Allure has staying power

A rustic bench in a cool corner. Photos: Gillian Vine
A rustic bench in a cool corner. Photos: Gillian Vine
Bold blue irises are a November feature.
Bold blue irises are a November feature.
Hostas are good subjects for pots.
Hostas are good subjects for pots.
A rose arch frames a harbour view.
A rose arch frames a harbour view.
Irene Bain is one of the many rhododendrons that do well in this area.
Irene Bain is one of the many rhododendrons that do well in this area.
Roses start flowering in time to overlap with later rhododendrons and azaleas.
Roses start flowering in time to overlap with later rhododendrons and azaleas.

Gillian Vine peeps into a piece of paradise in a Dunedin garden. 

On a week-long visit to Dunedin in 2013 to attend a friend's birthday celebration, Peter Smyth decided it would be a good place to live.

"Our decision to move here was based on that one week," he said.

Back in Melbourne, he and his partner, artist Anton Lambaart, trawled the internet looking for a suitable home.

"We saw this house online and I flew over one weekend to view it," Peter said.

Curved beds are backed by shrubs with tall natives to the rear. Photos: Gillian Vine
Curved beds are backed by shrubs with tall natives to the rear. Photos: Gillian Vine
With his background in real estate and property management, he was well qualified to make a decision on that whirlwind visit, while Anton bravely backed his choice on the basis of photographs.

They bought the inner-city house in March 2015 but it was not until January last year that they were finally free of their Australian commitments and could move to their new home.

A friend in Melbourne had said the secret to successful gardening was to buy an established garden and they were fortunate to be able to do so.

"Though not being [owner] occupied for almost three years made it necessary to reassess the garden," Peter said.

The layout is a flat area around the house, with lawn edged by flowers and shrubs, rising to mingle with native trees. In front of the house, the land drops away to a steep wooded area that features two huge lancewoods and a massive Irish strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo). Although the drop ensures unimpeded views, it also creates some gardening challenges.

"There's no gardening [on the steep part] the day after it rains. You just slide everywhere," Peter explained.

More paths are planned to make it more accessible but the intention is to keep this lower area as "a bit of a jungle".

Initially, work concentrated on cutting out dead wood and getting rid of the invasive pest old man's beard (Clematis vitalba).

"That stuff, as I discovered, grows if you blink," Peter said. "I just have to be vigilant."

Beyond the garden, Mt Cargill can be seen.
Beyond the garden, Mt Cargill can be seen.
He describes himself as "not really a gardener" but is learning rapidly, fascinated by Dunedin's year-round growth pattern - "in Australia, everything's dead in summer and dead in winter" - and has memorised the names of the New Zealand trees in the garden.

In late winter and early spring, the first rhododendrons begin to flower, with a mature white flowering cherry a feature near the house alongside the New Zealand-bred magnolia, Milky Way. Rhododendrons continue to bloom throughout the spring, accompanied by hostas, azaleas and kowhai before New Zealand clematis, deep blue irises, peonies and roses take centre stage.

"In this garden, every day there's something new. It's amazing and I'm constantly in awe," Peter said.

He and Anton agree they are privileged to have such a garden.

"We have been charged with the honour of being custodians for this beautiful piece of paradise and to continue the enduring legacy of prior owner Ann and her family," Peter said.

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