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The Jewels in our Ground
Words: Bethney McLennan, The Dominion Post, 7 October 2006



The winner of the competition to design a very public section of Wellington Botanic Garden explains her vision.

Bringing the WOW factor to the Wellington Botanic Gardens

It’s a standard rule of public gardens that the beds and borders are for looking, not touching. The year however, when it came time to renew the Innovative Garden, Wellington Botanic Gardens staff put the challenge to the public by way of a competition to design the new layout and planting.


The Innovation Garden, which faces the main entrance, aims to present new ideas for garden styles. It can feature new plants or old plants in a new setting.


The design had to link in with the Wearable Arts festivities in Wellington and have the WOW factor befitting the site, which is the first area most visitors to the gardens see.


The site is best described as irregular, and curves around the trunk of a large Norfolk Pine. It also has to be costed to meet a budget.


Wellingtonians were clearly not daunted – the response was impressive both in numbers and quality of the designs. The eventual winner was Ruby Necklace designed by Rachael Matthews of HEDGE Garden Design & Nursery.


Rachael says she came up with the idea of a necklace because of the shape of the area, sloping gently out from the central point, suggested a neck and shoulders. “I thought it would please at least half the population of Wellington,” says Rachael.


The shape of the bed meant that not all went according to plan. “It is a completely irregular shape so that when it came to doing the planting you couldn’t plant by a grid or anything like that. We had to do it all by eye, but the garden’s staff are used to working with all sorts of unusual installations, so we had lots of fun putting it in. We ended up just tweaking it slightly from the design in terms of fit. I kept the design simple, and it’s really relied on structure and colour.”


There’s still a lot of growing before the garden reaches its peak, but Rachael’s plant choices are striking. Lophomyrtus x ralphii “Lilliput”, which makes up the “collar” of the necklace, is filling out well, and in summer’s sun and drier conditions it will colour up to a rich wine before turning bronze through winter. The collar is edged with Buxus sempervirens, which repeats the permanent hedge already in place above the garden. At the moment, this is a brilliant green and at the height of its spring growth.


Bright green continues in the ground cover; Bacopa cordata “Blizzard” a low growing cushion plant that is smothered in sparkling white flowers in summer – think diamonds.


For the “rubies”, Rachael chose Clematis montana reubens and 

Coprosma “Fireburst”, one of the newer hybrids of the native Copsosma. The foliage of this dense, small leaved shrub is bright red and glossy. It clips very well and is already shaping into topiary domes that are rimmed with miniature Agapanthus “Tinkerbell”.


Though it’s currently sport soft pink flowers, Rachael chose the Clematis for the deep bronze new foliage. The vines, which are being trained over large domes, will be clipped to keep their shape.


The Coprosma domes have been planted densely to get good cover with ones central plant surrounded by up to either or nine smaller ones, some of which could be removed later should they become crowded.

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