Down to Earth Gardens

Words by  Sonja Slinger

Taranaki’s Fringe Garden Festival is lining up another 10 day romp around the maunga and an adventure through bountiful gardens of vibrant diversity.

Brimming with inspiration, these properties showcase real gardens for real people, as is the logo of the event.  It runs alongside the Centuria Taranaki Garden Festival with each event having its own distinct flavour.

The calibre of gardens in the Fringe Festival plus the passion and energy of gardeners is superb, says organiser Anne Clough, and part of the attraction to these private gardens is the hosts’ friendly hands-on delight in welcoming visitors, the joyful sharing of advice and stories as people explore and meander their way around.

The festival is accessible to all, with an entry fee of $2 to each garden – the same rate as when it started  17 years ago.

“Our aim has always been the same – to showcase practical and inspiring ideas that people can create in their own gardens for themselves on an achievable budget,” says Anne.

One thing that has changed is the promotion of the event.  It’s slicker and modern, using more social media and providing online access to the programme, including ways to plan a visit. It attracts visitors from outside New Zealand as well as kiwis at home.  Visitor numbers are higher than ever, up 36% in the last eight years.   

Visitors add more than $2 million to the local economy through accommodation, retail, food and beverages, plus recreational activities.

Gardens don’t always remain the same, new features are added or a change of theme trickles in and every year there’s new properties to explore.

Janet Hawley is a newbie this year and admits she’s slightly nervous about putting her 1-acre Lima Heights garden into the festival.  It was encouragement from a local gardening group which visited at the end of summer that spurred her into it.  “I’ve always been a gardener but you never really feel your garden is good enough to be in a festival but those ladies were so encouraging and positive about my garden so they really gave me the push to go in.  I’m looking forward to it, but I’m a bit nervous.” 

Elaine Schreiber, on the other hand, is a stalwart of the event, having been involved since day one. She loves to welcome visitors and delights in the pure pleasure of seeing others enjoying her half acre creation in urban New Plymouth called Bushview Gardens.

“That’s what it’s all about for me.  If I can give someone half an hour or so of pleasure in walking around my garden and enjoying the moment then that’s the enjoyment for me, to share it with others.”

Keryn Jury of Olde Thyme garden in Lepperton also wants to share her love of gardening.  She’s into all types of gardening – from food to flowers to fruit trees and garden art.  She’s full of life and all things growing.  

“I’ve always loved gardening and I was spending so much time in the garden but nobody else saw it.  So I just decided that I wanted other people to come and enjoy what I was doing and maybe pass on the gardening bug to them.  If I can inspire others to get out and enjoy this, that’s wonderful,” she said.

She admits to being a little daunted on opening her garden three years ago for the first time but within the first few days she was hearing plenty of ‘Wow’s’ and seeing so many happy faces, any self-doubts Keryn had about her garden quickly disappeared and now she’s loving it, as are the visitors.

She tries to create a new twist on her garden every year.  Last year Keryn surprised visitors with a six-foot-tall topiary woman but she’s not divulging what’s coming this year although she hints it could be something stained glass.

 There are 42 private gardens open this year including a number of places of interest such as artisan home studios displaying and selling jewellery, sculptures, paintings, pottery, an historic heritage home plus train rides along a historic stretch of railway line.

The Taranaki Fringe Garden Festival is run by the Taranaki Garden Trust, a group of 10 enthusiastic volunteers who plan, promote and put on the event annually.  

“We like to encourage the gardeners as it can be a big leap of confidence and faith in yourself to put your garden out there for the first time, “says Anne.

“But once they’re in, they just love it.”

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