Colonial-style garden has plenty to capture attention

By Melissa Nightingale

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HOME SWEET HOME: Janette Godfrey, standing in the garden of her historic home with Millie, is writing a book about her 1856 house and its garden. PHOTO/BEVAN CONLEY
HOME SWEET HOME: Janette Godfrey, standing in the garden of her historic home with Millie, is writing a book about her 1856 house and its garden. PHOTO/BEVAN CONLEY

When Janette Godfrey gets a moment of rest, she spends it in her picnic glade, or perhaps by the sinking garden, or on the swing under the old holm oak tree.

In her 19th century colonial-style garden, there's no shortage of quiet, shady spots to escape to for a little relaxation. Although, for the Fordell woman, gardening is her relaxation.

Mrs Godfrey, who lives at Lambhill with her husband Jonathan Godfrey, spends about 20 hours or more each week working in her garden, which was less Victorian and more jungle-like when the pair moved in 12 years ago.

"I'm just picking at it slowly," Mrs Godfrey said. "The more you pick, the more you've got to maintain, so the slower it gets."

When Mrs Godfrey isn't in her garden, she is reading or writing, or maintaining her eight or nine-bedroom house.

The house, originally built in 1856 by Dr James Allison, had to be rebuilt in 1881 due to the original building being made from kahikatea wood, which was too soft and was being eaten by borer, she said.

But the rebuilt house was made as a nearly exact replica of the original, lacking only a lookout tower at the top.

Mrs Godfrey is busy writing a book about the property and its history, which she hoped to have finished last year but now thinks may be done in another couple of years.

After the Allisons, the house was owned by the Sutherland family for a long time.

The house finally had electricity installed in 1977, and the elderly occupants were still dashing to an outhouse in the garden until 1975, when a toilet was put in.

The remains of one of the outhouses rests in the bushes past the picnic glade, a lone roof nestled among the leaves.

Mrs Godfrey describes her garden as "sort of Victorian taste, really".

"Wherever you go they've buried stuff. I've found leather Victorian boots, kids' boots with little brass tacks in them."

She had also dug up "a beautiful, handmade, china doll's head", an old coffee mill, a watch, and a bottle.

"You can dig in the same place a hundred times, it's like shrapnel coming up through the soil."

Her garden includes a lawn previously used for croquet, a traditional Scottish mixed flower and vege garden, and countless pathways, nooks and crannies.

Elms grow in a cluster at the back, providing a little windbreak for the property, while totara and puriri trees grow elsewhere in the garden.

Mrs Godfrey said the garden was a cluster of overgrown plants and tangled vines when they first moved in, and she is always uncovering surprises as she works away at it.

She discovered the remains of the washhouse amidst the foliage, and an open concrete drain.

In another part of her garden, comfrey was growing, which she said the earlier occupants used to eat in their sandwiches.

"It's a bit weedy but, you know, you're just trying to keep it how it is."

Mrs Godfrey even tried the plant herself.

"It's quite sort of hairy and prickly, it tastes a bit like cucumber and I wasn't that impressed."

Maintenance was tricky work, especially mowing the lawns.

Her husband takes about two and a half hours to finish the lawns, she said. "It takes me three days, in segments."

Mrs Godfrey said her favourite thing about the garden was "when people have known it a long time ago and have come back and said 'oh, I remember this', and it's something I put in".

When that happened, Mrs Godfrey felt she was keeping to the style of the garden well.

"My favourite thing about the garden is just the trees and rural peace of it, and part of that is the birdsong. It's absolutely alive with birds now.

"When we first came, it was absolutely, eerily quiet. There were no birds around."

Mrs Godfrey has long had a love for all things old, and previously lived in a 1906 villa in Whanganui with her husband.

"I made a beautiful Edwardian garden," she said.

However, there wasn't enough garden there for her.

"There's enough for anybody here."

The best time to be in the garden was November, when the flowers were in full bloom, she said.

Mrs Godfrey offers tours of the house and grounds, along with an "old-fashioned afternoon tea" for a small fee.

Anyone wishing to book a tour can call her on 06 342 7726.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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