Sur­prises un­fold around ev­ery cor­ner in this orig­i­nal Cen­tral Otago gar­den.

A de­sign pro­fes­sor’s lucky meeting with a farmer in an air­port lounge led to the cre­ation of an orig­i­nal coun­try gar­den


Imag­ine a green, hilly and seem­ingly end­less land­scape, a sky that’s clear and blue and wide, with clouds so close you could al­most touch them. This is the view from Mar­jorie Hay’s bed­room, on the top floor of a re­mote coun­try prop­erty near Lawrence in Cen­tral Otago. Even af­ter liv­ing here for 28 years, she says, it’s breath­tak­ing. “It’s the top of par­adise here.”

When Mar­jorie and hus­band Mark took over the 800ha fam­ily farm in Tuapeka West, she was eight months preg­nant and the gar­den was non-ex­is­tent. Now there’s a coun­try gar­den so per­fectly pitched to its sur­round­ings, you’d think it had al­ways been here: swathes of lawn con­tained within mixed na­tive and ex­otic shel­ter belts, veg­eta­bles, a wood­land area with daf­fodils and some tricky stuff with top­i­ary. There’s even a tus­sock­soft­ened sauna shed with views to the dis­tant moun­tains, po­si­tioned so you can ad­mire their icy grandeur while poach­ing in warm wa­ter.

Mar­jorie’s coun­try gar­den has a nat­u­ral flow, with sur­prises around each cor­ner and al­ways that mag­nif­i­cent view. “I love my life here,” she says.

Yet she read­ily ad­mits she knew noth­ing about gar­den­ing when she and Mark mar­ried. She did have one huge ad­van­tage: as a pro­fes­sor at Rhode Is­land School of De­sign, with her own busi­ness in Bos­ton, Mar­jorie had a good eye.

How did she end up in New Zealand? Love bloomed in an air­port tran­sit lounge. The US pro­fes­sor was en route to Christchurch to teach de­sign for six weeks; the Main­land sheep farmer, with a bro­ken leg, was go­ing to a wed­ding but his ride was late.

Mark sat next to Mar­jorie and the rest is a love story that in­cludes Mar­jorie’s visit to his farm the fol­low­ing week, a year of writ­ing let­ters (“That’s how old we are!”) and hap­pily ever af­ter. “Pretty old-fash­ioned,” she says.

As for learn­ing about gar­den­ing: “I dis­cov­ered Mag­gie Barry’s TV show on Fri­day nights af­ter I’d put the kids to bed. She got me in­spired. I didn’t look at a lot of gar­dens but I got hold of lots of gar­den­ing books. And Mark was very sup­port­ive… we make a good team.” Mar­jorie says she quickly be­came ad­dicted “though I still don’t have the ter­mi­nol­ogy down”.

Mark’s sis­ter Barb Wilkins, who has a great gar­den on the Otago har­bour (NZ House & Gar­den, Novem­ber 2016), brought cut­tings and ad­vice. And Mark’s mother paid for lo­cal land­scape ar­chi­tect Sue Mort to draw up a 10-year plan for the gar­den. “That was so cool,” says Mar­jorie. “I’m a graphic de­signer, so I can un­der­stand struc­ture.”

In­spired, she com­pleted the work well ahead of time. “It’s changed a bit over the years but at least I had a vi­sion.”

One of the first things they did was to cut a hole through the mono­lithic Western red cedar (Thuja pli­cata) hedge – only to dis­cover an­other green wall. Mark’s grand­fa­ther had planted a dou­ble hedge as in­sur­ance against the dreaded wind be­cause where you have views, there will al­ways be wind. >

It’s not just wind they bat­tle. “We can get big snow. A few years ago, snow crushed the wool­shed; it was like a blan­ket ly­ing across the top. Nor­mally we get half a dozen snow­falls a year and we get a few frosts too,” says Mar­jorie.

