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New Zealand gardeners write about their love of their gardens
Part 2 The Armstrongs’ three gardens, first at Dorie, then Ashburton, now Christchurch

Judith Armstrong - 23/06/06

My love of gardening developed when I was a child as I used to help my mother in the large flower garden on the farm at Irwell where I grew up.

When Ron and I were married we moved to a farm called Armadale near Rakaia in Mid-Canterbury.

The previous owners had made no attempt to establish a garden so we started from scratch establishing a garden and living in a rather dilapidated house set in a paddock.


The property when we moved in
The property when we moved in

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Ron devised a drive from the gate to a turnaround at the back of the house and bordered the driveway with cherries, silver birches and cedars. There was no shelter in the dry and wind-blown area, so the young trees struggled. He ploughed around the house and laid a lawn – all in the first year. He also planted red cedars for shelter belts around the house, but found that they would not stand the drought, so planted in their place cedar deodora. These survived but are slow growing trees, so he planted pines for quick growing shelter. Around the lawn we planted shrubs and trees. He developed an extensive vegetable garden outside the flower garden.

We had family of four in six years so I was very busy with family responsibilities, but I gradually developed an acre of garden planted in trees, shrubs and flowers, including more than a hundred roses.


The house and garden after five years
The house and garden after five years

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When we had been on the farm for thirteen years we altered the house.

After fifteen years we built a swimming pool and beyond the garden we laid out a tennis court. To give access to the tennis court Ron opened up a gap in the garden fence and border, and I felt that the surrounding area should be planted attractively, which meant that I now had about two acres of flower garden. With two of the children at boarding school I had a little more free time to spend in the garden.

The wide range of trees, shrubs and flowers we planted included cherry trees of different varieties, maples with contrasted foliage, roses, rhododendrons and azaleas.


Azaleas made a bright splash of colour in a setting of foliage varied in texture and colour
Azaleas made a bright splash of colour in a setting of foliage varied in texture and colour

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Beyond the tennis court we planted beds of annuals, conifers and shrubs.


One of the beds near the tennis court
One of the beds near the tennis court

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A water race ran along two sides of the garden and in summer water was pumped from it for use in the garden, but it was never sufficient. The plants close to it grew quickly and flourished while other plants struggled in the dry season. After we had been there for twenty years Ron put irrigation on the farm and garden, and the difference in the growth in the garden was fantastic. Struggling plants went wild.

Retirement from the farm to the town of Ashburton
After forty years we retired from the farm and moved to Ashburton. My main requirement in looking for another property was that the garden should inspire my imagination. We found such a property at the back of the Ashburton gardens.

The half acre section was surrounded by trees a hundred years old. There were a hundred rhododendrons which were beautiful, but the garden was overgrown with flaxes, cabbage trees and bamboo. We learnt that on a town section planted with evergreens which shed leaves all the time the raking of leaves was a constant task all year round. We filled the borders with sixty roses and shrubs and bulbs which we had brought from the garden at the farm.


Tulips flowering beside rhododendrons and tall trees
Tulips flowering beside rhododendrons and tall trees

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Removal of trees and shrubs was a first priority followed by the laying of a new lawn. The existing lawn was full of moss and we peeled it off and took it in trailer loads to the dump. As we opened up the garden the complaints of the neighbours about too much shade and lack of sun gradually ceased.

When we felt it was time to move, the property sold easily to people attracted by the garden and the setting of oaks and elms. These heritage trees were over 120 years old.

Move to Avonhead, Christchurch
We settled in Christchurch near our children and their families and we bought a property with an attractive sheltered garden of less than a quarter of an acre. This garden involves less work but still gives scope for our favourite plants. I’ve always gained a lot of satisfaction from developing the garden. Here we widened the flower beds and after two years we were happy to look out on maples, roses and other flowers which add colour to our outlook.


Colour in our present garden
Colour in our present garden

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In retrospect
Many farmers’ wives developed large gardens. Not for them the confinement of a quarter acre section. There was abundant space to grow trees and shrubs. There were also plentiful supplies of free manure and the added bonus of farm machinery to take the initial labour out of landscaping. Gardening was a healthy, active, challenging activity for body and mind, occupying long hours when men were busy on the farm. These are the things I missed when we moved to town life.



 
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