Life’s work in gardening and design

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Linda Wilson, with help from her husband Bob, has spent half her lifetime building and maintaining a series of garden rooms that make up Rockvale Gardens, arguably the most gracious garden setting in North Otago.

Through her popular gardening column in the Oamaru Mail she shares what she has learned by creating beautiful outdoor spaces for her family and for the general public in the region.

‘‘My learning started in 1980, when Bob and I began to create what was to become a 1ha garden from a blank patch of land in front of our newly built home on Airedale Road at Weston,’’ Linda says.

‘‘My intention was never to create such a large garden for our own enjoyment, it was always intended to be a garden to share, so the grounds are open to the public for a koha, and over many years we hired it out for weddings, big birthdays and other celebrations. We don’t do this now, as we are seeking a family who will take over the property and love it as we have.’’

After nearly 10 years of developing the gardens, Linda moved on to establishing a commercial garden centre, which she operated seven days a week.

At the same time, she was doing horticultural studies and design by correspondence, which gave her the confidence to offer her services as a garden designer, and raising four children with Bob.

‘‘Back then, before we all had personal computers, garden design work was drawn by hand and took many hours to complete,’’ she says.

‘‘After churning out any number of these designs over the years, the method became too time-consuming and I upgraded my skills so that I could offer concept designs created on the computer.

‘‘These were and still are based on photos of the area where the garden is to be built or redeveloped.’’

Linda advises anyone starting with a blank canvas to consider their lawn space, paths and driveways to determine the areas left for gardens.

Mowing a lawn, she says, is much easier than being committed to gardening in 2020, when people are so busy and properties change hands so frequently.

‘‘When people consult me these days, their requirements are almost always for a garden that requires limited maintenance, an abundance of interest and colour year-round.

‘‘Interestingly, the priority, more often than not, is an area and system for growing food. All of this is very achievable, not only in a new build but also in an inherited garden.’’

Furthermore, she points out that inheriting a garden does not mean you need to live with what is in place.

‘‘Just as with the interior of a house that was built and decorated to someone else’s liking, you would not think twice about getting rid of carpet, wallpaper and cupboards.

‘‘The same should go for the outside. I meet so many people who are loath to cut down a mature tree even though it has outgrown its space and restricts light into the house.

‘‘It was planted in a different time, but this is now your garden, your time, and you could probably use the firewood.’’

In Linda’s experience, a tired overgrown garden revamped means achievement, control and pleasure for the new owner.

Narrow gardens, she says, can be just as interesting as wide full borders if plant choice is right.

Planting shrubs and trees in the wrong place will become a costly exercise, as shrubs can out-grow the space allotted, smothering surrounding plants.

Linda advises new gardeners to take note of the trees, shrubs and plants they like that are doing well in nearby properties.

‘‘Snap a few photos to be identified by the experts in the local garden outlets and then ask the questions — eventual height, width, and the best time to plant.’’

Other things to take note of:

★ Mulching is important for a low-maintenance garden.
★ Soil left open to sunlight will germinate every unwanted plant.
★ Clean compost, pea straw or green waste mulch are more suitable than chunky bark that robs nitrogen from the soil.
★ Vegetable gardens are more manageable as raised beds, and both veg and fruit require a full day’s sun.
★ Getting help with creating a new or revamped garden can come from the many experienced gardeners within a community who would be only too willing to offer advice to beginners if asked.