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A peak into an autumn garden

This weekend the Great Gladstone Plant Fair offers the chance to look at some country gardens at a time of the year that we don’t always associate with garden visiting.

We get plenty of opportunities to see gardens in the flush of spring, but it is always a delight to investigate how well they are doing at the tail end of the growing season.

I was lucky enough to visit one of the gardens last week, the Parkvale property of landscape designer Danny Todd and his partner Matty Maule, to see their very different and very modern style of gardening and to catch up on some of the interesting plants they grow.

Until recently, Danny and Matty were Wellington based, Danny working as a hairdresser and Matty in the social housing area. Danny had always been keen on gardening, but moving through a series of flats in Wellington [ending up in Newtown] he had been forced to mainly grow his plants in containers – that way he could carry them onto the next flat. His interest in food spurred him to grow lots of vegetables and herbs, but he was always “looking for more sun and more soil.”

That all changed in 2015 when he and Matty purchased some land at Parkvale and set about creating permanent growing spaces. A shift to a house in Carterton township soon followed, and now they live on the site in a partially completed house. This has a small garden buzzing with traditional cottage garden plants – dianthus, tithonia, cosmos and a deeply coloured love-lie-bleeding, Amaranthus.

The rest of the garden is very different.

One of the first tasks at the new site was to plant while taking advantage of the “ephemeral” stream that sometimes runs through the property. There are swathes of manatu [ribbonwood, Plagianthus] with bright green birch-like foliage, and lots of kowhai, kohuhu, manuka and harakeke, many of them grown from eco-sourced seeds and thus naturally occurring in the area. These plantings have helped shape the garden.

Along one edge of the property is a large hawthorn hedge replete with deep red berries. A mown strip along the edge gives access to some of the land being evaluated for future plantings, as well as a well-stocked orchard. Danny said most of the trees had produced well this year, but the fruit has largely been harvested by the birds that abound on the property.

The rest of the garden is made with an emphasis on creating environments for perennials and grasses to flourish with the minimum of care. Ornamental grasses feature strongly, their autumn foliage looking very striking.

The oldest of these gardens features the striking feather reed grass, Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, whose upright growth has turned a glorious coppery straw colour, having changed from the bright green of summer. It is a great foil for other perennials.

There are plenty of perennials to provide contrast – the silky blue of euphorbias contrasts particularly well, as do the now-muted heads of Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, whose pinkish flowers have turned slightly rusty.

Another perennial that provides lasting value is the butterfly bush, Gaura lindheimeri, an American prairie plant that is ideally suited to these conditions, and whose masses of white flowers will be carried for months. When I visited the garden was also filled with lots of the Common Blue butterfly.

It would have looked great with the echinops that has passed their best but had successfully seeded into the bed. The metallic blue flowers of these “globe thistles” must make this a very interesting part of the garden in summer. They are supplemented by the similarity ball-shaped flower heads of the purple vervain, Verbena bonariensis which also self-seeds.

Part of this garden merges into the native planting, the transition achieved with a grouping of indigenous plants that blend in well – native Carex species, the native Euphorbia glauca, a selection of divaricating coprosmas, and a beautiful Carmichaelia, a native broom.

The many pittosporum and hebes found throughout the garden obviously feel very much at home – they are happily self-seeding and providing a crop of young plants to be shifted around the garden.

When I quizzed Danny about their shift from Wellington and asked about the biggest learning curve he noticed, he said, without hesitation – “the frosts”. However, he added that he likes the climate here, because it is so much hotter in summer.

Danny and Matty’s is just one of the gardens to be open this weekend. Bloomwood Flower Design’s garden will be open, with flowers and other garden accessories for sale, and you will be able to wander through the extensive native gardens at nearby Summit Lodge. The four-star rated Longbush Cottage Gardens will also be open. Many of you will have visited and spring and tiptoed through the tulips the garden is so well-known for, so here is a chance to see the garden at a different time of the year.

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