A Fragrance Garden: Floresta Fragrant Gardens

New Zealand’s gentle climate nurtures a wonderland.

| December/January 1994


New Zealand is probably as close to the Garden of Eden as I’ll ever come. When I visited last November, which is early spring in that part of the world, the mountains were awash with blooming thyme. Sheep outnumber people 20 to 1. Dolphins swim alongside boats in water so blue, clear, and serene that I’ll never forget it. I saw underground caves inhabited by thousands of glowworms, trekked through a wildlife sanctuary to see the rare and endangered yellow-eyed penguin, and feasted with native Maori. I saw marvelous gardens with flowers and foliage that were larger, healthier, and more brilliant than the same species back home. But nothing on the entire three-week trip through wonderland impressed me as much as the fragrance garden of Olive Dunn.

We flew from Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, to Invercargill, at the southern tip of the South Island. Cool breezes, but never freezing rains, blow in year round from Antarctica, only 2200 miles away.

We arrived at a small suburban home nestled among unassuming shrubs. A sign read Floresta Fragrant Gardens with an arrow pointing to the back, and we headed down the narrow walkway. As we entered the backyard, we were greeted by an overwhelming abundance: a vibrant floral symphony of fragrance, color, texture, with movement and melody provided by the bees, butterflies, and birds that hovered, buzzed, and sang. We felt as though we had stepped into a different century, although which one I don’t know.

The half-acre that stretched before us was a gentle, planned chaos, cozy and caressing. Intensive plantings of herbs and flowers fill the plot almost edge to edge. Olive Dunn wastes no space on grass, nor on wide strolling paths; plants spill over on all sides of the narrow pathways. Ground covers define and defend borders from the encroachment of weeds. “A lawn to me is a constant chore,” she says.

Although Olive maintains that the intensive planting means less work, I suspect that it saves her only from work she doesn’t like. Others of us would consider the constant snipping, shaping, trimming, transplanting, fertilizing, and watering in this beautifully maintained garden to be relentless work. Even the relatively carefree thyme ground covers require at least semiannual cutting back to keep them from becoming bare and leggy.

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