Thu, Oct 19, 2023 8:00 AM
This year Rapaura Springs Garden Marlborough celebrates its 30th anniversary. Adrienne Matthews takes a look at the event that draws thousands to the region and brings the community together.
Each year as spring edges closer to summer, the Marlborough region readies itself for New Zealand’s premier garden event, Garden Marlborough. Sponsored by Raupara Springs Winery, this year’s event is its thirtieth anniversary.
Showcasing the pinnacle of horticultural excellence that has been achieved across the wide diversity of gardens on the popular garden tours and accompanied by an array of related activities, it draws over 2000 people annually.
That this highly-acclaimed event takes place at all is thanks to its original founders, Richard Macfarlane of Winterhome, Carolyn Ferraby of Barewood and Geraldine ‘Puddy’ Sheild of Bankhouse, along with the then local tourism manager, Maryanne Webber. All understood the benefit of visiting great gardens and the inspiration that brings, along with the benefits to the local community. A committee was established to bring the dream to life that also included David Robinson, Tim Crawford, Jeremy Jones, Keren Mitchell and president Ralph Ballinger OBE.
“From the outset, Garden Marlborough was always going to be more than just a garden show,” says Tim Crawford. “It is more like Marlborough on show, hosted by the whole province. A major objective has always been to treat everyone attending as though they are a personal guest and this, along with the hospitality Marlborough businesses provide, has contributed to many people returning over and over again.”
Liz Morrow, who has established her own garden of international significance near Warkworth, is attending for the tenth time, bringing twenty-six others with her. “The variety of the gardens is such a strength,” she says. “Having the opportunity to meet the owners and make friendships with other garden enthusiasts from around the country and abroad is such a pleasure, and there is always something new to see and learn. With so many plant nurseries disappearing, the garden fete is fantastic. It is very amusing to see the plane loaded up with plants when we return home,” she says.
Many of the gardens have been on the tour programme for the whole thirty years and six are members of the New Zealand Gardens Trust, meaning they are gardens of national and/or international significance. Gardeners never stay still for long, and their gardens reflect their energy and enthusiasm with many having grown in size and stature throughout the decades.
Huguette Michel-Fleurie of Hortensia House Garden finds herself often undertaking new planting. “When you have large groups coming it motivates you to do more,” she says.
It will be the last year for Garden Marlborough patron Carolyn and Joe Ferraby’s famous Barewood garden at the event. “After thirty years of developing and loving this garden, we are planning to sell,” says Carolyn.
“It is time for new adventures and a property is something that we feel is just on loan for the time you have it, however long that it is.”
“Being part of Garden Marlborough has been a wonderful experience,” she continues. “One of the original aims was to attract people to the region and it certainly does that. It is a garden event for gardeners, and it has been important to always include a range of events such as workshops and interesting speakers. Our overseas presenters have frequently told us it is the best event they have ever been to, thanks to the outstanding organisation and friendliness of everyone involved. That makes us all very proud,” she says.
The format of the event has changed little over the years, simply because it is so successful. A formal dinner has been replaced by a garden cocktail party at which the Bayley’s sponsored art auction takes place. “As a not-for-profit, registered charity, we receive financial support from local businesses and community organisations, but profits from our charity art auction and fundraising activities go to help fund local community projects that promote the pleasures and benefits of gardening and enhance Marlborough’s environment,” explains the event’s marketing manager Amanda McRae. “This year we are helping support a new garden and landscaping project at Alzheimers Marlborough.”
Each year the organisation also awards a scholarship to someone to study for a degree in horticulture or landscape architecture at Lincoln University, preferably an applicant from the Marlborough region.
The Stihl Garden Fete on the Sunday is a must-visit with everyone welcome to shop for plants and artisan products from a huge range of stallholders.
Planning for each year’s event begins straight after the finish of the last one. The committee then get a few months off over the summer before being back in February to plan the next one in earnest.
“Brainstorming ideas for the next event happens first and there are a number of sub-committees set up which each have different roles,” explains event manager for the sixth year, Jo McCormick. “Most people don’t have any idea of the huge amount of work behind the scenes. I am one of only two paid staff so much of the work needing to be done is dependent on the incredible contribution made by the committee members and volunteers.”
There is no doubt that the Marlborough community is one of the greatest strengths behind the successful and much-loved event as the number of volunteers needed to make it run like the clockwork it does is substantial. Pat Jones has had her garden in the Lower Wairau included in the tours since the event’s inception and has been a hard-working volunteer, including managing the enormous registration process for twelve years. “It has been a lovely organisation to work with and be involved in,” she says.
Robyn King took over the role from Pat. “I don’t know why she passed it onto me as she was only almost eighty, but I love it,” she says. “I manage 18 volunteers and we personally greet everyone who has enrolled and answer all their questions. We are starting to have younger people volunteering which is exciting and we all have loads of fun.”
A large job is filling the 2000 information bags given to attendees. “We are helped with that by parents and grandparents from the local school,” she says.
The workshops held as part of the event are hugely popular. This year they range from cooking demonstrations to floral arranging, seed planting, dahlias, growing mushrooms, living and planting in harmony with the Māori lunar calendar, the meaning of trees, growing fruit trees and how to espalier them, contemporary garden design and even a cocktail masterclass. There will also be the screening of ‘Wildside’, the story of one of Britain’s most unique gardens.
One of the event’s 30 year highlights was the visit of internationally-acclaimed plantsman and longstanding head gardener at England’s Great Dixter garden, Fergus Garret, and he will be appearing again, this time by video link. Arriving from the UK in person for the second time will be the very popular Land Gardeners, Bridget Elworthy and Henrietta Courtauld, who will be sharing their latest ideas on soil health and how to create diverse and beautiful gardens.
“The influence of Garden Marlborough extends well beyond the event itself with over $200,000 having been raised from the art auctions for local community initiatives,” says Tim Crawford. “Over 2000 trees have been planted in the region and there has been an increase in regional pride. There really is nothing quite like it and the joy it brings to so many is worth every ounce of effort.”
Rapaura Springs Garden Marlborough
8-12 November 2023