Anyone trundling along to Martins Bay for a swim last summer, would likely have noticed the house on the left with glorious sea views and hectares of land being sculpted into something rather impressive.
That would be the home of Daniel and Michele Cummins, who moved up from Auckland just over two years ago, when their former garden in the city was simply not big enough to match their dreams.
The couple engaged Benji Woodman, of Forgotten Fruits in Mangawhai, to come up with a design to fulfil their desire for a garden and orchard that would realise their ambitions.
Their 2-hectare section has a pretty steep slope and a digger was brought in to do some flattening and create the planting beds and grass “roads” that would allow access to the plants.
Benji designed these roads to create a spiral effect based on a koru – an unfurling silver fern frond.
The Covid lockdown last year gave Daniel and Michele some time to finalise the design and start planting. So far, they have planted pears, apples, plums, pears, peaches, apricots, nectarines, citrus and tamarillos in the main orchard section. A separate berry orchard has boysenberries, blackberries and raspberries. Future developments will include a large vegetable patch.
The site is exposed to some fierce winds and the couple have planted around a 1000 native flaxes, kanuka, manuka and cabbage trees to serve as a windbreak. This will ultimately be around 5 metres high – and offer some protection to the precious fruit trees. The native look is enhanced further with the mass planting of grasses, notably poa cita (silver tussock) and carex secta. Daniel is originally from Kaikoura where poa cita grew in abundance, and he says he is looking forward to creating a “silvery South Island look”.
Daniel says native species are naturally the best adapted for the environment and should do well. But he admits he’s less confident about the fruit trees and berries because of the exposed location and the somewhat marginal soil.
“Will they struggle in the long term? We’re taking a bit of a gamble there,” he says.
Daniel says he has already lost about 10 to 20 per cent of his trees due to wind and if he were doing things over again, would pay more attention to wind breaks. He hopes to compensate for poor soil with lots of compost and plenty of sheep poo, horse poo and seaweed. He estimates he’s already poured around 30 wheelbarrow-loads of seaweed into the berry orchard alone.
Daniel says his interest in gardening goes back to his childhood and the influence of his parents who were essentially “old school hippies”. His father was a blade sheep shearer but during the off-season would spend most of his time working in a large community garden – producing enough for the family to live off the land.
The couple anticipate it will take a few more planting seasons to get all their plants in, and once they start producing it will take them a long way toward being self-sufficient themselves.
Michele is a nurse and is convinced that homegrown produce is more nutritious than that grown commercially, where operators seek to extract a mass of crop from the same land over and over again.
Daniel says their own property is not big enough to produce commercially, but they anticipate earning some pocket money with a roadside stall.
They also hope to be in a position to help those in the community who are struggling.
“We don’t have any firm plan on it yet, but it would be nice to have a surplus to give away to those who need it,” he says.