Garden Marlborough for Beginners

The first thing I’d like to stress, is that you do NOT need to be a knowledgeable, experienced or even a fanatical gardener to attend Garden Marlborough. The special and starkly different atmosphere’s created by these gardeners will appeal to anyone whose wheels are spun by design, vibe, detail and spaces. 

The next thing is, 
 …. you do not need to have a BIG garden to leave bursting with translatable ideas and a guaranteed boost to your enthusiasm. 90% of the gardens I visited at Garden Marlborough are the product of people with no design degrees, horticultural qualifications OR outside consultation. They demonstrate what can be done in our local environment with vision, accommodating family and a willingness to commit time to it all. 

As a second time attendee, with just one more year of ‘knowledge’ separating me from the wide eyed newbie of 2018, I found myself looking at the gardens quite differently.
This time around I started identifying the factors that made a nice garden into a transporting one for me. 

With two and a half years of compounding interest in this whole gardening business, I felt a definite crossover of my experience and passion for home design/ decoration and the potential to really tailor my garden to reflect my personal style outdoors too.
I do think that this is realisation has arrived as I learn more and can move past the incredible fact that I can actually grow flowers that I see in books (still amazes me!) to now consider “how” I want my garden to make me feel. 

And I am certain that these garden tours have provided a gateway to this.
Seeing the potential and vast differences of what people choose to do with the earth around their homes really energised me to dig deeper into the design (both hard and natural) of what I can create with MY earth!  

Show me your garden and I will shall tell you what you are.

– Alfred Austin


This one spelled bad news for my own garden, as it dawned on me that the gardens I was MOST moved by had definitely paid attention to repeating, grouping and re-weaving plants through beds to give real steed to their aesthetic and style. 
As I wandered the grand avenues of ParipumaWinterhome and Barewood (East Coast Tour) I could see, that even though these gardens were on a “big kids” scale, I could channel the strong feelings of this repetition into my own little plot – which currently exists as somewhere to pretty much “store” my collection of plants. 

This concept was driven home on visiting the gardens of the “Urban Tour”. Two of them presented very restrained palettes of colour which worked wonderfully with their design but didn’t have quite the suggested chaos that I personally strive to create. BUT they grouped and repeated plants (both exotic and natives) so effortlessly, providing me wonderful feelings of awe and balance that anyone could appreciate. 

Lesson: sometimes more of less is more.

Swathes of white Valarian sweeping you up to the front door at Barewood.
A medium sized urban garden that delivered repetition in both planting, colour AND form giving me the same feeling I would have in visiting a carefully considered architectural home.
Simple, textural planting down the driveway at T
This border at Winterhome repeats the same combinations throughout making it feel delicious, lush but balanced.
Repetition of plants on mass here at Welton House felt abundant and wild BUT with an edge of intention which I think made it feel SO special.
A waterful of succelent fileld pots at Welton House... this entirely doable for anyone with steps!
Welton House

Structure vs. Softness 

This is a concept that I had already tip toed around the edges of, mostly driven my major attractive to clipped spheres and topiary! I have a collection of of little ones that have already been moved twice in my own little garden and still feel like I haven’t found their spot. 
Garden Marlborough offers examples of not only how you can create solid “structure” with “soft” plants but also the wonderful feelings you get from creating a foil for wild beds with straight lines that don’t normally appear in nature. 

For me this is where “design” enters my gardening equation and opens the doors to a lot of fun! I’m sure many a landscape designer fiddles with this balance but there is no reason us amateurs can’t either!

LESSON: Juxtaposition is where the magic lives

The long pond garden area at Winterhome where its lush flower border is beautifully balanced by brick, topiary and water - still natural elements, but made strong!
It was obvious the fun that gardener; Sue Macfarlane of Winterhome had in combining her love of structure with softness - seen here with the sphere's mirrored by sculptures and again below, with the spheres floating through a floral border.
This incredible folly designed by Dan Rutherford was exhibited at both Chelsea and Ellerslie Garden Shows and is now at home in his sister; Flick Trollop's garden. Very soon it the creepers will have completed their climbing and it will be both structured AND soft.
Whimsical hedging at Welton House creates separation with such harmony!
Everything you see here at Eversley is a natural material - just presented to us with and without uniformity.
The citrus garden at Winterhome - 2 year old trees replanted after the earthquake severely damaged the root systems of the trees that were there before!
The avenue at Winterhome - structure vs softness level 1!

