Lynda Hal­li­nan: out­door art

Lynda Hal­li­nan fol­lows the lead of the heir to the throne and plants a lit­tle artis­tic fun in her gar­den.


It’s one of my favourite old pho­tos: a fuzzy por­trait of my sis­ter, Brenda, and me, circa 1979, taken at Pu­nakaiki’s fa­mous Pan­cake Rocks on our first fam­ily hol­i­day to the South Is­land. Brenda is wear­ing a par­tic­u­larly fetch­ing home­spun suit of bur­gundy cor­duroy paired with a cream polo neck, while I’m act­ing the goat. Lit­er­ally. I’m grin­ning like a goon from be­hind a place-your-face tourist bill­board of a moun­tain goat, my head sport­ing a fine set of corkscrew horns like those prized by tro­phy hunters and taxi­der­mists.

Also known as tin­ta­mar­resques or paste-your-face standees, these old-school car­toon cut-outs were once as pop­u­lar at scenic at­trac­tions as dress­ing up in Vic­to­rian garb for a dour black and white por­trait. The ef­fect was in­tended to be comedic, as your head was trans­planted onto the body of a buxom babe in a retro polka dot bikini or a gun-swing­ing cow­boy car­i­ca­ture with a Stet­son and leather chaps.

Chil­dren can’t re­sist pos­ing for a silly snap in a tin­ta­mar­resque and, more than 35 years af­ter I first stuck my head through that painted moun­tain goat, nei­ther can I. In fact, when my hus­band and I took our son, Lu­cas, on his first fam­ily trip to the South Is­land, we held him up and took a slap­stick shot of him in the Mongo the Strongo cut-out at Founders Her­itage Park in Nel­son, his cheru­bic cheeks ap­pear­ing above a car­toon mash-up of Pop­eye’s bulging bi­ceps, Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger’s rip­pled abs and Bamm-Bamm

Rub­ble’s orange and black spot­ted undies. (Af­ter all, it’s every par­ent’s pre­rog­a­tive to seek out photo op­por­tu­ni­ties that can be used later to em­bar­rass their off­spring at their 21st party.)

The only thing bet­ter than pos­ing in a tin­ta­mar­resque at a tourist at­trac­tion? Paint­ing your own at home. In Novem­ber, when I opened my gar­den for the Franklin Hospice gar­den ram­ble, I de­cided to give our guests a gig­gle by com­mis­sion­ing an artist friend, Lind­say Eller, to paint a ply­wood panel pay­ing homage to Grant Wood’s fa­mous 1930 paint­ing, Amer­i­can Gothic, of a pitch­fork­tot­ing farmer and his wife stand­ing in front of an Iowa house.

Dur­ing the hospice ram­ble, we in­vited vis­i­tors to pose for a sou­venir pic­ture and while most – es­pe­cially the kids – were im­me­di­ately game to goof about, oth­ers ap­peared to have no sense of hu­mour. “Why would I do that?” asked one po-faced woman of a cer­tain vin­tage. “Be­cause it’s fun!” said Lind­say. “If you’re 12 years old,” replied our vis­i­tor, snip­pily.

But who says there has to be a statute of lim­i­ta­tions on tak­ing the mickey out of your­self? Med­i­cal re­search con­firms that a jolly good guf­faw is re­ally good for you – it re­lieves stress, stim­u­lates your heart and lungs, gives you a nat­u­ral hit of en­dor­phins, burns calo­ries and eases mus­cle ten­sion, mak­ing you feel happy and more re­laxed. I reckon it’s our civic duty to make oth­ers laugh, or at least crack a smile, and gar­den art is as good a way as any to un­leash some per­son­al­ity in your out­door en­vi­rons.

When I think of all the gar­dens I’ve vis­ited over the years, here and over­seas, it’s of­ten the quirky and kitsch, rather than the fancy and flash, that struck a chord. Like the time, a decade ago at a gar­den festival in Bil­bao, Spain, I came across a crop of

over­sized cop­per um­brel­las on gi­ant bam­boo poles on a street cor­ner. “I some­times feel as if um­brel­las grow like mush­rooms when it rains in my city,” ex­plained artist Jose Ibar­rola.

When we open our gar­den for char­ity events, our neigh­bours gen­er­ously lend us their front sheep pad­dock for park­ing as our house is at the end of a long, tree-lined drive­way. It’s a gen­tle stroll but a fairly dull one, so last win­ter I com­mis­sioned Auck­land graf­fiti artist Jonny 4Higher to let rip with his spray cans on the hay­barn half­way up the drive­way. The brief was pretty open: “Just pimp my barn,” I said, and he did, with a vin­tage-styled Fog­gy­dale Farm hoard­ing fea­tur­ing one of our briskety brown Li­mousin cat­tle and the chil­dren’s pet lamb, Peb­ble.

In my vegetable gar­den, I have a pair of much pho­tographed life-sized plas­ter hares (they used to work as rab­bit-re­pelling de­coys but the bun­nies ap­pear to have wised up this year), while the con­crete sheep graz­ing in my herb gar­den, from Coro­man­del artist Gary Nevin, add a touch of whimsy.

Fif­teen years ago, I was in­vited to visit the gar­den at High­grove,

Prince Charles’ pri­vate res­i­dence in Glouces­ter­shire. It re­mains, with­out a doubt, the best gar­den I’ve ever been to. Not just be­cause of the his­tory and her­itage – in­clud­ing the fruit trees given to Charles and Diana as a wed­ding gift, and the tree­house where Princes Wil­liam and Harry played as chil­dren – nor be­cause of its hor­ti­cul­tural bril­liance, with mead­ows of rare bulbs, a walled vegetable gar­den and a stumpery pop­u­lated with New Zealand-bred hostas, but be­cause of Charles’ quirky taste in gar­den or­na­ment. As well as the oblig­a­tory Ital­ian stat­u­ary and ex­pen­sive an­tique urns (a gift from the King of Spain), I spot­ted a fairy ring of life­like wooden mush­rooms sprout­ing in the leaf lit­ter in his wood­land.

If it’s good enough for the fu­ture King of Eng­land to have a lit­tle fun in the gar­den, then it’s good enough for me.

FAR LEFT: Lynda and artist Lind­say Eller in the tin­ta­mar­resque panel painted by Lind­say. LEFT: The favourite child­hood snap of Lynda and her sis­ter Brenda.

ABOVE LEFT: Lynda com­mis­sioned graf­fiti artist Jonny 4Higher to smarten up the barn. RIGHT: Lu­cas and Lach­lan mea­sure their height on the out­door ruler.

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