The gar­dener’s bucket list

Ayr­lies Gar­den in New Zealand

Gardening Australia - - CONTENTS - For more de­tails, visit ayr­

The wooden ly­ch­gate that wel­comes vis­i­tors to Ayr­lies Gar­den fit­tingly re­sem­bles a wide-mouthed hob­bit house. Once you step in­side, the at­mos­phere of the place be­gins to work its magic.

A stream runs over rocks, and wa­ter­falls flow down to a small lake edged by a path that can only be ne­go­ti­ated by dodg­ing a pro­fu­sion of over­hang­ing plants. The gar­den then heads up­hill, lay­ing out an ar­ray of choices: should one go across to the gallery to ad­mire the view to Ran­gi­toto Is­land, up to­wards the house to visit the fa­mous Lurid Bor­der, or along to the sitooterie where you’re en­cour­aged to

‘sit oot’ (sit out) and ad­mire the ginkgo trees? Such de­light­ful op­tions seem to be end­less. Two hours should be enough to see the 4ha gar­den com­fort­ably, with an­other hour to visit the ad­ja­cent wet­lands. But pic­nick­ing is wel­come and there are seats dot­ted ev­ery­where, so one could eas­ily spend a day here.

The guid­ing hand be­hind the cre­ation of this much-ac­claimed gar­den has been the oc­to­ge­nar­ian Bev McCon­nell who, with her hus­band Mal­colm, bought a bare dairy farm in 1964. In the early years, they con­cen­trated on plant­ing trees but, as Bev’s

gar­den­ing knowl­edge and skills evolved, her artis­tic eye proved in­spi­ra­tional in se­lect­ing and plac­ing plants. Most of all, she came to re­alise the im­por­tance of meet­ing the plants’ needs. Af­ter Mal­colm’s un­timely death in 1995, Bev be­came even more am­bi­tious for the gar­den.

While Ayr­lies is set in charm­ing, ru­ral coun­try­side, Auck­land city is less than an hour away, and the nearby Hau­raki Gulf en­sures a mild, not-too-hot, not-too-cold cli­mate. The clay-rich soil has been con­tin­u­ally im­proved and, to al­most ev­ery Aus­tralian gar­dener’s envy, the rain­fall is both re­li­able and gen­er­ous.

This com­bi­na­tion of a be­nign cli­mate and Bev’s gar­den­ing skills al­lows Ayr­lies to dis­play an im­pres­sive range of plants. From ev­ery­day gaza­nias and pelargo­ni­ums in the Lurid Bor­der to the rare sap­phire tower bromeliad with its dark metal­lic-blue blooms, the sub­trop­i­cal pe­trea al­ways in flower at the back of the house and the odd col­lec­tion of ‘knees’ emerg­ing from the roots of the swamp cy­press stand, there are de­lights around ev­ery cor­ner.

Bev’s ge­nius has been to blend plants, wa­ter, gar­den fea­tures and a beau­ti­ful set­ting into a har­mo­nious and in­spir­ing whole. Ayr­lies is gar­den­ing at its best, and it’s only a few hours away!


The gar­den is open 9am–4pm Mon­day to Fri­day and by ap­point­ment on Satur­days. It is closed on Sun­days and pub­lic hol­i­days. En­try is $20 and needs to be paid in cash. Book­ings are es­sen­tial for groups of more than 10. Due to the na­ture of the ter­rain, chil­dren un­der 12 are not ad­mit­ted. The best time to visit is spring and au­tumn but it’s worth see­ing dur­ing any sea­son. Guided tours are avail­able on re­quest.

AYR­LIES GAR­DEN in Auck­land, New Zealand

CLOCK­WISE FROM MAIN Over­hang­ing the Weir Pond is a red-leafed Cer­cis ‘For­est Pansy’, and the edges of the pond are soft­ened by hostas, ferns, sedges and grasses; trou­ble-free goats in the long grass; a lot of paths in the gar­den are closely hugged by sur­round­ing plants, which here in­clude blue aga­pan­thus, Crinum asi­aticum and se­dums.

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