Trina Tully is well known for her garden design prowess. But anyone seeking her advice at this time of year will be lucky to catch her at her desk, because during daylight hours Trina is almost always in her garden.
It’s hard to imagine anyone being more fully immersed in gardening than Trina is. When she’s not tending her own garden she’s helping clients to create theirs. As a judge for the Young Horticulturist of the Year, she helps in the nursery industry, encouraging young horticulturists to further develop their skills.
“If I regret anything its not appreciating when I was in my early twenties how you can have such a wonderful career in horticulture.”
She has gardened since she was a little girl and went on to establish many of her own gardens from scratch, before training in landscape design. Her design business led her to the exciting world of exhibition gardens and resounding success at the Ellerslie Flower Show. With boundless energy for all things horticultural, Trina also ventured into retail for a while and opened her own boutique garden shop. To cap it all off, a few years ago she married a nurseryman.
One of the gardens Trina is most proud of is the Ellerslie Flower Show ‘Blooms of Bressingham’ garden she created for Lyndale Nurseries in 2006. “I learnt so much about so many different plants. It extended my plant combination skills to the max and I met so many fabulous people, including my future husband!”
Trina’s husband, Malcolm Woolmore, has enjoyed a long career in the plant growing business. His nursery, Lyndale Liners, now Australasia’s largest propagation nursery, is not far from the couple’s home in West Auckland.
Trina appreciates how lucky she is to be able to call and ask for a tray of plants to be brought home at the end of the day. It’s enough to send any keen gardener into a fit of envy! Not to mention the bags of Tully’s planting mix - the same top quality mix they use at the nursery (more about this at www.tullys.co.nz).
Having a smorgasbord of fabulous plants at your fingertips, it seems, is not without hitches. “I have told my clients off in the past for buying plants from a garden centre without a space in mind, bringing them home to only to ‘stuff’ them into the garden. Hmmm seems that is what I do,” Trina laughs.
Over the past four years, Trina and Malcolm have been renovating their home and developing their garden on half an acre of sloping ground with expansive views towards the city.
“We are really lucky, we have fabulous views from most areas of the garden, but this space? has presented me with some real challenges.” Not only it was an existing garden she wanted to change, it was spread over lots of different levels. She now concedes that a beautiful view is not the only advantage of a sloping site. “Building retaining walls and steps takes a lot of work and expense, but it makes a garden so much more interesting than a flat site.”
Trina says she has fallen in love with her garden and while working with a clean slate might have been easier, the distinctive garden they have ended up with owes much to the constraints of working with an existing space? - garden is repeated too many times, while catering to the different tastes of two plant lovers. As a Hawke’s Bay girl who grew up surrounded by traditional farm gardens, Trina’s innate style could be described as formal ‘English Country’. The garden she inherited four years ago was the antithesis of that style. Malcolm leans more towards an informal ‘Pacifica’ style, with palm trees and subtropical foliage.
Cleverly, Trina has come up with a unique merging of styles. Her formal clipped buxus sit comfortably beneath the tall palm trees; their strong geometric forms contrasting beautifully with leafy subtropical plants. “It’s part of the challenge, making it all work”, says Trina, “Our garden has evolved from its existing subtropical style into an edible, subtropical, prairie, structured, flower fusion. Sounds like a dog’s breakfast doesn’t it!” she laughs, adding “My style has become a lot more relaxed and interesting since being married to a nurseryman.”
Trina is taking full advantage of the wide range of plants she is constantly being introduced to, as well as the frost-free climate. This allows her to grow the likes of gardenia. Thriving in the dappled shade of palm trees, a massed planting of Gardenia ‘Fragrant Star’ flanks the steps right next to the outdoor dining area where the couple spend the most time when relaxing outdoors.
Just outside the kitchen, the cosy patio area is sheltered to the southeast by the house and to the northwest by a lavishly planted slope, with tiers of established and new plantings forming a lush oasis effect. In October when I visited, the garden was a picture of serene green-on-green, the clipped buxus balls radiant in their bright green flush of new growth with a mass planting of yellow Clivia as striking floral accent. A huge Acacia ‘Limelight’ is a real statement piece resplendent in lime green, while echoing the colour and texture of a young Podocarpus henkerii, one of Trina and Malcolm’s favourite trees with elegant weeping foliage.
Above the patio, a wide curving stairway leads up the slope to another much loved garden room, the new potager garden. More evidence of her boundless gardening energy, Trina has not one but two large kitchen gardens to look after. She confesses that at this time of year her time spent in the vege gardens far outweighs the time she spends in the rest of the garden. “I am learning not to waste time planting edibles we don’t eat”, she says, “It does keep the chooks happy though!”
At the other end of the patio, more stairs lead down through Trina’s prairie inspired flower garden to the second potager, and a picture perfect potting shed – something else to turn a visiting gardener green with envy. Here Trina spends many happy hours growing veges and flowers from seed. “I think I have as many seed packets as cook books, and that’s a lot!”
Lawn is all-but absent in this garden, not only because lawns on slopes are impractical; Trina’s passion for planting needs every available space. “I am in awe of plants and I am passionate about how we use them in the garden. Sometimes I think it must be like being a painter.”
Every spring Trina’s plants are treated to a blanket of organic mulch, to keep weeds out and conserve moisture. “Mulching is number one on the priority list right now,” she stresses, “It’s really important to get it done before summer.” Before the mulch goes on, she always applies controlled-release fertiliser and makes sure the soil is thoroughly watered.
Trina says she would spend all day every day in the garden if she could. Plants don’t always get to stay where they are first planted. “Malcolm makes plenty of jokes about my ‘musical’ plants. They get shifted around the garden until I am happy with their placement. I am coming to grips with the fact I may not ever get it to look perfect.”
Driving away feeling utterly inspired, I know I’ll be pretty happy if I get just one small corner of my garden to Trina’s level of imperfection.
What first sparked your interest in gardening?
My mum is a mad keen gardener, she had an over an acre of garden on our farm in Hawke’s Bay. My first garden was a cactus garden!
What are some of the favourite plants in your garden?
This changes daily. Today my favourite plant is the Tulip, I am currently mad on bulbs as they add another whole dimension to the garden when not a lot else is happening.
What is it about gardening that you find most rewarding?
What would you consider to be the biggest challenge in a garden?
Staying out of it.
What do you love most about being a garden designer?
Meeting wonderful people and learning something new every day.
What advice would you give a beginner gardener?
Stick to something you are interested in. For example, if you love the thought of producing your own food, start with an edible garden (even if it’s only pots on the balcony). If you love creating gorgeous rooms, make an outdoor room for you and your family to enjoy, and grow flowers for picking to make you home feel more beautiful. Make it work for you in the time you have and you will get an immense amount of pleasure from your garden.
Bold ligularia leaves echo the rounded forms of clipped buxus and an elegant water feature
Yellow clivias and Buxus balls with Acacia 'Limelight' and tulips in pots
Raised beds in the poatager
Trina's potting shed