A Simple Life
After becoming used to life in Indian temples, Peter Patton came home to live a simple life in a tiny one roomed house he built in the middle of the New Zealand native bush near Kaikoura. His now large garden is well known among a network of people throughout New Zealand for its rhododendrons and camellias, and is perhaps even more famous for Pete's mead - not to mention Pete himself.
Pete in his garden
Pete's garden is hidden in the bush on a steep hillside corner of a Kaikoura farm, across the road from a rocky piece of the Pacific Ocean shoreline, and it began 15 years ago in what used to be a clearing used as a stock holding pen. It started with a vegetable plot which enabled Pete to be 100 per cent self-sufficient, but has turned into a garden full of flowering shrubs, delicate flowered groundcovers, spectacular lilies, and a variety of surprises which spring up all year around.
Finding What Worked
The garden has no lawns. A single dirt track wide enough for two feet takes visitors up through the middle of the property, enabling views of the garden on either side. Only Pete and the odd careful visitor ventures off the track to find hidden routes through the bushes and flowers. The entire place is framed with bush and the sound of the sea breaking on the rocks below is a constant companion.
Pete chose his simple life after returning from India because he wanted to live on his own terms, free to spend his hours as he chose. He wanted a place where he could continue his contemplative lifestyle. There was never any question that he would garden organically - there never ever seemed to be any need for it to be otherwise. That and a bit of commonsense, and finding out what plants went with what, he said.
The garden evolved into a rhododendron and camellia wonderland as part of the process of finding out what worked and what didn't, and now he has 400-500 of them thriving in the acid bush soil.
"It's a very shady garden, that's why the fruit trees wouldn't grow."
Apples, pears, peaches, plums and nectarines have all been given a go, but along with the shade, possums, the major pest in Pete's garden, have made fruit trees more of a gardening battle than a pleasure.
"And the climate," adds Pete. "It's too damp in the springtime for the blossoms to set and too prone to diseases that come with the damp."
"Bit by bit I've been moving away from having to grow food to a garden of beauty. To live in a place that's really beautiful is an expression of something that's internal."
Expressing their True Nature
When Organic Pathways interviewed Pete, the latest job was shifting 5-6 year old bushes.
"They can't be as beautiful as they could be because they're not in the right environment. I've been shifting rhododendrons to where they get a little bit more sunshine and putting camellias in their place, because they flower really well in the shade."
The first time Pete put a name to rhododendrons and camellias was in the mountains of India, where he remembered playing in a large one at his grandparents house as a child, feeling incredibly safe and recognising it's beauty.
Pete's advice is to love your plants. When the rhododendrons and camellias are very young, he is attentive to them, especially during the summer, but because the garden is shady, without intense sun and with frequent rain and heavy dews, they don't need much looking after. On the whole he doesn't feed them, and yet all but one in the garden when we visited were healthy.
"The whole point in being here is not to be a slave to the garden."
Rather, for him it is a beautiful place to live and spend time in. He said the camellias and rhodies have some sort of poison in them which deters the possums. Sometimes, if a plant hasn't transplanted well, it can get leaf roll - "but it only lasts a couple of years then seems to come right."
"If we assume responsibility for something, like planting a tree, we are responsible to ensure it is in as good a place as possible. If I've given it a good starting place, then it's going to express its Buddha nature" - it's role in a balanced ecosystem.
"The whole of creation is beauty expressing itself, and our role as human beings is to participate in that process."
Not Always a Hermit’s Garden
Another project at present is helping the groundcovers to become established. Beneath the bushes grow violets, primulas, forget-me-nots, marjorams and so on. He is encouraging ivy to grow on some rock walls built by Ivy Tara Rainwater, his fiancée, who died accidentally last year.
"Ivy's role here in the beginning was to bring the food growing element back in. She was interested in and knew about the powers of different herbs and so on."
Now it's again a hermit's garden, and people come to see the beautiful flowers, but when Ivy was there they would take away a pumpkin or a cauliflower or a cup of tea or something she'd brewed up.
"When Ivy was here it was like a celebration of life and the abundance of life and food and animals and all that sort of thing."
Pete has a couple of olive trees which do well. Ivy had planned to find out how to pickle them and extract the oil the traditional way. The olives would have gone perfectly with their own goat feta and mead.
Pete has two beehives and harvested 250 litres of mead this season, a fine, dry, woody mead which reflects the native bush flowers of manuka and mahoe (whiteywood). He is putting most of it aside for two years, and by then it should have a light effervescence.
Eden Garden is a 2.5 hectare showplace featuring camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas, created in 1965 by volunteers in an abandoned quarry on the volcanic slopes of Mt Eden, Auckland.
The International Camellia Society: Tonnes of useful info about camellias, but not from the organic perspective.