Our gardens editor shares her top 5 plants for beginner gardeners

Garden editor, Carol Bucknell, tells us about her own garden and shares her top five plants every beginner gardener should consider

YH&G gardens editor Carol Bucknell has been with us since 1994, when ruched blinds, bullnose benchtops and coloured windows were all the rage. We asked her how she became a gardening guru and how Kiwi gardens have changed.

How did your career begin?

I started my career in London, working on a wonderful weekly architectural magazine called The Architect’s Journal. I started as a secretary to the editor and worked my way into an editorial job. I loved it all: the subject, the quirky, interesting people I worked with, the lovely Georgian buildings in St James’s Park where our offices were.

I became assistant features editor and my boss, a lovely man called Dan Cruickshank, was an expert on architectural history and would walk around London detailing the history and merits of each building we passed. I learned a lot about architecture and he helped me develop my writing skills.

Did you know you wanted to be a writer? What was your inspiration?

knew when I left school that I wanted to be a journalist; my sixth-form English teacher had suggested it and that thought stayed in my head. But first I did a BA in English, then travelled for a few years. I eventually moved to London for eight years, where I started looking for jobs in that field. It wasn’t easy as I wasn’t trained, but I was later told by a journalism tutor that working on a weekly publication in London was the best training I could’ve had.

Where did your work life take you before you arrived at YH&G?

After Architect’s Journal I worked on a travel mag, then returned to Auckland where I was offered the editorship of Architecture NZ, which was about to launch. That was a dream job for me. However, after my daughter was born, I needed more flexibility so I left to become a freelance writer. I wrote initially about houses and architecture, then gardens for various publications including The New Zealand Herald, New Zealand Gardener and Your Home and Garden.

Tell us about your early years on YH&G.

I started writing for YH&G in about 1994, when my daughter, Miranda, was born. First houses then gardens. I have had the odd break from the magazine but always gravitated back somehow! There is a great team spirit on YH&G, and there have been some wonderful editors.

I’ve seen a gradual shift from gardens being regarded as mainly a showcase for plants, to gardens as a place to live,

an extension to the home, with plants used for structure and the soft furnishings

How did you start writing about gardens? Were you already a gardener yourself?

I have been a gardener most of my life and I come from a long line of gardeners. I hadn’t thought about writing garden stories until I was offered a column in Home & Building magazine about 20 years ago. It just seemed to grow from there. The writing work encouraged me to study landscape design and so another door opened. Designing and writing about gardens – who could ask for a better career?

What are some of the big changes you’ve seen in what people want out of their homes and gardens?

I’ve seen a gradual shift from gardens being regarded mainly as a showcase for plants, to gardens as a place to live, an extension to the home, with plants used for structure and as ‘soft furnishings’. And there’s definitely more awareness of sustainability now.

Who are your favourite garden designers?

Currently I love the work of naturalistic designers like Piet Oudolf, Tom Stuart-Smith, Dan Pearson and Nigel Dunnett. They create gardens that are in tune with nature, where there’s an emphasis not just on aesthetics but also on creating biodiversity. They select plants based on their suitability for the conditions of the site, so they need very little attention and no sprays, yet reappear every season in all their stunning glory.

What are your top five plants for beginner gardeners?

My favourite plant for scent and structure is Murraya paniculata. My favourite for fruit is an avocado tree; if you have space for only one fruit tree and it’s not too cold in your area, plant one. They can be trimmed to fit reasonably tight spaces. For foliage I can’t resist tractor seat plant (Ligularia reniformis) although I do adore my native Coprosma ‘Poor Knights’ groundcover with its cascade of shiny leaves.

My favourite tree is kōwhai: light, lacy leaves that wood pigeons love and those delightful yellow flowers that attract tūī to the garden. I have an avenue of them in my garden. And peas are probably one of the best veges for beginners; there are so many varieties, you can eat the pods and the tips, and you can sprout the seeds indoors, too. Globe artichokes are also easy to grow and their beautiful, silver-grey, architectural leaves make a real statement in the vege garden.

Why are you so passionate about sustainable and eco-friendly homes and gardens?

I believe we need to look to the rhythms and cycles of nature when creating spaces to live and relax in, as they will be the most harmonious and pleasant to be in. We’ve spent too many years in conflict with nature and it hasn’t gone well for us as human beings. Why not go with the flow rather than be constantly against it?

And finally, we’d love to hear a little about your own garden.

There was virtually nothing in the garden when I started it four years ago – a blank canvas, which is a delight for all garden designers. As the surrounding area is a bit wild in parts, a structured garden would have looked out of place, so here was my chance to create a naturalistic garden inspired by my favourite designers.

I grew most of the plants from cuttings, seeds and divisions – flaxes, reeds, daylilies, dietes – and planted them in big swathes, following the contours of the site. Some didn’t make it but now other plants are starting to self-seed in the garden, and I’m allowing it in order to increase the diversity of species for the bees and other insects

Words by: Sally Conor. Photography by: Claire Mossong.

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