Euphorbia polychroma sits amongst forget-me-nots, Astelia and red Berberis with weeping willows acting as a backdrop to the sweeping area of lawn.
Golden morning sunshine falls on pin oak trees lining the driveway at Oakhampton Lodge, as I arrive to interview artist-gardener Jackie Watson. I glimpse a hawthorn tree, smothered with red flowers. At its feet are swathes of forget-me-nots, Phlomis (Jerusalem Sage), Borage and showy golden-headed Euphorbia. Burgundy-coloured Berberis bushes anchor the garden along the drive.
It is a gorgeous vista and just one small slice of a four-acre paradise of lawns, trees and herbaceous borders.
As Jackie welcomes me for our interview, she observes that when she and her husband Angus first bought this property 27 years ago, there was nothing here but bare farmland. While oak trees are now synonymous with Ohoka, it was a different landscape in the 1990s when pin oaks were just starting to be planted along Mill Road. The name of their property – Oakhampton Lodge – was not inspired by Ohoka’s oaks; rather, it is a product of Angus’ family history. ‘His grandfather, “Scotty” Bryce (James Bryce), ran a horse training establishment called Oakhampton Lodge in Hornby; he was one of the leading trainers of his day. Angus grew up with the name plate and we’ve taken it with us; this is our third house of that name – we’ve always lived at “Oakhampton Lodge”.’
Jackie recalls sourcing their oak saplings for $10 each from a seller in Christchurch, little appreciating at the time how emblematic these would eventually become. ‘Now, everywhere you go in Ohoka, there are pin oaks! They have become such a marker of Ohoka.’
These were among the first trees they planted and remain a favourite, not least because the mulch created by their autumn leaves is so good for promoting garden growth. Gates by the driveway, designed by Jackie, bear an attractive oak leaf design.
Jackie’s earliest garden memories go back to her English childhood. She remembers exploring grandparents’ gardens in Wandsworth Common and the Sussex Downs, and discovering peonies for the first time at her family’s London home. In adulthood, her penchant for English gardening authors such as Penelope Hobhouse and Beth Chatto has been influential. Jackie and Angus also travelled to England in the mid-1990s, with both Sissinghurst in Kent and Knightshayes in Devon making a big impression.
At Oakhampton, bluebells flourish beneath the oaks and peonies and irises are a garden bed delight. Garden rooms are edged with English beech hedging, Pittosporum and flowering Escallonia. Apricot and yellow roses climb and ramble up and over arches and garden towers. By the house, there is a rather grand Sissinghurst-style formal clipped hedge parterre with a pond in the centre boasting a statue of Aphrodite.
New Zealand became home for Jackie from the age of 15, after her adventurous father led her family here in search of a new way of life. Their plans to join a community in Nelson were abandoned for a more conventional life in North Canterbury. ‘My parents lived at Pines Beach for many years and had a great garden there. Angus’ father also had an amazing vegetable garden in Kaiapoi.
‘This is our third garden. Before this, we lived on a very narrow two acres in Clarkville – too narrow to really do anything with – so that’s why we started looking for somewhere else. This rural-residential subdivision was the first to be developed in Waimakariri. We built the house right in the middle of the property so we could extend the garden all the way around.’
After Jackie’s mother passed away, her father put down roots at Oakhampton and lived there for 17 years, sharing in the garden’s development. ‘He planted the hazelnuts and gum trees here.’
It is a garden of long vistas providing views from every room of the house, linked by lawn and with strong lines defined by hedges and trees.
Jackie and Angus set up Oakhampton Lodge as a bed and breakfast 12 years ago and enjoy sharing their grounds with guests and visitors. Last year, they also began inviting woofers to stay with them and help out around the garden. ‘Our international guests just love it here. They’ll often just sit on the balcony and gaze at the views. We have lots of brides, grooms and wedding guests staying here too.’
Jackie learnt Italian for eight years and adores many of Italy’s Renaissance gardens, such as the terraced hillside garden at Villa d’Este in Tivoli. The Italian influence can also be glimpsed in Oakhampton’s terracotta pots, water features, wisteria and pink-flowering chestnuts. The entrance to the woodland walk is framed by Roman-style columns. ‘More recently we’ve been to Germany and visited the Steinfurth Rose Museum.’
The village of Steinfurth is Germany’s oldest ‘rose village’, with roses having been cultivated there for nearly 150 years and exported all over the world. A number of old German roses have taken root at Oakhampton, such as the pretty shrub rose ‘Fruhlingsgold’. These have joined favoured David Austin stars including ‘Mutabilis’ (a beautiful old rose producing three shades of yellow, pink and red blooms), award-winning shrub rose ‘Teasing Georgia’ and elegant ‘Nevada’. Another gorgeous old rose amongst many is ‘Gloire de Dijon’, a strongly fragrant double rose.
Most plants seem to thrive here, including native tussocks, kōwhai and cabbage trees and it’s a magnet for birdlife including herons, pukekos, ducks and fantails. The garden has a heavy clay soil that is slow to soak up rain, but the plus side is that drought is rarely a problem. With a spring on site, there is more than enough water year-round. It is a strongly seasonal garden with a character that changes throughout the year. ‘In spring, the garden is like a young girl, demure and pretty, but in early summer it changes into a rebellious teenager!’ laughs Jackie.
As the garden matures, so does it naturally change and bring new opportunities. The removal of some over-sized gum trees two years ago opened up a new area that Jackie is developing as a stumpery. She was inspired by Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf, who has long espoused a naturalistic approach, working with herbaceous perennials and grasses.
While still a work in progress, the stumpery is already a superb canvas of forget-me-nots, catnip, Euphorbia, perpendicular Berberis, Phlomis, silver grey Artemisia, soft-leaved Lamb’s-ear, spiky flowers with unlikely names (such as ‘Gooseneck Loosestrife’), dainty shrub roses (‘Jacqueline Du Pré’), yellow-leaved ‘Louis van Houtte’ elms, purple-flowering Verbena bonariensis and globe artichokes.
‘I’ve mostly developed the stumpery using plants from other parts of the garden. I love to look through and see layers and different colours and textures.’
Jackie has worked as a potter, pottery teacher and English teacher. She was a founding member of the Rangiora Pottery Group, had her own kiln for years and is also a talented painter. Her experience as an artist has honed her eye for beauty in the natural world too and deepened her appreciation of it.
As a writer, deputy chair of the Waimakariri Arts Trust and chair of the Kaiapoi-Tuahiwi Community Board, Jackie leads a busy life and is very involved in local affairs. She relishes being able to unwind in the garden; spending a few hours there on a summer evening is never a chore.
Oakhampton remains a family garden too, shared with visiting adult sons and their partners and now grandchildren too, who last Christmas found their presents hidden under the trailing limbs of a Scotch elm. ‘This is not a show garden. It’s a working garden and above all, a playground. We love getting lost in it!’
[ WORDS Kim Newth, IMAGES Lucy Hunter-Weston ]