Julie Russell

Ex-cyclone Hale has caused the cancellation of this event after recent torrential rain flooded the Round Pond Garden car park field and caused considerable damage to the garden itself.

This is the second cancellation of the event as the planned January 2022 Wildflower Garden Party did not go ahead due to Covid.

Julie and Mike Russell are devastated at having to make this decision. They have considered the weather forecasts between now and 20th January when it was due to take place and, while the weather is expected to be brighter, it will not be hot enough to dry out the ground underfoot in time for the event. “It’s a Health and Safety issue,” says Mike. “Even though most of the water will drain from the field and garden, it will remain wet and slippery, cars will get bogged and it’ll be unpleasant and potentially dangerous for our visitors.”

This comes as a big disappointment for the couple, who have worked incredibly hard along with their team of workers and volunteers to set up the garden with beautiful summer flowering wildflowers. “They’ve been smashed,” says Julie. But most of all she is disappointed for the ceramic artists who have been preparing for months to present new work for the ceramics exhibition which was a major feature in this new format Wildflower Garden Party. “We’re gutted. It was supposed to be a fun day out for families and garden enthusiasts but under these conditions it just won’t be safe.”

And so, the hard decision has had to be made now, after the storm and the artists and public are being informed of the cancellation. 

There will be disappointment all round.

Read on for the full story about how the Russell’s iconic event will change.

It’s time for a change

In November, puzzled murmurings could be heard at the Hospice Holly trail about the absence of its long-time partner, the Wildflower Sculpture Exhibition. The WSE has been a companion event to the biennial Cranford fundraiser since 2008. But this year it didn’t happen – why not? And where was it? 

Julie Russell, who is the creative force behind the ambitious sculpture-in-the-garden event held the secret? Was it true there would be no further Wildflower exhibitions? Or would there be something different to fill the gap? 

Looking out at her well-known Round Pond Garden, Julie revealed the good news. Fortunately, instead of the November biennial Wildflower Sculpture Exhibition there will be a similar, modified event in January 20, 21 and 22 to be known as the Wildflower Garden Party and Ceramics Exhibition. 

“We’re hoping the event will feel quite different to the Wildflower Sculpture Exhibitions of the past, with it being at a different time of year and with a more low-key approach,” Julie explains. “As with the WSE, proceeds will be donated to the Cranford Hospice and while it will be smaller in scale it will give a focus to the region’s clay artists who will have individual displays over the three days. 

In addition, the tea house will be open for refreshments including tea, coffee, cakes and ice cream, and a BBQ will operate. The garden itself will be filled with vibrant summer colour and offer fun for families with face painting and a caricature artist 

Why the change? 

“I didn’t really want to let Wildflower go, but over the time of the pandemic the sculptors have had to make their own path by finding different ways to sell their sculpture. Cranford Hospice is also finding alternative ways to fund the huge amounts needed for their new build at Chesterhope and we thought, maybe it’s time to do something different, in a smaller way. 

“You know, we are all getting older, yet our volunteers are as keen as ever to turn up, along with family and friends who come in support – it’s the fellowship and the fun that we have together,” says Julie. But what concerns her is that it is a huge commitment for everyone. For example, these volunteers have never been to the Holly Trail because it’s the same week and they’re fully tied up with WSE. 

Julie and husband Mike’s intention has always been to help support Cranford and the artists who have flocked to the event with their amazing works over the fourteen years since it began. Julie still loves the idea of supporting Cranford and art. This event, she says, is a way of testing the waters. 

It’s smaller and only three days as opposed to the week-long Wildflower exhibit. “We need to see if we’ve got enough interest from the ceramic artists and, of course, from the public to come and see the art in the garden and to just wander around and enjoy it. We have to do it while there is still a good awareness and momentum from the ‘Wildflower’ brand.”

By positioning it in high summer, the change from a mid-spring experience held when there are so many other high-profile events crammed into the November calendar to one in January also provides an opportunity to create a different kind of wildflower garden. 

“We have put in totally different plants that flower later and will create a perennial wildflower meadow to attract insects and birdlife,” Julie enthuses. “Instead of poppies we’ll have cosmos, rudbeckia and yellow mustard; things that are more permanent and as perennials will keep coming up each year. We’re hopeful with our new enthusiasm for a wildflower meadow we’ll be offering a different look for a longer flowering season. With a lot less work,” she adds with a hint of relief. 

As a summer event being held before the children go back to school and after a holiday at the beach, a lot of people are here in Hawke’s Bay. The Russell team are really looking forward to it, although it will be harder to keep the gardens looking good at that time of year compared to the lush growth spurt of November. “But that is our challenge,” says Julie, undeterred. 

“When people come they will see the vibrant colours of the January flowerings – like the red border, with the dahlias and colours of the perennial meadow; it will be totally different and perhaps inspire the gardeners to expand their own focus.” Julie believes it will be interesting for people to see that a garden is much more than the usual November flowering delights and to also notice the importance of shade, adding, we need to work hard on creating shade in these times of warming climate.”

The Wildflower Garden Party exhibition is focusing on just one medium, that of fired clay/ceramics – highlighting just how successful fired clay/ceramics are in the garden or indoors. “I don’t think people realise how good ceramics are outside,” she says. “The first sculpture I had was a ceramic ball made by Gaelene Morley and I’ve had it in the garden over 20 years; you just have to give ceramics a wash to be fresh and new looking.”

So far twenty-five exhibitors have expressed an interest in participating in the exhibition. With the multiple locations the garden offers, the ceramicists are able to display their own unique works in a space that allows a full focus on their particular style. A map will be available to help people find the featured ceramic artists as they navigate their way around the garden.

When the Russells began developing the garden in 1994, the property was all farm paddocks. The house was newly built and the Russell girls’ ponies were grazing in the front paddock. 

Year by year, Julie’s vision for the garden was realised as new areas of trees and shrubs were extended across the paddocks as the young plants made their home in the rich Heretaunga plains soil. In those early stages it was a life and death battle with cold, vicious winds, drought and sweltering heat. However, as the Russells are horticultural growers, the water bores necessary to fuel the growth have allowed a summer regime of deep irrigation, which has helped hugely in the creation of Julie’s oasis amidst the cropping lands that surround their property. 

Today, the garden is fully mature and a tribute to the dedicated work by Julie and Mike and their gardeners; a showcase for hundreds of grouped and specimen trees, pleached windbreaks and carefully sculpted shrubs and hedges clipped to form garden features and walkways. The wildflower meadow is one of many features of the Round Pond Garden, as are the Russell’s own collection of sculptures making big statements and providing lots of drama amongst the greenery.

Photo: Florence Charvin


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