Can gardening be defined as art? Anne Hudson explores this concept and takes us on a tour of Flaxmere, Penny Zino’s garden in North Canterbury.
Penny Zino had a vision. She wanted to create something of beauty that complimented the surrounding landscape, blending in with the form of the North Canterbury hills, river and terraces.
There is no doubt Flaxmere is a work of art, but this artist had to truly understand how it would form over time. How will the plants grow? What will they look like in different seasons, and in their juvenile and mature states? What will the weather do to them? Is there enough water or shelter for them to grow? The painter can dab his or her colour onto the canvas and there it is, they do not have to wait and see how it might develop over time. The garden artist must see into the future and take risks with the elements. This is art in the environment.
Flaxmere is a mature garden with a Japanese bridge crossing over ponds covered in lily pads. One wonders, was she inspired by Monet’s paintings? In another part of the garden, a swampy area has been planted with New Zealand beech trees and other native plants, reminiscent of a mountain walk. The variety of beech trees is testament to Penny’s botanical knowledge.
Each visit provides some new design. A playful swirl of tussock grass draws the eye down from a formal lawn into the native area, and pathways gently lead you to new vistas. Floral beds and neat edges give way to paths and loose planting.
A rose garden and pool offer a formal layout, and from here the eye pans to a theatrical view of the mountains framed by poplars and a lovely wooden gate, beyond which a mown path leads into the field and almost to infinity. It is these vistas that have earned Penny her artist status and her work recognition as a Garden of National Significance by the New Zealand Gardens Trust.
A recent visit to the Netherlands to study with the renowned landscape architect Piet Oudolf has been the inspiration for a new area of mixed grasses and annuals. They grow to a height of about 1m, offering an expanse of varied colour and texture. Penny continues to try out new ideas and new plants in this North Canterbury environment.
Penny has designed and constructed much of this garden herself. Its structure and layout, the perfectly created vistas and wandering water features, plus the stonework and planting, point to the work of an artist – but can we describe the garden as a work of art?
A garden is a strong metaphor of change and flux. Each time one enters the garden it is different, dictated by those elements that affect all life forms. This garden is no exception, and provides a constant reminder to us that life has a cycle; that renewal and death are part of all life cycles. We learn to understand our place in the natural world by taking a walk in this beautiful landscape. The sublime, the romantic, the benign and the poisonous all co-exist within this work of art – one which works conceptually as well as formally.
Flaxmere is open by appointment to the public and is available for garden tours, weddings and events. Each year, at the end of October, Art in a Garden is held at Flaxmere, showcasing not only the beautiful garden but also sculpture, painting, ceramics, glass, and jewellery, providing us with an opportunity to immerse ourselves in aesthetic pleasure.