Len Cheeseman | Art director and typographer

Greytown, Wairarapa | June 2015

“Keep changing it. Rip out trees, shrubs, everything, don’t be sentimental, the possibilities of a new planting opportunity will keep you stimulated. “... more text below images


Len Cheeseman Art director and typographer | Greytown, Wairarapa | June 2015



Our garden is on a residential street in Greytown. The front garden faces North and bakes hard in summer. The rear section is mainly sunny, shade is provided on the east facing area by a pair of old pear trees and the boundary fence. It’s size is approximately 1200 squares metres; and the soil type is almost neutral.

We bought the property 7 years ago, but the garden was started late into the first year. I suspect I spend approximately 3 days a week, perhaps more depending on the season, in the garden. I operate mainly from here now so I can dip in and out of work and gardening all week.

Gardening inspirations include my father for his large vegetable garden and greenhouses. The smell of which I have never forgotten. Christopher Lloyd for all his writing, (Gardener Cook is splendid), and my regular visits to Great Dixter when I lived in Kent. Dan Pearson. Beth Chatto. I would regularly drive two hours to her garden and nursery when I lived in London. Carol Klein. That iconic John Brookes book, The Small Garden. Monty Don. And for Pod people, the brilliant NZ Vegetable Garden book by Jonathan Spade. Mine is well thumbed, essential and devoid of wanky graphics.

The paving and site levelling was done by specialists, apart from that I have created everything myself. I have probably replanted most of the garden several times since I started as most of it is ornamental and very English in a faux sort of way. Rather like Greytown itself.  I have retreated from the native plant craze and think it absurd in a domestic garden.

I try to only grow what is suitable for the conditions and that works well for me. Kale is an ever present brassica in one form or another but I can’t recall anything not doing well, but obviously we are not planting anything that is too vunerable for the conditions. Lacecap Hydrangeas struggle for example.

Watering cans and a hose are essential during summer for certain things like the raised vegetable beds, I have a grid of thirteen of them so they need some help but most of the garden holds up well. I love an early morning ritual of watering, deadheading the Dahlias and doing little maintenance jobs before breakfast. We do not grow fruit. I have done in previous gardens but this time I decided against it.

I’ve dedicated one of our raised beds as the Sea Kale Bed. We put salt on the bed as well as seaweed to vaguely replicate coastal conditions such as Dungeness, then black buckets over the emerging shoots in early spring (similar to white asparagus). It tastes delicious and looks fantastic – a big curly leaf that flowers. Cranbe Maritima – Sea Kale.

I have lost two Cercis Canadensis Forest Pansy’s and still haven’t cracked the ideal spot for that wonderful tree. It can only go on one side of the garden as it needs backlighting in autumn by the sun so that is a little challenge to resolve. The veggie patch is pretty conventional so we don’t have any issues but I have failed to get Salsify going well.

We don’t keep any livestock. But we would love to have table rabbits on hand, something my father always kept a supply of in his shed. There would always be one hanging up with a bucket underneath being primed for a good meal. I miss that.

The Cabbage White Butterflies reach plague proportions here and can cause young plants of Cavolo Nero to disappear quickly, so squashing the eggs and caterpillars with my fingers becomes a regular summer activity.

My biggest gardening chore is getting rid of all the material that doesn’t make it to the compost heaps. Hardwood prunings, discarded shrubs, that sort of thing.

Percy, our Sealyham Terrier is my companion. His ability to select a pristine plant or flower and wreck it has a certain merit and makes me chuckle. His behaviour in the garden, alongside the wind factor, are the two constraints that inform my planting. I plant and prune trees to help them withstand the howling nor’ westerlies of spring; and I try to plant young seedlings in positions where Percy is least likely to ruin them.

My garden highlight? Being in it. At all times in every season. The smells, the wind, the decay, leaf fall, rebirth. The spring garden. The colours of early summer. The pleasure of picking ripe Tomatoes. Runner Beans. Buying interesting plants from specialist nurseries. And listening to Van Morrison sing about gardens wet with rain. I’m with him.

Favourite time? The final moments of light at the end of a day when that magic glow appears.

Favourite season? Winter. I love the emptiness, the frost on the Box balls, Euphorbias and Achillea seedheads and the simple palette of the straw coloured Miscanthus grasses and Beech hedging.

I prize my Campbell Tool Company trowel. It’s my most used implement, beautifully made in New Zealand. One day their whole range will be gardening collectables.

My garden gives me a sense of possibility and refreshment that is elusive from other aspects of life. It is where I come from, what I was brought up enjoying, what I played in as a child, what I ate from, what I smelt of, what I got dirty in. Nothing has changed, except the location and aesthetic. I play chase with Percy late in the evening with the outdoor lights on, I’m just as dirty after a day of work, I still eat out of a garden, and I probably still smell of one. It gives me everything to nourish my mind, my wellbeing , my creativity and my stomach. I couldn’t imagine not having a proper garden. It also gives me a reason to buy Japanese gardening jackets and shirts. I am very partial to the pocket arrangements.

I try and take inspiration from the many great plants people and apply that in some small way to my own little plot, and make it trigger a sense of fulfillment.

I’m hopeless at socialising and rarely entertain. We don’t own a barbeque, cook outdoors, have pizza ovens and nor do I have much interest in the concept of the outdoor room with a few fashionable plants. But on Christmas day we hold a long lunch, on trestle tables, under the pear trees. It is splendid and it may be repeated on another occasion before summers end. That’s it. We do like sitting guzzling Rose under an umbrella, looking down towards the Dibble sculpture, usually with close family.

When plants are ruined by pests I feel momentarily frustrated - but it opens up a new planting possibility.

Buying this tiny house simply to get a garden on a flat piece of land that had never been cultivated, which gave me the project I was eager to pursue before age took its toll. Apart from that, the excitement of visiting the RHS monthly shows in London held inside a truly great piece of architecture was wonderful . I endlessly trekked there each month on a lunchtime and returned to the very hot ad agency I worked at loaded up with purchases, the thrill of a plant hunt and the discovery of something new was exhilarating.

POD thanks Kirsty Cameron, photographer: Sara Orme and The Silk House.