Sandy Callister | Writer, curator + strategic consultant

Medlands Beach, Great Barrier Island, New Zealand | April 2017

Number one gardening tip? Enjoy the small wins.


Sandy Callister Writer, curator + strategic consultant | Medlands Beach, Great Barrier Island, New Zealand | April 2017



Our garden is located on the rear of the sand dunes that run the length of the beach just over the road so it’s very sandy soil. It’s, north facing. Some parts of the garden are shady, some are very sunny. The total section size is over 1600 sq.metres with the vegetable part of the garden mostly planted in corten steel boxes (each about 2m x 1m). 

We’ve had this garden for 24 years. I spend time in the garden every day when I am out here. My goal is to be here every six weeks. We do major garden projects every autumn and spring.

Who inspired or inspires you as a gardener? Over time we have visited a lot of really enthusiastic gardeners and they have collectively inspired us. Personally I love Persian gardens and since visiting Iran we are experimenting with pomegranates and persimmon. We love the Hamilton Gardens.

The previous owner established the garden’s footprint so the garden has great bones. Since then we have done about four more big replants. Pohutakawas, palms of all types, cabbage trees, any Australian drought resistant trees, clivia, agaves, renga renga lilies, birds of paradise, puka and fig trees all grow very successfully.

Anything requiring regular watering struggles.

I probably don’t think about pests. The water issue is the most challenging. We have drought over summer and very high rainfall in spring. We don’t have a watering system so when we aren’t there then the plants need to be very tolerant to survive. We have a bore in the garden and I use this to hose plants over summer. After that they are on their own. We have to mulch constantly too.

What is the biggest chore in your garden? We have to import plants from mainland nurseries on a regular basis to underplant the palms and pohutakawas. It is quite an exercise to ship everything out.

I garden with my husband, Martin Baker. He focuses on the vegetables. We have nine corten steel vegetable boxes that are his obsession. I do the borders and flowers.

What do you love most about your garden? The whole creative project unfolding over time and that it is never ending.

Early morning or early evening when the light is sideways is the best time to be out in the garden.

I love winter because it is so stark and romantic but in spring there are such beautiful bursts of vivid colour with all the tropical plants flowering.

Favourite tool? My secateurs. I love a good snip.

What does your garden give to you that you couldn’t do without? Fresh fruit and vegetables. I love eating tomatoes off the vine. Growing all the old fashioned flowers like dahlias makes me feel  connected to my parents and grandparents.

My gardening philosophy is ecclectic - a bit of this and that. Our garden is divided spatially to provide very different experiences. At the front it is rather park-like and then at the back it is a productive garden. I love native plants.  

We have two big verandahs that provide very different garden panoramas. We eat outside on these verandahs as much as we can. I like to sit on the back verandah with a cup of tea, surveying, plotting and planning what I might do next in the garden. We have just moved a big picnic bench under the peach tree and I’m thinking that will be a very nice spot for afternoon tea. 

My very latest obsession is my bulb garden ‘to be’. Last year the amazing Katie Lockhart completely revamped our house. My kitchen windows and kitchen veranda now align with the pergola so we have just planted some hundred bulbs in this patch. I went for muscari, snowdrops and different types of jonquils and daffodils.

How do you feel when plants get eaten and nibbled by pests? We feel we owe it to the kakas. They can strip a fruit tree in a day or so. We love these birds but they are very naughty and have no boundaries.

What is your highest gardening moment so far? Literally standing in my bedroom upstairs and looking out over the giant palms and native trees.

POD thanks our wonderful friend and photographer Sara Orme.