Postmodern garden with kiwi wrap in Levin

Are the best gardens grown or inherited? Would you rather add your personal touches to develop someone else’s vision, or a blank canvas to create something completely your own?

Obviously, there is no right answer and not everyone has the opportunity to start from scratch. But for Bruce Patten, finding an empty section to turn into to see his garden was a key part of returning to New Zealand, with his wife Sharon, after decades of living in the UK.

The couple finally found their perfect blank canvas on half a hectare of land surrounding a brand new modern home in the small settlement of Ōhau, 7 kilometers from Levin in the main growing area of ​​Horohenua.

Although the vision for the garden came from Bruce Patten, it is the realization that it became a true partnership with his wife Sharon over several years of hard work.

Paul McCready/NZ Gardner/Staff

Although the vision for the garden came from Bruce Patten, it is the realization that it became a true partnership with his wife Sharon over several years of hard work.

Although Bruce was born and raised in the area, he was not ready to settle there. He and Sharon, a native of Northern Ireland, spent some time sitting at home across the country upon their arrival in New Zealand, weighing their options about where they should root. During a visit to Bruce’s brother in Foxton, the couple ventured to peruse properties across the area and win the jackpot.

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“I never thought I would live in Ohio, but this property was exactly what we were looking for,” says Bruce, a qualified gardener and garden designer. “I decided that when we came to retire in New Zealand, I wanted to build the park of my dreams and this site had everything that would allow me to do that. I knew I wanted something that had a slope and it would be very difficult to work in.

Bruce Patten had a vision of creating this modern perennial garden in the New Wave once he saw the empty section that came with the new home he bought with his wife, Sharon, in Ohio six years ago.

Paul McCready/NZ Gardner/Staff

Bruce Patten had a vision of creating this modern perennial garden in the New Wave once he saw the empty section that came with the new home he bought with his wife, Sharon, in Ohio six years ago.

“When we were looking at this place, I immediately knew what I wanted to do with the garden. The first few days we were here. I painted everything with spray paint. Where the retaining wall, the pond, all that would go. It was all already in my head.”

For Sharon, who is a committed contributor to the garden’s vision but jokingly describes herself as “The Maid,” the section’s sweeping views were just as important as the plan, as it reminded her of her family’s home on the northern coast of Northern Ireland. The Ōhau estate looks toward the Tararua Ranges to the east and Kāpiti Island to the west.

“We passed it one evening as the sun was setting on Kapiti Island and just thought, ‘Yeah,’” she says. “It would be crazy to go somewhere like New Zealand and not live in a place where you can see the beautiful surroundings.”

Pattens is a fan of the English landscape movement technique known as

Paul McCready/NZ Gardner/Staff

The Pattens are fans of the English landscape movement technique known as “landscape metaphor,” in which eye-catching features outside the park’s boundaries, such as epic mountain views, appear as part of their private garden.

Everything is far from the life of the spouses on the outskirts of Belfast, although even there they created beautiful gardens in their different, albeit more, homes. They had a garden in Levin that everyone admired and would stop looking at as they passed by. It wasn’t until his late fifties, says Bruce, that gardening didn’t become more than a hobby.

After a successful 30-year career in broadcasting with the BBC as producer and director, Bruce chose to take a voluntary surplus package in the mid-2000s and returned to school to study horticulture and landscape design. After that, he owned and managed a gardening business with a partner for several years before moving on to teaching horticulture and horticultural history, another passion.

In the end, despite their love for Northern Ireland, winters in Belfast began to feel longer and bleaker. Soon, he began retiring and moving to New Zealand.

Statue of a woman by Emily Hamilton.  The Pattens family named it Holly because it was bought around Christmas time.  While they were developing the garden, Emily was tasked with creating two more plots: Horace and Howe who sit among hedges near the pond.

Paul McCready/NZ Gardner/Staff

Statue of a woman by Emily Hamilton. The Pattens family named it Holly because it was bought around Christmas time. While they were developing the garden, Emily was tasked with creating two more plots: Horace and Howe who sit among hedges near the pond.

The couple have been in their home for six years and obviously have a different idea of ​​”retirement” to many people, spending an average of six hours in the garden most days.