Stand­ing firm in the face of wind and snow is a de­sign fea­ture that sep­a­rates pad­dock from lawn – a curved row of Thuja oc­ci­den­talis ‘Pyra­mi­dalis’. She chose her “sol­diers”, as she likes to think of them, for their ease of care, ex­cept af­ter us­ing these ex­cla­ma­tion points all over the gar­den she dis­cov­ered they were the wrong va­ri­ety. These chaps need a close shave twice a year.

Next came a wood­land gar­den to re­mind her of child­hood hol­i­days in an Ohio log cabin. She started with 33 sil­ver birches in hon­our of her fa­ther Jud­son Mill­hon who, be­fore he be­came a doc­tor, could have played pro bas­ket­ball. His sin­glet num­ber: 33. Then she kept on plant­ing oaks, maples, cop­per beech and gums, for the au­tumn colours and to re­mem­ber peo­ple and pets. “Mark is re­ally into birds, so we planted na­tives too.” Those trees have grown faster than she would have thought and her new de­light is tweak­ing them, limb­ing them up and thin­ning them out to re­veal liv­ing sculp­tures.

Now she and Mark, keen sup­port­ers of the Farm Forestry As­so­ci­a­tion, are ex­tend­ing their tree plant­ing be­yond the gar­den gate, in se­lected blocks through­out the farm. “Now I’m do­ing sketches and I know how things grow.”

Gar­den­ing is just one cre­ative out­let for Mar­jorie – she also has a ceram­ics stu­dio near the farm­house. Be­cause money was al­ways an is­sue, Mar­jorie had to be clever and use nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als. “I love our home,” she says. “I’m al­ways try­ing to make things look bet­ter.”

Wher­ever you look in the gar­den you’ll see her art­ful flour­ishes – a small drift­wood tree dom­i­nated by an­cient macro­carpa. Down at the bot­tom of Mark’s driv­ing range, there’s a tower cre­ated from deer antlers do­nated by a friendly hunter.

Ce­ramic fig­ures on poles pop up among the fo­liage. Ev­ery gate is dif­fer­ent; some res­cued, some de­signed by Mar­jorie.

Her favourite colour, red, ap­pears on two Cape Cod-style chairs that re­mind her of home, and on the gate to the fenced, for­mer vege gar­den that now shel­ters four clipped Ir­ish yews and a zig-zag of box hedg­ing. Her newer fenced vege gar­den is swathed in ev­ery de­vice imag­in­able to thwart hun­gry rab­bits.

The most in­trigu­ing area is a tun­nel cre­ated by a farm worker with a chain­saw, who carved out a pas­sage be­tween the two macro­carpa hedges. “It’s so cool. I never thought of it.”

Gar­den­ing shouldn’t be a chore and if it feels like it, stop – that’s the best ad­vice she got from her mother-in-law.

“A lot of peo­ple think it’s work but I love to do it.” Mar­jorie says this gar­den is the best thing she’s ever done, apart from be­ing a mother. >

Son Isaac, 27, is very in­ter­ested in the farm. Daugh­ter Olivia, 25, al­ways loved farm­ing life but has other in­ter­ests right now, says her mother.

The nicest thing any­one has said about her gar­den? “That I was an in­spi­ra­tion.”

Her de­sign ad­vice is to keep it sim­ple, she says. Less re­ally is more, so don’t have too many plants. Have struc­ture and con­trol things. It’s worked for her.

THESE PAGES Mar­jorie and Mark Hay ab­sorbed a farm pad­dock into their home gar­den at Tuapeka West af­ter lev­el­ling an an­cient shel­ter belt; this area is now re­ferred to as the Great Lawn, a vel­vety green space framed by raised curved beds of mainly na­tives whose wavy form and colour de­pict the el­e­ments of earth (brown), fire (red), wa­ter (blue) and air (white).

THIS PAGE “The Tun­nel of Trees”, a hid­den trea­sure re­vealed by chain­saw-wield­ing farm worker Si­mon Cook; Mark made the gate one Mother’s Day.

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