Cen­tury-old man-made lakes are a play­ground for the sixth gen­er­a­tion to en­joy this gar­den.

Six gen­er­a­tions of the same fam­ily have en­joyed this his­toric gar­den, and each has left their mark on it


When Robyn Tan­ner wakes to the sun­rise fil­ter­ing through cen­tury-old trees, mir­rored in glassy lakes, she of­ten thinks about her gar­den’s cre­ators. “They had a farm to run, but they cre­ated this beau­ti­ful place. It’s quite ex­tra­or­di­nary. I’m amazed at their vi­sion and fore­sight and the fact that they ac­tu­ally did it.”

The land has been in Robyn’s late hus­band’s fam­ily since 1881, when they bought a swathe of swamp and kahikatea. Early pho­tos show gangs of men, swamp up to their chests, dig­ging huge ditches to drain the land. Robyn’s been told that Robert Tan­ner de­cided the gar­den around the farm­house looked a lit­tle plain. So in 1914

he en­gaged Al­fred Bux­ton, a cel­e­brated gar­den de­signer of the times. He de­signed a se­ries of sin­u­ous ponds, five stone bridges (all slightly dif­fer­ent), a fern­ery and his trade­mark stone-pil­lared log­gia. In the 30s, Al­fred Bux­ton re­turned, adding a rock cas­cade in the largest lake. The Tan­ner men did much of the con­struc­tion them­selves. Even in this earth­quake-prone part of the country, the bridges and cas­cade still stand firm af­ter many decades.

Robyn’s grand­chil­dren now live next door, the sixth gen­er­a­tion to roam the prop­erty and pud­dle around in its lakes. Robyn is adding her own layer to the his­tory of the gar­den. “I’ve re­fined it so it’s not so much hard work.” >

Robyn has sim­pli­fied, re­plac­ing an­nu­als with peren­ni­als and look­ing for easy-care plants like the irises that grow by the bridges. “It’s more of a park now,” she says. “I’m not a gar­dener. But I don’t mind clean­ing up. It looks mag­i­cal when the lawns are mown and it’s all swept and I can go out and en­joy it.”

Less en­joy­able is main­tain­ing the lakes. “They’re the bane of my life.” The man-made lakes are con­crete-bot­tomed and over Robyn’s head in parts. “But they’re dif­fi­cult to keep clean. It’s nigh-on im­pos­si­ble to empty them – the last time they were emp­tied was 30 years ago.” In au­tumn, Robyn sweeps them out ev­ery day, hop­ping right in and drag­ging out de­bris with a rake.

These days Robyn has time to de­vote to the prop­erty, but for many years the gar­den was on the back-burner. Her hus­band David died un­ex­pect­edly in 1987, when their three daugh­ters were school-aged. Robyn, a farmer’s daugh­ter from the Wairarapa, took over run­ning the sheep and crop­ping farm, with the help of her in-laws who lived next door.

The links with the next gen­er­a­tion con­tinue. All the girls had their wed­dings on the farm, and Kathryn, who has a hor­ti­cul­ture de­gree, helps in the gar­den. “Kathryn is very good at prun­ing and has lots of good ideas about what to plant,” says Robyn.

Grand­sons from Auck­land hop on a plane dur­ing school hol­i­days “when they want a bit of farm life”, says Robyn. “They love this place – they’ve got tree huts and lad­ders up the trees.” When Robyn has a clean-up, she can usu­ally find a will­ing grand­son to come along be­hind her pick­ing up the piles of gar­den waste.

Two years ago Robyn de­cided the old ten­nis court had to go. Built in the 20s, it was cracked and full of weeds. “It was an eye­sore.” A fam­ily work­ing bee was organised to dig up the con­crete and pull down the rusty old fenc­ing. “It re­ally helped my vi­sion of mak­ing it more like a park,” says Robyn.

The gar­den is fringed by a canopy of trees – chest­nuts, elms, lin­dens, Lon­don planes, hi­noki cy­press, cedars, a cop­per beech, karaka, a huge se­quoiaden­dron and ev­er­green holm oaks. Al­fred Bux­ton also planted Chu­san palms (Trachy­car­pus for­tunei), which were pop­u­lar in Vic­to­rian times and have seeded freely.

Some of the older trees were dan­ger­ous and had to be re­moved, and an ar­borist comes ev­ery two years. >

‘They had a farm to run, but they cre­ated this beau­ti­ful place. It’s quite ex­tra­or­di­nary’

THIS PAGE Robyn’s grand­sons Wil­liam, 15, and Harry, 12, (man­ning the oars) are the sixth gen­er­a­tion of Tan­ners to live at Lans­dale; they’re pic­tured here on one of the cen­tury-old lakes with Jack Rus­sell Molly; the lake is edged with arum lilies, hostas and gun­nera, these days con­sid­ered a nox­ious weed, but kept con­tained. OPPOSITE (from top) One of the five bridges, which are all slightly dif­fer­ent in de­sign and cov­ered in fi­cus; Ja­panese irises in dif­fer­ent colours grow be­side all the bridges; they’ve been a great suc­cess, says Robyn, as they mul­ti­ply well and all she needs to do is cut them back af­ter flow­er­ing. Robyn, left, and her daugh­ter Kathryn, who lives on the farm and helps with the gar­den.

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