Ramblings of a "New American" Gardener


December 21, 2014

Flaxmere, a garden near Christchurch, on the South Island of New Zealand, is a quiet beauty. We visited in February 2014, in the height of summer there. The country has such extraordinary growing conditions, some New Zealand gardens


have an overstuffed, jumbled look lacking in harmony. But Flaxmere is designed to make subtle use of a magnificent landscape and with restraint in planting. Its distant mountains views, though kept secondary to the main garden, are spectacular end points to several long vistas.


The garden is organized around linked ponds that are really its heart. The garden, I felt, references Giverny, though it doesn’t attempt to imitate it. Flaxmere is very successful in its own right and beautifully suited to its extraordinary site.


The more traditional part of the garden is planted with a mixture of natives and exotics, such as this North American prairie perennial, Filipendula rubra ‘Venusta’ and across the water (below), native cabbage trees, Cordylines.




You can see a Gunnera tinctoria across the pond, and below, its fruiting body. I believe this plant is native to Chile. (If this isn’t correct, please let me know.)




I originally thought the black swan might be kitsch, but I was corrected by Diana Studer of South Africa, who tells me they are native to Australian wetlands in the southwest and southeast, and to New Zealand, where they were hunted to extinction, then reintroduced. The garden is open for weddings and other events, and I’m sure the swan is a highly desirable feature for such occasions.


The bridge makes a perfect arc over the water.




The view from the house overlooks a large pond and extends to the mountains beyond, making a quite masterful composition of near garden growth, natural vegetation in the mid-distance, and mountains completing the view.




Where there isn’t a mountain to terminate the view, two Lombardy poplars work nicely.






Looking out into the landscape outside the garden, you see a dramatic contrast of natural with cultivated landscape.




On the opposite side of an intervening woodland garden is this native plant garden.


Because of the woodland buffer there’s absolutely no dissonance between the two parts of the garden, and they both share similar distant mountain views.












Seed heads of New Zealand Flax (Phormium), a distant relative of our daylily (Hemerocallis). You see the resemblance if you closely examine the seed pods.






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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Nell December 21, 2014 at 8:07 pm

What a great gift of soaking sunshine on this longest, darkest night. Thanks so much, James. The views that terminate in mountains are especially riveting.

:: Seed heads of New Zealand Flax (Phormium), a distant relative of our daylily (Hypericum). ::
Daylily are Hemerocallis; is that what you meant? I can see how they might be related to Phormiums — but more from the foliage arrangement than from the seedpods.

Happy solstice to us all!


James Golden December 21, 2014 at 10:55 pm

How right you are, Nell. My brain must have blinked as I was typing. Certainly, Hemerocallis is what I meant. A happy solstice you you.


Matt December 22, 2014 at 5:03 am

These are exquisite gardens and I had the pleasure of visiting them a few years ago. The quality of light on the south island of NZ is just brilliant


James Golden December 23, 2014 at 7:00 am

Thanks, Matt. My memories of visiting Flaxmere are very pleasant ones, and I remember the garden with increasing respect.


Ofelia December 23, 2014 at 5:13 am

Thank you so much for sharing these wonderful pictures that really make your eyes travel to faraway lands and horizons. I feel like my mind will remain stuck in that beautiful garden for the rest of this rainy day in Belgium…


James Golden December 23, 2014 at 7:02 am

Thanks you, Ofelia. A very rainy day here too, with much more to come. I dream of spring and winter has barely arrived. But in New Zealand, summer has just arrived.


Diana Studer December 24, 2014 at 4:51 pm

My father was from New Zealand and I remember him talking about black swans.


James Golden December 25, 2014 at 9:43 am

Do you think black swans are endemic to New Zealand?


Diana Studer December 25, 2014 at 1:14 pm

The black swan (Cygnus atratus) is a large waterbird, a species of swan, which breeds mainly in the southeast and southwest regions of Australia. The species was hunted to extinction in New Zealand, but later reintroduced.
says Wikipedia


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