Regular readers of this blog might be wondering where I’ve been. What happened? I crashed into the technical limits of the entry-level blog support I bought when I started. To keep uploading images I would have to upgrade and spend more money. This roadblock decision brought on a crisis of meaning. What is this blog for, how much time and money should I dedicate to it? I’m still puzzling over these questions – feel free to send me your thoughts! – but meanwhile let me share this piece I wrote a little while ago for Spectrum about the wonderful Arylies (I ditched some old posts to make room).
And while I work out if I want to keep this up, I am experimenting with Instagram as an alternative way to share what I see. You can follow me there @robinpowell60. I’m off to Japan today with a group of Ross Garden Travellers – expect cherry blossom!
What makes a great garden? Beverly McConnell, whose creation, Arylies, just south of Auckland, is widely considered to have made the grade, reckons it requires three distinct skills: a landscaper’s eye for place and the ability to shape a garden sensitively within it; a knowledge of plants, their history and natural habitat, forms and needs; and the art of plant association to create pleasing patterns of colour, shape and texture.
McConnell is a master of all three, and what was once a wind-swept paddock on a bald hill is now, half a century later, 16 acres of intensely gardened landscape and 40 acres of wetlands and native forest restoration. Her sense of space and scale, and her always interesting plant combinations are expressed through the whole expanse, from the waterfall and pond gardens, to the wilderness areas, lurid perennial border, rose walk and the vast wetlands – but let me narrow down the focus to show how those skills come together in something much more domestic: the swimming pool.
Leaving the tennis court through a wrought iron gate I suddenly came upon the surprising sound and sparkle of water, a dazzle of colour and an abundant sense of the sub-tropics. The pool was constructed in the ‘70s with a naturalistic, rockpool aesthetic that seems modern all over again. It nestles into its space, embracing swimmers and sunbathers with warmth and protecting them from the wind. This is designed rather than fortuitous, with McConnell’s first garden adventure – a rockery – providing the backdrop to the pool.
Water tumbles down the rock face. Five tall queen palms add majestic height, and a big fat dragon’s blood tree, Dracaena draco, forms a sculptural element picked up in the repeated forms of tree aloe, Aloe aborescens x ferox. The aloes flower through mid-winter with bright orange candelbra blooms, making this space a vivid lure even when swimming would be the last thing on your mind.
McConnell was inspired by the golden yellow spring and autumn tones of a gleditsia to create a kind of waterfall of hot-coloured flowers in contrast to the cool cascade of the pool. The tree is underplanted with Helichrysum petiolare ‘Limelight’ with a variegated fucrea providing a big full stop. Crucifix orchids flower in yellow, orange and red throughout the year, russellia dangles its red-flowered fingertips into the water, succulents and bromeliads nestle into spaces between the rocks, and ferns add textural change.
Beyond the stone-flagged terrace at the other end of the pool, a long breezeblock-backed gazebo offers protection against the chilly south-easterly. Fringing the gazebo is the subtropical climber Thunbergia coccinea, whose racemes of flowers hang down like beaded curtains, with apricot blooms held in burgundy bracts.
The space feels intimate and calm but also lively and vibrant. I didn’t want to leave, so sat at a wooden table looking out at the pool from behind the gently swaying trails of thunbergia, and regretted only that I hadn’t brought lunch.
Ayrlies is open by appointment, so call ahead to let them know you’d like to come. Entry $22. Tel. +64 9 530 8706. www.gardens.org.nz