Margaret Long isn’t worried about creating a perfect garden. She is far more interested in a garden that feels loved. “It’s not about being weed-free and perfect. It’s about the feel of a garden; it’s about the plants being allowed their freedom.”
Pretty silk trees are a feature of the colourful kitchen courtyard.
Frensham, the 1.2-hectare garden that Margaret shares with her husband, Ron, near Halswell, twenty minutes from Christchurch, has evolved over the last sixteen years. Located at the end of a long driveway and named after her father’s favourite rose, it’s the embodiment of natural tranquillity and connection to the land. Awash with colour, texture and fragrance, alive with birdsong and a treasure trove of species, it’s a plant lover’s paradise.
“For me, gardening is the ultimate in life but it’s got to be about the plants being able to ‘do their thing’. That makes some things a little unruly but I don’t want perfection,” Margaret says.
When the Longs arrived at the property in 1992 it had little established garden. With no idea of what to do with such a large space, Margaret started in small areas and followed her instincts, developing things as she went.
“I never drew up plans. I learned by trial and error. What got me hooked was my love of plants, plant names and stories about plants. I followed what felt right. It’s a happy accident.”
Frensham has a distinct “English feel” but Margaret has moved beyond wide herbaceous borders – “they’re the hardest kind of gardening there is and I don’t have the time any more”.
She has also stuck with her belief that every garden needs quiet areas. “You’ve got to have places where there is less happening. Every garden needs places to pause and contemplate,” she says.
Margaret has selected a plethora of interesting and unusual plants to ensure seasonal continuity. “I’m always terribly disappointed that people focus on summer gardens. I wish we could see more midwinter gardens or gardens at dawn or dusk. One of the loveliest times here is early evening, just as the sun is going down. I love it then. Everything is silent and calm.”
Margaret’s passion for trees is clear. She has gone out of her way to find interesting species that add layers of colour, shape and texture to the garden. The shrub Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ (dogwood) has beautiful red stems in the winter; the mahogany satin bark of Prunus serrula lights up the front courtyard; Acer hersii is well known as the snakebark maple and Myrtus luma develops a rich cinnamon bark that glows against the greenery. In autumn, Nyssa sylvatica ‘Autumn Cascade’ drapes one garden corner in brilliant orange-yellow.
She has also created some strict formality. Though her 350 roses clamber through the garden in rich waves of colour – up trees and over arbours and pergolas, often in company with native or hybrid clematis – her buxus garden is a thing of military precision.
In this intricate formation of eighteen perfectly shaped and clipped squares and rectangles overlooked by a giant silver-leafed lime, she tends vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruit trees. It is a total contrast to the nearby gravel garden, where euphorbias, salvia, Marlborough rock daisies, olives, pansies and many others have been left to self-sow and find their own way in life.
The hedge theme continues in the kitchen courtyard, where the original eighteen-year-old buxus hedge, which has given up cuttings to create all the subsequent buxus hedges on the property, encloses a large terracotta urn and two silk trees. In the border gardens, hybrid clematis, ‘Burgundy Iceberg’ roses, paeonies and other treasures flesh out a palette of deep purples and dusky mauves.
“I always place fragrant plants near paths and borders so people can enjoy them walking by,” says Margaret. “I get a lot of pleasure out of other people enjoying the garden.”
Margaret has hosted numerous garden groups over the years and this year she is included in the Ellerslie International Flower Show’s Country Splendour Tour.
“I used to have a lot of open days and, though I still accommodate some group bookings – mostly for fundraising – I have had to reduce garden visits because I’m so busy,” she says.
She has, in fact, started her own publication, The Gardener’s Journal , published four times a year. Margaret is both editor and publisher so time is often at a premium.
“I am intending to spend more time out here in the summer though. I love being out with the plants. It always feels like I have come home when I walk through the garden. It’s a special place.”
This garden is in the Christchurch NZ House & Garden Tour; click here for details.
Please see the photo gallery for more images of this garden including some web exclusive images.
|Story: Adrienne Rewi |
Photographer: Daniel Allen