Novice gardener in deep end at Rockvale

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Ramahia Keno has had to put her golf on the backburner for a while, now that all her spare time is being taken up in her new garden.

The self-described “novice gardener” has landed herself in the deep end, after buying Gardens at Rockvale near Weston in March, from Linda and Bob Wilson.

She fell in love with the place on her daily walks over the past few years.

Ms Keno grew up in Oamaru, and moved back in 2018 from Auckland to work at Parkside Quarries. She lived next door to the gardens and would walk her dog past, sometimes sneaking in through a side-entrance, with Mrs Wilson’s blessing.

“She welcomed people to come through, she was often in the garden, and I’d go through, and just think how beautiful it was, such a peaceful place.”

When, after 41 years, the Wilsons decided to sell the gardens they had designed and created, Ms Keno thought of it as a great chance to realise a dream she’d had growing up, of running some sort of retreat.

“I kind of want to try and emulate that feeling of peace and serenity in here.”

She was reassured by the fact Mrs Wilson was a garden designer and likened buying the gardens to builder’s house”.

“We expect all the best things to be here.

“When I look around with the eyes of a novice gardener, it feels like a challenge. I see and hear and feel a lot of attention is required.

“I think it’s going to be a wee . . . well, a big project, for a while to come.”

Before buying Rockvale, Ms Keno’s gardening experience mostly lay in the vegetable department.

“I always loved to have a vegetable garden, only because I’m about that – I’m about practical and producing.”

So, the purchase came as a shock to her parents, Robyn and Hoete Keno, especially as sister Jamaya had just bought her own sizeable garden.

“She bought that garden first, and then when I got this, I think my Mum and Dad, I think they probably wanted to move out of town. Because the only way we’d both be able to manage is with their help.

“God bless our parents. You know what? I don’t actually know what I’d do without their help.”

Ms Keno also had teenage sons, Brennan (16) and Taine (19), as manpower at the weekends, and was trying to convince eldest son Whetu (21) that he needed to make the move from Auckland as well.

The Wilsons’ gardener had also stuck around to help her keep things under control, she said.

“It’s really nice to have that, just someone who knows the garden really well, and he’ll quite often say, be spraying the edges right now’. And he’s really gentle with me, because he knows I’m not really much of a gardener.”

Ms Keno was keen to put her own mark on the garden, but didn’t want to rush things. She saw it as ongoing project, and it was likely there would always be improvements” to be made.

“I had planned to spend four seasons observing and documenting, and mostly trying to learn as much as possible about everything to do with gardening. But flooding and some routine maintenance brought to light some projects that won’t wait .. I’m hoping they will be completed before the end of spring this year.

“Some of the other additions, I’d like to work on over the next winter, while the garden is sleeping,” she said.

In the meantime, she was doing some winter maintenance, in anticipation of “the promise of spring”.

“I have the first spring garden tour booked for September 8, so my goal date should probably be September 7.”

Plans included adding a more contemporary touch to some aspects of the surroundings. She had her first wedding booked in for January, and thought the gardens were perfectly suited to host “milestone celebrations”.

“When you look around you see old English. I think it’s beautiful, but there are some areas that I’d like to try and maybe get some appeal to a younger audience .. I think it has beautiful bones.”

She was planning to open to the public once a month, because it was a garden that “sings for people”.

Art workshops were in the pipeline, and it was “kind of ideal for music” as well, she said.

“So there’s a couple of people I’m speaking [to] about some dates we can perhaps lock in for some music events .. I’m hoping to be able to sort of have those in the calendar in the next month or so.

“I would like it to be a space that people can come to.”