One of Canterbury's finest gardens is Ohinetahi, on Banks
Peninsula, designed by retired architect Sir Miles Warren.
Architects love straight lines and Sir Miles Warren (80) is
Ranked as one of New Zealand's foremost formal gardens,
Ohinetahi, at Governors Bay on Banks Peninsula, was created
by Sir Miles, his sister Pauline Trengrove and her husband,
The lineal design perfectly complements the stone house built
between 1863 and 1867 by Thomas Henry Potts (1824-88), who
had bought the land from the man responsible for the
Lyttelton railway tunnel, Canterbury pioneer William Sefton
The timber wing of the house was built for Moorhouse, "so it
is really two houses", Sir Miles explains.
Potts' family had made a fortune from small arms and, having
arrived in New Zealand with 40,000 - estimated to have the
buying power of at least $200 million today - the man termed
our first conservationist was well-placed to follow his
preferred occupation of naturalist-nurseryman.
With six gardeners, he created a 4ha garden and some of the
trees he planted still stand, among them a quince and
Sir Miles believes a huge lancewood (Pseudopanax
crassifolium) is a remnant of the area's original bush.
By the early 1970s, when Sir Miles bought the property, all
that was left of the garden was the lawn and the remnants of
a ruined orchard with six Burbank plums.
The house was nearly derelict, and such was its state that
the local council refused to give a permit for building work
and recommended demolition.
The wily new owner then applied successfully for a permit for
a garage and used it as the basis for restoration of the
"Two carpenters worked for two years and we were the general
labourers," Sir Miles recalls.
In 1974, work began on the garden.
A busy, high-profile architect - the Christchurch Town Hall,
New Zealand Chancery in Washington and the Michael Fowler
Centre in Wellington among his many commissions - Sir Miles
had always loved gardening and welcomed the chance to do what
he called "something amateur" for relaxation.
Don't be fooled by the word amateur: everything at Ohinetahi
has been designed and executed to the highest professional
standards, from the pleached hornbeam hedges and placement of
statuary to the elegant Red Garden, doubtless the inspiration
for "I See Red", which won gold at the Ellerslie
International Flower Show in March.
The main garden is laid out formally along two intersecting
axes, with narrow vistas between the hedges and clever use of
unobtrusive terracing to maximise the number of flat planes
essential for the formal style.
Four of the Burbank plums were retained to frame the view
from the rose garden towards the herbaceous border.
The herbaceous beds are masterpieces, a skilful blend of
textures and colours, with scarlet highlights in a colour
scheme dominated by pink and mauve flowers and plummy
The ogee gazebo at the far end gives enough height to link
this area to the tall trees behind and, beyond them, the
bush-covered Port Hills.
Viewed from the tower, from which the clipped box hedges and
brick paths can best be appreciated, the walled Red Garden is
another delight in formality.
The centrepiece is an old stone font, one of numerous
salvaged stone items in the garden.
Others include a finial from First Church, Dunedin.
The capital in the potager was made for the old Parliament
building but could not be used, "so when I retired, my
partners - rather tongue-in-cheek - gave it to me", Sir Miles
Beyond the formal gardens, a gully divides the property.
It is crossed by a swingbridge from which moisture-loving
plants can be viewed, including Ligularia - "the thugs of the
garden", Sir Miles dubs them as he skips across the bridge.
On the other side is a contrasting world, a bank of swirling
grasses and modern art, including an Andrew Drummond wind
sculpture that makes a virtue out of the breezes that push up
from Lyttelton Harbour.
Straight lines could not work here but the essence is the
same: masterful planning, well-chosen plants and careful
siting of works of art, all delivered with the exuberance of
"If you have fun making a garden, you hope it will brush off
on the visitors," Sir Miles says.
Ohinetahi, Teddington Rd, Governors Bay, Christchurch, is
open from mid-September to the end of March on weekdays
between 10am and 4pm; weekends by appointment.
Admission is $10 per person (no children or dogs permitted).