A Taranaki trea­sure

Cleo Wood meets in­dus­tri­ous Taranaki gar­dener Mary Dick­son, as she pre­pares to open her gar­den to thou­sands of fes­ti­val vis­i­tors – for the twenty fifth time!

Go Gardening - - Editorial -

“It’s some­thing that’s bred in you, gar­den­ing,” Mary Dick­son tells me as we sit at her kitchen counter sip­ping frothy lat­tes and look­ing out on her beau­ti­ful mag­no­lias. “My grand­mother was a keen gar­dener and I was al­ways ask­ing her the names of plants. Most young girls wouldn’t have given much no­tice!”

I vis­ited Mary on an over­cast day in Septem­ber, as she was get­ting her gar­den ready for the thou­sands of vis­i­tors who would be strolling through in just 6 weeks’ time. This year will be Mary’s twenty-fifth year in the Pow­erco Taranaki Gar­den Spec­tac­u­lar (for­merly the Taranaki Rhodo­den­dron Fes­ti­val) which has been run­ning for 26 years.

Mary moved from the farm to her Haw­era home 16 years ago af­ter her first hus­band passed away, and she wasted no time get­ting stuck into the bare patch of land. Just one year later she was back in the Fes­ti­val hav­ing cre­ated a whole new gar­den from scratch. “It was a good thing to keep busy at the time, al­though I think I drove the neigh­bours a bit nutty break­ing con­crete at all hours

of the day and night!” she laughs.

Con­crete that was once the cow shed on the old fam­ily farm lives on in Mary’s gar­den as a pic­turesque wa­ter fea­ture, a re­tain­ing wall, step­ping stones and a paved cor­ner at the rear of her gar­den. She had the con­crete trucked into town and then sin­gle hand­edly smashed it up be­fore cre­at­ing her gar­den fea­tures.

Other rem­nants of the fam­ily farm can be spotted around Mary’s gar­den, pro­vid­ing a pleas­ant con­trast to the vi­brant colours of her plants. An old wheel frame turned on its side sup­ports a rose bush and a great wooden wheel is fea­tured at the en­trance, half cam­ou­flaged be­hind a rhodo­den­dron. A rus­tic old cream can is now home to a flow­er­ing Clema­tis spilling over its lid.

The main fo­cus of the gar­den is an arch­way and an old seat, viewed from the kitchen win­dow. Mary rem­i­nisces about the day she over­heard her hus­band telling her daugh­ter, “you know what she wants now - she wants an arch­way!” “I still re­mem­ber them out there gig­gling, but I kept out of the way and sure enough they made the arch­way for me to­gether.”

Mary’s gar­den fea­tures three arch­ways. Two are cov­ered in Clema­tis, while a long arch­way at the back of her gar­den is swathed in roses. Bright blue Aubre­tia are in full spring bloom, nicely off­set by edges of pas­tel coloured Rhodohy­poxis. The over­all

ef­fect is as if you’ve stum­bled into a se­cret won­der­land of colour.

Many con­fides that her big­gest gar­den­ing fear is to be­come bor­ing. “You’re al­ways striv­ing to keep it in­ter­est­ing. You know, ev­ery­one likes to know what’s in vogue. If I don’t like some­thing, it comes out, I’m al­ways crit­i­cal about an area get­ting bor­ing.”

She spends ev­ery day she can in her gar­den but next year her plan is to try to make it a lit­tle more man­age­able and less time con­sum­ing. “No one re­alises how much time you’ve got to put into your gar­den to get it ready for pub­lic view­ing.” She ad­mits she makes work for her­self by try­ing to grow plants that are sen­si­tive to the cold and frosts. “I’m al­ways out check­ing on things and cov­er­ing them at night.”

On com­mend­ing Mary for her gar­den­ing achieve­ments and stamina she brushes me off with a laugh. “It’s all about win­ning and los­ing though isn’t it? Life is win­ning and los­ing and so is gar­den­ing. If we didn’t have chal­lenges it’d be bor­ing.”

Clock­wise from top left: Or­ange Heuchera leaves make a cheer­ful pair­ing with vi­ola flow­ers; a rose cov­ered arch cre­ates a pas­sage be­tween gar­den rooms; an ex­am­ple of Mary’s plant­ing eye for fo­liage de­tail is seen here in the con­trast­ing tex­tures of lady’s fern, hostas and small leafed ajuga.

Clock­wise from top right: Mary is fond of blue flow­ers, in­clud­ing Abu­tilon vi­ti­folium, a rare shrub; Colourful heucheras fea­ture through­out Mary’s gar­den and are dis­played here in a clus­ter of in­ter­est­ing ves­sels; Tiarella makes a lovely container plant for sem­ishade.

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