I'm back, and all smiles

I’m just back from Nelmac Garden Marlborough – a garden festival like no other, based in Blenheim, in the Northern-most part of the South Island of New Zealand.

I boldly state ‘like no other’ for two reasons. 

I honestly can’t think of anywhere in Australia where you could set out for a full day in a coach and visit four or five gardens of this phenomenal quality, and potentially do this for the three days on which they’re offered (and even then have to miss one full day garden tour, for there’s four of them to choose from (not to mention the half-day tour of urban gardens that you’d have to miss, and the Queen Charlotte Sound Tour).  And while there’s sure to be other places in the world where this is theoretically possible, I can’t imagine there’s many where the theoretical possibility has so wonderfully become a reality.

The other thing that sets NCM apart is the incredible hospitality.  On each of the full day tours you’re given morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea in the gardens themselves, and its dished up with the incredible sense that the garden owners are greatly privileged to have you, and more privileged still to feed you while you’re there.  I’ve never seen, or known, anything like it (other than when I was there previously).

Yes, I was a guest speaker, but that made no difference to how I was treated.  I went on those bus trips largely incognito (due to the arrival of the beard, which wasn’t included in the promo shots), and was blown away by the gracious way we were hosted by our tour guides on the buses, the garden owners, and the apparently countless volunteers associated with Nelmac Garden Marlborough.

I wish I had good pics of more of the gardens, but both days were bright and sunny, making photography nearly impossible.

But as for Nelmac Garden Marlborough, I honestly can’t recommend it highly enough…


  1. I am just back from the Taranaki Garden Festival on the North Island. It was also quite spectacular. We need to step up a gear in Australia, I think!

    1. Yep. I found it all pretty humbling, to be honest.

    2. Perhaps you can come and visit Nelmac Garden Marlborough next year – dates are 5 to 8 November – we will look after you well.

    3. Thank you, I would absolutely love to, Debbie! I have pencilled it into my 2015 diary – fingers crossed.

  2. Thanks Michael. Sweat dreams are made of this… and agree the New Zealanders are both incredibly hospitable and really great gardeners, but keep it secret – we don’t want to admit how much we admire them!

    1. Oops. Too late. I already did. I raved about them – to their faces – all weekend.

  3. Oh Michael , that Coral charm is obscene, absurd, unreal!!!!!!

    and the gardens look so sumptuous! I think we live in the wrong climate.

    1. I had the same feeling. Imagine wading – knee-deep – through huge swathes of Vancouveria, and wandering among chest-high domes of solid Rhododendron yakushimanum. And they think that’s just normal!

    2. knee deep Vancouveria, impossible ! and chest high Rh yakushimanum, that is a metre taller than any here. So are the hostas rather like a gunnera here in that you can walk beneath their shady leaves!

    3. The hostas are so juicy and turgid you can almost see the stretch marks. They’re the vegetable equivalent of Mr Creosote.

  4. Michael you also added to this great weekend. My husband is dreading what ideas I want to try from your presentation.

    1. Thanks Charlene. I had an absolute ball with those presentations..
      And it has become my habit, every time I run into the partner of someone who’s attended such a presentation, to start the conversation with an apology. A client once asked if I have a double qualification; in Garden Design and Marriage Counselling. It’d sure help

  5. Michael, barring a windfall, I can do only one great gardens tour in my lifetime, always thought it would be the UK, but now I’m wondering.. Would you suggest UK, USA or NZ as best value? Have shown the photo of Coral Charm to my peonies (which I see now I was unreasonably satisfied with) and told them what’s expected next year…

  6. Michael, With comments and images like these it makes all the handwork worthwhile. We would love to see more of your fellow countrymen and women at our festival next year. Thank you for your amazing contribution. Our audiences were captivated with you marvelous presentations. Thank you.

    1. Thanks Jeremy. Well now my involvement is over and there’s no danger of it looking like self-promotion, I’m very happy to sing the praises of NGM long and loud.

  7. It was lovely to meet you Michael … and what a FABULOUS weekend!!! I’m glowing with the memories (not to mention a little sunburnt after the fete!)

    1. Likewise, Emma. All the best with that fab book of yours

  8. I also really enjoyed my day at the Garden Marlborough Festival. Amazing and inspirational gardens and you were great company too.
    Have just finished reading your book which I could only put down to look up what plant you were referring to!
    Thanks again – I hope you have received my e mail?

  9. Wow! The Xeronema callistemon in the top photos look amazing. I wouldn’t have thought they’d do ok as far south as Nelson/Marlborough. I used to have a huge one (in a broken wired-together terracotta pot, they love being rootbound) in Auckland but had to send back there after I moved to Hawke’s Bay and it threatened to cark it the first winter after getting the merest touch of frost. They naturally grow right down to the rocky shoreline on the Poor Knights Islands in the Hauraki Gulf off Auckland and benefit from having the occasional bucket of seawater chucked on them.

    1. We know nothing about growing them over here Scott, so thanks for the info. Clearly there’d be no point trying them here in frost Woodend…

Leave a Comment

More Blog Posts


Many thanks to GardenDrum, which inadvertently answered a lurking plant identification problem I had. It’s curious, in this day and age of information accessibility, how hard it can be to identify u ...

Great Dixter by deception

I was hunting for a pretext on which to show off some rare photos of Great Dixter (one of my favourite places in the world, and about which I tend to rant a little too often and at too great a length) ...

Witty, engaging title...

How long can it take to decide what to call a post about an incredibly influential Dutch garden designer?  Ages, apparently.  And I’ve discovered that if I don’t start with a title before I writ ...