Lines of sight

I’ve always been a bit of a fan of greeting views and buildings that channel my attention on purpose, but I can honestly say that I never really considered this as something that I could actively pursue in my own small garden. 
The gardens that really made me gulp and gasp were the ones that “led” me places or presented me with a gorgeous “moment” when I rounded a corner or turned to look down a pathway. My gasps were actually audible on videos I took, particularly at marvellous Winterhome, Paripuma and Welton House and for the first time it dawned on me that, while NOT sweeping, I too had shorter lines of site drawing people into my own little garden and how might I design them to give me the same buzz each day?! 

LESSON: atmosphere and drama can be achieved in any size garden once we consider how they might be viewed and moved through. 


Paripuma in all its formal vs native NZ planting glory!!
Path leading you to the light at Winterhome
Both the house and garden at Eversley were based on formal designs but this was set off in everyway by the "unstructured" countryside around it nibbling at the edges.
Being led from the secret native trails of Moritaki (Urban Tour) out into the light by planting and pathways.
Without doubt, space is an advantage to create the drama offered in "avenues" but perhaps we can create similar "peeps" when considering parts of our own gardens that might be framed by doorways and windows when viewed from inside
Only the blind could avoid being "led" by the splashes of colour here at Paripuma!
Traditional, European "formal" design conjured from the stony dry coastline in Marlborough using ONLY NZ natives! - Paripuma
The fantastical garden of Welton House made me feel like I was in a Dr. Seuss book! Try stopping yourself from venturing to see what lies around a bend in a path lined with cushiony clipped shrubs.

Layers + Texture

The base level of important “layers” in a garden likely exist with planting shorter plants at the front, and taller at the back. This is for function and growth as much as visual effect! 

What I hadn’t really ever stopped to consider is the very different vibe created by layering textures across each other, considering a moment in the garden from the ground right to the horizon. To be honest I am not even sure if the gardeners creating these places actively stopped to think of this either or, it was just innate in their creative thinking – but I’m sure if it was an active consideration on the plate for us beginners, we would skip many a frustrating misfire! 

LESSON: Texture is just as important in a garden as it is in an interior.

Layers of texture, colour and magic at Welton House
Every inch of this garden bed, from ground to fence and above has been utulised to create such a rich and interesting garden skirting the house.
Trees with platforms of ground cover pull the garden in toward the house
Native plantings with SO much texture clearly announce this home entrance
A planting of lush rambling ground cover gives such an amazing effect to the pruned up Manuka trees, giving a loose screen to the house but also a really architecture feel!
While it seems very naturalistic, the choices of plants and their colour of foliage against the water, stone bridge, willows and dry openness beyond gave a magical, oasis feeling.


Once again, I was reminded of the common theme of “sharing” that exists with every single gardener I have ever met. Garden Marlborough offers a truly unique, largescale example of this. 

Consider this – 99% of these gardens that have been lovingly developed, indulged and slaved over were never created with the purpose of opening to the public. They are extensions of family homes and most are opened only for Garden Marlborough visitors to enjoy. 
I marveled over this with every new garden I visited, smiling at the generous welcoming deliveries on the bus as each gardener gave us a brief background of what they have created, why and how. I loved how we were first greeted by these warm faces of the people that magicked them up, to then explore the unique physical expression of their personal aesthetics and interest. 

Carolyn Feraby of magnificent Barewood commented that her international visitors would bubble with excitement and gratitude in walking the garden with the “actual owner/gardener”. 
Gardens of this calibre around the world very often have head gardeners, designers and teams tending the land on behalf of the owners. 

Not here – these people are the real deal. And I still marvel that they exist. 


Mum and I were grateful guests of Garden Marlborough and thank them for giving me the opportunity to share my experience and hopefully, encourage you to join me next year!

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