this honour was bestowed upon Lauren and Mike Price for the first time, the couple were understandably nervous, despite the fact that Lauren is a very experienced gardener. “It was a big learning curve,” she admits.
While everything went well, with lots of admiring visitors coming to the garden, a comment made by one of them struck a chord with Lauren. “He told Mike he thought ours was ‘a garden of the heart’. And I do believe that’s what gardens should be about,” she says. “I would advise anyone starting a garden not to follow trends – plant what you like and make the garden for yourself, not for other people.”
Mike and Lauren live at Tuamarina, 10 minutes north of Blenheim. They bought their half-hectare property in 2009 due to its flatness and the fact it was virtually a blank canvas.
“There was a 1980s house built of Oamaru stone, and really only a couple of fruit trees on the property,” says Lauren. “I saw the potential to expand the garden by developing an empty paddock on the west side. We didn’t have to start totally from scratch but it was nice to have an undeveloped area that I could make my own.”
Another big positive was the fact that the area was not as dry as Blenheim, with more rainfall due to it being closer to the hills. “It has a high water table which means we never have to water the lawns. But there can be an issue with drainage and heavy soil,” she explains.
Lauren had a clear aim for the design of her future garden. “I wanted a romantic garden with white structures that I knew would work well with the pale stone of the house. A garden does need to complement the house.”
Constructing the various structures in the garden was not a problem as Mike is a very capable builder. “I am the gardener and he is the DIY guy,” Lauren jokes. “I tell him what I want and he builds it.”
The first major structure the couple created was a white gazebo. “We positioned it where we can look at it straight out from our dining-room window. Once we decided on its position, everything else fell into place. It set the theme.”
A long pergola was also built on one side of the garden and bedecked with metal hearts, wisteria, clematis and roses. On one of the nearby fences Mike also made a white ‘window’ which is actually a mirror. “It was probably the most photographed thing in the garden during the Garden Marlborough tour,” laughs Lauren. “He also made a gate for this area out of a brass bedhead that I found in a garage sale.”
I would advise anyone starting a garden not to follow trends –plant what you like and make the garden for yourself, not for other people
Another major project was the pond, which the hard-working couple dug out along with a ‘dry riverbed’ to take the overflow out to a stormwater ditch. Mike also built a sweet little bridge over this riverbed, as well as Lauren’s shade house and other decorative elements around the garden.
Lauren loves flowers and has fond memories of her grandmother’s garden with snapdragons and sweet peas. “I try to have flower colour all year round with hellebores and camellias in winter and, of course, the roses, wisteria, foxgloves and lupins in summer.”
Beneath the shade of some tall alders she grows hydrangeas and hostas, the latter mostly in pots as the trees take all the moisture and nutrients. “This part of the garden is my favourite place in hot summers; it’s so green and calm.”
Planting in the sunnier area around the pond is bright and colourful with lupins, lilies and other flowering plants on display in summer along with waterlilies, horsetail restio (Elegia capensis) and Japanese maples.
Lauren is also a keen vegetable gardener with a tomato garden and two big raised beds where she grows red Désirée potatoes, lettuce, silver and red beets, onions, beans and snow peas. “And lots of berries, every berry you can name. Tuamarina has very good soil, probably the best in Marlborough,” she says.
Nasturtiums are planted in the vege garden to help repel pests and attract bees, while wallflowers under the apple trees deter codling moth. To add extra nutrients and soil organisms she regularly spreads blood and bone plus sheep manure which she and Mike gather from a friend’s farm.
Lauren propagates many of the plants for the garden from cuttings and divisions, and has a a part-time job too. How does she manage it all? “I am probably in the garden every day,” she says. “They say it’s not work if it’s doing what you love.”
Garden Marlborough, 7-10 November 2019, gardenmarlborough.co.nz
Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Juliet Nicholas.