NZ Gardener - - Content -

Robert Guy­ton’s happy place.

When I walk down to my fresh­wa­ter spring to watch the gi­ant kōkopu swim­ming about, I pass by a small patch of gar­den that es­pe­cially in­trigues me.

Its area is sim­i­lar to that of a pic­nic blan­ket and isn’t that very dif­fer­ent from the rest of my for­est gar­den, but I feel drawn to spend time en­joy­ing the par­tic­u­lar com­bi­na­tion of plants that has evolved there, un­planned and in as ran­dom a fash­ion as the rest of my gar­den but some­how more at­trac­tive. It could be the qual­ity of the light that falls on it – it faces north but the sun­light is dap­pled, pass­ing through the canopy of dog­wood and peach leaves over­head. Or per­haps it’s the back­drop of sil­ver beech, lance­wood and rimu, and the cooler at­mos­phere that the na­tive trees en­gen­der that cre­ates the in­trigue I feel.

What­ever the rea­son, I’ve spent a fair bit of time, crouched in peace­ful con­tem­pla­tion of the gar­den within a gar­den.

There’s a wild­ing plum here. It’s only as tall as a tod­dler yet, but looks to be a vig­or­ous grower, so may need shift­ing to a more open site. But for the mo­ment, it’s wel­come, es­pe­cially be­cause of its very dark leaves, some­what dif­fer­ent from most of my other plum trees.

It stands be­side a red an­gel’s trum­pet ( Brug­man­sia san­guinea), a peren­nial that dies back to the ground each win­ter and comes away again in the spring, grow­ing quickly and ex­ot­i­cally, re­mind­ing me al­ways of a dreamy Henri Rousseau paint­ing, ex­otic and nar­cotic some­how.

Nearby, ele­cam­pane ( Inula he­le­nium), its sum­mer leaves large and hand­some along with a tall flower-fes­tooned stalk, hides its great­est as­set be­neath the ground: a fra­grant root that cures coughs and ca­tarrhs when vapourised in a pot on a stove­top. Be­side that, a bur­dock ( Arc­tium lappa) – sim­i­larly pro­por­tioned, leaf-wise to the ele­cam­pane – dan­gles its burred seed­heads, in hope of catch­ing a gar­dener’s woollen jer­sey or socks. They’re a favourite of mine, bur­dock, but an­noy­ing.

Perched be­hind them is a shrub that pro­duces lovely fruits that grand­chil­dren yearn for all year, cran­ber­ries.

A stand of gold­en­rod ( Sol­idago sp.) brings fire to the ar­range­ment when in full flower. It too dis­ap­pears dur­ing the win­ter and pushes its way back into the crowd when the sea­son turns to spring. It is tall, when ma­ture, and brings a ver­ti­cal­ity to the ar­range­ment.

Balm of Gilead ( Ce­dronella ca­narien­sis), with its pun­gent cam­phor-like aroma, splays its stems out like a green fan, a veg­e­ta­tive pea­cock’s tail that has to be docked reg­u­larly to keep it from sprawl­ing ev­ery­where. I like its pal­mate leaves which, to the un­trained eye, look like cannabis and cause many a pass­ing ma­tron to catch her breath (I made the ma­tron bit up – ma­ture women know their plants bet­ter than to be fooled by a looka­like. It’s the young ones who cast the furtive glances.)

Only one spec­i­men of Madeira gi­ant black pars­ley ( Me­lanoselinum de­cip­i­ens) can fit in the small space and then only if I don’t cut it out. It’s re­ally too big for the space and will shade it too much, so may be a tem­po­rary res­i­dent.

Bear’s breeches ( Acan­thus mol­lis) don’t de­mand much room and there’s one of those tucked in be­side the big-but­get­ting-big­ger pars­ley, along with sev­eral shiny-leaved an­gel­ica plants that I grew from seed I’d col­lected from along­side the es­tu­ary. Their glossy leaves add to the at­mos­phere of my spe­cial place, I’m sure.

There’s a clump of lemon balm too, not shiny but light in colour and there­fore a charm­ing foil for the dark-leaved an­gel­ica, the cran­berry and the bear’s breeches.

Herb robert fills some of the spa­ces that ex­ist between the var­i­ous plants, as­sisted by a gen­eral sprin­kling of speed­well and a lit­tle sea­sonal fu­mi­tory “smoke”.

Lean­ing into the clus­ter is a young na­tive ko­tuku­tuku¯ ( Fuch­sia ex­cor­ti­cata) just start­ing out in life and bound to change the light lev­els as it gets older and big­ger – but I’ll at­tend to that if and when I need to.

Of all the plants in my “spe­cial place”, the goose­berry – given to me by some­one who fishes for trout in the Noko­mai Val­ley in the South Is­land’s Lakes District – is the one I’d be most loath to lose. Her­itage berries are hard to come by and much sought-af­ter, and this one has the added ap­peal of hav­ing fruit that is sweet and red.

As it is, I don’t plan to lose any, such is the plea­sure they give me and the ease with which they look af­ter their own needs.

I don’t feed or wa­ter them and only oc­ca­sion­ally in­ter­fere with their devel­op­ment by nip­ping off a branch that looks too dom­i­nant or pulling up an in­ter­loper that tries to join the com­pany. It’s a de­light­ful place to linger, that green space, and I plan to pay many a visit for the sake of pure en­joy­ment.

Robert’s wild gar­den within a gar­den.

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