Few have advanced the art of gardening in this country as much as Gordon Collier. New Zealand’s most passionate plantsman and garden designer extraordinaire needs no introduction to garden lovers, and Gordon Collier's Three Gardens highlights the three beautiful gardens he has created. Gordon talks to NZ Booklovers.
Can you tell us about the three gardens you created?
When I left my Taupo home and garden after 20 years, I had to downsize, so I reluctantly gave Hospice ten cartons, full, from my extensive horticultural library.
Although shepherding sheep on my family's farm, 30 miles West of 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 being 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.
To begin a garden, a collection of conifers was planted as a background to the two acres below, which were later intensively gardened. I always maintained that big is not necessarily beautiful. However, when we retired in 2000, we left behind a garden that is still remembered by many. It's best not to go back, though; gardens are not pictures hanging on a wall and time marches on.
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 topsoil, 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 centre 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 Eastwood Hill 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 grandchildren - maybe they will read them one day. I called that one Bells Junction. 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 exactly a real estate's 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.
How did you celebrate finishing your book?
As I write, a number of boxed books have landed on my doorstep amid yet another thunderstorm at the same time. Celebration is called for though I feel like a stunned mullet. Maybe a brandy perhaps though it's only 2pm; after that, perhaps a good lie down.
What is next on the agenda?
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