Mellow yellow

Gael told me yesterday that the daffodils have about 10 days to go in the garden and will then all be over for another year …

Twenty-six years ago Gael Blaymires began a garden at her new home in the Papamoa Hills – today that garden is  8ha, open to the public and renowned for its whimsical sense of humour.

This time of the year, visitors to Looking Glass Garden come to see the daffodils – some  making it an annual event. The flowers flutter and dance in the breeze just as Wordsworth described, massed on hillsides and under deciduous trees.

An orpington rooster among the daffodils.

The nucleus of Gael’s planting was originally a collection of show-quality daffodils and 100 bulbs of a small-flowered variety. “It clumps up to about 50 bulbs in 5 years and naturalises itself,” she says, “but it hasn’t flowered as well lately perhaps because it’s had two years of drought on the hillside.”

Also in bloom are magnolias – white, pink, purple and yellow varieties – and an avenue of Michelia maudiae, the large white flowers on the evergreen trees filling the air with their sweet scent.

“[Former nurseryman] Peter Cave brought seed in from China,” Gael says, “and these are some of his original seedlings.”

A yellow magnolia in Looking Glass Garden.

Ornamental cherry trees are blossoming too but Gael says the climate is too warm for them to do well and if she was planting again she wouldn’t put any in.

Besides spending most days in the garden, Gael, whose energy belies her 72 years, sets traps for feral cats, stoats, ferrets, rats and hedgehogs.

“I never used to go after hedgehogs but they take so many bird eggs … since I’ve been trapping, the bird life has flourished and we have good numbers of bellbirds, tui and wood pigeons.”

The garden is also home to numerous sculptures by Papamoa artist Peter Cramond, including the Red and White queens and Queen Alice, as well as fun installations such as the old letterboxes that have been planted in a row beside the driveway and become “box hedging”.

Gael Balymires with her (recycled) box hedging.

However, when she took the land on the landmark hill (with its Stairway to Heaven) was covered in gorse, and the hollow almost invisible thanks to a mass of dead trees and blackberry.

“I’d go and buy these toothless old sheep at the sale and let them in – they’d tidy up what they could and couldn’t ring-bark the new trees,” Gael says.

She is still battling the weeds – using 80 knapsacks of Roundup to cover the garden in a grid pattern.

A large hedge of Leylandii was felled two years ago, around the same time a slip came down from the road taking out a henhouse and plenty of plants – not a disaster, Gael says, but an opportunity.

Edgeworthia papyrifera is a deciduous shrub native to China.

There are 12 chicken houses scattered round the property for orpingtons and Chinese silkies.

“Most people wouldn’t have chooks in the garden,” Gael says, “but they add a bit of life and in a place this size they’re not going to do too much damage.”

Looking Glass Garden, open 10am-4pm daily, 558 Te Puke Quarry Rd, $5 entry (adult), $2.50 (children). Note that the site is steep. Picnickers welcome.

Most of this article was first published in the Bay of Plenty Times. It appears here with permission.

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