The Return of Oak Valley

Words by  Virginia Winder
Jane Dove Juneau Jane Dove Juneau

Most mornings Pat Ekdahl and tabby cat Smokey go for a stroll through Oak Valley, a festival garden of many parts and memories just outside New Plymouth.

They leave the house and wander across the circular driveway punctuated with 12 bay trees trimmed into balls. “I have always thought of Alice and Wonderland because of their shape,” Pat says. 

They pass a rotunda built in a classical Italian style, which is a place to sit – or create some magic. “The grandchildren called it the fairy house and used to have little tea parties in there.”

Pat and the cat amble on to The Wedding Garden, a large circular lawn, surrounded by plantings of bridal-gown cream and white. Irises, roses, rhododendrons, azaleas, lilies and daisies are on the guest list. 

“It used to be a chamomile lawn, but it became unmanageable,” Pat says of weeds grown from seeds blown in from surrounding farmland. 

Onwards, the pair head past a pristine chapel, which began life as St Mark’s Anglican Church in Kaponga. 

In 2013, after three years of negotiations with heritage groups, the 1901-built church was trucked to Oak Valley, where it now rests, complete with original pews.

“Then we will probably sit up on the bench that’s my favourite place by the church looking towards New Plymouth, and he will hop up there as well,” Pat says of the cat.

There are many places to sit and be soothed in this pristine garden, owned by Pat and Paul for the past 23 years.

As well as the spaces mentioned above, there are two courtyards, and two watery spaces – Stephen’s Garden with a pond, little river and stones softened by Japanese maples and the bog garden and lake, complete with jetty and a dinghy the six grandkids used to play in.

“We have planted oaks around the lake in honour of our name – we had to,” Pat says, explaining how Oak Valley is the English translation of Swedish name Ekdahl.

Pat and Paul have had help in the gardening, right from the start. 

“Chris Paul did the framework, but he says I never stick to anything,” she laughs. 

The Plan-It Earth Landscape Design owner laid down the bones of the garden and then Pat did her own thing, like expand on the 11 tulips he recommended for The Wedding Garden. “I’ve got about 400 now.”

There are also about 700 roses, lots of lilies and heaps of hydrangeas. 

During the October 28 to November 6 Centuria Taranaki Garden Festival, Oak Valley will be hosting a daily Mad Hatter Garden Tea Party for fun and fundraising. Proceeds will go to Conductive Education Taranaki, dedicated to maximising the ability in disability.

Also, on display for those 10 days will be handmade greeting cards by Roxicards, art by Ian Axtell and some classic cars. 

While Oak Valley has been the venue for many weddings and a couple of funerals, it’s been several years since it opened for the annual garden festival.

Pat is looking forward to meeting new people and some from the past, like one woman who visited when they were open for the festival, from 2012 to 2016. “I met up with a girl I used to flat with when I was 16-and-a-half, and I went nurse aiding. I hadn’t seen her since.” 

The Ekdahls love to share Oak Valley with others.

“I feel quite proud of it,” Pat says. 

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