A passion for planting

by Ayla Miller

Whilst other girls were rearranging the insides of their dolls’ houses, Jill was carrying hers outside to design miniature moss and pebble gardens.

This was the beginning of a life-long passion for gardening which she has made a career out of. Now in her later years Jill Simpson and her husband Richard continue to work on their farm and gardens overlooking Fishermans Bay on the Banks Peninsula. They originally bought the land for the 320 hectare farm and they now lease a further 80–100 hectares where they run dairy replacements and beef cattle to support Richard’s family farm near Christchurch.

The couple have owned the land for 18 years and moved there permanently 12 years ago and began intensively working on the house and gardens.

“It is a very beautiful view from the house. We New Zealanders know it is pretty but I have masses of people coming here from all over the world who all say it is the most beautiful place,” says Jill. “The most striking thing to many tourists is that we live here entirely alone which is typical for a New Zealand place but not what people from overseas are used to.” Over the years Jill has designed and developed the gardens that now cover two hectares on a hill 150 metres above sea level.

“It started off as largely a native garden. Over time it has become bigger and has a large herbaceous border and a perennial movement style planting at the bottom.

“We have seals, [on the beaches below] two types of penguins, and lots of other rare animals. There is also approximately 100 hectares of regenerating native forest which Richard is particularly involved in.

“It’s hard to set something against something as beautiful as the coastline here. That’s what all the native areas are about.

“There is a shelter belt of old macrocarpa trees and they do a good job of sheltering us from the wind. If it weren’t for them we would have an entirely different garden.”

Jill says most of the tourists they get are from overseas and the couple have featured in a number of garden magazines in Europe and the United States.

The best part about it all for Jill is meeting people with a shared interest in gardening.

“I find gardeners are lovely people and even those who aren’t particularly into gardening but just like a beautiful place are really interesting in other ways. I learn a lot from them.” Keeping up with the gardens isn’t easy and it takes Jill about two or three full-time days every week. Richard helps with the bigger jobs such as trimming the hedges when needed. “We always used to joke that Richard knew flowers weren’t something I wanted to be given on a birthday. 

“What I really wanted was a good supply of rocks and railway sleepers. That would keep me happy for ages.”

Fishermans Bay garden and farm is situated 150 metres above sea level on Banks Peninsula