Gardening: Heroic examples

By Leigh Bramwell

The Partner has a sore back. The doctor has confirmed he is not malingering and puts it down to too much bending and twisting, although I wonder whether the Heroic Gardens Festival in Auckland a couple of weeks ago might have been to blame.

The problem with garden safaris is that they are usually hot, crowded and busy, and there is serious pressure to get around as many locations as possible in the allotted time in case you miss the one garden that has The Big Idea that will solve all your landscaping problems.

There are always too many cars, too many people and too many stalls selling raffle tickets, but I accept that I am not the majority and most people probably thoroughly enjoy the buzz.

Me, I'm there to find out if anyone else is growing the same unidentified and unidentifiable thing that is growing so successfully in one of our garden beds, and whether they know what it's called. I'm also after finding out whether you can put in a pool that looks like a pond, add two goldfish and a water lily and not have to fence it, and how to get that wonderful feeling of enclosure our garden so sorely lacks. I want the opportunity to question the gardeners without feeling obliged to look at and comment on their 17 photo albums of how it all came together over 35 years, and I want to be able to get in and out within two minutes if there's nothing there that interests me.

Not the best candidate for a garden safari, then.

Fortunately for me, the Heroic Gardens Festival fulfilled all my requirements. It was low-key and relaxing, the garden owners knew stuff, and I found out that the plant I call the best ground cover in the world is a type of anemone. I also realised we need a dozen big trees planted in groups of three to enclose the garden, and the pool thing is probably possible - a revelation which, I suspect, caused The Partner's sore back. He told the doctor it was from making a putting green, but I think it might have been the drag exerted by his wallet as he contemplated the cost - financial and physical - of a natural-look swimming pool by next summer.

I took him to the garden centre for lunch, a new spade, a lomandra, 10 carex and a pink hibiscus to settle him down.

Home again, I am reviewing what I've learned from other people's gardens. Probably the most useful thing is how to combine plants that would not normally be happy neighbours. I recently advised a friend not to plant a buxus hedge because it would look completely out of place in a wild, subtropical garden, then, at Heroic, I saw one, and it worked. I also saw a solitary Christmas lily blooming extravagantly in a wild tangle of native plants, and a gang of succulents sucking up to a creeping coprosma. I wouldn't have put any of those together but they worked perfectly, and I am now chiding myself for being too rigid when it comes to the mix-and-match thing.

There's actually not much rhyme or reason about what looks good with what; it's far more about what pleases your eye, and nobody else's. Lesson learned.

- Hamilton News

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