North Is­land

In a fan­tas­ti­cal won­der­land gar­den in Matakana, nur­ture shapes na­ture, and per­haps, the other way around as well.


Na­ture makes art in Matakana

Gar­dens are al­ways evolv­ing, their shape and char­ac­ter chang­ing to meet the needs of their own­ers and ac­com­mo­date the grad­ual mat­u­ra­tion of trees and plants. The Matakana Sculp­tural Habi­tat, 45 min­utes north of Auck­land, em­braces and cel­e­brates this evo­lu­tion­ary process, tak­ing it to unique and un­ex­pected lev­els. In fact the en­tire ethos of the gar­den is based on the nat­u­ral pro­cesses that take place within its bound­aries, from the in­sects and fungi on the ground to the tree canopy and the birds that live within it.

Within the 2.2 hectare prop­erty, a range of sculp­tures – many made of nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als such as gi­ant fallen pine trees, me­an­der­ing log walls and flat cir­cles of tim­ber form­ing a ground level mo­saic – flows through the woods. “We use na­ture to sculpt our mag­i­cal oa­sis,” own­ers Carol van Dyk and David Smitheram ex­plain. “It’s an evolv­ing habi­tat with trees – many na­tive, wet­land, lawns and gar­dens abun­dant with birds, in­sects and fungi. If you look closely, you’ll see new in­hab­i­tants re­sid­ing on the sculp­tures in the form of grubs, mosses, spi­der­webs, lichens and other plants and or­gan­isms com­pris­ing the es­tab­lish­ment of a new ecosys­tem. These eco­log­i­cal changes will con­tin­u­ally al­ter the form, shape, tex­ture and colour of each piece and are an in­te­gral part of all the sculp­tures in the habi­tat.“

The cou­ple bought the prop­erty in 2016 from Wendy Mar­shall and Tony White, who be­gan cre­at­ing the Sculp­tural Habi­tat out of a weed- and rub­bish-filled wet­land about 12 years ear­lier. Af­ter a vi­o­lent storm felled many pine trees on the prop­erty, they be­gan to turn the trunks and roots into large scale sculp­tures that they felt would rep­re­sent the in­ner spir­i­tual na­ture of the habi­tat. Fol­low­ers of the Baha’i faith, Wendy and Tony also wanted the nat­u­ral or­ganic pro­cesses of the gar­den to serve as a metaphor for the wider Baha’i be­lief in the trans­for­ma­tive pro­cesses of life.

Al­though cur­rent own­ers David and Carol are not Baha’i, they be­lieve that the con­cept of trans­for­ma­tion is rel­e­vant to us all. “Per­sonal trans­for­ma­tion and trans­for­ma­tion of cul­tures, so­ci­eties, na­ture and hu­mankind all are nat­u­ral and fa­mil­iar,” they as­sert. “The large nat­u­ral sculp­tures and the nat­u­ral el­e­ments of the prop­erty cre­ate beau­ti­ful vis­tas us­ing tech­niques that any gar­dener can undertake.”

A shady path be­side a me­an­der­ing stream takes you into the Sculp­tural Habi­tat. Tall wil­lows grow in and around the stream while sweeps of mondo grass, ze­phyran­thes and other flow­ers line the paths. Grace­ful carex move gen­tly in the breeze and fan­tail dart from branch to branch, so close you can al­most touch them.

On a fallen log, partly hid­den by fo­liage, is a metal book, its cop­per and steel pages in­scribed with these words from Baha’u’llah, founder of the Baha’i faith: “Look into all things with a search­ing eye.” The in­scrip­tion sets the tone of the place, en­cour­ag­ing you to slow down and open your mind to see­ing the dif­fer­ent things in the gar­den.

The first of the large-scale pieces is quite un­ob­tru­sive, a land sculp­ture ly­ing qui­etly in the shad­ows of the trees, just be­fore the path turns to­wards the open lawn area. Called Emer­gence, Tran­si­tion, Mat­u­ra­tion, it com­prises of

The en­tire ethos of the gar­den is based on the nat­u­ral pro­cesses that take place within its bound­aries, from the in­sects and fungi on the ground to the birds in the tree canopy.

Plant place­ment is de­lib­er­ately un­con­ven­tional, de­signed to en­sure vis­i­tors can weave in and out of wild, and more for­mally planted ar­eas.

mounds of sawn tim­ber curv­ing or­gan­i­cally around the base of sev­eral trees, some set flush with the ground, oth­ers at ran­dom heights above it. In the deeply shaded ar­eas, moss, fungi and ferns are grad­u­ally colonis­ing the tim­ber, na­ture adding its own di­men­sion to the work, as the de­sign­ers in­tended.

As you emerge from the trees, you see the mas­sive trunks of the fallen pines, ly­ing prone like slum­ber­ing giants on the smooth green lawns. Straight ahead is a work en­ti­tled Sub­mis­sion, Sac­ri­fice, Suc­ces­sion, in­cor­po­rat­ing the con­torted and ex­posed root ball of the tree, its sev­ered trunk and fi­nally a curv­ing wall of logs cut from its branches. Tiny metal art­works ap­pear to be grow­ing among the beau­ti­ful cur­va­ceous forms of the root ball and along the trunk, like some ex­otic fungi.

