On the road: Trott’s Garden

Trott’s Garden:

Where: 371 Racecourse Rd, Ashburton (off SH1).
Open: September to May, Monday to Saturday, 9am-4pm.
Cost: $10 per adult.
More information: Phone 03 308 9530 or see the website

This time last year I was in the South Island attending the Young Scientist’s graduation in Dunedin – and finally realising my dream to detour slightly off State Highway 1 and find the Trott garden in Ashburton as we headed back to the airport in Christchurch. It’s one of the best private gardens in the country and adheres to a sign in the entry – a garden is not an object but a process. Read on …


Photo: Alan Trott

Alan Trott always wanted a big garden, so although it takes several hours to mow the lawns, he’s not complaining.

The 2.8ha Trott’s Garden, on the outskirts of Ashburton in Canterbury, has been judged a garden of national significance, applauded for its spacious layout, thoughtful plantings and impeccable knot gardens.

German author Kristin Lammerting, who spends part of her year in New Zealand (she’s co-owner of Palmco in Kerikeri), has described the carefully laid out and clipped box patterns in a book as the “most sensational” and largest knot gardens in the world. The smaller garden includes a viewing platform so the patterns may be appreciated, and in the other direction also overlooks the hosta area.


The smaller knot garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson


The main knot garden. The 1916 chapel in the background was moved from Ashburton in two pieces in 1990 and is used for weddings and events.Photo: Alan Trott

“They’re true knot gardens,” Alan says, “not a parterre which is simply a geometric shape. Our hedges form knots.”

He and wife Catherine bought the property in 1978 and Alan set about designing a pond, a woodland area and a 110m-long double herbaceous border, opening to the public in 1984 after many requests.


Part of the long border. The flowering plant in the foreground is Persicaria mollis. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“I’m completely self-taught,” Alan says. “You can’t learn by reading books, you have to do it. People said it would be too exposed for a garden because there was no shelter. I can listen to advice but I don’t have to take it.”

He worked in an office for 22 years before “going through menopause” and throwing in his job to became a fulltime gardener. “I’d had a gutsful,” he says of the office job. “so I took a gamble and made the garden my job.”


Euphorbia Dixter. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“I don’t dwell on the past – you’ve always got to be thinking of new ideas and new plants,” Alan says of his garden. “If something doesn’t perform, it comes out. I’m keen on the new perennials so I’m running out of room. I’m also getting a lot of new dahlias from Keith Hammett in Auckland for the red garden.”


A view of a portion of the red border. Photo: Sandra Simpson

He added a 65m long and 5m wide red garden in 2005, a bed that provided inspiration for a 2009 Ellerslie Flower Show in Christchurch, with the ‘I See Red’ team of Alan, Sir Miles Warren, Pauline Trengrove and Marilyn McRae winning gold.

Plants used in the red garden include Malus Samba with its plum-size fruit, red or purple Oriental lilies, dahlias and poppies, purple amaranthus, purple-leaved maples, Berberis Little Favourite as an edging and spires of Berberis Helmond Pillar. Sure, the garden’s not exactly red – and how hard on the eyes would that be? – but it is an exciting use of plant textures and colours on the red-purple (and orange-brown to a lesser extent) spectrum.


Photo: Alan Trott

Alan’s eye for detail throughout the garden, which also includes a pond and a silver birch lawn, is extraordinary, making this a garden well worth a small detour.

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

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