Carolyn Campbell grew up in a family of gardeners in Lower Hutt. Her father, John Eaton, was an amateur plant breeder and created the ‘Rainbow’ turnip, also known as ‘Bright Lights’ turnip, which is still popular today.
In her own garden, Campbell ignored her mother’s advice to plant shrubs first to form the bones of the garden, and instead planted hundreds of annuals. “Years later I saw their point and the bushes went in.”
Snowdrops in June herald the start of the gardening year, followed by crocuses in July, mini daffodils (‘Tete-a-tete’ and ‘Jetfire’), then later varieties like ‘Thalia’ and ‘Cassata’.
The first tulips start after the daffodils and bloom gradually for about six weeks. Next up are Dutch and irises, roses, lilies and Japanese irises.
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From January to May it’s the perennial turn, with masses of dahlias in summer and chrysanthemums in May. The jungle garden is at its peak in late summer.
The main attraction of the garden are the tulips and the highlight of Campbell’s gardening year is the selection of next season’s bulbs.
Her love of tulips began with ‘Menton’, a large peachy single that bloomed again for several years before disappearing. Luckily, the recently released ‘Menton Unique’ offers the same gorgeous sunset tones in a very full, floral peony. “I love tulips because of the many colors they come in. Every spring your garden can take on a different atmosphere depending on the combinations planted.”
Last year, her French-style patio had a pastel theme, with lilac, lemon and white tulips in baskets and containers, while the large pots in the perennial beds were planted in bright pinks and oranges.
The modern hybrid tulips rarely rebloom, so most are planted in clusters of 15 of a variety in containers for maximum effect. At the end of the season, Campbell keeps the larger bulbs to plant in the garden.
She feeds all of her tulips bulb feed when they are planted.
About 1800 tulips were planted last year. “Since I open my garden every spring when the bulbs run out, I need good presentation,” says Campbell.
She resists breathing what this must cost and hastens to add that she uses loyalty points accumulated throughout the year and, since she buys so many lightbulbs, she gets trade discounts. In addition to the classic single tulips, various types of tulips are planted, such as double peonies, fringed, crown, parrot, lily and striped tulips.
Tulips like to be planted when the weather is cool, so Campbell begins planting in mid-May and continues for four to five weeks. She sticks the earliest onions in the fridge but hasn’t found that it makes much of a difference. Wellington’s climate offers enough cold to initiate flowering.
Planting in containers lengthens the flowering period as the tulips are planted lasagne style so that when the first flowers wilt the next stage has emerged and is in bud giving continuous flowering for six weeks. The tulips are planted in two layers. The late-flowering bulbs are first covered with 10 cm of potting compost and then the early-flowering bulbs are covered with at least 15 cm of potting compost.
Plain potting soil is best, a mix with water retention crystals will hold water and can cause the bulbs to rot in a wet year.
The garden not only stimulates the senses of the visitors but also provides nourishment for the edible variety. In addition to the vegetable garden there are espalier and ‘ballerina’ apple, feijoa, lime, lemon, tangerine, plum, banana and orange trees. A passion fruit vine hugs the arch.
Campbell loves to experiment in the Wellington climate and push the boundaries of gardening. She enjoys the challenge of making things grow and when she sees something she likes, she tries it.
Campbell is assisted by husband Rob, who is the chief lawn mower and composter, while sons Liam and Luke help out for a fee and daughter Caitlin cheers from the sidelines.
Campbell studied landscape design 15 years ago and then worked as a gardener at her children’s primary school. This gave her the confidence to pursue gardening as a career and she now has 18 gardens in the North Wellington area.
Campbell opened her garden to the public two years ago. It was a great motivation to complete dreamed projects, but it comes with a lot of pressure. The garden is open to groups on select weekends throughout the year and by appointment.