Although Dunedin’s Larnach Castle has had a garden since 1871, visitors to the privately owned property see mainly the results of what has been a labour of love for the past 44 years.
Because of gaps in ownership, little remains in the garden from William Larnach‘s time – the driveways, some stone walls and a few specimen trees – while the next owner, who took it on in 1927 after 20 years of neglect, left only the bones of the rockery (at the time said to be the largest in the country), a fountain and a glass cupola.
Newlyweds Margaret and Barry Barker bought the derelict castle and its 14ha of overgrown grounds in 1967 – a spontaneous decision sealed with a handshake on the doorstep and a visit to the bank the next day – and set about restoring the property with a view to opening it to the public.
While the castle’s cool, wet climate is limiting in some respects – there are few roses – it does offer opportunities for rare native alpine plants and some lesser-known natives such as giant Spaniard grass (Aciphylla scott-thomsonii), which has spiky blue leaves and tall spiky flowers.
The garden is an ongoing project for Margaret, who has created nine distinct areas and who has been supported for the past decade by Fiona Eadie, author of 100 Best New Zealand Native Plants (Godwit, 2008).
Margaret has travelled widely in search of knowledge and ideas, including to the Andes, the Himalayas, France and the Campbell and Chatham Islands, and the enthusiasms of the women are clearly seen in the South Seas Garden, which combines plants from ancient Gondwanaland.
Pennantia baylisiana, once the rarest plant in the world with only one female in its native Three Kings Islands, was rescued in 1945 when six cuttings were taken. Three survived and more cuttings taken – until one plant spontaneously produced female and male flowers.
Other plants in this garden include Senecio candicans from Patagonia, Dendrocerus littoralis, a member of the lettuce family, from Chile’s Robinson Crusoe Island, the mounding groundcover Azorella trifurcate from the Falkland Islands and Coxella dieffenbachia from the Chatham Islands.
Magnificent vistas of Otago peninsula and harbour have been opened up and Otago’s Scottish heritage is invoked by the giant thistle in the Flower Garden (planted to evoke a country garden in the early part of the 20th century) and a tapestry planting of heathers in the Patterned Garden.
For more information see the Larnach Castle website.
This article was originally published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission. Photos and text copyright Sandra Simpson and may not be reused without permission.