Finding an English cottage garden to care for in the sub-tropical Far North was proving to be a challenge for specialist gardener Chelsea Neustroski - until she spied an advertisement for a gardener at the Kerikeri Mission Station.

"After four years of working in English gardens in the UK I decided to return to New Zealand," she said.

"I loved the work but the weather drove me away in the end. It was a risk, as I wasn't sure I'd find a garden that would suit me, but I couldn't face another winter there."

Fortuitously, Kerikeri Mission Station, which includes the Stone Store (built in 1836) and Kemp House (1822), was looking for someone who could breathe new life into New Zealand's oldest European garden. Chelsea's experience as head gardener at Markham House, Badminton Estate, made her a perfect fit for the job.


"We were really excited when we received Chelsea's CV," property manager Liz Bigwood said.

"She came with glowing recommendations from the Duchess of Beaufort of Badminton Estate, who informed us we would be very lucky to have her."

The conditions at Kerikeri Mission Station have their challenges for Chelsea though.

"Since I started work here late last year we've had trees collapse and breakages in the irrigation system. There's a lot of ground to cover, a drought to contend with and on-going damage to the heritage trees," she said.

Tree damage was a problem that had arisen since the site opened up with the removal of the road bridge and the installation of the footbridge. Liz said it was great to have people enjoying the gardens and orchard, but the fruit was enticing people to climb and shake the trees, causing serious damage.

"When the trees get damaged it's a tragedy, and we lose the fruit that we sell as jam in the Stone Store as another way to raise funds to help look after our property," she said.

"We have a limited budget here, so we look to everyone to take care when they visit this very special place."

Undaunted by the challenges, Chelsea is steadily working towards a two-year plan to have the gardens and orchard looking picture perfect.

"I'll be working with staff here to help develop a self-guided tour of the garden, and we'll be creating something for the kids too," she said.

- The Northland Age