Methven & Foothills House & Garden Tour 2020 Saturday 28 November. Take a look inside these two fabulous properties, whose owners have generously opened them for viewing as part of the fundraising effort for the Methven Care Trust new building development. Tickets are available from Methven i-Site. Group bookings email:  admin@methvencaretrust.co.nz. 

words & images: Judy McAuliffe

Someone once told Erena McCaw that a real gardener would never plant roses beside rhododendrons. Her response? “Well it’s just as well I’m not a real gardener then, isn’t it!”  

Fifty years after first moving here, Mount Harding’s homestead – Erena and Peter’s home – looks very much like it has been here for many more years than it has. And in a way, it has. “When we first came, we moved into a home which had begun life as the Mt Harding Estate gig stables.” Erena says. “There was no insulation, and we had ice on the inside of the bedroom windows in winter!”

Their new home, built in 2011, sits on the original footprint of the old house and surrounded by the  fabulous established garden.  

Erena is clearly a very accomplished gardener. The garden is breathtakingly beautiful. “Well, yes, it’s not bad,” she replies.

Starting 50 years ago, she plants only survivors in this very demanding climate, “We fight possums, hares, rabbits, frost, snow and nor’west gales.  I don’t have a spraying regime. If it survives, jolly good, if not, there’ll be something else to replace it. The garden has never been planned. It has just happened over the years, usually to accommodate something else.”

She’s very fond of the upright weeping japonicas which she prunes annually to achieve their unusual shape.  “They’re probably more interesting without their leaves than they are during summer when they look like green haystacks.”

Pointing to a stunning row of flowering white trees, she says, “I LOVE these. They’re Eddie’s White Wonder – the king of the dogwoods. We’ve had heavy frosts this spring and flower buds on the early rhodos and azaleas turned to mush but if there was nothing else in the garden, the dogwoods would still be worth coming out to see.”

Pittosporum, maple trees, dogwoods, magnolia, the odd oak tree and a 70-year-old copper beech all stand tall, whilst vibrant azaleas, hydrangeas, magnolia and rhododendrons provide stunning spring and summer colours of acid yellow, vibrant orange and deep, deep red. The lawn is the jewel of the garden, thick and lush. “Peter’s pride and joy.” 

Behind the house is a stand of redwoods and Wellingtonians – the tallest trees in the Methven district.  During the first Covid lockdown, Erena and Peter’s son John and his family, created what the family has  dubbed ‘the Covid Walk.’   The magnificent trees are so high it’s almost impossible to take them in, and the bark formations are astounding.  

Erena leads the way to the house, which she also designed, with just an eye cast over the plans by the architect to “do something glamourous with the outside pillars.”

The entranceway leads into one long, living, cooking and dining space. “We went with dropped ceilings here to separate the space, so it doesn’t look like a community hall!” Erena laughs.  Generous windows ensure every aspect has a view of the garden.

Much of the furniture has come from Erena and Peter’s parents.  Family photos adorn the walls. The family continuum is strong.

“We wanted a home that wouldn’t date and one that could accommodate the clan at family gatherings.  We planned big bedrooms, big bathrooms and lots of storage space, and that’s what we have. I doubt you’ll ever find a house with more storage!” 

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Judy McAuliffe is a writer, and publisher Essence Mid Canterbury. Her experience in media is extensive and includes approximately 15 years as Creative Director for The Radio Network, writing, and managing the writing of radio advertising, mainly in Invercargill and Greymouth. In the late 1990’s she transferred to Christchurch, moving into an Account Management role with 91ZM. In 2007 she and a business partner set up Essence Mid Canterbury, very quickly adapting her radio-writing skills to print media. Judy became sole owner of Essence Mid Canterbury in June 2014. Judy is a ‘people person’ and has found her niche writing feature stories about the community she lives in and the people who live there. She is also available for freelance writing assignments.