A no-nonsense Central Otago garden
Pat cook does a nice line in Southern understatement. From her elevated 3.5ha property on the back roads between Arrowtown and Queenstown, the view takes in Coronet Peak and the Remarkables, looking over ponds and wooded foothills to a distant Cecil Peak. It's a stunner. "Well, yes, it's quite good," replies the low-key octogenarian.
Pat has brought the same no-nonsense attitude to creating a garden in this beautiful but demanding setting. Starting from scratch 30 years ago, she planted only survivors - flowers, plants and trees that were up to the challenge of a ground minimum temperature of minus 15 degrees. Despite having the rare treasure (in the countryside) of unlimited access to water - a gully on the property is fed by overflow from the Arrowtown irrigation scheme - she has always practised tough love when it comes to watering, sprinkling the rhododendrons and roses but making everything else dig down and find its own.
She has taken no short cuts either. "Anyone can have a spring garden, but to get things flowering right through the year you really have to work at it. I start in the autumn and work back."
Pat calls it a "rough and rambling sort of garden", but unfussy is more apt. There's a prettiness to it, but it's of the hair-tied-back, natural variety. "I don't want formality. I just pop things in. If they seed and they're acceptable, I leave them; if not, I pull them out."
She's fond of daylilies, which happily stand the climate well. There are masses of deciduous azaleas that become a standout in early summer; Hydrangea paniculata ("good for this time of year [mid to late summer] when others are slacking off"); hellebores, the ultimate survivors with their winter flowering; sage; rugosa roses that tolerate both the dry and the cold; blue campanula that seeds everywhere; herbaceous peonies and Clematis montana var. wilsonii for its scent.
As for roses, Pat favours heritage varieties. "I don't want perfection and the modern ones are too perfect." Pointing to a full-petalled, pink �Comte de Chambord' rose, she says: "I think this is more beautiful than some beautifully folded rose. And just smell it!"
When the sun beats down in Central, you need to have shade. In one corner she has grown a small copse of Serbian spruce from seed. Why Serbian? "Anything that grows on the side of mountains in Yugoslavia is always going to grow here."
But don't let this talk of hard-headed pragmatism and Pat's own modesty mislead you. She thinks deeply about her gardening, is a serious plantsperson and a member of the Royal Horticultural Society.
Pat walks around the garden pointing out unusual treasures she has grown from seed. There's a Chilean vanilla tree (Azara microphylla) with its tiny yellow flowers, Gladiolus papilio from South Africa and climbing in a velvety purple wave is Clematis �Polish Spirit', developed by the Jesuit monk Stefan Franczak.
Pat believes hers is the only heather garden in the district. Comprising five different varieties that flower at different times, it's Pat's favourite part of her larger garden - "my first love".
She began it after her late husband Julian became enthusiastic about planting small conifers. "Conifers and heather go together. I said, �You grow the conifers, I'll take care of the heathers'. You really need to have a proper heather garden, not just pop them in among other perennials; you need to have variety to get the effect of all the colours."
It will be hard to leave this garden but, after 30 years, Pat is moving to Wanaka, closer to her children. She's not a girl any more, she says, and wants to move while she's still fit. She gazes around the garden, frowning at parts still not quite up to scratch. "It does feel a little like unfinished business. I don't know if all my hard work has borne fruit, but I have certainly enjoyed doing it."
For more images including web-exclusive images click on the "photo gallery" link above.
Story: Matt Philp
Photographs: Paul McCredie