When life gets too stressed or uncertain, there’s a spot at Stanleigh Garden that can wash it all away.
Try gazing from the gazebo, a plump native bird-printed cushion at your back, a stream rush-tinkling and peaceful music floating from unseen speakers.
But it’s the view from this spot in Donna and Wayne Busby’s country garden that soothes souls.
There’s a large pond, its edges softened by feathery Elegia capensis, flax, agapanthus, self-planted ferns and the weeping swamp cypresss, Taxodium distichum “Cascade Falls.”
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ven closer to the water is a metal dragonfly made by Andrew Bellringer, which hovers over the surface, two white ducks paddling about and the reflections of blue skies or clouds.
But the best view of all is when Mt Taranaki appears from behind scudding or enshrouding clouds. On this day, the maunga is elusive, later tantalising with an edge of snow-clad slope.
“It’s very peaceful,” Donna says. “It’s nice and quiet, and there are tui, pigeons and fantails.”
Just to prove it, a kereru flap-whirs from tree to tree behind the gazebo. “Then you hear them cooing and can’t help but say ‘good morning’.”
Stanleigh Garden, on Upper Dudley Rd, Inglewood, is one of 40 properties open for the Taranaki Garden Festival from October 30 to November 8.
The festival has partnered with the Taranaki Arts Trail for the first time, so for the first three days of the garden celebration, people can visit galleries and open studios featuring 85 artists. The Taranaki Sustainable Backyards Trail is also on at the same time and showcases about 35 properties.
As part of her health and safety instructions to visitors, Donna is thinking of adding: “Beware of swooping pigeons.”
Birds abound in this garden – some with sweet encouragement. “I feed the birds with bananas and sugar water out the front. We get heaps of wax eyes,” she says.
“If I don’t put enough sugar in the water, they don’t drink it. Nathan (son) says you are going to have all these diabetic birds around here.”
Nathan is one of their three adult sons.
Donna and Wayne have been married 36 years and have two grandchildren aged seven and five.
The grandparents have made a playground for them at the front of the garden, just beyond Donna’s immaculate lawn, which she feeds and feeds.
Just like the wax eyes. Donna loves watching the wee birds, also known as silvereyes or tauhou, as they stand their ground and boss each other.
“They stand there and shake their wings really fast,” she says, using her bent arms to demonstrate.
“But when it rains, the little birds (sparrows) come in here,” she says looking up at the gazebo roof, where a wagon wheel hangs. “I’ve given them a perch.”
The Busbys claimed their own place to settle 25 years ago on land that was the run-off of Donna’s family farm. “It was a paddock with a little creek. We did the house part of the garden and it expanded.”
She had the vision for the large pond because of their business specialises in drainage and diggers, and she knew Wayne, a hard-working man who “never stops”, had dug out ponds for customers.
The water for the pond comes from the farmland – not from the mountain.
During lockdown, Wayne brought his diggers home and parked them up. Donna even took a photo of the unmoving diggers to show people he had truly stopped work and posted the pic on social media.
Wayne was low-key for the first two weeks, she says.
“After that he started getting edgy.”
But Donna had the best antidote for her husband – help with all the jobs that needed doing around the high-maintenance garden, which is heading towards its 15th year in the garden festival.
Together they cleared out the red robin hedges because it got a fungal blight. “It was stunning and I loved it. But then it had dead sticks everywhere and it looked horrible.”
They built fences and painted them black, going through nearly four 10-litre buckets of paint.
Armed with her “best toy ever”, Donna let loose with her little Stihl chainsaw. “I can just go out and limb up branches. I did get accused of limbing up too much.”
She has moved plants, had to find a new place to hang her pots because the tree she displayed them on died and had to be taken out.
Donna has been experimenting by hanging them on the rotary clothesline, which can be viewed from behind an old bedhead painted black and used as a gate.
In this area, there is a newly planted row of Magnolia “Teddy Bear”, a line of hostas and a rock garden softened by white-flowering convolvulus. “It’s been a bit like musical plants.”
The rocks throughout the garden come straight from their land. Those found when digging the foundations for the house were used to form the rock garden.
On this sunny Tuesday, the garden festival is just over two weeks away, but it looks perfect now, although the Viburnum rosacea has yet to open its pink pompoms.
“It’s like a big wall of them and they are really eye-catching.”
Near this is the resting place of the family’s beloved dog, Izzy, who died two months ago, aged 14.
One of the fox terrier’s habits was picking up stones and dropping them everywhere. Fittingly, her grave is covered with stones.
As they dug up the land to build fences, they came across many stones and Wayne would always think of Izzy.
The garden is protected by Cryptomeria japonica “Egmont” from Cedar Lodge Nurseries, as are the garden entry sentries – eight Thuga occidentalis “Smargard”.
Asked what the garden means to him, Wayne says: “I do enjoy it, but it’s a lot of work. It certainly doesn’t do itself. It’s a lot of labour, it’s busy.”
But he does find it quiet, peaceful and he enjoys the birdlife.
Later, he returns to add: “I don’t think we get a chance to sit down and enjoy the garden because there’s always something to do.”
Donna always turns to the beauty they have created – a tiny cottage surrounded by its own wee garden, complete with a fake chimney where birds love to nest.
There’s a glade draped with white chiffon, which features a chandelier plus ornate wrought-iron table and two chairs, all painted white.
In contrast there’s a mass of red flowers on Rhododendron “Grace Seabrook”, but nearby is the stunning Rhododendron “Lemon Lodge”, its soft flowers slowly opening.
“I really love this time of year because everything bursting out and you get the new leaves, the hostas coming out.”
She also loves finding new treasures, including double lemon-green hellebores and white trilliums.
A white-painted steel heart made by Andrew Bellringer frames the garden and the mountain, when the clouds float away.
Donna and Wayne have placed wooden windows around their property to capture landscape pictures and, under a large covered area, pots of scented dianthus sit on tables.
“I like details, so I’m my own worst enemy,” she says.
Stanleigh Garden has been a wedding venue – and it might be again, but not this season.
“This year we are going to have a summer to ourselves.”
However, the garden festival is also looking busy, with four buses already booked to come and the Busbys opening up their paddock for the 10 days.
Stanleigh Garden is also the afternoon tea destination for a Discover Taranaki guided coach tour called Fresh Herbs, Fluffy Alpacas and a Fabulous Garden. It’s on November 2, from 1pm to 5pm.
When the Covid-19 pandemic alert levels were announced, Donna initially feared what could happen – along with many New Zealanders.
“We are at ease with it now but in the beginning we were worried about the uncertainty. We were cautious about going out. It’s taken quite a bit to get out there again.”
Then she laughs because in a couple of weeks the garden will be inundated with people for the annual festival run by TAFT.
“I think this year is going to be like we’ve never seen it before with people wanting to get out and about.”
At Stanleigh Garden they will find a place of great peace, beauty, birds and Donna’s extra-special details.
“We’re grateful that we have our own safe slice of paradise.”