Robin Short has taken care of this rambling country garden in the Auckland countryside for four decades

When you’ve tended the same garden for 40 years, it tells the story of your life.

That’s certainly the case with Robin Short’s abundant, colorful and vast garden perched on the country property she shares with her husband Terry, near Waiuku, south of Auckland.

There is the pōhutukawa tree, which grew from seed and now has a towering presence that has become a popular buffet for local kererū and other birds.

Robin and Terry Short wake up to stunning views sweeping the hills toward Waiuku, southern Auckland, and across their flower-filled garden.
Sally Tag/NZ Gardner/Staff

Robin and Terry Short wake up to stunning views sweeping the hills toward Waiuku and south Auckland, and across their garden filled with ‘Austin Crimson’ and ‘Memorial Day’ tall pink roses, flag irises and oriental lilies.

There is the shade of the orchard of ripe apples, citrus fruits and plum leaves lining one side of the driveway entrance, and the original bush set on the other.

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There are Ciggy, Shrimpy, and Purple Bush – plants named after (or by) those who gifted them to Short’s Garden. They are now firmly at home among roses and dahlias in two levels of cottage garden beds connected by three flights of stairs.

A new garden recently replaced some of the larger trees, filled with a carpet of crimson roses trained as a pole, giant clivia, red Chinese lantern, thuja, tabuchina, hydrangea interspersed with celandine, bromeliads, and low-growing perennials.

Sally Tag/NZ Gardner/Staff

A new garden recently replaced some of the larger trees, filled with a carpet of crimson roses trained as a pole, giant clivia, red Chinese lantern, thuja, tabuchina, hydrangea interspersed with celandine, bromeliads, and low-growing perennials.

There is a replica shrub hut, built by Terry in testament to his family’s history. Far away is one pine tree, the last man standing of five pine trees the couple planted as shelter against the fierce northeastern winds that continually blow the valley and across the property.

Everything that grows in this sprawling garden, from the native trees and orchard, to the flower beds and shrubs, the couple planted, but without their hard-working pines, there probably wouldn’t be a garden worth admiring.

“It’s windy here,” Short says. “When we started planting, everything around had to be wrapped in wind cloth and as soon as they got past the top of that, the winds burned the tops. That’s why we planted pines. Once they were nearly four years old, they made a shelter which made it possible to set up factories. Others, which in turn enabled other things to grow.

Robin Short takes care of her favorite flower,

Sally Tag/NZ Gardner/Staff

Robin Short takes care of her favorite flower, ‘Lady of Shalott’.

“It started with plants that were too wind-hardy and salty. I would never have thought of growing a rose at the time, but as it grew, the garden became its micro-climate.”

Gardening and land care is in Short’s blood. Both her mother and grandmother were ardent gardeners. “It is my memories of the flowerbeds in my grandmother’s garden that gave me a true love of home gardens. Many of the natives we planted came from seedlings my mother had grown.”

Short grew up on a farm on the nearby Oto Peninsula where her brothers and sister still farm and are in the garden. She had studied and trained in horticulture before raising the barn for four years, which took her to, among other places, Iceland, Norway and Canada.

The pool is surrounded by banana palms, herbs and canna as well as a terry collection of antiquities from the nearby coast.

Sally Tag/NZ Gardner/Staff

The pool is surrounded by banana palms, herbs and canna as well as a terry collection of antiquities from the nearby coast.

Returning to Waiuku, 25, was a culture shock. Knowing she wanted to work for herself, Short turned her passion for crafts, travel, and gardening into a small local retailer, Robin’s Gift Shop. One day, a young man named Terry “did a dance and asked if I could cook the flounder he just caught,” Short laughs. “I must have done just fine. I’m still here.”

Terry had already owned the property the couple has been living in ever since, raising five daughters, all of whom are now grown up and some with their own children. “It was really just a green mound at the time, but when the girls were little I really went back to gardening, because I was here all the time,” Robin says.

As the family grew, Short’s garden changed with her as other commitments took their time. The pair have owned their local ITM hardware store for more than 20 years, with Shorts taking over the business—although she provided nursery to continue her interest in gardening.

Robin and Terry Short outside their simulated settlers' hut on their Waioco property.

