South Is­land

In the park-like set­ting of her Kin­loch es­tate, Libby Sel­lar re­counts her sin­gle-minded de­ter­mi­na­tion to cre­ate the gar­den of her dreams.


A ma­jes­tic Can­ter­bury coun­try gar­den

Libby has al­lowed the lawn, trees, lake, then farm­land and hills be­yond to speak for them­selves, un­adorned by gar­den flow­ers and shrubs or or­na­ments.

When Libby Sel­lar and her hus­band moved their young fam­ily to their Kin­loch es­tate in Banks Penin­sula 45 years ago, there was pre­cious lit­tle time for the gar­den. “We had a young fam­ily and that was nat­u­rally our first pri­or­ity,” she ex­plains. Nev­er­the­less, Libby re­tains fond mem­o­ries of how her fam­ily was still able to en­joy what was al­ready on the prop­erty then – ex­ten­sive lawns and a num­ber of ma­ture trees which had been planted in the sec­ond half of the 19th cen­tury.

It was only once her chil­dren had grown up that she found she had the men­tal en­ergy to make her own state­ment in the gar­den. “But of course the lovely trees could not be moved, so I had to work around those.”

Libby de­cided to cre­ate a park-like set­ting in front of the house with a large lawn. She wanted to have three lev­els to it, end­ing with a ha-ha to the front field. Fur­ther away, a lake framed by trees to com­plete the vista.

“It was great fun hav­ing a front-end loader and dig­ger at my dis­posal then,” she says, “but you couldn’t go away for a cup of cof­fee with­out another moun­tain of soil ap­pear­ing, some­times! Then that had to be re­moved.”

Libby has al­ways ap­pre­ci­ated the amaz­ing coun­try scene and am­bi­ence of the es­tate. “I never wanted to al­ter that by putting ar­ti­fi­cial things in front of it.” And so she has al­lowed the lawn, trees, lake, then farm­land and hills be­yond to speak for them­selves, un­adorned by gar­den flow­ers and shrubs or or­na­ments.

How­ever, she also recog­nised that colour and di­ver­sity can only do a gar­den good, and to this end she planted flow­ers on ei­ther side of the house.

On one side, a yel­low, blue and white “shruba­cious” border around three sides of that up­per lawn. “This does not im­pede the long vista down to the lake and is the first sight of the gar­den on en­ter­ing,” she ex­plains.

On the other side of the house – to the west – Libby de­signed a pic­turesque walk­way to the swim­ming pool. It is lined with red and pink roses edged with blue nepeta and clipped box, and fi­nally, a wel­com­ing weep­ing pear pleached hedge at the swim­ming pool gate.

There is no doubt that Libby is the force of na­ture that has driven the de­sign and de­vel­op­ment of this amaz­ing es­tate. “What’s in the gar­den are all my ideas and I al­ways had a very par­tic­u­lar vi­sion. What is there is what I planned,” she says un­apolo­get­i­cally. “I wanted to have park­land and trees and grass and pond in front of the house and that’s what I have.”

But she is quick also to ac­knowl­edge the con­tri­bu­tion of gar­dener and the prop­erty’s care­taker Marc Farge, who has worked and lived on the es­tate for three decades. The farm­ing side of the busi­ness has been man­aged by the Power fam­ily, who have been there for 20 years.

At a right an­gle to the pool side, there is another walk­way which takes you down past the chil­dren’s

There is no deny­ing the gar­den is now ex­actly as Libby had seen it in her mind’s eye when she set out to “make her state­ment” years ago.

play­house and tram­po­line as well as the veg­etable gar­den, with a view down to the lake at the end.

The play­house and tram­po­line are there for her grand­chil­dren to en­joy when­ever they visit. They also have ac­cess to the sta­bles where the show ponies are kept. Libby breeds them at Kin­loch and they are very suc­cess­fully pro­duced for the show ring by Sally Field­Dodg­son. When their show ca­reers are over, they are usu­ally lent out to lo­cal chil­dren for fun and games.

