Chantecler Garden

Introduction & Overview

In 2003, Mike Henry and his wife, Maureen, bought a holiday home and 4ha of land near Queenstown. Since 2006, they have transformed Chantecler into a world-class garden with an English emphasis.

“I really like English-style gardens,” Mike says.

That’s obvious at Chantecler and visitors agree, using words like “magical”, “incredible” and “superb”, while marvelling that such a young garden can look so mature.


When the Henrys bought the property, Mike was attracted by the selection of trees planted about 60 years ago by a far-sighted farmer.

That farmer would have known how beautifully European deciduous trees flaunt themselves in autumn in Central Otago, for the lineup includes English and pin oak, golden and claret ash, Norwegian maple and copper beech.

A non-European species stands out, a deciduous dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboisdes). Discovered in China in 1944, the Chantecler specimen was probably one of the first to be planted in New Zealand.

Mike says he had fallen in love with the trees, so when he and Maureen decided to move permanently from Auckland to Central Otago, he could envisage how they would become the framework of the garden.

His skill in creating and planning, and above all his plant choices, based on what does well on the area’s rich river silt are what makes Chantecler unique. Rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and magnolias thrive in acid soil, so the Lake Hayes environment suits them perfectly.

Rosy summer

Come summer and the roses take centre stage. Reflecting Mike’s preference for simple, well-balanced colour schemes, there are areas devoted to white and yellow roses, while in the Tuscan garden, the rich red of “Dublin Bay” has proved the perfect rose for enhancing the Mediterranean feeling.

The approach to Chantecler is down a long drive, attractive in any season but enchanting when the 2000 lavenders in the paddock alongside are in bloom. Exquisitely perfumed, they begin flowering in December and keep on blooming until April. Using them in a block conjures up another Mediterranean image, especially with the dry hills as a backdrop.

More English in concept is Mike’s meadow, a new project that saw him scattering 5kg of wildflower seed to enhance Chantecler’s summer and autumn colour.

Cool water

Central Otago summers are hot and dry, so water features come into their own from late November. Who cannot feel soothed by Chantecler’s stream, waterfalls, fountains and ponds? Or be transported to French painter Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny by the sight of a bridge just like his, even to its distinctive green paintwork? Or appreciate the “borrowed” view of the Shotover River?

The cool greens of topiary shrubs, hostas and box hedging complement the clever use of water, while large trees provide dappled shade and strategically placed seats invite the visitor to linger a little longer.

New Zealand plants are mainly evergreens, making this a pleasant section to explore in summer. Showcasing natives enables visitors to appreciate the variety of leaf form and colour in indigenous species and cultivars. With more than 5000 plants, there is something for everyone from native beeches to the slender elegance of horoeka or lancewood (Pseudopanax crassifolius), plus numerous hebes, manuka and flaxes.

Autumn colour

In autumn, the weather continues to be dry, so a blessing for Chantecler is being linked to the Arrow River irrigation scheme, meaning the need to water gardens and lawns is not an issue. The garden hunkers down for winter but not Mike, as this is the season for maintenance, with just one fulltime worker to help.

Stunning in spring

The garden year begins at the end of July, when the first of Chantecler’s 800 rhododendrons comes into flower. With a supporting cast of azaleas, kalmia and camellias, they continue in succession until mid-January when the icy-white, scented blooms of “Polar Bear” bring down the curtain.

Spring bulbs abound, with thousands of tulips, snowdrops, daffodils, hyacinths, irises and bluebells, planted in drifts to give maximum colour impact. Like the 50-plus varieties of herbaceous paeonies, these spring stars revel in the region’s cold winters and get better every year.

Trilliums are another “wow” plant in spring and have self-seeded freely, something few gardeners can achieve.

Mike’s love of viburnums is obvious. “You can’t have one but need seven or 27 or 107,” he says – as is his appreciation of Magnolia stellata, grouped to show off the starry white blooms, while flowering cherries and white wisteria help make spring a special season.

Significant award


Chantecler, 14 Lower Shotover Road, Queenstown
 9371, is approximately 10 minutes by road from Queenstown airport and a four-hour drive from Dunedin city.

Flights from Auckland to Queenstown take 1hr 50min, from Wellington 1hr 20min, and from Christchurch 55mins.

Meet the gardeners

When Mike and Maureen moved permanently from Auckland, they started by building a new house, so it was another three years before the first parts of the garden were established. Mike has been responsible for all the planning, not always easy when choosing plants, he admits, as Central Otago’s climate is so different from anywhere else.

He enjoys showing people around, saying, “I like sharing the garden.”

Chantecler has expanded to today’s 16ha paradise that includes not only themed areas but also space for alpacas, fallow deer, sheep and poultry, as well as an orchard, vegetable garden, berry garden and nuttery.

Mike describes himself as semi-retired, then laughs and says, “As in business, I just keep going and going and going.”

Visiting Chantecler

The garden is open from October to March by appointment only. Larger groups can be accommodated and there is onsite parking and toilets. Phone (03) 441-8164, 021-745-812 or email
 to book. Adult entry is $15 (unguided), $20 guided. Children free but must be accompanied by an adult at all times. No dogs are permitted.


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