Alan and Catherine purchased the four hectares of bare paddock with an old house on it in December 1978. In the old stable at the back of the property they found a newspaper dating back to 1893 so the property had age on its side even then.
Gardening was a passion for Alan from an early age with his first collection at eight years old a spiky fleshy group of cacti and succulents. In later years he developed a passion for chrysanthemums first, quickly followed by dahlias. As you will see in the pictures of the garden dahlias have remained a lifelong fascination for this gardener.
Visiting the garden of Graham and Helen Holmes in Rakaia sparked plant addictions for lilies and rhododendrons. Under Graham’s tutelage Alan became skilled at growing rhododendrons from seed. It is evident he was born to be a plantsman and with the purchase of the bare land in the late ‘70s the canvas for a great garden was obtained.
The bones of the garden began in 1984. The Trotts, along with their three young sons, Paul, Hamish and Matthew, planted the area between the house and the road which we now know as the Woodland area. This area is now home to 650 rhododendrons which make a stunning display from early September through to the autumn.
It was in 1985 that Alan sat down and drew up a full plan for the whole site and has spent the ensuing years developing it to the high standard we see today. In 1990 Alan persuaded Catherine that some more garden was required and so with the help of fellow gardeners, Pauline and John Trengrove, who is also an architect, a very formal herbaceous border and the knot gardens were planned.
The borders are a stunning 110 metres long enclosed by tightly trimmed macrocarpa hedges which provide the perfect backdrop to the floral display within. There are only perennial plants in this section of the garden, making it a rarity in the Southern Hemisphere. “Usually borders are mixed with roses and trees and shrubs in with the perennials. I don’t grow roses or natives,” says Alan during a recent garden tour. There was once a formal rose garden in this spot with over 256 roses but they were all pulled out as the plans for the border superseded them. And that’s the thing about gardens, they constantly evolve as trees and plants grow, die or get damaged by the elements.
One of the newer areas of Trott’s Garden is the red border. This is one of the must-see parts of the garden. A previous planting of approximately 50 rhododendrons on this hot sunny part of the garden never really thrived or lived up to Alan’s expectations. So in the winter of 2005 they were all dug out and the blank canvas of a six-metre-deep border running 60 metres long was started. Alan began by writing down the names of as many red leaved and red flowered plants as he could find and was surprised that there were so many. A small hedge of Berberis thunbergii atropurpurea ‘Little Favourite’ lends the garden a formal structure along its length. Plants within are planted en masse and many of the dahlias in it are being trialled for renowned New Zealand dahlia breeder Keith Hammett. Somewhat bizarre are the two sets of Adam and Eve silhouettes, painted a bright red, that sit in this border. But as Alan says with a smile, “sometimes something bizarre makes one look at gardening in a different way, but one needs to be careful and not over do it.”
The New Zealand Gardens Trust awarded Trott’s Garden six stars (its highest category) and designated it as a NZ Garden Of International Significance, as it is considered to be outstanding for its horticultural value in plant material, cultivation, design, construction, and maintenance. Following on from this accolade, Alan himself was awarded a Queen’s Service Medal in 2017 for his services to horticulture.
But like his garden, Alan felt the need for a change in pace was approaching. A group of local people talked to him about his future plans for the garden and the idea of retaining it for the local community was born. The Trott’s Charitable Trust was created and took over the garden in September 2017.