TAKING THE LONG VIEW
Vivienne Haldane is inspired by a pair of public gardens – each the legacy of visionary couples.
During a recent trip to Whanganui, I discovered two remarkable gardens: Bason Botanic Gardens and Paloma Gardens. Equally passionate gardeners have been the instigators of each, with a lifetime of devotion to their large-scale projects.
The gardens are relatively close to one another, so after exploring Bason Gardens, which is 11km north of Whanganui, we had lunch at The Yellow House Cafe in the river city, then headed to Paloma Gardens in Fordell, 20km east.
BASON BOTANIC GARDENS
Located at 552 Rapanui Road, Castlecliff, the Bason Botanic Gardens have been designed so that you can drive your car or motorhome around almost every area of the gardens. That’s a bonus if you have limited mobility. There is lots of space for picnicking and free gas barbecue facilities should you wish to stay a while and make a meal – what an excellent place for a family celebration.
The original owner, Stanley Bason, envisaged “a botanic garden focusing on the collection, conservation and preservation of rare plants, while providing a peaceful and beautiful place for people to enjoy and relax.” On that score, this garden has well and truly fulfilled his wish. Contained within this sprawling, 25-hectare landscape are different areas of interest such as a perennial garden, a hothouse containing orchids and begonias, a wetland, herb garden and a succulent garden. There are wide open areas with shady trees, complemented by denser areas of native bush with trails leading throughout. The view from the highest point gives you a perspective over the whole park and surrounding countryside.
My favourite spot is a fenced off perennial garden, flourishing with beds of roses, dahlias, daisies and lilies. Stanley and his wife Blanche poured their energy into this one-acre plot, known as the Homestead Garden. My wandering leads to a grassy spot with broad views over the farming district. Nearby there is a seat to rest on among plantings of fragrant lavender and rosemary. If you feel energetic, take a long flight of steps, lined by towering palm trees, to yet another area of plantings.
STANLEY AND BLANCHE BASON
A young Stanley Bason gazes out soulfully from a sepia photograph on the wall of one of the conservatories. He grew up at Rapanui farm and from a young age worked the land. His father, John Bason, told him he would inherit the property when he died. But in fact, he left it to Stanley’s cousins. That decision was overturned when it was discovered the farm was bankrupt. Stanley managed to persuade the creditors he’d farm it out of debt, which he did.
Being forced to live in such straitened circumstances, he and Blanche (his childhood sweetheart) lived a frugal lifestyle, which they managed by cultivating an abundant vegetable garden and an orchard, with milk and meat from the farm.
In the time they lived on the property the couple planted over 140 camellias, 500 roses and a diverse range of plants from all over the world.
Stanley learned about plants either by discovering what thrived and what didn’t, or reading books on the subject. He was a sensitive soul who found great solace in his garden and nature generally. He poetically observed, “Through the trouble of this world there still runs a thin stream of serenity for those who seek it. The price of a beautiful sunrise is only an hour’s sleep – your own store of wilderness needs only the investment of a few minutes’ drive from the busy city.”
Stanley and Blanche generously bequeathed their property to the Whanganui City Council (WCC) in 1966. Their wish was for it to be developed into a botanical reserve. As part of the agreement, they were able to stay on in the homestead, until both passed away.
The WCC took up the challenge, devised a plan for the reserve, landscaped it, and created a double pond. To this day, the Bason Botanic Gardens continue to be developed and improved. What a legacy Stanley and Blanche Bason have left for so many to enjoy.
Bason Botanic Gardens are at 552 Rapanui Road, Whanganui. Open daily, 8am–dusk.
Paloma Gardens is the creation of Clive and Nicki Higgie. Like Bason Garden, it’s a Garden of National Significance. The Higgies started the project in the mid-1970s and, well, they’ve just kept on going, adding to it year after year. It’s a testament to their passion for plants of every kind, diversity being the operative word.
The garden takes its inspiration from landscapes as varied as the jungles of Asia and Africa’s deserts. I can imagine frosts would count out any number of tropically inclined plants, so it’s interesting to see what has been able to thrive in such a temperate climate.
Clive is a fourth-generation sheep and beef farmer (now mostly retired), and has lived most of his life on the family property near Paloma.
Quirky signs adorn the fences, hinting at the owner’s zany outlook – ‘He who slaps his own face should not cry out’ and there’s a fine line between genius and insanity – I have erased this line’.
At every turn there are delights to admire – beautifully crafted pottery, sculptures, spiky plants, plants with strange appendages, a bell suspended in a red archway, a row of teapots lined up against the greenery. Washingtonia palms line what is known as the wedding lawn, and there’s an oriental-style bridge over a pond where water lilies grow. A purple bougainvillaea scrambles over the side of the Red House, which serves as guest accommodation.
There was a great deal to see and much ‘oohing and ahhing’ as we went. Well done, Clive and Nicki. Bravo! I felt like shouting. You’ve made my day with your bold vision. Your crazy inspirations. Your love of nature. It’s a ‘get lost and forget all your cares and woes’ kind of landscape.
GARDENS WITHIN A GARDEN
Within Paloma (which means ‘dove’ in Spanish) there are different zones.
- Palm Garden: Contains bamboo, ferns orchids and cycads. Many of the 130 palm species at Paloma grow here too.
- Palm Forest: A 20-year-old forest of tall palms underplanted with ground orchids, clivias, bromeliads and arisaemas (cobra lilies).
- Bamboo Forest: Don’t be bamboozled if you think you’re in another country – you’ve just entered a parallel universe where forests of bamboo are the norm. It’s spectacular.
- The Norton Arboretum: Established in the mid-1970s, this was one of the first areas to be developed. Oaks, magnolias and maples grow here, and Southern Hemisphere conifers and temperate-to-subtropical evergreens and oleanders. There’s also a pond and a summer house. Jardin Exotique: Mediterranean palms, cycads, cacti, succulents and many unusual trees.
- The Garden of Death: This garden, also known as GoD, contains a range of poisonous plants. Another of Clive’s crazy inspirations, it points to the working of a mind avid for more information and new experiences. Don’t be afraid, or run away – visitors are guided through and are not to be let loose at any cost.
At Paloma Gardens, the Higgies welcome bookings for wedding ceremonies, celebrations and gatherings. You can also stay at their romantic bed and breakfast, the Red House or the Yellow House. Motorhomes are welcome. The charge is $10 per motorhome per night, plus the $10 entry fee. Cash only.
Paloma Gardens is 20km from Whanganui. A word of caution: the road is narrow and winding, and not in good condition. Currently, logging and gravel trucks are coming in and out of this area. Please take care when you visit and be prepared to pull over, off the tarseal. Improvements to the road are likely to be made by the end of 2021.
Address: Pohutukawa Lane, Fordell.
Open daylight hours every day of the year.
Entry fee is $10.