New Zealand is a gardener’s delight, not just for those who love sowing and growing but for the visitors who come to appreciate what others have created and gain inspiration from them.With a climate ranging from subtropical Northland to the Mediterranean-like conditions of Central Otago, there is a huge variety of private gardens to visit. The work that goes into them shows why they are easily considered New Zealand’s best gardens.
There are 52 private gardens in New Zealand and a plethora of spectacular little private gardens to admire and explore with our small group fully guided garden tours throughout New Zealand.
1. What are the private gardens in New Zealand?
There are three main groups of gardens – those on the Gardens to Visit list (http://www.gardenstovisit.co.nz), the New Zealand Garden Trust’s Gardens of Significance (http://www.gardens.org.nz) and those open as concentrated events, such as Taranaki’s week-long spring garden festival (https://www.gardenfestnz.co.nz) or the biennial Bay of Plenty Garden and Art Festival in November (http://gardenandartfestival.co.nz).
2. What is unique about these private gardens?
Because each of the listed gardens has been assessed by experts before making the cut, visitors are assured of high standards of design, planting and maintenance at every property.
There are 53 gardens on the Gardens to Visit list and several of these have NZGT Gardens of Significance status, too.
Some stand out for their botanical aspects, like the rare and unusual plants at Wharepuke Subtropical Garden at Kerikeri, and Totara Waters Subtropical Garden in West Auckland; the work of the “groundcover gurus” as New Zealand Gardener magazine dubbed the couple who devised the plantings at A’ La Fois in Auckland; bromeliads at Pandora Gardens and SAJJ in Auckland; Kaikoura Lavender Farm’s 50 varieties of Lavandula (heavenly scents delight when they bloom); 150-year-old trees at Gwavas Garden in Hawke’s Bay; the stunning collection of 85 varieties of fine-leafed Japanese maples (Acer palmate var. dissectum) at Pepper Tree Garden in the Waikato; and natives at Fisherman’s Bay, Akaroa.
Rhododendrons catch the eye in spring. They are one of delights of Taranaki, in splendid gardens like Puketarata, Aramatai, Cairnhill and Cross Hills, some of which also take part in the Taranaki Garden Festival from late October to early November. If you love Rhododendrons then you won't want to miss our ever popular Taranaki Rhododendron tour with departures each spring.
Other private gardens have water features with the “wow” factor. These include Wrights Water Gardens, south of Auckland, with its collection of waterlilies; Moondance Manor Gardens in the Waikato; Bhudevi in Marlborough; the classically elegant Broadfield Estates in Canterbury; and Brookhaven Country Garden, in rural Southland.
Art can enhance a garden and is to the fore at The Giant’s House, Akaroa, where prize winning artist Josie Martin has used her fabulous 1880 house as the backdrop to her terraced garden, which features her ceramics and sculptures. Other gardens to blend art and nature are Rapaura Watergardens on the Coromandel and Northview, in Dunedin.
Superb design displays the high skill levels many gardeners bring to their properties. Standouts in Canterbury are Sir Miles Warren’s brilliant restoration and redevelopment at Ohinetahi, Banks Peninsula, a property originally owned by 19th-century botanist T.H. Potts; Geraldine’s Kakahu, which resembles an English country-house park; Trotts garden, on the outskirts of Ashburton; and Broadfields, near Rolleston. And Homebush, inner Darfield reflects the input of the Deans family for more than 160 years.
Photos from left to right: Rhododendrons in bloom, The Wrights Water Gardens, The Giants House, Akaroa, and Ohinetahi Garden
3. Which private gardens are “gardens of national significance” or otherwise known in the ‘New Zealand’s Garden Trust?
NZGT Gardens of Significance are star rated, from three to six, with six stars replacing the Garden of International Significance classification. Five stars are gardens of national significance, four denotes a garden of regional significance and three a well-maintained garden worth a visit.
Private gardens with the coveted six-star rating are Ayrlies and Omaio (Auckland), New Plymouth’s Te Kainga Marire, Barewood Garden (Marlborough), three Canterbury properties (Broadfield, Trotts Garden and Ohinetahi) and Larnach Castle (Dunedin).
Five-star private gardens in Northland are Butler Point and Monto Garden. The Auckland area has Angrason, Mincher, The Garden on the Ridge, The Paddocks and Totara Waters Subtropical Garden, while the Waikato has Parkwood and the Bay of Plenty, The Elms.
Other North Island Gardens with five stars are Trelinnoe Park and Gwavas (Hawke’s Bay); Kingbrook, Mary's Place, Nikau Grove, Oakley Garden, Puketarata, Stanleigh Garden (Taranaki); Greenhaugh Gardens (Manawatu), Paloma Gardens (Whanganui), Carrington House (Wairarapa) and Gillies Garden (Wellington).
In the South Island, the Nelson-Marlborough region is represented by Matuku Farms Garden, Thackwood Gardens, Paripuma, Upton Oaks, Welton House and Winterhome.
In Canterbury, High Country garden Flaxmere, boutique hotel Otahuna Lodge, The Garden at French Farm and The Giant’s House each has five stars, as do Otago properties Clachanburn, Stuarts Garden, Chantecler and the Blair garden.
4. How can I see these private gardens?
Many of New Zealand's best private gardens are in slightly out of the way places and require pre booking for members of the public to visit. You'll need to organize transport and get in touch with the gardeners in advance to organize your visit.
It pays to remember that most private gardens have a closed season, usually in winter, and even in the peak season, some are not open every day. This enables maintenance, from weeding to pruning, to be done without inconveniencing visitors while ensuring the gardens remain in tip-top condition.
It is important to check opening hours before visiting a garden as the majority are open by appointment only.
DO arrive at least an hour before closing time at gardens where there are set opening times.
DO make an appointment if that is required; don’t just turn up.
DO phone if you have to change the time or cancel.
DON’T lift labels out of the ground. Chances are, you’ll put them back in the wrong place and cause confusion to others.
DON’T ever take pieces of plants from gardens. Some gardens have sales of surplus plants; you may find what you fancy there – or be able to buy it at home.
5. Join an organised private garden tour.
If you really want to visit some of New Zealand's best known private gardens then often the best way is to go on an organized tour. Garden tour operators (like us, of course) have long standing relationships with gardeners all over New Zealand, and know the best time of year and way to experience these private gardens.
Ena is the face of MoaTours and loves gardens. She has decades of experience and personal relationships with gardeners around New Zealand, enabling her to create tours so that you can have access to wonderful private gardens, including some stunning properties off the beaten track. And, of course, you will meet Ena’s gardening friends around New Zealand.