Living in Wellington, one cannot avoid the wind. In the garden, many plants simply do not succeed, falling off at the first gust or valiantly resisting a north wind only to fall victim to a south wind; their leaves burnt or torn off, their heads destroyed and their trunks twisted.
Successful gardening in our capital depends on adapting expectations and planting to the wind which, in addition to damaging the plants, dries up the garden, adding to the demands placed on the gardener.
One planter who has met these requirements and created a charming windproof garden is Annemarie van der Slot-Verhoeven.
In 2010, van der Slot-Verhoeven, her husband Martijn and their two young children arrived in New Zealand from the Netherlands and moved into their new home in Granada Village.
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The hilly and exposed suburb is named after the Caribbean island; clearly the town planner had a sense of humor.
From the street, the house looks a lot like other houses on Mark Avenue, but the conventional facade hides what is behind it. Going down the narrow path on the right side of the house past the front lawn leads to the rear garden with a flat area of lawn to the left and further to the left a patio. The shore continues in the line of the path, a series of steep terraces equal to any in Italy, closely planted, showcasing the plants and planting styles with which van der Slot-Verhoeven has succeeded in this exposed and windy site.
This multi-level patchwork garden stands in stark contrast to what was there when the family moved in – a paved patio, fences, and grass that had been sprayed over the topsoil. The garden was practically a construction site with eight inches of topsoil covering what van der Slot-Verhoeven describes as “a terrible, rotten, compressed rock”.
A seasoned designer of two gardens in the Netherlands, van der Slot-Verhoeven was confident to establish one in her new home.
To prepare the soil, she dug 30 to 40 cm of poor soil in the flower beds and added horse manure, gypsum and a good garden mix for planting.
Imagining English borders à la Gertrude Jekyll, she planted a lovely garden of flowering plants at the back of the house, filled with roses and lavender.
In the front garden, she planted vegetables. Then the reality of gardening in Wellington struck.
Despite the canvas and the stakes, the wind stripped the lavender hedges on one side and burnt the roses. “The vegetable garden was a disaster. I tried and tried with windbreakers and plastic bottles around the seedlings. It was a learning point.
Planting the front in grass, van der Slot-Verhoeven decided to focus on the back. She uprooted the original plantings and planted olearia to break the wind tunnel on the left side of the house.
After experimenting with various plants, she discovered that callistemons, hebes and hydrangeas did well.
Two years later, van der Slot-Verhoeven leaned over the bank and decided to integrate the first part of it into the garden because it was relatively sheltered from the north. In addition, “in the upper garden on a sunny and windy day, you can hardly sit there, it is so windy”.
“The biggest challenge was that it was so steep and overgrown with gorse, berries and all kinds of horrible things,” she recalls.
Even though the project was intimidating, there were a few bright spots. The soil on the shore was better than that above and gorse was a good breeding shrub for the natives who had self-seeded, providing protection until they were big enough to fend for themselves. . The cleared gorse, left on the bank to deteriorate, further improved the soil.
The family wanted a space that could hold at least two chairs and a table, if necessary to create a flat space. Considering their country of origin, “we had no idea how to deal with steep areas,” but they realized they needed a retaining wall and opted for gabions.
While building the gabions, they noticed a digger through the ravine scraping dirt from the upper level and shoveling it to create a flat area below. “It was a lot easier. We just needed to put some soil.
Over the next year, they bought 20 cubic meters of soil and moved it along the riverbank using wheelbarrows and shovels, careful not to disturb the top garden established using of a shovel. A path was dug and earth was spread to create a flat area. Rocks were purchased from the nearby quarry to demarcate it, and then the area needed to be planted – a lot of planting, which meant a lot of plants.
So while preparing the ground for planting, van der Slot-Verhoeven signed up for a year-long propagation course at Upper Hutt.
It was very hands-on, teaching the students all the techniques of propagation – how to take cuttings from soft and hard wood, grow seeds, divide plants and graft. The students received a cold frame and a misting system. Propagation plants grown along the route, such as hebes and liriopes, were planted on the bank.
When the upper bank was planted, van der Slot-Verhoeven still had dozens of carefully cultivated plants in pots, so decided to sell them on Trade Me. This was the start of Maryflower Nursery.
Initially, the plants were sold online and picked up, but gardeners further afield wanted to buy too, so van der Slot-Verhoeven began shipping orders.
Then people wanted to see the plants before they bought, so a store was created, first a few shelves and expanding to cover the entire flat area behind the house.
Meanwhile, van der Slot-Verhoeven was busy planting the embankment and was now halfway there. This lower area was lined with ponga because “it was nice to show customers different styles of edging.”
The lower part of the garden has been converted into a nursery showcase with an indigenous exhibition garden, a cottage-style area, a shaded area and more specialized areas are planned.
About three years ago the upper part of the garden bank was redone and a hebe garden, a native New Zealand garden incorporating flax, a hydrangea garden and a cottage garden were created.
The demand for the plants from the nursery became so great that there was not enough room in the garden to grow all the plants needed, so a storage area was established in Karori. Plants from both regions are grown outdoors and are therefore adapted to Wellington conditions.
To feed his garden, each spring van der Slot-Verhoeven spreads 1.5 cubic meters of compost in the form of mulch and feeds on sheep pellets and chicken manure. Some plants are also given a dose of fertilizer that is specific to them. Coffee grounds are spread around the blueberries and acid-loving plants such as camellias and rhododendrons. A neem oil spray is used on plants showing signs of black spots.
To keep the banks watered, a vast system of small misting sprinklers on the entire bank is triggered at 1am every other day in summer.
Nowadays, edible cultivation in van der Slot-Verhoeven’s garden is limited to herbs, lettuce and in winter kale for Boerenkool stamppot, a Dutch dish that the family enjoys. There are also grafted apple and blueberries.
A few years ago, Martijn developed a website for the nursery that proved invaluable during the Covid-19 lockdown. They ran a promotion during the level 4 lockdown last year, where if people ordered before level 3 ended, they got a 10% discount. “It’s gone crazy” is how she describes it now.
With 150 orders to take out on the first day of level 3, the kitchen was full of boxes and the whole family, including Luc (11) and Fien (14), were tied up to pack them. Martijn hired a trailer and spent two days delivering orders around Wellington and there were dozens of contactless pickups.
Customers who discovered Maryflower during the lockdown continued to use it; last year was the best ever. Seven part-time employees are now working in the propagation and shipping of the plants and van der Slot-Verhoeven, who works as a scientist as well as in the nursery, also takes care of the garden.
How to visit: Maryflower is open Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Call 022 694 1898 or email [email protected]