To the left is a work ti­tled Lib­er­a­tion. Another fallen pine, its soar­ing trunk has been care­fully sculpted to max­imise the sense of ele­gance and sim­plic­ity.

In de­lib­er­ate con­trast, along­side the pine is a del­i­cately wrought piece nearby called Re­lease of Spirit, com­posed of 200 cop­per pieces emerg­ing from the ground, each de­signed to move in the wind to sym­bol­ise an ab­stract form in flight. This work rep­re­sents spirit as an en­dur­ing life force, hence the use of a more permanent ma­te­rial.

Weav­ing in and around the sculp­tures and trees are var­i­ous groups of plants – ferns, hy­drangeas, im­pa­tiens and as­pidis­tra in the shade; protea, laven­der, gre­vil­lea, day lilies, euphor­bia, bird of paradise, kan­ga­roo paw and suc­cu­lents in the sun.

How­ever, the plants are there to merely com­ple­ment the art­works, to be viewed as a back­drop rather than sig­nif­i­cant fea­tures. Their place­ment is de­lib­er­ately un­con­ven­tional, de­signed to en­sure vis­i­tors can weave in and out of wild, and more for­mally planted ar­eas.

Like their pre­de­ces­sors, Carol and David also own and

op­er­ate the Protea Patch Nurs­ery, which sells protea plants and flow­ers next door to the Sculp­tural Habi­tat.

The cou­ple also still have their own ca­reers: David is an en­gi­neer, and Carol is a phar­ma­cist and uni­ver­sity lec­turer.

Keeping all these balls in the air can be quite busy! “To main­tain the lawns alone around the Habi­tat, proteas, and house gar­den takes around five hours on a ride on mower,” says David. “We are con­stantly pick­ing up de­bris from paths and culling trees and plants as so many self-seed.”

When they first bought the prop­erty, Carol spent three months learn­ing about protea prop­a­ga­tion and care, as well as the phi­los­o­phy and main­te­nance of the Habi­tat. “With 270 protea trees and a nurs­ery for prop­a­ga­tion, we have one of the largest ranges of protea va­ri­eties for sale in New Zealand and ship them around the en­tire coun­try.”

The protea genus is wider than peo­ple re­alise, she says. “Dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties can grow in colder con­di­tions in the deep south and all will grow in the North Is­land. Protea don’t want nu­tri­tion, do want wa­ter, but don’t want wet feet. If you can achieve those con­di­tions, then protea are easy care and best left alone. Apart from prun­ing the boun­ti­ful flow­ers for dis­play in­side, protea do not want to be fussed over.”

Asked to de­scribe their plans for the Habi­tat, the cou­ple are quite clear. “Shap­ing the gar­den to make the most of its won­der­ful nat­u­ral el­e­ments and cre­at­ing a place we and oth­ers can en­joy is first and fore­most. We feel honoured to be the cus­to­di­ans of these won­der­ful pieces of art, and have ren­o­vated and added our own vi­sion to six of the cur­rent sculp­tures.

"As time goes on, the sculp­tures will surely trans­form as the Habi­tat it­self trans­forms.”

Carol and David have made one sig­nif­i­cant change – giv­ing the gar­den a sec­ond name, the Se­cret Gar­den. They de­cided to do this af­ter notic­ing the re­ac­tions of vis­i­tors to the gar­den. “It was like a locked gar­den they had never seen be­fore, with wildlife and birds, where the gar­den­ers had planted seeds, and na­ture pro­vided the raw ma­te­ri­als. The gar­den has a spirit or vibe. It in­spires those who come and gives them joy. This could be de­scrib­ing Frances Hodg­son Bur­nett’s gar­den in her book, The Se­cret Gar­den.

“Peo­ple are al­ways sur­prised at how suc­cess­ful the sculp­tures are and yet they are sim­ply made from ma­te­ri­als found on the prop­erty. Ex­plained another way by Frances Hodg­son Bur­nett, ‘If you look the right way, the whole world is a gar­den’.”

How to visit: The Matakana Sculp­tural Habi­tat aka The Se­cret Gar­den is at 545 Matakana Rd and open week­ends and on week­days by ap­point­ment. Con­tact Carol or David on 027 576 8563 or email pro­tea­p­atch@sling­

“Peo­ple are al­ways sur­prised at how suc­cess­ful the sculp­tures are and yet they are sim­ply made from ma­te­ri­als found on the prop­erty.”

The slen­der trunks of wil­low line the stream that flows through the prop­erty.

Words of Wis­dom.

Rose of Love.

Pat­tern­ing of a Ponga Stump.

Habi­tat for Fungi.

Re­lease of Spirit is com­posed of 200 cop­per pieces.

The sculp­ture Pro­tec­tion, partly con­sist­ing of stacked logs.

Weaves of brush clasped with colour­ful ties craft Mys­ti­cal Prospectors.

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