They transformed that empty half-hectare board into a thriving New Wave Perennial in the style of the famous Dutch garden designer. Adolf’s housewhich has been “very bloody” at times, Sharon says, and work is ongoing as they continue to add new areas to the plan.

The basis of this New Wave garden are beds filled with an array of different perennials, often blending ornamental spear-leafed herbs with formable broadleaf evergreens.

Westernia

Paul McCready/NZ Gardner/Staff

Westernia ‘Grey Box’ surrounds the pond.

Among these various seasonal perennials that may include daffodils, irises, astilbes, rudbeckia and alliums.

“From spring until the end of autumn, among these perennial perennials constantly appear different things. When they die, they are replaced by something else that comes through so that it gives you all those colors and the garden is always changing,” says Bruce.

Even in winter, the tree’s circle down the slope provides a dramatic color contrast with white-stemmed silver birch and coral-barked dogwood.

Lymph green accents on the fence (Sharon's idea) add a lively backdrop to the couple's large, productive vegetable garden filled with green salad, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and strawberries.  Passionfruit vine covers the bow.

Paul McCready/NZ Gardner/Staff

Lymph green accents on the fence (Sharon’s idea) add a lively backdrop to the couple’s large, productive vegetable garden filled with green salad, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and strawberries. Passionfruit vine covers the bow.

Despite the couple’s gardening experience and qualifications, there had to be some trial and error as they adapted to the growing conditions of New Zealand and Horohinoa.

“We found some things that were UK bulletproof not working here at all,” Sharon says, citing the ‘thorn on our side’ viburnum 35 or so ‘Eve Price’ planted as a hedge along the driveway under evergreen ash trees.

It’s gorgeous in the UK – hassle-free and flowered in winter. ‘We thought it would be perfect,’ she says. Unfortunately, after the first year, the local Tribes also found them perfect. Bruce and Sharon have been fighting a fierce battle with them ever since.

“I’ve never heard of thrips before. It’s not a common pest in Northern Ireland at all. We’ve tried all sorts of things, but nothing really worked,” Sharon says, adding that they are now seeking advice from Crosshill Gardens in Manawatu Hoping for a solution.

The lack of shade on their Ōhau property also meant that Bruce had to review his love of shade-loving plants such as Brunnera macrophylla and rodgersia. Where box and laurel varieties are often used for shaped perennials in the UK, Bruce chose the likes of Pittosporum ‘Fankies Follie’, Corokia ‘Leprechaun’ and Syzygium australe ‘Tom Thumb’.

“We had to adapt and learn a lot of things we hadn’t heard of before,” Bruce says. “We had to learn a whole new painting of plants. I spent a lot of time walking around garden centers looking at things.”

They are also known to take advantage of the New Zealand garden community for help when they need it. In an effort to get his favorite candle-flowering pink plant, Persicaria affinis ‘Darjeeling Red’, Bruce reached out to NZ gardener To seek help from its readers.

Soon a bag of scraps arrived from Ashburton Gardener (and one of the magazine’s regular columnists) Alan Troutwhich now forms a beautiful border around one of the Bruce and Sharon households.

Although setting up the garden has been hard work, and although it is still in development, the couple believe they are finally, after six years, in a milder phase where they require less intensive care.

“Most people who start a garden from scratch say the first four or five years are the hardest, and that’s probably a good fit in terms of money,” Bruce says. “Those first four years were relentless because you are trying to develop new areas while maintaining the areas you cleaned up. We were really tired the whole time.”

And now, Sharon adds, “we can at least go on vacation and explore the country and come back knowing the park still looks good.”

For both Sharon and Bruce, the effort was worth it to create a garden that would realize Bruce’s vision of the site once he saw it, which stood out from the crowd.

“I wanted a modern type of garden for a modern home, and I wanted to do something a little different than a regular New Zealand garden,” says Bruce. “I love it when you visit those gardens where you can see that someone has just sat down and really thought about the whole thing. That’s what I wanted to do.”

“I wanted something bigger than anything I had ever done before. I wanted this challenge and really extend myself all the ideas I loved about modern gardens. As I started with this vision, creating it became a true partnership between me and Sharon.”

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