Gardens

Inside a lush Taranaki garden that brings the whole family together

Carved out of a blustery, salt-licked site by a couple and their obliging teenagers, this lush garden is still drawing the clan together years later – along with hordes of admirers

They say gardening is a great way to connect with family. This is certainly true in the case of Jenny and Guy Oakley whose three teenaged sons helped them build their delightful Taranaki garden.

Now grown up, two of their boys are still keen gardeners and every year, when the couple open their garden for the Powerco Taranaki Garden Festival, Jenny’s sister, parents, various cousins, nieces and nephews all join the family to help prepare the garden for the scrutiny of hundreds of visitors. “I have an amazing group of people who help me,” says Jenny. “It’s become a real family time. I couldn’t do it alone.”

Site

The four-hectare property is near Manaia and just two kilometres from the South Taranaki coast. Salt spray is a huge issue – when Jenny and Guy bought the land 36 years ago the few existing plants in the mainly bare pasture, including a walnut tree in front of the house, had been badly damaged by the salt.

Their first task was to create some shelter for the garden area, planting tough natives such as karo (Pittosporum crassifolium) and pseudopanax as well as Australian banksia. “Very few plants survive the high salt levels here,” says Jenny. “It’s very heavy in this South Taranaki Bight area.”

Design

Although there was never a “concrete” plan, Jenny, who has a degree in horticulture, had a clear idea of the layout she wanted for this north-facing garden, which now includes three flat lawn areas, steps down to a tennis court and a barbecue zone bordered by large garden beds and woodland areas. “It’s been a combined effort,” she says. “We were young and had lots of energy and dreams. I was home with small children so I gardened all day.”

Her guiding principle with the garden was to create a place “where you would feel nurtured and protected by the environment. Especially when you have a windy site like ours, you need a comfortable place to be in all weathers”.

Planting

Two to three years after establishing the shelter belt Jenny began planting, creating leafy borders that are now overflowing with a vast array of plants such as camellias, hydrangeas, silver-leafed plectranthus, magnolias and flowering cherry trees. Aided by the beautiful rich soil and regular rainfall in the Taranaki area, the garden has flourished.

“If you provide shelter you can just about grow anything here,” she laughs. “Now we have shelter we can grow a great range of things. I like plenty of foliage in the garden. I like plants that look good – if they are not going to thrive I don’t persevere. My ideal is a garden that looks healthy and dramatic.”

Among the shrubs and trees Jenny grows old-fashioned perennials and annuals such as honesty, mignonette, poppies and aquilegia. Most self-seed easily so she always has new plants to fill the borders, and she also propagates hydrangeas and other shrubs from cuttings. Surplus plants are kept in the nursery to be sold to visitors during the garden festival.

In spring old-fashioned roses such as the pinky apricot climber ‘Souvenir de Madame Léonie Viennot’ thread garlands of colour through the green borders. “Old-fashioned roses are easy-care and vigorous,” Jenny explains.

“We do tend to work the garden around the spring festival; it determines what you plant. We are mindful of having it look its best then. But once spring passes there is still lots of interest for the rest of the year. That’s the art of gardening.”

Standout feature

To ensure festival visitors have plenty of flowers to admire Jenny fills pots and hanging baskets with brightly coloured flowering annuals, which have become a signature feature of the garden. She even runs demonstration workshops during the festival on how to get the best out of hanging baskets. “They bring the garden closer to the house, and bring plants to eye level so they can be seen better. And they are a great way to make a really big impact,” she says.

Top tip

Jenny lines hanging baskets with fabric-based weedmat to stop them drying out too quickly. She also uses the same product in pots as it makes it easier to remove root-bound plants when repotting.

The Powerco Taranaki Garden Festival takes place this year from 1-10 November; gardenfestnz.co.nz

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

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