The gardens of Taranaki hold a great allure to those of us who garden in the east. The extra rainfall and increased humidity, and the generally more temperate climate, make Taranaki home to many famous gardens, gardeners and nurseries.
My forays to explore this wonderful horticultural region have almost always been undertaken in the spring, usually in conjunction with the fabled Rhododendron festival.
There are 32 gardens of national significance in New Zealand – 10 of them in Taranaki. Until last week I had visited 9 of them, so I thought it was about time I saw the tenth, Glyn and Gail Church’s ‘Woodleigh Gardens’, just north of Oakura, on the Surf Highway. This is a fabled garden among hydrangea growers, as Glyn Church is a work acclaimed authority on these shrubs, and their allied species, and unlike most Taranaki gardens, has a summer emphasis.
It was very hot when I called in, and I was glad to sit inside with Glyn, at the dining table, overlooking the extensive garden, to chat for a while before venturing outside
In front of the house, overlooking a large pond, was a hedge that looked at first glance like box, but closer inspection revealed it to be mature forms of the native scarlet rata Meterosideros fulgens. In the wild, this clambers up through the canopy until it reaches the light, and then flowers in the upper storey of the forest, usually red but sometimes yellow. The form at ‘Woodleigh’ was a lovely burnt orange.
Two other rare plants in the top garden took my eye. The first was a Canary Islands Foxglove, Isoplexis canariensis. This is a woody perennial that makes a stand of deep green, serrated leaves, topped for months on end with brownish-orange trumpet shaped flowers in tall racemes. I grew this plant from seed many years ago, but it clearly thrives much better in the nearly frost-free ‘Woodleigh’ than it did for me. Glyn told me it has another great attraction for him – the bell birds love feeding from it.
Near by was a large perennial growing Cassia species I had never seen before. Glyn told me it was C. didymobotrya, an African species he grew from seed, and had been unable to propagate again. It does not grow from cuttings and does not set seed in his garden. It has upright stems of bright golden flowers, as you would expect from a Cassia. It grows exuberantly, covering a few square meters. No lean and hungry look to this Cassia!
‘Woodleigh’ is a garden well worth visiting. Glyn is a generous and affable host, and the hours I spent walking around the garden with him were marvelous. Next week we will take a closer look at his collection of hydrangeas.