Chain­saws and bon­fires clear the way for the restora­tion of a North Can­ter­bury gar­den.

A ruth­less cull in­volv­ing chain­saws and bon­fires was the first step in the makeover of a North Can­ter­bury gar­den


When Anita Todd suf­fered a life-chang­ing stroke 10 years ago, pot­ter­ing in her in-laws’ rose-filled North Can­ter­bury gar­den helped her re­gain her strength. “I lost the abil­ity to do a lot my­self and I needed to get my body work­ing again.”

At the time she and her hus­band Richard were liv­ing in a cot­tage on the Hawar­den prop­erty. When Anita came home from hospi­tal she was in a wheel­chair, her sight had been af­fected and she’d lost move­ment on her left side. “Richard was won­der­ful,” says Anita. He’d bring her into the gar­den and find a task she could man­age. “Some­times it was just weed­ing what was in front of me or trim­ming one lit­tle shrub, but it was the best way to re­ha­bil­i­tate.”

It seems fit­ting that after Richard’s par­ents died and the gar­den, Sad­dle­wood, needed nurs­ing back to health, Anita and Richard moved in and took on the job. “This gar­den gave me some­thing be­fore I even lived here and I ap­pre­ci­ate that,” Anita says.

Sad­dle­wood was es­tab­lished in the 60s by an ad­mirer of English for­mal gar­dens. Richard’s par­ents, War­wick and Adri­enne, took it one step fur­ther, says Anita. “They did a beau­ti­ful job of it while they were well.” But as they got older, the one hectare gar­den got away on them. >

“We needed to clear the shrubs and trees that had grown too close to the house, open up the gar­den and let it breathe again,” says Anita.

Richard says Anita’s the gar­dener: “I’m just the guy in the back­ground who comes and does all the heavy stuff.” So his first job was to cut the fences and drive his trac­tor onto the lawn to drag away trees and shrubs that were well past their use-by date. “We had bon­fire after bon­fire,” re­calls Anita, of the months spent on the end of a chain­saw and hedge clip­pers.

Did they worry they were be­ing too bru­tal? Not re­ally, says Anita. “There’s noth­ing like bring­ing new light in and feed­ing the soil to give a huge boost to the gar­den – be­fore you know it things have a re­ally es­tab­lished look.”

In North Can­ter­bury, they’re used to wild winds cre­at­ing gaps in the gar­den and watch­ing it re­ju­ve­nate again. “We have these ter­ri­fy­ing gales, where you wake the next morn­ing and find you’re mi­nus a cou­ple of trees. You can’t do any­thing about that hole in the gar­den. It’s sur­pris­ing how things come away again. You’re al­most treated to a new era in that part of the gar­den.” >

‘There’s noth­ing like bring­ing new light in and feed­ing the soil to give a huge boost to the gar­den’

As well as wind, the gar­den needs to cope with ex­treme heat (in sum­mer the tem­per­a­ture heads into the 30s) and two or three heavy snow­falls each win­ter. If snow is fore­cast, Anita ties shrubs and braces tree branches to pro­tect them from split­ting un­der the weight of frozen snow and, after a heavy fall, the cou­ple wrap up warm and head out to the gar­den to whack the snow off the branches to pre­vent fur­ther dam­age.

Hard frosts are wel­come though. “I like the way it razes ev­ery­thing down and ti­dies ev­ery­thing up. It gets rid of a lot of pests too.”

Anita has about 100 roses – they don’t mind the freez­ing con­di­tions and she doesn’t fuss over them. “I start my prun­ing early and I don’t worry too much about read­ing the prun­ing guide books. I just do what feels right and think about what shape and form looks good.”

In fact, years ago she read about a trial car­ried out in Kew Gar­dens where they pruned roses with hedge clip­pers. “They proved that you could get away with it, so I did that one year in our pre­vi­ous gar­den, when our daugh­ter Belinda was a baby and I was busy.” >

She doesn’t spray. “We have flocks of wax­eyes – there were about 70 on the lawn yes­ter­day. They come and clean up our roses beau­ti­fully and the lady­birds help too.”

One banksia rose started flow­er­ing last win­ter and was still flow­er­ing in June this year. “I do love banksia be­cause it’s not prickly and you can train it up a tree.”

Once the great tidy-up was com­plete, Anita and Richard worked area by area, ad­ding hardy new hy­brids and es­tab­lish­ing swathes of the ex­ist­ing plants. “There weren’t that many group­ings; there tended to be one of ev­ery­thing. It’s nice to have gen­er­ous groups of the same colour to re­ally show it off well.”

The gar­den al­ready had plenty of colour, so Anita added loads of white. “You can still be quite bold with white. You have to make sure you’ve got a lot of con­trast with sil­vers and dif­fer­ent types of green­ery as well as white.”

She beefed up the gar­den’s struc­ture with pit­tospo­rums. ‘Stevens Is­land’ grows well in North Can­ter­bury and the round Pit­tospo­rum ‘Golf Ball’ and ‘Lit­tle Burger’ are good for cre­at­ing en­try points or lead­ing to a path.

Anita says they don’t spend a huge amount of time in the gar­den, as they both work and have out­side in­ter­ests. “It’s a hobby, not some­thing I feel forced to do.” >

Gar­den­ing has to fit around the de­mands of the farm, where they raise deer for vel­vet. Anita teaches part-time; even 10 years after her stroke she thinks full-time work might be too much. “I don’t know if you ever fully re­cover.” She’s also help­ing or­gan­ise the Hu­runui Gar­den Fes­ti­val, where 21 gar­dens in­clud­ing their own will be open to the pub­lic. Richard has stepped down from search and res­cue du­ties after 25 years but is still a vol­un­teer fire­fighter and ac­tive on the lo­cal com­mu­nity trust.

Now that the gar­den’s look­ing trim again, the cou­ple are won­der­ing what’s next. “With coun­try gar­dens you can seize a bit of ad­ja­cent pad­dock,” says Richard, who’s won­der­ing about ad­ding a few more de­cid­u­ous trees, a bit more wood­land per­haps. “I’d quite like to go a wee bit fur­ther. There’s room to do it.”

THIS PAGE A seat with a view of the pond; the soil is quite limey, which is not ideal for rhodo­den­drons, so Anita has been en­cour­aged by the one in the fore­ground, which is flow­er­ing well after be­ing mulched with plenty of pine nee­dles.OP­PO­SITE (clock­wise from top) After Anita’s stroke, she be­gan work­ing on this gar­den, re­mov­ing coloured plants and bring­ing it back to the green and white pal­ette favoured by the orig­i­nal owner. Ducks nest among the yel­low irises in the spring-fed pond. The longflow­er­ing banksia rose climbs a tree; in the fore­ground is a col­lec­tion of hostas.

THIS PAGE Vis­i­tors to the gar­den ad­mire the mown strips down the drive­way; Richard, the ever-prac­ti­cal farmer, ex­plains that he mows the road­side, so he does one strip down the drive­way on the way there and one on the way back. OP­PO­SITE (from top) Anita thought the Choisya ter­nata ‘Sun­dance’ was look­ing sick and fed it Ep­som salts, be­fore re­al­is­ing it was sup­posed to have golden fo­liage; she’s plant­ing sev­eral va­ri­eties of daphne in this wood­land area as well as about 300 blue­bell bulbs she was given: “I’m look­ing for­ward to see­ing them pop up,” she says. Anita likes the way the trees in the pad­docks draw the eye out into the dis­tance; as she didn’t plant the gar­den, she doesn’t know the names of a lot of the roses.

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