The Gardens of Canterbury

The tonic we all needed!

Our tour of the Gardens of Canterbury from 15 to 20 November 2021 proved to be the success we hoped it would be. Deprived of visiting our beloved Italy because of the Covid pandemic, Beniamino and I decided early in 2021 that we had some very special treasures much closer to home that we could share with our clients. This led to the development of a late Spring tour showcasing some of Canterbury’s most prestigious gardens and homesteads.

We were absolutely delighted to have Christchurch based landscape architect Robert Watson as our expert guide. Robert created or developed almost all the gardens we visited and we could not have been in better hands to understand the owners’ vision and commitment and appreciate the results they collectively achieved.

Our tour group was small in number because Covid restrictions meant our Auckland clients were unable to join us but everyone was fully engaged with the itinerary and it was a real pleasure to provide them with some respite from the challenges that have plagued us all since the pandemic began.

On our first day, we took the group to Otahuna, which is one of Canterbury’s premier lodges. Originally built for Sir Heaton Rhodes in the late 19th Century, this Victorian mansion offers luxury accommodation, glorious gardens and sophisticated cuisine. After a guided tour of the house by Miles, the co-owner of the lodge, we sat down to a sumptuous Brunch in the potager Robert had designed and relaxed in the sunshine that blessed us throughout the tour. We definitely needed a walk around the extensive grounds after this! The Head Gardener Steve escorted us through the Dutch garden, the orchard and enormous vegetable garden talking about the different plantings and answering our many questions. We were even allowed to sample a herb called Mertensia Maritima. The writer thought it must be an acquired taste but the oyster lovers amongst us were mightily impressed.

Our next stop was Riccarton House, where a venerable guide named John, dressed in suitable Victorian attire, escorted us through the historic homestead. We were lucky to avoid meeting the ghost of Jane Deans and equally fortunate to enjoy cucumber sandwiches and scones with cream in the exquisite dining room. Robert then escorted us through the ancient kahikatea trees in Riccarton Bush, where the only sounds were birdsong and the flapping of wings of our native kereru. On our way back to the city we stopped briefly at the Ilam Homestead to look at one of Robert’s current projects working on a new alternative to commemorative tree planting.

Our second day started with coffee and home-baked lemon muffins in the Green Room at Ohinetahi in Governors Bay,surrounded by beautiful works of art collected by renowned architect, Sir Miles Warren. Sir Miles, his sister Pauline and brother-in-law John Trengrove were responsible for developing the now world-famous garden with its stunning mix of planting and sculpture.

We were joined for this part of the tour by art expert Jenny Harper, who talked to us about the art and sculpture inside the house and in the gardens. Beniamino was delighted to see ponderosa lemons growing that almost equalled the giant lemon varieties of southern Italy, where he grew up so much so that he demanded to be given one to take home. 😊

In the afternoon, we travelled the short distance around the harbour to Loudon farm, where the biennial Art on the Peninsula festival is held. The owners, Philip and Sarah graciously showed us around their property overlooking Lyttelton Harbour and gave us afternoon tea, including a memorable rum-soaked home-made cake and an accompanying glass of Philip’s favourite Rose`. It was the perfect way to end our first excursion to Banks Peninsula.

Our third day took us first to Margaret Long’s beautiful garden Frensham near Tai Tapu. This outstanding garden is a real tribute to Margaret’s vision and planning with it focus on colour, views and the gentle filtering of light. After our feast for the eyes, we enjoyed a veritable feast of scones before we set off with our fantastic driver Alan for Pigeon Bay on Banks Peninsula.

We made our way through the sleepy village of Little River, winding up the hill and along the Summit Road, where we had fabulous views of the Onawe Peninsula and Akaroa Harbour on one side and of the northern bays on the other side before descending to Pigeon Bay. From there it was a short drive along the bay road to the historic lodge Annandale, where there was a real treat in store for us.

