Gordon Collier's first major gardening project was on his family's farm, and over 30 years he transformed a sunny clay hillside into an internationally celebrated garden, Titoki Point near Taihape. He's since dedicated his life to gardening, becoming one of New Zealand's most respected advisors. Since retiring Collier's advisory work has included the restoration of the Wellington Government House garden.
A new book Gordon Collier’s Three Gardens shows Titoki Point as well as two of his other home gardens; Anacapri in Taupo and The White House, his current home in Taihape. Gordon talks to NZ Booklovers.
Can you tell us a little about your book Gordon Collier's 3 Gardens and the background to the book.
Holding a good book in ones hand is a great pleasure but for me it must have a hard case. When I left my Taupo home and garden after 20 years I had to down-size so I reluctantly gave Hospice ten cartons, full, from my extensive horticultural library.
Although shepherding sheep on my families farm, 30 miles West from Taihape, was my occupation for most of my working life, I still gardened all those years. In 1965 I began converting a boggy gully and the adjacent 5 acres of steep clay, sunny hillside into a garden; this became Titoki Point. Thirty five years later it had been visited by thousands, the subject of many magazine articles, books and overseas film crews. Looking back I wonder how I did it as it was all made in my 'spare' time, without any money, while having my wife, Annette, and my family to care for. A highlight was be commissioned by John Blackwell of Moa Beckett to write a book on the garden; 'Gordon Collier's Titoki Point,' resulted. Photographed in 1992 over Spring and early Summer by Michael Smith who traveled most weeks over the spectacular Gentle Annie road from Napier, it was published the following year.
Retiring in 2000 to a very small and windy Taupo lake-side section where the soil was nothing but sand and pumice proved a challenge in many ways. A few loads of top soil, a 'deer' fence, shade cloth and a computerized watering system certainly helped. We named the garden Anacapri after a memorable day spent on the Amalfi Coast in Italy. It had to have water- no garden is without, so two pools off the central walkway occupied the center of the house and detached cottage. Remarkable results followed and when I packed up once more in 2019, Anacapri the garden was awarded 6 stars by the New Zealand Gardens Trust, their highest honour.
All this while I had been free-lance writing stories, not necessarily garden related, all over the country for various magazines and was Garden Editor for NZ House and Garden for a time. Then as well the NZ Gardens Trust had Beverley McConnell and I tooting all over New Zealand assessing gardens - serious but great fun and great company. On the garden front I advised Eastwoodhill the National Arboretum at Gisborne for 21 years and the garden at Government House in Wellington in the nineties. There was never a spare moment. I then wrote and self published my memoirs for my 12 grand children - maybe they will read it one day. I called that one " BellsJunction.. Where's that," and followed it up with my fourth book, a smaller one on my Taupo garden called - 'Anacapri.'
After retiring, once more, to my home town Taihape, I started another garden which flourished beyond belief - 700 visitors one day. This one, the cottage and the section were not a exactly a real estates dream to begin with but had wonderful soil and a view as well. Then following the example of E B Anderson, my kinsman, a famous English gardener whose book "Seven Gardens" is on my shelf, I was inspired to write my own Antipodean version... 'Gordon Collier's 3 Gardens." Collecting over 500 images for the publisher, Quentin Wilson to select, kept him quiet for a while; a year long process over the phone and many emails. Such a project requires patience and persistence; Quentin has this and much besides. As I write a number of boxed books have landed on my door step amid yet another thunder storm at the same time.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
Celebration is called for though I feel like a stunned mullet. Maybe a brandy perhaps though its only 2pm; after that perhaps a good lie down.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
Whats next, I hear? My daughter, Meredith Carpenter, herself a keen and qualified horticulturist declares " Dad! No more books." Though now in my 89th year I admit "Never say never," leaving room for hope.
Quentin Wilson Publishing