Garden Marlborough, a festival with a difference

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You don’t have to be a big drinker of sauvignon blanc to think of wine at any mention of Marlborough, New Zealand. Fair enough: there are 27,000 hectares of vines in the distinct – a figure almost certainly out of date since I heard it last week, as the world’s insatiable appetite for Kiwi savvy turns more Marlborough farmland into vineyard. Less well known is that the picturesque hills, rivers and coastline of Marlborough are also the backdrop to more than a handful of really exciting gardens.

Barewood.

Barewood.Credit:Robin Powell

Many of the best are open by appointment but the easiest way to see them is at Garden Marlborough, which celebrated its 26th year this November. The festival is just as original as the gardens. It’s built around six full-day and half-day tours that take a coach-load of visitors at a time  around gardens all over the district (no self-drive permitted).

Complementing the tours is a program of talks and workshops by international and local designers and plantspeople, a garden fete and a huge garden party. There is much fun to be had, but it’s the private gardens that had me on a high for days.

At Welton House, garden designer Ross Palmer and his sister Wendy have made an exuberant and witty garden of deeply considered planting full of exhilarating combinations you haven’t seen before. The silver-grey trunk and burgundy foliage of a mature copper beech are the tonal guide for a wide curving border where great expanses of burgundy and cerise Rosa chinensis mutabilis are interspersed with big clumps of vivid blue iris, emerging mounds of purple canna and the shining silver leaves of Astelia, New Zealand’s native silver spear.

 


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