FORCE OF NATURE
IN BETWEEN MANY ENTREPRENEURIAL PURSUITS, ONE HARDWORKING, CREATIVE WOMAN HAS LEFT A LIVING LEGACY – A FIVE- STAR GARDEN AND A CLOSE- KNIT FAMILY – AND MADE HER MARK ON HER COMMUNITY
A Kekerengu family remembers a wife and mother who never did anything by halves and created a living legacy
HERE LIES WINTERHOME spread on grand axes over several hectares high above the hypnotic Pacific Ocean. That ocean, dramatic as it is, does not distract visitors for long as views through magnificent plantings draw the eye on into this enormous garden so full of intrigue.
Over nearly four decades, on a site south of Blenheim on the coastline near Kekerengu, the creator of Winterhome and her family have established a garden of significant grandeur. A cyprus walk here, all stern, orderly, standing to attention; a native walk there with softly rounded ngaio trees leading to a formal garden with classical statuary at its centre; a long formal walk edged in buxus, framed by massed plantings and flanked by tall trees leads the eye a very, very long way to a white Lutyens seat.
In another direction is a parterre, boxing in oranges and limes by the dozen. The formal rose garden, of 80 or so bushes of the repeat-flowering Rosa ‘Margaret Merril’, is a sea of white blooms with peachy-pink centres. Half a dozen armillary-style spheres, arms wrapped in hemp rope, stand two metres tall and march alongside the entrance drive which, in itself, is a work of art: drive up it and the sky is framed by the akimbo arms of trees in a big, blue orb, drive down it and there’s the sea framed again by those hugging trees in yet another blue burst of light.
A reflection pond, a rill 80 metres long, is enveloped in a walled oblong garden built using 100,000 bricks salvaged from the Zelandia Soap factory at Kaiapoi. A circular keyhole in the imposing wall gives a glimpse of what’s to come. A suspension bridge leads to the avocado orchard – the southernmost in the country. And still the tour is far from over… Winterhome goes on. It makes the heart sing to visit this garden designed with a courageously big vision.
She is missing, the star of this show. The centrepiece of this clan. The creator of the magnificence that is the Winterhome. Very sadly, Sue had not been amid the action of her greatest legacy – the Macfarlane family – for some time. She’d been not far away, in a home in Blenheim, where she was visited daily by husband Richard and often by her four children. But it had been a long while since she’d known any of them, her dearest...
‘ Winterhome is a dramatic garden designed with a masterful hand, taking the eye from the vast Pacific Ocean to vistas of equal scale and simple magnificence. What a vision Sue had, boldly creating a garden bisected with several powerful axes leading through massed plantings to formal areas resulting in a uniquely European feel’
Bev McConnell, creator of Ayrlies, instigator and original assessor for the NZ Gardens Trust
It doesn’t stop the laughter as the family gathers to tell NZ Life & Leisure about Sue, mother and wife, whose garden is featuring for the 25th year in Rapaura Springs Garden Marlborough in November, but whose garden is by no means the end of her achievements.
“She could do everything,” says her eldest son Sank Macfarlane. Sank now runs The Store at Kekerengu which Sue and Richard opened on Boxing Day 1996 and which has (apart from in the post-quake days) been a roaring success, loved by travelers on the coast road between Blenheim and Kaikoura ever since.
“She was the Bond girl but with a creative brain,” Sank says.
Richard says his wife, Marlborough-born Sue Dillon, grew up among lots of boy cousins, all of whom taught her how to do everything. “This slip of a girl – blonde, strong, courageous and very capable – initially left school for Australia to train polo ponies. She was outdoorsy. She rode very well, could shoot rabbits and drive any sort of vehicle.”
As a mother, say her children, she went a million miles an hour and was always fun. “She was the first one to be pulling mattresses off the beds to create a high-jump pit for us all to practise on,” says Winston recalling a period when his mother hoped her children’s long-limbed Macfarlane genes might result in one of them being a high-jump champion. That was not to be but Winston inherited Sue’s love of yachting and, when he and his wife Niki are not gardening at Winterhome, he is offshore sailing.
A refl ection rill, in the walled garden, is seen through an intriguing circle in the post- quake rebuilt brick entrance to Winterhome.
Formal plantings, leading the eye to distant structures, intersect at several places throughout the garden. Circular and straight buxus hedging, low clipped balls, the bound columnar forms of the cyprus walk, and armillary spheres in the distance combine to create mystery and purpose.
ABOVE: Creator of Winterhome, the hardworking and endlessly creative Sue Macfarlane, who died early in June, is proudly remembered by her family who were pleased this article could pay tribute to her. OPPOSITE: When Sue and Richard arrived at Winterhome in the 1970s, the only garden was to the east of the house. All the magnificent trees, hedges and beds were subsequently planted by Sue, helped often by Richard and their children.
RIGHT: Richard, Sue’s husband, is one of the three original founders of Garden Marlborough. It was his job, on the farm tractor, and often towing a set of harrows, to implement Sue’s latest extension – always on a nice, strong, straight line. He can’t recall the year the cyprus walk was planted. OPPOSITE: The main lawn, above the formal rose gardens, leads to the thrice- moved Lutyens seat.