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Frensham – A New Zealand Garden by Margaret Long and Juliet Nicholas


Christchurch photographer Juliet Nicholas needs no introduction to anyone in the New Zealand gardening community. Her lush images have graced the pages of numerous magazines and books, most recently in Flourish, a collaboration with Barb Rogers.


Frensham celebrates the vision and commitment of gardener and writer Margaret Long who created her magnificent garden during the past 27 years. And she did this despite being a self-described ‘late bloomer’ with little knowledge of where and how to begin.


Margaret acknowledges that against the advice of friends, she set out with no plan and – initially - no help to design the garden, and only a latent interest in plants. After four years she opened the garden for its first fundraising event.


Since then Frensham has been open for tours and fundraising events with a small nursery attracting visitors and creating a ready audience of keen supporters for the garden. These days Margaret also has other gardeners to work with and she acknowledges their invaluable contribution and support.


But Margaret admits her grand project was already a few years old before she began to think seriously about the fundamentals of design. An overview of the garden from the upper story of her recycled brick home enabled Margaret to see gaps.


She began to think of the garden in the same way as she thought of the interior of a home, carefully informed by a strong desire to ensure that each new plant was situated where it would flourish.


Additionally she gave serious consideration to grouping of plants according to colour and foliage, and how each plant would look throughout the seasons. It could be argued that it was at this point that Margaret herself had ‘grown’ into a true gardener.

In common with the great gardeners, she is happy to admit to failing and to move a plant which is not thriving or suitably placed. Margaret learnt to work alongside nature. She resists the urge to allow the subjective decisions of visitors to the garden to influence her own sense of aesthetic.


As a frustrated beginner gardener Margaret eventually began to lament the paucity of valuable knowledge offered by garden magazines and journals. And with the same diligence she had applied to learning about gardening she launched The Gardener’s Journal in 2008.


Frensham – the book - is arranged according to the months In this way it provides keen gardeners with a year round overview of the garden. By chance I recently borrowed a book from the library about Beth Chatto’s magnificent UK garden – long an inspirational benchmark for gardeners world-wide – which was arranged seasonally.


The thoughtful layout makes this book not just a visual delight but also a good guidebook for aspirational gardeners.


Reviewer: Peta Stavelli

Quentin Wilson Publishing, Hardcover $59.99


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