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Gardening from New Zealand

by Terry Dowdesell
by Terry Dowdeswell


Terry Dowdeswell is the owner of Dowdeswell's Delphiniums in Wanganui New Zealand.

Be sure to visit his site at

May 15, 2005

Recently some friends bought an old villa in Wanganui. Built of native hard wood ninety-nine years ago, the house is entirely sound and the hard landscaping intact. The garden however, obviously once rather grand, has suffered somewhat. The years that nurtured the now magnificent magnolia and camellias have abandoned much and subsequent owners, always keen to stamp their mark, have done the rest. Ivy, in New Zealand, takes orders from no-one and has no difficulty in making that clear.

The net result of this mixture of deprivation, abundance, neglect and good intentions is a garden that needs something. It’s not bad enough for a bulldozer, but not good enough to leave unmolested. In need of surgery yes, but the skeleton is sound. My friends bought this house because they liked its character. What better opportunity to restore the character of the garden to match? A project is begun.

Over the course of the next, well, quite sometime I suppose, I will report on progress in Judith and Rob’s garden. We will research plants and ideas likely to have been used in the original garden and draw up plans to incorporate them. The idea is not to replicate, but to restore balance, to use the magnolia, camellias and other old and established plants as a framework on which to build. You are welcome to follow progress and even to contribute ideas as we go. There is plenty of time and we’d love your input.

We have another project on the go too. Owing to its recent geological formation and isolation New Zealand has an abundance of unique, native species of plants and animals. Over 80% of our native plants, animals and birds are found nowhere else on earth. Looking at the countryside today you would hardly know it. Sure, we have many National Parks, but you don’t see a great deal of private native “bush”, and native NZ bush can really knock your socks off!

A recent trip to a patch of this bush brought a decision. The trees had been ravaged by possums (a nocturnal and omnivorous marsupial introduced from Australia) until four years ago when the little beasties were virtually eradicated (no, don’t ask how). Now tree ferns are growing through a renewed canopy of various other native plants and the sight is simply stunning. Native birds are returning. All this was enough for Janice and I to decide to return our cow paddock into bush. There is a small remnant already. I’ll keep you posted on this too.

The New Zealand gardener has always to be alert. A seedling today is a bush tomorrow and a tree next week. Here, as you leave for two month’s holiday it is wise to hang a machete on the gatepost. Be prepared. A Canadian who divides her time between her garden in Dawson Creek and the one she recently bought in New Zealand returned to our country last week after just two months away and found a castor oil plant, Ricinus communis, about 2 metres tall, growing in her garden where nothing was evident 8 weeks earlier. I told her – DON’T EAT THE BERRIES!

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