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DAHLIA DELIGHT

words & images: Leanne Gichard

In a quiet street in Ashburton lies a little slice of paradise; one full of colour, scent, shape and form which delights young and old alike.  This gem of a garden is a tranquil haven which I had the privilege to visit recently.  I sat down with Joyce, the creator of this glorious garden, to find out more.

Joyce’s passion for gardening started many years ago when she and her late husband, Alistair, lived in the Lowcliffe area.  “We had a very extensive garden at Lowcliffe and had decided to grow things we could easily shift.  When we made the move into town, we bought 60 dahlias with us,” she says. 

So, how long did it take to establish the garden? “It took around 10 years.  The garden here was almost non-existent – it was all silt.  It had previously been a market garden.  We removed seven truckloads of old trees, so that left us with two apple trees, a golden rain tree and three standard roses!” Joyce exclaims. 

Then began the task of changing the structure of the soil, so that plants would thrive.  “Edges had to be built, silt removed and new soil trucked in,” explains Joyce.  “I always like to put in new plants and one day Alistair said to me, ‘Joyce, if we don’t put in edges, there won’t be any lawn left!’ and he was right,” she laughs.  Compost from three bins are used to keep the garden soil in good condition.  Two plum trees, raspberry canes, blackcurrant bushes and a feijoa tree were planted to provide an abundant supply of fruit.

Joyce belongs to the Ashburton Dahlia Circle and regularly enters dahlia competitions.  She humbly admits to having been the recipient of many a prize and the glorious dahlias in her garden attest to that.  Zorro, a deep red dahlia, with a head the size of a dinner plate, commands attention; stunning roses of every hue are mingled with lilies, begonias and hostas; alstroemeria, snapdragons and a huge selection of fuchsias in breathtakingly vivid colours provide vibrant colour; a Chilean bell flower climbs elegantly over a pergola and Joyce is particularly proud of a brugmansia, which she grew from a cutting.  Commonly known as Angel’s Trumpet, the brugmansia has large pendulous flowers, which are very fragrant and enticing.  But be warned, while this sub-tropical plant entices with its beauty, every part of the plant is toxic and care must be taken when handling it.

 Joyce propagates dahlias and several other plants, but particularly kakabeaks, which are now endangered in the wild.  “It is great to know I can make a difference in helping to keep the kakabeak alive for other generations to enjoy,” Joyce enthuses. 

The dahlias are lifted every year, which takes approximately three weeks.  The stems are cut down and left to mature before lifting, then the tubers are hosed down, dried, labelled and stored in mushroom trays in a purpose built shed, ready to plant again in October.  The garden stakes are then removed and Joyce digs the garden over.  “There are around 600 dahlias in the garden, so I try to lift around 50 a day,” says Joyce.   Varieties include: cactus, pompoms, decorative, anemone, orchid, waterlily and fimbriated.  All grow to different heights and are planted in height order.  “Hot colours are planted up the drive and I have planted a white garden, pink garden and lavender purple garden at the back of the garden to create a restful area,” Joyce explains.

Groups come to visit the garden, often from local rest homes, and Joyce finds it a joy to see the expressions on their faces when they see the garden.  “I set up chairs outside under the silk tree and make them afternoon tea.  After they have had a look around, I often send them away with bunches of flowers to enjoy.  The smiles on their faces make all my hard work worthwhile,” says Joyce tenderly. 

I ask Joyce what it is about gardening she loves the most.  Joyce replies, “Being outside in the fresh air and sunshine.  I really believe gardening keeps you young.”  So, is there anything she would change or is she happy and contented with the garden? “I am always adding something to the garden.  When people say they haven’t got room for anything more in their garden, I think, ‘Really?’  I can always find room to put in something new, it just requires me rearranging a few things,” she says, with a smile.

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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.