Gardens, Gardens, Gardens (of the flowering kind)

Riccarton BushThis is quite a nice time to be in Christchurch. Everywhere you go, gardens are bursting with color. Everyone’s got a rhododendron or two, big bushy things that bloom for weeks at a time. Christchurch, known as the garden city, boasts over 800 parks & gardens, the most per capita in New Zealand. You can’t walk down a block without encountering an obscure, tucked away, little park. It’s great.

To explore my neighborhood and surrounding areas, I’ve taken to going on afternoon walks following some suggestions in the “Walk Christchurch: 60 Short Walks That Explore Your City” book which I stumbled upon at the library. It’s a keeper (if I could only find it for sale)! Produced by the Leisure Unit, Christchurch City Council (hey, I want to work for them!), it’s a nice glossy 9” x 6” book with photos and maps laid out by neighborhood. Mona Vale GardensThe walks average two to six kilometers and each one hits up a park or two in the neighborhood. I’ve done about six of them so far and each time I’m delighted with a new surprise: a small grove of gorgeous bamboo, a little duck pond, a children’s playground with a rather long zip line. We live within walking distance to two of Christchurch’s gems: Riccarton Bush and Mona Vale. The walks also allow me to take in the architecture of the homes (almost all are single or two-story dwellings, built from a variety of materials (brick, cement blocks, wood or stone) depending on when it was built, and the gardens (everyone keeps a tidy garden, with flowers, fruit trees, ornamentals, or herbs).

I just finished a very short (six hours) workshop at CPIT called Know Your Own Plants and it was taught by Kevin Garnett who had been supervisor of the Botanical Gardens for thirty-five years. He was character, but knew his plants! We talked about placement of plants on one’s property and things one needs to know about: Southside — usually in shade and gets frosty, soil will need lots of mulching and use of leaf mold; Eastside — easterly winds, will be drier, soil will like a lot of compost; the coveted Northside — sunniest and warmest, a little microclimate, can potentially grow citrus trees; and the Westside — less sun, best for low-growing plants, soil likely to need lots of fertilizer.
He had us bring in a dozen or so clippings from our gardens to identify and review with the class. Our garden is very, very mature with lots of trees, shrubs, vines, flowering bushes, and the like, about 90% of which I didn’t know the names of. Turns out we have quite a few natives and what he described as ‘old-school’ flowering plants – things that one doesn’t typically find in a newer, modern garden. Our house is almost 40 years old and I’ve concluded that the family who lived here really loved and cared for their garden. I’m pleased to inherit such a fine little piece of land and hope I can continue on with the love.

AquilegiaOne of the plants we have, which I found unique, but apparently is quite common, is the Aquilegia, a very delicate, orchid-looking like flower which huge spikey tendrils. Quite sweet. We also have several Pieris Japonica shrubs or Lilly of the Valley shrubs which produce a beautiful bouquet of tiny white flowers which lasts for weeks. We’ve got a few Hebe shrubs (NZ natives), some Clematis, and a lovely Nandina Domestica Richmond – a bamboo-like shrub which produces beautiful red and green hued leaves.

Recommended books:

Palmer’s Manual of Trees, Shrubs and Climbers by Stanley Palmer
Right Plant, Right, Place: by Nicola Ferguson

Recommended nurseries:

Selwyn Grove: hedging & borders
Trees for Canterbury: trees, shrubs, grasses, ground covers
Evergreen Nurseries: topiary, trees, hedging, natives
Ready Tree: large-size deciduous, evergreen, and NZ native trees & shrubs
Old Stables Nursery: 03-342-7312
LetzGo Native Nurseries (Governors Bay): 03-329-9833

If you’re in Ashburton, go see Allan Trott’s nursery out near the raceway. He has the best trees and gardens and give tours (Trotts Nursery & Garden: 03-308-9530)

Not bad for six hours of class, eh?