April 23, 2021

Living in harmony with nature

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By VIRGINIA WINDER From Stuff Taranaki Daily News

For a decade, writer Virginia Winder has gently nagged friends to write a story about their Oakura garden. When the OK came, she found a place of remembered people, organised colour and recycled bottles.

Through a verdant avenue of plane trees and ponga sits a hideaway lovingly created over a dozen years.

Kim Jennings and Doreen Piquemal own two hectares of land by the historic Koru Pa. They have turned about one hectare into a well-tamed garden and the rest is planted in trees and grazed by sheep.

They bought the property in 2002, and moved on to the land in 2005.

Fresh from time in England, they blithely planted their first garden with broccoli and pretty flowers, admiring how lovely it looked.

“We came back the next day and it was annihilated,” Kim says. “There wasn’t even a stalk.”

Doreen laughs: “We didn’t have a clue what had happened.”

They quickly discovered the cause – rabbits.

Kim’s brother and father David thwarted the pests by helping to build an enclosure from recycled corrugated iron.

Today there are no signs of rabbits, but the neighbour’s cat, which the women have nicknamed Tiger, follows us, adding plaintive yowls to the conversation.

The feline becomes particularly noisy beside a wall hung with a variety of bird ornaments. “The garden gets absolutely full of birds,” Kim says. “We are woken up by a beautiful dawn chorus every day.”

Past a purple garden, we tread on colourful mosaic pavers made by Kim. She learnt the art from a long-time friend in New Plymouth, and has made dozens and dozens of the sturdy stepping stones.

These pavers match the hot garden, fiery with penstemons, flax, coreopsis, cannas, South African bulbs, dahlias and gazanias. There are also ceramic poppies and pukeko sitting among this warm offering.

“Doreen is the colour police,” Kim says.

She’s strict on what hues go where and is forever pulling out wrongly placed plants and shifting them to more appropriate spots.

But some, like the jockey caps (tigridia) have been allowed to stay put. They have self-seeded in the orchard, beneath pears, plums, apples and citrus.

CDs hang from a fruit tree in an effort to ward off feathered fiends.

Does it work? “No!” Kim says. “The kereru eat every single Hawera plum.”

Rosellas are other pests, and a bright bird flies over while we’re standing there.

“The flax here are full of tui all day,” she says, as one arrives on cue.

Beneath many of the fruit trees are mass plantings of comfrey. “It shelters the roots in the hot weather,” Doreen says.

“And it’s good for bees and pollination of the fruit trees,” Kim adds.

Comfrey is planted all over the garden and it’s used to make comfrey tea in a 44-gallon drum with a tap. The vessel is stuffed full of plant material, including flowers (after the bees have visited them), and then filled up with water and left to stew.

The resulting tea is poured into containers and used all over the garden to enrich the soil beneath plants.

“Something like that is easy and we get an endless source of free organic fertiliser.”

There are no chemicals used in this garden – everything is natural and organic.

Compost bins abound, as do edibles.

In raised beds by the kitchen, they are growing herbs and salad greens. One lettuce, a radicchio-like plant, came from the lawn of Doreen’s sister, Jeannie, who lost her life to cancer this year. The lettuce, which produces purple flowers, was mowed over again and again, but kept coming up.

In here, it’s been left to go to seed, so they’ll never lose it.

Onwards, we discover the beginning of one this garden’s sparkling stars – a long and flowing retaining wall made with disused wine bottles.

“There’s over 5000 bottles,” says Kim, making it clear that, no, they haven’t drunk all that wine.

The bottles have come from the recycling centre, friends and Okurukuru Café & Winery.

“It’s like a dry-stone wall. If you imagine that bottles are like stones in Derbyshire and Yorkshire.”

There are eight layers of bottles in the wall, which extends nearly the length of the garden. There are other retained spots and also sturdy bottle seats.

Lots of trees in the garden were given to them by good friends Steph and Brett Lye, now apple growers who own Maple Park Orchard near Waitara.

The women point out dogwood, melia, gleditsia and judas trees that tell of their long friendship.

Nearby is Doreen’s white garden – again strictly colour-coded.

For those who have always wanted a white garden, this one is a perfect example of what can be grown. She has planted phlox, rugosa roses, cistus, irises for the spring, narcissi, pieris, abutilon, poppies, petunias, lilies, shasta daisies and hellebores. Astelia adds silver to the mix.

They have created beds around the house and, in the middle of the extensive lawn, is an island of flowers and shrubs, divided into thirds of colour – more white, maroon and pink.

Kim’s mosaic pavers, all with green designs, define the thirds. “We’ve put the pavers close together so you have to walk slowly and enjoy the garden. Gardeners are always in a hurry,” she says.

