Waiheke Island Garden Safari
The secret to running events on Waiheke Island is to associate them with a charity. In this case the Jassy Dean Trust, looking after sick kids on the Island, is the beneficiary. Now in its 15th year, the Garden Safari is staffed by a host of volunteers, meeting, greeting and checking our clip on tickets. Waiheke is the volunteer capital of the world and with a sizeable population of retirees with time on their hands; you meet up with the same faces at different events, all helping to sustain the great cultural offer on the Island.
I’m trying to fit in most of the 13 gardens on the Saturday so I take a gamble that the plant sale at Rangihoua will be open before 10am. It is, and I grab a couple of Carex grasses, ideal for arid conditions. Starting on the north side of the island, I arrive at my first garden in Bay Road ten minutes before the 10am starting time.
This is a new garden which has been beautifully planted with predominately natives and appropriate exotics, under the shelter of a few giant specimen trees. There’s a small lawn planted in the native ground cover selliera radicans which requires no mowing. At the back, are sub-tropicals with fruit trees and raised vegetable beds.
I’m interested to look at the McKenzie Reserve in Great Barrier Road. This land was home to a straggly forest of Pinus Radiata which was felled and left to decompose back into the earth. A ten year programme of native planting is on-going. The site is a challenge for any vegetation, which is probably why someone planted the pine trees. Its north facing and baked by the summer sunshine, so Totora, Kanuka and Manuka have been planted. In the valley there is a winter stream where flax and Kahikatea (white pine) grow in the damp.
There are several tracks down to the valley below where an excellent display of the project has been set up. Already the Tuis are out feeding on nectar from the early flax flowers.
Literally next door is the Sacred Blessing Sanctuary . The first amazing sight is a Trachelospemum Jasminoides (Star Jasmine) covering the entrance wall. It was one of those prized specimens in trendy gardens back in the 90’s, but this one has a variegated leaf, which I’ve never seen. This garden just keeps on getting better and better the more you explore.
There’s fantastic herbaceous borders, herb garden parterres, roses, vegetables, orchids and sculpture. The work of Paul Dibble features with dramatic effect. There are lawns, ponds and quiet places of contemplation looking northwards into the Hauraki Gulf. Three houses on the property accommodate motivational projects, a perfect place to be inspired.
Delamore Drive is one of those roads running across the top of a ridge which we associate as a place where the rich live in their mansions. It’s a bit of a challenge finding where the turnoff is, but fortunately there are ‘Safari’ signs pointing the way.
There’s a volunteer directing parking then a steep concrete drive to walk down with an option of waiting for a shuttle van on loan from Waiheke High School. The main attraction is the stunning view of Matiatia Bay.
Vistas emerge through the planting and the added bonus is a walk through regenerating native bush. Hundreds of trees, grown from seed, have been planted amongst the sheltering Kanuka and Manuka. It will be stunning in fifty years time.
Mudbrick Restaurant in Church Bay Road is the next stop to enjoy their fantastic lavender beds and edible parterre using Hebes instead of Box for low hedging. The pictures say it all. My neighbour Sue, has been on volunteer duty here for the morning and we set off together for the rest of the day.
Further down this peninsular in Cable Bay lane are two adjoining properties. Hei Matu lodge has a fantastic view west to Rangitoto Island and while the planting is minimal, sculpture is a strong feature.
We walk down to the sea and scramble across a couple of rocks to find a walk way to Uma Rapiti Farm. Bright red and orange fabrics wrap around the giant Kanuka trunks on the driveway and I feel that something special is in store.
This is not a commercial farm but an exercise in self sufficiency and low environmental impact methods. WOOFFFers come and do 4 hours a day in return for board and food. There’s a newly planted olive grove, a great range of vegetables and brightly coloured herbaceous borders, its organised chaos and delightful. The composting toilet can be found in an architecturally striking shed.
Weaving our way back across the Island, Sue and I squeeze in three more gardens before 4pm. Hamilton Road, a low lying part of Surfdale has a tropical jungle theme which isolates the place from surrounding suburbia. There’s a stream running through the garden, some impressive vegetable beds and a delightful shrine to lord Buddha.
Jellico Parade is showing off the artist owner’s ceramic heads, but the real spectacle comes from a giant red Bromeliad. The garden in Calais Terrace has fantastic views over ANZAC bay, a live artist painting, a jewellery stall and a pizza man.
It’s time to visit the Sundowner Gardens along Gordons Road, Whakanewha.
The Caretakers’s Cottage dates from 1928 and is densely planted in the English herbaceous style, complete with white picket fence and very high raised vegetable beds.
The homestead down near the sea is very grand indeed. Built in 1865, this Kauri farmhouse with the cottage, guest accommodation and farm land is currently for sale for an undisclosed sum. There are bronze sculptures on the lawns where we gather for drinks and platters of food. Below us is a swimming pool and even lower, a tennis court looking out to the west over Whakanewha Bay. There’s a jazz band on the veranda and the late afternoon sun is shining benignly on its way the western horizon.
I have time on Sunday morning to visit the last garden on my way to swimming training. It’s in Valley Road in Rocky Bay. The entrance looks very overgrown with gigantic bamboo and palm trees. Surprisingly the garden opens out to large lawn areas in front of and behind the house. A mixture of large natives and exotic palms bearing fruit for the Kereru (Wood Pigeons) are the landscape into which a mass of Bromeliads nestle. A helper is armed with a bottle brush on the end of a stick and is using it to remove cobwebs from these epiphytic plants.
There’s been a great variety to look at over the weekend and Its pleasing to find that the Blessed Sanctuary has won the people’s choice. My other favourites were the Uma Rapiti Farm (So Waiheke) and the fabulous lavender beds at Mudbrick.