There's a fusion of garden and art in the Waikanae Beach garden of Helen Forrest and Greg Chaston.
Julian Matthews visits a creative couple’s garden in Waikanae Beach
Both are accomplished painters and their artistic abilities extend to the way they use the plants which fill every nook and cranny of their sandy, long and narrow plot which is just a couple of blocks back from the sea.
They have been fine tuning the garden for a while now, but a big step was taken last year when they decided to alter the approach to the front door, which is to the side, facing north. Because of a long deck and a gravel pathway running adjacent to one another, visitors sometimes became bamboozled. Spurred on by a significant birthday approaching for Greg, Helen decided it was time for action.
The gravel path area was transformed into a potager.
Three high-sided wooden planters were made by a builder using ground treated timber. The planters were filled with the best quality growing material Helen could get hold of – lots of their own compost, bought mulch and layers of sheep manure (the old-fashioned stuff, well matured and gathered by hand from beneath shearing sheds by a local character who sells it door to door).
By the time the guests arrived to help Greg celebrate his birthday in late November, the now fully planted raised beds of vegetables were looking so good that they became the star turn, almost outdoing Greg’s singing!
There were tomatoes, still at the green fruit stage but full of promise, surrounded by lettuces, kale, strawberries, and a good selection of herbs including the mainstays sage, parsley and thyme.
Not only do the vegetable beds look stunning, they are also a very practical idea, being so close to the house that it’s just a few steps from the kitchen to gather the supplements for the evening meal. Plus planting and weeding is a breeze, as it can be done standing up. “Eye-level gardening,” is how Helen puts it.
Also, confusion for folk looking for the front door has been overcome. It’s now obvious that the only way there is via the deck, passing all sorts of interesting things along the way, such as the potted epiphyllum, stacks of sun hats atop a colourful mannequin, and trays of shells and stones gathered from beaches around the country.
There’s colourful furniture to rest upon too, even a mirror which is there primarily to provide an arresting reflection of the garden, but useful should a visitor feel the urge for a little last minute titivation.
Foliage plays a major role in the garden and provides year round appeal.
Some, such as the big-leafed, shiny green Ligularia reniformis, make dramatic groups in shaded spots and contrast with finer foliage such as taupata ( Coprosma repens). A group of puka beside the drive look as if they have been artfully arranged, making a striking complement to large river boulders, taupata and a tree aloe ( Aloe bainesii) with a handsome, ringed trunk. But these were a happy accident, the seeds dropped by birds sitting on the branches of an overhead banksia. The puka, which grow so fast and tall in good soil, are making slow progress in the sand and staying compact, their stunted nature encouraged by Helen’s nipping out of new centre growths.
Helen fell in love with tree trunks when she and Greg were travelling in Italy a few years ago.
“We loved the way old trees had their lower limbs removed so you could see the ruins beyond and enjoy the trunks at the same time.”
This inspired her to limb up some of her shrubs back home in Waikanae. A small karaka and Coprosma repens got this treatment on the boundary, and a cabbage tree was lopped off at ground level so it could sprout away again with multi trunks, which it has done to much-admired effect.
A tall cactus in a sunny spot provides a trunk with a difference, its blue-grey colour and tough guy good looks adding a distinctive air. It came fully formed, obtained from a garden at Otaihanga a few kilometres away after having been spotted for sale on Trade Me.
“It was hell on earth to move,” recalls Helen. “We had to wrap it in blankets and an old duvet and it was so tall it stretched from the tail-gate of the station wagon through to the front seat.”
Planting was a bit of a mission too, but well worth the effort. It’s a plant with a story, as is the case with so many of the inhabitants of this beach garden. ✤
Helen’s eye level vege garden.