“My grand­chil­dren all very much en­joy the won­der­ful free­dom of be­ing able to roam the hills of the farm ei­ther on foot or on horse­back.

“And it is a great joy to me to be able to pro­vide this free­dom for them in their youth,” she adds, re­call­ing that one grand­child once said the lawn just made her want to “run and run”.

The ponies also pro­vide another wel­come bounty: well-rot­ted ma­nure for the var­i­ous gar­dens on the es­tate. These in­clude the small or­chard of plums and beau­ti­fully tart, old-fash­ioned ap­ples as well as a veg­etable gar­den planted with all the fam­ily favourites and all the usual ed­i­bles that are found in New Zealand gar­dens – well, ex­cept for as­para­gus. “It takes up too much room.”

Un­doubt­edly, Libby en­joys the peace­ful, es­tab­lished ap­peal of the gar­den when­ever she can, which is about six to seven months of the year. From April to Septem­ber each year, she trav­els to Bri­tain for the event­ing sea­son, in order to watch her horses run.

“But it is not al­ways so peace­ful. The many grand­chil­dren en­joy their fre­quent vis­its and I al­low them to ride the ponies on the lawn, some­thing that I feel sure makes my hus­band turn in his grave,” she says.

“They all en­joy sail­ing model yachts and row­ing on the lake and there are, of course, squeals of de­light when I turn on the ir­ri­ga­tion to in­ter­rupt lawn games of cro­quet, tennis or quoits.”

Libby ad­mits she some­times loosens the reins as the gar­den evolves. “Of course so much of it is still evolv­ing but it’s a bit big to change very much.”

Still, she never hes­i­tates to step in when she deems it nec­es­sary. “I am in charge, not na­ture, but I also feel that I have to al­low things to evolve,” she con­cedes, re­call­ing they once (“a long time ago”) had to cut down a big Welling­to­nia ( Se­quoiaden­dron gi­gan­teum) that was dy­ing and had be­come dan­ger­ous as it dropped its branches.

Libby is mind­ful of which plants need sun and which pre­fer a bit of shade, but all in all, hers is a gar­den that has proven to be re­mark­ably free of prob­lems.

Per­haps that speaks more to Libby’s view and ap­proach to manag­ing it than to the fickle bless­ings of na­ture. “I’ve not re­ally had a lot of prob­lems with it, but then if you’ve got a prob­lem you dig it up and change it again, don’t you?” she asks.

“Gar­dens are easy. If you don’t like some­thing, just dig it up. You don’t have to change the whole gar­den be­cause of it, just the plant.”

In this re­gard, it is for­tu­nate that Libby has not met many plants she does not like. Asked about what in­flu­ences her choice of flower, tree or shrub, she does not hes­i­tate: “I like most plants. I have a nice rhodo­den­dron cor­ner and aza­leas un­der­neath, and I’m fond of them. I like roses when they’re out.” She also en­joys daf­fodils in spring. Mag­a­zines and cat­a­logues some­times pro­vide in­spi­ra­tion and “if I see some­thing nice in some­one else’s gar­den, I ask about it.”

There is no deny­ing the gar­den is now ex­actly as Libby had seen it in her mind’s eye when she set out to “make her state­ment” years ago.

Clearly, once she set her­self to the course, it sim­ply didn’t stand a chance.

This ma­jes­tic beech in front of the house is one of three well-po­si­tioned through the gar­dens. There are also three huge Welling­to­nia.

Libby’s grand­chil­dren Wil­liam How­son, Pablo Sel­lar and (in the boat) Tom Rebbeck mak­ing the most of the lake.

David Austin rose ‘Gertrude Jekyll’.

Rosa ‘Sally Holmes’.

‘Othello’, another David Austin.

Rosa ‘L.D. Braith­waite’.

Libby with grand­daugh­ters Willa Rebbeck (right) and Mathilda How­son (left).

A quiet cor­ner of the lawn.

Rhodo­den­drons line the scenic av­enue lead­ing down to the pond.

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