New Zealand Ora - Garden of Well Being

 The ferns were carefully selected and blessed by Maori elders.
Living tree-fern sculptures

New Zealand is enjoying the height of fashion in the UK at the moment - riding high on the publicity from the Lord of the Rings and a targeted campaign by Tourism NZ, promoting the country's unspoiled nature as '100% Pure'. The first NZ garden Chelsea entry rode this wave of deserved hype, the garden much anticipated by UK gardeners - and lived up to all expectations, winning a gold medal and attracting relentless crowds.

Ora - The Garden of Wellbeing explored the relationship between nature and the Maori, who believe that both plants and people share a common ancestry and that the people are guardians of nature, the treasures of the land. Native plants and hot spa pools created a secret tropical garden, hidden in the forests and guarded by Maori carvings. Ferns topped the skyline, steam flowed down terraces from the geothermal pools, and bird song completed the sensory assault. The effect was absorbing, creating a space which was at once tranquil, vibrant and alive.

 The terraces certainly redefine the idea of a 'water feature'.
The replica pink & white terraces were a dramatic garden focus

The garden was dominated by a replica of the Pink and White Terraces, the North Island's "eighth natural wonder of the world" which was destroyed in an volcanic eruption in 1886. Victorian tourists used to flock to the 7-acre silica terraces, believing that bathing in the naturally hot spring water held medicinal properties. The Chelsea Garden thermal terraces were made by Richard Taylor, whose special effects in Lord of the Rings have won him four Oscars, and they certainly begged you to climb on in (if only!).

 There was such attention to detail in this New Zealand garden - even the rope was made of native flax.
Guarding nature with flax rope

A superbly-crafted Moko Waiwera (water lizard) sculpture climbed from the top pool, down across the terraces, transporting a stream of water on his back and out of his mouth, into the bottom pools. The Maori historically created such raised wooden pipes to cool the hot spring water to perfect bathing temperature.

The Chelsea lizard was carved by acclaimed Maori sculptor, Lyonel Grant, who demonstrated his experience by working with a wide range of media and size: the huge wooden lizard, the subtle tree-fern sculptures sheltering under the fern canopy, and the bronze heads, guardians of the garden.

The artist's cultural advice was invaluable in the design and preparation of the Chelsea show garden. The Hui Marae (paved circle) is the spiritual focus of the garden, a traditional Maori meeting place, surrounded by the tree-ferns and a cave, which are believed by the Maori to be mouths to the underworld gods. Far from detracting from the plants in this garden, everything seemed very much in harmony.

 I love the way the delicate flowers sit above the huge and dramatic leaves.
Chatham Island Forget-me-Nots in full splendour

The Chelsea Show Garden plants were chosen either for their medicinal, culinary or cultural properties, and were entirely native to New Zealand, some species making their long journey to UK shores for the very first time.

 Look at that green!
Lush plantings envelop cave & traditional Maori meeting place

Mostly from the Central North Island of New Zealand, the plants were many hues of lush green, creating a tropical feel. The four types of tree-fern and six types of cordyline created a skyline which made Eggy instantly homesick. The outer garden borders reminded me of Moosey's South Island garden, and added colour to the Chelsea exhibit : pepper tree shrubs, flaxes, hebes and Chatham Island forget-me-nots.

The plants have been making their way to the UK since early in the year, a major operation involving international horticultural experts. The perennials flew direct, but the tree ferns stopped off in Ireland with a master fern-grower, to adjust after six weeks at sea. It was nervously precision-timed - the ferns didn't have fronds (distinctive curling new growth) even up to a week before the show. The New Zealand Chelsea Garden's green was vibrant, with no evidence of jet-lag, or even culture shock.

 The sky behind the trees even looks tropical. In a rainforest kind of way.
The ferns and cordyline create an authentic New Zealand skyline.

The garden is the result of three years hard work by a design team led by Kim Jarrett and Trish Waugh. Jarrett and Waugh's previous major show-garden was commissioned in 2000 to celebrate the turn of the millennium, for the Ellerslie Flower Show - New Zealand's flagship flower show which celebrates it's 10th anniversary this year. The resulting phenomenal 10,000-sqm Ellerslie garden traced 'A Journey Through Time' of New Zealand's horticulture, from the super-continent Gondwanaland's bush, through the dramatic affect of colonisation, to the modern-day passion for gardening shared by the Mooseys of the land.

 I recognised these distinctive plants instantly from Moosey's garden.
New Zealand native pepper tree, Toe Toe and Fern

The Ellerslie show-garden was so impressive, chief judge Julian Dowle suggested the design team should have a pop at Chelsea - having a number of Chelsea medals in the cupboard himself, his opinion was taken seriously. Put in that context - would it be easier or more difficult to go from a huge show garden to a small garden design? From where I was standing, the New Zealand Chelsea garden's smaller size did not restricting the design, instead encouraged you to linger, to discover the details hiding around every fern and passing cloud of steam.

The overwhelming mutter in the crowds at Chelsea concerned when one planned to holiday in New Zealand, not if. Great news for the sponsor, but would the garden live up to the hype? 100% Pure New Zealand Ora - Garden of Well Being left the hype behind in the steam. This consummate garden made me want to jump on a plane along with the other gardening tourists. Watch out Moosey!