The gardener’s bucket list
Ayrlies Garden in New Zealand
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!
NEED TO KNOW
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.