The maroon slice is planted with penstemons, fluffy headed knautia, a Japanese maple, Aeonium schwarzkopf and a dahlia from Jeannie.

In the pink piece, there’s a dahlia called “Kim” from her mother Jennifer.

Hydrangeas in the gardens were a gift from Kim’s Aunty Shirley, nicknamed “Brown Owl”.

While they love these mop-headed bushes, Doreen doesn’t think the blue one is in the right place. She keeps cutting the flowers off and slowly it’s turning more purple.

Both say that much of the garden is about their journey in life. There are plants and art given by friends and whanau, and many trees planted in memory of loved ones they’ve lost.

A witch hazel commemorates Doreen’s dad Tom Smith, banana palms were given by Jeannie, a yellow rose David Austin called Molineux celebrates her mum’s maiden name and a paulownia is a memorial to nephew Matt.

“It took 10 years to flower and the chainsaw was about to come out and then it flowered – so sometimes you’ve got to threaten them,” Kim says.

Nearby is a lemon verbena, which most people think of as a herbal bush for making tea. This one’s a tree.

Beyond this is the valley, which began with a rough planting plan. “We got about 130 teeny weeny plants, all native trees, and flax and hebes and we just dug holes in the paddock and they have just grown,” Doreen says.

“Then we planted all the specimen trees,” Kim adds. “They’re lovely for the sheep – they have the shade of the trees – and for the birds. Nature just loves it when you plant a tree.”

The vege patch is mostly made using raised beds, which keep rabbits at bay, provides free-draining soil and are easy for the women to work in.

Hooped covers, ingeniously made using hoses threaded with stiff wire and wrapped with netting keep the strawberries safe from birds.

There are more beds filled with vegetables and, close by, a kiwifruit vine is already dripping with baby fruit.

A walk-in blueberry cage has bushes laden with fruit and a grapevine is similarly protected and prolific.

Raspberries are out in the open, and Kim says there are always flowers growing to support the bees her brother-in-law keeps on the land.

At the end of the property is a collection of tree mulch – everything is used on this property – and then there’s the sound of rushing water. Below is the Ōākura River, which wraps around Koru Pa and beyond is a glimpse of the Tasman Sea.

This is a haven enjoyed by friends and visitors from afar, with help from gardener Lin.

But mostly by Kim, Doreen – and long-eared, hippity-hopping pests.

“Actually, we like watching the rabbits, even though they are a nuisance,” Doreen says. “They are very cute. I call them Flopsy, Mopsy, Peter and Cottontail.”

“We don’t actually want them,” Kim is quick to say.

“We don’t encourage them,” Doreen continues.

This land means a lot to them.

“Sometimes when I’m coming up from the vege garden, I think ‘did we really make this garden?’ because every single thing we planted,” Doreen says.

“For me it feels like we are in harmony with nature. It’s so quiet and peaceful,” Kim finishes.

– Stuff


Young kiwifruit hang from a vine laden with furry edibles. GRANT MATTHEW/STUFF

The walk-in blueberry cage makes it easy for gathering fruit. GRANT MATTHEW/STUFF

Raised beds are the way to go for easy gardening, Kim says. GRANT MATTHEW/STUFF

Kim Jennings (left) and Doreen Piquemal have created a chemical-free hideaway by Koru Pa at Oakura. GRANT MATTHEW/STUFF

Comfrey keeps the roots of fruit trees cool in the hot weather. GRANT MATTHEW/STUFF

Gazanias add fire to the hot garden, which is complemented by Kim’s bright Pasifika-inspired mosaic pavers GRANT MATTHEW/STUFF

To keep the rabbits away, this Molineux rose is protected by netting GRANT MATTHEW/STUFF

Doreen has created this white garden nearly the house. GRANT MATTHEW/STUFF

These maroon knautia flowers produce a large number of seeds. GRANT MATTHEW/STUFF

By placing these home-made pavers close together, people have to take their time walking through the maroon and pink garden. GRANT MATTHEW/STUFF

Tiger’, the neighbour’s cat, joins in the garden tour. GRANT MATTHEW/STUFF

21122017 News GRANT MATTHEW/STUFF Garden: Kim Jennings and Doreen Piquemal, Koru Hill Pa Rd, Oakura, Taranaki.

A secondary bottle wall used for retaining in the garden by Koru Pa. GRANT MATTHEW/STUFF

This purple flower is growing on a lettuce plant that came from lawn of Doreen’s sister, Jeannie. GRANT MATTHEW/STUFF

For more on this story go to: https://www.stuff.co.nz/taranaki-daily-news/news/100225014/living-in-harmony-with-nature

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