CHANGEMAKER LYNDA HALLINAN'S GARDEN REVEAL
Nothing makes writer Lynda Hallinan happier than switching things up in her Foggydale Farm garden
If you could live your life again, what would you do differently? With apologies to Cher, if I could turn back time I’d buy my first grotty flat in Auckland (a shabby villa now worth squillions), go on a diet before my sister’s wedding (I’m immortalised on my parents’ wall as a chubby bridesmaid in a green taffeta bubble) and get serious about interior design instead of gardening.
It’s not that I’ve gone off gardening. I’ve spent more than half my life either sinking my green thumbs into the soil, or thumping out words of horticultural wisdom on a keyboard.
Yet, as a perennial potterer, part of me wonders whether an indoor hobby might have been better. Feel like a decor change? You can just buy new cushions for the couch, rearrange the furniture and whack up a roll of posh wallpaper. But it’s trickier to tinker about with a whole garden – especially one of your own making – when the mood takes your fancy. (Husbands, I have found, don’t take too kindly to uprooting trees they previously helped plant, let alone relocating hedges, fences, decks, chicken coops and raised beds.)
In 2010, when I broke ground on my new country garden at Foggydale Farm, just across the valley from Auckland’s Hunua ranges, I broke all the rules. I didn’t live here for a year before turning the first sod. I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t have a budget.
I didn’t have a rain gauge, a water tank, an irrigation system or the ability to back a trailer. >
What I did have was a wedding date and a biddable boyfriend with a swag of diggers and trucks at his disposal. Jason Hinton, now my husband, is a civil contractor who moves mountains at work most days and thought nothing of hitching his 70sqm kitset farmhouse to a crane and shuffling it 20m to clear a site for a bigger house that may never eventuate.
And that is how my garden began, with the old house site at the top of the hill flattened into a formal lawn upon which to share our vows, the equestrian arena at the bottom of the hill turned into a carpark for our guests, and a terraced path cut up the steep slope between the two.
After our wedding, I filled those terraces with fruit trees – citrus, five quinces, a dozen plums and a grove of purple-leafed ‘Mabel’ nectarines. It wasn’t my smartest move because that south-facing hillside, shaded by a towering cypress shelterbelt, is frosty and dank in winter. In summer, dahlias and rudbeckia daisies do well but the only thing that now grows on most of the fruit trees is a thick beard of lichen.
I had more success converting our equestrian arena into a potager with a long border of loosely pleached ornamental pears (Pyrus calleryana ‘Aristocrat’) underplanted with white daffodils, ‘Purple Heart’ hostas and ‘Limelight’ hydrangeas.
There are also 36 square beds that house a joyful congregation of annuals, herbs and vegetables, with edible crops from angelica to zucchini. >
I practise crop rotation, though not in the conventional sense. Sometimes I mix things up for the health of the soil – where I once grew a quarter of a tonne of spuds for the Clevedon Village Farmers’ Market, I now grow old-fashioned cottage flowers for our roadside stall – but mostly I just experiment with something old, somewhere new.
This garden peaks in high summer, only to plunge into a winter depression when Jack Frost wipes out all but the hardiest of perennials in one hit. It’s sad when the dahlias blacken, the coleus collapses and the hostas go into hiding, but I secretly enjoy the seasonal carnage as it keeps all the bugs at bay. Sowing annuals also allows me to tutu about with new combinations, all for the price of a new packet of seeds per bed each season.
Nothing stands still for long here. The roses that once spilled out over the rock walls in front of our stables now ramble down the farm race behind it, and my original vegetable garden, wedged between two English oaks on one side of the lawn, now has a boardwalk whacked together from timber offcuts salvaged from one of Jason’s retaining-wall jobs. >
In a similar vein, the antique Romanian dovecote that once stood sentinel on our wedding altar has been transported down the hill and turned into a bug hotel of Trump Tower-proportions (and, like the US Presidency, it’s a bit skew-whiff).
“There is nothing permanent,” said the great Greek philosopher Heraclitus, “except change.” And, for everything else, there’s paint.
Last summer, I got a bad case of the blues, repainting all 36 beds, and our shepherd’s hut, a deep shade of damson blue. The hut wears a coat of many colours, having previously been painted charcoal grey, claret red, sage green and electric tangerine. This time, I swear the colour will stay, only I’ve said that four times before so no one, least of all my husband, believes me.
THESE PAGES (clockwise from left) Lynda Hallinan, husband Jason Hinton and sons Lachlan, five, and Lucas, seven, checking out the giant sunflowers; Lynda saves the seed heads to sprout for winter salads. Weeping crabapples, white cosmos and 150 ‘Flower Carpet White’ roses – “They’re the ultimate no-maintenance rose” – flank the shepherd’s hut. Lynda converted Foggydale Farm’s equestrian arena into a large-scale potager with 36 beds, most of which are re-sown each year with a rotating selection of annual flowers and vegetables.
THIS PAGE (from top) Jason welded the oversized brazier by the deck: “You’d singe your eyebrows off if you tried to roast marshmallows over it,” says Lynda. The buxus balls outside the converted stable block were lugged to the country from Lynda’s former city garden: “They’ve been in half wine barrels for over a decade but still look pretty sharp.”OPPOSITE (from top) The garden is forever expanding; this border runs down the farm race behind the stables. Summer-flowering achilleas in the picking garden.