Sally Tag/NZ Gardner/Staff

Robin and Terry Short outside their simulated settlers’ hut on their Waioco property.

a glass houseThe canopy house and pot shed on their property has become a health care center where stumbled plants from nursery chores come back to life.

Today, the pot shed, accessed by a winding path through native trees and rolling bushes, is the envy of many visiting gardeners; An oasis of mind, experiences and botanical gifts in various stages of prosperity.

When the couple’s five daughters were in their teens, the Shorts Garden was reduced to rockeries and low-maintenance beds. “The girls played every kind of sport imaginable and we would take them everywhere. There was really no time for gardening, because we were rarely here. I didn’t want to do anything but mow the lawn.”

A planter made from an old pillar and a clay pot with a rust-like coating.

Sally Tag/NZ Gardner/Staff

A planter made from an old pillar and a clay pot with a rust-like coating.

Once she retired, about four years ago, Short began tearing down all those groups of hardy perennials and rebuilding her favorite style in the home garden. Each bed, enclosed in rock retaining walls that Terry built, is overflowing with layers of hydrangeas, dahlias, mixed leafy perennials, pots of annuals and plenty of roses.

Each garden has about 10 different roses. I’m a little obsessed with them. I really like the fragrant varieties, Austin roses, I really like them all. I don’t usually bother remembering all the different plant names but I do remember the names of all the different roses. It’s a simple mental exercise.”

But this is not a perfectly manicured display garden. ‘I don’t like things to be too organized. I love the rambling look of the cottage garden, where everything looks a little wild and natural and you can walk around from one area to the next and be surprised at what’s around the corner. The only thing I don’t like is that you can see the soil or The ground is between the plants, so I like it when the dahlias and perennials are dead, because it fills in all the gaps, and the gardens are just filled with flowers.”

The broken birdbath is now a succulent sundial.

Sally Tag/NZ Gardner/Staff

The broken birdbath is now a succulent sundial.

There is more to garden shorts than layers of flowers. Slightly down the hill, tucked among the original bush, beside a dam pond and deer field sits a terry hut.

A passion for New Zealand’s history, and a family photo showing some of his ancestors outside a cottage in Coromandel, inspired Terry to build a similar cottage on the property. It is, admittedly, more comfortable and cozy than the original settler’s hut could have been, equipped with comfy chairs and a double bed. It also features an old charcoal stack that keeps things warm, and often sees the couple – along with any children or grandchildren they might visit – escaping for a while with their freshly baked scones and mug. “It was our holiday on the first Covid lockdown when we had barely left the property for five weeks.”

The native bush that surrounds the hut is a source of pride for the couple who planted most of it themselves, and are now satisfied to see how other native species have begun to regenerate naturally under the canopy and by the pond covered with water flowers.

Growing vegetables is another passion of the couple, and as such, they both have their own vegetable gardens. Short’s kitchen garden near the pot shed is filled with seasonal greens. Terry patch full of “guards” like PumpkinAnd the PotatoAnd the corn and Kumara.

With chicken eggs as well as beef and venison, there are plenty of satisfying meals in the short house made entirely of produce from the property.

It’s a reward that Short is happy to share with the birds, butterflies and bees. I don’t use any pesticides. If the caterpillars get on the plants or the birds get on the fruit, that’s how it goes. I love seeing butterflies in the garden. I don’t worry about what they hatch from.”

Although the garden is thriving now that Short, who is also a photographer, is retired, she realizes maintaining a balance between the amount of lawn maintenance required to keep her and the garden in good shape, and making it a burden. “I think we’re pretty well established now that if the lawn is mowed and the edges are tidy, the lawn looks nice all year round,” she says.

“There are busy periods of course. In the summer, I’m there three or four hours a day, and winter begins when I cut everything and move things that need moving. But there are several months in the year when there’s not much to do. I don’t want to be a slave to her “.

While Terry has dropped an occasional hint about building a new dream home on a different part of the property, Robin is content to stay in the original home that has been modified and extended over the years to accommodate their growing family.

“I don’t want to move, really. I have to start over and in this garden now I have plants named after the friends who gave them to me. This garden is like part of the family,” she says. “I just love being outdoors and love the challenge of being in redesigning areas, learning about new types of plants, making them look good and sharing that with others.”

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