The gardener

Earlier this year, I had the honour of staying in one of the country’sfinest retreats, otahuna Lodge. Set at the head of a secluded valley in Tai Tapu not far from Christchurch, the lodge is the largest private historic residence in New Zealand and presents a grand view. Exploring the magnificent home and luxury lodge of Hall Cannon and oiles Refo was breathtaking in every respect. But the potager was what really stole my heart on that splendid late-summer’s day.


The grounds of otahuna Lodge cover 12 hectares and range from semi-wild woodlands to expansive manicured lawns that sweep down from the residence to a large lake. There’s also a rose garden, a formal garden, mushroom and melon houses, plus an old orchard containing numerous fruit and nut trees. Beside the orchard is the half-acre potager that perfectly captures the sun in a stone-walled paddock.


I’ve been led to believe not much grows in southern vege gardens over winter but head gardener Steve Marcham tells me they’re currently harvesting asparagus, salad greens, Asian greens, rhubarb, radishes, artichokes and strawberries, plus oyster and button mushrooms. Chef Jimmy ocIntyre wanders out to the edible gardens every day to select fresh produce for his five-course menus and guests can accompany him to select their own produce if they wish. Wild mushroom foraging can also be arranged.


Crops being planted out now include brassicas, carrots, spuds, parsnips, turnips and onions. Heritage tomatoes, corn, beans, melons and herbs will follow once the weather settles. Everything is grown from seed, raised in glasshouses and hardened off in a small nursery before planting out. In the past year, harvested crops have included 93 varieties of veges, 22 types of fruit, 18 herbs, three types of nut and several kinds of mushroom.


Each year, new varieties are experimented with to find out what suits the local climate and soil. Last winter, the melon house was refurbished to allow Steve to try out warm-climate crops like pineapples. In the mushroom house, he has recently added Shiitake and Agrocybe mushrooms to the lodge’s gourmet line-up.


The entire edible garden is run organically. A crop-rotation plan is followed to prevent any build-up of pests or disease spores. Home-made compost is made by the truckload. Steve says, “our best compost is produced from fallen leaves collected in autumn. We pile them up, add a little lime and some blood-and-bone, then leave them for a minimum of 12 months. They make a wonderful surface mulch.” Pea straw is also used and all areas are “green cropped” with lupines and mustard, as they’re free. Liquid fertiliser is made using comfrey leaves and discarded crayfish shells from the kitchen. Kitchen scraps go to the pigs and chooks, so very little is wasted.

otahuna’s head gardener Steve comments on a few of his favourite varieties

Tigerella tomatoes – great-coloured tomatoes with a zesty flavour and an even better name! We currently have them in the glasshouse as seedlings, just producing their first true leaves.

Jalapeno peppers – a very versatile, thick-skinned pepper that can be used fresh, pickled or, best of all, smoked. We grow peppers in the glasshouse right through summer to ensure a good crop.

Salsify black scorzonera – a great, black-skinned root vege with a mild oyster flavour similar to white Salsify, excellent for soups and stews.

Related stories

Get The Australian Woman’s Weekly NZ home delivered!  

Subscribe and save up to 38% on a magazine subscription.