First, there was a banquet of local food and wine served al fresco at a long table that would not have been out of place on the terrace of an Italian villa. Beniamino even requested the music of La Traviata and this was very happily supplied. After lunch, the Head Gardener David took us around the property, proudly showing us how Robert’s original design had been transformed into the stunning grounds enjoyed today by visitors to the Lodge. The long pergola dripping with white wisteria was the highlight for the tour group but there was beauty everywhere around us wherever we looked.

It was hard to leave Annandale, but we had one last stop to make at the Pigeon Bay Community Hall for Deb’s high tea, sitting in the sun on the verandah overlooking the sparkling waters of the bay.

Our fourth day was in two parts, so it was a little different. Alan drove us first to Mel and Chris’s property near West Melton, which started its life as a shingle pit. It is now the site of Casa Rossa, an Italian inspired home and an outstanding garden complete with a restful tapestry beech walk, a tranquil lake and a bridge reminiscent of Monet’s Garden at Giverny. Dotted with exotic artefacts ranging from foo dogs to a miniature Eiffel Tower, this garden is full of surprises. Chris told us his plan for the garden evolved over many years while he was sitting on a ride-on mower cutting hectares of turf all over Christchurch. This result is testament to what vision and sustained hard work can achieve and we were not surprised to learn that this garden has been rated very highly by the New Zealand Gardens Trust.

We had been eagerly awaiting our next stop at Broadfield Garden, classified as a Garden of International Significance, which was designed by our guide Robert 20 years ago. This majestic garden features a magnificent hand-dug canal 140 metres in length, kauri and beech forests and extensive formal and informal plantings spanning 3.5 hectares. We were delighted to meet the owner, David, whose passion and commitment has brought Robert’s vision to life and nurtured it over the years.

We had allowed for some rest time in the afternoon so we could all prepare ourselves for our Italian dinner in the evening. This was hosted by Beniamino and held at Casa Nostra Restaurant, where Felice and his team greeted us with a Prosecco and then produced course after course of mouth-watering Italian food and wine. No one left the restaurant hungry! It was a memorable evening in delightful company.

On our fifth day, we ventured further afield. We travelled south across the Canterbury plains to Ashburton, where our first stop was the 6 star Trott’s Garden, created by the Trott family and now run by a Charitable Trust. Many of the garden’s 650 rhododendron shrubs were still in full flower and the impressive knot gardens and long herbaceous borders filled with perennials were a joy to behold. Everyone loved this garden.

From Trott’s Garden, Alan drove us towards the Coast, to Longbeach Estate, which has been in the same family’s ownership for four generations. This magnificent property with its sweeping lawns and extensive gardens is the perfect venue for weddings and special events. We were not surprised to hear that the owners have invested in robotic lawn mowers after we learnt that it takes 16 hours on a ride-on mower to mow the lawns! Penny was the perfect hostess, telling us about the history of the property, serving us a delicious lunch in the cook shop and then leading us around her wonderful garden. She was a mine of information so we asked her plenty of questions!

Our last day was spent on the other side of Christchurch, in North Canterbury. We travelled first to Culverden for our visit to Coldstream. The owner, Vicki, explained that the name of the property reflected the coldness of the natural stream flowing through it, which she thinks has been the secret to the spectacular growth of the garden. The large pond is surrounded by many restful spots in which to enjoy the tranquillity of the garden.

From Coldstream, Alan drove us to the last garden on our itinerary, Flaxmere, owned by the renowned Penny Zino. Penny’s name was mentioned in hushed tones at most of the gardens we visited and rightly so because she has been an inspiration and mentor to many garden owners. Her 6 star rated Garden of International Significance is visited by thousands of visitors from New Zealand and overseas. The creation of this stunning garden over many years by Penny and her late husband John was a huge challenge with years of droughts, extreme temperatures and ferocious winds but the garden remains utterly beautiful and it was the perfect spot to end our visit to the gardens of Canterbury.

On our return to Christchurch, we shared a farewell glass of local wine together at the Waipara Hills Winery in a very relaxed manner as if we had been together for months.

We have been so humbled by the wonderful feedback that we have decided to repeat this tour in 2022, revisiting the gardens displaying their Autumn colours and you are invited to join us.

To find out more please give us a call or email us. We would love to hear from you.