Garden One, 97 Wells Place, RD1 - Crowd Pleaser, Jan & Bill Mathers

Mass plantings of Hydrangeas, wandering paths through trees, shrubs, and garden art.

This country garden is not to be missed. Lots of ideas and plants to buy. 

All the garden photos in this newsletter are of this garden

Jan Mathers is an ‘Original Cambridge Girl’ and has become a hydrangea enthusiast and collector. 

Jan and Bill’s acre of farmland on the outskirts of Cambridge has been transformed since 2002 to the beautiful garden it is today with 178 varieties of hydrangeas. Most of her hydrangeas came from the Woodleigh nursery in Taranaki.

Jan emphasised why she keeps some of her hydrangeas in pots. The acidic Waikato soils turn hydrangeas blue, whereas neutral potting mix keeps their natural colour. 

But it’s not just hydrangeas you will see in this garden.  You will also find maples, alstroemerias, camellias, azaleas, clematis, day-lilies, heucheras, heucherella, tiarellas, iris, lilies, loropetalums, rhododendrons, roses, magnolia, viburnum and so much more. Many plants are labelled which certainly helps when visiting.

Jan is inspired by gardening.  It has been in her genes for at least 5 generations.  Her great-great grandfather was a seed merchant in Jersey.  In the late 1800s he emigrated to Birkdale in Auckland.  His son, James Stanley established a market garden there, growing strawberries, boysenberries, and apples. 

Jan grew up in Cambridge but after leaving school travelled to Canada, initially on holiday, but then met and married Bill and they lived on the Niagara Peninsula.  In that part of Canada there’s no garden in winter.  Bare trees and snow.

After 27 years in Canada, Jan moved back to Cambridge with Bill and in 2002 they purchased the property in Wells Place.  Originally “just a paddock” Jan began by planting hedging to diffuse the wind, including pittosporum and lemonwoods. A fan of deciduous trees Jan planted one of her favourites, the Maple tree. Bill was kept busy building large and small structures including arbours and shade houses.

Jan has been a long-time member of a Cambridge Garden Club.  She says she has learnt so much, often by asking lots of questions.  Along with a group of gardening enthusiasts, they went to Havelock North to visit a fabulous country garden and saw a beautiful pink hydrangea. 

This sparked her interest in the Hydrangea genus.

She brought one of these pink hydrangeas home and planted it.  It went blue!

The many different colours and shades of hydrangeas and their 6 months of flowering enhance their appeal.  Jan showed us her photos of some of the series of hydrangeas.  We heard about series called Japanese Lady, Dutch Lady, Granny, Magical and You-me.

One of her favourites is Together, one of the You-me series.  It goes through about 7 colours in a season.  A favourite in the oak leaf series is Snowflake.  An added benefit is its beautiful autumn colour.

Some tips for new hydrangea growers: Hydrangeas need water (hence hydra in its name). 

In the summer Jan spends up to 6 hours a day watering.  Some of the new varieties of hydrangea have been bred to be small and so are very suitable for small gardens. 

Another great tip from Jan is to pick a key colour inside your house and continue it outside.  Jan’s colour is burgundy, and she uses it as accent flowing around the garden.

Jan finds stimulation in planning changes, redesigning and shopping.  Her plants are often on the move.  She has tried to create interest with seasonal colour, particularly with foliage. 

Jan continues to be ably and patiently supported by Bill, who has built and reconditioned many of the features. Bill has built all the structural features of the garden featuring an old farm gate and a bicycle.

When you visit the festival, bring some cash.  Jan and her grandchildren will be selling plants.

By David Partis


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