Elementary, my dear Wilson

One of the tricks of dealing with a difficult site is not to fight it – too much – but work out the plants that will handle the conditions and also fulfil your needs and interests.

Aucklander Lynley Wilson took her time and had a good look round before buying a home at Mount Maunganui 12 years ago but when she found what she wanted the “builder’s weeds” weren’t a problem.

“When something is untouched it gives you free rein,” she says.

But things have changed over the years – her initial planting of shrubs has largely been replaced, lawn has been paved, several trees taken out and most of the succulents have gone, thanks to weevil damage.

“They came at night and made a real mess,” Lynley says. “There’s a spray for them but I have so much trouble here with the wind it’s not worth trying. Seeing the mess would make you cry.

“Things keep changing, but that’s how a garden should be,” she says.

Now there is a large collection of bromeliads on a terrace, a flower garden, “I couldn’t be without flowers”, vegetable garden and fruit and ornamental trees, all on a 666 square metre site.

By creating a shelter for plants Lynley also has vertical space to use.

A ponga structure on the terrace features hanging baskets of bromeliads and tillandsias, as well as providing a much-needed windbreak.

“If I grow anything in the ponga logs I have to make sure they’re well tied down, otherwise the wind just whips them out.”

Lynley doesn’t like cobwebs in her bromeliads so has a $2 Shop toothbrush to whisk the spiders’ handiwork out.

Brought up on a South Island apple orchard, Lynley worked as a gardener for about 20 years in Auckland and has grown miniature cymbidium orchid flowers for export – and that extensive plant knowledge came in handy when the hail storm of May 2003 hit.

“As soon as it stopped I was out hosing the hail out of bromeliads so the ice wouldn’t kill the new growth, and I didn’t lose a plant.”

Tough Neoregelia bromeliads can take direct sunlight.

She credits much of her success on her exposed site to an old booklet by Peter Hodson, Hoddy’s Gardening in the Bay of Plenty, loaned to her by a friend’s elderly mother. (Garden with Hoddy, Book One, was published in Tauranga in 1977.)

She always follows Hoddy’s advice to dig as deep as possible before planting, line the bottom of the hole with newspaper to retain moisture and food, fill the hole with vegetable peelings and anything else compostable (Lynley has used phone books and left-over fleece from her spinning), pile the soil back in and plant.

“I had to learn to garden here with the wind, and hard pan not far below the topsoil, and this really works. Hoddy’s pamphlet has been like a little bible to me.

“I put kitchen salt on beetroot plants because Hoddy says so!”

Phlox White Ice is one of Lynley Wilson’s favourite flowers.

This article was originally published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission. It has been extended slightly.

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