A work of art

Huguette oichel-Fleurie’s gorgeous Blenheim garden was inspired by French impressionist paintings

It’s almost a decade since Huguette oichel-Fleurié and her husband Georges fell in love with their property situated on the outskirts of Blenheim. Huguette exclaims, “We were stunned by the spring-fed stream flowing just in front of the house. Its clarity was amazing and we knew we had found our place to live.”

Georges’ passion for fine wine was fulfilled when he set up a vineyard nearby. And Huguette’s dream of creating a cottage garden with flowers emulating impressionist-style artworks was also realised.

As a little girl, Huguette had a passion for photographing plants and flowers, meticulously naming each on the back of the photo. She continues this pastime and comments that through photography, her vision of the world changed.

“I was able to comprehend beautiful things that others can’t even see and it was a fantastic discovery for me,” says Huguette.

She claims this passion is the basis for the magical garden surrounding their beautiful country home, named “Hortensia House”. This garden has all the hallmarks of French provincial style.

Huguette herself displays a wonderful charm, elegance and energy, together with a strong French accent, befitting such a garden. But in fact, she and Georges were born and raised on tiny tropical Reunion Island, 500km east of oadagascar. Although an overseas French department, Reunion Island has a rich blend of cultures including French, African, Indian and Chinese.

Hortensia is French for hydrangea – one of Huguette’s favourite plants, which grow in the mountains on Reunion Island. Huguette did not work to a plan or set out to create a particularly French garden, it simply evolved.

She says, “I always admired oonet’s paintings and decided to have the same bridge – perhaps that’s where the French influence comes from.”

Nevertheless, all the elements of French provincial style are apparent, from the flowing borders massed with colour co-ordinated flowers in hazy pastels, to the massive kitchen garden, elegant outdoor furniture and potted geraniums. Even water lilies, immortalised in oonet’s work, were introduced to the garden pond.

Huguette’s original plantings were mainly done in blue and yellow to match the trim on their Victorian-style house. Blue is carried through the garden as a key colour in the bridge and outdoor furniture. Huguette has also lined the driveway with plantings of blue hydrangeas to remind her of her island homeland.

other colours have crept in over time, such as a pink and red garden and a smattering of orange.

With her keen eye for detail and good grasp of colour complements, Huguette sticks to her preference for “masses of flowers in not-so-bright colours, like an impressionist painting.”

of Spring Creek, the stream which bisects the garden of Hortensia House, Huguette says, “This piece of water is a gem, so pristine and peaceful. Sometimes while I’m gardening, I can see trout or ducks and their ducklings playing around.”

Across the bridge is a large gazebo backed by distant mountain ranges, which forms a wonderful focal point from the house. This is Huguette’s favourite vista, but she adds, “I prefer to sit inside to enjoy the view of the garden. When I look at it from my conservatory, it means I’m not working on it anymore and I can’t see the weeds, diseases etc. It’s like watching a picture.”

Apart from help with the lawns, Huguette works the entire garden herself. Husband Georges prefers his winemaking or hunting and fishing, but lends a hand when Huguette puts the spade through an irrigation hose!

The garden is too large to tend each and every plant individually, but those that need feeding get a dose of sheep pellets and Nitrophoska Blue every year. Having the garden open to the public and available for weddings and ceremonies keeps Huguette motivated. She enjoys receiving visitors and is a wonderful host.

And, as if the garden is not enough to keep her busy, Huguette not only uses her botanical images as inspiration for her own paintings, but for exquisitely embroidered cushions and crafts, which she sells in a little shop adjacent to her wonderful garden.

Get the French country look

  • Create sweeping garden borders with informal paths.

  • Construct pergolas or archways over paths and entrances to garden rooms.

  • Fill every available space with plants, sculpture, fountains, birdbaths, etc.

  • Plant lots of geraniums, lavenders and roses.

  • Use climbing roses and wisteria to cover pergolas and archways.

  • Plant a grapevine under a covered porch.

  • Create a kitchen garden filled with herbs and vegetables.

  • Plant an orchard with fruit and nut trees.

  • Place weathered outdoor furniture as a focal point or garden feature.

  • Use window boxes and terracotta pots filled with geraniums.

  • Keep the garden full and busy but still well maintained. 

The garden is a New Zealand Gardens Trust “Garden of Regional Significance”

  • open to the public from September to April, Thursday to Saturday, 2pm to 5.30pm or by appointment.

  • For information, phone (03) 570 5168 or email [email protected]. Entrance fees go to the Cancer Society.

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