When you’ve had the same garden for more than three decades, it tends to change over the years to match changes in your lifestyle and tastes.
Noline Skeet’s country garden has gone through distinct phases since she and her husband Graeme bought their bare lifestyle block in Karaka, rural south Auckland, in 1986.
Back then, they were caught up in jam-packed lives. In addition to raising two children, Skeet worked full-time as a teacher and later as a school principal; her husband made a career in the police.
Thus, the first phase was a small, undemanding garden that occupied a radius of 10 m around their newly built house. “It wasn’t long before I started craving a bigger garden,” Skeet recalls. “I realized that with my job I really needed a hobby, something that would be a stress reliever for me. And having the garden meant I could always be there for the family, so that’s how it started.
* Meet the history teacher who saved our heritage roses
* The ultimate cottage garden in Waiau Pa is bursting with colors, scents and flowers
* Tropical Garden Wonderland in the Bay of Islands
Over the years, the garden hasn’t just grown a bit – it now spans over an acre and a half.
Skeet had enrolled in a landscaping course before she laid out the basic structure on grid paper, and she wanted a traditional country garden. “I had been to the UK and fell in love with the rose gardens there, so roses were at the top of my head.”
At first there was a passion for climbing roses which Skeet grew from cuttings taken from a sister-in-law’s Hawkes Bay garden. “They were walking along the fence and around the water tank,” she said. “My husband kept complaining that he was getting caught by them every time he walked past the mower. Then we knocked down the fence and the climbing roses must have gone.
Skeet transferred her affections to old-fashioned roses and David Austins – at one point she had 280 roses in her garden. Although there are fewer of them now, they have an easier life thanks to the windbreak of trees the couple planted that has grown tall enough to protect them.
Over the years there has also been a flirtation with a more formal garden style and the legacy of this is the low hedge which still surrounds some flower beds. “But formal gardens didn’t suit me or our lifestyle,” says Skeet. “Cottage gardens give me much more pleasure. I love how puffy they are, the fact that they don’t have to be absolutely perfect, and I love a lot of the colors, especially orange, my favorite shade. Also, I love being able to pick flowers and then go inside and make flower arrangements. »
Her country garden is filled with plants that were grown from cuttings donated by family and friends. A gravel path winds through a densely planted tangle of pretty flowers with lots of roses, dahlias and cosmos. At its heart is a Graeme-built pond with a waterfall, stepping stones, and a colony of frogs living in the nearby foliage.
Hydrangeas are a newer passion for Skeet, though her soil is so acidic that the flowers turn blue no matter what she does. “There was one that was a beautiful bright pink in my mom’s garden, so I cut it down and the pretty thing turned blue,” Skeet says. “The only way to grow a pink hydrangea is in a pot where I can control the soil.”
A rustic, shabby chic look extends to garden furniture, pots and statues that have been distressed with rust effect paint. Perhaps the most striking feature is a set of rusty iron gates that lead to the paddocks. They fill a void that was made in the fence when the couple’s daughter was married under a marquee on the property.
Rather than installing a normal farm gate there, Skeet started looking for something special. “It took me years,” she says. “Then one day I was at Ahuriri in Hawke’s Bay having lunch with my sisters and there was a store there with doors that I loved. They were from India originally and they were half price. But they were old and rusty, and I thought my husband would go crazy. So I had them transported to my son’s house, then I smuggled them in and a friend put them up.
Skeet says Graeme took it pretty well, but it’s really his garden. While he did the hard landscaping, she takes care of it on a daily basis.
Now semi-retired, she has time for another hobby that matches her passion for plants. “My interest in photography is the source of many flowers grown in the garden,” says Skeet, who particularly enjoys macro photography (close-up, extremely detailed images of a small subject). “I tried to give the photographs a painterly look in Photoshop and print on corrugated metal. Last year I organized an exhibition of my photos with two good friends, Robin Short and Leonie Richardson.
Friends are an integral part of the garden and Skeet loves being able to entertain them there. “Locked out, when we could only see people outside, I had gin parties in the garden and everyone brought their favorite gin so we could all try them,” she says. .
The family also often gathers here. When they were younger, the couple’s six grandchildren built tree forts and enjoyed creating fairy gardens and using the springy native plants as trampolines. Now they are more useful in the garden. “They’ll help me out in the greenhouse, growing plants and cuttings,” Skeet says. “And the older boys are able to mow lawns and trim hedges, and are strong enough to help me lift heavy loads.”
Throughout her long teaching career, fostering a love of nature has been a priority for Skeet. Her students learned to grow vegetables and create delicious dishes from the produce. “They also went to my garden to take cuttings, then went back to school to cultivate them, then had market days to sell their plants,” she recalls.
She is still a fan of local produce, with a large vegetable patch at one end of the garden, and the overflow is beginning to invade an enclosure on the other side.
And the journey for this garden is not over. Skeet plans to move the vegetable beds completely, to give them the benefit of cool soil. And every year, she likes to keep things interesting by making changes to an area. New additions have included a native plant area and orchard, and most recently a white flower garden featuring ‘Limelight’ hydrangeas.
“As with anything I do, I have to be careful not to over-commit, especially as I get a bit older,” Skeet says. “I think there is no such thing as a low-maintenance garden. Even with the natives, they have to be pruned, fed and mulched. Nothing is maintenance free.