October 28, 2018

I have no particular objection to being described as living in the Antipodes; a term that is derived from ‘antipode’ – simply denoting a point on the globe positioned diammetrically opposite to another. However, with the passing of the perception of England as ‘Home’ and the now antiquated notion of our country’s (post-European) origin as a colony, we no longer consider ourselves to be teetering here at the end of the world.

Furthermore, if we truly wanted to get ‘antipodal’ about things, most of New Zealand correlates with Spain, for Auckland’s antipode is actually near Sevilla, whilst London’s equivalent lies somewhere in the Southern Ocean (many miles southeast of New Zealand’s mainland), amidst the Roaring Forties.

Setting aside such geographical pedantry, this journal entry focuses on an interesting London garden filled with New Zealand plants thriving in the general global vicinity of their own personal antipodes – designed by my friend, James Fraser (who has forged out a successful path in landscape design within London over the last 3 decades). The image above demonstrates the manner by which James integrates his fellow New Zealanders (in this case, Pseudopanax ferox and Astelia fragrans) with plants from other climes – such as the European grass Molinia caerulea, whose diaphanous flowerheads dominate the lefthand side of the image.

Members of the genus Pseudopanax are a hallmark of James’ work, with his interest spanning from the highly idiosyncratic character of lancewoods (including the impressive Pseudopanax chathamicus) to the more verdant qualities of Pseudopanax arboreus‘ palmate foliage. This is no surprise, considering that their upright growth habit is perfectly suited to the narrow, vertical spaces that are so common within London. In the front yard of this garden (pictured above), the horizontal, cinnamon trunks of Arbutus x andrachnoides‘ establish an illusion of depth as a dynamic foreground to the vertical stems of multiple lancewoods.

Another tree with a comparatively narrow growth form (yet with more of a birch-like quality), Hoheria angustifolia, plays a significant role within the garden, where its pale trunk (shown below, right) and weeping, pale green foliage contribute a graceful, lightweight form of structure (in addition to white flowers in summer).

My friendship with James dates back more than a decade, to when we worked together on the Chelsea Flower Show, during which we explored the range of NZ plants that were available within England, and organised the importation of many species for the show. Whether as a result of that process or as part of the many shipments that James received from NZ earlier in his career, his garden throws up surprises such as the intriguing Melicytus below – which looked to me to be a form known as Melicytus “Brockie” (an upright, leafy form that Walter Brockie apparently collected once from near Lake Lyndon, yet which has never been found since).

James’ use of stone and timber makes his work readily recognisable within London, due to the dynamic, slightly anarchic manner with which he has often approached the built structure of his gardens. As with the intersecting vectors of tree trunks and plant forms within planted areas, James’ use of stone in the image below (for which my wife helpfully offered the title, ‘Fras-y’ paving) serves to generate an illusion of depth and to lengthen one’s experience of moving through a comparatively small area (in a city where so many spaces are easily foreshortened) .

The final image in this journal entry shows the garden in the early morning light, taken whilst I was staying with James and his partner, Biddy, on a recent trip to the UK. One could look at this image in detail or pick it apart to figure out what makes it tick, but ultimately it reflects the true mark of a plantsman – the ability to create atmosphere through a profound understanding of, and affection for, plants.