Akaunui Homestead and Gardens

Akaunui is an excellent example of a rural mid-Canterbury homestead garden. Laid out over 100 years ago, Akaunui consists of over 12 hectares of wonderfully mature gardens that are impressive on a really large scale. The garden offers such diversity and year round interest that you will return home inspired from your visit. The garden complements the homestead which is listed as a historic place category 2 for its physical and historic significance.  The setting has both history and interest, but with a practical focus.

Akaunui gardens are devotedly tended by Di and Ian Mackenzie and has long been a favourite stop on our small group escapes like Canterbury Spring Gardens and Southern Beauty tours.

Meet the gardeners

Today Akaunui is a busy 490 hectare dairy, sheep and cropping farm managed by one of Di and Ian’s sons. Ian grew up and farmed at Akaunui, and now works away from the farm promoting farming interests including water management and farming sustainability. The family calls Ian “Mr Mudfish” in fun.  Interestingly, the creeks on Akaunui provide a habitat for the Canterbury’s rare Mudfish. If you ask nicely, Ian might share the secrets of how he lures mudfish and redistributes them to other areas on the creek that have lower populations. At Akaunui, family and garden have grown around each other, and time working and playing in the garden is a shared experience.  Although they have busy lives, family members are cajoled into participation when areas are developed and heavy earthmoving equipment is needed.

Di is the main gardener. She gardened as a child, learned from her parents and grandparents, and worked in a plant nursery in her youth.  She is a passionate and is eager to share her experiences and her garden.

History of Akaunui

Akaunui homestead was part of Longbeach Estate, a 14,500 hectare sheep and crop farm developed by pioneer and settler John Grigg in the 1860s. He drained the swampy area and contained local rivers to reduce flooding. The name Akaunui means Long Beach in Mӓori. During the 1900s war years, the estate was divided into smaller lots, and the boundaries for Akaunui were established.

Later, Akaunui gardens were designed and laid out by Alfred William Buxton, who was born 1872 in Staffordshire, England. Although little of Buxton’s work remains, the mature deciduous trees remain as his legacy. Buxton went on to be a nurseryman and founded some well-known Canterbury plant nurseries including Opawa garden and Belfast Nurseries.

About Akaunui Gardens

The garden has been extensively developed under the stewardship of the Mackenzie family and is maintained at an international standard. Each season is a joy as the garden has been developed for year round interest, and the features work together in perfect harmony. Whether you are interested in design, composition, plant selection, placement and nurturing, or enhancing nature’s elements and landscapes you will find plenty to discover and admire at Akaunui.

The immediate setting of the house has mature plantings, manicured lawns, hedging and rose gardens. The creek running through the property is tastefully incorporated, and there is a pond and a bog garden. Other features include a parterre, rondel, herbaceous borders, a woodland garden, rose gardens and a productive vegetable garden. Sport areas include a grass tennis court and a six-hole golf course complete with water hazards.

Rare and unusual plants have been added to the background of mature cedar, sequoia, lime, oak and ash. As Di says “The garden has enough space to really indulge myself in plant selection”. Significant plants are labelled and Diana keeps a box of plant labels for each year that she has been gardening at Akaunui.

A magnificent woodland garden is one of Di’s favourite places. Developed from an area overgrown with pussy willows, sycamores and brambles, the woodland has become a peaceful place where shade loving plants like rhododendrons, Himalayan lilies and hostas thrive.

Mostly, Di loves her vegetable garden and manages to keep fresh vegetables on the table year round. A plastic tunnel house is planned to extend the variety of produce during winter. There is a small orchard so that seasonal fruit is always available and excess produce is bottled and preserved. Di’s advice for a new gardener is to get the vegetable garden going first as it is the most rewarding in terms of gains and has the shortest waiting time. You will be pleased to know that MoaTour’s visits to Akaunui includes lunch and we are always treated to home-grown vegetables from the garden and meat from the farm.

Make a point of seeing the most recent development at the west of the property, a 4 hectare open-sky native area. Originally a very swampy area, a swale was created and the drainage improved. The area really makes the most of the mountain backdrop and has encouraged a diverse bird population.

You will also get a good insight into how a large property is managed. Di says it is a full-time occupation and there is never a down time.  The weekly lawn mowing alone takes 15 hours, more with spring growth. She says hedge trimming is all about timing but has good gains for a quick tidy up. Plant propagation is also needed to garden on a large scale. Diana says that to ensure economic viability she increases plant stock for new developments and to replace any losses.

In terms of workload Diana has her eye on minimising garden maintenance by making different plant choices. This may mean fewer perennials which take work to maintain at their best but she is keen that future generations have a garden that is a joy rather than a chore.

What you’ll see at Akaunui

SpringSpring time flush of deciduous trees. Growth of perennials
SummerColourful landscape of azaleas, roses, peonies, rhododendrons, Himalayan lilies, Escallonia hedges
AutumnColourful display of deciduous trees in their transition time
WinterStark beauty of leafless trees, fully exposes the snow-covered southern alps.

Climate and soil conditions

The Ashburton climate is dry and temperate. The average annual temperature is 11.2 °C and the average annual rainfall is 699 mm. The rugged, snow-covered Southern Alps, including Mount Hutt and Mount Peel, form a stunning backdrop and also have a chilling influence in wintertime.

The garden’s favourable microclimate, that enables a wide plant range to be displayed, is created by a combination of Akaunui’s situation 50 metres above sea level, the natural environment being a swamp, and the presence of mature trees. The soils are naturally rich, deep, and dark and this is supplemented by supplies of compost and manure from the farm.

Location and Directions

Akaunui Homestead and Gardens are in the Selwyn District, about 20 minutes from Ashburton or 1.5 hours from Christchurch City.

If you are travelling from Auckland or Wellington, then the best destination airport is Christchurch. The flight times are 1 hour 20 minutes and 50 minutes respectively.
The trip from Christchurch Airport to Akaunui gardens is a comfortable 1 hour 20 minute drive. If you are lucky enough to get a private flight to Ashburton there is a twenty minute drive to Akaunui.
Travel south from Ashburton on State Highway 1, for 5kms. Turn left on to Longbeach road and travel for 9km.

Akaunui Gardens Contact Details and Address

Address:  902 Longbeach Road, Longbeach, Ashburton

Phone:  +64 3 302 6854
Di & Ian Mackenzie’s garden can be visited by appointment only.

The best way to visit Akaunui Garden is by jumping on one of our small group escapes to the Canterbury Region. So many of our guests say the home hosted lunch with Ian and Di is a special highlight.

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