A day of two halves.
This morning we travelled to Ayrlies Garden at Witford on the outskirts of Auckland. The best garden in New Zealand according to the RHS booklet and included in Monty Don’s ‘Round the world in 80 gardens’.
It was a beautiful morning and we found the garden without too much problem, but only one small sign pointing out the way, when you are almost there. We had had to make an appointment to visit, and there were a maximum of 6 people there. We actually saw one other couple and were lucky enough to meet up with and have a good chat with the garden’s creator. Compare that to the experience of visiting a garden of that prestige in England, say Sissinghurst, with the millions that pass through there and all the hype and huge signs from miles around. You have to wonder who has got it right?
We really had a fabulous time, were able to sit on some of the seats and simply relax and enjoy the atmosphere. We discovered our second ‘Sitooterie’ there, having always imagined that John, in France, had made up the word, to be like the Boulangerie or Patisserie. Some of the seats were completely covered in litchen, showing that our sunny day was not the norm! Most were surrounded by scented flowers and had wonderful views in one direction or another. The site covers 25 acres and was started from scratch by Bev and her husband in 1964. They have photos of the development in the first little ‘gallery’ and it is amazing to see the site at various stages and them up to their ears in muck and boulders as they were constructing the various areas. Like most of us they worked area by area, extending slowly through the years. Now Bev has a team including herself, her children and 5 gardeners to maintain it. There is a lot of water throughout, a stream having been used to create several lakes and waterfalls and a natural wetland area at the edge of the garden. There are groups of huge, wonderful trees around the site, creating shelter and shaping various vistas. Nothing like the lines of uniform brutal conifers used as a ‘hedge’ around fields and houses elsewhere.
The planting is a joy to behold, with lots of emphasis on the textures created by different colours and leaf shapes, and growth patterns, and several different growing conditions, rockery, waterside bogs, shady and sunny borders, and sculpture at key points. Many plants are very ordinary varieties and things we all cultivate, in Menorca or England, though there were some rarer things, or unusual colours, a very pale Verbena bonariensis for example or several shades of nerine. There were huge drifts of these under trees in one place, clivias in another. The scrambling roses and clematis, used to clothe structures and trees were gorgeous, but above all it was how things were combined, the storeys of plants and the ‘rooms’, all different but leading seamlessly one to the other, that most impressed me.
Bev was very modest about her achievement and , when we mentioned we had been to Paloma gardens, said ‘Oh but he’s a real plantsman.’ Perhaps so, but she is a real gardener and a superb garden designer.
In the afternoon, after eventually getting the hotel Internet access to work and posting the last blog, we set off to see some of the city. At the second set of lights we follow the sign for “Art Gallery” and that was as close to an Art Gallery we could get. There were no more signs and nothing on our map. So we eventually got down to the harbour area and did some window-shopping. There are lots of old buildings set between new high-rise offices and the sky tower reappears at every turn. Some of the boats would be at home in Mahon if they could afford the fees. The “Britomart” transport centre is a clever mix of an old building with new technology train station, while still coping with buses. The reason for us being here was to catch the 6.12pm to Panmure where we were meeting up with Matt and Narelle Stone (ex Ellesmere College). We had a good catching up session, had a great meal which Narelle had prepared, and downed several beers and bottles of wine. We were amazed at how well these guys had kept up with past colleagues. Sandy McKinnon and Cameron Moir are of course just across the Tasman sea in Australia. So they see them more regularly than others, but they go back to the UK every now and then and make a point of dropping in to Ellesmere. Those blog followers who have borrowed our book “The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow” will be delighted to know that Sandy has written another, entitled “The Well at the World’s End” and I have a photo of the back cover so that you can order it on Amazon. As the night drew to an end, Matt ordered us a taxi and we went back to the hotel to pack ready to go to Fiji in the morning. The sky tower even looks good at night.Photos here.