Never mind the Bolax ….

June 14, 2014

At the end of the Dunedin trip for judging the national Landscaping NZ awards, we had time to visit the highly-regarded gardens at Larnach Castle, where Margaret Barker has performed a remarkable transformation of the grounds over the last two decades. Larnach Castle is now deservedly one of New Zealand’s foremost gardens, with levels of plantsmanship that demonstrate a very wide range of species, from exotic flowering perennials, bulbs and trees to many interesting natives (including a collection of plants from the Subantarctic Islands, which are normally extremely difficult to grow in gardens).

One plant that was used here and elsewhere in Dunedin, but which we are not able to cultivate well in the north of New Zealand is a South American native, Azorella trifurcata (pictured above, left) – commonly known by its old botanical name of ‘Bolax’ or ‘Cushion Bolax’. It cascaded over the walls in the same area as several Subantarctic ‘megaherbs’ and a particularly fine planting of a rare native shrub, Teucridium parvifolium (flowers pictured below, right, whilst the entire plants are also shown below).

In the flower gardens that lead from the carpark to the historically-important main house (built to resemble a castle), the Cape Hyacinth, Galtonia candicans (below) was in full bloom at the time of our visit. This impressive bulb can be grown over much of the country, but remains more compact in the colder conditions of the south.

Its close relative, Galtonia viridiflora (below), was positioned nearby. It differs from G. candicans in its cream-green flowers and more compact growth form. Both species are natives of South Africa, a region that has provided a huge number of flowering bulbs for gardens.

Setting aside some not-inconsiderable ecological reservations regarding the cultivation of heather, the most remarkable planting was a relatively recently-installed garden in which a tapestry of heather varieties (which I imagine are probably sterile hybrids) was formed (as shown in the photograph below). This effect, which is extremely skilfully conceived in this case, could equally be achieved with varieties of thyme or native groundcovers. Spires of Thalictrum delavayi stand behind the background shrubs, forming an ingenious association with the hues displayed in the foreground heath.

The final detail that is included herein (although there are many other noteworthy aspects to this garden) concerns some of the stonework that forms part of the structure of the grounds. One of these is a stone rectangle which denotes a particular viewing point in a quiet manner.

Not far from that subtle detail, some stairs made from large boulders exert a much more substantial presence (as shown above, right). The way in which this beautiful set of stairs melds into the platform at its upper end was very sensitively crafted. This was particularly interesting for me, as we are looking to use large boulders in a related manner within an Auckland project.