From The Archives: Enthusiasm And Hard Work Transform A Wilderness

Thirteen years ago the couple retired from their 325- hectare farm at Kohuratahi, east of Stratford, to an eight hectare farmlet on Warwick Rd, Stratford.

Even though the Warwick Rd property was a mass of blackberry and barberry Arthur Ostler was attracted by its gently rolling contours and could see it was suited to his idea of spending his retirement developing gardens.

The couple have put one and a-half hectares of the farmlet into gardens and three quarters of a hectare into lakes. On the remaining land they run 150 sheep and a few cattle. Camellias, fuchsias. rhododendrons, dahlias, cherry trees, conifers, and native trees and shrubs grow in abundance throughout the gardens.

Gum trees, poplars, and weeping willows surround the three lakes in which thousands of goldfish have their home and where 21 kinds of water lilies make a mass of colour in spring and summer.

Everything on the property but the gum trees has been planted – mostly as cuttings – in the last 10 years.

The Ostlers have a number of concrete ponds on the property, in which they breed eight varieties of goldfish.

They began breeding with 900 goldfish, many of which they brought from their Kohuratahi farm. Now they have many thousands, both in the ponds and in the lakes. Arthur Ostler said he had always had an inclination for gardening, but that he never really had time on the farm.

However, he insisted his wife was the “head gardener,” while she maintained that the secret of their success was team work.

All the work in the gardens has been done by the Ostlers themselves.

Initially, they had to clear the blackberry and barberry, using a bulldozer and shovels. Then they dammed a swampy gully which brought the water to the surface of the ground to create the three lakes.

The weather has posed few problems in the establishment of the gardens, although 100 newly-planted rhododendrons had to be watered every day during the drought three years ago.

That was the only difficulty they have ever had with water supply, and Taranaki winds were a nuisance only in the early stages of development.

“When we came here, we brought some shrubs from the farm, which were blown out the day after we planted them. But now we have shelter, and the wind is no bother,” said Arthur Ostler.

However, pests such as opossums and rabbits have to trapped or shot, and other nuisances include magpies which kill the native birds on the property and shags which eat the goldfish.

The Ostler gardens are a popular spot with garden circles from all over the country and with visitors, especially camellia enthusiasts, from the United States, Canada, Australia, and Japan.

Arthur and Maureen Ostler belong to the Stratford and Eltham horticultural societies and the South Taranaki Camellia Society.

Membership of these organisations has given them ideas for the development of the gardens and also provides opportunities to swap plants with other growers.

Maureen Ostler is particularly keen on fuchsias, while her husband’s favourites are begonias, which he grows in a greenhouse.

And they are both fond of camellias and rhododendrons.

Among their 800 named varieties of camellias is one called “Maureen Ostler,” which they produced themselves.

With a cream centre, pink petals, and darker pink edging, “Maureen Ostler” is now growing all over New Zealand.

Arthur Ostler explained that camellia propagation could take as long as six years, because the new bloom had to flower for two or three years to ensure it held.

Following their success with “Maureen Ostler,” they were now working on producing more varieties, he said.

The couple also have about 300 named varieties of rhododendrons – all hand-pollenised and grown from seed – and are breeding another 200.

As well, Arthur Ostler has 150 begonias in flower, and about 450 seedlings.

However, he said the begonias were not so good this year because of the variation in summer temperatures.

The Ostlers are happy with the development of the gardens and are now concerned mainly with maintenance.

“To us, it’s just a nice hobby,” said Maureen Ostler.