The woman who planted 1800 tulips in her Tawa garden

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Carolyn Campbell grew up in a family of gardeners in Lower Hutt. His father, John Eaton, was a hobby breeder and created the ‘Rainbow’ beet, aka the ‘Bright Lights’ beet, which is still popular today.

In his own garden, Campbell ignored his mother’s advice to start by planting shrubs to establish the bones of the garden and instead planted hundreds of annuals. “Years later I saw his dot and the bushes came in.”

Snowdrops in June herald the start of the garden year, followed by crocuses in July, miniature daffodils (“Tete-a-tete” and “Jetfire”), then later varieties such as “Thalia” and “Cassata”.

Carolyn Campbell basks in the summer glow of the perennial border.  Helenium 'Waltraut', Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm', Helenium 'Lord of Flanders' in the foreground with Helianthus 'Lemon Queen' in the back.

PAUL MCCREDIE/NZ GARDENER/Stuff

Carolyn Campbell basks in the summer glow of the perennial border. Helenium ‘Waltraut’, Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’, Helenium ‘Lord of Flanders’ in the foreground with Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ in the back.

The first tulips begin after the daffodils and bloom gradually over about six weeks. Dutch and bearded irises, roses, lilies and Japanese irises then take center stage.

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From January to May, it’s the turn of perennials, with masses of dahlias in summer and chrysanthemums in May. In late summer, the Jungle Garden is at its peak.

Bright oranges and pinks kick off tulip season in the perennial border.  Each of the large pots holds 50 bulbs in two layers.

PAUL MCCREDIE/NZ GARDENER/Stuff

Bright oranges and pinks kick off tulip season in the perennial border. Each of the large pots holds 50 bulbs in two layers.

The star of the garden are the tulips, and the highlight of Campbell’s gardening year is picking out next season’s bulbs.

Her love of tulips began with ‘Menton’, a large peach-colored single that bloomed again for several years before disappearing. Fortunately, the recently released ‘Menton Unique’ offers the same beautiful sunset tones in a very full peony tulip. “I love tulips for the palette of colors they present. Each spring your garden can take on a different atmosphere depending on the combinations planted.”

Last year, her French courtyard had a pastel theme with lilac, lemon and white tulips in baskets and containers, while the large pots in the perennial border were planted in shades of bright pink and orange.

Peony Tulip 'Verona'.

PAUL MCCREDIE/NZ GARDENER/Stuff

Peony Tulip ‘Verona’.

Modern hybrid tulips rarely bloom again, so most are planted in containers in groups of 15 of the same variety for maximum impact. At the end of the season, Campbell saves the larger bulbs to plant in the garden.

She feeds all her tulips with bulb food when planting.

Some 1,800 tulips were planted last year. “As I open my garden every spring when the bulbs are out, I need to have a good display,” says Campbell.

Peony Tulip 'Foxtrot';

PAUL MCCREDIE/NZ GARDENER/Stuff

Peony Tulip ‘Foxtrot’;

Against the gasp of what it must cost, she is quick to add that she uses loyalty points collected over the year and, as she buys so many light bulbs, gets trade discounts. Different varieties of tulips such as double, fringed, crown, parrot, lily and striped peony are planted alongside the classic singles.

Tulips like to be planted when the weather is cool, so Campbell begins planting in mid-May and continues for four to five weeks. She popped the first blisters in the fridge, but didn’t find it made much of a difference. Wellington’s climate provides enough coolness to initiate flowering.

Planting in containers prolongs the flowering period as tulips are planted in a lasagna style so that by the time the first blooms wilt, those in the next tier have grown and are in bud, giving continuous bloom for six weeks. Tulips are planted in two layers. Late-flowering bulbs go in first, covered with 10 cm of soil, then early-flowering bulbs topped with at least 15 cm of soil.

Crown Tulip 'Liberstar'.

PAUL MCCREDIE/NZ GARDENER/Stuff

Crown Tulip ‘Liberstar’.

Regular potting soil is best, a mix with water storage crystals will hold water and in a wet year can cause the bulbs to rot.

Apart from delighting the senses of the visitor, the garden also provides food of the edible variety. In addition to the vegetable garden, there are espaliered and ‘Ballerina’ apples, feijoa, lime trees, lemon trees, mandarin trees, plum trees, banana trees and orange trees. A passion fruit vine hugs the arch.

Campbell loves to experiment and push the boundaries of gardening in Wellington’s climate. She loves the challenge of growing things and if she sees something she likes, she’ll give it a try.

Peony Tulip 'Columbus';

PAUL MCCREDIE/NZ GARDENER/Stuff

Peony Tulip ‘Columbus’;

Campbell is assisted by her husband, Rob, who is the head lawnmower and composter, while sons Liam and Luke help out for a fee and daughter Caitlin applauds on the sidelines.

Fifteen years ago, Campbell studied landscaping and then worked as a gardener at her children’s elementary school. This gave her the confidence to pursue gardening as a profession and she now maintains 18 gardens in the North Wellington region.

Campbell opened his garden to the public two years ago. It was a great motivation to achieve dream projects, but it comes with a lot of pressure. The garden is open on certain weekends throughout the year and by appointment for groups.

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