Wellington Garden | Secret Gardens of Aotearoa

Wellington Garden

— Words extracted from Secret Gardens of Aotearoa: Field notes & practical wisdom by Jane Mahoney and Sophie Bannan

Jacob and Lucy’s Stokes Valley garden is rarely quiet. Tūī and korimako (bellbirds) are regular noisy visitors from the mass of native bush that borders their property. Over the past couple of years the birds have witnessed the couple lugging many a bag of compost and bucket of seaweed into the garden to create their native nursery and organic supermarket. 

It hasn’t always been this way: just a few years earlier the garden had a decidedly untamed vibe, and was almost entirely shaded by overgrown exotic trees.

Since buying the Lower Hutt property in 2021, Jacob and Lucy have wasted no time rethinking and designing their site and putting their self-sufficiency plans into action. Two years on, the 3000 square-metre-section (three-quarters of an acre, much of it in 40-year-old native bush) is almost unrecognisable. Just 30 minutes out of central Wellington, the garden they are creating is an oasis for the couple and their sons, Archie, aged three, and Mack, 10 months.

Lucy and Jacob’s original quest for food resilience didn’t take long to transition into a greater, more pressing purpose — regenerating the native bush has become a self- described obsession.

‘There are so many benefits to incorporating natives into your garden,’ Jacob says. ‘Even if your focus is vegetable growing, it’s all connected — connected to soil health, the microbes and fungi in the soil. It’s all about strengthening that complex web.’

Wellington vegetable garden | Secret Gardens

At the beginning of the twenty- first century, the dreams of New Zealanders as a gardening people stand awaiting fulfilment. The importance of locally grown food will increase in the coming decades because the global food system is in need of a dramatic and inevitable shake-up.

— Matt Morris, Common Ground: Garden Histories of Aotearoa

Jacob & Lucy | Stokes Valley Garden

About the Garden

On what was once a shaded and neglected back lawn, Lucy and Jacob’s vegetable garden now thrives. Spinach, rhubarb, spring onions and lettuces burst from the soil, bordered by bricks. Montbretia poke their orange heads towards potatoes and thick green leeks. Among the carrots and cauliflower, lancewood, miro, nīkau palms and putaputawētā have self- sown and established themselves. Young tōtara, black beech, tawa and juvenile rimu around the garden’s perimeter extend leafy arms towards the veges — they’ll be transplanted into the forest when they are ready.

‘Think cottage garden meets native forest restoration,’ says Jacob. ‘Also think “work in progress”!’ adds Lucy. The edible garden area is about 200 square metres, including the fruit trees. Feijoa trees and blueberry bushes bask in pockets of light. The property was originally farmland, and the previous owners planted up the property in the 1940s with large specimen trees and a few natives such as black beeches.

Forget-me-not garden
Wellington Stokes Valley Garden

Jacob convinced Lucy that digging up the lawn would be their best option, and then set about formulating a planting plan. They started watching a lot of gardening content on YouTube and reading voraciously. Gardeners like Charles Dowding, Kay Baxter and Kath Irvine provided ample inspiration and advice that seemed impartial and science-driven. Jacob has no time for old wives’ tales.

The garden took shape on paper, guided by research and careful observation of the site. Sunlight was scarce on their valley site, so they used a smartphone app to help them understand the course of the sun and observe how its arc changes throughout the year. Their northern boundary was a wall of massive well- established exotic trees and they decided around 10 of those needed to be cut down in order to increase their sun.

‘The entire section pretty much lost sun by about 12.30 p.m., so it needed to happen. It was painful to cut down trees, especially a liquidambar whose leaves would turn blood red in autumn, but we got about two more hours of sun in the garden after that. Even so, most of the veges only get five or six hours of sun a day, which is classified as semi- shade. Full sun is six hours or more.’

They began by aerating the hard-packed clay soil with a broad fork (Jacob’s new favourite garden implement), then laid down cardboard and dumped 9 cubic metres of compost from the Wellington City recycling facility on top. The addition of worm castings to the ‘dead compost’ helped bring the soil to life, the humus in the castings boosting the soil’s water retention and aeration, anchoring nutrients that otherwise drip away with water.

The soil was further augmented with seaweed powder supplements from Seacliff Organics in Dunedin, which they also now use as a foliar spray directly onto their crops and fruit trees. Serious mulching with pea straw has also helped improve the quality of the soil, as well as retaining moisture and suppressing weeds.

Children helping parents in the garden | Wellington Garden
Wellington Garden | Jacob & Lucy

There have been setbacks of course. Fruit trees were planted where sunlight didn’t quite reach: a nectarine tree shrivelled up and died. There was a potato crop that suffered from potato scab, great brown spots spreading over their skin.

Jacob, a self-confessed digital nerd, has everything recorded on a spreadsheet now — when they plant, species names and how many seedlings they put in. This record-keeping and close analysis has helped them track their successes and failures and adjust their plan accordingly as they get to know the niche conditions of their valley site. Their garden planning is also strongly influenced by the lunar calendar, which they follow closely.

They quickly came to realise that local knowledge was like gold, and particularly latched on to Kath Irvine’s Edible Backyard online resource. Irvine was living up the coast in Ōhau, south of Levin. But no two sites, however close geographically, are identical, with different prevailing winds, soil types and daylight hours. Jacob and Lucy have had to adapt their own timings through trial and error.

After what Jacob had come to understand about the loss of biodiversity inherent in the ‘big agriculture’ model, deciding to only plant heritage was a no-brainer.

Edible garden in Wellington New Zealand
Edible Gardening | New Zealand
Wellington Garden | Secret Gardens
Jacob and Lucy of Wellington Garden
Beautiful edible garden in New Zealand

The Wellington Garden is part of Secret Gardens.

To read more about this garden and its gardeners, pick up a copy of Secret Gardens of Aotearoa. Or book a visit:



Secret Gardens of Aotearoa | Jane Mahoney & Sophie Bannan

Words extracted from Secret Gardens of Aotearoa: Field notes & practical wisdom by Jane Mahoney and Sophie Bannan

Buy Now